It’s been a historic week. O J Simpson has been found officially guilty. Sir Ian Blair has been found unofficially guilty. (I’m glad he’s left, though, because it means one less beige person may get shot this year.) Barack Obama has been linked to terrorism, again. It was my birthday. And I was sent to Torquay.
I had been sent to Torquay to perform at the English Riviera International Comedy Film Festival. I had never been to Torquay but had seen pictures of it in a free travel brochure that came with the Matalan catalogue through my door the other week.
It looked like Cannes without the glamour.
I got on the train from London. Normally when I get on a train anywhere, I walk up the carriage and see magazines and papers left behind by people: Heat, GQ, Hello!, the Guardian. The train to Torquay was a papier mâché of the Daily Mail. I searched everywhere for a Grazia. Even a Nuts would have done. But there were no alternatives to be found.
The minute I got off the train, it was like going back in time. I quite liked it. My hotel was on the seafront – it was unlike any hotel I’d ever stayed in in my life. Just inside the entrance was a sea of upholstery dating back to 1942 and the man behind the desk wore a tuxedo. He had all his hair combed over to the right-hand side, and a moustache combed over to the left. There were no computers or signs of modern technology to be seen – not even a calculator. The man said: “Hello Mrs, are you staying here?”
“Yes. My name is Shazia Mirza,” I replied. “Sharon Matthews?” he asked. “No, Shazia Mirza!”
“Oh, just sign the book!” he said. The book? I looked down and on the desk was a huge brown book with the following columns: name, address, phone number, date of birth, nationality, car registration number and signature. The only thing missing was bra size. I didn’t want all my details available for the people of Torquay, so I filled out selected columns. The man went insane. He shouted: “Nationality! What’s your nationality?”
“Why do you want to know my nationality? What are you going to do with that? Use it to get a grant?”
So, just to annoy him, I wrote down “Jamaican”. He looked at what I’d written and looked at me and said: “Thank you. That’s what I wanted to see.”
For my birthday, my best friend took me to London Zoo. The zoo is a lot like life on the outside. I hadn’t been to a zoo since school, and I’d forgotten how exciting it was to see real live gorillas, snakes and a hippopotamus. Most fascinating were the otters, which I discovered came from Asia. I overheard someone saying that British otters were a lot bigger, so they couldn’t hold as many of them in the pen. It seems that obesity in Britain is not just limited to kids, but is spreading to animals as well. It’s really time we closed down a few branches of McDonald’s.
The penguins were from South Africa, and the zookeepers are forced to take security measures to stop the local herons from flying in and stealing their food. The herons are like the hooded youths on the streets; they come along, mug the penguins and then scarper off. Thankfully, the penguins don’t carry mobile phones, the herons don’t wear trousers round their knees with their underpants round their waists, and the hippopotamus doesn’t have a tattoo appearing from the crack of his bottom.
What a civilised and well-behaved bunch these animals were. It was a tranquil experience and I felt safer surrounded by a tarantula, a python and a monkey than I do walking past an infant school in Islington.
I spent the rest of my birthday eating as much cake as possible. Cake can solve all of the problems of the world and makes you feel better about getting older. However, it is still true, as O J Simpson will testify, that you can’t have your cake and eat it.