I love to laugh!

How often do you laugh? I mean, seriously laugh? It’s one of my favourite things in the whole world – and, as the song goes – “I love to laugh, long and loud and clear; the more I laugh, the more I fill with glee, and the more the glee, the more I’m a merrier me”!

My husband and I have never stopped being able to make each other laugh. The other day, we laughed till the tears rolled down our cheeks. And our stomachs ached. And our faces hurt. I have no idea what we were laughing at but boy, does that do my heart good! So I thought I’d share a few things with you that make me laugh. Or just smile.

A few days ago, I tried out a new gym class: chi ball. I’d heard – from the instructor – just how amazing it was, and he told me, as he flapped his hand forward, that I’d “simply love it! It’s divine.”

So I booked to do a chi ball class before my usual Pilates class. I arrived to a studio “filled” with three other people. We all got out our mats, sat on them and waited for the instructor, who is notoriously late for everything. The door flew open and in rushed the instructor, three limbs flapping at a rate of knots; the fourth one dragging behind in melodramatic tardiness.

He was already speaking – in broad Glaswegian – before he came in the door. To us, I mean. “Yes, you do see me limping I banged my knee on the fridge because they’re doing some work in our flat and everything in the kitchen is all over the flat and the fridge is in the passage so I walked into it because it’s just in the way and my knee’s so sore I can hardly move it and on the tube I was trying to avoid anyone bumping me and so I stood like this and I couldn’t bring the chi balls because they’re too heavy and they would weigh me down and put pressure on my knee because it’s so sore how are you?”

After the second word, two of the three other women in the room stopped listening and started giggling. They looked at each other, and giggled behind their hands, and slapped each other and giggled. I thought the performance was amusing, but not so giggle-worthy. When the words stopped, one of the women said to the instructor, “Ah, is this not yoga?” He told them yoga was in the studio next door, so they up and went next door, leaving the two of us to enjoy a chi ball class with no chi balls and an injured instructor. A chi ball class not.

Our instructor – who is a lovely man – then suggested we do a mixture of tai chi, chi gong, yoga and pilates, so the two of us set up shop next to each other and launched into a musical mystery tour of ancient truths and butterfly arms. A few minutes into the routine, we all looked hopefully across the room as two more people entered. Turned out they were just there to take the extra mats.

We touched the sun, we posed like warriors and we reached around the world. All the time with butterfly arms. It was a hilarious class when I reflect back on it – it was flipping hard work trying to change the world with butterfly arms. I’ll give it a bash again next week. Let’s hope the fridge has moved by then.

I’ve told you quite a lot about the fun I have commuting to central London by bus. I have discovered that the earlier I leave, the more likely I am to share the bus with a truckload, sorry a busload, of schoolchildren. They are an interesting breed. The boys and girls sit separately, totally separately, and they get off at separate stops even though they go to the same school. I guess early adolescence is the time to avoid the opposite sex, even though all they want to do, really, is spend time together.

One day last week, as the boys headed off down the stairs at their designated stop, one of them looked around at the top of the stairs and, surveying the mass of commuter heads in his view, shouted, “Bye bye all you funny bus people!” I guess he must have lost a bet.

We had a successful outing – thank the Lord! – to our favourite comedy club recently. Stephen Merchant, who co-wrote The Office and Extras with Ricky Gervais and who appeared in both series, headlined at our local comedy club. Stephen is off on a tour of the UK later this year, followed by one or two tester dates in the USA. He wanted to try out his new material, and what better place to do that than a small, intimate comedy club in south London?

We found seats just behind the band, who play between the acts. They were a great buffer until the acts came on stage, and then they all disappeared, leaving us, well, exposed. Thank goodness no-one picked on us!

Stephen Merchant is very very funny. His tour is called “Hello Ladies” as, he explained, he is looking for a “Mrs”. He’s on the search for someone who wants a little of “this”, he says, as he points up and down his body. He looked at a woman in the front row and said, “I know what you’re thinking. Six foot seven. That’s a lot of Stephen.”

His humour is delightfully self-deprecating, and he wove his stories around the sorry tale of his singleness and his inept attempts at romance. Despite the fact that he has two Baftas. He also talked – with many many hilarious diversions – of how he once came to being kicked out of a wedding reception. He told us how great it was to be on tour as a solo stand-up comedian: “Yes, best that way. Don’t have to pay any royalties to [air speech marks] you-know-who!”

Stephen Merchant is a delightful and very funny man. If you get the chance to see him perform, jump at it; you won’t be sorry you did. He is one half of The Office genius and he’s certainly a very talented half. I can imagine the energy that flowed between him and “you-know-who”, both when they worked at BBC Radio together and then when they worked on all their killer series together.

My blog will be silent for the next few weeks as we fly home to be with our family for a couple of major big birthday celebrations. To say that I’m sick with excitement would be a major understatement. I look forward to sharing the adventures with you on our return but, for now, I’m smiling and waving you all au revoir. With butterfly arms. Always with butterfly arms.

Sunshine signing off for today!

London Makes You Laugh

I think I am in love with Greenwich. I keep finding more reasons to adore the area, and last night was no exception. We went to Up the Creek, a comedy club, for an evening of brilliant, stand-up comedy. Two more tickets for our red box, and another excuse to enthuse about the area where time begins.

I’ve been longing to see some real, live stand-up comedy in London. I saw Ricky Gervais at Wembley last year, and he was fabulous, but such a huge venue loses the personal feel and cringe-worthiness of a dark, intimate venue just up the road. Last night we took the ten minute bus ride, joined the queue to get our tickets and to get a “glow-in-the-dark” X drawn on to the back of our hands, and then went into the darkened, red-seated cavern that is Up the Creek.

I was fascinated with the temporary tattoo on my hand. I tried to look at it through cupped hands, creating my own kind of darkness, but it didn’t work. I also meant to ask my husband if they also drew a “Y” on the back of his hand, but I guess they didn’t have to be chromosomally correct.

We took our seats three rows from the front. Seating wasn’t booked, and we noticed that the front rows were conspicuously empty until some latecomers had no choice but to sit directly in the firing line of the comic guns.

There was a wait of about an hour before the comedy began. We heard the guy behind us – he was from up north somewhere – tell his friends, at least three times, just how f***ing brilliant the headline act was. He told his friends he’d seen him once before where he performed for two hours on the trot.

“I tell you, he was f***ing brilliant. We were creased up.”

Ah, that delightful English gift of understatement.

After an hour, compere Dan Atkinson took the stage. Dressed in a suit, with an impossibly foppish fringe, he proceeded to take the mickey out of anyone within spitting distance of the stage. He engaged ruthlessly with audience members, bringing his quick, acerbic wit to every encounter.

He introduced the first act: a comedy sketch trio who call themselves The Pappy’s (sic). They were incredibly corny, but so corny we found ourselves laughing despite ourselves. An example: a job interview sketch, where the interviewee couldn’t think how to answer the questions he was being asked. He called out for his imagination, which arrived in the form of fellow comedian, dressed in a shower cap, dressing gown, bizarre funnel hanging from his nose and jumping – very badly – on a pogo stick. I rest my case.

Dan came back to pick on a few more unsuspecting patrons. He chose to engage with one newly front-rowed patron who had had a riveting Sunday: she’d made bread. White bread.

After a few jibes at what he thought the patrons from Croydon would make of that, he introduced Act Number Two: a delightful, young, gorgeous and – as I’ve seen him described – fresh-faced Scottish comedian by the name of Iain Stirling. He had us at the accent, but he was also really funny. He delivered a bunch of clever gags, poked wicked fun at the Scottish, and batted off some stupid comments from the snotty patrons sitting in front of us.

Next up, after a further audience battering from Dan, was Nick Helm, a frenetic and engagingly pessimistic and self-deprecating comedian who really made us laugh. The self-acclaimed “human car crash of light entertainment”, he started off by picking on a meek and, clearly, boring young guy in the front row and yelling at him at the top of his voice: “DO YOU LIKE COMEDY? DO YOU LIKE COMEDY? DO YOU LIKE COMEDY?”

In a style reminiscent of George Carlin, he delivered a number of brilliant one-liners, recited a gin-fuelled love poem and sang us a delightful song written to a female friend of his about her good-looking boyfriend who makes her “look fat”. The song ended with a plea to her to consider going out with him, because “look how good you’d look next to me”.

Dan came on for the final time to introduce the headline act, and the reason we’d booked to go to this show: Micky Flanagan. The room went ballistic as the brilliant Cockney comedian took the stage and shared his unique, down-to-earth brand of humour that has gained him popularity all around the UK. Describing himself as “proper proper workin’ class”, he grew up in the East End of London.

“Before the gentrification of the area that brought rich people into the East End, we would walk the streets dreaming of Essex,” he said.

His father, he said, was a casual criminal, his mother considered alphabet spaghetti a luxury, and he said his nan (grandmother) used to take him “daan the pub” to teach him how to take the p*** out of people.

“If they can’t hear us, we’re not doin’ them no ‘arm,” she’d say to him.

Without resorting to humour that is crude or vulgar, he kept us laughing for the full hour. His gags are aimed largely at himself, British culture and his own working class roots. He performed at last month’s Royal Variety Show in London – check it out here, you’ll see what I mean.

He engaged with a few front rowers in a gentle and un-mocking way and managed to bat off – graciously – the increasingly annoying punters sitting in front of us. I don’t think, however, he called them annoying punters.

We walked to the bus stop, replete with humour, well creased-up from laughing and so glad to have discovered another treasure on our doorstep in Greenwich. We’ll be back there for sure.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Two Ends of the Golden Globes

I haven’t quite settled on what I think about Ricky Gervais’ performance of hosting the Golden Globe Awards ceremony on Sunday night. He was typically Ricky. That is: offensive, irreverent, scathing, merciless, relentless, multi-judgmental and over the top. And incredibly funny.

I can’t work out if David Brent is Ricky Gervais’ alter ego, or the other way round. Either way, he steps in and out of both personas with ease. Watching the clips of him, I winced and cringed and sighed and hid my face in my hands. And I laughed. Hard. At times I wondered if I should be laughing. Was my laughter offending anyone? You know what? I think that’s exactly what Ricky Gervais wanted.

He knew exactly what he was doing. He took risks, he knew exactly what kind of reaction he’d get and I think he’s made a huge success of it. He got as much media coverage as the winning performers and, if popular culture is to be believed, any publicity is good publicity. The kind of comedian he is, he probably thought this would be his last shot at the Golden Globes anyway, so why not live dangerously? In all the reports I read ahead of the ceremony, he had stated categorically that he wasn’t going to be reined in and he wanted carte blanche in terms of material. Check. He got that, and then some.

I don’t think anything has changed in the Ricky Gervais camp this week. He’s always been a Marmite kind of guy, as they say over here in the UK: either you love him or you hate him. His performance on Sunday cemented that. Die-hards will continue to love him. Haters will continue to hate him. As for me, I love Marmite but sometimes, if I’ve spread it too thickly on my toast, it makes me choke.

Love him or hate him, Ricky’s in-your-face performance didn’t detract from the highlight of the evening for me: the best actor award. It went to the darling, charming, well-loved and self-effacing British actor, Colin Firth. Mr Gervais’ polar opposite. The awardee’s performance in The King’s Speech was exquisite. We saw the film yesterday.

We went to our favourite area of London – Greenwich – to the Greenwich Picture House, to watch the movie. Don’t you love that it’s called a Picture House? Given that it was a weekday afternoon, the cinema was filled with elderly pensioners and my husband and I brought the average age down significantly. We enjoyed the nostalgic experience of feeling like bothersome youths!

I knew I was going to love The King’s Speech; I cried when I watched the trailer a month ago. A minute into the movie and the tears were rolling down my face! That’s not usually my acid test for movies, but this one is moving beyond words. The central theme is the relationship between the man who becomes King George VI and his speech therapist, one Australian, Lionel Logue. Lionel recognises the King’s pain and his value as a human being and, in so doing, becomes his first friend.

I won’t go into detail about the movie because I hope that you all will go and see it and see what a worthy Golden Globe recipient Mr Firth is. Geoffrey Rush‘s performance is outstanding too. My hope is that they’ll both be nominated for Oscars and win. The movie is poignant, agonising, heartbreaking and extraordinarily triumphant.

Mr Gervais and Mr Firth. Two Englishmen. Two perspectives. Globes apart.

Sunshine signing off for today!

How to win friends and interview people

I don’t know if it started with my sons’ response to me showing them my 70s disco dance moves. Or if I said it to my husband when he was trying to speak like a Jamaican. But somewhere along the line, in our family, we started to say, “Let’s not do that.”

Yesterday, I took great delight in unsubscribing from all the job alerts I had signed up for. My email inflow has dropped drastically but what a pleasure not to have to wade through all of those. It also got me thinking about something else I won’t have to do again (for a while, I hope!) now that I have a job: I won’t have to go for interviews.

Now that I am able to start reflecting on my interviews with a sense of amusement rather than failure, I thought it might be helpful – a public service, perhaps – to provide some feedback to interviewers, from an interviewee’s point of view. And I thought what better way to approach it, than to say, “Let’s not do that.”

1. Let’s not freak out the interviewee

I had an interview last year with an HR manager and a head of communications. The HR manager asked me a few random questions, then sat back, rested her chin between her thumb and forefinger, and gave me the hairy eyeball. She just stared at me. The head of comms grabbed the mic and asked me a few questions, but it was hugely off-putting to have another pair of eyes drilling into the side of my head. She was also the one who said, “Lovely to meet you.” Perhaps she wanted me for dinner.

2. Let’s not play games

A few months ago, I applied for a job and got short-listed. The recruiter called me to tell me I had been short-listed and invited for interview. I was thrilled (as I always was!) and, during the course of the conversation, I asked her how many people had been short-listed. She immediately said, “Ooh, I can’t tell you that!” O-o-k-a-a-a-y…

My interview was preceded by a test. I arrived at my designated time, was met by a frazzled HR person who failed to introduce herself but just dragged me upstairs to the test venue. She – seriously – kept the test paper face down as she looked at her watch and synchronised her time with the clock on the wall. She was almost hyperventilating and then told me she didn’t know whether she was Arthur or Martha. I said to her, “Have you had a busy day?” Her instant retort was, “I’m not going to answer that because you just want to know how many people have been interviewed.” How about, no? How about, that’s the question I would have asked anyone in a similar state of frazzled-ness?

She then waited for the exact second at which to turn the test paper over, and my 30 minutes began. Good afternoon, Miss.

3. Let’s not interview in a warehouse-sized boardroom

When my above 30 minutes were up, I was met by one of my prospective interviewers. He escorted me to the interview room, which was the biggest boardroom I have ever seen. The three interviewers were scattered around the table and I could have done with a megaphone to answer their questions audibly. Shouting through cupped hands seemed to do the trick, but I didn’t get the job.

4. Let’s not interview at the gym

A few months ago I was invited to interview for a job in an organisation similar to the one I worked for in Cape Town. The interview was to be held at a Club in Chelsea, near the Thames. It sounded like a maritime-themed Club, and I envisaged it to be a business club, where you can hire a meeting room for such occasions. I arrived at the venue, walked through the door and realised this was a gym. I panicked a bit as I thought I’d got the wrong venue. I approached the uniformed woman at the reception desk and said to her, with a question in my voice, that I was there for an interview and I told her with whom. She smiled and nodded and took me through to the coffee shop where two women were waiting to interview me. With the overwhelming aroma of chlorine floating through the room, people coming and going and meeting up after or before their daily workout, shouts and screeches and splashes all around, I had an interview at a gym coffee shop. Funnily enough, this was the job I didn’t get because I was “too nice”. Perhaps I should have walked in and said to them, “WTF, guys?” (Why The Funny-venue?)

5. Let’s not panic

About six weeks ago, I got a frantic call at 8am on a Monday morning. It was a recruiter who could barely speak through her worried breath. She told me of two jobs she was recruiting for, and asked if I was interested. I said they sounded interesting and would be happy for her to email the job specs through to me (as is usually the case). She said she needed to know that moment as she had to get back to the employers.  (They’d called her at 7 that morning to brief her on two jobs that needed responses by 8.30? I don’t think so.)

I then outlined my concerns about the jobs, given that they were looking for someone with local media contacts. I reminded her that, while I had media experience, I didn’t have local contacts. In increasing panic, she said she would get back to me. I never heard from her again. Ever.

6. Let’s not wander off the subject too much

I have registered with about a million quite a few recruitment agencies. Some of them ignore you completely. Some of them invite you for an interview to put you on their books. At one such interview, the agent spent more time talking about her upcoming holiday in Cape Town, than my job requirements. Hmmm, thanks for that.

7. Let’s not interview like David Brent

I can’t say I had an interview exactly like this, but I did often feel like poor old Stuart in this clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtfUn6b4NBY

8. Let’s not become a recruiter

Last year, I had an hour-long interview with a recruitment consultant. She had my CV in front of her, she asked me loads of questions, wrote copious notes all around the perimeter of my CV, gave me some useful advice about job hunting (I was new to London at that time), and said she would chat to her colleagues and get back to me about any job possibilities. I never heard from her again. Ever.

I know recruiters are inundated with applicants. But she never responded to any email I ever sent her, even when I asked about jobs her agency was advertising. To me, that was most bizarre. I would imagine that relationships are your stock-in-trade when you are a recruiter, and communication – and communication skills – should be a given for the role. If you don’t like dealing with people, find another career. Surely?

I met a woman at my gym in Cape Town a few years ago. She ran her own horticulture business. She told me she loved her work, she loved working with plants and the joy of watching gardens grow.

“I’m a plant person, you see. I’m not a people person. I like people, but I don’t think I could eat a whole one.”

Perhaps some recruiters should take note. And, interviewers, I hope you have found this feedback useful. You were all strong candidates but unfortunately you didn’t have the exact match of skills and experience that I was looking for and someone else gave me the job. Thank you for the time and effort you took in interviewing me.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Finding David Brent

I consider myself something of a serial eavesdropper. Not in a creepy way, but in a way that I do seriously tune into funny things that people say in restaurants, on the bus, on the tube, walking along the street. Doing just that in Essex on Saturday, I felt inspired to begin a mini-project within my blog: Finding David Brent.

David Brent - photo from http://www.dailymail.co.uk

You might have gathered that I am something of a fan of Ricky Gervais. Our family’s first taste of his humour was when we stumbled upon an episode of The Office on TV one Sunday evening. It was the episode where a motivational speaker had been hired to run a workshop with the Office staff. Gervais’ character, David Brent, was supremely threatened by this and did all he could to interject, take over or add in his take on what the speaker was talking about. In the end, David Brent took out his guitar and played a song he’d written. It was a hilarious episode, our first encounter with Gervais and the “mockumentary” style and we were hooked on both.

So following on from the David Brent dance-alike in my Zumba class of a few weeks ago (The Office Moves), we came across another dead ringer over the weekend. We went shopping in Essex on Saturday, and stopped for lunch in a little coffee shop in the mall. David Brent and his wife came in, and stormed out when the table they had been eyeing was taken by a young mum and her two small children. He audibly sighed, “That was our table,” before picking up his skirts and flouncing out of the coffee shop with his wife, giving the young mum a look that could kill.

About ten minutes later, the table next to ours became free. In walked DB and his wife (not sure where they’d been lurking – perhaps just outside the door), and they sat themselves down as soon as they could, making sure no-one could beat them to the spot. He announced to his wife, for all to hear (and I’m guessing he’d have looked into the camera, David Brent-style, had there been one):

“Right, love, whatever you want, buy. Cheapest.”

And that is something that only David Brent would say.

Sunshine signing off for today.