Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Howards End

Hidcote, Cotswolds

I thought, "Do I need to watch this? Because I've seen the film." But it turns out that the film is now 25 years old and the plot I remembered was actually the one for The Remains of the Day (there is a small cast overlap). But I suppose that is at least one step better than remembering it as Howards Way. In fact, it's pretty remarkable - I can't remember the plot of a film I see nowadays for longer than five minutes. I saw The Girl On The Train at the weekend, for example. It was about a girl on a train. She drank a lot. She got confused. And so did I.

So yes, it turned out I did need to watch Howards End, and I am glad that I did. But a shock similar to the realisation of how long ago the film was made was seeing Matthew McFadyean eligible to play the part of "stuffy old man", when I still like to think of him as "bright young thing". It's a bit like if Ewan McGregor was asked to play Grandpa Joe in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That hasn't actually happened yet (has it? Renton was still only a mildly craggy middle-aged in T2, even if he did have a heart attack at the start (don't ask me the rest of the plot - it's been weeks)), but elsewhere Phillip Schofield is a white-haired man fronting This Morning without Gordon the Gopher, and Paul Nicholas and Wayne Sleep are presenting documentaries about retiring. It seems we've all moved on, people. Alas. I've aged, and so have they. (Shopping list item one - reading glasses.)

Another shock was how little of the plot takes place in Howards End itself. Mr Wilcox struggled with his property portfolio, inadvertently buying an estate in the wrong part of Shropshire, where there were "no grouse to shoot". He didn't seem sure what to do with any of his dwellings or which of them to live in, because there were just so many of them. He couldn't keep track and just let them all slowly decay. A bit like the landlords of the properties either side of us here in York. But then the point of this adaptation did rather seem to be its relevance to now - the class divides of wealth, opportunity and sexual attitudes; the gulf of achievements and expectations between genders; the rich decimating the lives of the poor with no heed of the consequences, like water running off a duck's back; the difficulty of climbing back on the ladder when society dictates that you slide off it; wandering about on top of a cliff edge looking longingly across to Europe.

The BBC had thrown in some racism for good measure (and Lord knows, there's still plenty of that around today) with servants and partners from ethnic minorities being regarded with a frown beyond the disapproval of all things German that the Schlegel family faced. But I loved the unconventionality of the Schlegels - the feisty sisters with their cosmopolitan tastes, wonderful dress sense and free opinions (which they were able to express, even if Mr Wilcox wasn't listening), and Tibby with his hypochondria, apprentice pipe smoking and eccentric academic foibles such as suddenly sitting down to learn Chinese. I am not sure if he set foot outside during the whole series.

It was all very subtle, with long scenes and gentle putdowns dismissing great ambitions. So subtle that I didn't even notice that the first Mrs Wilcox was terminally ill, or that Leonard and Helen were supposed to have had sex. The big dramatic climax - the reveal of the illegimate pregnancy, the beating with a sword, the bookcase end of poor Mr Bast - was over in a moment. Then we were back to a slow meadow, reminiscent of that wonderful scene between Lucy and George in A Room With A View where they kiss for the first time in the Tuscan hills (another, even older film). Only this time the love was between two sisters and a child, and for a man who finally understood what it is to honour a legacy, a dying wish, and who had accepted that you cannot act differently to the rules that you dictate to others. There was thunder rumbling in the distance.

There were many scenes in London. The Wilcox's London apartment was in a block on Kensington Gore opposite the Royal Albert Hall, through a window of which I once saw pornographic material being projected onto a giant screen during an interval at the Proms. I thought the soon-to-be-demolished Georgian terraces of Wickham Place were on that perpetual weekend film set of Lincolns Inn near Holborn but apparently they were in a square in trendy Clerkenwell.

Photo: Becky Buckley

This Howards End, with its gorgeous country garden reminiscent of the one in the opening photograph of this post, was a house near Godalming in Surrey. West Wycombe House in Buckinghamshire stood in for Oniton in Shropshire, but I can't comment on the National Trust's permissions for grouse-shooting. Aunt Juley's house and the cliffs looking out to Europe were above Studland Bay in Dorset. They all made England look far lovelier than the realities of 2017, where sadly the "remains of the day" are just too many of the attitudes in Howards End.

Dorset cliffs

Friday, 1 December 2017

Love, Lies and Records

I am enjoying this Leeds-based drama by Kay Mellor, although I haven't quite worked out whether it is comedy, drama, murder mystery, love story or just a mix of everything. That would make sense, as  "a mix of everything" is pretty much the job description of a council registrar, who must see the highs and lows of life on a daily basis.

Ashley Jensen plays Kate, a slightly unconventional senior registrar who is popular at work but has teenagers at home, with all the upheaval that brings. Dodgy texts from unknown males, truancy from school, late-night disappearances, stepsons randomly turning up to move in. Her husband is a  detective, dragging corpses of young women out of canals. Somehow it looks as though all of these things are connected by more than just family ties.

Rebecca Front plays Judy, the woman who longs to be Kate's boss but instead finds that Kate has become her boss. This brings out all of Judy's narcissistic nasty sides, with her (pardon the pun) trump card being her possession of CCTV footage of Kate's fling with a colleague at the office Christmas party. Judy doesn't seem to accept that the reason no one wants her to be the boss is that she's really a bit of a bitch. I'm not saying that it's a good idea to shag your colleagues in a stationery cupboard either, especially if you have a husband and kids, but being nice to your workmates (even the ones you aren't shagging) usually takes you far.

Then there is James, trying to become Jamie. He's been thrown out by his wife, so he moves in to Kate's as well, even if the sofa is the only space left in the house.

The office, Judy aside, is an open and tolerant place where people from all walks of life walk in. From the parents who want to call their child Chlamydia, to the gay couples finally allowed to marry after 25 years of partnership, to the Slovenian woman possibly being illegally coerced into marriage to get her husband a right to remain. Then there is the man who turns up with his newborn baby son to register his birth. The baby's mother is absent because she is dying in a hospice, having refused to start potentially life-saving cancer treatment in order to be able to continue with her pregnancy. The couple aren't married because they never had the money or time to get around to it, and now it seems it's too late. But not if Kate has anything to do with it. A couple of phonecalls, some emergency form-signing and a trip to a charity shop later, the hospice is full of flowers and family and - well, you're a heartless cow if it didn't bring a tear to your eye. Very shortly afterwards, the husband is back at the Town Hall to register his wife's death. Kate is out officiating at a wedding and trying to locate her truanting daughter, but he waits and waits, his calm and peaceful baby son lying in his arms. For it is Kate that he wants to officiate. Not Judy.

The lions of Leeds
My cousin Flo got married at Leeds Town Hall. It was an early start for us all, as the only slot available for the date she wanted was at 9 o'clock in the morning. Which may explain my slightly dishevelled look on the photo below. I was very glad I didn't have to do full bridal make-up and hair by that time, but of course Flo managed all of that effortlessly and looked amazing. And actually, it was a good thing that the wedding was so early - about an hour after we had our photos taken on the Town Hall steps it began raining torrentially and didn't stop for the rest of the day. 

Though I am fairly sure that the steps that they use in Love, Lies and Records are actually the ones that go up to the City Museum in Millennium Square, a place where my daughter and I have whiled away many an hour in its Toddler Town and animal-filled basement. 

And nasty Judy may run this TV Leeds Council office, but Nice Judy runs Leeds City Council in real life. I am biased of course - she happens to be my aunt. But she just got awarded a CBE by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in a ceremony alongside Mo Farah and Delia Smith, for her services to local government and the City of Leeds. So she is definitely doing something right. We are so proud of her. Bravo.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017


This is just deliciously excruciating. I had been waiting for a full series ever since the pilot last year, and it hasn't disappointed.

I don't currently have a high-flying professional job to manage on top of the school run, I can't afford a nanny, and my husband isn't a total dickwad prone to disappearing off go-karting or to stag dos every other weekend, but I can still relate all too painfully to so many of the situations featured. The smug yummy mummies in the Teabags cafe making you feel vastly inferior to their manicured nails, perfect hair, high-achieving children and expensive cars while you sit at the "toilet table" wondering if you'll ever sleep again... The child who erupts with norovirus two minutes before an important event... The disastrous birthday party... The lack of enthusiasm among parents for PTA events that don't involve alcohol... The inability of a mother to listen properly to anything anyone tells her... The obsession with parking permits...

Though I was impressed with the turnout for their PTA meeting. I think we need to start holding ours at Teabags. But look, we've made a cake book! Buy it, please!

I do have two criticisms though - if these are busy professional mummies, how come they have so much spare school daytime to spend in Teabags? And how are they able to nip out to the pub so easily in the evening? Is there a babysitter surplus in Queens Park? And would a character like Julia really have such a juvenile husband? More likely to have one she never sees because he is working late in the city every night. But I suppose that isn't funny for anyone, just true. Mind you, the desperate phonecalls to him wherever he has buggered off to are very funny, and remind me of Graham Linehan's other masterpiece, Father Ted, when Ted would ring his friend Father Larry Duff on this mobile phone, to calamitous results.

We were once invited to a five year old's swimming party, which also went a bit wrong. The pool was having some building work and all the plaster dust in the air triggered the fire alarm to go off halfway through our session, meaning we had to get out of the water and evacuate the building. It was June, and sunny, but York is cold all year round when you are in a swimsuit. The pool attendants handed out space blankets in tiny packets which took so long to unfold that the alarm had ended and we had all contracted hypothermia before we managed to wrap them round our children. Never mind - the parents of the birthday girl plied us all with fine French wine afterwards to apologise and served up an excellent barbecue. And while the changing room was a total stampede, at least I wasn't wearing a white designer jacket. Because I only own waterproofs to wear to meetings.

We also held a birthday party at home one year, on our daughter's request. She spent months planning all sorts of random impossible games with rules that only she understood and frequently changed. She designed a treasure hunt and pass the parcel featuring no end of shit plastic jewels she had found on the ground, stolen from playgroups, kept from crackers or persuaded me to buy in the charity shop. She insisted on a princess theme. I had planned to turf all the kids out to the woods at the end of our road, but of course on the day, two weeks of sunshine dissolved into pouring rain, so we had to keep them all cooped up in our lounge, high on sugar. No vomiting bug, but I had gone down with a stonking migraine three hours before the party, and while my vision had just about returned to normal I still felt like I had been hit by a bus. I didn't quite resort to the "throw them a quid and feed them undiluted squash" but it came close. This year we went to a pottery painting place instead and it was so much more civilised.

We don't have family anywhere near who could help with child care (or refuse to help with child care, as in Julia's case), although something miraculous happened this half-term. During a trip to the Lake District, our daughter was suddenly old enough to tolerate my dad babysitting her for a couple of hours in the day (there may have been a teeny bribe involved), so my husband and I went out for a Michelin-starred lunch in Grasmere, while Dad and his partner took the girl to Hayes Garden World and The Rock Shop in Ambleside, which she thought was brilliant, and my dad was nice enough not to squirm about. My dad never took us to such places on our Lake District holidays - he dragged us up mountains instead. I thought I was young when I think about the hills I was tackling at my daughter's age (Skiddaw, Helvellyn in a Force 8 gale) but then my brother reminded me that he was three years younger and only survived these expeditions through a perpetual supply of Fox's Glacier Mints. We're lucky if we get our daughter round a pond without her whining. The youth of today, eh? Don't know they're born.

Forest Side lunch, Grasmere

Friday, 20 October 2017


In the week of the Harvey Weinstein furore and the #metoo campaign highlighting how widespread sexual harassment and abuse still are in our times, it seemed pertinent to write about this ITV drama, which came to its chilling conclusion this week.

Not quite as sensitively handled as Broadchurch 3 on the matter of rape (no Olivia Colman for starters), Liar still packed a punch, highlighting a woman's genuine fears that she won't be believed if she reports an attack to the police. But that's how this drama worked - the clue was in the title. Just who was the liar? Laura Nielson or Andrew Earlham? How did such a promising-looking date turn so sour? For judging how the initial dinner was going, without the drugs, consensual sex looked as though it would probably very much have been on the cards. It seemed impossible that such a charming, conventionally good-looking, successful and intelligent man could commit such a callous and heinous act. The victim had a history of mental illness and had something in her past which threatened to come out, so had she just made it all up, to right a wrong, as a rebound from her failed relationship, or just because she couldn't separate fiction from truth?  Andrew seemed a broken yet justifiably angry man after her accusations.

But people are never what they seem. Apart from the sleazy school headteacher from Laura's past played by Peter Davison, who was exactly what he seemed. Even the charming surgeon saw straight through him and his brand of sexual harassment (which also went unpunished thanks to a combination of fear and blackmail and the victim's sense of hopelessness - much more of a Weinstein situation).

As the series progressed, it became clear that Laura was the victim of lie after lie - not just at the hands of Andrew Earlham, but closer to home too, at those of her sister and ex partner, who had been having an affair. And the truth behind Andrew Earlham became sicker and sicker. A long history of drugged and abused women, crushed, confused, unable to prove a thing. A dead ex-wife. But ultimately two women determined to seek justice, catch him out, and send him to jail.

The police weren't much cop (despite one of the victims being a cop), although Earlham had made his tracks hard to find, and the undercover policewoman was just too slow with her syringe of wine. No one seemed to spot Earlham's regular visits to see his mum and the possibility that she might have storage facilities that needed checking. Laura figured it out all by herself, the final prompt she needed coming from Andrew's careless slip of the tongue about "playing back" his assault. Yes, he had videoed every depraved and foul moment of what he did to these unconscious women.

The central performances, particularly from Joanne Froggatt, were superb, but the series wasn't an easy watch. And instead of retribution, of seeing Andrew get his comeuppance, or one last showdown between the two main characters, the ending was a bit of a damp squib. The carer's phonecall warning Andrew of Laura prying in the shed did not provoke a wild car chase out to the docks. Instead, Laura was able to hand the video and drug evidence into the police unheeded. Andrew was declared missing, and only as the credits rolled was he spotted lying in the marshes with his throat slit. Then series 2 was announced. Where presumably it will be revealed exactly who prevented him entering a court of law. Cos it's pretty difficult to cut your own throat. Though maybe not if you are an experienced surgeon.

Monday, 25 September 2017

The Child In Time

I am a huge Ian McEwan fan and have read nearly all of his books. But The Child In Time is definitely one of his less penetrable works. I first read it many years ago and spent a lot of it feeling nervously perplexed, as it was just - for want of better words - a bit weird. There was too much on the physics of time and place for my impractical, unsciency little brain to cope with. The looking through windows into the past and future at parents and children just didn't gel with McEwan's normally brilliantly everyday, realist and remarkably detailed settings.

I then re-read The Child In Time with my book group a couple of years ago, and found myself in a different place - that of a parent. A parent angry about the state of education for our young children. And a parent who can better imagine the total horror of a child abduction and its worst nightmare scenario. The panic, the grief, and the unanswered questions if the child is never found.

The television adaptation had the latter as its focus. Benedict Cumberbatch and Kelly McDonald play Stephen and Julie, the parents of Kate, who aged four was taken from a supermarket and to this day has never been seen again. As a result, their marriage has crumbled and they have each retreated into their separate worlds. She has run away to a beachside cottage, where she teaches piano and, in her words, "gets by". He is a children's writer, struggling with a lack of words for a work about a boy who wants to be a fish. Stephen writes in front of an aquarium and practises holding his breath underwater in the bath.

He is also part of a government focus group working on a new children's education policy, sitting for hours in stuffy meetings, disgusted with how out of touch the civil servants and ministers appear to be with young people's lives. He still lives in the family's London flat, where he leaves a note for his daughter on the front door every time he goes out, in case she comes home. He has kept his daughter's bedroom as a shrine, and he leaves wrapped presents under the tree at Christmas. "I'm not mad," he tells a friend, but at times he is definitely teetering over the brink of madness. He sees his daughter mirrored in other people in random places - on a beach, in a school. The latter is more worrying, as he manages to break into the building and enter a classroom to talk to the girl he has seen. The book was written prior to the horrors of Dunblane, when school security was more lax. But nonetheless, even in today's more modern setting, he is treated only by kindness and understanding by the staff, and he is given time, the time of the title, to gather himself and move back on into the world. As much as he can. How can you ever really move on after such a terrible event?

He has friends to look after him, Thelma and Charles. Charles is his publisher and also a government minister, but he too needs to retreat from the world, to retire. Only it is into an eternal childhood that he goes, the boyhood fantasies of Arthur Ransome and Enid Blyton, on a perpetual adventure in the woods. He climbs trees and builds dens, lays traps and pretends to shoot. He has the energy of a toddler, covered in mud and bruises, and a wildness behind his eyes as he clips off his greying pubic hair. Don't we all want to return to our youth, to the innocence of childhood? Don't we all fight now for our children to enjoy that innocence too - to let our kids be in fact kids? Isn't our current government doing all it can to rob our children of that freedom to play, as they force them to neaten their handwriting and learn about fractions and fronted adverbials at an age when really they should be rolling in that self-same mud and climbing those self-same trees? Will they all be like Charles in middle age, trying to live the childhood that was taken away from them by obsessional testing and pointless arbitrary standards? I hope not. But something needs to be done.

Thelma is a much lesser character in the television adaptation. In the book she is a physicist with much to say, whereas on screen she just quietly tolerates Charles' regressive foray, ringing a handbell at dinner and bedtime so that he knows to come home. Until the day he doesn't, and Stephen finds him hanging from a tree.
Climbing benches on London's South Bank
The settings of the film are familiar McEwan territory - London, the South Coast, the Kent countryside. Stephen walks through Whitehall, crosses the Thames from Embankment tube, then walks along the river to the National Theatre. He catches the Tube at Maida Vale. Not so much this time in McEwan's native Fitzrovia, the setting of Saturday, where he describes characters I used to see on my lunchbreak from my job on Carburton Street, notably the lady feeding the birds in Fitzroy Square.

One of my daughter's favourite games is hide and seek, and one of her favourite places to play it is in a clothes shop. She treats the racks of dresses and trousers like topiary bushes, skirting round the skirts, burying herself beneath the rails. And when I can't find her I am casually hyperventilating mum, forever remembering this story of The Child In Time, barely able to conceal the rising panic within. I try to convince myself that nothing bad will happen, that she will always come if I call her, though it's hard to flatten my shrill intonation when I do. I want to let my daughter have fun but have to protect her from harm. There is the dilemma of not wanting to scare her unnecessarily, while accepting my own duty of care. She is innocent, but others in the world less so. She has to play, but please, please, please let her get out of the Next jumpers section alive. Rationality must prevail. "Come on, it's time to go." And breathe....

And "Keep breathing," Stephen says to Julie at the end, in the maternity ward he has managed to barge into as easily as the school. The lost Kate is gaining an accidental brother, a brother Julie has seen through her window on to the beach and Stephen has just glimpsed on the Tube. The couple who could not live together or apart have found the end of their rainbow journey. Hope has befallen them at last. Though the poignant gap of the missing girl will never be filled.

South Bank rainbow above the QEH, London 2016

Friday, 15 September 2017

Hollywood and friends

It's feeling like autumn. The nights are drawing in, the conkers and leaves are tumbling, yet the weather still has to warm up for summer...

Televisually, September means we are back with old friends. Hapless Pete and pals on Cold Feet. The increasingly psychopathic but much wronged Doctor Foster. Fondly bickering Phil and Kirstie on Location Location Location, though sadly this series won't be featuring the episode filmed in our part of York sometime in May. Disparaging Jeremy and his Oxbridge nobs on University Challenge. Clever Victoria on Only Connect, which also featured Oxbridge nob and University Challenge winner (til her team was disqualified) Gail Trimble.

And The Great British Bake-Off. I was going to stay loyal to the BBC, I really was, like Mary, Mel and Sue before me. But the BBC has become a hideous Tory propaganda machine and is so biased (pro-Brexit, anti-Labour) in its news reporting that frankly it doesn't deserve my loyalty. Plus I actually like Channel 4. Because Last Leg. Because Jon Snow. Because Frasier. Because of my beautiful subtitles gracing its Countdown screens all those years ago.

And the news is so stressful right now that it's unbearable. I just want to look at cake instead. And biscuits and bread and sticky toffee caramel. And, new presenters aside, the show is so reassuringly familiar and cosy. The rest of it has been transferred in its entirety. The music. The bad puns laced with innuendo. The marquee with torrential rain streaming down its window panes. The tea cups and bunting. The malfunctioning ovens. The cakes hovering over bins. The mysterious proving drawers. The crazy contestants, although they seem a little Liverpool heavy this year, maybe as an homage to Paul, the only surviving face from the original series. He's just the same too, with his fierce eyes, dismissive comments and occasional bear-like handshake reaching across the work surfaces.

Admittedly, the ad breaks and heavy sponsorship are as irritating as I feared, but at least the content of the programme hasn't been cut short to accommodate them. And I'm having to get used to it being on a Tuesday, with Jo Brand's Extra Slice on a Thursday, rather than the Wednesday and Friday slots they held on the BBC. Routine is important to me. But Sandi Toksvig is very cuddly, and I quite like Noel Fielding's dreamlike musing, even if he doesn't seem to be that interested in the food. Prue Leith is scary though. She's much more of a force to be reckoned with than Mary Berry. She's about twice the height of Mary for starters. And you won't be crying on her shoulder (you wouldn't reach that far!) or getting any sympathy or gentle advice if you mess up.

I am part of a small team working on a baking book at the moment. It's to raise money for the school (so it can still afford to buy things like books, and, er, staff) and putting it together has been a lot of fun. It's going to feature lots of delicious everyday recipes, submitted by parents, teachers and local cafes. Mostly things that you should be able to bake with kids, as opposed to the impossible challenges you see on Bake Off. So more this:

Than this:

The book will come complete with professional colour photos, hopefully no typos (since it's my job to find them) and a decent level of wit. Please buy a copy when it's published, hopefully sometime when we are officially - rather than only weatherwise - in autumn.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Astronaut: Do You Have What It Takes?

An X Factor with brains, this. A group of people who might be described as seriously clever clogs get to do all sorts of gruesome tasks in order to prove they have what it takes to enter into a European Space Agency astronaut training program.

Clever clogs
The ESA doesn't necessarily have any astronaut vacancies, since they haven't recruited any new staff since 2008, but this is all about kudos - or at least getting space veteran Chris Hadfield to write you a half-decent reference.

The tasks aren't gruesome in a celebrity eating revolting bugs in the jungle kind of way. Although that may yet come - the possibility of accidentally crashlanding in the Brazilian rainforest makes that sort of survival skill necessary for an astronaut. Plus you've got to learn to stomach all that pouched up dog food on the International Space Station, especially if Heston Blumenthal's contributions get blown up.

Instead of eating cockroaches, the contestants have been facing a series of gruelling physical and mental endurance tests. Counting backwards while being starved of oxygen, repeating series of numbers backwards while stepping on an off a block (there is a lot of counting backwards - must be a rocket thing), being stuck in a pitch-black sphere for 20 minutes, having to escape from a box underwater, being strapped in a box attached to a human centrifuge (there is also a lot of being put into a box, which is definitely a rocket thing)... They also have to extract their own blood in a syringe, ready to perform experiments, and learn some basic Russian. The latter was the only task I could do. Everything else has been a case of "not on your nelly." I'd be a total wreck. I'd be the one deciding I was deprived of oxygen while still on 100% flow, thus jeopardising a multi-million pound spacewalk. I can't even iron a shirt flat (and why should I?), let alone keep a hovering helicopter level. I don't like putting my face underwater, so wouldn't be much cop at solving maths puzzles on the bottom of a swimming pool. Etc.

Counting backwards to launch...
The judges are all terribly calm, but meticulous. And completely ruthless. They send you home at a moment's notice. They wouldn't have even let me through the door. So I have to admit that it's just a teensy bit satisfying to see all these said clever clogs come a cropper, and be made to realise that they are mere human beings after all. They might be nuclear physicists/ ballerinas/ Everest conquerors/ neurosurgeons/ urosurgeons/ academics/ engineeers, but some of them can't sprint or swim. Some of them are claustrophobic. Some of them can't answer technical questions about how you pee in space. Some of them don't notice that they're about to pass out from lack of oxygen because they are too busy doing sums.
My husband being "a bit shit" at an ISS experiment
Was I the only one who expected Tim Peake to be a bit shit, because he was British? For being a bit shit is what we are good at. We just moan about it, or laugh about it and carry on. We never quite get anything to work properly or be a resounding success. We just lack that drive. Taking the piss out of ourselves is so much easier. But Tim Peake is the exception. He was just awfully good at everything. He didn't drop a screwdriver on a spacewalk, sending it somersaulting off into the heavens. He didn't get ill or have allergic reactions. He didn't cut off anyone's oxygen supply or lose some important plant cuttings. He didn't crash the space station into a satellite or misfire the Soyuz capsule. He even ran a marathon simultaneously with the one in the London. And he was just terribly nice and enthusiastic about everything the whole time. He is a rare Brit indeed. Just as well he got signed up in that last recruitment drive by the European Space Agency in 2008, when Brexit was only dreamt of by jokers in UKIP, rather than being the everyday nightmare unfolding before our eyes in the lazy hands of David Davis, severing us from all that is good. For no matter how clever cloggy or physically strong these contestants are, they are British, and the European Space Agency, like the rest of the Continent, will soon be sailing on merrily without us. These folk ain't going up in a rocket any time soon, unless it's one piloted by Richard Branson.

Or it's one in a museum
I went through my own recruitment process in the summer as I applied for a couple of jobs at the university. I earn a bit of pocket money doing academic proofreading, but really need to earn some proper cash and get myself some guaranteed hours. But I quickly realised, after seven years of being based at home, how out of the game I have grown. It's not just how technology has marched on with things like apps and virtual learning environments and that I haven't opened an Excel spreadsheet since 2010. It's not just that the job I was good at - subtitling - has all but collapsed as an industry in the UK and now wants to pay a rate half that of what I used to earn 12 years ago. It's not just that I am now in my mid-forties and there are so many bright young things out there who don't have a small child and the need to fit work around school hours and school holidays and who can maybe talk about something other than rainbow unicorns and Harry Potter. My self-confidence is at an all-time low, my health is crap, and I just don't believe myself capable of anything. That said, I am obviously not too bad at filling in application forms since I managed to get interviews, but that's where the process ended. I totally failed to sell myself. Although - and knowing how the university works - I felt fairly sure that they had internal candidates lined up for both positions since the interviews either consisted of deliberately wacky questions asked just for the hell of it ("Describe yourself in three words!"), or such sparse, superficial questions that they wouldn't have found out anything of relevance to the post about someone they didn't already know. Or that's what I am telling myself, anyway.

Maybe I am doing myself a disservice - perhaps I assume I am "a bit shit" just because I am British. Maybe it's all about self-belief and talking the talk. Yes, I would make a BRILLIANT astronaut! You couldn't imagine a better person to send up into space. I've read a book about it! I've built space Lego!

You can send that nice Kevin Fong chap over to give me a medical.