Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Didn't We Have a Horrible Time At The London Dungeon!

WOULD YOU go inside a deep, dark, dank dungeon that you know is full of ghouls, killers, torturers and possibly rats?

Worse, dare to take your children with you knowing you’re going to have the most horrible time of your life?

Absolutely! That’s exactly what we did yesterday when I dragged my hubby, seven-year-old son, his friend and our 22-month-old daughter along to the London Dungeon.

And it was so bad we can’t wait to go back for more.

I must admit I was a little bit scared when I was first offered tickets to take a peek up close at the visceral activities of the criminal, er, underworld at the Dungeon.

Was it really a good idea to take a toddler and two blood-thirsty schoolboys to see what the likes of Jack the Ripper, Sweeney Todd and Bloody Mary, Killer Queen got up to in ye London of olde?

Would they scream, faint or bolt at the sight of tongue torturing, hangings or plague sufferers vomiting blood?

No, not a bit of it, though squeamish old me felt a little bit wobbly when I saw where an inventive torturer would really use a meat hook or the four-metre drop in the dark on the Extremis, Drop Ride to Doom.

From the moment we entered the pitch-black dungeons, right next to London Bridge tube, and posed alongside our children brandishing axes, I knew they were going to love every spine-tingling minute.

‘Are you alive or a zombie?’ my son, Deme, demanded when he came face to face with a blood-splattered member of staff herding us into a chamber to watch a mortician dissect a still-breathing victim.

‘Is this real or a special effect?’ his little friend, Luke, asked when Bloody Mary Killer Queen sent a woman to burn at the stake before our very eyes.

‘Where are the rats?’ they both asked relentlessly, peering into the gloom, hoping to find a furry creature to grab and befriend. ‘And when do we get to the go on the ride?’

‘Ssssh,’ I told them time and time again as my little girl curled herself around me, peeking out from under her curls as we learnt about the Great Fire Of London and the detectives hunting Whitechapel killer, Jack The Ripper.

‘Do you want to leave?’ I asked her every time we were plunged into darkness but she insisted on staying and proving her bravery to the boys.

We watched drunken judges condemn the innocent to death, Mary torch the heretics, and the exact techniques every infamous murderer in our capital has ever used on unsuspecting victims over the centuries.

The boys had a stronger stomach than me, rushing to the front of every bloody demonstration – and asking in-depth questions at the end.

But they left the best to last – a terrifying ride that plunges the equivalent of a few houses in the dark to the backdrop of bloodcurdling screams.

Luckily, Anais was too young to go on that, so I could bow out without anyone realising that was one plunge too far for me.

I did scream when I saw the picture of the boys falling through the air alongside my husband, each of their faces scrunched up in fear. But that was only with laughter.

‘That was absolutely brilliant,’ Deme said as he tried to persuade me to buy him a plastic axe and several instruments of torture afterwards from the attraction’s shop. I resisted, but have had to promise to take him back soon for another truly horrible time.

Verdict: A killer day out for all the family. Not recommended for toddlers, anyone scared of the dark or who faints at the sight of blood and gore. (Though, whisper it, none of it is real!)

The London Dungeon invites you to delve into the capital’s most blood-curdling history. Live actors, two hair-raising rides, shows and special effects transport you back to those black, bleak times…are you brave enough?

Friday, 19 March 2010

Toddler Taming and Talking Dirty!

IT WASN'T exactly a black eye. It was more red where the blood vessels had exploded under the skin and there was a matching bump on his forehead.
No, my husband hadn’t been attacked walking home late at night or somehow got involved in a brawl at the local pub.
He’d been hit in the face by a flying trainer as he ate his breakfast. The culprit? Our 22-month-old daughter, Anais, aka The Toddler Terminator.
As well as causing actual bodily harm to Alexio, our little girl has smashed a cup, a vase given to us at our wedding, spilled tea all over the lap top, broken the TV remote control, a Wii Nunchuck and cracked one of our kitchen tiles with her playbus. And that was just in the last couple of hours.
Even though she’s under two, Anais is already an expert in throwing, punching, kicking and general trashing. She’s pulled down our curtains, sprayed food up the walls and tortured her cousin’s dog. 
We’re all absolutely terrified of her bad temper and automatically duck whenever she picks up anything heavy.
I’ve moved all of the cutlery out of the drawers and keep it in the top kitchen cupboards as Anais with a fork could prove fatal.
Even one of my best friends asked if she has 666 tattooed on the back of her head. Forget the naughty step. I need to build a detached naughty house for her to live in alone.
But what’s so strange is that my toddler looks like an angel. She will only wear pink, insists on glittery bags and shoes and has big blue eyes and spiral curls that shake when she laughs.
Not only that but she’s learning to speak and has the sweetest, girliest voice I’ve ever heard.
‘Nooooo, Mummmeeeee,’ she says if I ask her to put down the radio. ‘Uuh oh,’ she smiles when it crashes to the floor after she’s hurled it 20 feet across the living room.
Everything I say she repeats in her honey-smooth voice, which is why I literally sprinted to turn off the TV this week when This Morning started talking dirty.
I didn’t want her to repeat anything that Phil and Holly were saying at 11am with various sexperts as part of their Sex Week.
I’m no Mary Whitehouse but I really couldn’t face my little girl saying ‘orgasm’ and ‘sex’ at nursery. It brings a whole new meaning to the Show and Tell at Circle time!
If you missed it here’s my appearance on Radio 5 Live discussing This Morning’s Sex Week. Just slide the bar to 1hr 21 mins and you can hear my rant!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Tears for Jade this Mother's Day

EVERY time I think about Mother’s Day this Sunday I picture one scene. It’s not my two little ones handing me a hand-made card or smiling over burnt toast in bed. 

It’s Jade Goody’s sons trying to get through the day without their mum, exactly a year after she died from cervical cancer.

Of course, their fantastic dad Jeff Brazier will make it as painless as he possibly can for Bobby, six, and Freddy, five. But Jade’s boys idolised her, and the hole in their lives will still be as huge as it was when she was ripped away from them 12 months ago.

It’s easy to understand why.  

From the moment Jade Goody gate crashed onto our TV screens – telling us East Angular was a foreign country and that everyone inside the Big Brother house was a Minger – she captured a part of my heart.

I didn’t care that she sounded like Ethel out of EastEnders with her muddled pronunciations and knew ‘nuffink’ about geography. 

She was something rare on television, an enigma inside the BB house. Jade was real, a raw young girl from Saarf London, who wasn’t ashamed to let the public see her microscopically close up. She didn’t know how to be fake. She wore her flaws with pride. 

Who could forget Veruca-gate? Eyes bulging with tears, she raged at her housemates for ‘thinking she was minging.’ 

Spittle flew as fast as swearwords, but I loved her for it. That rant was genuine, something I might have done if I’d been cooped up with a bunch of wannabe strangers on camera for the summer. 

I didn’t blame her when she flashed her ‘lala’ during a drunken game of dare. I hated Kate Lawler – the only other girl in the game - for not saving her from herself. Same went for PJ after the BJ incident. He’d taken advantage of our na├»ve favourite and bruised her heart, as well as her pride, when he brushed her off the morning-after-the-night-before. 

Luckily, our Jade was a survivor. The only daughter of a former drug-addicted disabled lesbian, she’d dragged herself and her hopes all the way from a dingy council flat onto the small screen. And she wasn’t about to fall apart for long, especially not for a podgy housemate whose name rhymed with a sex act.

So she fixed that gorgeous grin onto her face and came out fighting. She emerged from the house in 4th place but she’d won over the nation and I was a fan for life.

That’s why I forgave her when she was accused of bullying in the BB race row. I knew Jade wasn’t a racist. She just had a bad temper and a tongue that began flapping before her brain could trip it. Shilpa Shetty knew she didn’t mean it. So did I.

‘I’m going to offer her a column,’ I decided as furious protestors burned effigies and pictures of her in India. My bosses and some colleagues at Love it!, the magazine I was editing, thought I was mad. 

‘It’s a huge risk,’ they said. ‘No one wants to read what she has to say.’ But they were wrong. We’d only ever met her through our remote controls but Jade was our mate, someone we really believed we knew and trusted in. Friends and family muck up occasionally. ‘We’ll all forgive her,’ I thought. We could all see how genuinely sorry she was. 

So I invited Jade out for lunch. Her agent and a colleague arranged it, and I laughed when I saw where we were going. Le Caprice – a swanky London restaurant that’s posh enough for Posh. ‘Jade would rather have a greasy spoon,’ I thought. 

But I’d underestimated the former dental nurse. She ordered a dish I’d never heard of and seemed totally at home, waving to the likes of Cilla Black and craning to see if the Beckhams were in. 

Sure, she was loud – I could hear her every word when I went to the toilet two floors down. But she was funny, charming and exactly like she was on TV. 

A likeable, smart, young mum of two who was as happy talking about potty training Freddy as her next perfume launch, Jade didn’t know how to be anything but herself. And I loved her even more. So did the readers. 

She was my best-selling cover star, shifting more copies than Cheryl Cole, Coleen Rooney or Myleene Klass combined. The British public couldn’t get enough of her.

Each week she entertained us by laying her life bare. No subject was out of bounds. We laughed as she and boyfriend Jack Tweed sent themselves up, posing as Posh and Becks. 

We shared her joy at expecting a girl and her despair and grief when she lost the baby. None of us knew then what had caused the miscarriage. We do now. 

Cervical cancer didn’t just rob the 27-year-old of her longed-for baby but it stole her future too. Everyone thought Jade would beat it. She underwent a radical hysterectomy and gruelling chemotherapy. 

Tragically, not even she, with her juggernaut personality and giant spirit, could stop it spreading to her liver, bowel and groin. 

She hastily arranged to marry Jack and just a couple of days beforehand invited a mutual friend. ‘You can come to my funeral too,’ she said casually. Doctors had given her three months to live, she told him. ‘But I know I won’t last longer than a month.’ 

She’d wanted to keep on fighting for her boys, but in the end it was kinder to let her go. I burst into tears when I saw pictures of her leaving hospital shortly before the wedding. 

Frail, and sucking on a pain-relieving lollipop, her eyes were brimming with the agony of fighting a cruel and unstoppable beast. ‘I just want to go now,’ she told Jack. ‘Its hurting too much.’ 

But she did fight on – for the sake of Jack and her beautiful boys. My son Deme went to a party with Freddy and Bobby a couple of years ago. They played together and I watched them giggling together, all blonde curls and giant Jade-style grins. 

They were just like her – extrovert, witty with buckets of charisma. ‘They’re my best friends,’ my son announced at the end of the party, after he’d stolen a toy car off Bobby. ‘They’re funny boys.’

How hard it was for her to let them go. My heart pinches now as I realise what she’ll miss - their first football trophy, girlfriends, them squirming away when she tries to kiss them. Watching her sons turn into men. 

But she did the best any mum could do, showering them with love and the home, education and luxuries she could only dream of growing up.

She’s led her extraordinary life on TV and threatened to die on it as well. She didn’t luckily, and I, for one, wouldn’t have watched. 

Her death has saved hundreds of others. GPs and hospitals can still hardly cope with the women rushing to have smear tests because of the ‘Jade Goody effect.’ That’s her legacy. She’s the reality TV star who made us all get real with our health. 

But on Sunday she’s the mum Bobby and Freddy will only be able to treasure as a memory. So let’s hope on Sunday they do what Jade told them. ‘Whenever you want to see me, look up to the sky,’ she said,’ and I’ll be the biggest star up there.’ 

I’ll be cuddling my children extra tightly this Mother’s Day – and thinking of Jade and her brave little boys. 

Thursday, 4 March 2010

I'm Almost Famous!

Everywhere I looked there was a celebrity. To my right was Hayley Tamaddon, the hot favourite to win Dancing on Ice along with her is-he-or-isn’t-he-her boyfriend Daniel Whiston.

To my left was psychologist Linda Papadopoulos and next to her Rosemary Shrager having a false monobrow fitted. Don’t even ask why  - all I know is that it’s all the rage, darling.

We were all in make up getting ready to appear on the Alan Titchmarsh show. In the background Carly Simon was singing You’re so Vain, but it wasn’t the radio playing. She really was there singing and we’d all trooped past her, as if it was normal, while she rehearsed in the studio.

‘Check out Alan’s hair,’ a friend had said when I told her I was appearing. ‘He uses a lot of hairspray apparently.’  So far he’d been elusive, but it wouldn’t be long before I was interviewed by him in front of a live TV audience for a, gulp, show watched by millions. ‘Would you like some lip gloss?’ the make up artist smiled as I tried to stop staring at the famous guests.

A newscaster I watched present the headlines most days on my TV screen had just ambled in, followed by radio presenter Nick Ferrari. It was wall-to-wall celebrities now – and me.
What was I doing here? Had I made a hit record that was number 1 in very country or been covered in bruises learning to perform on ice skates after starring in a soap? 

Er no. I’d made a three-minute appearance in a Cutting Edge documentary revealing what goes on in the world of real life journalism because I’d written such headlines as My Dwarf Hubby’s Big In Bed and A Cannibal Ate My Mum With Pasta And Cheese.

Now I was here to defend my profession before the documentary was aired. ‘Ringlets?’ the make up artist asked as she toyed with my bleached locks and tried not to pull a face. ‘It’s the best thing for naturally frizzy hair.’

I didn’t tell her I’d spent an hour blow-drying it into this mess that morning and had already applied every beauty product in my bathroom. ‘I’ll just airbrush you while the tongs heat up,’ she said. Did she have some magical computer that would erase all of my blemishes, under eye bags, wrinkles and double chin?

No, she meant she’s spray on my foundation with an air gun – and she meant business. Like an old wall, primed with filler, she gave me three coats and left me to dry.

Linda wasn’t being sprayed with foundation or having her spots covered in a dot-to-dot game with concealer. But she looked like Katie Holmes – but better – and actually glowed close up. I simply had pimples’ and open pores.

‘Close your eyes, hold your breath, now shake out your hair,’ the make up artist instructed as I tried to listen in to Dancing on Ice’s Dan telling the girl applying his eyeliner how much he liked Hayley. ‘Well we’ve known each other for 20 years, we just feel right together,’ he beamed. ‘You never know what’s going to happen.’

Finally my make up was done, my hair curled and my runner was ready to escort me back to my dressing room. It was just like a hotel suite minus the bed. ‘You haven’t been at all demanding,’ John said. ‘But none of the big stars are.’

I looked round, thinking some other celebrity had joined us but no, it was just me. John had noticed me guffawing at the mention of the word ‘star’ and was still talking.

‘I looked after Brian May the other week and he just asked for a cup of tea,’ he said. ‘Sting was nice. He was here all day and all he wanted was a glass of coke. The only problems I get are with reality TV stars. They think they’re something special and always ask for Haribo sweets or unpronounceable tea.’

We were in my dressing room now, and John left me alone in front of my giant Plasma screen, wondering if I’d be able to speak with my air sprayed face when a producer came by to check I was OK. Then finally it was time to put on my mic and come face to face with Alan.

‘Be serious and don’t let him belittle real life magazines and their stories,’ I told myself. I was a serious editor who had reported on the breakdown of Charles and Diana’s marriage and been the first journalist outside serial killers Fred and Rosemary West’s House of Horrors in Cromwell Street.

I had to stand up for the 11 million women who read true life magazines every week. ‘It can’t be that hard,’ I thought, remembering Alan Titchmarsh’s roots as a gardener.

But then I caught sight of Dan’s cheeky smile, Rosemary’s monobrow and Alan’s chirpy face and my brain went blank. ‘Tell us all about your most memorable story in your career,’ our host asked. My mind whirred. My air sprayed foundation began to crack. Should I mention when I met Margaret Thatcher. Or the front page story when the SAS stormed a dentist’s after all the patients had been taken hostage?

‘I was once asked to track down a man who’d cut off his own willy and kept it in a jar on the mantelpiece,’ I babbled as Alan and the audience laughed. So much for serious journalism – my mum will be so ashamed.

And yes Alan Titchmarsh does wear a lot of hairspray, has his foundation sprayed on, is very, very short, but is a big sweetie.

Please tune in to his show at 5pm to see me make a fool of myself and I’ll be in the Cutting Edge documentary My Daughter Grew Another Head at 9pm for at least three minutes.