Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Look and Learn

When I was a child there was a very well known educational magazine published weekly called Look and Learn (a quick google of it tells me that it ran for twenty years from 1962-82). My older brother who is terribly clever used to subscribe to it and another great sixties classic, Knowledge. Of the two L&L was my favourite, as there was rather less emphasis on Difficult Scientific Topics (though I did love the stuff on astronomy) and more on my favourite subjects of literature and history. It also came with a weekly cartoon strip called the Trigan Empire, which featured the eponymous hero, the Emperor Trigo, who weekly staved off evil to defend his empire and its people from threat. Bizarrely though ostensibly an SF story, all the characters dressed and acted as if they were living in Roman times, so the result was a weird meld between ancient history and sixties high tech futuristic musings. But for all that oddity, somehow it worked...

I think that L&L was probably quite pricey because we didn't always get it, but at some point during the seventies some incredibly generous person offloaded about ten yearsworth of L&Ls on my parents so we had a veritable store to choose from. I can remember the pleasure of going into our ancient toy cupboard, and grabbing a magazine from the shelf where they were crammed while simultaneously trying to ensure the whole lot didn't come tumbling down on your shoulders, before settling down for a reading experience, the like of which I haven't had replicated in my adult life. Ever.

Until this week that is. It was Spouse's birthday on Monday, and in a total nostalgia fest kind of way, one of the presents I bought him was The Big Bumper Book of Look and Learn , compiled from the best bits. (OK, OK, I did buy it for me, as he didn't read it as much as I did, but what's the point of other people's birthdays if you don't buy yourself the occasional treat, hm?)

As we settled down to watch the other nostalgia present (Control about the tragic life of Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division, if you're interested), I flicked through the pages of the annual recapturing that flickering of enthusiastic interest that the original mags inspired in me. There were a lot of historical tales in there - including that of William Wallace, Elizabeth I, The Great Fire of London - as well as literature, L&L evidently had lots to say about Shakespeare, for example, Ancient History, Geography, and of course, the Trigan Empire. I was really disappointed when I got to the end of the first strip because I feared that the compiler of TBBoLaL might have given me just one episode, but I needn't have worried. Embedded in between the stories about Shakespeare and Pepys, a complete story emerged. A totally ludicrous preposterous story it's true, but compelling none the less. Aiens in the forms of floating orbs land on Elekton, the planet where the stories are set, infiltrate first some Trigan animals called gelfs - which look more like yaks to me - before taking over the old man who herds the gelfs and then a succession of people, until they reach shock, horror! the Emperor Trigo himself. Once they've got him onside they aim to take over the world, destroying all in their path etc etc (it must get boring being an alien invader, you only ever get to do one thing. I expect sometimes they probably just want to sit down and have a nice cup of tea. ) Anyway. All would have gone very ill for Trigo et al, except that inconveniently for the aliens, there were only three of them and one had to leave a host to take over Trigo, leaving the ex host - one of Trigo's pals - the chance to raise the alarm and sort the whole shebang out.
The sheer brilliance of the Trigan Empire, I decided on this thoroughly enjoyable rediscovery is that despite the preposterous plot, the writing was so gripping you just had to read on. The guys that wrote clearly knew how to spin a yarn. (And if you don't believe me go to: and find out for yourselves).

The main thing apart from the joy of The TE of course, that struck me about L&L, was the self confidence of the writing. There was no sense here of craven apologies for evil empire building, for the English to be portrayed generally as being responsible for the ills of the world, but rather a general belief (not a crowing or arrogant one either) that actually there is rather a lot to celebrate in our nation's history, which I did find very refreshing.

As readers of this blog are probably aware, history is a bit of a passion of mine, and what struck me most about L&L was the dispassionate, fair and factual way history was presented. The Wallace piece for example, rather then branding him as a cheating rebel against the English (as one might expect from Mel Gibson's Braveheart approach of all the English were bastards type approach to history), extolled him as hero, while pointing out that the English would have thought him a cheating rebel etc. Most interestingly I think from our oh so superior Political Correctness standpoint was that L&L didn't just stick to English, or even European History. There was evidently one series devoted to African history, in the piece chosenyou can learn all about the great kingdom of Kush (I did, and it was fascinating), and one wincingly called When the Redman Rode (ok, that title doesn't stand up well), about the Cheyenne warriors. Granted there is a little of the Noble Savage take on their story but it is written with a great deal of sympathy for their plight and the actions of the white man in conquering America don't always hold up to scrutiny.

I mention all this because it struck me that we could perhaps learn a lot from going back to a more Look and Learn approach to the world, particularly in history.

As well as indulging in a nostalgia fest, Spouse (who'd taken a couple of days off work)and I also spent yesterday afternoon watching Elizabeth the Golden Reign. We'd been looking forward to this as we both enjoyed the first Cate Blanchett film. But oh deary me, were we disappointed. About half my lifetime ago I studied Elizabeth Tudor for A Level history. At the time I found it frustrating because all the historians I was studying had made the classic mistake of falling in love with her, and being bedazzled by her achievements, her beauty, her status in our history as Gloriana, the Virgin Queen (I blame that Sir Philip Sidney myself, who laughingly didn't even make it into Elizabeth, but then again there was no sign of Robert Dudley either.)
My very wise and brilliant history teacher encouraged me to look at Elizabeth from the opposite perspective - not as someone who alway succeeded, but someone who frequently failed, particularly when pitted against her chief rivals Catherine de Medici and Philip II of Spain. What she had, which they both lacked though, was considerable political acumen, and she was invariably able to make disaster seem like triumph, and wrongfooted them consistently - a Teflon Tone of her day perhaps (I was always amused when TB used to talk about a middle way - Elizabeth I's own strategy for dealing with the thorny religious problems of her day).

I fear that Shekhar Kapur, director of Elizabeth falls into the same trap, he clearly adores the character of Elizabeth and her rivals are totally belittled in this film. Cate Blanchett is brilliant in the role as she was in the first film, and visually it's stunning, but the rest of it. Well it just doesn't stand up at all. Clive Owen (who I do like, but is poorly served here) is brought in as a love interest in the shape of Sir Walter Raleigh, who later married Elizabeth's lady in waiting, Bess Throckmorton. Right so far, but oh so wrong about everything else. For starters, they got married in 1591, three years after the events of the film took place. Plus as far as I can remember it was Drake who sent in the fire ships to destroy the Armada - Raleigh was doing his duty defending the coast of Plymouth.
Mary Queen of Scots in the meantime is reduced to a viperish rival (who I rather think would have spoken with a French, not Scottis accent) and the Babington Plot, which sealed her fate but may very well have been trumped up by Walsingham, the original Spymaster was portrayed as being conceived by Philip II to force Elizabeth to commit regicide, thereby giving him reason to launch the Armada. I don't think somehow he needed much reason...
Philip II of Spain, himself was shown as a raving bigoted religous zealot which I felt was unfair. As much as anything else he was desperately trying to save the kingdom his father Charles V had left him from the same fate as that which befell the Holy Roman Empire. Charles V lost his northern German principalities to Protestant princes, and Philip was busy losing his Dutch lands to Calvinist rebels. Yes, yes, I do know that the Spanish invented the Inquisition and all that, but they weren't alone in their barbarity - the aforementioned Calvinists did a fine line in taking over city states from within and slaughtering everyone unprepared to convert - it strikes me this film set out to be a grand epic of warring religious ideologies and descended into rather crude caracaturing.
Maybe this doesn't matter, this is after all only a film. But I think it does actually. Because this is a film which purports to portray the truth about actual historical events, and as such it should at least get the basic facts right (in that I think it somewhat different from the forthcoming film of The Other Boleyn Girl or the books my writing friend Elizabeth Chadwick writes about mediaeval times, because it is made clear that fact and fiction are being blended together) - and also I think it is the job of anyone portraying historical events to show them without prejudice and favour - give us all the facts and both sides of the story, then we can make up our own minds.
Which is why I suggest that Look and Learn become compulsory reading for all school children aged eight years and above. They will learn much about their own history and that of others, and with any luck, they might actually learn to think for themselves.

Watching Elizabeth: The Golden Reign on the other hand, will ensure they won't...

Worried About Ray

This isn't really supposed to be here, but for some reason I can't post it on the other blog...

This is my childrens' favourite song at the moment. And when you watch this utterly barking video and understand it really appeals to me, it may go someway to explaining my obsession with Primeval, monsters and new tv pilots about werewolves, vampires and ghosts...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I really must stop this...

... but strolling through the airwaves last night I found ANOTHER hero. A new one. Oh dear. I think I am turning into a mad premenopausal witch.

However, he also pitched up in a fabulous new programme on BBC3 called Being Human. It won't be to everyone's taste, seeing as it features flatmates who are a vampire, a werewolf and an agoraphobic ghost, but it certainly was to mine (and Spouse's).

I believe when Torchwood was first mooted, there was a suggestion that it was going to be a UK Buffytype venture. It isn't. This, however is.

Guy Flanagan as the vampire with a conscience was just fabulously sexy and enigmatic, Russell Tovey's lonesome werewolf was cute, moving and funny by turns, and Andrea Riseborough's ghost who can't leave the house was frankly inspired. I loved the bit where they'd managed to persuade her to go to the pub, and she requested to sit by the wall nearest the house as it made her feel better(and stopped her from fading).

Adrian Lester as the head of the vampires intent of renewing a reign of glory and blood last seen since the days of Vlad the Impaler (presumably) was wonderfully menacing, and the whole thing had a slick and sexy feel that Torchwood lacks (though I will admit series 2 has been much more fun then series 1).

I think this is a new series, I hope it is anyway, because it was sooooo much fun, and methinks there is much rich material to reap here.

Plus I have a new hero to ogle at, which can't be bad.

Although for all those readers (PU I am thinking of you) who are desperately hoping that I will return at some point to more serious matters. I promise, I promise. I will try to make this blog slightly less frippery based shortly.

But in the meantime ladies, I'm leaving you Guy Flanagan to ogle at...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ashes to Ashes again...

No spoilers particularly.

But I just wanted to say.

Imaginary constructs.

I love it.

Next time someone really annoys me I shall call them an imaginary construct.

I was also pleased to see there was a big emphasis on New Romantics this week. Which was the only thing missing from last week.

And we got Rupert Graves...

And to be quite honest. I just wanted another excuse to put a picture of Philip Glenister on my blog....

Thursday, February 14, 2008

As this is such fun...

And it IS Valentine's Day,I thought I'd post my top ten heroes.

I think I may have to give up on the order though because I really really can't decide. I'm also making it a rule that it's the actor as character that I really like. And because I'm being very kind and loving and attentive to you, you can have pictures too.

I'm very very sorry guys... I hope I haven't put you off this blog permanently, but you know, it is only one day of the year, and we girls do like to feel swoony on it, so I'm afraid you have to lump it.

My own hero is taking me out for dinner tonight. I am hoping that he is not going to repeat his offfence of the first Valentine's we were together, way back in the mists of time. I had left a bunch of orchids (=forever) on his car. He gave me a heart made out of dental alginate. It was so squidgy it had to remain in the plastic bag he thoughtfully provided. My fingers had that horrible dental smell, for days afterwards....

So here are my heroes then....

Johnny Depp (of course) as the Earl of Rochester

Viggo Mortenson (before he lost the beard, and IT) as Aragorn

Richard Armitage (what was Marian thinking of shacking up with Robin?) as Guy of Gisborne

Lovely Lovely David Tennant (without whom this list would not be complete) as Dr Who

Daniel Craig (the man who made all the romantic novelists of my acquaintance come over all funny after THAT shower scene) as James Bond

Russell Crowe (yes I know he's an uncouth foulmouthed bore in real life, but he was fab in this) as Maximus Decimus Meridius

Clive Owen (who isn't everyone's cup of tea I know, but he is mine in this) as Arthur

Philip Glenister (for making it possible to be outrageously non PC) as Gene Hunt

Alan Rickman (he can come and haunt me any time) as Jamie

And last, but definitely not least.
Daniel Day Lewis (run that Stay Alive bit by me one more time why don't you) as Hawkeye


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Johnny Depp and Pierce Brosnan make Romantic Novelists' hearts throb

As it's Valentine's day tomorrow, I had to post this. Particularly as my all time romantic hero tops the list. Ah me. Johnny Depp. I am particularly keen on his depiction of John Wilmot Earl of Rochester in the little known but brilliant film Rochester. The Earl of Rochester notorious rake and libertine, who wrote such wonderfully cynical lines as If I by Miracle can be,/This live-long Minute true to thee,/'Tis all that Heaven allows is one of my favourite literary heroes, so seeing Johnny portraying him was like having all my christmases at once.

Am glad to see most of my heroes made it into the top ten, though am deeply puzzled by David Tennant at no 10, he'd have been in my top three. In fact I was having huge trouble about who came after Johnny, but decided in the end that Daniel, David and Richard would have had to share the honour. I didn't get round to the older men, but Clint and Sean would have been slugging it out if I had, with Harrison a close third....

Apart from anything else this gives me another excuse to put a picture of Johnny on my blog. Down girl, Down...

Members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association have voted Johnny Depp as the Number One Perfect Romantic Hero in a poll to mark Valentine’s Day. According to these authors, a romantic hero should be gorgeous, deliciously sexy, intensely masculine and have a commanding presence.

‘We should be qualified to judge,’ one writer commented. ‘After all, we create these heroes on paper every day.’

The top ten male celebrities voted the Perfect Romantic Hero were:

1. Johnny Depp
2. Daniel Craig
3. Sean Bean
4. Richard Armitage
5. Hugh Jackman
6. Colin Firth
7. Alan Rickman
8. Pierce Brosnan
9. George Clooney
10. David Tennant

A second poll, taken by members of the RNA bravely admitting to being ‘over a certain age’, voted for male celebrities over fifty who’ve ‘still got it’. Remarkable for his appearance on both polls, Pierce Brosnan took the crown for the over fifties by a huge margin.

The top ten Over-Fifty Perfect Romantic Heroes were:

1. Pierce Brosnan
2. Harrison Ford
3. Ranulph Fiennes
4. Bill Nighy
5. Liam Neeson
6. Sam Neill
7. Sean Connery
8. Peter O’Toole
9. Clint Eastwood
10. Omar Sharif

For further information about the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s poll results
please contact Katrina Power at Midas Public Relations
on 020 7590 0802 or

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

New venture

Well, sort of.

You may have noticed (if you notice that kind of thing) that I have just updated my profile. This is because I am starting a new blog.

I am in the middle of revising book no 2, which among other things is about four people who are learning to dance and their entangled love lives.

I got the idea after attending salsa classes a few years ago, and noticing that there were rather a lot of single men there. More women of course, and most of the women were in pairs, there for a laugh, or because their partners wouldn't get on the dance floor even if you paid them. The men on the other hand, the men struck me as in the main being out on the pull, but also often rather nervous. There was one poor chap who used to hold my hands so tightly I thought they'd break.

So it struck me that if you were a divorce and wanted to meet women a really good place to go would be a salsa class. My story had started with Mark, a dentist who gets sued by a patient, and I got his best friend Rob to drag him along to salsa lessons where they meet Emily and Katie.
Of course the minute my editor saw it she said, why don't they attend ballroom dancing lessons, and with the popularity of Strictly Come Dancing at the moment as usual she was right.

My slight problem is that I know not the slightest thing about ballroom dancing (apart from watching the ease with which my parents used to do it), though thanks to the latest series of SCD, Marie Phillips' hilarious blogging about it, and some dance steps I downloaded from the internet (I was at one point trying to rumba on my own, reading the steps of the screen of my laptop when my main computer was playing up), I cobbled enough together to set the dancing scenes at least while I was writing the book. (Current title Strictly Love. Nothing like cashing in or anything).

However I was all too painfully aware that my lack of expertise in the area of dancing would be quickly found out, and so it has proved. I am hoping to change that as I tackle the rewrites, so have got some dance dvds (hilariously trying them out with the sprogs the other week) two dancing books kindly supplied by my publishers and I have just booked a dancing lesson with a teacher who - get this - was ACTUALLY ON SCD!!! Woohoo...

I was also supposed to be going to a proper class with her last night, but as usual I got a bit domestically sidetracked and I didn't make it.

Anyway the point of all this is, that yesterday I met up with my agent and editor (and yes I am well aware how poncey that sounds), to discuss new ideas (of which more later), and my editor asked me to start a blog about learning to dance. This is purely a pr exercise, but I hope a fun one, so those of you who are interested you are welcome to join me on my new blog, which you can see on my profile. Those of you who don't, that's perfectly all right too. I won't hold it against you, and I will carry on blogging here.

I'm going to be me properly on the other blog, but I rather like the cosy comfort of being Jane here, so I shall keep it like that.

In the meantime if you haven't seen this and care about authors pay most of which is laughably low, please take time out to visit the Downing Street website to sign the petition against reducing PLR which we get every time someone borrows a book and for many of us is an important source of income.

Following the announcement that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport plans to reduce Public Lending Right (PLR) funding, I have initiated a 10 Downing Street e-petition to protest at the cuts. Public Lending Right is the right for authors, illustrators, photographers, translators and editors to receive payment under PLR legislation for the loans of their books by public libraries. More than 23,000 people are entitled to receive payment under this scheme, and for many the annual PLR payment is an important part of their income. PLR is particularly valuable to those people who receive little or no royalty on book sales — their books are more often borrowed from libraries than bought in shops. Please spare a minute to sign the petition. Click the following link (or paste it into your browser window) and add your name. Please do not delete this email. Instead, forward it to as wide a group of people as you can. It is in everyone’s best interests to support the work of Britain’s creative talent.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The A Team

And now for some grown up telly....

(With spoilers so if you didn't see Ashes to Ashes last night, look away!

I was a bit late coming into Life on Mars, but thanks to Mad Twin, Spouse and I were completely hooked by series 2. And devastated when it was over. How could it be over? NOOOO!!! I wanted to see Sam Tyler stuck in Gene Hunt's world for ever, difficulties in keeping that storyline going aside...

When they announced that LoM was going to be followed up by Ashes to Ashes, I immediately thought how clever was that? Take the same formula and reinvent it, by changing the time, the location and the sex of the protagonist. When you think about it, they could keep this going forever.

So I have been looking forward to the new series, particularly because it's set in the 80s, the decade I think of as my own - yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the big hair and power shoulders get laughed at now, but for me it was the decade I grew up in, and I love the music.

It's always a bit of a worry when you look forward to something that much. But luckily, the first episode didn't disappoint.

It was fab.

From the moment that poor old Keeley Hawes (aka Alex Drake) took a shot in the face and woke up on a riverboat full of Hooray Henrys dressed as a prostitute (or as Gene Hunt would say, tom), with Vienna playing, I thought woohoo!! I'm going to love this.

The cleverest thing about LoM (and they seem to have done it here as well to great effect) is the period detail. In LoM it was the browns and the flock wallpaper and space hoppers. And here it was the cavern type Italian bar they were drinking in, the clothes -oh my god the clothes were dead on the money - and my favourite the striped duvet covers and sofas, which seemed so modern in 1981.

I like all those touches.

I also like the colours they seem to shoot it in - LoM was very brown and dark and depressing, which did conjure up childhood memories of powercuts and binmen going on strike, while in AtoA the colours seemed lighter and brasher, and very cleverly fit my memory of the period. I don't know how they did that, but it certainly worked for me.

I also LOVED the way they used music - Vienna was no 1 for weeks in 1981, and the minute I heard it playing, I was transported back in time.

But the best use of music was when Alex was confronting the baddy - who in 2008 had shot her and sent her back in time, so she felt sure that facing up to him was her way back (she has an advantage over Sam Tyler in that she's read his file, so she thinks her mind is tricking her and she is fantasing about the whole thing) - and up popped Gene and his two henchmen on a boat, to the tune of No More Heroes. The A Team were back, and with what panache. Fan - bloody - tastic.

Period detail aside, I think they have also pulled off the trick of making the person in a coma who wakes up in a different time zone thing work by giving Keeley a whole set of different dilemmas to Sam.

For a start she is a police psychologist, who has been studying Sam's case, so can work out what has happened to her. But she thinks she is imagining the whole thing which leads her into some great confrontations with Gene Hunt, who kept getting cross that she was using her fingers as quote marks every time she said the name "Gene", and clearly fancies the pants of her. There were many brilliant lines last night, but the one about her giving him the horn made me choke on my wine.

I also loved her slightly insane shouting and the lists she was drawing up to work out what had happened to the evident bemusement of those around her. In fact one of the priceless aspects of it was that no one said to the strange new DI who turned up dressed as a tom, fainted when she hears the name Gene Hunt, kept ranting on about weird psychological stuff, was gloriously rude to Gene thinking he was in her imagination etc etc, excuse me a minute, but you are utterly barking. In real life she'd be committed. In Gene Hunt's world, he decides that despite her being a woman, and wrong about some things, she seemed to understand all that psychology stuff so she was here to stay.

On top of ALL of that, as if there wasn't enough going in, we also have Alex's desperate need to get back to the present for her daughter's birthday, and Gene Hunt's evident grief for Sam Tyler, who didn't do as he was told and drove his car into a river a year previously(fans will know of course, that he got back to the real world and jumped off a building). The message Alex is getting loud and clear, is stay safe and you stick with the boss. Knowing the way LoM worked, this may or may not be the right thing to do.

And of course I haven't even mentioned the gloriously spooky incarnations of the characters from Rainbow, and THAT clown from the David Bowie video. Thanks to my big sister I developed a Bowie crush in the early 80s, and I always hated that clown...


As far as I'm concerned, Ashes to Ashes was a riproaring success. And now I've got another series that I can look forward to next week.

But without the monsters....

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Saturday TV - it's a family thing....

Thanks to Dr Who, Saturday evenings in our house have become a family watching tv time. Which is of course a bit of a problem when the series ends.

However in the absence of the good doctor, we had Robin Hood in the autumn, which the children (who let's face it lack discernment) love. Although the last series got so silly I have to fess up I left the bosom of the family a fair few times as I couldn't cope with the stupidity of Marian not shagging Guy, the really crap way they depicted Elinor of Aquitaine as some lecherous old bint, and the nonsense of all of them ending up in the Holy Land in the last couple of episodes. Still they did have the sense to finish Marian off for good this time, and I can't imagine that even Jack can a) bring her back from the dead again and b) resurrect her from the tomb she's incarcerated in in the desert. But you never know I suppose....

With Robin Hood over we were facing a bit of a vacuum, and were all wondering what had happened to Primeval, which comfortably filled the Family Viewing slot till Dr Who was back, last year. To our delight it returned to our screens few weeks ago, complete with weird anomalies, strange creatures, and Dougie Henshall's evil missis. Hurrah, hurrah. Saturday evenings are fun again.

Primeval is of course a load of old tosh. But such enjoyable old tosh that it doesn't really matter. The kids get a bit fed up with us saying but what about X? and look behind you you idiot! when the characters are particularly dumb. And there always seems to be some confusion about whether to kill the creatures that come through the anomaly - at the beginning of the series it was a no no, because you might change time (fans of Primeval will know that poor old Nick Cutter, the hero, came back from an anomaly to discover that things had altered so much his putative girlfriend had disappeared, only for her to reappear as someone completely different) - but now they seem to be killing prehistoric animals with gusto, and zipping in and out of anomalies with not so much as a by your leave, and NOTHING much happens....

That carping aside though, last night's episode was a real roller coaster, and I had two sprogs on my lap for most of it as we wondered whether Abby was going to get eaten by a predecessor of the shark (who looked more walrus like then anything, but never mind), and whether Conor was going to stop being so wet and useless for once and actually save her (which he did of course).

We also had the fun of wondering which hero Spouse resembles. In one scene Stephen (the metrosexual foil to Cutter's maverick lead) stood facing Cutter in a bit of a stand off (there is TENSION between them you see on account of Stephen having shagged Mrs Evil ) . Which one am I most like? Asked Spouse. Given that Stephen sports as much hair on his chest as my husband does, but Cutter was wearing the exact same jacket he possesses. The children pondered this dilemma before Spouse asked which of them had his tummy - er neither I think is the answer to that. I rather suspect he resembles the walrus most....

Another enjoyable thing about it though is the intrigue - so far we know that the guy who played Martin Dear in Green Wing isn't all he seems, and is in cahoots with the woman who is trying to worm her way into Conor's affections for what nefarious purpose remains to be seen. But judging from the end of last night's episode, it's going to involve Mrs Evil.

The best thing about Saturday Family TV is that it allows you to be a kid again. So like a five year old, I really really can't wait for next week.....

Friday, February 01, 2008

Tax Exile is put on hold

... till next year anyway. Which is a shame really as I thought we could have all had a really nice time for at least six months in the Seychelles.

However, after discovering I am not seen as a persona grata vis a vis Spouse's tax, I did discover that if I was prepared to drive to our nearest tax office in Sutton, I could pay the cheque in there.

So straight after school, I took off with nos 2&4 (no 1 has dancing and no 3 has gone to a friend's)only for no 4 to flake out on me as she is coming down with a nasty cold and eye infection. Why nothing in my life is ever straightforward I don't know...

Anyway I managed to cajole her into the car, though I did have to carry her at the other end.
We made it to the tax office, which despite my having to be let in by a security guard, seemed very lax when I got up there. No one was at reception and the person who accepted my cheque wasn't going to give me a receipt. In fact, she only gave me an acknowledgement, when requested, not a receipt, so fuck knows what happens if very large cheque goes missing now...

Is it any wonder those disks went missing? And I wonder how many tax returns our safe as well (not many I suspect).

But apparently my grilling at the hands of the Obergruppefuhrer this afternoon is part of a tightening up of procedures.

Why oh why, don't I feel reassured by that?

I feel the Seychelles calling....

Only now I don't have any money to get there...

How to be a Tax Exile without leaving the country

Anyone who has to fill in a tax return will know that yesterday was the closing date for doing so, without risking a fine from HM Inland Revenue.

In our house, we both have to fill in tax returns.

Mine is simple. I earn bugger all money so for the last couple of years I have filled in the short tax return and sent it off by 30 September, thereby ensuring my friendly tax inspector works out how little tax I owe him (I earn far too little to bother employing an accountant).

Spouse on the other hand is another matter. He earns considerably more then I do and his affairs are more complex. Therefore he needs an accountant.

This year, I missed the 30 September deadline due to other pressures, but as I discovered you can now file online, I managed to get mine in a few weeks ago. (Pause for smug moment).

Spouse, who takes a seat of your pants approach to all things tax related (when he was first working he couldn't work out how to pay tax and at one time we had enough money to abscond had we so wished. Mind you, we'd never been able to come back to the country again, so it was just as well that the tax man finally caught up with him...) kept promising me he was going to sort everything his accountant needed and then forgetting about it.

It is difficult in this situation not to turn into a nagging wife, as last year on account of this laidback attitude it was muggins who had to drive to the accountants at the last minute with all the necessary info, only for some of it to be wrong which necessitated a return journey. However, as any slight mention of the TAX problem was met with gnashing of teeth on my beloved's part, I very valiantly tried to keep my gob firmly shut on the subject.

Eventually he did sit down and get it sorted, and then drove to the accountants himself (hmmm, so he was listening occasionally then), boasting that he was a week ahead of where he'd been last year. Yes, but why do we have to leave it till January in the first place????

Anyway. Nerves duly settled, I have spent the last couple of weeks trying not to mention the fact that he hasn't yet heard from his accountants. This week though, of course, it all got a bit hairy. Spouse and accountant have spoken on phone, but as per usual there are some bits of info missing, so we had a phone call early Tuesday to enquire about them. Spouse sorted that out and eventually was rewarded with tax return to check yesterday morning. Spouse being rather luddite with regards to computers, it was me downloading and printing everything off, in between sorting out the sandwiches yesterday morning. (And he wonders why I get irritated...)

Everything was tickety boo. I email accountant back to say so, he luckily has done accounts so we know how much to pay, and off I pop to pay bill before school pick up.

Only of course I forget to take my passport as security for the cheque (which is rather large) and have to go back in between school pick up and tennis lessons.

As a result of late filing online (luckily Spouse saved this year by fact of system crashing yesterday so he got an extra day's grace) we didn't have a pay slip. I found a form I thought might work from the Inland Revenue website, but wasn't quite sure. Before I withdrew obscene sum of money to pay HMG, I asked girl in Nationwide if this would be ok to use. Oh yes, she said gaily - what did it matter to her, Nationwide won't accept payments of cheques unless they're from a bank account? I duly trotted next door with obscene cheque burning huge hole in my pocket, to discover, that no, the form I had printed from the internet didn't count. I was now ten minutes late for tennis and there was a huge queue in the Nationwide, so I decided to risk taking huge cheque home with me.

Today I have tried to ring the IR to get them to send Spouse a payslip (bearing in mind that as he has his hands shoved down someone's gob for 99% of the day wasting half his life on the end of a phone waiting for some bod from the tax office to answer it isn't desperately practical), and GET THIS.... When after three attempts and half an hour of waiting I finally got through to a real live person, it transpires that I am not security cleared to get my husband a payslip. Well I never. And there was me imagining that given the cock up with the child benefit info going missing which means any tom dick and harry probably now has access to my bank accounts, and following the revelation this week that if you are rich, famous or an MP you can't file your return online because it's not secure enough, that security wasn't a really high priority at the IR.

Apparently it is. But only if you want to know something pertaining to your partner. I imagine if I hacked into their mainframe and got an automated payslip sent out, they'd probably be patting me on the back.

I think a life as a tax exile might actually be in order...