In the fine tradition of all modern media personalities, Miranda Hart, star of sitcom Miranda (soon to return for series 3), and Call the Midwife, not to mention (and yet I just did) sometime Swiss mountain climbing companion of one Bear Grylls, has branched out and written a book.
Full of passages that had me laughing openly – yes Sydney commuters I saw you judging me as I giggled loudly on public transport; I care not – and others that actually had me thinking quite deeply, and yes even some that managed the rare feat of inducing both at once, Is It Just Me? sounds like Miranda Hart doing a stand up comedy routine in your head.
And that, My Dear Reader Chums (or MDRC, to borrow one of Miranda’s terms from the book; I am sure she won’t mind), is a very good thing.
For you see, distilling a comedy routine that works jolli-bells (read: well) – once you start reading the book, using words like this seems entirely appropos – on a stage or in a sitcom into written form is fiendishly hard, and not everyone makes the transition gracefully or with comic wit intact.
But Miranda Hart does, and it is one of those rare occasions where hearing voices in your head – she peppers the book with conversations between her now “very young indeed” 38 year old self and Miss M, her 18 year old self boarding school-resident who is convinced she will be wildly successful in every facet of her life by age 25, 30 tops – will be welcomed with open arms, and not great handfuls of medication.
Admitting upfront that while she can handle the major events in life such as “births, deaths, the reminiscences” because they come fully equipped with easy to navigate rituals and regulations, she is often stumped by how to handle, with any sort of dignity, the small awkward moments in life.
You know the ones.
Where you accidentally fling a prawn across a restaurant into someone else’s drink, or meet someone for the first time, someone important, and ask them how to pronounce their name, which is, um, Bob.
There are no roadmaps for negotiating these sorts of tricky life situations, and while I am sure many of the stories Miranda makes note of are played up for hilarious comic effect, they do serve the very real purpose of perfectly underlining that more tends to go wrong rather right for many of us.
We dream, like her younger self Miss M, of sashaying confidently out into the world with all the elegant prepossession of a supermodel only to trip and fall on the first step, or as she did on one date, emerge from the toilet on a particularly romantic date trailing loo paper from her like a streamer.
“Where’s the flipping guidebook? There are thousands of years of writing devoted to dealing with birth, death, ageing, love and the meaning of it all; but absolutely nothing to tell me how to handle the indignity of briefly turning oneself into a human party popper to the detriment of one’s romantic prospects.” (p5, hardcover)
So fed up with the lack of such a life manual to prevent such catastrophes (or at least mitigate them), Miranda Hart, with all the endearing wit and charm you would expect, offers us, what she likes to call, a “Miran-ual”.
(Which, as she points out, is the completely correct use of “what I like to call” since only she, at least till we readers got our hands on the term, calls it that; now of course once it enters widespread use it will be incorrect to use … see so many things to think about!)
And she covers a lot of ground in her attempt to arm us to meet life’s seemingly innocuous, but bristling with the propensity for embarrassment on a grand scale, moments.
Everything from music – we all imagine we will be walking encyclopedias of hip musical taste but many of us get stuck somewhere between our adolescent top 40 tastes and knowing the songs from “four or five hit Broadway musicals” – to hobbies (she admits that she, like most people, fall back on “swimming, reading and travelling: the holy trinity of boring acceptable things everyone likes) to holidays (hiking the alps is an adventure; picnics are NOT).
The only time of the year that she finds she can relax is Christmas which she embraces “with childish excitement and glee”.
But even that can be fraught with anxiety if you have one of those mothers who strides around the house organising everything to within an inch of its merry life like “an over-caffeinated, tinsel-decked Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army“.
It is the sheer universality of her hilariously-framed observations that resonates, and you are reassured over and over that no matter who you are, life has the ability to humble us with our inability to handle it with total ease and grace.
“… I know that even that star [she was on a Christmas chat show with a major movie star once] regularly feels like an idiot. To varying degrees, we all feel awkward. Whether we hide it with arrogance, shyness, modesty; whether we lay the clown or the trendsetter, everyone struggles.” (p322, hardcover)
You may even find, like I did, that Miranda’s witty stories get you thinking about all sorts of life issues in a totally serious way – perhaps a little less social media recording of life’s experiences and – gasp! treasonous thought incoming! – simple living of them? – which makes sense since once the laughter has dissipated into the universal ether that is the point of most stand up comedy anyway isn’t it?
One thing is certain at least.
Once you have laughed and pondered your way through Is it Just Me? you will agree wholeheartedly that a manual for life’s weird little moments is desperately overdue, and this book may just be the panacea for all the embarrassing ills that ail us.
But more importantly you will realise that it doesn’t really matter in the end if we stuff things up from time to time – OK most of the time – since we’re all doing it so perhaps we should get on with “Life eh?” and simply hope for the best … and laugh a lot more in the process.
* Here’s a great interview that Miranda Hart conducted with Chris Harvey from the UK’s The Telegraph newspaper to mark the launch of the book.