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Vicky Arlidge: From nappies to neeps

21 Jul

Mum, Can You Wipe My Bum?

Vicky Arlidge, a St Albans composer and musician, takes her one-woman comedy show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next month. Here she talks to me about her journey from teaching toddler music classes to gearing up to raise laughs at the world’s largest arts festival.

When Vicky Arlidge posted a performance of her song Mum, Can You Wipe My Bum? online she didn’t expect it to receive over 10,000 hits worldwide. It was the start of a new direction in Vicky’s career, transforming her from composer, music teacher and musician to stand-up musical comedian complete with ukulele and keyboard.

Vicky is now looking to bring her observational comedy about the frustrations of being a mum and wife to a wider audience.

“I could be giving it all up,” she laughs nervously when asked to picture the scenario when her Edinburgh Fringe Festival run is over: “It goes terribly wrong, I get no audiences, I get terrible reviews and no one’s interested”.

With her hair neatly clipped to one side, Vicky appears unassuming – your everyday mum on the school run. But on stage her incisive wit and ability to make her audience squirm in recognition is far from ordinary. An accomplished musician, Vicky has over 20 years’ experience of composing for theatre, television and film as well as performing and teaching music. In 2008 she set up Pitter Patter Music to provide music classes for babies and toddlers in St Albans – you could say she is used to a tough audience.

“I’m not the funniest person I know”, says Vicky. ”The only difference between me and everyone else is that I’m the one who’s got up on stage, I’m stupid enough to do that.”

With songs such as Raucous Raunchy Sex Or A Nice Cup of Tea, The School Run Madrigal Vicky describes being a mother as an essential part of her comedy: “Fifty per cent of my comedy is about being a mum”. Vicky has hit a winning formula judging by her recent sell-out preview show in St Albans. Still glowing, Vicky looks back on it as one of her “best audiences ever”.

Vicky discovered her talent for musical comedy when she set out to write a pop song after a testing day.  “I was a full-time mum,” she says, “getting really frustrated at not doing anything creative – just changing nappies and dealing with tantrums all day long and going a bit nuts.” That pop song turned into Mum, Can You Wipe My Bum? When it became an internet hit, Vicky realised that she missed the buzz of having an audience: “I never thought I’d be a musical comedian, it never entered my head until I was 40-whatever. I just fell into it.”

She started going to what she half-seriously describes as “dodgy comedy clubs”, the training ground for new comedians. Forcing Vicky to learn “from the hardest audience”, they proved to be very different from the musical world Vicky was used to. Why didn’t the bad gigs put her off? “Because I’m very stubborn and determined,” she says firmly. Her tone softens and she adds: “It makes you feel so great, just to laugh. To make a whole room of people laugh is a great feeling.”

Vicky’s humorous take on everyday life has led to her being compared to Victoria Wood. “I’m really flattered,” Vicky smiles. “She’s funny but very funny in a homely way. She has an unmacho humour that appeals to women.” Vicky readily acknowledges that a large part of her own audience is women. But this doesn’t mean her comedy is tame. There is a naughty glint in her eye when she admits her tendency to slip a few bad words into her songs.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a daunting prospect for all comedians, particularly first-timers. The average audience for a show is just three people. Taking part is an expensive business and requires a vast amount of preparation. But with that comes the hope of being discovered and exposed to a nationwide audience.

“It feels like a rite of passage,” Vicky says. “If you want to be a comedian you have to go to Edinburgh. You do it for what happens around Edinburgh. You take yourself more seriously and other people start to take you more seriously.”

Despite being nervous about what Edinburgh holds, Vicky is enjoying every minute: “It’s just the laughter I think,” she says. “I love writing the songs, the creativity. I’d love it if I could give up the day job and write silly songs all day and make people laugh at night – that would be perfect.”

Vicky’s show Mum, Can You Wipe My Bum? runs from August 2nd-10th at the C venues – C Nova, Edinburgh. Tickets are available here.

Black and white and pink and sparkly

5 Mar

Until a couple of years ago I lived on London’s Brick Lane – an area that the term ‘melting pot’ could have been invented for. After living there for ten years we moved to St Albans to be closer to work and family. I remember walking around in the first week thinking that something was odd. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then it dawned on me – everyone was so WHITE. I found it unnerving. A bit like I’d moved somewhere that had yet to catch up with the rest of the country. What worried me most of all was that I’d be bringing up my children somewhere where they might only learn about different cultures and religions from books.

Three years into Snorbens life and thankfully those early impressions have proved exaggerated. It’s not Brick Lane but it’s hardly Midsomer (no John Nettles certainly) or Norfolk (ahem, no offence intended – I did live in Norwich for three years so feel somewhat qualified …). I was relieved to find that my daughter’s nursery wasn’t solely full of little white, middle-class faces (again, no offence intended for I fit that social bill). Great, I thought, she’ll grow up knowing and, most importantly, accepting that everyone is different.

Now here’s the rub. Yesterday, whilst looking at a picture of the whole cast of Disney princesses, my 3-year-old daughter announced that she likes all the princesses except Tiana (The Princess and the Frog for all you Disney luddites). And why doesn’t she like Tiana? Because “she is dark”. Because “she is different to the other princesses”. Gulp. Trying to explain that everyone is different is tough when a child knows no better than to base their likes and dislikes on such things as colour or quantity of sparkles. In her eyes a pink princess is better than a brown one. Fact. She doesn’t mean anything by it. It doesn’t make her racist. But her comments still made me quake in my parenting boots.

I’ll be doing my best to bring up my children so that they know better than to treat people differently because of creed or colour. As for the immediate future, if my daughter repeats her comment I hope that it will be taken for the little girl’s simplistic analysis of the world that it is and not for anything more sinister.

Seeing blue

20 Feb

A couple of days ago I nearly killed myself doing a pregnancy pilates DVD. Admittedly I should have started doing it sooner than 34 weeks into my pregnancy. The teacher on the DVD had, despite being 36 weeks up the duff, retained an ability to move with the speed of one of the X-Men. I on the other hand had to keep hitting pause in order to get into the next position before she’d finished it. What’s more, Lil’ Miss California Flexibility (surely the bump was fake?) stated that she was naming her baby Sienna Chilli. Sienna – fine, but Chilli? That was enough pilates for me. Far too North London.

To cut a long tendon short (ouch), this brief experience of home exercise settled in my mind that swimming is the activity for me. (Principally because I’ve been doing it regularly for a while and therefore am not trying to master it at one of the least fit and inflexible times of my life, nor is there anyone to keep pace with and I can still perform it with relative speed – although now more like a whale than a dolphin.)

Arriving at the swimming pool midweek revealed a peaceful haven in comparison to the usual weekend rabble of toddlers screaming and dads trying to outdo each other on the diving boards. Midweek swimming promised proper lanes, serious swimmers and, without kids, far less pee in the pool (although there were lots of elderly folk so this latter assumption may have been ill-founded). And whilst we’re touching on the scatological (rubber gloves on of course) it never fails to amuse me that the sign for the toddler pool is always slightly obscured and thus reads ‘Teaching Poo’. How apt. Keep your mouth shut in that pool. It was lucky that my daughter only got a piece of foam stuck up her nose in there.

Unfortunately, the serious swimmers (ie those that like to swim up and down and don’t do underwater handstands) hadn’t totally eliminated the idiots. I was always sceptical of my brother’s tales of ‘swim rage’, thinking it was more to do with his lack of patience than the other swimmers. However I’ve grown to appreciate his intolerance. Offenders generally fall into one of the following categories:

  • Those who have chosen to swim in a lane that is above their ability (the safest option I’ve found is always to opt for the ‘medium’ lane).
  • Those who can swim fast but splash like they’ve got trays strapped to their arms (clearly a failure of technique – speed over style is not going to earn you any friends in the pool, especially with people like me who swim in their contact lenses but no goggles and risk blindness at the merest hint of a ripple).

A particular offender in both categories was a one-armed man who swam with a float. Not only did he splash but he was also slow. Actually, it turned out that he had two arms so I’m not exactly sure what it was I saw sticking out of the water. Nothing would surprise me in a public pool, even in oh-so-civilised St Albans.

To pick up again on bodily functions (funny that – they always seem to be inextricably linked to public swimming baths), my mood was somewhat lightened by the ‘farting drain’. Located at the deep end of the pool (which I never get to at the weekend as it’s cordoned off for the diving board idiots and their belly flops and wedgies), the drain created noises to rival that of the glorious Whoopee Cushion. The trick was to wait until someone in the lane next to you drew up alongside the said drain, wait for the drain to let rip and then shoot them a look of combined horror and surprise. Ah, the joke that never gets old. Well it got them out of my water space pretty quickly and I even forgave them a splash.

Yummy or not yummy, that is the question

22 Nov

Today a fellow blogger (thank you A(nother) Lawyer Writes) alerted me to an interesting interview in a Sunday paper. The interview was with Brooke Magnanti, otherwise known as the former high-class prostitute Belle du Jour. She was asked why she didn’t blog as much any more and her reply was that most blogs are now written by right wing nutters and yummy mummies. I don’t think I’m the former (although what a few more years in St Albans might do to me I don’t know), but am I the latter? It has prompted a certain amount of self-analysis. I’ve made a conscious effort not to turn my blog into a missive from suburbia by a middle class mother but I have still been called a yummy mummy.  It’s a label I feel both dismayed and secretly pleased by. No one likes to be labelled, particularly as something that isn’t always granted positive attributes. On the other hand, how positively lovely if I were one! You can see my dilemma.

So am I a yummy mummy? I don’t drive a Chelsea tractor (but I do drive a Mercedes), I don’t do much baking (but when I do my preference is for pretty cupcakes), and I don’t live in a Cath Kidston floral-coated world (but the catalogue appears on my doormat most weeks). Oh, and I live in St Albans. I rest my case, I hear some of you say.

Here are a few definitions of ‘yummy mummy’ from urbandictionary.com and my accompanying comments:

“A young, sexually attractive mother. There is an important age distinction between a yummy mummy and a MILF. Yummy mummys are younger than 30, while MILFs are older than 30.”

(As a 34-year-old this one is slightly insulting – not only does it effectively define me as old but ‘yummy mummy’ starts to read ‘desperate housewife’. Interesting subject becomes object. Hmph. Clearly written by a man.)

“An attractive, healthy, and very sexy mother! Usually a young woman or sometimes a really gorgeous and hot middle aged mother. Yummy mummies usually wear trendy clothes, have great hairstyles and always look fabulous.”

(I like this one. I like the first line A LOT. The exclamation mark almost turns it into a term of endearment! Unfortunately it then goes on to spoil the good work by suggesting a woman can be defined by her hairstyle and clothes and nowt else. Not an original slant and unsurprising, but still mildly irritating.)

“Glamorous girls who shop and lunch their way through pregnancy, proudly displaying their little bumps like the latest designer handbag. They generally see pregnancy as an opportunity to buy a whole new wardrobe with a team of personal shoppers on hand.”

(Pretty derogatory this one. Think Paris Hilton and swap the doggie for a buggy. Think vacuous waste of space.)

“A mother who is interested in looking after herself as well as her family while taking pride in her appearance. She doesn’t have to be gorgeous just a little interested in being mildly fabulous!”

(Hello! A mention of ‘family’. So the yummy mummy does think/exist outside her little bubble of floral prints and Boden.)

“A yummy mummy is a mum who takes care of her wellbeing. She takes regular time out for herself and fills her life with people who inspire, motivate and support her. A yummy mummy does not judge other mothers, but shows kindness, compassion and cares for others.”

(This one starts off well but then tells a blatant falsehood – “a yummy mummy does not judge other mothers”. For me the unpleasant side of yummy mummy isn’t about the individual, it’s about the clique and like any good sorority the clique judges those who don’t conform.)

Let’s be honest, I aspire to be a yummy mummy. Aspire means I still have some way to go. So in the meantime I’ll feel a warm inner glow in my Hunters if the label is applied but I’ll outwardly choke on my cappuccino.

It’s East London innit

3 Sep

Today saw a day off work and a trip back to Spitalfields and my old stomping ground. Urban, edgy, arty and exciting, non? Well it would have been if it weren’t a trip to wait for the gasman at the flat.  After a coffee with my lovely and glamorous former E1 neighbour and a gorgeous boy (steady Mr C&P – he was only 5 months old), I headed to the flat to await being serviced (the boiler that is). As any visitors to Chez Flat 9 will know, it’s right on the street – no gravel drive, no symmetrical bay trees , just flat meets pavement, pavement meets flat. Plus it’s on the ground floor. Not somewhere you’d think you could walk around naked in – were it not for the mirrored windows. Now this presents many opportunities for the resident and the passerby. For the passerby, the flat is a convenient object to lean on, a handy corner upon which the local ‘ladies of the night’ can tout their wares (not so much now and I’m not just saying that because we need to sell the flat) and the mirrored windows are perfect for squeezing spots/picking noses/adjusting underwear in. Quite why passersby have no concept of the fact that people might actually live behind the window I have never understood. For the resident, the windows provide a perfect opportunity to watch the world go by without being seen – in our flat you don’t need television for entertainment. This was the opportunity I had today when forced to spend time in an empty flat with nothing but a gasman and a chocolate brownie for company.

Don’t get me wrong, I love east London and Spitalfields is a super area, but there are a lot of things I don’t miss. Here are those things I was reminded of today:

  • Winos holding mid-afternoon soirees on the only piece of green grass I can see from the flat. Tinny radio optional.
  • Dirty, dirty, dirty pigeons of a particularly dirty kind that live off fried chicken scraps (albeit halal) and probably also off whatever body parts the winos (above) shed.
  • The fact that people feel compelled to touch and remove parts of the flat simply because it adjoins a public highway. (How much did they get for the 4-inch piece of copper that used to be our overflow pipe?)

These things just don’t happen in St Albans, you know. Then again, in St Albans you don’t get to ride upstairs at the front of a double decker bus and pretend to drive (woohoo!), a community melting pot is a fondue evening with the neighbours and urban is the Woolworths end of the high street. But St Albans, that’s another post, innit bah.

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