The Top 5 Things I Learned this Week

You’re never too old, right? This week I found myself on a steep part of the learning curve, and began to wish I had crampons to stop me falling off. Here’s what I learned.

1 It’s entirely possible to tell the difference between hairspray and other kinds of spray, but – here’s the tricky bit – I have to remember to look first.

Scholl odour control

Still, I had the reassurance of knowing that my hair wouldn’t smell like mouldy trainers.

2 ‘Loading’ does not have a strict definition set out in legislation. If you think stopping to pick an order from a shop constitutes loading, then be prepared to argue your case. The general interpretation is that loading/unloading should be in the nature of a collection/delivery.  It does not include parking in the loading bay while shopping or, if you’re feeling peckish, visiting McDonalds.

stopped in a loading bay

If you too are just getting to grips with that little lesson, you may like to check out Ticket fighter. 

3 There is only one correct way to offer a horse a lump of sugar. FYI it is not by holding the sugar cube in your fingers. 

horses in the field

If the first one doesn’t bite your fingers off, the second one probably will. 

4 Although drinking alcohol on London’s underground system has been forbidden since 1st June 2008, it doesn’t mean the guy swilling Special Brew on the Jubilee Line will thank you for pointing that out to him, especially if he has a fuck-off haircut and a nasty glint in his one good eye.  No, not even when you explain you’re only trying to spare him a hefty fine.

Special Brew

On the other hand, you may qualify for a discounted coffee at London Bridge station (wonder if there’s a sliding scale of discounts depending on the location of the injury?).   

Been to Guys Hospital

5 Letting a child with a cold kiss you is a really bad idea. I’d show you the end result, but it proved far too gruesome for a photo.  

You know what really worries me? The week isn’t over yet.

The Hack’s Progress

Harriet has been a journalist for 16 years. At first, she hoped to become a household name.  

Household names

Now, as she sits in Starbucks, her goal is more mundane: to pay Simon back. Her boyfriend put a roof over her head and this new laptop in front of her. Still, it would be nice to be invited to speak at an Editorial Intelligence Breakfast Salon.  Or just contribute to a trending topic on Twitter, ideally in the same week that it’s trending.

Simon does not approve of Starbucks, or, as he puts it, ‘all that it stands for’. Harriet’s view is less complex. It stands on the corner and it’s a place to work.

Whenever Harriet thinks her career’s going OK, she brings herself back down to earth. What kind of household name would pen features like “What your loo roll says about you”?  

What does your loo roll say about you

That was at least easier than some of the other features. The commissioning editor of RightHere! magazine, a terrifying Glaswegian woman, once wanted a really fun piece on women who’d traded their baby for a Hermes handbag. When Harriet’s jaw dropped, the editor assured her there were zillions of women out there that would feel unconditional love for a Birkin, hen. Especially since it wouldn’t poop and cry all night, and it certainly wouldn’t tell them it hated them in 12 years time.

Harriet knows all about ‘really fun’ pieces.  After making a zillion phone calls and pestering everyone on Facebook, she still ends up without any case studies willing to give their real names and photos, let alone women young, slim and blonde enough. Editors always claim to know their readers, but Harriet doubts if any of them are smart sassy under-40s. RightHere! magazine could probably keep 99% of its readers happy with knitting patterns and offers on cod liver oil.      

Instead Harriet asked “Could it be a Mulberry bag?”

The editor was withering.  “Are ye daft?  Nobody would do that.”

Christmas is coming up and Starbucks has gone all red and green.  This time of year makes Harriet blue so she tries to keep busy. She is up to her eyes in her piece Great Gifts for Under £10.  These are remarkably similar to Great Gifts Over £10, except for the quality.

She wonders about covering Fabulous Festive Gifts Over a Grand, but doesn’t think PR companies will send over the freebies she has in mind. 

freebies over a grand

By now most titles have Christmas sewn up, but there’s always the chance of a last minute request.

The editor at RightHere! will probably ring her with a really fun festive feature idea.  All Harriet would have to do is find three women who’ve had an immaculate conception. They’d have to give their real names and be photographed, of course.  And it would a bonus if their partners are carpenters. 


Harriet is a freelance journalist from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. This weekend you can read more about her and other single Londoners for only 99p (UK Kindle edition). And let’s face it, what could you get at Starbucks for 99p?

Remembrance Sunday in Suffolk

Did they know, 100 years ago, how many would come?

Remembrance Sunday, Aldeburgh

While I didn’t count heads at Aldeburgh cenotaph, I noticed the variety of individuals come to pay respect.

Elderly veterans, chests heaving with medals and emotion.

Britten buffs (it’s next door to Snape).

Local dignitaries, the vicar and the obligatory Laurence Binyon.

Children. Dogs (pride of place to Aldeburgh’s First Pooch Snooks).


Hell’s Angels too.

Hell's Angels

3 Regiment Army Air Corps, based at Wattisham. They weren’t all on parade that day.

not all on parade

An Apache flew past, doing the length of coastal Suffolk.

Apache helicopter

The crowd finally shuffled away, to warm houses and hot dinners.

We owe.


 Moot Hall

PS If ever you’re in Aldeburgh, see Moot Hall. It’s been here since 1520 and is set to be around a few more years.

Ham and Eggs with Mr Turner

It was lovely to sit down for two and a half hours with my mobile turned off. On the minus side, I had to put up with caricatures that would have done Harry Enfield and Chums proud. In the lead role is an on-form Timothy Spall doing his best-ever impression of Timothy Spall’s rendition of Timothy Spall.

His gurning is magnificent, his grunts fit for a piggery at feeding time. It all helps establish JMW Turner’s origins: his father was a barber and his mother a lunatic (as it was termed in Victorian times). The artist’s inarticulacy is well portrayed, but I didn’t see the need to over-egg the pudding, turning him and his housekeeper into Wayne and Waynetta Slob

There is also much gasping, groaning, staggering and falling about, all of which sharpens the contrast between Turner and his colleagues at the Royal Academy (filmed at Wentworth Woodhouse near Rotherham, South Yorkshire). There we have John Carew, David Roberts, John Constable, John Singer Sargent, Sir John Soane and others. The more Turner grunts, the more they twirl, ponder, recoil, ponce about and generally over-act.

Then Mike Leigh takes the piss out of the Ruskin family who come across as unbearably pseud.

I can't show you a Turner. Go to the Tate Britain.

I can’t show you a Turner here. Go to the Tate Britain.

The film Mr Turner goes to huge lengths (or, as the Daily Mail puts it, ‘amazing tricks’) to make the film authentic in every detail. Doctors did house calls in those days, though I’m not sure how Leigh induces Dr Price to come to London all the way from Margate for a simple home visit, especially since, in the film, Margate has quietly slipped west to Cornwall.

Still, the stethoscope is spot on as the simple tube invented by Frenchman René Laënnec His name is pronounced ‘Le Neck’ though this isn’t where doctors wore it at the time. The binaural model used today only came into production in 1851, the year Turner died. 

HP Rapaport Sprague stethoscope, circa 1981

HP Rapaport Sprague stethoscope, circa 1981

I liked Turner’s last mistress Mrs Booth (played by Dorothy Atkinson) who bears more than a passing resemblance to my ex-husband’s new wife. And Marion Bailey is a superb depiction of loyal housekeeper Hannah Danby, not least for the evolution of her psoriasis. First we see her scratching her neck, but later her scaly skin turns rampant. As the years pass, she becomes increasingly stooped and rigid, probably from psoriatic arthropathy which affects some 10% of people with psoriasis.

Turner’s eccentricity and talent come across well, as does the progression of his style of painting. Many of the images are genuinely beautiful. But the acting? More ham than a Bavarian market.

This is just my opinion. In no way does it represent the views of my husband (who thought we had booked to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), let alone the rest of the movie world. I’m sure everyone else will absolutely love the film to bits, darling.