Hahahahahaha! I did it!

Well, it was the bravest thing I’ve ever done, apart from forcing two small heads through my pelvis, but I did it! On Sunday night, after two afternoons of tuition, I did my first ever five minute stand-up comedy gig.

I was absolutely terrified before and during the Laughing Horse course, convinced that I would be crap and not funny and none of the other four ‘students’ would laugh at my jokes. I didn’t even think I had any jokes, just a load of rambling thoughts written down. And I certainly wasn’t planning to do my set in front of paying punters at the ‘graduation’ comedy night. Oh no.

And yet such was the skill of tutors Jay Sodagar and Rick Kiesewetter – both professional stand-ups – in showing us the real craft of comedy writing – breaking every ‘gag’ down into its component parts to make each part of the set-up and the punchline work, that at about 9.15pm on Sunday night I found myself in a room above a pub in Earl’s Court with a spotlight and a microphone, and people actually laughing at my lines.

It was the biggest buzz ever. I really did the whole Fear the Fear and Do It Anyway thing. And my set – including stuff on being half Polish, my family history of mental illness, the crapness of being pregnant, and desperate mums drinking too much wine – seemed to go down well. I was even approached afterwards by a lovely advertising person whose client is a baby products company, who said she’d be interested in talking to me about a launch event they are planning. OMG! Even DH thought it was good, despite me making a joke about him thinking his penis might hit the baby on the head if we had sex while I was pregnant.

After functioning on pure adrenaline for two days, it was really hard to come down from that high and I barely slept on Sunday night. Or last night. I’ve been making endless notes about how I can tighten my set and ideas for extra material, and I’m planning to check out local comedy nights to see if I can get a gig so I can do it again. I actually think it might become my new hobby, which seems pretty extraordinary considering how much I was dreading it. It was a massive confidence boost and the most ‘myself’ I’ve felt for a very long time.

My nearest and dearest are already taking the piss, of course: my sister called last night asking for Mrs McIntyre, and DH now swaggers into every room I am in pretending to be talking into a mic. Still, stand-up has got into my system now, and I need to find my next fix…



Will they be laughing with me, or at me?

My DH has his moments. Some of his moments are truly rubbish, and some are really quite inspired. For my 36th birthday in August, frinstance, he presented me with a voucher for a stand-up comedy course in London. I’ve always secretly wanted to have a go at stand-up, but I didn’t know he knew this, so I was really touched, and excited.

Now time has rolled around rather too quickly and the course, run by Laughing Horse , is this weekend, I’m actually bricking myself. I only found out on Monday that I’m expected to bring along an A4 page of ‘material’ to work with. And throughout the two days me and my fellow Michael McIntyre wannabes will be performing little skits to each other. And everyone will be given a spot in a proper open-mike night after the course. Gulp.

I will be saying funny things into one of these on Saturday...

Practically everyone I’ve talked about the course to has the same response: I couldn’t get up in front of a room full of people and do that! I know public speaking is apparently one of the most common fears, but it’s not one I suffer from. I’ve always loved speaking in public, from the first time I did a reading at the school carol service in Salisbury Cathedral aged 11. Since then, I’ve spoken at conferences, hosted workshops, and done readings or speeches at a dozen weddings (including my own) and funerals. I’m actually a bit of a show-off, and I must admit I do enjoy the high of ‘performing’ and having everyone’s attention.

No, my anxiety about this course is that I have a deep fear that I’m not actually funny. I’m not one of those people who holds court and always has their friends/family/colleagues in stitches with their quick wit and spot-on hilarious comments and observations. I tend to think of the perfect funny thing to say a couple of minutes too late – the French call this ‘esprit d’escalier’, or ‘wit from the staircase’.

I think I can probably write funny – I am a professional writer, after all, and have even ghosted a couple of bloody funny best man’s speeches in my time – but whether this translates to performance, I don’t know. I fear hecklers because however perfectly crafted my one-liners will be, I might not be quick enough to come back with a great put-down in a live situation. Stand-up isn’t like a wedding speech where the audience is on your side. They might want to laugh and be entertained, but fail to strike a chord and I get the feeling I would be toast.

I don’t have any ambitions to be a professional stand-up, spending every night in a dingy comedy club somewhere, although there are so few prominent women comics that it would be good to contribute in some small way to the Funny Sisterhood. (Speaking of which, I am loving Miranda Hart’s new series on BBc2 on Mondays after University Challenge).

So what of that material? As a mum, I can’t imagine building an act around anything other than that, really. There are so many darkly funny moments as a parent, whether you are juggling work and mummyhood or fully immersed in the world of small people. There was one report after the Edinburgh Fringe this year noting that an increasing number of comics are starting to talk about their babies/kids/families, so I think I’ll join them. After all, who hasn’t laughed (albeit sometimes a tiny bit hysterically) at their offspring’s latest surreal antics, from potty training adventures to random/inappropriate questions beginning with ‘Why…’?

The question is whether an audience will be laughing with me. Wish me luck! I’ll report back next week.

How do you get small people to EAT?!

Practically every day lately I have the same battle in an ongoing war with DD, aged 3, over food. She eats a good bowl of cereal every morning, has seconds for lunch at nursery four days a week, and will accept any snack offered, from cake to fruit. She’ll also happily eat a plate of chips and beans, or pasta and sauce, or ‘bits and bobs’ (toast, cheese, crackers, salami, raisins, cucumber, tomatoes etc). But if I dare to actually cook something proper for tea on nursery days, or lunch on Fridays and the weekends, all hell breaks loose.

At pre-school, she’ll eat everything from Moroccan lamb and couscous to fish pie to curry, but if I put a nice bit of salmon, or a risotto, or chilli, in front of her, she’ll play around with it, have a couple of mouthfuls, and then declare that she’s had enough or doesn’t like it, and goes on strike, but still asks for pudding. I am at a loss to know what to say, really, and could do with some inspiration. chips3

I’m totally inconsistent. Sometimes I insist she eats some more, sometimes I just accept it, sometimes she has pudding (yoghurt or fruit) regardless of how much main course she’s eaten, sometimes I won’t let her have pudding because I know she’s still properly hungry and just doesn’t fancy what I’ve cooked. Sometimes I get really cross. Because although she is only little, I can’t help feeling annoyed that I’ve wasted my time trying to cook something nice for her and DS (who feasts like a mini-Henry VIII on anything at all) and even that she is being ungrateful. I also feel embarrassed when she kicks up over tea at friends’ houses.

I know I’m sending her mixed messages about food. If I say she only has to eat until she’s full (because I don’t believe in forcing children to clean their plates as I think this might set up an unhealthy relationship with food, especially for girls), and she says she’s full, but still has room for pudding, do I insist she has one more mouthful, or just accept it? What’s the right thing to say about pudding? That she can have some if she eats a good proportion of her main course, or that she won’t have any pudding if she doesn’t eat enough? That seems confusing alongside the idea that she can stop when she is full. 

Should I stop coming over all Annabel Karmel, bless her, and just chill out? Is it really bad to mention waste? Is she just playing power games? Is she just not hungry?

 On the plus side, she’s healthy, has a really balanced diet, and clearly eats well at nursery. She’s interested in cooking and shopping for food (I frequently find a peeled bulb of real garlic in her play kitchen and hear her mumbling things about ‘putting the oil in the pan’), and considers it a real treat if I let her sit on the worktop after official bedtime while I start chopping onions for our supper.

In short, I have no idea of the right messages to be consistently giving my daughter about food and eating, and I think I need to get this sorted pronto. Any ideas?

Soren Lorensen and other Maginary Friends

Around the time that DS arrived in the world, DD, then two, started talking about someone called Emma. A girl called Emma had just started at nursery, so I assumed it was her. Then it became clear that Emma was her brand new imaginary friend. She knows perfectly well that Emma isn’t real – last winter my mum was quizzing her about what Emma looked like and DD said, with some exasperation, ‘Grandma, Emma isn’t real, she’s my Maginary Friend!’.

More than a year later, Emma is more or less constantly with us, and at some point along the way she got herself a new baby brother, called Pang (I have absolutely no idea where this name comes from), who, coincidentally, is the same age as DD’s real baby brother and does what he is doing. Except Pang is usually asleep and you couldn’t say that about DS.

This morning I was told I couldn’t follow right behind DD on the stairs because ‘you will step on Emma’. She joins us for meals, and playtime, and trips in the car and into town, and even comes on playdates. Emma (or Pang) has also started taking the blame for suspicious ‘pop-pop’ smells emanating from DD’s rear, pushing DS over, breaking things, and making mess.

I think this is very sweet, and completely normal, and probably useful. As far as I can see, Emma is not only a companion and confidante, but the relationship between Emma and Pang might be helping DD deal with her usurped place as sole child, and her status as a big sister. DH worries that Emma ‘exists’ because DD is lonely – he had his own imaginary friend when he was little – but I don’t think she is. Sometimes when she wants to see a particular real friend who isn’t around, she says stuff like ‘I’m pushing Maginary xx on the swings’. Lola and her imaginary friend Soren Lorensen, named after Lauren Child's godson, apparently.

DD does have a few special friends, but she’s not yet at the age where her real friendships have much depth, because the language and emotional intelligence isn’t quite there, so maybe Emma is someone who completely understands her, without having to try and explain. I didn’t have an imaginary friend but we did have a big old cat called Bluey who I used to say was my best friend, and I do remember telling her things.

I expect one day Emma and Pang will just fade away as real friendships evolve and deepen, although Emma might actually help DD through things like starting school, as Soren Lorenson helped Lola in ‘I Am Absolutely Too Small for School’. In the meantime, I’ll have to put up with their pop-pops as well as DH’s.

Order, order…


Evidence: our toy cupboard

I regularly do stuff that to other people might look like complete lunacy. Tomorrow morning, for instance, as every Thursday morning, I will start my day, post nursery-run, with a frantic tidying of the house, otherwise known as ‘cleaning for the cleaner’.

DH thinks this is loopy, but I patiently explain, every week, that there is method in my apparent madness. My crack team of Brazilian cleaners (three people, only in house for 1 hour, great as I work at home) can’t get to the floors, surfaces etc to clean them if they are covered in the daily detritus of life with a young family. If I don’t put away the toys, clear away the breakfast dishes and laundry, pick up the dirty socks DH deposits by the sofa every single night, and generally tidy round, I’m paying the cleaners to tidy, not clean, and it’s the cleaning bit I don’t have the time or, frankly, inclination to do.

Plus, I have A System. I have friends who think I’ve got mild OCD tendencies, but I like things how I like them. I like order. I think it’s perfectly reasonable – nay, desirable – to have piles of things stacked up around the house and office, as the first stage before dealing with them. I like dishes that won’t go in the dishwasher to be scraped and stacked neatly on the side, because I don’t always want to wash them up straightaway. I like orderly piles of paperwork. I like my towels to be rolled spa-style in the airing cupboard. I have even been known to stack absent mindedly at friend’s houses, and once received a text from a dad asking if I had been tidying while I was meant to be looking after his daughter for a couple of hours.

I know exactly which cupboard and storage box every single toy car, Waybuloo magazine, pink hairclip, crayon or wooden carrot goes in. Last time I organised the kids’ play corner of our dining room, delineated by a rug and a dresser full of small storage boxes, I actually took photos of how it all fitted together, it was such a thing of order and beauty. I must admit I get a bit itchy when friends chuck toys in any receptacle to help ‘clear up’ after a playdate, because I’ll have to do it all again later.

Writing this down, I can see how mad this sounds, especially as I barely have time to wash some days, but again, I think there is sound thinking behind it. If the kids know that that basket has all the play food, that one has all the play crocks and cutlery, and the pans are inside the cooker door, they play for hours: Cooking, Parties, Making Tea, Baking Cakes etc – without getting frustrated and asking me to help them find some crucial item from within a black hole of a ‘tidy tub’.

Mind you, perhaps the very gazelle-like leaps of a child’s mind are better reflected in less rigid ‘storage solutions’. DD does do wonderfully imaginative things with small, apparently random collections of plastic items. I think my borderline obsessive need for order might be rubbing off on her, though. Being a three year old, she is still obviously a bit crap at tidying on any level, but the other day I heard her say to DH: ‘Daddy, that doesn’t belong there, it goes in this box’. I was only three-quarters thrilled…

A tale of two parties…

Last Friday, we had a little Halloween party for the kiddies. DD had decided to have a party and invited her best mates before I’d even thought about it, so I sort of had to follow through. I got quite excited, did the massive Sainsbo’s shop, cos obviously you have to offer the grown-ups soft and hard drinks as well as getting all the stuff in for the nippers. I filled the house with tealights, fairy lights, pumpkins and various tacky decorations, put on some high heels and a witch’s hat, and chilled the cava. We had a great time, although I still can’t believe how much noise and mess nine small witches, cats, pumpkins, devils, princesses and skeletons can make in the space of two hours…

We made up for it on Saturday by allowing my olds to kidnap their beloved grandchildren and whip them back to the West Country so we could go to a wedding. I was as excited about the prospect of lie-in on Sunday as dressing up in a new frock and spending the day as Grown Ups, obviously.

Most of the other guests had jettisoned the kids as well. The funny thing was, although it was really lovely to totally relax and enjoy myself all day and evening, I did really miss the kiddies. DS would have just been a pain in the arse as he is still very little and rather high maintenance with nap requirements and not really at the running around all day stage yet, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the three gorgeous little bridesmaids. I kept thinking that actually DD would really have enjoyed it. Up to a point, of course – by 8pm she would have been hanging and desperate for bed, and she’s not one for falling asleep on overstuffed sofas under a coat so it could have gone horribly wrong at that point. And there is an awful lot of hanging about between things at a wedding that starts at midday. She would have loved the whole dressing up, party, food, cake, dancing thing, tho. I’m not sure how many more weddings we’ll be invited to in the near future as most of our friends are matched and hatched already, and she’s unlikely to be a bridesmaid as a child. I wondered if we should have taken DD and left DS with his doting grandparents.

Until Sunday morning when, with hangover fully in effect, cuddled up on sofa with tea, choccies and Sky+’d X Factor, when I realised that I couldn’t have had the best of both worlds. It would have been a completely different occasion if I was on mummy duty all day. The times when DH and I get to kick back together are so rare, and however torn I felt about leaving the babies, I can honestly say that I made the most of my 24 hours off.

Still recovering three days later, though. At 36, I think I’m just too old to do an all-dayer with occasional food and dancing for hours to early 90s rave music as we all attempted to re-live our uni days. Even with a lie-in to – whoo! – 8am!