Gastric distress

I fail to see how viewers could be expected to believe in a heroine who wouldn’t fall for a man with

Well, that’s the next book done, then… It’s always a complete anti-climax when a book’s finished. You’ll pootle about your flat afterwards with a numb/emptied feeling, then send if off before beginning the enormous wait for anyone to get back to you.

The pause left at this point always being far too long – even if it’s only a few hours (not that it ever is only a few hours, you’ll understand – despite that fact that it is physically possible to read a book in a few hours…)

Sadly, even though your new volume has been pressing on your brain like a venomous tumour for months and months, no one else is really that bothered about it – even if they’ve been expecting it, have paid a bit in advance for it and made mumbly nearly interested noises when you’ve ranted on about it. (That’s what your agent and editor are for – to provide mumbly noises.) The level of caring about my books tends to drop off from

ME – 347 per cent

My readers – between 100 per cent and 102 per cent - but there are only 12 of them. And some of them scare me. And some of them only touch/stroke the books, they don’t actually read them…

My agent and Editor – between 75 per cent and 76 per cent apportioned in rotation between authors according to alphabetical arrangement, height and availability of biscuits.

Other readers – 6 per cent

My pals – 4 per cent (They have a lot of other things on their minds.)

Other comics in clubs – 2 per cent (And they’re faking that.)

Other people I meet as I go about my life – 0.8 per cent

Other people in the world – 0.0 per cent

As it happens, I hammered the book’s last sentence into place while an Austrian camera crew fiddled with lights, set up for an interview and then looked on politely as I growled into my laptop and waggled my head twitches in combination with a hearty – I’LL BE WITH YOU IN A MINUTE, YOU WON’T BELIEVE THIS BUT I AM ACTUALLY JUST NOW FINISHING A BOOK, EXACTLY AS I SPEAK – AM I SPEAKING ? – ANYWAY, I’LL JUST DO THIS – AND THIS - AND THEN THAT. DEAR GOD, WHAT WAS I THINKING ? I MEANT THIS ! OH, JUST AT LEAST LOOK INTERESTED COULD YOU ? THIS IS THE CULMINATION OF THREE YEAR’S WORK, YOU KNOW. AND KEEP WELL BACK, I MAY CRY.

To celebrate, I purchased – through the interweb – a pair of splendid electric blue and black suede shoes. I’m not generally much of a shoe person, but performing shoes are a good thing to have and these got two outings of comedy this week and managed to propel me across the stage with ease and stylishness.

This was a more than usually miraculous achievement given that my ear infection has returned (my body really does want me to just lie down for a while) and I am now on industrial strength antibiotics which are causing my digestive system, shall we say some distress. Suddenly doing a 20 minute set had to be carefully coordinated with the onceeveryfortyminute episodes of gastric distress. Ah, me – showbiz is so dandy.

And now I am waiting to hear about a book, a film and any number of BBC thingies – which is more waiting than my frame can stand. Frankly, my regular sprints to the bathroom are proving a healthy distraction. And there’s always the telly,,, which I rarely get to see unless I’m both at home and exhausted. I continue to enjoy the bewilderment and gallopy shouting which is The Devil’s Whore – although I fail to see how viewers could be expected to believe in a heroine who wouldn’t fall immediately for a man with a large facial scar, several mental difficulties and a metal hand.

Of course, many people in the days before thermoplastics, grafting and Hello had to settle for prosthetics made out of slightly unsuitable materials. George Washington had wooden teeth and Tycho Brahe had a metal nose. A potentially helpful mobility aid like a walking stick might be rendered attractive and yet dangerous by being made of glass. I imagine many period conversations running thusly:

“Why are you lying down there, my good man ?”

“Oh, you know… first I snapped my walking stick and now my toffee legs have melted. D’you think you could carry me home ?”

“I’d love to, sirrah, but my spine has been replaced with these bottle tops and strips of gingham so I’m not really up to heavy lifting.”

“I quite understand. Give my last regards to my lady wife – you can’t miss her, she’s the one with the paraffin ear and the woollen face.”

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.