Friday, 27 April 2012

How I came to write 'Funnily Enough'

I was directing a drama serial for the BBC when I fell ill with ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The doctor at work sent me home to my parents’ farm, telling me to keep a diary whilst I recovered. I not only recorded the funny things that happened to me over the course of a year but made sketches, drawing the people and animals around me.

Daphne Neville being photographed with her otters

Years later, when I was really much better, I felt urged to type this diary up. Having done so I flew to Kenya with the work on a disc, only to have my bag stolen in the Masai Mara. Our tents had been slashed open while we slept. I decided to search the bush around the camp and by some miracle found my discarded bag with the disc still inside.

My palm top had vanished. I couldn’t afford to buy a lap top, but I finished adapting the diary, into what I hope is a readable, humorous book, on a school computer in South Africa. I sat on one of those tiny plastic chairs made for infants, typing away for all I was worth. Whenever the teachers had a break I gave them tuition on how to use Microsoft Word in exchange for the use of their PC.

Sophie Neville, Chronic Fatigue, Sundrome CFIDS

I had a watercolour, I'd once painted at my parents' house, that I thought I could use for the cover but Funnily Enough took me much longer to make into a book than I ever imagined. The original diary had great gaps when I had been too ill to write anything. It wasn't very funny.

Just as I was getting rather stiff on a tiny plastic chair, Johanna Mutshudi, the headmistress of the primary school, asked me if I could keep the computer safely in my room over the two month summer holiday, which falls over Christmas in South Africa. I turned down party invitation to keep typing, sending out drafts to be checked by the real characters who appear in the pages.

At one stage I stopped writing and said, 'Lord, this is taking ages. Do you really want me to spend so much time on this?' Immediately a verse from the Old Testament came into my head. I looked it up:   

"Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it'"
Habakkuk 2:2

This was in 2001. I thought the word tablet rather old fashioned but kept writing. When I finished, I immediately started work on the sequel, Ride the Wings of Morning followed by Makorongo's War.

In 2011 I went to China on a delegation with the Bible Society. We were taken around the vast factory where China's bestseller is printed. There, on the first press, was my verse: Habakkuk 2:2.

I returned to England and started to format Funnily Enough for publication. I now have it on an electronic devise called a tablet. And I run around with this in my back pocket.

'Funnily Enough' by Sophie Neville a bestseller on Amazon Kindle

I hope that what I've written will bring light, encouragement and laughter to many. It was originally designed as an undemanding holiday read or an illustrated book you can give to anyone stuck in bed with 'flu. I have it on my I-phone now, accessed via a Kindle app. It is great to have book on your phone. It gives you something to dip into on the train or if you get stuck for hours on the motorway.

My palm top computer was eventually returned to me by the son of the Masai who must have stolen it. He had been convicted my writing and sent it back from Alaska where he was at university. Funnily enough someone living in Alaska is currently reading my Blog ~

'Funnily Enough' by Sophie Neville on Amazon Kindle

Illustrated with 64 sketches from the original diary Funnily Enough is available from Amazon books, on Kindle, (£1.92) and direct from in hardcover (£12.60) in paperback (£7.99) and  to order from your library or bookshop – ISBN:9781466213487.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Scotland's Knitters - as featured in 'Funnily Enough'

My time working in the fashion industry 

Sophie Neville

Occasionally I am asked if I ever did any modelling.  I have not, but there was a time when I worked in the knitwear business, apprenticed to my aunt, in truly medieval fashion. She was the primary British producer of hand-knitted cashmere which sold, wholesale, on streets paved with gold: London, Paris, New York, Tokyo.

The epicentre of Aunt Hermione’s knitting enterprise was situated in the stables of her rambling Georgian house above the council estates of Loch Lomond, designated an area of high unemployment at the time.  My apprenticeship was organised by the head of our family, Granny, who paid for my train fare. Whilst not exactly sleeping under the counter, I worked for the experience alone. Aged thirty.

Hermione Spencer Cashmere

I was first enslaved when Val the head seamstress went ‘off sick with depression’. Before leaving she explained how the business was managed.

‘Nothing’s actually made here. Hand-knitted garments arrive in the post from outworkers and wool for the next order is sent back with a cheque for the labour.’

Not too complicated. I started to help by weighing balls of cashmere for various consignments, seeing the activity as the dawning of a dazzling new career in the fashion industry. It was more difficult than I expected. Gloves for Polo Lauren had seven different colours in the pattern. Small amounts of valuable yarn had to be calculated and compiled. Incredibly complicated.

The cashmere jerseys that came in were stunning. I was amazed as they got bundled up, shoved in the washing machine and later hung up to dry on a pulley above the Aga in Hermione’s kitchen. Her dining room was full of cardboard boxes. Piles of garments in different colours and sizes covered the table, waiting for despatch.

My aunt was to be found in her office busy making designer-ish sketches whilst waiting for Bloomingdales on the phone and forecasting her fluctuating turnover.

‘The drawings are simply to impress the Regent Street buyers,’ she said. ‘I won’t use them for anything else. There is absolutely nothing artistic about the design of separates,’ she went on. ‘I just ask what will sell. If they say Fandango is the colour for next year, Fandango it will be.’

‘What are these buyers like?’

‘Oh, hysterical.  I love them all. They don’t love me though. They just want to know I’ll deliver.’  I was then instructed to sew labels on a pile of pale pink polo-necks so she could get an order off to Japan before Christmas.

I assumed that taking over the production would stretch my talents but found it just entailed dealing with a series of chatty knitters. They rang up non-stop. ‘Knitters in a twist,’ my teenage cousin called, wafting by.

‘Don’t let them talk for long,’ hissed Hermione.

‘Doo-n’t let your wee aunt leave me with noth-thing too doo over Christmas, noo.’

I was urged not to let them bully me. ‘They’ve no reticence, these ladies. They seem genetically pre-programmed to knit and get anxious if they don’t have any work. They are addicted to it. In fact they can quite persecute you for more.’

I learnt that there was a knack to keeping phone calls short. ‘You say: “OK – very gud. Bye.” as fast as you can and slam the phone down.’ I would never have dared to be so abrupt when I worked for the BBC.  People might have been offended and made a fuss about paying their licence fee.

Hermione said that the buyers could cut you short too. ‘Oh, when I was in New York I spent all day plucking up the courage to ring one designer. I eventually managed to speak to her and was busy explaining how each garment is an original, carefully knitted by hand, in the traditional Scottish way, when the woman leant back in her chair and said, “I don’t care if they’re knitted by monkeys, I don’t want ’em.”’

‘How upsetting.’

‘Didn’t matter. The people at Hermes liked them.’

My uncle went on to explain that a lot of the outworkers are looking after infirm relatives and cope with the frustration and endless, blaring television by knitting.

‘It can become an expensive hobby unless you’re commissioned. Their fee - ‘knitting money’- gets put in a jar to pay for treats and holidays.’ Hermione’s marketing spiel described this as ‘sustaining a traditional craft’.

Hermione Spencer Cashmere
Despite the banter in the workroom I was to learn how truely wonderful the knitters were. It was not just their skill that was highly valued. When we only had three days to get samples together for Yves St Laurent in Paris, the local ladies rose to the challenge and pulled out the stops. They never missed a deadline.

‘They are incredibly speedy and can easily complete a complicated cable pattern in a week,’ my aunt insisted. ‘There are over three hundred of them. The thought of them all knitting into the night is really quite terrifying. Actually one of them never sleeps; hasn’t been upstairs for twenty years.’ I didn’t believe her. ‘It’s quite true. She just lies on her sofa and snoozes for a couple of hours. There is a huge Alsatian dog so everything comes back hairy, but she’s a frightfully good knitter.’

Hermione seemed to have had all sorts of adventures with the knitters’ husbands...

‘I sat on one. He was lying in the gloom under a blanket on the sofa and I simply didn’t realise he was there. I went to visit another knitter and walked straight into the bathroom by mistake. There was a man in the bath. A big fat one.

'Another lady was unexpectedly late with her knitting. When I rang up she said, “Well my husband’s just died. I haven’t buried him yet, so I’ll do that and then get the cardi finished, OK?”’

The knitting orders kept me absorbed and I loved the feel of the cashmere, but the work had clear limits. The challenge was Hermione’s. It was her name on the label. The zenith of my internship was reached when I learnt how to wind wool electronically. Granny rang to see if I was being useful, earning my keep. When I told her a ball had just flown off the winder and hit me on the nose I found her surprisingly sympathetic.

‘Oh yes, I remember. All those wretched little balls of wool.  When are you going to South Africa?’

Sophie Neville in Hermione Spencer Cashmere
Sophie Neville in Hermione Spencer Cashmere
After 25 years Hermione sailed away from knitwear design, but I still have one treasured cashmere jersey. Hand-knitted in Scotland by a dedicated expert.

Monday, 16 April 2012

How do you cope with being laid up in bed day after day?

15th April ~ A huge Get Well card has arrived, signed by my entire cast and crew. It’s a picture of a crocodile in bed with a thermometer in its mouth. Not a very sexy looking one. My P.A. had written ‘Rest: don’t feel guilty about spending time in bed, you work too atrociously hard.’
I’m reading a book about the French Revolution but I can’t take it in; my brain seems to have shrunk to the size of an apricot.
Mum went around in a Police car today with a video camera, in an attempt to catch speeders speeding. The life of a J.P. (Justice of the Peace.) She absolutely adores being a magistrate. Having always complained about public lavatories, it gives her a title suitable for bullying people to do something about them. And, she always had an aptitude for prosecution. I can remember waiting at the traffic lights when we were little when Mum sharply informed a boy on his bike,
‘It’s getting dark, you should have your lights on.’
So should you lady,’ he answered back.
He was right; she hadn’t turned her own headlights on.

Alastair came to see me, leaving a trail of destruction. It comes naturally to him. In the last few years he has broken the dishwasher, sloshed coffee all over the Persian carpet and split open our pink bath. He stood in it. For some reason he got in without any water, which was just as well as Dad found a live electric wire running underneath. Rats had gnawed off the plastic insulation.
It’s sweet of Al to come over, but it’s rather enervating having him around. Like many high achievers, he switches from being frantically outgoing to being totally self absorbed. I just wish he could understand that we love him for who he is and not for what he can achieve.
I don’t know; he’s crazy about what he does; Alastair is even more engrossed in his work than I am. His great passion in life is birds and he loves, loves, loves making films about them. I once asked him what was the most important thing in his life, thinking he might talk about his faith or his family, his health or even perhaps me. He said, ‘Peregrine falcons.’
Oh. What’s the second most important thing in your life?’
White fronted bee-eaters.’
James says he finds it somewhat annoying; not the bird fetish so much as the desire to get up so early in the morning. Al says he’s sure everyone thinks he’s bonkers but doesn’t care. The great thing is that one is whisked along with his enthusiasm and where it takes you; out to see gannets on the Farne Islands in sparkling sunlight and high seas or off to remote parts of Morocco to find the flamingos and egrets he last filmed in the Camargue. Surprisingly good fun. A group of us girls went out to Kenya one Christmas to see him when he was making a film on the white fronted bee-eaters with Simon King. Al was so focused on the project that when we returned from a long and adventurous journey to Lake Turkana he didn't even say Hello. Mind you, he was battling to complete a sequence with a mongoose. (They predate on bee-eaters.) It wouldn’t do what Alastair wanted at all and that can be extremely frustrating. I had the idea that Marmite might smell like a female on heat. They got a shot of the mongoose sniffing a bit but somehow the Marmite got everywhere. Under Alastair’s arms, on Simon King’s pigtail, all over the mongoose, and I was covered in it. Mongooses don’t smell very nice either. The idea of making wildlife films suddenly lost its charm.

16th April ~ My littlest sister Mary-Dieu, aged nineteen, has a baby girl aged one. She’s called Daisy, has no schedule at all and arrives with a huge pile of laundry. It’s pretty difficult looking after her as she normally sleeps in bed with my sister and objects to being plonked in a cot. But she’s come to stay because Mary-Dieu wants to go ‘Clubbing’. Night clubbing. The thought alone exhausts me.
Daisy is a delight. Her big eyes and curls make her look like a little imp with a question mark on top of her head. I really didn’t know what to do with her, but found Atalanta’s baby-walker behind the sofa. Daisy thought this was great and spent all afternoon whizzing about my room. I rather need a baby-walker myself.
Nicola, one of my best friends from school, came over. She looked at Daisy with horror and then said in a small voice, ‘I’m pregnant,’ sounding like a frightened sixteen-year old. She isn’t sixteen; she’s twenty-nine and has been married for two years. I think it’s exciting that she’s going to have a baby. I showed her the schedule, which is still hanging on the sitting room mantelpiece.
Oh, Sophie, I thought that was for you.’
Yes. I suppose it could be.’
Do you manage to keep to it?’
No, we’re always behind.’
Daisy is sleeping with Mum in her bed and my father has migrated to his study. I lie alone in my high four-poster, looking at the card of the crocodile. Mary-Dieu (Dieu as in mildew) was nearly four when we adopted her. I was fifteen. She was the sweetest little thing, easygoing, bright and extremely articulate. Our only problem, and it was quite a hazard, was that she was, and still is, radically outspoken. She could state the obvious at embarrassing and inopportune times. We all had to go to court for her formal adoption. Mum knew that the old judge only had one hand. The other had been replaced by a hook. We were all terrified that Mary-Dieu would declare, ‘You’ve got no hand,’ or something and had been drilling her frantically. Instead, she walked into the court, paused in the doorway, and when sure of everyone’s attention, looked at the judge, looked up at Mum and said, in her clear piping voice, ‘I no say anything about the hook. I just tell him to be careful of the crocodile.’

17th April ~ Mum came plodding upstairs to ask if I wanted Rufus Knight-Webb to come and see me. I looked at her a little oddly. I know that Jesus wanted the sick to be visited but I’m not sure I should have so many people in my bedroom. Rufus is the son of our old G.P. and I haven’t seen him since he was adolescent. He’s an artist and lives in London; I’m sure he won’t want to come.
You’ve absolutely got to see his wife. She’s beautiful.’ I’d no idea they were downstairs.
Mum was getting impatient with me. ‘It’s all right, they live in a squat.’ She was referring to the chaos in my room.
Rufus’ new Yugoslavian wife is beautiful. Startlingly so. In the way she is, as much as how she looks. She speaks not one word of English. Rufus, in contrast, hadn’t brushed his hair for a long time and spoke without drawing breath.
I’m painting with ultra-violet in the dark,’ he told me. I could just imagine it. Rufus in Peckham, painting in the dark. I showed him the luminous stars stuck to the ceiling above my bed. His works of wonderment need to be illuminated by a black light or something. Weird. (How can you get black light anyway?) They’re going to James’ dance in May, when we all have to dress up as soap opera stars. I tried to persuade him to go as a carrot and represent The Archers.

Sophie Neville

My photos of South Africa have arrived from the developers. Oh, how I wish I’d never come back. The horses look so beautiful. I’m sitting on a big black Friesian with a flowing mane and tail. There are shots of us riding with the game. Shots of us walking through the mountains. Well, me walking, Sarah-Jane striding. I must’ve known her for twenty years. She has a wild and free life. And I mean a life in the wild, where she has freedom. Strong minded and independent, she’s torn away from convention and does what she wants. And why not? About five years ago we drove down through Africa and, although she had no money at all, she decided to stay and start her own business in tourism. Rebecca was on that trip. I’m going to send her some of these photographs and persuade her to get out there. It’s very much her thing.

Sophie Neville by Sophie Neville

18th April ~ Syndrome worse today. Achy back. I can hardly do anything at all. It’s so frustrating; being unproductive goes against the grain of my essential make up. I’m not even much fun to talk to. But surely I’ll be better in time for James’ party.
I went to see my family’s General Practitioner. She peered down my throat.
‘Yes, well this is infected for sure, but tell me, do you always push yourself to the limit?’
In what way?’
Were you getting stressed-out at work?’
I was under a great deal of pressure, but I’m used to coping with that. It can be all quite exhilarating.’
How long have you been doing this job?’
I’ve worked for the BBC for about eight years, and have been in this particular job, directing stuff, for three.’
But is it a stressful job?’
Yes, it’s up to me to come up with the goods; the filming is pressurised,’ I admitted. ‘I work with children who are only allowed on set for a limited time, so I have to operate at a fair pace, directing with two cameras, but it’s not as if I was getting particularly anxious or worried. I enjoy it.’ I do, I love my work. I didn’t go into the details but it was the stupid recce that nearly killed me. These times of planning and reconnaissance are normally fun, but we had no time at all. I was going to have to film difficult sequences from a canal barge and wanted everything to be well organised. It was all rather difficult to envisage. Instead of delegating, insisting my production manager chose the locations, I’d spent a Saturday cycling miles up a gravely towpath and I think I pushed myself too hard physically. The only stress was on my muscles, which I’d thought would be good for me. But I was still on antibiotics and must have felt better than I really was.
Well, you have had two bad bouts of ’flu this year. I’d say you definitely have post-viral fatigue.’
How long can I expect to be ill for?’ I asked.
It’s hard to say.’
What I somehow never managed to explain was that while I was with Sarah-Jane I recognised the fact that I was badly in need of a long break; a proper sabbatical.
I staggered back from the surgery, sank into bed and spent all afternoon in a deep, hot sleep. Mum came back from Gloucester looking pretty exhausted herself. She told me that Mary-Dieu was still in bed when she’d returned Daisy at half past five. In the evening. Honestly, even I get up before then, and I’m meant to be in bed.
Her basement was filthy,’ Mum reported, ‘so I set to, scrubbing away. Mary-Dieu just sat on the sofa smoking, and watching me.’ Mum hates cigarette smoke. ‘I don’t suppose the night clubbing was much fun.’ Mary-Dieu’s lived in Gloucester for two years but hasn’t many friends. She seems to lead a nocturnal sort of life that I suppose cuts you off from the world after a while.
Mum, worried about christening her granddaughter, once asked Mary-Dieu if she had a church. ‘Yeah, I belong to The Church of Can’t be Bothered.’ It’s her choice but she must be so bored. Poor Daisy has to put up with all the muddle and smoke and the darkness of this ~ I don’t know what you call it ~ alternative lifestyle. Mum was quite funny though, going on about the mess; her own room is just as bad. The things she has on her windowsill alone: piles of letters, Agatha Christie books, wire coat hangers, one shoetree, empty boxes, her old specs (I bet she’s been looking for them for ages) and we are not allowed to interfere. Mary-Dieu knows this of course.

Sophie Neville

19th April ~ Woke up with a stiff neck, feeling turgid and somehow compressed. It seems I’m unable to do anything productive. I ended up sitting slumped by my bookshelves reading about a boy who was dying, called William*. I was completely caught up by the story. His mother, Rosemary Attlee, tells the first part. Now I’m reading the journal William wrote in the last four months of his life. He was nineteen. It’s a spiritual journal and so touching. All true and much better reading than the French Revolution.
This diary of mine ought to be a spiritual diary but I’m shy about what people might think. I mean, it’s very personal. I used to think faith was a private thing, but we’re not going to learn anything by internalising what we experience. Anyway, it’s exciting hearing about what God’s doing in people’s lives. I don’t know if what’s happening in mine will be. Where do I start? I’m in the middle of so much. Start where I am now. Not a good place because I feel that nothing spiritual is happening in my life at all. I feel clogged up intellectually (and can hardly spell. I’ve just spelt hour: OUR and her: HAIR).
Should people pray when they’re ill? Well, yes, I’ve so much time on my hands. I ought to try to get closer to God. He really is here the whole time. That I have noticed. It’s a staggeringly beautiful spring for a start. These last few days I’ve been sitting quite motionless for ages, just soaking in all that is around me. I look out of my bedroom window at the cherry blossom. It’s spectacular. In the past I’ve been so busy filming that I’ve missed this extraordinary sight for years. Now it seems as if it’s out just for me, undaunted by wind or snow. Do people just get so busy they fail to appreciate God’s presence in their lives?

20th April ~ Tried to pray. Can’t; too groggy. Must, must keep my intellect at least ticking over by writing more creatively. It’s essential to persevere. And take risks.

P o e m
If it wasn’t for all the mud and rain
Reality wouldn’t be the same.
Better try harder.
Try brain exercise. Must read newspaper. Reach for The Times. Ghastly news:
It says that an estimated 100,000 people have just died in Bangladesh, killed by a cyclone. That’s an awful lot. But then you read (well, I read in Bill Bryson’s book) that 1,360,000 people in the USA are airborne (flying over it) at anyone time; that must be about 5,000 aeroplanes; more. Dad says unless a load of planes are in the air, there’s not enough runway space for them to park up. Can’t bear to think about it. Give up. I don’t think I’m very well. Perhaps I could write about being ill for the advance of medical science.
I was just beginning to feel dejected when Mum appeared bearing ten pairs of the most enormous knickers I’ve ever seen. Five pairs white, five pairs ‘flesh tone’. Tamzin, who claims to be my most down to earth sister but is really quite glamorous, had just sent them to her for her birthday. Being a housewife she doesn’t earn any money, so my brother-in-law Johnty had had to pay for them. What an hysterical present. Mum had asked for knickers and told her to get the biggest possible, but these are VAST.

Daphne Neville drawn by Sophie Neville

Dad, seriously concerned now about safety aspects of handling garden machinery, is writing an article about his experience with the rotary cultivator for The Kitchen Garden Magazine. They’ll just think he’s nutty.

21st April ~ Nicola has kindly given me some emu oil for my skin. Real emu oil, all the way from Australia. The Aborigines say it has wonderful healing properties. The only problem is that it makes me smell like a roast chicken.

I’d love to be married like Nicola, but it’s just as well I’m not. I can’t bear anyone touching me at the moment. You don’t when you have ’flu and I feel like one does the day after the fever has gone, only this day seems to be going on and on and on. I must thank God for all the good things. He is in control. Control over a sick girl smelling like an emu.

Dad came back from buying plants looking relieved as he learnt that he’s not the only one to have an absurd relationship with a motorised plough. The man who runs the nursery, who after all is a professional gardener, said he started his rotavator in the garage and for some unknown reason it leapt into reverse too. The thing pinned him to the wall, blades spinning frantically within inches of his person. Like Dad, he was all alone and there was no way of escape. He had to wait until it ran out of petrol, which took about forty minutes.

Sophie Neville

*'William's Story' by Rosemary Attlee (Highland, 1987)

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

When I was first diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

England, 1991

9th April ~
Extraordinary weather; blue sky, blue lake, brilliant sunshine – all the daffodils and cherry blossom out at once, and then very suddenly, snow. Not sleet, but great big flakes falling out of a grey sky almost as if the cherry blossom was coming off. It’s a bit like what’s happened to me.
I’m ill. Or not ill, I don’t know, but I’m totally exhausted. Enfeebled; like a sea creature stranded on a beach, with the tide receding. Everything was going well until I conked-out at work. I’ve been taken off my series and sent home to my parents’ farm. By the BBC doctor. For an indefinite period.
I suppose that when you just can’t move there must be something wrong. My father had to drive up to London and bring me home to Gloucestershire. I sat slumped in the car, shaking and unable to speak, but I’m going to stay here now, in my old bedroom, and get fat and fit and well.
I’d better be careful; I think it’s quite easy for stranded sea creatures to start feeling sorry for themselves. I knew an actor who once had a small part playing a sand monster in Doctor Who. His scenes were filmed on Brighton beach in January. ‘We monsters had to lie under a thin layer of sand, staying still until the director shouted “Action!” Then we would emerge and bear down, scarily, on the Doctor and his assistant’ (a buxom girl wearing a leotard.) They ended up having to do it again and again, take after take.
I got quite used to being buried and waiting around for the crew to set up the shot again.’ After the seventh take the monster found himself lying under the sand for what seemed like hours. ‘I thought I would just take a peek to see what was happening.’ The entire beach was deserted. It had started to drizzle. The crew must have moved on to the next location. ‘I felt so stupid. I didn’t have any money on me and had to walk back through Brighton to the unit hotel, all cold and stiff in the soggy sand monster costume, trying not to frighten old ladies or children in pushchairs.’

Sophie Neville

10th April ~
There are stars above my bed here, here in my room high up at the top of the house. The windows are set in the eaves and look out into the treetops and across the lake. Our house is in a deep wooded valley so you can’t see far but are wrapped in sound. That is what’s so wonderful ~ the birdsong and the rushing water as the lake spills over, water falling twelve feet into the river flowing past the mill and away down to the sea.
I wish you wouldn’t interfere, Martin.’ I’ve heard this war cry from childhood. It’s my mother in normal state of chaos bustling about and shouting at Dad, who presumably, was trying to help. I’m going back to sleep.

11th April ~
I have the concentration of a five-year-old and can’t do a thing. This is my symptom. It’s no good; I’m meant to be working. My throat is on fire.
Perhaps I should have done a bunk and stayed in South Africa after all. It wouldn’t be cold there, it would be sunny and I wouldn’t be ill. I’d be riding across the plains with the wind in my hair and wild animals all around me.
Apparently I have a syndrome: post-viral fatigue. Yuppie ’flu, of all things. The doctor at work took a long time examining me.
How long did you have to prepare for this drama series of yours?’
Three weeks, but I caught ’flu so it ended up being less.’
And how long do you normally need?’
Oh, three months. But I only finished editing the last series in February and couldn’t start any earlier.’
Why didn’t you take some leave, Sophie?’ he asked.
I did, I took two and a half weeks’ holiday and went to South Africa.’
I’m surprised you came back.’
I had to.’
So you got off the plane at 6.00am and walked straight into a meeting.’
How did you know?’
Yes, well you have to be pretty fit to do your job.’ He became very strict. ‘You can’t attempt to do it when you’re in this shape. I don’t want you to return to work unless you can look me in the eye and say you’ve been playing tennis every day for ten days. End of story. Keep a diary of how you feel, even if you only write five words a day, and take a list of symptoms to your G.P.’
It’s a bit of a shock. And a real nuisance. I went down with something vile for two endless weeks in January, then I’d been ill with a similar virus for ten days over Easter. It could have been a bug I caught on the aeroplane flying back from Johannesburg. My family doctor gave me antibiotics, which had made me feel so much better that I’d returned to work as soon as I could. I couldn’t not. We had rehearsals, I had scripts to prepare, and we had meetings, lots of them, and there were numerous locations to find.
In effect, I didn’t say ‘Cut’ early enough. I’m always forgetting to say ‘Cut’ and then stand around wondering why the actors continue to walk down the street. This time I should have stopped myself sooner. I collapsed after the first day of filming. Very embarrassing.

12th April ~
Census day, of all things. We are about to become statistics and the media seems obsessed with it. England can be so parochial. I dreamt about warthogs last night, and zebra running in the dust; there were great herds of eland and giraffe standing against the mountains. And I was riding past on an Arab horse. I wonder if heaven will be like that? Do you think we’ll get there and find it covered in wildebeest?
I seem to sleep all the time. But my friend James is always nodding off and he seems ridiculously healthy. I hadn’t seen him for ages but he drove up from Bristol especially to see me, bringing my old boyfriend Alastair. They both happen to be working at the BBC Natural History Unit and smelt all officey. It was lovely to see them but a bit jarring:
How are you!’ James shouted, in his cheery Etonian voice.
Not feeling very well.’
Never mind,’ Alastair shouted back. ‘A couple of days in bed will sort you out.’ And giving me a slap on the back he took James off to look for a hobby. Hobby as in bird of prey. They only returned to eat. Why Mum is so enchanted by these two I don’t know.
Oh, but darling,’ she said, as soon as they were out of the house, ‘Alastair is tall, dark and good-looking and I suppose you could describe James as cuddly. Don’t you want to marry them?’
Not just at the moment.’
After supper Alastair gave James a plate of ice cream, not realising that he’d started snoozing on the sofa. James woke so suddenly he flung the bowl against the wall. The ice cream went splat! and dribbled, melting, down the radiator.

13th April ~ must focus on getting better.
It’s quite busy here. I’ve been living in London for so long that I didn’t realise what my family was up to. Atalanta Blue has come to stay. She’s my niece, aged one, and has arrived with an extensive wardrobe of baby-grows. My incredibly efficient sister Perry has left instructions: pinned to the mantelpiece is a schedule of what Atalanta has to do and when.

·           7.00am ~ Wakes
·           8.00am ~ Eats
·           10.30am ~ Sleeps
·           12.30pm ~ Eats
·           2.30pm ~ Sleeps
·           5.00pm ~ Eats
·           5.30pm ~ Bath
·           6.00pm ~ Plays
·           7.00pm ~ Sleeps

What a life.
Perry has gone to make an advert for British Gas, her blonde hair bobbed, her pink suit pressed. She left in a furious temper because she slept the night in Mary-Dieu’s old bedroom. The smoke alarm kept going off every half-hour like an alarm clock. It was indicating that the batteries were running down. Poor Perry. She didn’t know this, couldn’t find what it was and ended up sleeping in Dad’s study, as there’s a bed there. Only she was unable to sleep due to my coughing. To make extra space Dad’s put the bed on top of a chest of drawers, which means that anyone sleeping on it is rather close to the ceiling and my bed’s on the floor above. Does this sound mad?

14th April ~
Mum’s been trying to lose weight again. It puts her in such a bad mood. Her classic way of dealing with anything is to scream. It usually works; we all leap into action and scurry about doing things for her. The screaming is exacerbated when she’s irritated about something or hasn’t had enough to eat. Surely after all these years she must realise that dieting doesn’t work for her. I think the problem is that she insists on wearing baggy sweatshirts and tracksuit bottoms, which are most unflattering. They would make me look podgy and I’m a size 10.
I don’t care what I look like, for you lot,’ she shouted, turning on the whizzer to make more spinach soup. ‘I want to look slim for a part I’m going up for at the King’s Head in Islington.’ I bet the play doesn’t even get off the ground. She’s always going to futile auditions, despite the expense. Mum couldn’t resist auditioning for Peter Pan once. My sisters and I somehow couldn’t imagine her in flight.
Not to play Peter. I thought I might make a good Mrs. Darling.’ Once at the theatre she had to stand on the stage, looking out into silent darkness in the old fashioned way, and sing a song. ‘I sang By yon Bonny Banks, as it’s about all I can sing, and had just got to the bit about my true love, when a voice from the back shouted, “Stop. Stop! You don’t look a bit like a sexy green crocodile.”’ And that was it. ‘They were looking for a Mrs. Darling who could double as the crocodile in a sparkly bikini thing. I’m sure I could play a reptile if it was required.’
Dad has had an argument with his rotavator. He calls it a tiller. It’s a big red and white machine with handles like a plough and four rotary blades that churn up the vegetable garden.

He’d lent it to a friend who had managed to wear out the drive-belt. Instead of replacing it with an expensive Honda belt, his friend thought he’d buy a cheap one. This idea has nearly killed my father. When he put the tiller into reverse the drive-belt slid off and the whole thing leapt back at him, with the heavy blades turning madly right between his legs. And I mean right between his legs. They could easily have gouged out his stomach. As it was they caught his trousers, tearing and whipping the material round until his bottom was exposed and his right thigh was held in a tourniquet. The lower blades just missed his knees, slicing right through the rubber of his gumboots. Fortunately the engine then cut out. He couldn’t move though; he was pinned to the thing and awfully embarrassed about crying out for help, as he was quite naked around the middle. He said that luckily he found a hanky, which he put over his private parts.

As the vegetable garden is down the lane, 400 yards from our house, Dad knew we’d never hear him and became rather worried about whether he’d ever be found. In his desperation he hacked away at the material twisted round his leg with a piece of stone and finally managed to get free. He’s a bit shaken. Mum is trying to be sympathetic but thought the whole episode very funny.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Funnily Enough is now available from The Aldeburg Bookshop ~

If you are ever in Aldeburgh do go into The Aldeburgh Bookshop on the High Street. You'll love it. They can send you any book you want.