Wednesday, 19 March 2014

My son Jude White (age 12) makes his acting Debut today in Law and Order

I am on the set of  Law and Order watching my 12-year-old-son rehearse a scene with a  crowd of crew and actors including Bradley Walsh and Ben Bailey-Smith who star as the two detectives. This is my son’s first paid job and I am his chaperone, earning a fifth of what he is. My flat fee for the morning is £95. The money has gone to his head and he’s offered to buy us a “mansion” when he grows up and gets to Hollywood.  I feel as though I am at his mercy and that he has a strange new power over me. He is the undisputed star, and me and his father are merely the facilitators – the ones who get him to castings, or help him learn lines. He is  an A-lister and we are nobody’s. When he goes to his agent’s Christmas Party, he is the one who is taken around and introduced to all the other performers (he is at the same agency as Eddie Izzard, Rowan Atkinson and Dylan Moran) while me or his Dad linger around on the sidelines hoping someone will talk to us.

We never aspired to have a child actor as a son. When he was nine some proactive parents persuaded Olly Murs, Davina Mccall, and Oritze from JLS to come and judge the school talent contest. Our son won first prize, with a satirical stand up comedy routine he wrote about his family. The laughs were at our expense of course.

The first prize was an acting agent and we were somewhat taken aback, horrified actually. We did not envisage our child being a professional actor. His days were already filled with schoolwork, football and piano. Jude was determined that acting was his new vocation, and harassed us for a year. We eventually gave in and went to visit our first prize and discovered that she wanted us to pay to have his photograph in Spotlight - a mere £95. We went home and did nothing. She did nothing either and so we parted ways. I was relieved. Perhaps that would be the end of it.

He continued to harangue us though. Every few weeks he would ask us if we had found him another agent; and I would answer that it’s hard to  ‘find an agent.’ They have to see you act in something. They need to love you, and want to work with you. I asked advice from a casting agent acquaintance and she tried to put me off by saying having a child actor in the family was problematic – all the auditions you have to take them to, schlepping across town in rush hour.  I relayed the information to my son, but he was more determined than ever.

When he eventually ended up at PBJ Management, his brand new agent sat down one afternoon and explained that there would be many reasons he may not win a part – it could be as minor as having the wrong colour hair, or that he didn't look enough like the “parents” who had already been cast. Luckily he’s small for his age as most casting agents want a boy who looks younger than his years. He’s been put up for parts that occasionally I’ve had to veto because the content of the script seems too alarming or dark (think sexual predators or murder most horrid). He recently auditioned for a lead part in an American action film that if he actually won, would been reallocating to New Zealand for six months filming. Whenever I ask, ‘what if he actually he gets the part? Because that would mean turning our life upside down, his agent always replies, “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Law and Order was about his tenth audition. An actress on the set told me that an actor will get about one job in every thirty auditions. The competition is vicious. At the various castings I have met extremely dedicated parents. Fathers who home school their children, especially so that they can get them to the castings and have time to learn their scenes without the constraints of a school day; children who are at full time stage school and do extra dancing and acting at the weekends.

Scenes are sent home one or two days before an audition and children are expected to know about three off by heart. Castings are usually in central London, at the end of a long, busy day. We have twice been called to the BBC in Elstree, (The first time we went, we walked from the station two miles up the road to the wrong BBC studios). There is unlikely to be any feedback on the child’s performance, and if there is a call back the child will have to go again, and do the same scene again, only this time in front of the producer and director. Not every child would be able to deal with the rejection, but my son is fairly sanguine about it, and my feeling is that it is good preparation for the real world.

The day of the shoot for Law and Order he is treated like a Prince. He has a bedroom in the house, with an en-suite bathroom where he can chill out between scenes. There are snacks delivered to the room from the studios (about a mile away) when he is hungry.  He asks for several different snacks, which are driven over by a man whose job it is to drive us around. He collected us at 6.00 a.m  and explained that on TV productions such as this, it’s only the lead and child actors who are chauffeured to the set, everyone else travels on public transport and only the stars and my son (because he is a child) get an en-suite bathroom.  

When it comes to the actual scenes, I watch on a monitor in the kitchen. There is no sound, but he does look like a nervous, guilty boy, trying to defend his mother as he is supposed to while being questioned by the police. I see him mouthing the words on the screen. He appears to be on the verge of tears and he is doing exactly what is says in the script – twitching his hands. For a shy boy like my son who often feels he’s “shrinking away” at school because of is height, learning lines, auditioning in front of strangers and finally acting real scenes has given him an enormous boost of confidence and some welcome extra pocket money.  I am a convert and glad he enjoys is career but still wondering what will happen if we have to relocate to New Zealand.

Law and Order (episode 2) tonight at 9pm on ITV

Friday, 14 March 2014

Review of Labor Day starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin

Labor Day, released in the UK on the 21st of March,  is a movie based on the novel by Joyce Maynard and reduced both me and my girlfriend to tears.  Directed by Jason Reitman, (the director of Juno, which I loved) It's the story of a doomed love affair between a convict (Josh Brolin as Frank Chambers) on the run, and a depressed, sensitive, quivering wreck of a single mother, Adele Wheeler played by Winslet. (We were both impressed that to convey the 'depressed mother,' Winslet appears at the beginning of the movie, with matted hair and scarcely any makeup).  It's set  In 1987, in rural America. Adele has been moping since her husband left her and lives with her 13-year-old son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith) who brings her coffee in the mornings and helps her put the car into gear when they leave the house - its what's known as a co-dependent relationship! While they are doing their monthly shopping trip (Adele is agrophobic) a bloody man approaches Henry and persuades or mildly forces him to introduce him to his mother and then he forces her to give him a lift. The man is revealed to be Frank Chambers, a convict who is wanted by the  police after jumping from the second floor of a hospital where he was sent to have his appendix out.

Bronlin first appears with a goatee, (which he apparently persuaded the producers he had to have to make him look more menacing) the point is though, that not once, did I think he was menacing or that he would do the mother and child any harm. He ties up Winslet, to look as though he's kidnapping her, but with pointedly suggestive shots of Winslet's ankle, as he's tying her, you know that he's already lusting after her, and they will inevitably fall in love.  The audience are given more and more signposts incase we don't get what's going on - a repetivtive ominous drum beat whenever we are meant to think that Frank could be re-caught and huge flashing signs about the burgeoning relationship between him and Winslet - close-ups of their sweaty bodies and a cliched scene of them all making a pie together, thrusting their hands together in a bowl of butter and flour.   My friend said it took her, "a very long time to engage with the characters and that she didn't believe they could fall in love so quickly."  I was taken in by their love affair though; Adele  had been alone for years, and needed the huge physical presence of a man like Bronlin who wanted to take care of her, to knock her out of her mood and there was also the fact that he had been wrongly imprisoned for years and without the love of a good woman.

Through flashbacks, it is revealed that Frank is a Vietnam veteran who returned home and married his pregnant girlfriend, Mandy (Maika Monroe), who soon gave birth. A year after the baby's birth, Frank and Mandy had a fight, where she unintentionally revealed that he isn't the baby's father. During the fight, he accidentally pushed her against a radiator, resulting in her death. Simultaneously, the baby drowned and Frank was sent to jail for Mandy's murder.

By the end of the film, I was hooked, really hoping that they would be able to  run away together and start a new life.  When that didn't happen, most of the people in the screening were crying and still crying when in the last few minutes when they are reunited many years later (I don't want to give too much away here, but perhaps I already have).  The performances from the three lead characters are excellent. We both wished their had been more scenes between Henry and his step-brother, very funny indeed, perfectly catching that awkward teen phase, when parents are SO annoying. I award 3 stars out of 5.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Enhancing my Face

When I moved to Shepherds Bush, 14 years ago, the Askew Road consisted of a Coop, a betting shop, a couple of cafes, some lousy pubs and a funeral shop.  A few years later a high street beauty spa opened and I spontaneously booked a Christmas facial. The beautician showed no mercy and squeezed my pores until I began to weep.  Afterwards to my horror, I found burst blood vessels all around my nose, which took an expensive few sessions of  laser therapy to remove, and even after that they never really disappeared. I decided not to let just anyone tamper with my face ever again.

Luckily, soon afterwards, I joined the Park Club in Acton and not only benefitted from getting fit after the birth of my first baby, but discovered Anya at the health spa, who is the woman I go to for facials and pedicures and the occasional massage. Part of my routine at the Park Club also includes regular Pilates with Louise and more recently dynamic yoga with Karen. The sessions are part of my week,  written in stone in my diary, and I couldn't do without them.  The Askew Road is unrecognisable too now, with the opening of  The Eagle (gastro pub) The Ginger Pig Butcher, Lavelli Bakery, two supermarkets a vintage clothes shop and a mid century furniture shop.

The area is improving and then last year with much fanfare and a day of free mini mani/pedi/facials for members, the Medispa at the Park Club opened. The director is Dr Bela Horvath, a true professional, who is adamant that he only uses the best and safest products and takes the job of analysing your face very seriously. It is a real bonus to have all these treatments available only a few minutes away.  If I could afford to, I would probably try every treatment on offer and there are a few to choose from including Botox, dermal fillers, dermal roller, mesotherapy, PRGF twilight therapy skin peels and hair removal.

It was hard to choose what to have for my first treatment, but in the end Dr Bela suggested that I try a bit of cheek contouring, which would hopefully make my face that little bit more youthful. (Believe me I need any help I can get!) The treatment took about forty minutes, and started with Dr Bela gazing at me intently and then chalking some lines on my face that would guide him when he inserted the cannula under my skin. He used Juvederm Voluma, but he explained that different products are used for different parts of the face. The micro-cannula  is a newer and much safer method compared to needles. When he inserted the cannula one side of my face, it was relatively pain free, but on the other there was some pain, despite the tiny bit of anaesthetic. After two weeks of some sensitivity to the area, it settled down and I can see a fresher version of myself.  The only problem is that now I want to go back and have everything possible done!

To make an appointment call 020 8743 1900 or visit the website to see the January offers.
020 8743 1900

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

A Very Cornish Holiday

In my mind Cornwall equals summer holidays:  Beaches, sun and sandy picnics, seaweed, rock-pools and Daphne de Maurier. Teenagers partying in Rock and the Port Eliot Festival. So a post-Christmas Cornwall break was not a plan that I had formed or thought about, until I saw an inviting three-bedroomed house for rent in Port Isaac, North Cornwall, right above the harbour. It looked idyllic.
Mount Pleasant
View from the twin Room
Port Isaac is a charming, fishing village where Marin Clunes films Doc Martin and out of season, it is lively, but not crowded. Our house is called Mount Pleasant which we rented through Classic Cottages.  On our first morning, we wake up to the sounds of seagulls and the sea and an incredible view - sunlight on the cliffs, waves laping on the beach, fishermen preparing to take a boat out. My husband is delighted to discover a good coffee shop and a fabulous fishmongers selling fresh oysters, mussels and all kinds of fish, less than five minutes walk from the house, but my tip would be to avoid the cornish pasties.

We are lucky enough to have almost perfect weather. On our first day, we hire bikes in Wadebridge and cycle along the old railway line, The Camel Way, five miles to Padstow, which the children love, as they don't particularly like going for walks. When we arrive we stumble upon the queue  at Rick Stein’s cafĂ© and join it. The grilled mackerel and chips are delicious, my husband enjoys his cod and chips and it all seems even better after our bike ride. We waddle off to one of several ice cream shops in Padstow and the children tank up on huge sticky icecreams.  Rick Stein has a food empire in Padstow, although apparently he lives mostly in Australia!  When we pop into his deli on the way back to the bikes, I am not amused to find a loaf of bread selling for £7. The second time we went to Padstow to meet some friends, we had to queue at the fish and chips for 45 minutes, but still somehow it was worth it. The man I was queueing next to, told me that in August you can’t even get into the car parks in Padstow! I dread to think how long you would have to wait for a table during the peak summer months. 

The children went flowriding twice at the Retallack Resort  (about a half hour drive from Port Isaac) which they loved – basically you learn to surf on a kind of giant wave machine, an ingenious idea.  They enjoyed it despite freezing their buts off and having to wear over-sized wetsuits that were wet and cold when they put them on (NB Retallack, equip yourself with more wetsuits).  On New Years Eve we gazed at the short but sweet firework display over the harbour  and wished each other a Happy New Year, while swigging champagne that had been left for us in the fridge! 

We walked along cliffs, glanced at rainbows, ate in numerous pubs, played scrabble, read and ate some more. We walked along the beach at Polzeath, where brave surfers were out on their boards despite the cold. We did a challenging walk along the cliffs from Port Isaac to Port Quinn on a beautiful afternoon. I came home, rested, fat and happy to have spent time with my family, as usually we go on holiday with friends. Happy 2014!

To book Mount Pleasant (from £456 for the week) or other coastal and country cottages call 01326 555 555 or visit

Friday, 25 October 2013

Bush Hall Dining Rooms

I will admit straight away that four friends are involved in the Bush Hall Dining Rooms, a new stylish and friendly restaurant (it opened a few months ago) right next door to the Bush Hall music venue. I would go there anyway, as it's local to me, and a welcome addition to the mosque and middle eastern food shops along Uxbridge Road. It has a great atmosphere, and delicious food and is neither too big and noisy or too small and intensely intimate. They are offering a great half term deal, which you could use if you were shopping at Westfield, or traipsing around Holland Park, or on your way to the Bush Theatre or the Lyric in Hammersmith. Or you could just go.

Here is what Charlotte - my friend and wife of the talented chef - Tim, says:

Just to let you know that Bush Hall Dining Rooms will be offering their delicious milkshakes FREE this half term to any children that have lunch or supper in the restaurant! Together with the fixed price lunch menu (£7.50 for 1 course and £10 for 2) and the new £5.50 2 course kids menu it’s a great half term treat if you fancy a day off cooking or meeting up with school friends!
Call them on 020 8749 0731 to book or just pop in on your way down the Uxbridge Road.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

How To Academy (Shameless Self Promotion)

The How to Academy is offering a plethora of interesting courses from How to Make A Movie in a weekend, to how to Build a Bike in a morning to writing Modern Novels for Modern Women, a course taught by ME!  It's scheduled to take place on the 16th and 17th November at The Telegraph buildings in London and should be fun and informative.

If you want to write but are not quite sure how to start or finish then this course could be for you. Or perhaps you just need some help and encouragement. It's lonely writing at your desk, so it could be a good place to meet fellow writers and after the course continue to support each other in the long process of writing a novel.

I am currently on (what feels like a millionth) rewrite of my novel, Same As You. I've had notes from an editor, and am now attempting to incorporate some of her advice into the book, which is about estranged identical twins.

It took me all summer just to digest her notes, (as she has suggested some substantial changes) and I've already been working on the book for about two years! All part of the process which can be so hard, but so enjoyable and fulfilling too.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

I HATE bicyclists in London

I am aware that I may sound like a grumpy old woman (which I probably am) but I have been meaning to rant about the  subject of bicycles in London for ages. I am  aware that what I am going to say is probably quite contentious, particularly as Boris has been banging on about needing more bicycles  in London for a long time now. But in my opinion bicycles and cars don't mix in the urban jungle. I very nearly knocked down a man on a bike who was absolutely oblivious to the outside world recently. Not only did he have a small child on his handlebars who was not wearing a helmet, but he was also wearing head phones, and didn't even notice that I nearly collided with him. Combination (Earphones/child on handlebars =  Disaster. What an idiot.  And this is not the first time I have seen father's (yes it's usually father who ride with their small children on the handlebars)  and not the first time I have witnessed people on bicycles without helmets or wearing headphones. I was nearly swerved into a lout who was attempting to ride a bike while holding two beer cans, one in each hand and when I screeched to a halt to avoid knocking him over, he stuck his finger up and swore at me. 

Bicycle riders can't see what is going on behind them, so they need their ears and yet they listen to music. MAD. They also swerve into lanes without looking, go through red lights, meander this way and that. I HATE THEM. Why aren't there more arrests for dangerous bicycle riding?

Of course there are skilful and careful bikers out there too, but it's the dangerous, careless, ones that get noticed. I don't think we need bicycles in London, and if we do, we should one car-free day a week, in which bicyclists can use their bikes, but that's it.

I have to come clean and admit that about ten or fifteen years ago, I actually did knock a man off his bike. I was turning left in a car, and just didn't look as he biked up my inside. He was OK, thank God, but it could have been worse. It was obviously my fault for not looking properly, but people on bikes,should take more CARE and be more AWARE, and not act as though they are KINGS of the road. I have heard countless other stories of people opening car doors and knocking people off bikes.

Let me explain that I did once take a bicycling safety course and after completing the course, concluded that I still didn't feel safe enough to venture out of my own hood, into dense traffic. Perhaps all cyclists should be made to take a test. Not joking by the way. I am serious.

The picture below is of me and the two children a couple of years ago, biking along the canal from W12 to Camden. No danger of cars completely safe and fun. Sorry to sound smug.