Saturday, 12 November 2011


       “Bit big to be carried, isn’t she?” Thus spoke the wise old woman, glaring with undisguised disgust as I swung my 18-month old daughter onto my hip. Well, it was so much easier that way, not that I had much choice in the matter. From the day of her birth, practically, Georgina possessed an overriding quality I hope my books will have: Total unputdownability! Wherever we went, she’d insist on taking her rightful place, firmly clamped to my left flank like an over-possessive Siamese twin, and woe betide my eardrums if I attempted to dislodge her. Still, at least I knew where she was. (When in the mood and upright in her size-one Startrites, she could cover the ground faster than Roadrunner on speed, with barely a backward glance to see if Mummy was following.)
       So it was difficult when this affectionate, loving little girl began to morph into a moody adolescent, a process which began at the tender age of 10 and lasted well into her 18th year.
Shopping was my biggest dread. Apparently, she found my presence so embarrassing, I had to walk an obligatory three paces behind her carrying The Purse while she browsed through endless racks of trainers (always trainers - why?) and interminable rails of jeans. Woe betide me were I to venture a comment: “Stop shouting!” she’d rasp. Woe betide me if I remained silent: “Why won’t you help me?!” only to shush me up again as I obligingly attempted (sotto voce) to compare the awful frayed denims with the unspeakable bell-bottoms. Eventually, my eye would rest upon a pair of serviceable strides. “What about these?” I’d ask, only to merit a withering “Ugggh!” in reply.
       And woe betide me if I dared to glance at anything in my own size. “You’re so selfish!” the beloved would cry and then there’d be the all too familiar stomp back to the car and we’d drive home in stony silence. “Huh!” I’d think to myself, “Wait till after tea, my lady. There’ll be no chocolate for you tonight!” At the time, my only comfort was the certain knowledge that millions of other mums throughout the western world would be suffering exactly the same fate.
       Fortunately for you parents currently living under the weight of teenage tyranny, there’s a welcome source of solace. It really isn’t your fault! Even the coolest, most loving and efficient ‘right-on’ upbringing won’t make a shred of difference, because all adolescents have a tremendous spurt of brain growth which increases their intellectual capacity but leaves their emotional facilities trailing.
According to the Society for Neuroscience, “Scientists once thought the brain's key development ended within the first few years of life. Now, thanks to advanced brain imaging technology and adolescent research, scientists are learning more about the teenage brain both in health and in disease. They know now that the brain continues to develop at least into a person's twenties.”*
       A group of youths aged 12-18 taking part in a recent study was shown a series of photographs of faces showing different emotions – pain, fear, anger, sadness, joy....the whole gamut. Each youth was asked to assess what feelings were being portrayed. Amazingly, adolescents on the fringes of the teenage years were most accurate; whereas participants in the middle years (14-16) performed very badly indeed, proving their emotional perceptions and responses were extremely limited.
Another factor which comes into play is that children need to establish a sense of independence, so resent the fact that they still need guidance and emotional security from their parents.
These findings should be good news for anyone – parents and children – who are going through the terrible teens right now. And, if this is a treat you’re yet to experience, remember:
       It’s not your fault
       They don’t really hate you
       They will grow out of it
       Every other parent and child has exactly the same problems
       As with the disapproving lady mentioned at the beginning of my blog, there will always be people from relatives to total strangers ready with unwarranted advice and even downright criticism so, by the time my daughter reached her teens, I did what everybody else seemed to do – blamed me!  
       What a relief then to learn that every parent, no matter how experienced, sensible or patient goes through the mill.
       And this phase doesn’t last. Some time ago, on one of our mammoth walks together, not only did Georgina link my arm affectionately, but kept it there even when other people approached. It was then I realised that at last we’d reached a turning point. We were friends.


Tuesday, 18 October 2011


       Anyone who's ever squirmed in their seat while watching a pantomime may wonder what kind of audience it's aiming to attract. I well remember when attending pantos as a child being intensely irritated by the constant interruptions - singers promoting their latest hits, plate-spinning acrobats and, of course, the obligatory stand-up comedian (usually playing Buttons or a character called Jack). 
       Message to producers: Too much extra-curricular activity is BORING for children, adds nothing to the plot and may even alienate younger audiences.
       But, at least, back in the good old days pantos were clean - the occasional flash of Widow Twankey's bloomers being a notable exception. Nowadays, double innuendo has quadrupled and bad-taste jokes proliferate under the mistaken belief that they 'simply go over children's heads'.
       Message to producers: No they don't! Kids are remarkably good at hearing the things you don't want them to. Then they ask questions!
       Sorry to sound like Mary Whitehouse but in an era when foul language is the norm, lap-dancing clubs have royal seals of approval and even the most talented comics feel free to include every bodily function in their repertoire, surely, oh surely we can preserve just a little innocence for one small corner of the entertainment industry that is primarily meant for CHILDREN!

Act One Productions

       Fortunately, there are still good pantomimes out there, particularly from smaller companies such as Act One Productions who are dedicated to producing wholesome entertainment families can enjoy without embarrassment.
       Based in Bishop Auckland, Act One Productions is a professional touring company which travels the length and breadth of Britain, performing in schools, theatres, leisure centres, shopping arcades, village halls and even racecourses!

Original Pantomimes

       For 2013/14, they staged an original, specially commissioned new production, "Peter Pntastic", a fresh, quirky slant on J M Barrie's play, with all the popular panto traditions - plenty of  slapstick, rib-tickling jokes, songs, audience participation, a brilliant cast and wonderful special effects. This year's choice is "Aladdin & the Meanie Genie", with short versions of Cinderella and, for the first time, a summer production, appropriately title "Alice in Summerland" for schools, families and retirement homes. 
       Before launching her company in 2006, artistic director Jule Watson made a careful study of the genre, checking out watching various pantomimes throughout the UK. Dismayed at the poor standards and crudeness of many of these productions, she was determined Act One Productions would avoid obscene jokes and so-called 'adult' humour, especially when visiting schools. "Pantomime should be a magical experience for children, one their parents and grandparents can also enjoy without embarrassment." 
       All pantomimes, for schools and families, as well as shorter versions for  residential homes - are fresh, quirky and inventive,  thanks to great scripts, brilliant performances, and magical stage effects.

Act One Productions also caters for more mature audiences and a short version of "Cinderella" will be touring the UK this season. With just two actors, it was initially commissioned for nursing and retirement homes but is equally ideal for office parties, pubs, private gatherings and, of course, schools! This production joins its predecessors "Aladdin", "Jack & the Beanstalk" and 
"Robin Hood" which all met with 100% acclaim during the 2011-2013 panto seasons and have now been adapted for primary school pupil's and children's parties.