Somebody else is living my life.
Well, that’s not strictly true. They’re not wheeling my disabled dad around Morrisons, and they’ve not moved in with my boyfriend or anything ... It’s just that they, or rather, she, is now living it up in New York with the writers of Friends and Arrested Development while the highlight of my day is beating a pensioner to a seat on the 08.52 to London Bridge.
You see, a few weeks ago she won a competition. Not just any old competition, a Bafta sitcom-writing competition. The prize was to be flown to New York to mingle with the great and the good of American sitcom royalty, the chance to discuss developing your idea with production companies, and a great agent thrown in to boot. This is how I wanted my life to pan out. Tough. To be fair, she is hilarious, and she absolutely deserves to win. She is also a very good friend of mine, and I couldn’t be happier for her. But I can’t help feeling a wee bit jealous. I’d give my right arm (and my left, if I’m honest) to be in her position. The judging panel consisted of comedy writers such as Jennifer Saunders, Damon Beesley and Chris Addison, as well as representatives from all of the major broadcasters. Imagine that! Imagine all of those people falling about laughing at your script, then picking you to win. Must be nice.
Despite wanting to write sitcoms for a living, I did not enter the Bafta sitcom competition myself. The two main reasons for this are a) I didn’t know it existed, and b) I have a morbid phobia of competitions. I’m not bad with general win-a-holiday type stuff, it’s just that I had a bad experience with a WHSmith poetry competition when I was eleven and I seem to have been scarred for life.
It all started when Sister Marie, a very tall nun with a beard, who also happened to be my English teacher at secondary school, informed me that as punishment for having the worst handwriting in the class, I was to write a poem for the competition. As usual, this instruction went in one ear and out of the other and I completely forgot to do it (I expect Neighbours was particularly gripping that week). Anyway, about four minutes before double English the following week, I realised that I was a completely poem-free zone and hastily scribbled ten lines of utter nonsense about a cat and a spaceman in my best hurried handwriting and handed it in. I could see she wasn’t happy but I’d sort of got away with it.
A month later, during a bout of bearded English, Sister Marie clapped her hands together and announced that I had come third in the competition and would be receiving my certificate and book token from the headmistress in front of the WHOLE SCHOOL at the following day’s assembly. I quite liked the book token bit, but having to accept it from a scary nun (who I’d never even met) in front of nine hundred girls filled me with such terror that I didn’t sleep a wink that night.
The presentation was predictably terrible. The first years were made to sit on the floor at the back of the cavernous hall (why put the shortest people at the back?), so when my name was called out I had to walk about four miles to the stage in front of a bigger audience than most west-end shows. My leg had gone to sleep during the preceding talk about Mass and volleyball so I was forced to drag my uncooperative leg up the hall behind me as though I had a previously undiagnosed club foot. My mother had thoughtfully bought me a uniform that would have fitted Christopher Biggins even though I was, at 4ft7, the second shortest girl in the school – narrowly pipped to the post by Bridget Riley, who had dwarfism. My billowing kilt kept threatening to head south, while my enormous nylon blazer was making my already-unruly hair static with all the heat it was generating. I was convinced that I had tucked my kilt into my knickers so I kept wafting my hand (and therefore the kilt and blazer) around to double check. As I hobbled and flailed up to the stage you could have heard a pin drop. I cast my eye over to the row of teachers/nuns and caught Sister Marie’s eye. She was giving me daggers and her beard was blowing angrily in the wind. Sister Theresa hurriedly thrust the certificate at me and all I could do was squeak a ‘thanks’ while grappling at my kilt buckles. Judging by her withering look, I don’t think she cared about me, the spaceman or the cat. I duly dragged my pins-and-needlesy leg, joke clothes, certificate and book token back to my patch on the floor to a chorus of sniggering. For the remainder of the term I was plagued by older girls dragging their legs around the playground, flailing their arms around and squeaking. It was like going to school in an am-dram version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, on ice, with a cast of mice.
I haven’t entered a competition since. The very thought of coming third brings on an asthma attack. God help me if I had actually won. Never mind the Baftas; it’s a miracle that I ever picked up a pen again.
Click here to find out more about the BAFTA Rocliffe Comedy writers competition.