There are times as a single mother when the definition of “culture” is when you slap on some lipstick before you go to see the latest Pixar release in a big, ugly multiplex.  There are other times, many, many of them, when your idea of a fun Saturday night consists of an involved online conversation on Facebook with other bored mothers about a BBC2 programme about boy bands.

Once the kids are in bed and the front door is locked, the hours stretch out like toffee.  My own brother frequently mocks my lack of a social life with caring, heartfelt comments like, “Those long, winter nights must fly by.”

This can lead inevitably to mind-numbing boredom, and when I’m bored, I frequently start to look at things to stop my brain from turning to mush.  The last time this happened in a serious way I ended up at going to University at 39 to do a post-graduate degree.  I passed top of the class with a distinction.  The people in my class thought I was some kind of wünderkind. Truth was, I simply had loads of time to kill.

I’ve wanted to do a masters degree, but finances being finances, I haven’t been able to get funding.  It was with a sense of boredom and recklessness, therefore, that I decided to jump at the opportunity to apply to be a Cultural Champion for the city of Liverpool when we got a staff bulletin in work sometime last year.

The application asked for an example of a cultural experience I’d had.  I talked about visiting the Tate Liverpool with my son and my dad.  My son, being 9 at the time, wasn’t concerned with what message the artist might have been trying to convey, or with the depth of brushstrokes, or the implicit spirituality/sensuality/muscularity of a piece; he just wanted to have fun with the stuff.

We came across a polished copper sculpture by Donald Judd, which was mounted on a wall.  If I’d be alone or with another grown up, I probably would have walked past it without a second glance.  My son, however, stopped in his tracks and gave an almighty “Woah!” at the sight of it.  To him it was a mounted Hall of Mirrors.  We stood in front of it for ages making shapes in the reflected metal.  Haz was a flat rug and I was standing on him.  We were two foot tall and seven feet wide, we disappeared and appeared again.  It was magic.  When I looked round we’d drawn a crowd. Everyone was smiling madly at my son’s joyous messing about in front of the artwork.

Ghost by Ron Mueck. Bloody horrible up close.

As we went further round we discovered more sculpture, including a piece called Ghost, a six foot seven sculpture of a teenage girl.  Never have I been so unsettled by a piece of art.  The gawky, awkward statue actually made me feel queasy to such a massive degree that I had to flee it.

Further round the floor my octogenarian dad got fed up and looked for somewhere to sit down.  He found a chair near to an exit and, wearing his Sunday best Marks & Spencer flat cap, pulled the chair out, sat on it with his arms crossed and feigned sleep. As he did this, I was gobsmacked to see that a serious number of my fellow visitors thought he was part of the exhibition.  One particularly memorable couple walked around him for several minutes discussing him.  “Oh, Fiona, look at the level of detail the artist has captured,” said the man.  “I think, Donald, that it’s a statement about the weariness of age,” Fiona replied gravely.  My son ran over and said “Grandad, we’re going now,” to which my dad rose from his chair, touched the peak of his cap in a jaunty salute to the crowd and departed to a small sea of stunned faces.

The application form also asked what I would like to get out of being a Cultural Champion for a year.  Not wanting to be completely tragic and put “to get out more, please” I said that I wanted to be more active and less passive in my experience of culture in my city.  I thought that whoever was judging this thing would think I was some kind of sad sack, so it was with nothing less than astonishment and delight that I got a phone call from Christina at Open Culture telling me I’d been successful.

Now after the excitement of meeting the Open Culture my fellow Champions – an absolutely brilliant bunch – and the whirlwind of our induction, I’m faced with the daunting prospect of actually getting down to it.  Eek!  I’m actually trembling at the prospect of my first proper experience as a Champion, but here goes!

Well I did say I wanted to get out more. Wish me luck.

John, Ray, Andre, Judy and I will be sharing our experiences on Open Culture’s blog.


Move over karaoke, your time is up.  It’s time for something new.  Something better. Time for Movioke.

I always wanted to bring movioke to the UK.  Movieoke is like karaoke, only instead of singing, you speak lines along to movies. It already exists in the USA, where people gather together to re-live old movies. These are usually the kind of cult movies that only the most hardcore film nerd will have a collection of.  Think Kim Newman’s video dungeon, Planet of Blood and other B movie guff that 99.9% of the human population lives in ignorance of. I was reminded of Movieoke a couple of weeks ago while I was on Twitter and Aliens was showing on Channel 4.  Aliens is classic Movieoke fare.  It has so many excellent and memorable one-liners that the Movieoke fan is spoiled for choice.

Phew whiff!

The world of men’s fragrance

I lived in Wales for a while and I will forever associate the place with the smell of Lynx Africa.  In my whole life, I have only ever smelled one thing worse than Lynx Africa and that was when I accidentally poured a jug of urine (long story) into an iron and hit the ‘steam’ button with a vengeance.

But back to Lynx Africa.  If I was the President of the Lynx Corporation, or whatever they’re really called, I would make the person who did my advertising a massive crown, cover it in precious jewels and place it on their head and sit them on a golden throne for so cannily selling such huge quantities of canned awfulness. Continue reading

Carry on dating

When I was a young and wide-eyed girl thinking about my future, I may have day dreamed about dating River Phoenix or marrying The Edge and raising a brood of musical offspring, but in no version of my planned future was I a forty-something single mother facing the daunting prospect of dating in 2011.

Things have changed beyond recognition since the 90s when I was last dating.  Back then I was pretty impressive.  I had a teeny waistline and I was a dancer.  I had fellas queuing to ask me out.  And I was cocky with it.

I remember being in a night club with a pal when a guy came over and asked  if he could take me out. I waved him off with a beautifully tanned arm and told him if he really liked me, he’d find out my name and number and call me. Two weeks later I was in work and the phone rang.  “Hi, Andrea, it’s Vinny.” Vinny?  Who the heck was Vinny? “Vinny from the Buzz,” he said.  I was pretty impressed so I dated him for a while until John came along in a swanky Audi flashing a pair of Del Amitri concert tickets. Continue reading

I’ll be there for you……

Sunday 4th September 2011 was a very sad day in our house.  E4 ended its twelve year deal to show episodes of Friends.

When Friends first aired in the UK I was a twenty-something single girl.  I had two jobs, went out every night of the week and, apart from the spacious and beautifully decorated Manhattan apartment, I lived my life like the characters in the show did.

Continue reading

Don’t come knockin if the caravan’s rockin!

How I learned to love the humble caravan

A few years ago a very dear and much loved aunty of mine died very suddenly, which left the family shocked and bereft.  At her funeral, her daughter put together a notice board filled with pictures of my aunty and the rest of the family over the years.

As we looked through the mad and marvellous fashions and haircuts; from cool 50s sophistication to the present day via the weird and wonderful decade that style forgot, the 70s, we noticed a common theme.  Family holidays. Continue reading

Zumba, ma chère Cher!

How Zumba ended my 20-year love affair with Cher

I hate exercise.  I really do. I am a member of a gym that I hate going to. It’s filled with gym fascists, like the gang of twenty-something blokes who hog the weight machines or who congregate around the pull-up equipment with their bulging muscles trying to outdo each other with their pull-themselves-up-ability and the tininess of their vests.

The girls are no better. They usually appear in twos or threes in their Juicy Couture tracksuit bottoms, g-strings, tiny vests and of course the obligatory tattoo which I believe in some quarters is referred to as a tramp stamp.  They carry 50cl bottles of Volvic and do very little in the way of an actual workout – it would ruin the carefully applied layers of make-up – but they do a lot of giggling when the boys in their vests do their pull-up exercises. Continue reading