Monday, 31 October 2011

Your letter was only the start of it.

The sad passing of Sir Jimmy Savile this weekend made me feel nostalgic for the good old days. The happy, carefree time that you ran around without responsibility or financial worries, when tea time TV ruled and your biggest decision was whether to buy cola chews or cola pips with the last of your pocket money.

Sir Jim regrettably was unable to Fix It for me to rollerskate with the cast of Starlight Express but he gave us all hope that if you put pen to paper and took the time to write a very polite letter in your neatest handwriting to the BBC your dreams may just come true.

Here's an nod to other memorable tea time TV shows and funny moments to brighten this late October Monday. Dig out your Jim’ll Fix It medal, brush down your Blue Peter Badge and be a part of it...

Trevor and Simon on Going Live! with some very welcome guests....

For all those who idolised Trevor and Simon, swang your pants and wanted to sit on the Sofa for Two with Three here’s a comedy classic with French and Saunders.

Saturday Superstore – Claire and Friends – It’s ‘Orrible Being in Love (When you’re 8½)

Claire’s entry beat a thousand other entries in the talent competition on Saturday Superstore and she even got to sing it live on Top of the Pops. A nostalgic journey for all those who were in love and had his picture on your wall and his name upon your scaaaarf...

Hello Rat Fans!

Roland Rat lived beneath Kings Cross Railway station in The Ratcave with Errol the Hamster and Kevin the Gerbil. Cool.


Mallett’s Mallet – I would have been humiliated by Timmy Mallet with a big pink hammer called Pinky Punky in a word association game just to win a copy of Hits 6 and get a Wacaday wacky plaster. Utterly brilliant!

5 Star on Going Live! and a very rude little boy...

But it didn't always go quite right....Who could forget when Eliot Fletcher called my favourite band up on Going Live to ask them a very rude question. Tut. I was personally upset – I was a member of the 5 Star Fan Club and my Mum even spoke to their Dad, Buster. That’s a true story.

Scouts on a Rollercoaster with food.

And finally, in honour of Sir Jim, a group of Cub Scouts from the 2nd Sutton St Mary’s troop, who wrote to the programme asking to have a meal in an unusual place. Jim opted to send them to ride the Revolution at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Classic.

Happy Monday.

Friday, 28 October 2011

The ultimate role model. Aged 4.

Catching up on Lauren Laverne's highly educational Grazia column Lauren Loves... this week I nearly squealed with joy on the tube. Leaping out at me amongst the music, book and deli reviews was a piece on one of my favourite fictional heroines of all time – Matilda.

As the tube accelerated along the tunnel and the blackness whooshed past me, I felt like I was travelling back through time faster than light. My destination, Downsview Primary School, Upper Norwood, London. The year, 1989.

This was the year I read Roald Dahl’s Matilda and was mesmerised by the story and Quentin Blake’s now instantly recognisable illustrations. I completely agree with Laverne when she describes Matilda as a feminist icon. She is a shy, softly spoken 4-year old prodigy whose giant intellect is stymied not only by her despicable parents and her beastly headmistress, but also by her gender.

Matilda is introduced to us by Dahl in the first few pages as The Reader of Books, both sensitive and brilliant - ‘her mind was so nimble and she was so quick to learn that her ability should have been obvious even to the most half-witted of parents’. By the age of 1 and a half she could talk perfectly using the vocabulary of an adult and at the tender age of 3 she had taught herself to read newspapers and magazines before moving steadily onto books.

A voracious reader, Matilda’s reading list at the age of 4 included Dickens, Brontë, Austen, Hardy, Wells, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Orwell to name but a few, which is enough to put any half-witted adult to shame. Including me.

Matilda is constantly told by her gormless and despicable parents, Mr and Mrs Wormwood, that she is worthless and stupid, and overlooked in favour of her very ordinary brother Michael who gets to know all the interesting stuff from his Dad about the crooked second-hand car business simply because he is a boy. Her Mum is no better, a platinum blonde with garishly heavy makeup who thinks ‘looks is more important than books’.

The villainous headmistress Miss Trunchbull, who once threw the hammer for Great Britain in the Olympics and uses children to practice on, deliberately holds Matilda back and observes that ‘a bad girl is far more dangerous a creature than a bad boy’ and ‘Nasty, dirty things , little girls are. Glad I never was one’. All of this leads to Matilda wanting to get her own back and she discovers a psycho-telekinetic power that allows her to move stuff around and spook out her parents and Miss Trunchbull. And this is where the fun really begins.

Dahl’s storytelling is mischievous and comic and Matilda is laugh-out-loud funny. The book contains all the usual Dahlian humour and gruesome words that we knew and loved (blisters, scabs, grubs to name but a few). Who can possibly forget the hat and the superglue, the boy who got his finger stuck up his nose and Bruce Bogtrotter and the chocolate cake? It’s also sprinkled with unexpected stuff that you can appreciate even more now you’re a ghastly grown-up; smatterings of Dylan Thomas poetry and a frightful episode involving her despicable father and a library copy of John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony.

Another reason why Matilda is so special to me is because my primary school class put on a production of Dahl’s classic for our last ever play. If my memory serves me correctly our pleas to our brilliant teacher, Mrs Mohtashemi (our very own version of Miss Honey) to perform Grease were sadly turned down due to budget and creative restraints (disappointing, but slightly ambitious to turn our school hall into the backdrop for an American high school complete with bleachers, a beach, a drive through movie and a fairground but hey, we were always told to aim high).

So Matilda it was and preparations began. Casting completed, Mums drafted in to do makeup and costumes, Dads on prop duty, and dress rehearsals out the way, it was time for the show. In what was to be Class Seven’s final production, we acted our hearts out and treated a packed audience (parents, siblings, teachers) to a rollicking musical production which brought the house down and had the audience crying with laughter. There were tears too; we were growing up and moving on to big school (which we all secretly hoped would be nothing like Crunchem High School and that there would be no such thing as The Chokey).

I nervously made my acting debut as Matilda, finally making the break away from previous roles such as Nativity Narrator and Recorder Player. My little sister Michelle opened the show as baby Matilda (wearing a nappy, which would never have been allowed in 2011 but was completely acceptable at the time. Sorry Mich.) Ben Crompton played Michael, playing up to the audience with painted on freckles and missing front teeth as he sucked up to my Dad and stuck his tongue out at me. David Whitcher was my miserly, mean crook of a Dad, accessorised with fake bald patch, garish jacket and tie and measly moustache. Devika Gayle played my Nan in Dame Edna-Everage glasses and chic pearls and bag and Sarah Watkins was the school nurse. Then there was Tessa Xioutas, totally splendid as my mum and surgically enhanced with the use of some very clever props and Dolly Partonesque hair.

Michael Norris was the great talking parrot Chopper, perfecting his talk and squawk to a tea in full rainbow-coloured feathers and tights. Christina was absolutely terrifying as Miss Trunchbull, even the parents were a bit scared, and brilliantly humiliated my fellow classmates throughout the entire production - a class that included Suzy Ackerman, Anthony Foulds (who gave an Oscar-worthy performance as Bruce Bogtrotter with the cake), Jenny McKinlay, Tansel Omer and Viresh Patel looking super cute in bunches (girls) and school shorts (boys).

Tania Gornall, Jonathan Duffel, Katy Fraser and Ryan El-Alfy (RIP, always) were grease-smudged mechanics at Wormwood Motors and did a hilarious and faultlessly choreographed rendition of ‘You Can’t Get Better Than a Kwik Fit Fitter’. Definitely not least, Demis Andreou was Doctor Procter in a suit and tie and the obligatory briefcase and Beena Savadia the poor Cook who played an unwilling part in the Bruce Bogtrotter incident.

My heart was broken into little pieces when Matilda finished its long serving theatrical run (1 night) and I left Downsview; leaving behind something so very special. A blissfully happy, innocent time full of fun and laughter and amazing classmates and teachers that I knew even at that age I'd find hard to replicate again in my life.

Fortunately, and rather uniquely I think, I’m seeing Mr Wormwood, my brother, some of the mechanics at Wormwood Motors, my Nan, Doctor Proctor, the talking parrot and the rest of the cast and crew again in 2012 for the next instalment of our Downsview reunion. We’re older and a bit more world-weary now, but it’s still magic when we meet.

Matilda left a lasting imprint in my mind - The book ultimately celebrates intelligence and good teaching but for me it conjures up a whole bunch of emotions just by turning the page.

Yesterday I purchased a fresh new copy of Matilda and I had to resist the urge to write Nicola Greenbrook-Kirby, aged 33 and 2 months in the inside cover in large childish scrawl. On the front cover is Matilda, sat atop a pile of books in a simple cobalt blue long-sleeved shift dress (a nod to minimalism and capturing fashion’s current flavour for the Sixties), the eponymous heroine who was on trend even at the age of 4. If you haven’t read the book since you were a little sprog or have never read it as a revolting adult, please do, you’re in for a real treat. Published in 1988, Matilda is the biggest seller amongst all of Roald Dahl’s books for children. In Britain alone, half a million paperbacks were sold within 6 months.

It’s a funny, warm and intelligent story which sends out an empowering and brilliant message that it’s ok to want to be clever and better and not have to look good, just because you’re a girl.

What a marvellous medicine to swallow.

Monday, 24 October 2011


The November edition of UK Vogue has just landed on my desk with a thump, bringing with it the turn of the season and an army of delicious autumnal fashion to battle against the drop in the temperature. (Ok, that's a lie. I bought it myself from the crammed magazine kiosk on the Euston Road with £4.10 scraped together with the last 2ps and 1ps in my purse, but the former sounds much more glamorous and fashiony as befits the style bible).

Anyway I digress. Staring back at me defiantly from the sky-blue cover in Giorgio Armani Privé and short blonde wig was Rihanna. I felt disappointed. My usual enthusiasm deflated like a burst balloon.

Rihanna is a beautiful, successful and talented young woman at the top of her game and her Vogue debut has been highly anticipated – plus we all know celebrity sells magazines. I (only just) accept the fashion connection – her style evolution has been fascinating to watch and she steps out in all the right names. Finally, I applaud Condé Nast for recognising that not all Vogue readers are white, emaciated and from Notting Hill (although the cover comes not without some controversy - Alexandra Shulman has had to respond to the blogosphere and confirm that no skin lightening has taken place for Rihanna’s cover).

What I do have a considerable problem with is that ultimately I no longer consider Rihanna to be an empowering role model for women due to the tiresome onslaught of raunchy images and lazy and offensive lyrics we get from her. I am bored of the vulgarity – she may be bad but she’s perfectly good at being degrading.

Before I am accused of prudishness, I am not a prude. A couple of Rihanna tracks have been hanging around on my iPod for a while now and I can’t deny that I’ve probably danced along after a few drinks in a club. Plus, if men can talk openly about sex through the medium of music then why the hell can’t women? Madonna's been leading that battle for decades. As Dodai Stewart, deputy editor of the US pop culture blog Jezebel, points out, female artists are systematically encouraged to capitalise on their sexuality. "Female artists are definitely sexualised more often, which helps sell albums, but they're also criticised for being so sexual. Women can't win."

This may be true, but Rihanna is not helping the battle. On the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in April 2011 she is described as ‘Pop’s Queen of Pain’ and we are seduced into turning the page to find out about Sexting, Bad Boys & Her Attraction to the Dark Side. Yawn.

Jay-Z was photographed on the cover of the same publication in a suit and a tie. Much more interesting.

So, why has it got to be dirty and submissive to get attention? Rihanna says she is no role model and wishes people would stop trying to make her into one. In the Vogue article she says ‘people – especially white people – they want me to be a role model just because of the life I lead. The things I say in my songs, they expect it of me and [being a role model] became more of my job than I wanted it to be’. Like it or not Rihanna, being in the spotlight and all the advantages of success bring some responsibility - women, especially young girls, are automatically looking up to to you (and men are looking you up and down).

To me, Rihanna continues to present an extreme portrayal of female over-sexualisation. You can’t escape the demeaning lyrics. When I see the music videos for ‘S&M’ and ‘Love the Way you Lie’ I don’t see art or something to admire. I see the glamorisation of domestic violence. Which is not romantic. It’s just ugly. Her new video for 'We Found Love'? Seen. It. All. Before.

It was Natasha Walter and Kat Banyard who last year were campaigning for a change in the law to stop the ‘pornification’ of society which they said promotes violence against women. Rihanna is hardly doing the cause any favours with her own take on pop porn. Is this really the message we want to send out to our future stars – wear less, shatter the boundaries and give the men what they want?

I persevered and read the Vogue article in full, searching for something other than raunchinessand I was surprised that she came across as quite endearing and earnest. She has sold over 60 million singles and 20 million albums and is also involved in many philanthropic projects, with her own Believe Foundation created in 2006 to help terminally ill children. So why don’t we see more of this rather than her backside?

So, that is why I am ultimately disappointed with the choice of cover for November. You can reserve this type of 'role model' for all the Zoo, Maxim and FHM readers; for the men who still think it’s acceptable to shout abuse at women in the street or grab women in a bar after a few too many drinks, thank you very much.

The December issue of Vogue featuring a strong, intelligent woman who cares about other women? Cheers. I’ll (Drink to That).

Do you have another opinion to add to the mix? Let me know what you think - I'm interested. Answers on a Facebook wall or in the comments box below please...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

You need Sondre in your life. (If he’s not in it already that is)

The other week I went to see Sondre Lerche at Hoxton Bar and Grill, a brilliant little venue I am ashamed not to have been to before, and I have been impatiently trying to find the time to write about it ever since. It was a surprise birthday present from my husband, the idea delivered to him via the power of Songkick.

On a buzzing October night in London, we jostled through the cool Hoxtonians outside thirstily drinking up the last of the evening light, nudged past the stocky bouncer and joined the queue to the cavernous venue tucked just out back. A strong rum and diet coke in hand, I waited with great anticipation as the crowd started to pile in – this is someone I’d wanted to see live for a very long time.

For those who haven’t been acquainted with the great man just yet, first please allow me to make a few introductions.

Sondre Lerche is a singer/songwriter and guitarist from Bergen, Norway. His music is described by Wikipedia as Pop, Indie Rock and Jazz, although I prefer to simply categorize it as stunning. Growing up he was influenced by ‘80s pop like a-ha and Prefab Sprout, as well as the Beach Boys, and this inspired him to write his first song at 14. It was performing underage in acoustic gigs at the club where his sister worked where he was discovered by a producer and exposed to diverse musical genres such as ‘60s pop and mainstream Brazilian music. This led to a deal with Virgin Norway, an increase in popularity in his home country and a debut album, Faces Down, in 2000 at the age of 19.

Faces Down received critical acclaim in Norway and the US and Rolling Stone Magazine put it in their top 50 albums of 2002. He has toured with Beth Orton, Elvis Costello and won numerous awards. So far he’s produced 6 studio albums and 3 soundtracks each winning rave reviews. In 2011, he released a self-titled album with collaborations with Midlake percussionist McKenzie Smith and embarked on a huge European tour.

Yet in the spring of 2008, I had never actually heard of him. In the current climate of over-produced pop I guess you have to shout very loud to be heard (or auto tune your voice). So it was on a plane from Sydney to Auckland that I stumbled across Sondre Lerche by accident. I had just left behind not only a happy life in Sydney but a boy called Alex Kirby who had boarded a plane back to London a few hours earlier. After 3 weeks of paradise travelling down the east coast of Australia, I was distraught, having lost not only my travel partner but what felt like my right arm. I was determined to complete my onward solo travels, but this hurt. A lot. I needed a distraction.

So I got lost in a quirky little movie called Dan in Real Life starring Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche and Dane Cook. I was instantly mesmerised not only by the film but by the beautiful soundtrack. The music was contagious – acoustic guitars and heartfelt lyrics, melodies and harmonies that were sophisticated rather than syrupy. I was totally hooked. The romance and melancholy that filtered out through the lyrics resonated with me instantly.

A few months later I was back on British soil and in a new and sparkling relationship with Alex Kirby and wanted to know the identity of this special artist. A quick Google search revealed him to be Sondre Lerche and so I read and listened a little more.

The story goes that the director of Dan in Real Life, Peter Hedges, went looking for an artist to exude the true meaning and feeling of the film through this music, and came upon Sondre. He was part of the process from the very beginning – even going along to auditions for the main characters and slept in the big house where the film was shot. The OST for Dan in Real Life is made up of songs from his previous albums, a sprinkling of instrumental stuff and songs that Sondre composed especially for the film, including a beautiful duet with Regina Spektor called ‘Hell No’. (Oh and this is very good live, at the Regina Spektor concert in Oslo in 2009 too).

When I listen to Sondre Lerche I think of sunrises and sunsets. The string arrangements and refined lyrics make me want to be in Paris. Or by the sea. The acoustic ballads and harmonies declare romance and the melancholy tugs at your heart strings. It’s stellar and eclectic. It can make you feel wistful and reflective; then suddenly you’re happy and as light as a feather. It’s a journey through fine lyrics and breezy vocal jazz that leaves you exhilarated.

So with the introductions dispensed, back to the gig itself. After being suitably warmed up by Young Dreams, us and the tightly bunched in crowd were treated to a generous set of old and new material sprinkled with witty anecdotes and touring tales. Sondre’s voice was unfaltering and his guitar playing totally accomplished. His acoustic encore brought gasps of joy and excited woops from the crowd. With My Hands are Shaking, the ladies giggled softly and swooned just a little bit and the men nodded their heads to the music in respect. The first line of his final song, Modern Nature, was greeted instantly by a splendid sing-along by the audience. Sondre momentarily forgot the words but it didn’t matter.

We were all intoxicated, drunk on the music and the rum and the romance of it all. We happily filled in the gaps and our voices got louder and braver as we showed our appreciation for a truly great artist. We clapped him off the stage and made our way back out into cold reality.

Just a few months earlier, Alex and I had walked down the aisle at our wedding to the sounds of the beautiful To Be Surprised which to me evoked images of the final celestial scene in Dan in Real Life and made me think of how significant Sondre Lerche’s music had been in my life so far. (To be fair I think Alex just really liked the song).

Watch Dan in Real Life: Wedding Scene in Entertainment | View More Free Videos Online at

I’m ending this post with a plea to you dear reader. One chilled weekend, grab a coffee or a glass of deep red, delve into your Spotify account and go track Sondre down. Sit back in your favourite cozy chair, take a long, deep sigh and listen.

Plan To be Surprised.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Am I the only person who can’t relax during a massage?

Job hunting. Dreaming of my dream job. An overflowing inbox. Dealing with recruitment consultants who have 'a really fantastic role for you!!!’. Based in Slough.

It's enough to give a girl a pain in the neck. Add being barged into by a very big man running for a train at Victoria Station resulting in a loud CRACK in said neck and there was only one solution - massage.

I love Herbal Express near Russell Square tube and highly recommend it if time is not on your side, your wallet is light and scented candles are not listed as an essential requirement on your massage criteria (but relaxing music is desirable). My therapist was a petite lady with a friendly smile and very strong hands. I laid on my front, wriggled my head around in the hole in the massage bed and let out a big sigh. Finally, time to stop.

For the next 30 minutes I was pummelled and kneaded and stretched. The tension in my shoulders was stroked away and the crick in my neck disappeared. My back was finally starting to feel looser. So why on this great earth couldn’t I relax and shut up the incessant voice in my head? Must get birthday card for Friday. Argh, is it normal to get pins and needles all down my left arm – what does that mean?! Help! Ooo, wonder who just texted me? Hmm, have we run out of bleach? Will definitely update CV tonight. I just couldn’t stop my inner nattering.

Not forgetting the weird phobia I have of my spine being touched. Admittedly, not helpful for my therapist but it’s my equivalent of nails-down-blackboard; utterly nausea-inducing. She carefully, but excruciatingly, touched every single vertebra in my back and I tried carefully not to throw up. The momentary relief I felt as she finally left my poor spine alone quickly turned into panic as she moved down to my legs . My hamstrings and calves are painfully tight from running, which is my own fault for not stretching properly, but still I had to bite my lip from shouting ‘OH MY GOD PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH MY CALVES’. Instead I whimpered a little bit and tried not to make any more weird noises from the hole or leap off the bed.

It was only when she started to add very gentle pressure to the bones of my skull, manipulating my cranial bones and giving me a delicious head massage that finally the voice stopped and I felt as light as a feather lying on the bed. I could literally feel the tension melting away as quickly as the minutes were flying by. Must. Not. Fall. Asleeeeeeeep.

An irritating buzzing sound told my therapist and me that the 30 minutes was up and so I was left to get changed. I peeled myself off the bed and quickly glanced in the mirror - a bright red face, sticky-up hair and dilated pupils looked back at me. A very definite mark had formed around my face from the head-hole that showed no signs of vanishing. I was desperately thirsty and had an overwhelming urge to wee. Yet, despite this I was absolutely calm, feeling harmonious and at peace. My body felt aligned instead of the usual wonky.

In my dreamlike state it felt very rude indeed to be spat out onto the busy London road and everything felt too loud, too bright. On the tube, I hid behind my Evening Standard and tried to look normal as the man opposite looked quizzically at my head-hole mark. I was not looking forward to the possible after-effects that night of the toxins leaving my body – tears, wicked headache etc. But, right that minute everything felt a whole lot lighter. I had full mobility in my neck! The niggling pain in my lower back that constantly follows me around like an unwanted stalker had momentarily subsided.

So the moral of this tale is don’t waste the massage. Try and relax. Ignore the chatter and put the shopping list to one side, it’ll be over before you know it. No doubt tomorrow if I take another ‘Natalie, I’ve got the most amazing job for you!!!’ call from one of the agencies, I'll be wishing I had my head down that hole with all my cares being stroked away...