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Do You Want to Sell Your House?

jcxo5b6KiHow I have got to this (not that grand) age without having to sell my house before I am not sure.  Probably because like most life decisions I was too shit scared, until it was absolutely, irrefutably, backs to the walls, and then some, necessary.  Only to discover the thought was way way way worse than the deed, and in most occasions I was a whole lot better at coping/handling/dealing  with whatever the monumental milestone  came my way than I ever could have imagined.

So once we had made an offer on a house we liked, I realised  there was no way out, that saleboard had to go up outside my own house.  (Yes I know I was supposed to sell my house first but I refer you to the first paragraph as way of explanation).

This was it.  There was no backing out now,  I was on the 10 metre diving board of property selling looking down into the pool of house preparation and the stairs to said board were off limits.    There was only one way down.  I had to leap in.  I had to get the house, garden and garage  in order; do a deep clean and a massive de-clutter.  I hadn’t watched the steely voiced Californian Realtor Ann Maurice, the self styled house doctor on Channel 5 all those times without knowing if you “wanna sell your house” you need to clean  and clear surfaces, to stage  your home in a presentation style to appeal the maximum amount of viewers (ie take down any thing personal including all the family photos and that football trophy you won for best attitude 30 years ago).   The house needs to smell of bleach and other cleaning products not coffee and baking bread which are apparently old hat and make person think you are hiding something.  Plus have a mirror and a rug in the hallway to add light and lead the eye into the house invitingly.   (Yes I was one of the show’s most loyal viewers).   I am sure there was something about having some green in rooms too, if there were plants in rooms that gave off appealing vibes too but I might now be confusing her with Malcolm Gladwell or the Freakanomics boys.

I managed the mirror and a new rug in the hall.  She must know something that Ann Maurice because it is now N’s favourite room!

And so further to the golden advice of The House Doctor, I impart to you the top tips I have picked up over the past few weeks since I have been staring out the window at a saleboard that no one can see because it is stuck behind a tree.

1.  It is the closest I have come to dating 20 odd years.  You hope to catch someone’s eye.  You then wait hopefully by phone for it ring.  You  then spend a day scrubbing up and titivating and shoving any thing undesirable out of sight.    You laugh at a stranger’s jokes hoping to make them feel good, whilst making small talk and stating the obvious.  You then hang around waiting for another phone call.  All to be judged and for the most part found wanting.  It makes me madly insecure and as self conscious as a teenager during the first throws of puberty.

2.  When someone leaves your house, no matter who much they have oohed and cooed over your home, if they say with their back to you “I’ll call the Estate Agent tomorrow with some feedback” don’t put the champagne on ice.  There ain’t going to be an offer, they ain’t even going to phone the estate agent.

3.  That parts of the house that have always functioned without a murmur or a hiccup will start to malfunction half an hour for a viewing.

4.  That children can smear microscopic particles of toothpaste over the entire surface area of the bathroom sink 10 minutes before a viewing.

5.  That once you start cleaning and de-cluttering  it starts to take over and it gets very hard to stop.  That I believe Lady Macbeth’s “out damm spot” was really directed at marks on white walls.  After a while you can’t tell if the dirt is real or imaginary.  Is it smear or a shadow?  I can see this way leads to psychosis, especially when combined with the prolonged inhalation of with heavy duty cleaning product (and very possibly some Gin).

6.  That those new magic erasers of Flash are good but they crumble away to nothing very very quickly, making MORE MESS.

7.  That is possible to having viewings, pack for holidays, unpack for holidays, get holiday washing dried and away in the pouring rain and still keep your sanity. Just.

8.  That if you really really really want to sell your house that glossing a door at 6 in the morning is no sweat, in fact you can get two done.

9.  That clearing out the garage can be very cathartic and the joy of finding something your grandmother gave you on your wedding day, that you thought lost forever makes up for all the grumpy viewings.

10.  That I can come over frighteningly Daily Mail about other people’s bins not being put away on time if I have a viewing.

According to a recent survey done by a leading Estate Agent people take just  33 minutes to make up their minds to buy a property.   They take more time to choose a car or a sofa.  So all I need is the right 33 minutes with the right person.  Easy.    Just don’t get me started on stamp duty…….


There is GIN in engine – Week One of Mum Solo*

Well this has been quite a week.

On the up

Feeling strong, capable and confident.  I actually felt like a grown up this week (and I rather liked it!).  Being mum solo*  was really quite empowering.  The kids were great, we got to school on time every  day AND without forgetting anything (except Nina’s French book on Monday).    It was a little strange at first but I soon got into the swing of things.

My babysitter.  She was put to good use this week as Harry and I had tickets to see the mind -bendingly, jaw-droppingly brilliant Derren Brown at the Grand Theatre in Leeds on Tuesday.   Followed by my sister and I having tickets for Franz Ferdinand at the O2 Academy on Wednesday.  They were equally as brilliant, fast, funky, fabulous beats and infectious, sexy lyrics.  We loved it and danced all night.   My babysitter says she is happy to work as she wants shoes.. at this rate she is going the next Imelda Marcos!

Nina’s spellings.  She got 7 out of 8 this week, which I thought was a staggeringly good result when she had to learn Stephenson and Trevithick amongst others.  I can’t even pronounce Trevithick!  She thought that Brunel was funny as it had “Bru” as in brew, “Like last week mummy, there was Gin in engine”  Honestly I don’t know where she gets it from!

My friends.  Thank you so much for all the amazing words and messages of support after last week’s blog.  I was really rather overwhelmed.  Plus I had friends looking after H&N on the strike day (thank you Angie), for parents evening on Thursday (thank you Sonja) and picking up from Ukulele and gymnastics (thank you so much Ian and Sarah).  I really really couldn’t manage without you and I am very grateful!

And on the down.

Sunday evenings.  I have only got used to Paul being back in the house and he is off again.  These weekends are not long enough.  Who ever made up the 5 day work 2 day off rule needs a serious talking to.  What were they thinking?

Margaritas.   Move over tequila there is a new  party spirit in town.  Cachaca a rum made from Sugarcane juice  and is the main ingredient in Caipirinhas, the Brazilian national drink.  My neighbour makes a mean one as I discovered last night at our Baby Group 12 year reunion.  Caipirinhas roughly translated means Country Bumpkin which is a bit how I felt this morning.

Hangovers on Mothers Day. See above.  Although being woken up by the sound of  grumpy preteen boy wrapping your present and throwing it at you makes for an original start to the day!

So all in all a great week, now just to do it all again next week.  Highlights to look forward include taking the kids on a night out with (my) school raising funds for the minibus appeal (by eating curry, this is my kind of charity work!), and the end of term Key Stage 1 disco with the dreaded Easter Bonnet competition.  Nina swears the exact same hat has won every year for the past three years. So any ideas for a competition winning headgear will be gratefully received.   Oh and then there is small matter of breaking up for the holidays on Friday.  Bring it on!

*Monday to Fridays


Nat’s Treasures No #17 Danny Boyle

An occasional series looking at people I admire

Tuesday 22 February 2011.  Already it’s a whole year since I attended the World Premiere of Frankenstein at the National Theatre.

If you don’t remember this, it was one of the biggest theatre events last year.  Benedict Cumberbatch (who had just shot to stardom in Sherlock, see previous blogs for my admiration of his talent!) was playing Victor Frankenstein and The Creature on alternate nights opposite an old Danny Boyle favourite Jonny Lee Millar.

Frankenstein was a new play by Nick Dear, who had previously worked with Jonny Lee Miller in the BBC TV series Bryon, who was famously with Mary Shelley and her husband in Switzerland when the idea of Frankenstein came to Mary in a dream, after a night telling ghost stories.

So tickets to the hottest show in town, time away from the kids, and a trip to the South Bank, somewhere I consider somewhat of a spiritual home, could the day get any better?  Well yes, this was a glittering star studded event, we lost count of famous people attending alongside us, in short it appeared to be the cream of British Acting talent there that night, oh and Paul and I.  We even ended up having drinks beside a noticeably nervous Danny Boyle (he is much taller in real life) and the extremely apprehensive  Nick Dear.  We even saw the long time Boyle musical collaborators  Underworld.  They seemed to taking their premiere much more in their stride.

I was quite dumbstruck to be standing next to Danny Boyle, director of so many of my favourite films.  Scenes from Trainspotting, (the only film I have seen at the cinema four times, to say I was obsessed is an understatement) Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, Shallow Grave and my personal favourite, Millions raced through my head.  I wanted to thank him right for every exhilarating adrenaline fueled visual moment.  To thank him for all those sublime film soundtracks, for all that music which has become so entwined in my own life.  For all those characters he has brought to the screen so clearly and so vividly, and for all that new British acting talent he has brought to us.

His incredible energy was on display, he was chewing gum at a ferocious rate.  I couldn’t say anything he was with his family, but it was amazing to overhear the conversations about the Oscars being held that Sunday.  They were up for best picture with 127 hours, another film that jumps out of the screen and holds you in a rock hard grip for 2 hours.  There was much talk of it being Colin’s year for Best Actor  as he was in contention with James Franco.  It made you realise just how arbitrary these awards are.  How can you really say which  performance is better?  A very surreal moment.

And wonderful to hear that voice, that Manchester accent that has been softened by years of international film-making but still so distinct.  I love that Danny Boyle promotes all his own films.  I can listen to his analysis, passion, enthusiasm, creativity and total artistic understanding of his films and their power all day.  He makes me feel that anything is possible.  That I can achieve anything I want. In short a very inspiring man.

Which makes me so delighted that he is in charge of the Olympics Opening Ceremony.  Who ever made that appointment should be given a Knighthood themselves.   Danny Boyle understands how to communicate to and also to entertain an audience.  He knows exactly what makes something so exciting to watch.  How to tell a story clearly but also with impact, imagination and humour.   I am sure he is having a few sleepless nights right now, but I know he is the right man for the job.  I can’t wait to see what he does, but I know it will be memorable, spectacular and at the heart of it the very essence of what it is to be British.  Something we will be proud to show the world.

And the play? well it had all of Danny Boyle’s trademark visual punch and flair (the lighting that stimulating the life-giving lightening seared your eyes it was so bright, it actually hurt).  There was a giant bell (cast when Shakespeare was alive), birthing,  snow, rain, sun rises, full-size trains, fire, a revolving stage and award-winning, can’t take your eyes of them, central performances.  The Creature is birthed at the beginning of the play and then is naked on the stage for 15 minutes as he learns how to move and walk.  The script was clunky in places but when you are dealing with all the big questions of life, love, death, parenting, rejection, nature versus nature and that fine line between science and advancement on one hand and morality and religion on the other, well I guess you probably do need a bit of shoe horn.

You did need to see both castings in both roles to get the full impact of the play as well.  Thank goodness for the wonderful NT live scheme, where you can see performances streamed direct into the cinemas around the world.

And this year? well it going to be a bit more low-key.  Going to work as a Lunchtime Behaviour Supervisor isn’t quite the showy affair last year was, but I shall be chuckling as I keep that pizza queue moving that last year I was stood next to an Oscar-winning director. I like the contrast in that, in fact it could almost be a scene out of a Danny Boyle film.


War Horse

Yesterday was a red-letter day for such a cinephilic family as ours.

We all went to the cinema to see the same film together.  Steven Spielberg’s filmic version of the sell-out National Theatre play based on the Michael Morpugo book, War Horse.

The tickets were a very generous gift from a very lovely friend, and even though I know that refreshments are eye-wateringly expensive because food and beverages are how the cinema make their money, they get scant revenue from the films themselves.  I know this but it still really smarts when  two micro paper packets of popcorn and two drinks of pop comes to £14.

So we were in, we had our our rip off snacks.  In some ways I am delighted they were so small, as training children to eat automatically the minute they sit down and watch a film does make me very uneasy.  Plus I am the rustle police.  I CAN’T STAND TO HEAR ALL THAT CHOMPING AND SCHLURPING  around me when I am watching a film.  Don’t get me started about people who eat at the theatre.  What is wrong with you that you can’t stop munching for 3 hours.  What are we?  No better than grazing animals gazing blank eyed at the pretty people?  I went to Othello in the Autumn and all through a very intense and very powerful production someone behind me was eating a large bag of Minstrels……just stay at home and watch Casualty dear! Right snotty rant over!  We will leave coughing for another day.  What is wrong with people that they have to cough all over spell-binding performances?  I think sometimes people are just so desperate to have a voice, to be heard in anyway, they can’t stop themselves.

Crikey this is getting like a restaurant review isn’t it, so far down and still no mention of the film.

Next came the trailers.. a good number too, recently cinemas have been showing far too many ads and not enough trailers, but yesterday the balance was just right.

So Warhorse.  Well  first off, it was a very good film, it is not a you must see this film film, but it is very good. Essentially the story is Black Beauty goes to War.  The cinematography was exceptional, all the performances were excellent.   There were so many fantastic character actors from Britain and Europe, from Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, David Thewlis and Tom Hiddleston to Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Kebbell, Liam Cunningham and Eddie Marsan.  It was a treat to watch them as they came and went in Warhorse’s life. If you were a fan of  The Killing 2 there is a lovely surprise appearance for you too.  It was good to see David Kross again, he was the young Michael Berg in The Reader and Niels Arestrup, whose loving Grandfather was a million miles away from  the violent criminal mastermind in A Prophet. Oh how I would love to work for Jina Jay the casting director not only of War Horse but Tinker Tailor.  Acting is really something we British are very good at isn’t it.  I don’t think this talent is celebrated nearly enough.

John Williams scored it perfectly.  Swirling, stirring and lump in the throat emotional. It never dominated, it only ever emphasised.  When those last trumpet notes rang out at the end, well I don’t think I was the only one nudging away a tear.  In fact most of our showing was entertained to some very loud sobbing from about half way through the film.  I could see people craning their necks trying to identify the weeper.

I would say my only slight reservation was right at the beginning.  You could tell this was an American’s version of Devon.  There was something slightly almost dare I say Mary Poppinseque about the opening sequences at the farm.  A real sense of heightened reality. Maybe it was needed to carry the rest of the story, but it was surprising, but only fleeting.

There are some must see scenes, I am always so squeamish about spoilers I will say they both involve horses, and they are breath-taking and well worth seeing on the big screen.

The horrors of the First World War have been very cleverly handled.  There is enough to leave in you no doubt of the horrors and yet not so brutally done that children watching will have nightmares.  This is Michael Morpurgo’s skill as a story-teller, my children have also enjoyed Private Peaceful and When the Whales Came.  He tackles these adult subjects about the brutality and destruction of war and how it destroys lives and tears families apart but it is done in a way children can comprehend.

My son Harry, aged 10 said afterward that he thought War Horse was a beautiful film, very moving and just showed the pointlessness of war.

How have I written so much and not mentioned the horses that played Joey?  Well, what can you say?  The entire film you are wondering how on earth did they get the horses to do that?   You think they are acting too.  They really are the stars, and only a director as experienced and accomplished Steven Spielberg, a man who has added to the lexicon of cinematic imagery the way Shakespeare added words to the English language, could achieve that.


So half way through the celebrations.. how is everyone bearing up?

I have no idea what day it is, are we still in Bank Holiday territory?

I feel like I have eaten and drunk my body-weight again in roasted meats and booze.

I have wrapped what felt a million presents and cleared up the same paper less than 12 hours later.

I have seen or communicated most of my immediate family and managed to have a ridiculous argument with my sister (for which I am truly sorry). I have watched some dire Christmas TV, the only highlights were Doctor Who (so emotional, what could be better, at this time of year, than a story about the power of a mother, especially when the Mother was Claire Skinner, and those happy tears so humanny wumanny.  Matt Smith and Stephen Moffat you have pulled it off again). Downton Abbey (just sublime, and about time too (no spoilers)) and my very favourite so far, Ab Fab.  It was as if Eddie and Patsy had never been away.  I am still dancing with delight at the sight of Sarah Lund plus her jumper as a visitor in Eddie’s dream.

Oh and I think a very honorable mention to Lost Christmas.. which was also superb.  An urban fairytale with Eddie Izzard and Steven Macintosh that had us all blubbing even my 10 year old.

Although I am very delighted that Prince Philip managed to pull through.. I was not looking forward to 3 days of sombre images and music of the Duke lying in state over my turkey dinner!

The radio hasn’t been on except to pump out the Christmas hits, I have not heard any news, been anywhere, haven’t had to look at a clock, stick to a schedule and it has been utterly blissful.

I have been feeling very proud of the unseasonally mild weather this year too.  I feel I can take full credit after buying the kids a sledge and snowboots and a snow shovel in October this year.

My only exercise has been a couple of rounds of Just Dance 2, my Jump Jump is coming along a treat.  My cossack dancing on Rasputin sadly, is not.

There is a beacon that is guiding me through the fog of these festive days. I am going to see Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre on Thursday.   Every few days I seem to read another tweet from someone who has been transfixed by the power of the story and Mark Rylance’s performance.  I am on tenterhooks until I am in my seat, the curtain goes up and the actors walk on stage.

Oh and then there is that other treat on New Year’s Day… the return of Sherlock.   And it looks sooooooo good.  If you happened to have missed any of the trailers by any chance, well here is one of them.. well it is Christmas!

So really I seem to be bearing up ok, hope you are too.. now if only I just work out what day it is today…….


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I have waited for a year for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy the feature film.

When I heard about the cast, the director (Tomas Alfredson  Let the Right One In, another must see) everything about it, I thought they were making this film just for me.

So I had to see it the minute it came out.  Friday 16 September has been marked in my diary for a long time now.  But how could anything live up to my year old expectations, containing two of my very favourite actors ever, plus a supporting line up so mouth-watering that each actor individually would be enough to make you watch any film they were in.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth,  John Hurt, Katy Burke, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hands, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Simon McBurney, Stephen Graham are all actors I enjoy watching and will always seek them out in new works.  Even Roger Pack Lloyd was wonderful.

The film was slow and so atmospheric, the 70s world of the British Intelligence service during the Cold War was magnificently brought to screen, all beige and grey dull bureaucracy, and departmental fighting.  This is a world of manila files, locked filing cabinets and telexes.  It could not be more different to us with our touch screen technology and the internet at our fingertips.  The Cold War itself seems so foreign now.  It’s hard to remember that the Soviet Union was such THE feared enemy during my childhood years. Again so unbelievably far removed from our modern life, where Prime Ministers head up trade delegations to Moscow. The past really is a foreign country.

But the film belongs to Gary Oldman.  He is incredible as George Smiley.  He is George Smiley.  After a career of playing the “baddies” and the crazies and  the psychotics with larger than life personalities, this is the ultimate quiet performance.  He is so still, just sitting, listening, observing.  His face is so impassive, but his eyes say everything.   He is mesmerizing.  His face will haunt you long after you have left the cinema.

He is in nearly every scene, and many of which are double headers, just him and one other character.  To single out one is a crime, but the scene with him and Kathy Burke is an absolute delight.

I never like to say too much about a film, spoilers and all that, and I don’t think there is anyone on the planet that doesn’t know this is an adaptation of the spy thriller from John Le Carre.  But this is not a Hollywood film.  It is not a fast paced, high-octane movie jam-packed with car chases or fleshed out with jump cuts and flashy editing and it doesn’t need to be.

It is an intelligent story, told in a grown up way and absolutely a pleasure to watch from start to finish.



As you may have noticed from my very first blog, I am quite a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch. I believe he is the greatest actor of this generation and is destined for very very very great things.

I feel therefore it would be negligent of me not to point out that he is on both the tv and radio quite a lot at the moment.

Sherlock – BBC1 Wednesday 8.30pm

A repeat of episode two of the first series. Possibly the weakest story of the series, nevertheless the production is dazzling, sharp, clever. Sherlock brought into the 21st century.  The relationship between himself and Watson is a joy to behold.

The Rattigan Engima – BBC 4 Thursday 9.00pm

A documentary by BC into the life and work of playwright Terence Rattigan.

Cabin Pressure – Radio 4 Friday 11.30 am

If you haven’t discovered the aircrew of MJN Air you are in for an absolute treat.  It is no exaggeration to say this is one of the funniest comedies on either tv or radio. Ever. Promise.

Hawking – BBC4 Monday 10.00pm

A rare chance to see this affecting 2004 drama about the life of Stephen Hawking. A role that lead to a Bafta Best Actor nomination and made BC such a name to watch. He is mesmerizing, even Stephen Hawking himself approved the portrayal.

And if that isn’t enough, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is set for general release on 16th September: