Category Archives: Brighton Life

Sirena Bergman and more

The Strictly Xmas Pizza Girl Edition

One of my all time favourite odours has to be the delicate pungency of a KFC. The allure of this tang has been known to draw me off course down to Western Road purely to inhale its intoxicating delights. Occasionally, far too occasionally for my liking, when the thermals are in the right direction, the seductive charms of my ethereal chicken delight carry like an invisible sea fog and hover gloriously above the Seven Dials roundabout. Today, such an astonishingly auspicious phenomenon occurred and, as I drew the residue of the secret recipe into my expanding lungs, a worthy, wild, wonderful, weak, warm winter sun appeared from behind a dark cloud, causing me to smile a contented, satiated smile. Today hints at being a special day indeed.

As you know, my time with Strictly came to an abrupt and tearful end. However, the up-side of leaving has meant more time to devote to my charity activities here at home. The last few weeks I have largely, lovingly, laboured labouredly organising sponsorship for the Dials Xmas Lighting Switch On event. Credit where credit is due, because without house-guest Biggins I’m not sure I could have done this or been part of Strictly at all. Biggins cleans the duplex far better than I ever could even if I tried, and most importantly, he keeps my feet firmly on the ground and my head held up by my neck. Strictly was a massive experience in every way, hanging out with Anton and the crowd was a joy of joys and isn’t it great that the diminutive little ‘Titch’ Toniolli has asked me to look out for a property for him to buy on the West Hill?

Not many people know that Bruno Toniolli and I were both born in Ferrara, a small Catholic town in north eastern Italy, where we both grew up watching Hollywood musicals. Bruno, just like me, went to Rome for ballet lessons; then he left Italy to work with the Paris-based dance company La Grande Eugene. I was also in Paris, studying astro chemistry at both the Pond’s Institute and the Laboratoire Garnier, (Double Doctorate). Eventually, we both settled in London. He moved into choreography and I moved into a squat in Soho. It’s completely unknown that I secretly advised him when he worked on his first big break, the BBC’s comedy show Not The Nine O’Clock News. With such talent it’s no surprise Bruno didn’t remain a newscaster for long. Together, both of us, independently between us, have contributed to many films and choreographed for West End shows, as well as a huge range of music videos, working with countless names such as Hendricks, Presley, Mercury, Dean, Springfield, Harrison, Monroe, Lennon, Joplin, Jackson and Frank Ifield, to count but eight.

Having Bruno living here at the Dials will be just like old times as bambinoettas together in our little Ferrara village, except with more shops and a different climate. I know Bruno probably like no other person living or alive. Little Tonioli is like the big older Brother I had always wanted and dreamed of in my sleep. Strictly is like family. Head judge Len Goodman, bless him, is absolutely the Dad I never had (it has been well-documented that I was born without a father). Cockney Lenny is a lion amongst jungle chimps, a dance-floor-tsunami of a man, and no stranger at my West Hill door.

Tonight Biggins, Len, Bruno, Darcy Bussell and moi are the special guests at the annual gala dinner hosted by the Seven Dials Traders’ Association to celebrate the Xmas lighting switch-on. This locally-renowned, annual international event was held in our sweet, dowdy, little community hall in Compton Avenue. I must say the food was remarkable, and some of it even tasted quite nice. Gordon Ramsay, on his Dials visit last month, had the inspired idea to have each course prepared by different Dials eateries. The Starter, created by the Seven Dials Restaurant, was a cream of liver soup to die for. There were two main courses. The first by SOBS Kebap Express. Inspiringly, they produced very flattering miniature life-like sculpture busts of each celebrity guest, constructed from formed minced Halal lamb. These were expertly dipped in a saturated fat glaze. Absolutely everyone remarked that they had never seen or eaten anything to match it. The second main was a Red Snapper signature dish, a Brown Thai Curry, a secret recipe thought to be made by combining a Green Thai curry with a Red Thai curry. Dessert was created by the kitchens of the Good Companions. A most original sticky treacle profiterole meringue in a plum and hemp wine brulli, which left everyone speechless.

This glitzy evening was rounded off with a speech by guest speaker, Cheeky Dylan Moran, who quipped furiously, leaving everybody heaving with laughter and merriment at his verbal antics. Just before Dylan’s comic timing brought him to the end of his set, he praised the Dials shopkeepers and held them up as a new paradigm of inter-community, irredentist materialism. This pleased people no end and Dylan received a double standing invasion, the last from Darcy Bussell and Biggins who joined him on stage in a rendering of the Dials Anthem, sung to the theme music of the Magic Roundabout. Talk about bringing the house down, there wasn’t any dry ice in the place. It had been the most perfect precursor imaginable to the main switching-on ceremony.

At last, our assembled group of shop-keeping glitterati gaily minced triumphantly from the hall down Dyke Road, past the Dental Clinic to take up our grandstand positions. The huge frenzied crowd was huge this year. Naturally, I had been asked to do the switching-on honours, but passed the glory, in my characteristically typical self-effacing way, to Bruno and Dylan, I could see Dylan, in particular, was emotionally touched by my altruistic gesture. Bruno was all a-quiver too, his bottom lip had gone. The tears welled up in the ten thousand eyes of the five thousand assembled onlookers as Dylan and Bruno’s fingers furtively reached for the primal button. A jet flew overhead and the vast expectant crowd were expectant no longer as the fireworks displayed their display, and the lights blazed in a blazing choreographed unison. At last, the huge iridescent letters spelt out our glorious sponsor’s message across the seven corners of our historic interchange for all to see:


The Gyles Brandreth ate my Hamster edition

Gyles Brandreth, Biggins and Gordon Ramsay were all staying with me at my West Hill duplex last weekend. It was the event of the Seven Dials summer anyone who was there will tell you how hilarious it was.

Gordon had wanted some ideas for new TV projects in the US, Brandreth or ‘Bandwidth’ as Biggins insists on calling him wanted to view a house for sale in Compton Avenue. Actually the one on the very posh side of the street that never closes the blinds and everyone stops to look at the designer kitchen. Tony Uden, ever optimistically, has it up for £1.3 squillion. Brandreth, or Brandy as I call him, insists you can’t get anything in Knightsbridge for that sort of money, let alone four beds and a glass staircase.

You can well imagine that with this posse staying for 3 days and 3 nights not even moi could get a word in edgeways. I am basically an immensely private kind of person and hate tittle tattle, but that Ramsay is a real kitchen nightmare. The young fella-me-lad won’t lift a cheffy finger when he stays. Biggins has to do everything, even the washing up. On this visit I was determined to make life simpler for him, chores for four is too much. I had an idea. “We shall eat out for every meal all weekend, ” I pronounced. “What’s more, we shall eat ethically and locally source all our food by only eating at Dials’ cafés restaurants and bars,” I said responsibily. “Beginning with Brighton’s best, beefy, brilliant big brunch bargain breakfast at Tutti Frutti” I alliterated. The boys cheered and Biggins bellowed gayfully, then they went off to change out of their pyjamas. I was already in full glam mode, sporting my new Draylon bell-bottomed cat suit. It was stupendous. I had recently bought it from Snoopers’ Paradise in the North Laine’s conversation area. Some say the shop was named after me, but I am to modest to possibly commentate.

Yes, this was going to be a whopping calorific pig-out of a weekend, and was I up for it. I definitely deserved a session of comfort-gorging. Most of you will have heard by now, and the more observant of you will have noticed that recent mentions of hubby Adrian have been virtually non-existent in this column. I have officially Twittered on the subject of his departure from our West Hill home and I want you all to know that he is most definitely personae non gratis. The chances of seeing him on this manor again are as remote as Tesco opening on Easter Island. Adrian’s Hollywood production company has relocated to Hailsham, which is no more than he deserves. The philandering, dillitanting, Romeo has been given the red stiletto for the final time. Good riddance. I won’t say anymore, other than that he is an absolute jealous monster. His outlandish and libelous comments regarding my relationships with Steve Coogan and Nick Cave are a complete fantasy. Buffoon that he is, the dumbpkorf has made a public fool of himself. I, of course, can hold my head up by the neck as always, but he is definitely yesterday’s chow mein and tomorrow’s beef jerky. See you in court, big boy. I knew it would happen, I’m psychotic you know? I have been, since I was eleven. Enough already! Now the boys were back down we were ready to hit the streets ensemble together as a group.

We certainly cut a dash as we walked past the osteopath shop that has opened in the Tingley’s real estate office that used to be Marina Cash Registers that was apparently originally a jewellers. I had pleaded with Ramsay to wear a top but he insisted on jogging alongside bare-chested. Actually the skin on his chest is better than the skin on his face.

Red Ruth from the insurance office next door waved and beckoned us in. We happily mongraphed dedications for her into the petty cash ledger, that substituted for an autograph book. I noticed the blue carbon sheet was still in position, so fully expect to see copies on eBay soon. Ruth presented us all with a plastic Gonk Ostriches from the collection on her desk. The George Clooney calendar on the wall has been replaced with a pin-up calender of Gyles Brandwith photographs he presented to her. Luckily, he had some with him. Some women think Brandy is a ‘looker’ but for me it’s his voice that pushes my boat out. It was a great interlude. It’s always fun in the insurance office, Ramsay even bought some holiday insurance while we were there. What did he think was going to happen during a quiet weekend at the Dials? I told him he was wasting his money and we could have bought a bottle of Krug, Clos du Mesnil 1995 instead. Ramsay garbled out some hardly comprehensible comment (he was breathless from still jogging on the spot) about him working hard and he needed to spend some money sometimes and any way it gave him pleasure. I totally understand where he is coming from.

We continued on our route. The Tin Drummers all had their mouths agape as we passed by, and as we neared the kebab shop we were all presented with a sliver of freshly cut pre-formed lamb doner. How kind. We chewed this greedily as we were starving. It was 2 o’clock now and we had not eaten since last night’s (Friday) very excellent Fish Chips and Mushy Peas at Blenios. ‘Brandy’ remarked on the irony of this as Blenio’s used to be a Fish and Chip shop in the olden days apparently. How we all laughed. We passed the Chinese (Got nothing) and crossed opposite the Japanese Sushi bar to the Morrocan. Like the kebab shop, they must have seen or heard we were in the area because they came out to award us with presentation lunch boxes. Biggins bellowed that Ramsay already had a big one. How we laughed. The woman from the lifestyle shop next door didn’t know where to look, poor thing. It had taken us 18 minutes to get from West Hill Road as far as the Red Snapper, whose chef was deperate to get Gordon to taste her Thai Brown Chicken Curry. This was a new signature dish she had created by combining a Red and Green Thai curry. Gordon promised to come back. I could see he was impressed. The look on his face poorly disguised his envy at the brown colourful culinary curry creation before him. He promised to come back, that would be twice, so they were very fortunate indeed.

After an age, and what seemed like a culinary world tour, we arrived next door at Tutti Frutti, where we were ushered in by the usher past the queuing hordes. No one seemed to mind our queue jumping although one woman (it turned out to be K D Lang whose pater was, apparently according to ‘Bandwidth’, also the father of psycho analysis) complained she had been in line for over an hour; we just pretended not to hear, it is the best thing sometimes, for everybody’s sake. We were offered a window seat. Biggins bellowed and I complained that Parker Bathrooms’ huge removal van was parked directly outside so people wouldn’t be able to see us in the best light and demanded to be reseated elsewhere. Then the usher ushered us upstairs to a private dining area. I hadn’t been to this area before but was delighted as who was there tucking into their vegan sausage and egg platters were my dearest pals ‘Cazzer’ Lucas, Shami Chakrabatti and Stephen Fry. Sitting next to them was Steve Coogan and the starlet he had brought to the first saveloy party last summer, the one at which he had had the fight with Billy Bragg. We introduced everybody to everybody but I should have known that everybody knew everybody. What fun we had, joy of joys. We laughed so much in that very special, loud, and raucous way, only us carefree A-listers can. Fry “having-a-fry-up” and Cazzer “having a Wazzer”, no one was safe from our rapier wit. It’s not surprising really, as gathered in this small Dyke Road room were some of this country’s finest intellectuals. At an exact moment I was passed a note by the maitre-de. It was from Ramsay. At another exact moment I realised Ramsay was not with us.

My heart sank, what a bad hostess I was, after all, he was my house guest and I hadn’t even noticed his absinthe from this brilliant big breakfast banquet. I later found out he and ‘Bandwidth’ had been drinking the stuff all morning. I read the note aloud to all, however, in the interests of good taste I refrain from reproducing here the unexpurgiated version. Gordon must have been very affected by the absinthe as the language he used was most unlike him. I didn’t know it was possible to use a single word so many times in one sentence. He probably picked it up when he was a footballer in Scotland so one can’t completely blame it on the alcohol. The note read, “Pee Gee, please pop outside ASAP”. At another exact moment, my alarm bells rung, as did the sirens ablaze in the street outside. The traffic was at a standstill; horns boomed; a huge crowd had gathered. They all looked skyward, and they were all laughing because there, standing naked on the roof of the Seven Dials restaurant, swigging from bottles of absinthe, were Gordon Ramsay and restaurant owner Sam Metcalfe. These two were old mates from the Groucho Club. Gordon spotted me, and above the laughter and cheering of the coaxing crowd shouted “Pee Gee I ******* told you, I needed ******* holiday *****Insurance.”

Pizza Girl

Pizza Girl in a Eurostar Saveloy Party Adventure

A cut-out-and-keep Gossip and Grumble No 32

My Saveloy Party was probably, definitely, the event of the summer. Way beyond just A-list celebs, we had the whole alphabet there.

It started, like all good parties, spontaneously, without planning and pretty unexpectedly. My long-term ‘house guest’ Biggins and I were travelling by Eurostar, returning from a book signing tour in Brussels (we had managed to sign thousands before being politely escorted from the store, but that’s a story for another day.) We decided to come back by train so that we could both do some work on the journey. It was genuine research for a future Whistler wine column feature and absolutely not as if we were just having a lark on expenses. OK, admittedly we may have been a tad ‘exuberant’ but who wouldn’t be when doing a 32 brand Belgian Super Lager tasting ?

To be perfectly honest, we couldn’t have been that loud because only one person complained “Excuse me!” bugled a voice from the other end of the carriage. We looked around from whence the admonishment had been launched and, joy of joys, who should it be? My great buddy Dr Cazzer, or Loukey, as Biggins calls her. Caroline Lucas enviro supremo and all round Green party goer.

How we all laughed. “You are a Drama Green,” Biggins bellowed. “And you’re a Saga Queen” Cazzer retorted ‘ageistly’ in reply. At that exact moment, with the timing of a Giselle and the poise of cartographer, a new voice joined our game.

“If you ask me, you’re all SAGA LOUTS”. The whole carriage erupted in happiness, expressed by laughing. The arch humorist, a row back, stood up and bowed ceremoniously to thunderous applause. Joy of joys, it was my hirsute soul mate and bestest chum ever in all the world and everywhere else, Lord Melvyn Bragg. “Braggers!” Biggins bellowed in recognition of a fellow A-lister. How we laughed. Our now expanded four person ‘research’ team guzzled our way onto Ashford International, then changed onto the Coaster Express to Brighton that stops at all stations, and for some reason at Eastbourne twice. Cazzer was in fine form with her stories of derring-do and her various protest arrests. She can tell a story better than any politician I know. What is she like? They don’t call it the Green PARTY for nothing. With our boisterous boozing banter, our fellow passengers probably thought we were destined for St Leonards, not the bourgeois Brechtian Byzantine of Brighton. They should count themselves lucky that the Hirsute lad (Melly) had fallen asleep mid-paragraph, whilst telling a story about Brasier and Antcliffe’s new article, Evolutionary relationships within the Avalonian Ediacara biota for the Journal of the Geological Society. To be honest, I was probably the only one who understood what he was on about. I should do, I’ve been writing his questions to his guests for his Radio 4 programmes for years.

Our ‘research laboratory’ slowly pulled into St Leonards-on-Sea. I know everyone in St Leonards, especially since half of Hackney and half of Brighton have moved down there. The train doors unfolded like curtains on a stage to reveal Mr St Leonards himself, Mr Saturday Night, the vamper camper, Mr Graham Norton. “Well Hellllllloo Brighton train” he exalted to all and sundry. Naughty Norton immediately spotted me, then our quadrangle. Biggins and Norton greeted each other with a Stanislavski physicality, a probing, frisk assessment of a scrummage, itself worthy of an Ivor Novello or at least an Eminemmy award. Saggy Braggy had woken up and proceeded to decline a passed glug of Belgian Strawberry Champagne ‘As Favoured by Monks’. Instead, he opted to share Cazzer’s ‘Wheat Grass Milk Shake’. Thank God Melvyn had put his dental plate back in, although it would have been better if it had been the right way up. Melly had us in stitches with his stories, first about the notice he’d seen in a Dials shop saying ‘Only two MPs in the store at a time please’ and then the story of when he had stolen Sally Taylor’s saveloy. It takes the simplest thing, but that is the moment when together, as if one, in unison, we jointly all cried out “Let’s have a Saveloy Party!” Call it symbiosis or just mad, but we all had the same idea at once, spooky or what?

Our train eventually ‘steamed’ into Brighton station. Cazz and Graham collected the bottles and cans, each loading up a full trolley and continuing in search of the recycling bins. Cazzer has an upcoming election to be the West Hill rep at Parliament and the first Green MP in the British world, so naturally she was concerned to not just leave detritus as the security camera footage might be sold on to Dials-based Ricochet TV. We all have our public image to protect from scandal after all. The rest of us, queued at Sing Li’s Chippy in Guildford Road. We each ordered several of the red-skinned pig brained beauties. I ordered cods roe in batter for Casser knowing she is vegan. Slowly, or to be exact, virtually in a sound byte our creative cluster was causing tongues to wag. The inevitable enthusiastic throng of onlookers began to gather and onlook.

By the time the eco-warriors had joined us we were being i-photoed, blogged, and tubed-abused by the excited and enthralled ensemble of West Hilliers. In moments we had probably emptied both the Grand Central, The Trafalgar and The Yeoman. So many fans caused difficulty leaving Sing Li’s. Our captors cleverly became our rescuers as one by one we were ‘mosh pitted’ on high above their heads. With frisk assessing hands they carried us aloft upward and onward thither this way and that to Kenny Livingstone’s house. (I have had his keys for years and feed his budgies every Thursday. The regular ‘soirees’ there are my little secret.) We were certainly the flashiest mob in town, quite a sight, each 6ft off the ground, jostled a-top a seething swarm of buzzing people, all with our saveloys in hand. Then, to top it all we were ceremoniously joined by a team of 35 critical mass naked bike riders. At their helm, a triumphant waving Vinod from Buckingham Road’s Bright News. What a sight we were. Only in Brighton, B Right On! Yes, we all knew this was going to be the West Hill event of the summer so far and, dearest Whistlers, it was, believe me it certainly was….

Pizza Girl

Much Ado about Nothing again

I have had literally hundreds of emails thanking me for guest editing the last edition of this multi-award winning newspaper. In particular, the plaudits have been pouring in for my credit crunch busting tips. Many of you said that the article has already saved you thousands of pounds. I am incredibly touched and humbled that my advice has changed so many families’ lives forever. Continue reading Much Ado about Nothing again