A visit to the Manchester United and BBC comb factory (Belle)

I was guest of honour on a tour of the comb factory. Away from the production lines the offices doubled as BBC newsrooms while the glass windows looked out over the Old Trafford pitch.

They showed me a video of old TV adverts for their product. First, Ken Dodd playing a nit-comb like a musical instrument. Then they explained their decision to audition Angela Rippon by making her repeat a tongue-twister.

Later I worked for the BBC alongside Noël Coward.

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Arran by bike (Rousse)

I was the front passenger on a blue five-saddle tandem steered by my nephew P from very the last seat at the back of the bike.

To ride the winding one-track roads of the Isle of Arran without protective clothing, steered by a pilot who couldn’t see where he was going, was extremely dangerous. We were forced to bail out into the hedgerow overgrowth on a couple of bends along the route.

However, it was all worth the risk when my sister J admitted that she finally understood the attraction of the Scottish islands as a holiday destination, drawing particular attention to its pretty beaches and quirky folk museums.

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Reality TV dating and the joy of comfy slippers (Belle)

I couldn’t shake off the film crew and it dawned on me that my entire date would be televised. I wandered from shop to shop in Blackheath trying on outfits. Oddly everything looked just great on me and I bought a ruby red nylon vintage negligee.

Later on, I escaped from the date and joined my old college friend RC in a horse-drawn carriage to visit the beach. I was wearing a pair of tartan pom-pom slippers and was thrilled with how comfortable they were.

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Airport pranks with Stephen Hawking (Belle)

We were causing absolute chaos at the airport gate. Stephen Hawking was deliberately driving his wheelchair into staff members. Then he took the microphone off a staff member and started to give an impromptu lecture about ‘the mathematics of flight’. I was embarrassed and humiliated and really regretted marrying him. Also, I was pregnant with twins.

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A mistaken case of coronavirus (Rousse)

At night the streets swarmed with Chinese nurses clothed head to toe in blue scrubs and heavy duty PPE. When I returned home I found a team of them around TPR’s bed. His lips were blue and he was complaining of a terrible headache. Had he fallen victim to coronavirus?

Apparently not. He was simply paying the price for a heavy night of drinking.

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Victorian dental bills, exotic animals and a marriage (Belle)

It was ‘Victorian times’ and a mysterious stranger gave me £50 to undertake a voyage to Australia to get my teeth fixed.

My plan was to gather exotic animals while I was there, transport them back to London and sell them to repay the debt. Then I realised this wasn’t my life at all. Instead I was researching a novel about an intricate pre-nuptial agreement between a Victorian woman and a lawyer from China.

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Free-riding on the Granton ferry (Rousse)

I cycled back from town along the Forth estuary. When I reached Granton I had two options: to cross the water by ferry or to cycle inland to avoid the crossing.

A little old lady advised me that the ferry would be faster, so I lifted my bike up the gang plank and on to the vessel. Then I saw the fare for cyclists. I was not prepared to pay so much for a short five minute journey.

Instead of travelling inside the cabin, I stowed away on the ferry’s main rudder, keeping my head just above water the whole way. Beside me was a former coast guard helicopter pilot who knew my friend CM.

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Speeding in Stockton-on-Tees (Rousse)

TPR drove at top speed along Bishopton Avenue, then continued straight on at the junction with Bishopton Road West and into Oxbridge Avenue. What he didn’t appreciate was that since his last visit to this part of Stockton-on-Tees two decades ago, this main road had been downgraded to a gated traffic-free cul-de-sac.

The car  smashed through the barrier and spun to halt in front of a row of modern ‘executive homes’. I declared that TPR must now call 101 to report the incident to the police.

TPR was very reluctant to do this, especially since he had consumed a bottle of red wine with his lunch just a couple of hours earlier.

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County Durham coal mine confidences (Rousse)

My sister S whispered over the telephone that she’d heard about a woman from County Durham, now living in Sydney, who had sold secrets about British coal-mining to the Chinese.

When I next saw her in person, my sister confided that she now feared for her own life because she had unwittingly passed on this ‘classified information’. In response I whipped out a copy of a library book that featured a glossy picture of Sydney opera house on its front cover.

‘Don’t be daft’, I said. ‘She’s already published the entire story here’.

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Failed seduction in a Birmingham bedsit (Rousse)

Even though I vowed to him that I would never stray from the arms of TPR, my father’s cousin did his clumsy best to seduce me.

His attachment to a thin ornamental walking cane – supposedly a support for his weak wrist – was enough to put anyone off. Add to this dry kisses in his shabby brown Birmingham bedsit and it was obvious that this would never be the start of a passionate love affair.

His whole mission fell apart when railway hospitality staff started popping in and out of his bedroom to collect glasses for the evening service on trains leaving New Street station. By the time his flatmate turned up I was dressed in a yellow summer 2019 season retro cotton sundress from C&A and fawn ankle boots, ready to make my escape for a night on the town with an overweight bottle blonde friend from Newcastle.

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