Tuesday 29 September 2015

Director's wife's blog - Merchant of Vembley

Director’s wife’s blog:

Today I visited the Cockpit Theatre in Gateforth Street down Marylebone-ish way to hang out with my (new) director husband, the actors, and around half of the creative team behind Merchant of Vembley, the brave, funny and thought-provoking new play hitting town NEXT WEEK!

I was there today to watch a run-through of MoV for the first time – exciting! And imbibe the theatrical vibe (although some might argue that I'm theatrical enough. No comment). I soon found myself getting stuck in, in my very specific and specialised role of Sort-Of-Production-Type-Person.

Anyway first thing was first and after my brisk walk from St John's Wood (it was a beautiful, sunny day and wanted some exercise) during which I paused only to marvel at the absurd sight of tourists causing tailbacks by posing in the middle of the Beatle's zebra crossing on Abbey Road.  It was important to pick up the Director’s lunch (and more importantly actually my coffee) from the fab and very cheap Lebanese takeaway around the corner.

When I got to the theatre, the photographer was in full flow shooting evocative stills outside, against a surprisingly pleasing brick wall. It was windy so it was good I was there to straighten outfits, smooth fringes and make helpful suggestions about heads on chests for young lovers and hands on hips for fierce teens (no, nothing to do with Real Housewives). 

I also did a pretty good job of helping Layla with her Hijab. I did consider going back to the Lebanese place to ask the nice lady who was waiting for a chicken kofta sandwich if she could come and help with this particular job but in the end we managed with the help of youtube and a selection of bobby and safety pins. I don’t want to say too much about costumes as I don’t want to give spoiler alerts!

The show is looking really very good and for me having been there with Ajay when he was auditioning, and having sat in on early readings, it is utterly fascinating to see, months later, how he has nurtured his talented cast and how, together, they are capturing us with the contemporary London story of Merchant of Vembley (based on Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice) and making the effervescent language in Shishir Kurup’s funny, fiery and many-layered script fizz and crackle on stage.

Wednesday 23 September 2015


Angelina and Midi-Me get in a huge fight.

Ikea has served us well.  When I was overdue mummy-on-the-edge-to-be I would visit for mid-winter waddles, wending my way through the room sets and ending up in the marketplace, hoping the pretty colours of the plastic fantastic would motivate Mini-Me to finally peek out from under my bulging poloneck.

After she did, I binged on star lamps, toy hammocks and fairy bed nets – the poorly-put-together result of poring over storage porn in the freshly printed catalogue. This in itself was a treat to be stretched out over at least 3 tea-time sittings whilst Mini-Me was absorbed in the Sing and Sign video or Dora the Explorer.  Oh, I pined to no-one in particular, when will my house look like a cool, happy Swedish hideaway, full of tea-hued children and finger paintings strung on the kitchen walls and potted rubber trees and recycling neatly stacked in plastic, lidded containers and rugs the colour of nature?

Reader, it never happened.

There was one milky-tea-hued child and increasing amounts of stuff. Everywhere. Much of it the colour of dirt.

Over a decade later and we find ourselves back in that hallowed blue hangar. I am on a mission to find white pillar candles to plonk inside these pretty lanterns we have hired for our wedding.  After research on the interweb, I have ascertained that the ones in Ikea are cheaper even than Tesco! Mr Angelina has trusted much of the wedding planning to me and I know he is secretly worried I will source most of what’s needed from Lidl and Poundland. He’s more the Selfridges type. The yang to my yin, if you will.

In this blue paradise. Midi-Me likes looking at the roomsets and I am reminiscing about how I would bring her here when she was Mini and let her explore all the cupboards and corners and then let her watch in horror as I became increasingly trapped like a fly in a spiders web in the Marketplace, weighing up the pros and cons of unnecessary household paraphernalia and finally paralysed by indecision over whether to fill my yellow bag with klipthorps or udenblabs.

Suddenly, “Ow!” she shoots accusingly  (serious exaggeration, it was barely a tap…)
“Why did you do that?” I pointed to the name of the weapon, a 50p cutlery tray: SMÄCKER. I was just following instructions.

So I get the candles and we make our way to the tills. What? On a Wednesday, the queues are this long? Yeah, they are.  I begin to wish I had ordered from Tesco. I send Midi-Me to another line in case it goes faster. It doesn’t. We each inch slowly forward. I make my best humble smiley face and ask the people in front if they mind if I go ahead of them, being that I’ve just got a few packets of candles, and a set of bamboo chopping boards (and something else that I can’t remember which is probably currently languishing in the kitchen SMÄCKER by now) and I’m late to meet my soon-to-be-mother-in-law for the first time.  Kindly they accede. I shout Midi-Me’s name 3 times increasingly loudly in the vague direction of where she’s standing because she’s not answering her phone (why would she?) I don’t care that it’s embarrassing.  I have become my parents.

We wait a further ten minutes and then joy, it is our turn! But no. The guy at the till tells us to wait because in front of us have appeared returning customers who left a whole trolley-full of things behind because the guy forgot to zap them through the till. It’s hot. It’s tense. The stink of impending conflict pervades the air. The people behind us (formerly in front) are getting cross with the people in front of us (formerly not there). The people in front of us get angry with the people behind us. The people behind us get even crosser and louder and swearier with the people in front of us. The people in front get yet louder and crosser and swearier. There are arms swiping and flailing around us. We are actually and literally IN the middle of a huge fight and it’s not between the two of us! We are the sweet incongruous filling in a sweary, shouty angry sandwich. Like Nutella on a jalapeno nacho, we couldn’t be more out of place. Midi-Me and I stand there cowering uncomfortably until it is over, when we pay for our bits and run, run, run to the car, safely unsmäcked and drive the heck away from Neasden.

More at mynotesfromtheedge.blogspot.com and facebook.com/angelinamelwani and twitter @appleina.

July August 2015 Families NW London mag

Two go mad in Mersea

Upon returning from a long, childfree holiday three days into Midi-Me’s half term break, I owed her some uninterrupted mummy time. What could be better than a mother-daughter pampering trip? 

A few phone calls later and I found The Crowne Plaza Colchester Five Lakesin Essex that would offer some mini (or should I say Midi)-treatments to my thirteen year old. Plus it was near Mersea Island, a secret place (I almost don’t want to tell you about it) of seafood fantasies that I had read about years ago but never visited, where oysters are fresh, cheap and readily available. MMMM… ME LOVE OYSTERS! And so does Midi-Me. This was for her, after all.
After dropping our bags off to the hotel, we didn’t want to waste the sunshine so drove straight to Mersea to find a beach, experiencing the frisson of risk that the tide might cover the bridge and leave us stranded on the island for hours (this happens about two days in every month we were told). I had poor mobile signal so I simply followed the road until we couldn’t drive any further. It’s an island after all. Wherever we ended up did not look very pretty. It had suddenly turned cloudy and cold. Midi-Me gave me a geography lesson, pointing at different bits of coloured rock, earth etc and I nodded and enjoyed pretending that I understood what she was talking about.
The next morning, we ate a big breakfast, and grabbing a hotel map, went on a three-mile walk that led us to an exquisitely dilapidated graveyard and caused a dog (and ourselves) some alarm when we inadvertently trespassed onto its owner’s property. We found the path back to the hotel down the side of the golf course, executing rubbish cartwheels and greeting kind, lady-golfers along the way.
Back in the room, I realised I had left my swimsuit and underwear in a neat pile on my bed - at home in Bushey. Midi-Me had however brought extra everything; thank goodness, I didn’t want to go shopping. I was walking a bit peculiarly and sensed people were looking at me funny as I entered the pool but I wasn’t wearing my glasses so it didn’t matter. I was freezing as the external door was left open for the guy who had come to fix the Jacuzzi which had had conked out before we’d gone anywhere near it. Good-natured Midi-Me humoured my complaints and even yielded to my insistence that she come with me into the steamroom (-for all of thirty seconds).
Two go mad in MerseaSoon it was linner time. Linneris our world for late lunch that serves as dinner – it’s essentially a warning in our home that I do not plan to re-enter the kitchen for any purpose other than to replenish my wine, but it works equally well to ease pressure on my wallet whilst on holiday.)
The Company Shedis a highly regarded, no-frills restaurant serving delicious seafood – on a no-prior-booking and bring-your-own-bread basis. We ordered 4 gigantic oysters followed by the entire hot side of the menu including scallops, prawns, grilled mussels and grilled oysters. It was, in a word, yummmmmm. We followed this with dessert at the charmingArt Café and found out there was an Open Studio event starting the next day featuring local artists.
In the morning we visited Leafy Dumas, an artist of delightful work who happens also to be a single mummy to a teenage daughter, just like me. I admired her bohemian style and fantasised about turning the shed into My Special Place of Writing, Art and Mid-Life Crisis (…just like I did when I took Midi-Me to the Roald Dahl museum and Jane Austen country in Bath. At time of writing, my shed is still full of things that belong, along with my artistic aspirations, in the dump.) We visited more artists, ate crab chowder atThe West Mersea Oyster Barand then it was back to the hotel for Midi-Me’s first ever facial! Of course it was a superb Clarins Facial with a very kind therapist. A special moment for me to experience with her and great for her to get a lecture about skin care from someone who isn’t her mother. This was followed by a romantic joint pedicure which Midi-Me promptly smudged while checking if it had dried. “It doesn’t matter,” I consoled, “life’s about the pedicure, not the topcoat.”
More on this trip and others at www.facebook.com/angelina.melwani or atwww.mynotesfromtheedge.blogspot.com or on twitter at @appleina.
Mummy on the Edge May/ June 2015

Now, I have time on my hands and writing on my mind.

Time to hover over Midi-Me’s shoulder when she’s supposed to be doing homework and make sure she’s not on sodding Minecraft. Time to keep the house clean (er… maybe not). Time to drive her to Chuck in Hatch End for a cheeky, midweek burger. Time to ponder over birthday riddles meted out to overworked Singaporean children. And time to unblock my own creativity.

As new and odd as this feeling is to me, it must be equally weird for Midi-Me. She has lived her entire sentient life, from the age she was in that picture, knowing that her mum is a Sign and Sign teacher. We constantly bump into my past students at restaurants and at Tesco’s and every end of term she helps me munch through the chocolate gifts and reads my cards out loud exclaiming “Aw! That’s so nice!” while adding another piece of evidence to her mental Mummy is a saint dossier. She softens my furrowed brow when I’m thinking about how many places I have left to fill for next term and chops vegetables for fried rice when I bark into the kitchen that I “HAVE to get this booking email out tonight!!!”

Now however, flowers, chocolates, wine, champagne, scarves, sunflower pots, notebooks, key chains and MORE chocolates cover every surface. And a massive load of cards, emails and facebook posts, each message vying with the next for heartfelt gratitude and tear-inducing farewells. “Thank you so much for helping me communicate with my child, we love you and will never forget you. Good luck with your writing.” I am handing over the reins of Sing and Sign, the business I have run (by the seat of my pants) for 12 years.

This was not just a business but a way of life for me and my Midi-Me. It supported me during single motherhood and enabled me to make drop-offs and pick-ups and hang around for after school shenanigans. It enabled me to remain independent, and gave me something important to wake up for, a purpose that felt like I was doing good in the world. I met thousands of lovely parents who came back again and again with their thousands of gorgeous children along the way. They all put up with my crazy days and my bonkers ways; my badly made tea and terrible jokes. Their patience never faltered when I was late; when I had forgotten integral items of kit, and whole verses of songs (that I had sung daily for years); and when I had to pause the class for five minutes until I could stop my laughing fit seemingly, brought on by nothing at all (well, the latest was when the editor of this magazine had cold coffee poured accurately and without spillage into her shoes by someone else’s toddler). And these parents and their babies kept me laughing and laughing through the years. They were my therapy and I sometimes felt that I should have been paying them, not the other way round!

If you are reading this, thinking, Oh no, this all sounds like the warm, fuzzy, hilarious non-scary baby class for me, did I miss out? Rest assured. Sing and Sign continues in Harrow and Bushey, Ricky and all over the country. I looked far and wide to find a suitably multi-talented, experienced, loving and mildly bonkers replacement for me… and found the marvellous Shell Clohessy (shell@singandsign.co.uk) who has thankfully agreed to take up the mantle.

So now, it is entirely conceivable that I will spend all my free time eating nachos and watching Real Housewives instead of indulging in more high minded pursuits. And Midi-Me will discover who her mother really is. However we will both be busy very soon. This August, Midi-Me will acquire a step-dad (gasp! -I will have to think of a suitable sobriquet for him; no doubt he will pop up in future blogposts.) And I will acquire two step-daughters. Just call us the modern-day Brady Bunch. So there’s cake to choose and dresses to buy (- although Midi-Me will probably want to wear a polo shirt). But there’s time for it ALL now. Phew! And time to write about it too!

For those of you whose kids are sitting the 11+ this year and have not done any prep, I’m going to sum up my non-expert advice and recommendations for a couple of good books. Find me at www.facebook.com/angelina.melwani or at www.mynotesfromtheedge.blogspot.com or on twitter at @appleina