For The Fence: How My Dad Poisoned Himself Making Spitting Image Puppets

For this piece for The Fence I asked my dad to cast his mind back 40-odd years to one of the many weird and chaotic occurrences of his special effects career that spanned the 1970s-2010s and was extremely (and almost exclusively) weird and chaotic. This is how he poisoned himself while making the prototypes for the original Spitting Image… CLICK HERE.

Illustration by Viz cartoonist Davie Jones.

 

 

Article For The Guardian

For The Guardian, I wrote about how the rural housing crisis  has been exacerbated by the pandemic. This stretches all the way from Devon and Cornwall to the Hebrides. It’s so much worse than I thought it was, and I knew it was bad. Second homes have become a major problem—if you have a second home in an area where there’s a housing crisis you should be renting it (affordably) to the people who are currently being made homeless. Let’s hope something changes, fast. To read it, click here.

 

Motherisms Feat. Sweet Release and Cancelling

Lockdown has been eased. It’s June, or maybe July, it doesn’t matter any more, and we’re heading to a wedding dress fitting. In the car we both get our masks out of our bags and cover our faces. Mum whispers…

“God, I feel like I’m about to rob a bank.”


It’s typical Devon weather and blowing a gale and pissing with rain. I have gone for a bracing walk on the beach regardless, I come back and manage to coax mum out of the car for a brief stroll upon the headland.

Me: It’s good to get out in the elements to remind you you’re alive.

Mum (cowering from the rain-soaked gale): Yes, the elements are all fine it’s the rain I don’t like.

Me: That’s one of the elements.

Mum: I don’t like it.


Someone’s taken off lots of letters from ‘Mole Valley Farmers’ so it’s says ‘Le Valle’ . Mum immediately adopts a French accent…

“Oh zat is wondiful!”


A two year old is pushing a doll in a pram.

Mum: Oh, look so sweet.

I turn and look.

Mum: She’ll be pushing a real one in 10 years.

Me: Mum!

Mum: She will! That’s why I never gave you anything like that. It’s like they’re training these little girls to be carers from a very young age. Give them a space rocket, or a Maserati.


I’m trying to clear up the photos and things on mum’s phone. She hasn’t quite got her head around the technical language yet (although she has recently started referring to herself as “the mother board” having heard someone in a computer shop say it)….

“Well, I’ll just remove everything I don’t want because it’s taking up my doodaas.”


Two minutes in to showing her how to delete the photos she apparently does not know how to take…

Mum: Oh enough, I want old phone.

Me: But you won’t have WhatsApp.

Mum: Don’t care.

Me: But that’s your main form of communication.

Mum: I don’t like how they track everywhere you go, I want an old one. Us old hippies—

Me: Making life difficult for everyone.


We’re watching Judge Judy to get some tips. A man has broken up with his girlfriend but has taken some of the bedding. He is being questioned as to whether he is using a mattress.

Judge Judy: And do you sleep on the mattress she paid for?

Man: It is my primary mattress.

Me: “Primary mattress!”

Mum: Oh! That’s a good one! If you need me I may be contacted on my primary mattress.


I’m doing a shop for mum, there’s some special offers…

Me: Oh, they’re doing 3 for 2 on Nivea?

Mum: No, that could last me into the next life.


Test and track and test and trace or whatever it is isn’t going very well.

“They couldn’t test shit coming off a shovel — although they’re doing much more interesting stuff at the sewage works.”


We’re watching something on TV. A man holds a baby and the baby starts shrieking. Mum sympathises with the baby…

“Yeah man, men are psychos. No really, a lot of them are. I want to marry Willy Nelson, he’s bought up thousands of acres for marijuana farms and raised all these horses… but then I wouldn’t want to live in America, so we’ll have lead separate lives.


An announcement on the radio says they are “thinking of lockdown in Leicester due to a spike in cases…”

Me: Don’t think about it, just do it.

Mum: “He who hesitates is lost.”


Mum is apparently privy to what most people have been up to during lockdown…

“You wouldn’t know it but they’re all in their hot tubs, drinking prosecco and wife swapping with their neighbor.”


Mum’s car needs a new exhaust…

“Tyres and testicles, always expensive one way or the other.”


We’re listening to a woman signing a version of ‘Nessun Dorma’, it’s not very good.

Me: Leave it to Pavarotti, love.

Mum: Is it that woman who couldn’t sing that they made a film about?

Me: I don’t know. Covering my ears. God it’s dreadful.

Mum: Yes, it must be that woman.

Presenter: And that was Aretha Franklin!

Me: What?! She absolutely murdered that.

Mum: Oh dear no, not her finest hour.


It’s the 100th of 5000 wedding dress fittings. Mum huffed and puffed until I agreed to leave the house 45minutes earlier than I calculated was necessary. We have, of course, arrived 45 minutes early.

Me: We’re so early!

Mum: Well, I like to case the joint.


We drive past an old garage that we used to go to in this one horse town. Mum misses the old chap there.

Me: Just say, “Ron’s been on my mind, I was wondering how he is.”

Mum: Yeah, they’ll think I’m a witch.


A clip of a cartoon from my teenage years comes on. It obviously induces vivid flashbacks in mum…

Mum: Oh! Park Life! West Life!

Me: …South Park.


We’re watching the old Glastonburys and there’s some very exciting early ‘00s sort-of techno going down that I think is a bit hardcore rave scene for me. Mum on the other hand…

“Now it’s not Dreadzone is it? I love Dreadzone.”


Mum’s perusing Facebook. Everyone’s putting up photos of them in the ‘70s and now…

Mum: The women are fairing better than the boys.

Me: Do you want to do it?

Mum: No. *Squints at the screen.* Absolutely not.


Still miniscule, Mum has put on weight, as have many other people. Mum is aware it is because she has been eating huge mounds of toast and honey. Everyone else?

“They act like it’s an act of god!”


Mother is weeping at one of Alan Bennett’s tear-jerker ‘Talking Heads’, which I can’t say I thought was up there with his usual brilliance…

Me: Oh god, you’re easy —Bennett’s got your number.

Mum: Oh, anything gets me now.


We decide to flee to Fremmington Quay, I want some cider. I select a fine vintage bottle that is remarkably low priced.

Mum (looking at the elegant bottles I hold): Oh god no! Merry Down!

Me: What?

Mum: I haven’t seen that for 50 years—used to get very pissed on it as teenagers in Cambridge.

Me: It said “vintage”.

Mum: Yes… they’ve intentionally changed the bottle to dupe the next generation.


We’re driving past some new housing estates being built…

“I do hate all this middle-of-the road mock-brutalism”


We buy some veg from one of the farmers, he’s out of runner beans though. There’s three more farmers in this locale to try our luck and mum announces with verve…

“We’re going to visit every emporium to see what they have to offer!”


For the first time since I arrived, someone has indicated which direction they are going to turn their enormous vehicle.

Me: Indication! Signs of life!

Mum: Brain activity is what we’re looking for. There’s plenty of life, it’s brain activity most of them lack.


Getting the train back to Exeter…

Me: God, the train’s £11 for a single, it was £9 last time I was down.

Mum: There’s always an excuse for things to go up, it’s funny there’s never an excuse for them to go down.


Mum and I are gazing at the rising moon, soon to pass behind the beautifully hideous civic center, demonstrating our contradictory outlooks on existence…

Mum: Nothing matters very much.

Me: Or it all matters incredibly.

Mum: But there’s nothing you can do about it.

Me: And that’s what’s so wonderful.


A Tory MP has been done for sexual assault, or rape, or something awful, but they haven’t released his name.

Me: Must have an injunction of some sort.

Mum: There have to be good reasons for an injunction.

Me: Or a good lawyer.


The Canada Geese have returned to the estuary, and they float down the river and rave on the water every night, much to mother’s distress.

“Oh, I do hope they’re not going to have another party tonight. No, really, all that honking all night – too much.”


We’re driving through one of the one horse towns of my childhood that I still cherish. It’s changed, in some ways for the better, in many ways not. I look over at where the cattle market used to be by the swimming pool…

Me: Do they have any cows there anymore?

Mum: No, they don’t like the “animal faeces”. But they let they’re dogs crap everywhere, then they put it in a litter bag and throw it in a tree. What’s that about?!


Mother calls from the other room…

“Dystopia doesn’t suit me. Don’t like the wardrobe for dystopia, doesn’t suit anyone.”


I am explaining about cancelling and cancel culture.

Mum: Cancel me now!

Me: Oh believe me, if this had a big enough audience you’d be cancelled in a heartbeat.

Mum: Fucking great. No platform this bitch!


We overhear a group of avid runners. Some maybe over-avid?

Me, aghast: Did you hear that? She’s run 1400 miles since lockdown.

Mum: Not all at once, surely.


Mum is talking about Bojo’s plans to build a giant erection (bridge) from Scotland to Ireland.

“They’re on drugs.” She narrows her eyes. “I just don’t know what drugs.”


My mother and I thank other people in cars endlessly, even if we have been driven into a ditch, it’s “Thank you!” We smile to someone who has done exactly this and doesn’t even bother to acknowledge our existence. I am insulted. Mum…

“They’re rude, bourgeois people who have come down here to grow begonias.”


I am showing mum some photos from Fremmington Quay. I sneakily took one of her without permission.

“God! Who’s that strange old crone drinking Merry Down?”


Sometimes I get words stuck in my head, and sometimes I’m not even sure what they mean…

Me: What is a ‘contretemps’, an argument?

Mum: Yes, an argument: Contre. Temps.

Me: Just asking. I may know many things but I do not know all things absolutely.

Mum: That’s a surprise.

Me: If I don’t know something I’ll ask.

Mum: No that’s very wise, really. That’s problem with many people, they don’t ask when they don’t know.


We’re watching ‘Jane’, a film about Jane Austen, where there’s lots of glancing across rooms and playing with each other’s hair, but suddenly people are running joyfully down a hill. Mum sighs wistfully at the gleeful runners…

“Oh! How wonderful to be so young you could do such a thing without endangering yourself.”


Genuinely think this might be Merry Down…

Article For Tribune

For Tribune I wrote about the power of protest witnessed globally with the Black Lives Matter movement and wielding that power on a local scale. And the hospital in my hometown as a prime example of how we can, and why we should can, fight for local services and communities as hospitals around the country are being closed or partially closed. Click Here.