Thursday, 30 April 2009

Saying goodbye to my mom . . .

As the observant among you may have noticed last week, for the first time since I became editor at the Bath Chronicle - and indeed since I started this blog - I did not have my regular weekly column in the paper uploaded here. Indeed the words “Sam Holliday is away” were printed at the bottom of where my column usually sits in the Chronicle. You may have felt that I was sunning myself in Barbados instead or, perhaps more likely in my case, that I was travelling around the UK following my beloved old punk heroes The Stranglers.

Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth – for this time last week I was actually arranging the funeral of my mother.

I’ve agonised about writing about this for a few days but as I think columnists should talk about their community but also about the shared experiences we all have within them, I decided I wanted to say something.

None of you reading this knew my mother. She lived 120 miles away for a start and was actually very quiet and somewhat shy so the chances are even if you lived a few doors away, you may not have known her.

But like most wonderful mothers the world over, she was a good, honest, decent, caring lady who was passionate about her family and proud of their achievements in that quiet, don’t-like-to-brag way that typified her generation.

Her passing came suddenly. Yes, she was in her mid-80s (she had me at the somewhat later age of 40) and she had been ill 12 months prior to her passing, but she had seemed to have been through the worst of it and was now happy living in a council sheltered home with one hand almost permanently on the telephone to keep in touch with the outside world. Her death, therefore, came out of the blue but was thankfully peaceful and quiet in a way that probably summed up her whole life.

The reality is none of us quite knows how to handle death, even though it is the one thing that unites the whole of humanity. In what I guess is a rather typical man’s way of dealing with things, I decided to act all busy last week by sorting out all the arrangements, writing letters, placing death notices, contacting old friends, etc, to keep the grieving process at bay.

I then, after just three days, came back here to the office because I thought that would help, although in reality I think I came back too soon. People have been very kind and supportive but nobody knows what to say to me, I don’t know what to say to them and there has been much evidence of tiptoeing around emotions in that classic English way.

Tomorrow, Friday, May 1, is the funeral, a big hurdle for any family member and, for some reason, I said that I would like to say something. Some of you will know that I do enjoy public speaking on occasions but I’m still not sure that this is one talk I will be able to do because just as none of us knows how to react to death, coping with funerals is another one of life’s great uncertainties.

Inevitably perhaps, I feel sad while even writing this but I don’t want it to be that way because my mom (I like to think) had a very good life and had, what we always call a very good innings, so I think celebration rather than mourning should be the order of the day.

But I know I will miss her – and I know I’ll regret the times I didn’t call or didn’t visit – and I’m confident that she’s in a happy place now and one day we’ll be able to discuss the football scores and why we both don’t like Bruce Forsyth once again at our leisure.

Rest in peace mom.

Friday, 17 April 2009

A pleasant kind of toilet humour at the dinner table

When was the last time you went to a dinner party and spent a good chunk of the time talking about toilets?

If the answer is: a) not recently,

b) not ever, or

c) not ever – and, frankly, I would rather put pins in my eyes than do so .. .

... then I can only assume you haven’t (yet!) been invited to dinner by the hugely-charismatic Gill Silversides.
If you are thinking ‘why would I be invited to dinner with Gill Silversides when I don’t even know the woman?’ then I’m afraid this is not a get-out – because nor did I. And yet, I spent last Thursday enjoying a fascinating evening with Gill plus five other complete strangers where the subject of toilets was spoken far more than any of the usual, jollier dinner-table subjects.

It was a sort of Come Dine With Me night with added loo roll.

The reason that I was seated in Gill’s Bath home was as part of a new charity initiative by the excellent Freshford-based charity Wherever The Need to get random people together to enjoy good company and great conversation but also to discuss one of the subjects that none of us really likes to talk about.

The scheme is called Dinner For Dignity and it relies on people such as Gill and her charming partner inviting strangers into their home, getting them to talk about important issues over a lovely meal and then inviting them to make an anonymous contribution for the food which goes directly to the charity and its ambitious plans to bring loos to people who need them.

It is a simple idea but, then again, most of the best charity ones are.

The subject at hand was the startling facts about the number of people who die across the globe because of poor sanitation and the lack of clean toilet facilities. I always remember being somewhat taken aback to read somewhere that only a third of the earth’s population uses toilet paper and it seems that some 2.5 billion people in the world do not have access to what we would regard as a ‘proper’ loo.

If even this talk is making you feel uncomfortable, then imagine how these people feel about this issue every single day of their life.

Not nice is it?

During the course of our meal we were shown a video produced by Wherever The Need about the type of toilets they’re trying to bring to certain communities in India (see pic) , and although you may feel that the sight of a functioning loo while you’re eating your dinner is a bit of an odd mixture, strangely it works.

It was serious stuff but in a fun environment – a genuine case of toilet humour if you like.

So I hope it may inspire others to think about holding their own Dinner For Dignity. If you can cook and can find enough people willing to risk a night with a stranger who might just talk about (ahem) ‘waste disposal’, then just contact

At your convenience, of course.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Fashion isn't horseplay at the Grand National

On Saturday I had what can only be described as a 'grand day out'.

For along with 70,000 other people I headed for Aintree in Liverpool to savour the fun and the atmosphere of the Grand National.

I am by no means a big horse racing fan – although I always enjoy my occasional visits to our excellent Bath Racecourse – but this was the occasion of a ‘stag do’ for a friend, Brian, who loves the gee-gees.
As, sadly, both he (and the rest of us) are hardly what you would call young bucks any more, the idea of a debauched ‘regret-for-ever’ kind of stag do was never on the cards so a trip to the National seemed like a sophisticated jolly boys outing.

But the biggest surprise for me was just how sophisticated it turned out to be. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about going to horse racing is that it is, in the nicest possible way, an entirely classless affair which seems to appeal to everyone from the Duke with millions in his pocket to the lowest paid worker with holes in his. It may be called the sport of kings but when you actually view the crowds at a race meeting, you realise it is the sport for everyone.

However, Grand National day was an altogether swankier and more stylish sporting event than I ever imagined. Among the men I would imagine that at least 75 per cent of them were be-suited (imagine that at football or rugby!) while for the women – who encouragingly accounted for about 40 per cent of the crowd – this seemed to be viewed by many as a high society wedding. Although the Grand National was not strictly speaking a ‘Ladies Day’, it seems that the vast majority of the female contingent had really pushed the boat out and I’ve never seen so many impressive dresses and designer clothes in one place at the same time.

It was, it seems, almost impossible to be overdressed (although I have to say with a slight twinkle in my eye, that many ladies also felt more than happy to be somewhat under dressed!).
Of course, not everyone got it right. One group of girls walked past us in an array of vivid slinky orange and yellow dresses which led one of my waggish companions, Wayne, to memorably say: “They look like a packet of Starburst on legs”.

Talking of vivid colours, one of my other fellow travellers, Gary, had informed us on the bus going up that in his experience an extremely large number of Liverpool women between the ages of 18-25 looked ‘orange’. I didn’t quite get what he meant until I had seen about the 50th young lady who looked as though she had been caught up in a hideous explosion at a fake tan shop. When you put one of those ‘sun’ tanned faces on top of the orange dress, it made you, inevitably, fancy a can of Tango . . .

Despite all this excess, one of the main things that I enjoyed about the way people looked was that I can’t imagine anybody felt uncomfortable in whatever they were wearing. I’m sure many of us have been caught out at events where we’ve either been overdressed, underdressed or unintentionally fancy-dressed but on Saturday in downtown Aintree, as long as you felt happy in your own skin, then anything went.

Of course, you may be wondering why I devoted nearly all this column to a major sporting occasion and haven’t actually mentioned the, er, sport but that is because the Grand National is more than just a race. It is a fantastic event and having tasted it now first hand, I’m even more fond of this delightfully British tradition.

And in case you’re wondering, no I didn’t make any money – but at least unlike many women of Liverpool, I wasn’t bankrupt before I got there after purchasing a Starburst dress.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

It's the way I tell 'em . . .

Like most men I happen to think I'm a pretty funny guy.

The fact that no-one else around me seems to agree is beside the point - in my own mind I am all six members of the Monty Python team rolled into one.
So, when offered the opportunity to be a stand up comedian, albeit for just a couple of minutes, I simply couldn't resist.

For on Tuesday I was invited to go on a photograph to help launch an 'open mic' in the city centre of Bath which invites people to get up and tell jokes to the unsuspecting as part of the Bath Comedy Festival.

As we were setting up the photo, I looked at the mic and like a magnet, it dragged me onto the podium.

Faced with quite a number of clearly bemused tourists, I then proceeded to do a two minute slot that had I been in a comedy club, would have probably got me booed off. I told three or four jokes - the ones in the blog below - and was delighted to receive at least one laugh per joke which I assure you is more than I normally get at home or in the office.

So, is a new star born? No, absolutely not - but if you can do better, the microphone is available near the Bath Abbey until Sunday April 12th. And it really is great fun to try.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

It's the way I tell 'em.....

Last night I had a Chicken Tarka for dinner. It’s a bit like a Chicken Tikka – just a little otter.

No? How about this one? A man walks into a pub and orders a pint of beer and a very small glass of water for his pet amphibian. The landlord says: “Why are you giving him such a small drink?” The man replies: “Because it is my newt”.

I can sense that you’re still not laughing very loudly so I will try one more which should suit the culturally intellectual readers of this fair blog in this fair city.

Shakespeare walks into a bar and the landlord says to him angrily: “Get out William – you’re Bard”.

By now, some of you will hopefully have laughed once, twice or even, if I’m very lucky, three times. Or you might just be thinking this isn’t funny at all, why doesn’t this idiot just get to the point!

Well, today, jokes are the point. For this week we saw the launch of the first Bath Comedy Festival which is hoping to celebrate one of the greatest attributes of the British personality – our sense of humour. As Al Murray says: “Where would we be without humour”? (His answer incidentally is Germany) .
The idea of having a comedy festival here in Bath is a very good one and, in these economically challenging days, it seems that being able to put a brave, smiling face on things may just be an invaluable weapon to help counter the gloom and doom that purveys.

Of course, as the reactions (or perhaps lack of them!) to my earlier jokes will show, one of the joys of humour is that we all have different ideas of what is actually funny.
I’m sure we all know from experience that you can be laughing hysterically at something while the only amusement other people in the room are having is watching your excited reaction. Some of the very best comedy in my opinion – Alan Partridge, Monty Python and both the US and British versions of The Office – leave other people as cold as ice while I, too, can barely raise a grin at other so-called comedy favourites which sell in their bucket loads (Little Britain anyone)? And that is why the comedy festival’s huge variety of different acts, shows, walks and competitions is a great chance for people to tap into what they find personally funny and not worry about those who simply don’t get the joke.

So in wishing the Bath Comedy Festival every success I do hope that everyone can find something to laugh at because, after all, laughter and humour have many great health-giving qualities.

However, as you traipse the streets of the city in the next few weeks, let me give you a of caution. It should be noted that it is actually possible to die of laughing. In the 1970s, a 50-year-old bricklayer laughed so hard and so hysterically at an edition of The Goodies that it tragically killed him.

It sort of adds a new poignancy to the term ‘dead funny’, doesn’t it?