New memoir from Graham Norton show agony aunt Maria McErlane
“In the great scheme of things I'm not Elton John or somebody who's incredibly well known but someone did ask me to write a memoir hoping, I suppose, that it would be full of stories about famous people but really that bores me. And this is quite egotistical but I wanted to find out what my life had been about. Stuff happens and it goes into the memory bank and you change and you evolve and I wanted to look back through that.
“And all my life I have always wanted or have had bicycles. And the kind of idea is that with each revolution of the wheel it has contributed to the evolution of my life. I've never been interested in makes of bikes and the styles and all the clothing but I've always loved bikes and I've had so many. They don't last long in London but they do become part of you and it does feel like a loss each time one of them has been either stolen or trashed. I didn't remember them all but as I went back and tried to remember them and raided the memory bank they did come back, and each bike has a different personality in the same way that I was a different person with each incarnation.”
Inevitably many of the bikes have been stolen. One was absolutely flattened: “I didn't know whether to take it to the hospital or the cemetery!”
But they proved the perfect spur to memory: “I remember reading about one of the hostages held captive with John McCarthy. They had no stimulus and every day in his cell he would start at the beginning with his memories and see how far he could go and then the following day he would do it again. There was a process where by dislodging some other memories he could process some new memories and I have really tried to do that and then when you're trying to remember, you find that you dream about things and your subconscious pulls in other memories. The point is that it is all still there.”
Born in Bletchley, Maria says she bought a place in St Leonards on a whim: “I was very much the weekender, Monday to Friday in London but come lockdown I sold my London place and I moved here full time and I just love it. I've had many years of seeing it change. I remember when I first arrived if you wanted a cup of coffee you just had to go to a greasy spoon and now you can't move for coffee shops. There has been regeneration and there was an attempted regeneration in 2008 and then the crash came but I do think it has all changed a lot. When I first came down here you can see that it had become really rundown. Things have improved but is still a problematic town, what people call a drinking town with a fishing problem and then there's also the whole notion of FILTH, failed in London, try Hastings! But I love it. It's home and I've got friends here and there are an awful lot of positives though it is a shame that it doesn't have any industry here and you've got fourth generation unemployment now. But it is home.”
As for the agony aunt work with Graham Norton: “I think the thing is that Graham and I are both very nosy. We've been friends for 30 years and we would always come back from parties or dinners and have a little post-mortem about which partners would stay together. It is that nosiness but also I think as you get older you have more care and more compassion for the world. And I think that you can either become bitter and bleat about what has happened or you can choose just to let it be part of your experience. But I think the point is that we've become rubbish at communicating because nobody likes conflict so rather than talk to their husband or wife or daughter or son or mother or father, people write to us with a lot of very intimate details. So we try to give advice but obviously no one is forced to take our advice!”