In my time as an author, journalist and guest-appearer on little-watched, now-defunct TV channels operating out of light industrial units at the back-end of Birmingham, I have had my photograph taken thousands of times. With what one might nicely call, mixed results.
The two things I’ve learned are Lighting is Everything, and if you need your make-up done, pick someone who’s worked in television, not whoever you get sent by the Daily Express. (It took me three days to scrape the powder from my crows’ feet). Neither of these pearls of wisdom being much help when you have to choose between a make-shift selfie-stick and your son, five minutes – as he’s warned you – before the football starts, wielding his camera phone with bad grace.
The ageing process doesn’t improve matters either. Believe it or not – Pet Troll, this is your moment – I worked as a photographic model in my teens and a pro could still get a semi-acceptable magazine shot a couple of decades later. Now, however, go for glamour and I look like something out of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, adopt a “character” expression, and I’m being taken care of in the community.
Which is why I was thrilled beyond belief to be informed I’m a finalist in the Kent Press and Broadcast Awards, and suitably aghast to discover it involved a picture. #KPBA. To be shared on social media and to depict me “celebrating”.
Never one to miss an opportunity for the latter, I popped a cork and set up the tripod. Discovering that the light from the dining-room lamp – chosen for its softening properties – had produced the skin-tone of a bad case of hives. The 327 subsequent attempts to look jolly and celebratory, including trapping a party-popper round the central light and setting fire to the paper streamer, were not much better.
“Just sit on the sofa and hold the glass,” said my son crossly, as the whistle blew on half-time. “Smile properly. Stop looking mad.”
“You look like everyone’s maiden aunt,” said ex-newspaper editor Mike Pearce, when I emailed him the results, under the mistaken belief he might be encouraging. Instead, he rattled off a lot of science about the eye being drawn to a third down from the top and in from the right, meaning the viewer would be fixed on the wilting roses beyond my double chin. “Why do you want to appear as a p**head?” he enquired. (This is the man, who once published a picture of me where the eye went straight to my three yards of stomach. Replying to my wail of ‘I-thought-you-were my-friend’ with “I am your friend – you should have seen the others.”)
A photographer mate advised that overcast days can be kind to wrinkles and offered to try some socially-distanced shots somewhere more arty. This turned out to be a kids’ playground at Pegwell where the wind gave me a red nose and made my eyes run. I’d forgotten how much fun a swing can be.
I had now spent a week on the project and had 478 pictures of me in various stages of insanity and geriatrification, none of which I felt over-inclined to share. #firstworldproblems.
“I wish I wasn’t so vain,” I wrote to my wise friend Betty in France. She replied that under the skin, I was a beautiful person (so far so good) followed by a BUT in capitals. “It does not mean,” she expanded, “that you are a very beautiful person in the conventional superficial sense.”
Which we might translate as: Face it, luv! That’s what you look like.
MY LOVELY FRIEND, the Kent-based children’s author Anne Booth, was behind the letter sent from more than 200 children’s authors and illustrators, which calls on the Government to ensure that no child goes hungry this winter. I should damn well think so.
Anne refers to it being “just basic human decency” and she is right. Good for her and good for Marcus Rashford and all those campaigning for this most fundamental principle of a civilised society. Our local MP Craig Mackinlay was amongst those voting AGAINST an extension of the free school meals scheme to include holidays. According to public record, he claimed upwards of £32,000 in parliamentary expenses between June 2019 and May 2020. I can’t help thinking you could feed an awful lot of kids lunch for that…