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  • Cashing up in the attic

    7625eb2c6c48a8599c0f09ef59f6f9a6.jpg"My mother always said never trust a man with matching belt and shoes" - so said winsomely entertaining TV presenter Angus Purden of my outfit when I was persuaded to take part in the filming of an episode of one of the BBC's most popular day time shows, 'Cash in the Attic'.

    What sounded like fun was actually an object lesson in just how painstaking and exhausting it is building up just 45 minutes of broadcast material. It was also proof of the voracious appetite of the media for material. Two days filming, each 12 hours long. Since they only had two cameras, every set-up had to be recorded repeatedly and ritualistically from every angle: 'wides', 'singles' and close-ups, plus a trademark out-of-focus holding shot with a vase in the foreground. Words that once seemed spontaneous rapidly became inane.

    Barbara's mother died last year leaving her and her brother with a huge inheritance tax bill. The family house lies deep in the woods in Nettlebed in rural Oxfordshire. A beautiful and magical place, with pheasants in the garden, red kites calling overhead, and an antiquated kitchen with an indicator board once used by servants. A green baize door separates the kitchen from the dining room and the house is filled with family treasures, many from turn-of-the-century Vienna. I remembered Christmases year ago when real candles twinkled on a huge tree and we played Scrabble in front of a blazing log fire.

    The camera caught Angus as he twirled in Barbara's mother's kimono and we obligingly acted out surprise on discovering him. Barbara's ferocious dog Foxy performed as we walked in long-shot through the woods. After the crew finally left, ornate lights that had been on the wall when the house was bought almost half a century ago were taken down forever and we polished up for the auction a fine silver Viennese Secession coffee service that had languished in a cupboard for years.

    The auction itself was filmed weeks later in Cirencester. Understandably perhaps, Barbara needed to smoke something calming between shots. I chatted coyly to Angela Ripon. Two sets of lots were being filmed for two separate programmes and we kept being called in (like obedient circus animals) to mime delight or dismay according to the prices achieved. Barbara rushed to ask purchasers where the lots were ending up. The kimonos went eastwards. Angus told me about his escapades in New York and said he was more interested in our chat (and in one of the porters) than the filming.

    Transmission was today. I expected it to be in July. Some extraordinary impulse made me email the production company about transmission the very moment the broadcast began. Within an hour I'd had calls from friends of daytime TV watchers and a website thread had started discussing my appearance. And tomorrow yet another unlikely group of participants will have their Warholian 15 minutes.

    In spite of the £4,380 proceeds from the auction – just a tiny part of the tax due - Barbara and her brother's house in Nettlebed must be sold. Its contents will be dispersed forever. Somehow, Mr De Mille, I don't think I'll ever be ready for my close-up.


  • Au naturel for the WNBR


    What else to do on a balmy Saturday afternoon but cycle stitchless for six miles in central London as one of the thousands of cyclists that took part in London's fourth ever World Naked Bike Ride?

    Campaigning for a better deal for cyclists, against the global grip of polluting oil and for something called 'body freedom' the ride's slogan was 'go as bare as you dare'. Stripping in Hyde Park on a humid afternoon among lots of other already naked people was actually quite easy. A kind of party atmosphere, with lots of 'nice' chat of the kind you have in Waitrose supermarket on a Saturday afternoon. Riders of all ages and races, but more men than women, some body painted, others in wigs and quite a few with slogans painted on them. 'Carbon natural', 'Less gas more ass', several angels' wings, skaters, recumbent cyclists, rickshaws and at least one unicycle.


    medium_DSC00163.JPGBikes festooned with greenery ridden by very green men, two red men and even one fluorescent. Full-on exhibitionists wearing beads and blowing whistles, environmentalists, topless housewives and even some bashful families; whistles and horns and bells and on every street lines of amused and bemused onlookers: delighted smiles from people on buses and everybody taking photos. Vulnerability and strength, part of a group together doing something out of the ordinary.

    A great roar in Picadilly Circus, much easy chatting on the way, (and bizarrely no saddle soreness), a surreal feeling riding past the cenotaph in Whitehall and the unexpected comedy of seeing a naked cyclist use a cashpoint. There was an ineffable daftness about it that just made me want to grin and grin.

    Riding back under the Wellington Arch there was another great cheer, cycles waved in the air in triumph and a desperate need for a nice cup of tea.medium_DSC00170.JPG


  • Sunday in the park

    medium_PICT0323.2.jpgSunday morning and a grass snake slithered across the sill of my garden office. Barefoot and with my exit blocked, I thought the idea was it would slither off if I made a noise - but it didn't (and was obviously sunbathing). When I ejected it with a steel ruler it did a quite convincing cobra impression, complete with hissy fit and the discharge of some very malodorous urine. It also did a convincing job of stopping me leaving. Deep down I have ocker roots. I rapidly re-located them and turfed the blighter out of my way...

    medium_DSC00139.JPGGreenwich Park was a mass of sunbathers. The Ranger's House contains medieval and Renaissance art from the collection of nineteenth century De Beers diamond millionaire Sir Julius Wernher. I was pleased to see he had a herpetological eye - collecting a fine majolica plate decorated with a writhing serpent. Then on to the Royal Observatory and a wonderful prospect of Greenwich Hospital, the dome, the gherkin and the canary.

    medium_DSC00152.JPGDown the slope to the Queen's House - Inigo Jones' pioneering Palladian building of 1617. The chapel and Sir Christopher Wren's painted hall at Greenwich Hospital provided a suitably baroque contrast. Then a peek at the charred remains of the Cutty Sark before taking the tube to Canning Town to get Schmeissed.

    Beneath a buzzing overhead power line and wedged between the DLR and Bow Creek is an East End institution called the Docklands Steam Baths. A place where men can be men and are not afraid of slapping each other all over with a raffia mop covered in soap suds. They also practise something called vernik treatment - which is being beaten with leafy twigs - but that wasn't available as some Russians had left their twigs on the sauna heater that morning and it had caught fire.

    I had a thoroughly good time drifting off in the steam rooms of different temperatures. People of all ages and backgrounds. One well-spoken gent asked me about 'Sunday in the Park with George'. I enjoyed chatting to a friendly Albanian whose grandfather had the great misfortune to be killed by Communists because he worked for King Zog. A retired chap with a whole body tan asked me to soap him and then gave me the Schmeiss treatment. A surreal experience, head totally covered by a towel, lying in a hot steam room, being thwocked by a giant yellow mop - but very relaxing. Afterwards I helped myself to fruit and was offered tea and cake. A very friendly bunch and not at all fazed by having someone from not exactly down their way in their midst. Apparently you can even get a very reasonable curry there made to your exact specifications. I think I'll go back.