Queen Victoria

Oh the double-edged sword of the Guardian news alert. Sometimes helpful, sometimes intriguing [recently a night out dancing was enhanced by “Iain Duncan-Smith resigns” flashing up and generating much speculation], and at times just utterly heart breaking.

The latter mostly includes their death announcements – which is how I’ve heard of the passing of several idols and inspirations in recent years: Mandela, Rickman and today, Victoria Wood. Victoria flipping Wood. The woman who categorically shaped comedy in the household in which I grew up. Red cabbage can’t be mentioned without a cry of “how much?” rising up from at least one person. Soup can’t be served without a shaky “one soup…two soup”. And nothing – I repeat nothing – featuring Wood would ever be skipped should it be on TV.

Twitter is ablaze at the moment, obviously; and I have a lot of thoughts, obviously. So I thought I’d get them all down now, cathartic fashion. But can I do Victoria Wood justice, can I buffalo!

1. I saw Victoria Wood in real life once. (That it was only once is probably surprising as she did live locally). It was the early 90s, and I had been taken shoe shopping in the children’s shoe shop in Muswell Hill. The shop was crowded (it sold Start Rite, Muswell Hill mums love Start Rite) and we were reaching the end of the shoe trying-on ordeal when my mum hissed “Don’t look, but Victoria Wood’s just walked in.” As one, my sister and I looked. Come on! She was our comedy idol! We proceeded to watch her child try on sandals. It was thrilling.

2. In the early 1990s, our church’s annual harvest supper had to be rescheduled because a large group of women had booked tickets to see Wood at the Royal Albert Hall. I think if Wood had known that, it could have sowed the seed for an exceptionally brilliant sketch. (I believe my sister and I were rather peeved that we weren’t allowed to go!)

3. There’s the fact that, despite its possibly questionable content, the tape featuring The Ballad of Barry and Freda was regularly played on long car journeys when I was definitely under 11. I didn’t get it, but I knew it was funny. That cassette later came my way via CD and is still an album that I go back to in iTunes. Saturday Night would be a particular favourite.

4. Even her serious (or more serious stuff) caused comedic moments. Over Christmas 2014, when the TV version of her play The Day We Sang aired, barely a few hours would pass before you heard a parent chirp “Nymphs and shepherds ru-un away, run away, run away…” in varying degrees of tunefulness (directly proportional to the amount of prosecco that had been consumed).

5. She was a funny woman who talked about real life. Actual real life, not aspirational real life. True, as a softy southerner not all of it made sense, but a lot of it did. Like the Sacherelle sketch… [Incidentally, I’m convinced that in this clip, you can spot Victoria Coren with her father at 1:16]

6. Very recently, I had the joy of discovering on YouTube a whole series of Victoria Wood programmes I’d never seen before – We’d Like to Apologise – which was a feast of 90’s nostalgia, classic Wood co-stars, and brilliant comedy. Episode three, ‘Over to Pam’, in which Julie Walters plays daytime TV host Pam and where Victoria plays a version of herself, is sheer genius.

7. Everyone loved her. Including the best celebrities, who seemed to be queuing up around the block to be in one of her sketches. I think I got to the series mentioned above thanks to a bit of Rickman YouTubing. Rickman acting Woods’ scripts. Too, too much.

Or, as one sketch had it, Alan Dickman


8. She has ensured that I never ever take Ann Widdecombe seriously.

9. She brought Julie Walters into my life. In fact, as a child, I was convinced that Walters was an old woman – I was very confused when I saw her on TV as herself. Mrs Overall and the assortment of other elderly ladies Wood wrote for Walters are utterly fabulous, but I do love the occasions when she was allowed to play her own age, or younger. Like the hairdresser no one would ever want near their hair.

10. When she appeared on Comic Relief Bake Off last year, her showstopper was a beret – a nod to her brilliant sketch in which Kimberley is continually sought by her beret wearing chum. “She’s really really tall and really really wide…”  I’ve spent ages hunting for this clip this evening, having discovered a previous sharing of it had been removed by ITV. But thankfully, minutes ago, someone reposted it. It says a huge amount about Wood’s brilliance that her most famous character is someone we never ever see!

Oh goodness. Too, too soon. It says a lot of our love for Victoria Wood that my Dad has emailed from Samoa to check that the women of the family are ok. Like many, we’re mourning all that should have been to come: more plays, more sketches, more catchphrases. But no. At least there’s plenty to re-watch. I’m spending the evening watching her 2010 BAFTA tribute and enjoying the fact that at least it wasn’t an obituary when it was made.

Hidden London: The City Edition

It’s been nearly 3 years since I acquired the fabulous London’s Hidden Walks book, but my ability to actually do many of the walks has not been great. In fact, my parents completed more of them over a weekend in 2012 than I had till this weekend! [I’m now on a mission to do several asap – I did another on Monday, in fact.]

But, the presence of my mother this weekend encouraged us to head out on one that even they hadn’t managed (following on from a Saturday we spent exploring Soho last year) – specifically, the Western City walk. This one, handily included sights not 20 minutes walk from my flat, so we were able to join the loop at hidden feature number 7 and continue around from there.

What I love about this book is that no matter how well I know the area, it always manages to tell me something new. For example, we began our walk at St Sepulchre’s, where a friend of mine is the vicar, but until the walk, I’d no idea that John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) was buried there. Also, despite the area of the walk being one I walk through on a very regular basis, I discovered places I never knew existed – so there is always something for the confirmed Londoner to learn! And I learnt a lot…

If you ever fancy taking a walk around the City, do it on a weekend because it’s totally deserted and you can stop and stare at things without ending up under the feet of a commuter. Saturday was quiet and sunny. The only time we had to deal with people was on the Thames’ Path & St Paul’s, towards the end of the walk. Also, in a first, we bumped into someone else doing the same walk. Fortunately he was either very fast or we were very slow, as we didn’t see him again – doing the walk in tandem could have been awkward, especially after Mum observed that “if we’d been in a Richard Curtis film, you’d have been married by the end of it!”

Newgate drinking fountainThe Newgate Fountain – I’ve walked past this countless times & never noticed it.

Sherlock graffiti

A nugget of info that will probably be included in future books is that Giltspur St is the street onto which Sherlock fell from the roof of St Bart’s. A nearby phone box is dedicated to Sherlock themed graffiti – I was impressed.

Sherlock graffiti

Emerald in the CityA bit of the Emerald City in the City. (Aldermanbury Square)

Shakespeare's Folio Shakespeare gets mentioned a lot around the City – in this instance, a celebration of the first performance of his First Folio at a church that was subsequently destroyed in the blitz.

The GuildhallThe Guildhall. Incredibly, I’d never stood in this square – on a sunny Saturday it was simply stunning. Almost like being in Sienna. Yesterday when walking down Cheapside I realised I could glimpse down one of the sidestreets…

Wren, ReflectedWren, reflected in modernity. A frequent explanation in the book was “the church xxxxx was built in the 12th Century, destroyed in the Great Fire of London, rebuilt by Wren and then gutted in the blitz…” In several cases, only a garden marked the spot (God bless consecrated land!), in others just a tower. In one case, the remains were shipped to Missouri. As you do. 

Our walk also took us through Postman’s Park – which I only discovered the joys of last month – and took us right up to Wesley’s Chapel. The joy of these walks is that you can skip the bits you already know. There’s no need for one Methodist minister and one former Methodist to pay homage to Wesley – we could both name numerous visits there in the past. But, we did take the opportunity to have lunch in the cemetery over the road. We’re classy like that.

One last thing (and you may want to skip this if you’re of a sensitive disposition). The information provided about the walk also gave me a valuable insight into the motivation Medieval street namers had. I’m very fond of unusual/funny/possibly rude street names, and now realise that modern day readers’ minds may not be as dirty as first thought.

Comedy Streets

Take the streets above. That first one is a street I pass frequently – and yes, I took a photo the first time. I’d imagined it had no ‘rude’ connotation but was perhaps connected to poultry (it is close to Smithfields Market) or fighting birds. Our guide instead revealed that this was one of the earliest red-light districts in the City – no dirty minds required here, it’s plain fact! Brilliantly, the guidebook also re-told a story about a scandal that took place on the street in the 18th Century, involving ‘the Cock Lane ghost’. The story is a little complicated, but involved a woman called Fanny who was having an affair. Ultimately, it resulted  in fascinated visitors to the street being invited to communicate with the “scratching Fanny of Cock Lane” – i.e. a ghost. The hilarity.

Love Lane was also a red-light district, as was another street just off Bow Lane. The street no longer exists (or was re-named) but involved the word ‘grope’ and a name for a body part that might be described as Chaucerian. Those Medieval street namers were nothing but forthright!

And as for Prudent Passage? I’ve no idea. It wasn’t a red light passage, it simply amused me and will be added to my collection…

Comic Women

Last week, news broke that the BBC is cracking down on the gender imbalance of comedy panel shows – from now on, according to Danny Cohen (head of the BBC’s TV output), there will be no more all-male panel shows. All new episodes of series like QI, Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You will have to include at least one woman.

This is something of a victory, but an interesting situation for funny women to find themselves in. Will they want to be a ‘token’ woman, at risk of mockery from some of comedy’s most cutting men? Will they be able to find enough women willing to step up and take a seat on such shows?

The first is a question that is up to individuals to answer. (Jo Brand has already publicly said she won’t accept invitations to appear on Mock the Week because of its culture of having to “bite off someone’s foot in order to say something”.) The second though, surely shouldn’t be an issue. The world is full of funny women – the producers of such shows may just have to put some work into finding them.

It’s strikingly similar to the situation in the church regarding women speakers at Christian events. So often the excuse for all-male line ups is “we didn’t know of any women who could do it”. Just like the church, on the comedy circuit, there are far more men than women. Women get stereotyped as only being relevant to other women (although, even if this were the case, that’s still 50% of the population). There is a bizarre, yet widely held view, that women just aren’t funny.

In my humble opinion, this is ridiculous. I was once part of a conversation involving two (respected) male friends, one of whom – very sweetly – insisted that I was a funny woman. But, he also insisted that I was a very rare instance of such a creature. The other friend, while accepting that I was amusing, could not name any women he genuinely found funny on TV. We were en route to a pub and once we got inside, the debate continued, involving more people. I know that some of the guys were deliberately playing Devil’s Advocate, but it goes to show that the belief is a widespread one.

But, to get back to the BBC. It’s a good decision. In the whole intentional versus token debate, while some might argue it smacks of tokenism, I’d argue it’s actually a great example of intentionality. People have been complaining about the lack of women on theses shows for ages, but little has changed. Now that they have to have a woman (or more!), they will be forced to get out there and find them. In the process, hopefully lots more opportunities will open up for female comics.

Female QII think, but am not certain, that this is the only majority-female line up QI’s seen. 

Personally, I think some of the funniest QI’s have been when Stephen Fry and Alan Davies have been outnumbered by women. (Such as Kaleidoscope, featuring Toksvig; Calman & Tarbuk.) In fact, one of my all-time favourite QI’s saw a balance of genders amongst the panel  (Alan Davies, Revd Richard Coles, Sue Perkins and Victoria Coren-Mitchell in Knights & Knaves) which was only marred by Coles’ regular use of the term “clergyman” when a non-gender specific term could have been used just as appropriately.

HIGNFY could do better, but at least does a good line in having some excellent female hosts and regularly utilising Coren-Mitchell to great effect. As for the radio, I think the News Quiz does a pretty good job of being representative as far as gender goes, but there’s always room for improvement. The biggest improvement of all would be getting beyond the usual female suspects and discovering some new talent – as I’m sure they themselves would agree. I’d be happy to volunteer my services…

Camilla Long HIGNFYOne lovely Twitter friend suggested last week, when this episode of HIGNFY was shown, that I was Ian Hislop’s desk-mate. Apparently, Camilla Long is my doppelgänger…

Liz the Licking Vicar – an explanation

The quest to see lizclutterbuck.com become a reality has gathered some pace of late. (i.e. Some important questions have finally been answered, after early September’s dilemmas.) Today, my web designer and I had a meeting at the Royal Festival Hall, working out the answers to some key queries – like colours, banner photos and fonts.

Testing out a font that works perfectly, but may prove to be rather pricey. It’s the website creator’s Macbook & text…

Posting this image on Facebook elicited an exchange that drew to my attention my neglect of the ‘licking vicar’ story. So let me make amends…

Back in April, when we returned to Chateau Duffy for our Easter sojourn, we were graced with Chef Richard’s presence and his amazing culinary creations. One such delight was a dessert accompanied by a particularly yummy cream confection. After scraping my bowl with my spoon, the friend sat opposite me issued a challenge: she would lick her bowl clean if I did too – just so she didn’t feel bad about it. No problem! I duly picked up my bowl, stuck my face in and got to work. I have no shame.

For some reason, no one noticed Rachel the Challenger participating in this activity, yet nearly everyone saw my antics, laughed heartily and took photos. [Sadly the photos taken by someone on my own camera were amongst the few that remained lost even after The Great Memory Card Disaster was resolved.] It resulted in my being awarded the moniker “the licking vicar”, which, in this circle of friends has stuck. When I saw some of this crew in Texas, they wasted little time in sharing the nickname with others – which is slightly unfortunate, given that any mention of it requires immediate explanation.

Needless to say, no matter what the above photo suggests, the licking vicar will not have any place in my new website’s tag line!

Doing a Liz & recreating the Licking Vicar moment on the last night of Chateau Duffy #2.

Great theologians of the past, present and future

This past weekend saw the last Vicar Weekend of the academic year and with it, a day of assessed presentations on great theologians for the first years. It was somewhat stressful – how do you condense a mighty mind’s work into a 30 minute presentation and 15 minute discussion? And, more importantly, how do you make it interesting?

Some groups tried food – the Kierkegaard crew brought in Danish pastries, but sadly we weren’t presenting in the same room as them. However, I think our room was even more creative. The day began with ‘Teresa of Avila, This is Your Life…’, complete with nuns, monks and excellent acting and ended with a John Wesley themed Songs of Praise, involving compulsory hymn singing.

But the highlight – without a doubt – was the group presenting Martin Luther. For a start, there was an abundance of monk outfits; then there was a particularly gross Horrible Histories video clip of Luther’s toilet habits [his fascination with poo was news to me, so I definitely learnt something]; an enthusiastic baptism of a doll; a Luther inspired rap video; a spurious rap reference that only two of us appreciated (“I’ve got 95 theses but the pope ain’t one…”); and finally, and most gloriously, a live performance of the Reformation Polka. Obviously, I had to film it:

That guy with the guitar can be seen leading worship at Soul Survivor this summer. 
I can’t guarantee he’ll perform this number though.

And what of our performance? Well, we’d been allocated Barth, possibly the trickiest of all theologians to present in half an hour – and with the college’s Barth specialist marking us. Even my father, a Barth aficionado, says that reading his work is like walking through the forests of the Bavarian mountains – every so often you find a clearing and a beautiful view, but soon afterwards you’re lost in the forest again. We went with a court room setting and put Barth on the witness stand – I’m eternally grateful that my group consisted of me and two enthusiastic, competent actors. I’m also grateful that my Dad went to a Barth symposium with the excitement of a teenage boy at a rock concert and returned home with a Barth t-shirt (and a poster for his study) meaning that I had an excellent costume for my role as ‘super-geek Barth fan’. I’m kind of disappointed that I didn’t get to dress up in a dress though…

That’s Teresa of Avila and Alex the judge watching Alex as Karl Barth…

I could also include our video interview with Karl Barth, but it’s not very exciting (apart from a brilliant papal infallibility joke), so instead I’ll close this post in the same way we closed our presentation:

Barth may have a reputation for being complicated and difficult to understand, but when stripped down to a basic ethos for doing theology, it is as simple as his summary of Church Dogmatics when visiting Princeton in 1962:  “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

And here is Barth’s Sunday School memory combined with another great 20th Century theologian, Whitney Houston…