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An Exclusive Extract from Sarah Millican's How to be Champion

Posted on 13th October 2017 by Martha Greengrass

Wise, irreverent and straight-up, downright, laugh-until-you-cry funny, Sarah Millican’s How to Be Champion is everything you would expect from one of Britain’s funniest comedians. Here, in an exclusive extract, she talks about wellies, cheesy fish pie and other excellent things about the miners' strike.

C h a p t e r  3

Excellent Things About the Miners’ Strike

WHEN I WAS nine there was a miners’ strike and, as my dad worked as an electrical engineer down the pit, it affected our family and town. We had £11 a week to do everything with, but I remember it quite positively, probably due to how my parents handled it. I’m sure behind closed doors my mam and dad were having a horrible time, but it brought us closer and taught me the value of money.

So, here is a list of excellent things about the miners’ strike. Okay, some of these things aren’t great, but I’m determined to take a positive slant. See if you can spot which ones have been shoe-horned into happy times.

I went to school dinners. I had always lived too close to school to go to school dinners. I always went home where my mam had warmed some soup and, when it was really cold, put my slippers on the pipes round the coke boiler. Which is lovely, but school dinners always sounded exciting : special trays with compartments for everything ; spongy puddings and custard ; scraping your plate into a massive bin with a spatula. I’d heard tell of such a wonderful place but never been. Thanks to the strike, I got free school dinners for a whole year.

I didn’t get bullied for having free school dinners. Oddly, I think the bullies drew the line at that. Yeah, her eyesight is bad. Yeah, she’s quite clever. Yeah, she’s not sucked any cocks yet. That is all on the bullying roster. Her parents have no money ? Leave her be, Tracey. But as soon as she’s finished her free dinner, she’s mine, the glasses-wearing, clever, nine-year-old virgin.

I got seconds at school dinners. (This is a good thing, honest.) Any time sympathy leads to extra food is a good thing. Like when you’re ill and people bring Miniature Heroes •sniffs and coughs and shoves another finger of tiny fudge in gob•.

I got sad cuddles off the school dinner ladies. They felt sorry for me and Nicola Symcox (the only other girl in my school year who was affected). Dinner-lady cuddles are some of the best there are. I know this because I now have dinner-lady arms and, boy, am I good at cuddling. (This is not all school-dinner related, by the way, but they were certainly dominant.)

I went on holiday without my sister. The French miners wanted to help the British miners out, so they offered holidays for the kids. My sister was one of three picked from the North East, so she went to some kind of French summer camp. I was too young to be included but got to go on my only ever holiday with just my parents. We went camping in Carlisle and it was one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on. I got a hula hoop, there was a Care Bear shop, the camp¬site had a big tree with a tyre hanging from it and I made a friend, Joanne. Plus I had the sole attention of my parents *does a small dance*. Sole attention is the only attention worth having. I have been known to dance in front of the telly when I’m bored of what my husband is watching. I also clamber on him when he’s reading and I’m bored. I am, in short, a needy nightmare.

I got to wear my red wellies for weeks. Read this one really fast please. You know when you first get red wellies and want to wear them all the time even though it might not be raining ? Imagine you woke up to find your feet bleeding because your shoes were too small, but you hadn’t told your mam and dad because, even though you were only nine, you knew we had no money and that shoes cost money. Then, because it was the summer holidays, you just wore your red wellies the whole time. Sad reason but brilliant outcome.

It was the first hint at what a hero my dad is. He and my uncle Ted used to go down the beach and look for driftwood to burn to keep us warm. Proper hero territory, that.

We got free food. I’m never one to turn down free food. I hate fish and cheese but once ate cheesy fish pie because someone had made it for me. Out of politeness and because it was free, I cut a small slice and covered it in vinaigrette then swallowed it quickly like it was Benylin or cum. Men don’t like it if you drizzle Newman’s Own Italian dressing on their knobs first, as I’ve discovered. They’re usually fine with Nutella, but check for nut allergies first. I got to see an avocado for the first time. The local supermarkets would donate end-of-day stuff to the miners and their families – mostly bread and old unlabelled tins. But when Marks & Spencer jumped on the charitable bandwagon they donated thirteen trays of avocados. Bless them. That’s like your neighbours making you a pie because you’re skint while an old posh aunt sends you a vase. The miners of South Shields had never seen avocados before and had no idea what to do with them. Indeed, I’m not sure I saw another one ’til I went to Australia for the first time in 2009. They put them on everything there : toast, bacon and koalas, obvs.

Christmas was excellent. The French miners donated lots of toys and my dad was one of the co-ordinators. Our garage was full of lovely things for bairns. I picked a cuddly chipmunk as my present and named him Charlie. We also had excellent badges that said ‘Santa supports the miners’.

We met a bomb-disposal team. A parcel came through the letterbox right around the time my dad crossed the picket line and went back to work (just before everyone did). My mam rang the police, who sent the bomb squad, an older man and a younger one. Like in Lethal Weapon. They opened the parcel, which didn’t feel very ‘skilled’, though they did open it very slowly which must take some training, as I’ve never been able to do that. As the Mel Gibson one tentatively pulled apart the brown paper, the Danny Glover one shouted ‘BANG !’ in his ear, and everyone in the room shat his or her pants. Totally the sort of thing they’d do in a film. Turns out it was just my dad’s diary/pre-Filofax Filofax. He’d lost it, someone found it and posted it back. Nice people exist. And bomb-disposal-unit guys are proper ‘characters’. 

I learnt that legs are cheaper than buses. One Saturday during the strike, I went into South Shields town centre with my mam. It was pre-cashpoints, or speed banks as I still call them, and people look at me like I’ve asked for half a crown of biscuit trimmings. So you had to go into the bank with a cheque to yourself to get money out. The lady on the counter told my mam there wasn’t enough in the account to cover that. My mam asked how much there was. She slid it across on a piece of paper. This was back in the day when privacy was a thing. Not like these days when a shop assistant asks for your email address at full volume. I was in Maplin last year buying a voucher for my old tour manager (he loves a cable, does Barry). The bloke on the till said, ‘And your email address is . . .’ And I said, ‘Irrelevant.’ You can use that. It’s great fun. So my mam asked for the amount that was in the account (not much at all) and we walked home instead of getting the bus. I think this was probably my inspiration when I was at drinking age of spending my last few quid on a McChicken sandwich instead of a taxi. And also why I have okay legs, even if they are still carrying the McChicken-sandwich-filled torso.

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