I Smile Because If I didn’t, You’d Ask Me Why….
Norman Wisdom. The Fool. The sad, funny fool. Norman Wisdom, my comedy hero.
I vividly remember crying big heaving sobs of wet tears at the age of eight watching Trouble In Store one Sunday afternoon on our big old lumbering black & white television as he sang Don’t Laugh at Me ‘Cause I’m a fool.
I suddenly had an affinity, I wanted Norman to be my friend. I knew I would be able to look after him, to make him feel loved and happy, just like I loved my battered old teddy bear. I couldn’t understand how anyone could hold such sadness in their heart, but be so incredibly funny at the same time.
At the age of fifty, I sadly found out the how and the why.
In the space of a few short years, I lost both my mum and dad to cancer and whilst still coming to terms with being an overgrown, ditzy orphan, I was diagnosed with a painful, life changing disease that eventually took away the career I loved.
Suddenly I had two options:
a) Walk around with the cares of the world on my shoulders, weeping and wailing with my now ever developing jowls smacking my knees and tripping me up in Morrisons Fruit & Veg aisle
b) Smile, laugh and be the fool whilst designating the melancholy and hurt to a little box, carefully tied with a mental bow, and pushing it to the back of my mind as in truth, nobody loves a misery-guts.
‘A‘ wasn’t much of an option as I actually shop in Sainsbury’s and vanity made me horrified at the thought of anyone seeing my jowls swinging from side to side knocking the organic carrots from the carefully stacked display.
So ‘B‘ it was….. and that’s how I live my life. Everyday I count the blessings I have rather than notching up the negatives. I’m happy, fulfilled and nutty as a fruitcake!
I manage my condition with powerful medication that prohibits alcohol. Yep, no Gin, vodka, wine. My saviour for so many social outings was banned, and in doing so, my false confidence went with it but on the plus side, no hangovers or photo’s of me I’d rather my granddaughters didn’t see.
I’ve always had this nasty habit of proving my hypermobility after a couple of vodka’s by throwing my legs behind my head. All good fun until I realised I’d left my stiletto’s on and the heels had jammed behind my neck like Frankenstein bolts making it impossible to extricate myself. There were many occasions I was left rocking backwards and forwards like my nan’s old mahogany chair whilst everyone howled with laughter….
….and that’s where the how came into being. Their laughter lifted my spirits. It made me feel happy too, and I suddenly realised how he did it. His character Norman Pitkin’s heart was filled with this special fluttery feeling because of the laughter and I wanted to feel like that too.
This past eighteen months have been amazing for me, to have my book Handcuffs taken up and published, was my dream come true.
But it has also been a difficult time too. Sadly, my step-dad, who has been a father to me for over 40 years, was diagnosed with Alzheimers. It is a dreadful illness that destroys a little of him every single day and at the same time my health has deteriorated, giving me constant excruciating, unmanageable pain. I could be sad, downhearted, miserable but that’s not me. I have to see the positives.
When I first saw my GP he called it ‘non specific back pain’ and told me to live with it. I completely forgot where I was and promptly replied “Well it’s feckin’ specific to me mate!” I don’t think he appreciated my life observation or the slamming of his door as I left. I was actually gutted as my display of pique and the impact I had wanted in hearing the wooden door hit the frame with force was lost in the slow squeak of the pneumatic safety door closer which completely ruined my dramatic exit.
Six months down the line I have now found myself walking around like a geriatric wearing extra-large, thigh chaffing incontinence pants. Each time the pain travels down my legs I either howl, groan, ooof or uuuugghh, which makes me sound like I’ve got Tourette’s. Not to disappoint, I’m currently researching swear words to make a greater impact in Sainsbury’s on a Saturday amongst the Derby & Joan brigade.
This week, after the results of an MRI scan, I am finally being referred to a Neuro specialist. This has led me to two great emotions.
Elation that finally something might be done so I can live a normal, pain free life. I want to be able to care for my Dad without feeling a failure due to my limitations, I want to run and play with my beautiful granddaughters, I want to have a proper nights sleep and I want to have lovely, romantic walks with my hubby, and it would be amazing to wear a pair of stiletto’s again without looking like Dick Emery in drag as I totter along the path.
And then there was the sheer panic. Knickers, or thongs or G-strings or strips of nothing. I would have barely a gusset between me, a backless surgical gown and some poor unsuspecting specialist with what was currently stuffed in my underwear drawer.
I would just have to go shopping.
Leaving the GP’s surgery with a prescription for some miracle drug called Gabapentin clutched in my hot, sweaty hand, I planned a trip to Primark to see if they had any knickers that actually had a bum in them. It was also to be my first day of Gabapentin ingestion.
Oh dearie me, that definitely wasn’t one of my better ideas.
High as kite, completely bombed out of my brain, I took my dilated pupils into Primark for a wander. Finding the Underwear department I suddenly and involuntarily, let out a very loud squeal of utter delight. I was a child in a toy store. As much as I wanted to stop the ridiculous display of elation I was currently experiencing, I couldn’t, Gabapentin had me in its grip, I was possessed. Hubby, who had taken to hiding behind the Onesies and PJ’s on a nearby stand, cringed with embarrassment as I went on a verbal rampage trying knickers on over my jeans and throwing a rainbow of colours and lace into the air.
Twenty minutes later I stood in the queue at the cash desk, several pairs of mahooosive knickers in my basket and one pair hanging from my head. This had occurred purely due to the sudden desire to dance to the piped music with a cerise pink firkler draped over my pony-tail which had then become wedged under a hair clip.
In my floaty state I didn’t care. I shoved the basket towards the cashier, my heart jumping with joy with each bleep of the scanned panties. Suddenly remembering the pair on my head, I thought, what the hell, in for a penny, in for a pound. What’s an extra pair between friends.
Much to the horror of Cashier No. 4, I promptly slammed my head down on the counter, proffering the knickers and their price tag for scanning whilst my left ear got jammed in the security tag removal hole.
Two hours later, Gabapentin fading from my system, I was suitably chastised by hubby, who was currently making a meal of untangling the laced edged frillies from my hair. I began to ponder my disgraceful behaviour. I wanted to be embarrassed and cross, I wanted to feel horrified, and I suppose deep down I did, but there was also an overwhelming desire to giggle.
It couldn’t happen to anyone, because it would always happen to me. I was the proverbial fool, the idiot, the dipstick, the dork….
….but do you know what. I actually didn’t care. Whilst I was laughing and being a fool, I was hoping others would giggle too, and in turn any pain, hurt or sadness I felt would be forgotten because their laughter made me happy. In truth, a smile disguises everything.
Some days it is easy, on other days I do struggle a little, but I will always find time to find something funny in life. I wouldn’t survive without that hope, that glimmer of humour in every day situations, it’s my safe place, my hiding place for my heart.
Less than three years ago I had the most amazing dream that consisted of three wishes, well, four really if you count my desperate desire to fit into the size 8 jeans I last wore in 1986. My wonderful jeans have sat in the third drawer down in the spare bedroom, forlornly waiting for the day my waist would measure the same as my left ankle, thus rendering them useful once again.
Sadly, both me and my anorexic jeans are still waiting for our moment of glory whilst I play Homer Simpson faces with the excess rolls of tummy flab that have slowly crept up on me since I hit my fifties.
So, back to wishes 1, 2 and 3.
Wish number 1. Write a book and get it published. Simples really if you say it really quickly. Being an ex-secretary I could type, I could spell and I knew some fabulous big words, although where I was going to fit supercalifragilisticexpialidocious into a chapter I had no idea.
Wish number 2. Well that sort of followed on from Wish number 1. If I managed to write a book AND get it published, I wanted to tread in the hallowed footsteps of Luca Veste, David Jackson and Jonathan Harvey by having my launch at the fantastic Waterstones in Liverpool One.
Sorry, just as a little diversion and to brag a bit, Luca Veste is my incredible nephew, David Jackson is my lovely neighbour and I spoke two words to Jonathan Harvey once AND I got a book signed by him. I think the two words were ‘Eee Rita’ but nevertheless, I was beside myself with joy and hero worship for weeks afterwards and I still sigh in awe when I see his name on the credits for Coronation Street.
Wish number 3. The potential for a ‘selfie moment’ in Liverpool John Lennon Airport with my book in the W H Smith Holiday shop. Not a pouty, duck-faced one, as old age has given me lips like the arse end of a cat, so unfortunately lipstick and gloss bleed into the wrinkles and then come to a grinding halt at my carefully tended moustache. The downside of my upper lip hair is my granddaughters now kiss the top of my head rather than suffer near fatal electric shocks from my bristles and nose hair.
After many months of frantic typing, coupled with copious amounts of biscuits, crisps and chocolate as I worked (ensuring those size 8’s would never, ever see the light of day or my chunky thighs again), Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong was born, followed by that email from Matthew Smith at Urbane Publications.
And the rest, as they say, is history!
This was the start of my amazing journey, a journey that has been made all the more special and magical by the lovely people I have met along the way.
I truly had no idea how fantastic the book world and Social Media could be to a novice writer. From authors, readers, bloggers and reviewers to Facebookers and Twitterati, they all excitedly encouraged and supported me. It’s a genuine support too, they love nothing more than seeing you succeed and helping to be part of that success.
I did worry what they would make of Mavis and her Humongously Large Thongs, I fretted over my own ‘likeability’ factor, I panicked about tweets/emojis/not tweeting/forgetting to tweet/saying thank you the right way/not saying thank you/retweeting/ballsing things up and finally the horrors of predictive text that could turn a simple name like Georgina into a dose of the clap.
I wasn’t sassy and self-assured and I certainly hadn’t written a literary masterpiece that would be hailed alongside the works of Jane Austen and Mary Shelley. I was also pretty sure that neither Jane or Mary had the added pleasure of packing 120 pairs of size 18-20 knickers from Primark that had their respective protagonists face emblazoned on the front as a PR exercise! In the end, I plumped for being just me, accompanied by all of the above feck-ups.
To be honest, I don’t think Gonorrhoea Kirkham would be the same if she were sensible, full of her own self-importance and lost the ability to laugh at herself, do you?
It’s been a whirlwind of excitement, laughter, achievements and discovering new things about myself. I have realised that you never stop growing (there’s those damn jeans again), never stop learning, never stop finding the fun in life.
I also discovered that even though I’m fast approaching sixty, with arthritic knees and a bad hip, I could, in a moment of unbridled excitement, almost do a cartwheel or some other physically impossible action.
The cause of this geriatric excitement?
A completely unexpected nomination for The Guardian Not The Booker Prize 2017 from the lovely Mark Mayes, a fellow Urbanite. If the nomination on its own wasn’t enough to send me into raptures, the fact it had come from Mark was the icing on the cake. Can you imagine how it feels to have someone you greatly admire and respect as a writer to believe in you. Forget the cartwheels, I cavorted like a retired lap dancer at a bus stop!
Two weeks later, once my hip had set itself back into the socket and I’d extricated my Thong from where the sun don’t shine, I had cause for another bout of elation. I had made the Long, Long LongList.
Now when The Guardian says ‘long’… it means long. If you hit the link below and keep scrolling, by tomorrow you might have found me, but to honest I couldn’t care less if I have to scroll off the end of the iPad…. I was there, Mavis Upton had made it to the List, and public voting had begun with earnest.
I’m under no illusions, there are so many wonderful and literary greats amongst those titles, and Mavis may be a little out of her depth, but I’d love to think she’s holding her own. The chances of her winning with Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong is roughly the same as Cilla Black getting a straight answer on what it’s really all about from her mate Alfie but to have even the remotest possibility of reaching the shortlist is like having Wishes 5 through to 10 all at the same time.
The Guardian Not The Booker Prize 2017
After gratefully accepting wishes number 1 and 2 as granted by my harassed, borderline-alcoholic Guardian Angel, the Not The Booker nomination and the added news this week that W H Smith holiday shops are to stock Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong from August, I am feeling untold joy and eternal gratitude to everyone who has done so much for me along the way.
I truly wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
So, as I wish you a fabulous Sunday, I’m sitting here with my tongue hanging out in concentration using my trusty dried up Sharpie pen to cross Wish Number 3 from my list, whilst happily having visions of me grinnning inanely holding my book in Liverpool Airport. The WH Smith sign is behind me as Loretta LoveHoney the blow-up doll on the front cover, bares her ginger ‘Dorrito’ to weary travellers and fellow holiday makers as I dance like there is no tomorrow hoping for a mention in the Liverpool Echo.
©Gina Kirkham 2017
MY WELCOME TO THE URBANE FAMILY
“Johnny, Johnny…..I’ve got an invitation…..” my dulcet squeals, meant only for my hubby who was nonchalantly stirring his tea in the kitchen but in reality could be heard by the neighbours at numbers 9, 11, 13, 17 and 21 respectively, echoed around our three bed semi.
“Look, it says a ‘bit of a shindig’ and it’s in London. LONDON Johnny, L-O-N-D-O-N…!” I pushed my iPad open at my emails along the breakfast bar towards him and waited with an expectant grin, twirling an errant bit of hair around my finger.
A trip to London to meet my lovely Publisher at Urbane and a party too. How incredibly exciting.
My index finger stopped mid twirl as my heart thumped somewhere near my belly button….oh jeez, a party! I looked at John, checked the email, and looked at John again, who by now wore a world weary expression of resignation.
“Liverpool for a shopping trip is it?” he groaned.
I nodded enthusiastically.
That old chestnut of ‘I haven’t got a thing to wear’ had reared its ugly head in 0.23 seconds, a world record even for me.
The following weeks were spent in an excited blur that went from having my roots done to trying to master the art of pencilling in age-related lost eyebrows so that I could at least show an animated expression of interest/surprise/happiness/alarm or distress when socialising at the Urbane 2016 Shindig. I so desperately wanted to make a good impression that if anyone had suggested teeth whitening I would have…..oh my goodness, what a fab idea!
A week later I was sitting in bed wearing what felt like a plastic set of my granddads upper and lower dentures as I patiently waited for 58 years of abuse to be miraculously bleached from my gnashers, whilst the FreshSkin Age Rejuvination face pack I’d plastered on earlier had scarily set like concrete giving me the appearance of a stroke victim as I dribbled and drooled through the gum shields.
Removing the face pack twenty minutes later I found it hard to see any difference in my wrinkles, but could reliably report that it had completely stripped all my facial hair and what was left of my poor eyebrows.
After frantically messaging my new-found Urbanite friend, Anne Coates, to see what the dress code would be for the venue, I settled on a smart but casual outfit. All that was needed to compliment the ensemble was a pair of black suede boots.
Cue a very busy Debenhams in Liverpool 1….
As I casually browsed the stands in the shoe department, I raised my newly pencilled in eyebrows every few seconds to give them a pre-London try out. Nothing much caught my eye as I picked my way through the numerous shoes scattered on the floor by my fellow shoppers.
Suddenly, there they were, lying crumpled to one side. The most amazingly gorgeous pair of boots, my size and exactly what I’ve been looking for. I tried them on, slowly sliding the zip from my ankle to above my knee to my lower thigh. With very little effort I’d found a beautiful pair of FMB’s and they fitted perfectly.
Parading up and down whilst checking them out in the mirror, I impulsively decide that they would be my ‘London Boots’.
“Excuse me, those boots…..” A rather flustered looking woman wearing fluffy pink socks stood directly in front of me in quite a menacing manner.
“Mmm yes, they are lovely aren’t they?” I preened whilst flicking an ankle to show them at their best angle.
“That’s exactly what I thought when I bought them last week…” fluffy pink sock woman snarled “…they’re actually mine!”
My pencilled in eyebrows shot up to somewhere near my hairline then just as quickly dropped to knit together as I hastily removed, then quickly mourned, my beautiful, but fleeting FMB’s, as fluffy pink sock woman snatched them from me and stormed off.
As I stumbled down the stairs into The Pheonix Artists Club, London, I struggled to let my eyes adjust to the dim lighting. Sporting the tiniest handbag in the entire world, I’d only been able to pack in a lipstick, two twenty pounds notes and my phone before the zip jammed. The upshot was my glasses had remained in the hotel room stuffed between my Primark pyjamas (in case of an unexpected overnight fire or earthquake evacuation) and hubby’s pale blue Y-fronts – the clean ones I hasten to add, not the ones he’d been wearing on the journey down.
Excitement, tinged with nervous trepidation swept over me as I scanned the room. I was early, so there was no sign of Anne yet, but I spotted what I thought was a familiar face at the bar. Having never met any of the authors with Urbane in person, my brain began to quickly run through all their small profile photographs from Twitter. I was having a sort of mental Rollerdex moment as they spun around in flashes of colour, until….bingo….!!
That’s it. I was sure it was him. Well, almost sure…as sure as I could be without my glasses and being enveloped in ambient lighting. I was so looking forward to meeting him that my enthusiasm took control.
I flung my arms out in a warm, welcoming gesture to the hunched figure at the bar as I honed in on his personal space, whilst my trying-to-be-posh Ooop-North accent edged its way in.
“Simon, how lovely to meet you!” I gushed.
Now, have you ever seen a hunted animal on David Attenborough’s TV programme, Planet Earth? You know, where the whites of their eyes glare out, haunted and afraid and you just know they are frantically deciding which way to run as they desperately try to find an escape route?
Yep, that was ‘Simon’….
I squinted again, bringing his face into a vague focus as he nervously edged away from me.
“Do I know you?” he squealed in a voice more befitting of a 13 year-old girl at a One Direction concert.
Being a bit on the vertically challenged side, l was almost nose to Adam’s apple at this point before he came into focus. Even putting a makeshift frame around his face with my fingers to replicate a Twitter meme, I could see this definitely wasn’t who I thought it was.
“Shit, you’re not Simon are you? In fact your name probably isn’t Simon at all – or even Michael is it?” I cringed. “…and I don’t suppose you write books for a living either do you?”
As he fled into the Gents toilet, I watched his pint, abandoned in panic, slopping beer gently over the sides onto the bar whilst I mentally kicked myself for an entrance that didn’t quite go as planned.
The evening was everything and more, once I’d recovered from my initial embarrassment of portraying myself as an aged participant of Naked Attraction, but thankfully for the sanity of those in attendance, still with my clothes on.
I’ve yet to meet a more friendlier, funnier bunch of people and had the added pleasure of getting to meet the REAL Simon Michael and the most lovely Anne Coates (here’s to a great friendship Anne) along with satisfying a youthful crush by having a chat with the delightful Hugh Fraser, who as Captain Hastings in Poirot made me want to practice my vowels at every opportunity and dream that a man in a snap-brim Fedora driving a Lagonda would whisk me off my feet.
Matthew Smith, Mr Urbane himself, was everything I thought he would be, charming, delightful and enthusiastic, he accepted my Northern Hug (we’re very tactile in my family) warmly welcomed me to the Urbane family, and then taught me to kiss on each cheek in greeting. I was so chuffed at this new form of welcome, I tried it on the next person I happily met from the gathering. Unfortunately he must have been Northern too, as he went to hug me instead and I promptly head butted him on the nose!
As I climbed the stairs at the end of the evening, pausing only to discreetly extricate my now famous Primark thong which had become firmly wedged from the last toilet trip pull-up, I felt happy and content in the belief that maybe one day I too would be able to call myself an Author, whilst at the same time wondering if I could replicate the double kiss once I returned home……
……although with my distinct lack of coordination and no glasses, I would probably succeed with the first cheek kiss but end up vacuuming the left ear of the unsuspecting recipient with the second smacker!