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Lexicon Lady: A Woman of Lovely Letters – #edfringe2014


In one week’s time, on Thursday July 31, a 10-day run begins of my second one-woman Edinburgh Fringe show. It’s called Lexicon Lady: A Woman of Lovely Letters and contains lots of words, a bit of rhyme and not much reason.

It’s a kaleidoscopic collection of a profusion of poetry, prose and puns from a young Thora Hird meeting The Littlest Hobo on the arch of a rainbow.

Ahead of the show, the lovely folks at ThreeWeeks and Broadway Baby interviewed me. Here are the pieces:

ThreeWeeks – July 25 2014

Broadway Baby – July 20 2014

The FREE show is part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. I’m hoping those who pop along will  smile, titter or chuckle, be stirred (but not too shaken) and enjoy the Love Hearts sweets I’ll be handing out which have been kindly donated by the UK’s premier confectioners Swizzels Matlow. If Love Hearts don’t get you excited, well, I don’t know what will.




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It’s not too much of a leap…

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”

Imagine by John Lennon (9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980)


IT was a giant leap for mankind when a human footprint was left on the moon on July 20, 1969.

The moon landing is hailed as one of the greatest human achievements in history.

But maybe more so is the ‘overview effect’, a term coined by writer Frank White in 1987 in his book The Overview Effect – Space Exploration and Human Evolution, which refers to the experience many astronauts have had upon observing our planet from space.

In the brilliant documentary The Overview Effect, he said: “Many of the great wisdom traditions of the Earth have pointed to what we’re calling the overview effect. That is to say they had realised this unity, this oneness of all life on Earth.”

Space adventurers see the world with no boundaries, no divisions – only elegance and grace. In space they see a glorious, conscious, breathing organism where every living part contributes to the whole.

Their view of humanity and our world changed when they were in orbit in that they realised with their hearts, minds and souls that Earth is small and vulnerable, a speck in the fabric of the universe.

Astronaut Nicole Stott describes it as “this dynamic, alive place that you see glowing.”

From space, it seems, any human is instantly hit by the beauty and fragility of Earth and in a split second realises how ridiculous conflict is.

It would have been former South African President Nelson Mandela’s 96th birthday on July 18.

When I interviewed his former prison guard Christo Brand for The Times earlier this year he told me how Mandela survived 27 years behind bars thanks to his belief in the good in the world.

Christo also told me: “He would work on his prison garden. He’d always have some daisies or other flowers in his garden… He would say, ‘There’s still life… the flowers still bloom.’”

A friend of mine believes that a way to highlight the absurdity of violence would be for one side to launch flowers to shower the opposing side with, much like the famous Banksy image of the rioter throwing a bunch of blooms.

I reckon everyone who’s ever been into space would probably concur and think an act like that could prove to be the greatest leap ever for mankind.

* If this has resonated with you, please make a donation to a charity that fills your heart with hope for the future.

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Bear thrills

Bear Grylls courtesy of Channel 4 Pictures

Bear Grylls © Channel 4

HE’S an adventurer extraordinaire, a plucky pioneer and a dashing daredevil.

And when I met survival supremo Bear Grylls I found he had the infectious enthusiastic spirit of a fearless and wonder-filled child.

I met him at the launch of his new Channel 4 TV show The Island, which sees men aged from 21 to 70 from all walks of life endure the perils of the wilderness with no food, no water and no technology – as an experiment in whether modern man can cope in the wilds of nature.

He left the 13 men on a remote Pacific island for 28 days to see what would happen but feared they could come a cropper.

He was scared one of them would be dead within 10 minutes after they were stranded without outside help days in a supreme test of their survival skills.

“I was worried about people dying. Genuinely,” Bear, 39, said.

“You let people loose with machetes and it’s like, ‘You almost took your knee off.’ It’s so easy to go like that – boom – and it’s straight through the leg.

“You cut an arterial vein and you’re dead within 10 minutes.”

He continued: “I could’ve found the island they expected which was a beautiful Fijian paradise. But I wanted it to be about the hardship.

“What they got was a swamp – a crocodile, snake and scorpion-infested s***hole.

“It tests what they’re made of. This was an experiment in trying to find some answers about modern man.”

He continued: “Men totally feel emasculated at the moment.

“In olden days it was always clear – they used their speed, their agility and their brains, their resourcefulness and their courage. All that stuff made a man.

“Nowadays we’ve swapped the bow and arrow for the iPhone. It only uses a fraction of what it is to be a man.

“What I wanted to do – and I didn’t know the answer to this – is if you strip man of everything – the microwave, the bed and all of this stuff that we take for granted – when pushed and the bravado’s gone would they crumble or are the skills still somewhere in there?

“In the modern world what is masculinity?”

Bear has tested his manly mettle to the max via paramotoring in the Himalayas to martial arts training with a karate grandmaster in Japan, escapades with the SAS, and, at 23, being one of the youngest climbers to scale Everest.

And Bear – whose eyes glisten with verve – reckons it’s all about your mind… and your heart.

“It’s more important what’s in your head and heart in these kind of situations,” he said.

“The mental battles that these guys went through, I think they’ll agree, were much tougher than their physical ones.”

Bear gave the lads just one day’s survival training before abandoning them.

“They had the clothes on their back, a couple of machetes, a couple of knives, water for a day and that’s about it.”

He said it was important they felt truly isolated and weren’t just playing up for telly, which is why four of the group were embedded camera and sound crew.

“I wanted it to be really authentic. As soon as you put a TV camera in front of someone there’s always that bravado so that’s not a true indicator of what’s really going on inside of people.

“You only get to know people when they’re under pressure and they’re being themselves.

“When you’re vulnerable with people you create a bond. And where’s there’s a bond there’s strength.

“If society started to live like some of these guys, you could totally change the world.”

He added: “It’s an accelerated course in manhood and I hope it’s inspiring and encouraging.”

Meg Hine courtesy of Channel 4 pictures

Meg Hine © Ch4

I received an accelerated course in survival thanks to words of wisdom from Bear and a training session with his close pal Meg Hine – a mountaineer and expedition leader – in the tough terrain of the, erm, Channel 4 garden in the City of Westminster.

She taught me one of the most important things you need in a survival situation – how to create a fire.

Following your instinct is essential. Preparation is key. And it seems being in touch with your feminine side is crucial to thriving.

One of the major elements of her kit is a stash of tampons which, when smeared with Vaseline lip salve, become highly combustible.

She said: “They’re one of the best things for starting a fire. And soldiers carry them in their kits because they’re good for bullet wounds.”

I created a fire from the lady accoutrements and bark I’d peeled off silver birches. I ignited it with flint and a flick of the wrist, then added knife-chopped kindling to get it roaring.

Meg then taught me a vital skill needed in ANY situation – how to brew up a cuppa.

We positioned metal receptacles in the roaring flames, added water – which we’d collect from rain or a nearby stream but which was from the Channel 4 canteen – and then sprinkled in some nutrient-packed leaves.

After that I settled down under the canopy erected between trees to enjoy my wild nettle tea, infused with a smoky aroma and bits of ash from the fire, and became one with my surroundings.

But while Meg and Bear can handle themselves in such solitary situations, they both admit that in the long run, humans are social creatures.

Meg said: “You can go three minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without food and three months without company. We need other people around us.”

And Bear said of the 13 men on the island: “The thing I really noticed with these guys by the end, above everything, was an incredible respect for each other as human beings.

“They’ve walked in each other’s shoes a little bit and that’s an amazing thing.”

He added: “We need connection.”

Sipping my tea, I mused on metaphysical poet John Donne’s famous words: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

Here are Bear’s top survival tips:


“What’s the most important quality in a tough, big, butch mountaineer? Kindness. That is not a word we associate with man is it? But it’s incredibly butch to be kind on day 29 when you haven’t eaten for 11 days. That is a man.

“What you really want from the people you are with is that they are kind.

“You want to be a great adventurer in life and in the mountains? It is simple: be kind.”


“The Royal Marine Commandos with whom I worked a lot in my military days, have the phrase ‘cheerfulness in adversity’ as one of their founding principles and it is a great one to live by.

“It is easy to be cheerful when everything is going like a song, but the real time to be cheerful is when everything is going dead wrong!

“My dad always said: ‘Be the most enthusiastic person you know!’”


“The key bit of survival kit you possess is your brain.

“What I have always loved about survival is the resourcefulness of it, how you can take a shoelace and a tea bag to make something useful.

“It is ingenuity that can change a situation dramatically.”


“I try to maintain fitness all of the time really – I consider it part of my job. I train hard most days.

“I also do a lot of yoga which keeps me flexible and bendy for hanging off trees etc. It is functional strength that I am looking to achieve rather than big muscles.”


“The key to survival is one thing – hard work. Everyone thinks it’s about the bandana around the head, the flexing the muscles, attacking the crocodile – it’s not, it’s about bloody hard work.

“Quietly get up early, be the first to collect the firewood, spend 12 hours trying to light a fire – it’s just hard work.

“The key to success on the island, as well as in life, is just hard graft. The rewards go to the people who work the hardest.”


“I can sum up survival in one quote: ‘When you are going through hell, keep going.’

“We’re all more resilient than we believe.”


Bear is the head of the Scouts whose motto is: ‘Be prepared!’





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Star-cross’d lovers, shooting stars, moonbeams and Mars


WILLIAM Shakespeare was a champion of monumental excitement and remorseless discontent, of the majestic and the lonely, of the varied amazements and tortures of the human condition.

He invented most of the words in the last sentence for the English language is littered with 1700 words he created.

Today, April 23, which is also St. George’s Day, is celebrated as his birthday – 450 years ago in 1564.

The playwright and poet, who embodies the rambunctious romance of the Renaissance, is still the world’s most famous Brit nearly half a millennium after he entered the world.

Without him we wouldn’t have the pleasure of glorious words such as embrace, silliness, moonbeam, shooting star and hobnob. Or how about ‘honey-tongued’ from Love’s Labour’s Lost?

‘The long and the short of it’ (The Merry Wives of Windsor) is that we would be lost for wonderful ways to ‘break the ice’ (The Taming of the Shrew) and ‘wear the heart upon the sleeve’ (Othello) or ‘make short shrift’ (Richard III) and bid ‘good riddance’ (Troilus and Cressida).

And we wouldn’t have brilliant turns of phrase like ‘heart of gold’ (Henry V), ‘kill with kindness’ (The Taming of the Shrew), ‘star-cross’d lovers’ (Romeo and Juliet), ‘neither rhyme nor reason’ (As You Like It), ‘to thine own self be true’ (Hamlet) and ‘such stuff as dreams are made’ (The Tempest).

He even invented that classic joke structure in the Scottish play: ‘Knock, knock! Who’s there?’

It was his way of articulating the gamut of emotions that run through everyone at one time or another that ensured he would be remembered ‘forever and a day’ (As You Like It).

My favourite of Shakespeare’s sonnets (number 14) likens a lover’s soul to the power of the heavens and how with their death truth and beauty will cease to exist:

‘But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,

And, constant stars, in them I read such art…

…Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.’

Shakespeare’s works are littered with astronomical references. Indeed he saw art in the stars.

On the same day we celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, NASA has detailed a plan to launch a manned mission to Mars in just over 15 years’ time; an endeavour described as vital for the continued survival of the human race.

The Times reported that the space agency’s chief Charles Bolden outlined a series of “stepping stones” to the Red Planet that included “lassoing” an asteroid, using 3D printers for spacecraft repairs and growing vegetables in space ahead of a three-year return trip.

He said: “It is important to remember that NASA sent humans to the moon by setting a goal that seemed beyond reach.

“In that same spirit, the agency has made a human mission to Mars the centrepiece of its next big leap into the unknown.”

Now is the winter of our planet’s discontent. Perhaps our existence does indeed rely on journeying to the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.

To be or not to be? That is the question. Especially with the slings, arrows and outrageous fortunes that our world faces.

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but ourselves.


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Tyke Rider at the Edinburgh Festival

“Sweet solo travelogue… really sunny.” Three Weeks – Aug 3, 2013

“Gently humorous… Brooks also does a mean Alan Bennett impression.” The Flaneur – Aug 3, 2013

“Open and unaffected speaker… well written… warms the heart.” Broadway Baby – Aug 2, 2013



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A brief candle

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

From Macbeth by William Shakespeare (written around 1605)

A BRIEF candle will dim for a moment today as shadows crawl in slow motion over part of the planet.

The moon and sun will engage in a spectacular display which perhaps exquisitely illustrates the idea of the “cosmic dance” in Fritjof Capra’s book The Tao of Physics.

In North America today, at the Grand Canyon, is an eclipse which hasn’t been seen in America for 18 years.

As the moon moves across the face of the sun much of it will be obscured, leaving a ring of fire.

I was lucky to get the once-in-a-lifetime chance to stand in the midst of beautiful countryside in England back on August 11, 1999 and experience a total eclipse of the sun.

This is where, because of the moon’s position in relation to the Earth, all of the sun appears covered and a halo of light is seen.

The last one in the UK before that had been in 1927 and the next one will be in 2090.

I remember standing in a remote area surrounded by rainbow-coloured flowers and comforting trees with someone special as everything suddenly became quite eerie.

The scales tipped to the extreme as the moon began shielding us from the sun.

You don’t notice what’s there until it’s gone and up until the eclipse began the chirping of dozens of birds was a pleasant but unnoticeable part of the white noise all around.

Not only was it the bird song that stopped but it was as if traffic stopped and the breeze stilled too.

All was quiet.

Even brazen squirrels had vanished.

Shadows were dark cartoon versions of themselves.

A silent cold descended turning the pleasant summer’s day into a grey autumnal morning.

The chill that fell was perceived even by the person I was with.

It was in that void that you realised what is.

It was as if time stopped, and as a result of the emptiness you felt bereft in every cell of your body.

It was like a loneliness and sadness of Wuthering Heights proportions encircling every nerve.

I still to this day can feel it when I draw upon the memory. It was other-worldly but very much of this earth.

When time began again it was as if the clocks had been reset.

As everything else had gone during the eclipse, so too it seems had the breath from my body. My autonomic nervous system had switched off and forgotten to breathe.

As the sun’s rays drove the shadows away, I took what seemed like my first inhale.

Everything is in a constant state of flux – even during an eclipse where everything seems like it’s on pause.

But the quiet, still, wistful moments of the eclipse – when things aren’t as clear as usual – are perhaps when we can pause to rethink, recharge and reset.

Everything matters and nothing matters.

After all, life is but a walking shadow, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

* Please take a look at the Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research. It promotes and funds alternatives to animal testing in biomedical research and testing.

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