A series of interviews I've been privileged enough to conduct, to which I'll be adding as and when they take place. If you have any items of your own who would like to be interviewed, they can drop me a line via the contact page and we can arrange it. Or if there are any celebrities you think should feature, let me know. Dead or alive, rarely can they resist the appeal of appearing on this website.
- Now I've heard you have one of the toughest jobs on earth. Can you describe a typical day?
- Typical? Hah! My days are identical! Up at the crack of dawn, ten minute drive to the bottom of the slope, then it's heave, heave, till nightfall.
- When you say heave, you mean you're pushing a rock, I believe.
- Yup. All 526 pounds of it. Up a 1.4 mile slope that in parts is one in five. I get to the top, the rock rolls all the way down, then I walk back down myself and start all over again. I’ve been doing it for over 2500 years. Not that it makes much sense to count because I'll be doing it for eternity.
- Wow! But why? Surely not out of choice?
- No, of course not. It's a punishment from Zeus. I can understand, in a way. I cheated death, you see. Hades – the Grim Reaper, if you like – came to arrest me with this fancy set of chains, so I tricked him into showing me how they worked – on himself! It still makes me chuckle today. Upshot was that with Death in chains, no one could die any more. You’d have these guys getting hacked to bits on the battlefield and turning up for duty the next day. It made a mockery of the whole business of war. Not much wonder Zeus got mad. But even so, when the punishment was announced, I went into a state of shock. I didn’t think anyone could be that cruel. But when it comes to cruelty, Zeus is in a league of his own.
- And it's been the same all this time? Nothing's changed and nothing ever will?
- Oh, there've been a few changes. You could say it's got a bit better. When I started, it was in Greece, and man, that was tough. So damnably hot! And the slope was steeper too. So I’ll always be grateful to the Brits for granting me political asylum. A couple of hundred years ago, bloke by the name of Byron came out, heard about my plight and took pity. Started a campaign to get me moved to better conditions. Fortunately the Greeks didn’t care one way or the other, at least not at the time. Now that I’m a tourist attraction, they’re trying to get me back – a package with the Elgin Marbles – but I don’t think it’ll happen. I’ve got a Facebook support group and Amnesty International behind me. There’d be an uproar.
- But how on earth do you put up with it? How do you keep going?
- No choice, man! Look for the positives, that's the only way. The view when I get to the top - the Cotswolds - or the people who cheer me on. You get the occasional insult, but they're mostly very supportive. Sometimes they’d even lend a hand, till Health and Safety stepped in. Now there’s a fence on either side, which in fact I prefer. They just upset my rhythm. But still, I always let them. So then they could go and tell their mates they’d helped old Sisyphus with his rock.
- But even so, to think you'll be doing this forever... Doesn't it drive you crazy?
- Well, you know what? I represent the human condition. No kidding! Absurdity – that’s what it’s all about, apparently. This French fellow, Camus, came to visit and we had a few chinwags and he wrote a book about me. The Myth of Sisyphus. To be honest, I’ve never read it, but I was flattered he even bothered to take an interest. Rolling this rock for ever and ever – it does sound pretty absurd, doesn't it? But Camus also says, ‘One must imagine Sisyphus happy.’ And strangely enough, he’s right. Things could be better, of course, but what if I just gave up – lay down and let the rock flatten me? What sort of message would that send out?
Little Miss Muffet
- Well, you're not so little anymore, but I think we can safely say you're the world's most famous arachnophobe. Do you still get as scared as ever?
- I've made progress. After my initial trauma, I was unable to go into a room unless it had been thoroughly vacuumed, but exposure therapy helped me. Nowadays the house gets vacuumed every other day, but when I first moved in with my husband, Jack, we had to pay someone to do it non stop. I’m still not entirely cured, though. I don’t think one ever is. The best we can do is confront the trauma and make it something familiar. If we try to deny it, we finish by getting swamped.
- And you're trying to help others now.
- Yes, I set up Fight That Fright six years ago to help people get to grips with their fear of spiders. Since then we’ve branched into other phobias too, but spiders are still the one I get asked about most. It can be a real handicap sometimes. One woman told me she avoided groups of four people because they have eight legs. And we’ve had to edit a brochure to send out to people who are too anxious to use the World Wide Web.
- You're a successful businesswoman too. How did that come about?
- I started Miss Muffet’s Curds’n’Whey a couple of years ago as a hobby, just supplying a couple of local shops, but it’s done so well I’ve already got six staff. We've kept it very traditional, though. The milk comes straight from our own herd, only slightly pasteurised to get past the hygiene inspectors. In itself it’s somewhat bland, of course, so we’ve developed a range of natural fruit accompaniments. We’ll soon be adding mango and papaya. Jack’s been in the food business much longer than me, starting out with Jack Horner’s Original Plum Pie twenty years ago, but Miss Muffet’s turnover is closing on his quite fast. People sometimes ask how we can work in the same field without getting all competitive, but it’s actually very stimulating. We meet up for lunch and discuss new ideas. And in fact my curd goes so well with his pie it’s as if we were made for each other.
- One thing everyone wants to know about is the tuffet, which is either a stool or a tuft of grass. You've gone on record as saying you're too traumatised to remember what you were sitting on, but surely you have some idea?
- Ah, you're not going to draw me on that one! I’m honorary President of the Tuffet Association and it can be awfully stressful at times - the two main branches get so bitchy with each other. They've appealed to me to settle the argument, but it would probably start a war!
- Any take home message for our readers?
- We all have fears. But if you draw from all available resources, both within yourself and from others, you'll find what you need to overcome them.
Wendy, you've kindly accepted to - Wendy? Are you all right?
Yes, I'll manage, thank you. I'm just a bit tired. I'm on my last wheel, you know.
Which is why I'm very grateful for this interview. Just how old are you exactly?
I'm afraid I lost my birth certificate a long time ago. But I was here when you arrived and I was with the previous owners for about 30 years, so that puts me over 50, which isn't bad for a barrow. Of course, if I'd been born into the bourgeoisie, sleeping indoors, hardly ever doing an honest day's work, I dare say I'd still be in my prime. But I was never pampered. Slept outside, made to lug stones and earth and branches all day, with nary a word of encouragement. A tough life, it was, but in those days you didn't complain. You just got on with the job.
You never thought of going on strike? Demanding better conditions?
I was all on my own. I'd never even heard of NUBGI so it wasn't -
I'm sorry? NUBGI?
National Union of Barrows and Garden Implements. But I don't know if I'd have joined in any case. Bunch of troublemakers as far as I can see. I'm not saying everything in the garden's lovely, but we have to make do with our lot. If I'd been born with another wheel, I'd have been a bicycle, wouldn't I? But I wasn't, so there's no point worrying. I wouldn't have wanted to be one anyway. All those fancy gears and what not. More trouble than it's worth. Down to earth, that's me. Never led anyone up the garden path.
Well, that's admirable, Wendy. But I still think you could have been better looked after in your old age. We have no photos of you younger, but in my research for this interview I came across a portrait which a visitor did of you in 2003. You were in quite good shape back then.
Yes, I remember posing for that picture. The artist was rather irritable, as I recall. Kept saying my features were too wooden. Heaven knows what he expected. For me to put on a steely expression, perhaps.
And how do you see the future? I don't want to be too blunt but there's not a lot of you left.
Do you think I don't know? I'm all wheel and no barrow. I feel pretty rotten, to be honest. But I'm not ready to throw in the trowel just yet. Where there's a wheel, there's a way.
Sir Souvenir Mug
Thank you, Mug, for accepting to start this new series of -
I beg your pardon.
I have a title. Sir Mug, if you please. I was knighted for services to breakfast.
I do apologise, Sir Mug. Incidentally, I remember when those two were married. I was camping in Corsica and they showed them on the telly in the bar. But then a fire broke out and everyone had to leave, which was quite appropriate, really, since they later became quite a burning issue… Sorry about that. Anyway, now I get to interview you, which is the next best thing to interviewing them, I suppose. First of all, what are you doing in my cupboard?
Your parents bought me. There were very keen on the royal family, you know.
Oh, yes. Mum especially. A great fan, though she thought the Princess a bit of a flibbertigibbet, to be honest. What’s your view?
A fish out of water, poor thing. Never had a life to call her own. In the space of a few years, she went from vacuous to valiant to vanished.
But you’re still here, over 30 years later. You’ve been dropped several times but you seem quite indestructible.
More than the marriage, anyway, ha, ha! But in fact I’m a lucky survivor. We were sextuplets originally but only two of us are left. So you’ll have to be extra careful from now on.
Why, are you actually worth something?
You’re kidding! We were churned out by the million. No, I mean as a souvenir. Sentimental value and all that. So please make sure I don’t break.
OK, I’ll do my best. But they’re disappearing anyway. Every time I put you in the dishwasher, they come out a little paler. How does that feel? A few molecules of C and D getting washed away all the time.
It’s a little distressing, I must admit. After all, they’re my identity, aren’t they? I mean, but for the grace of God, I could’ve been the Sex Pistols – ghastly!
I see. You’re a bit of a snob, then, are you?
I wouldn’t say that. But one does have standards to maintain. And naturally, I love our dear Queen. Not that it makes much difference in the end, as you say. When C and D are all washed away, I’ll just be an old white mug.
A bit like Charles, in fact. But tell me, what’s it like being a mug? Cupboard, coffee, dishwasher, back to cupboard. A bit dull, surely?
Not really. Mugs are creatures of habit, you know. Of course, I prefer the summer, when I get to see a bit of the garden. But the cupboard’s a great place to relax, we’ve got a little shelf of our own. There are some quite colourful characters in there, but I get on best with this big Canadian guy called Vancouver. We’re the only two souvenir mugs so we have that common bond. And of course they do love the Queen out there in BC. I’m quite pally with the horoscope mug as well, but he gets on my nerves at times. Keeps telling me what my day’s going to be like, but he always gets it wrong. If he says I’ll be chosen for breakfast, it’s a safe bet I’ll come out for tea instead. Still, I try to stay calm – no point flying off the handle, is there?
No, indeed. Well, thank you anyway, Sir Mug, for this insight into cupboard life. And let’s just hope those C and D molecules stay with you a few more years.