Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Women only

On my way to Moorgate this morning I sat on a tube carriage which very speedily became women only. It was just one of those things. I looked up at one point and realised I was a lone man in a sea of femininity. I'm afraid many of the women sitting with me were rude. One decided she wanted to sit next to me, where my umbrella was resting, but instead of asking if I'd mind moving it, she kicked my foot, pointed at the umbrella and grunted like a caveman. She threw herself down on the seat, immediately changed her mind, stood up again, and in the process shunted my computer so hard that it slid down my leg. Did she apologise? Did she f**k! Worse still, the group of girls she was with burst into peels of hysterical laughter as I grappled to restore the scene's factory settings.

As a result of this, and myriad other reasons, which I'm about to list, when the debate kicks off properly about whether or not there should be women only carriages on British trains and tubes, I shall be arguing most firmly against.

Firstly, as evidenced today, men do not have the monopoly on abusive, rude or anti-social behaviour. A bloke on a tube surrounded by a gang of girls, particularly an elderly one, could be made to feel hugely intimidated. Probably not as intimidated as a woman travelling on her own surrounded by a group of men, but intimidated none the less. On that particular note, if group of lads heading home after a night on the town are wanting to cause problems, are they really going to be put off by a sign which says "women-only"? Of course they're not. In fact, I suspect, the taboo of entering the woman-only carriage could well prove too alluring to ignore.

On another note, I think it's also worth remembering that men travelling on their own - particularly late at night - are, in my view, just as likely to attract "unwanted attention" as women... It's a different sort of attention but the consequences are no less unthinkable. Men get beaten up on the streets all the time. They give another bloke the "wrong look" and all hell breaks loose. Funnelling men into single sex carriages fuels testosterone and creates dangerous powder kegs. In fact I'd go as far as to suggest that the presence of women makes men behave with more decorum towards one another.

Worst still, feminine men and transpeople are red rags to the bullish behaviour of a certain type of pissed-up gang. Protecting women from this but not members of the LGBT community, the elderly or, indeed just men who don't want to get involved, is almost too horrifying and negligent for words. On so so many occasions in the past, I've been forced to cross the road from a group of lads, or move carriages because I've felt uneasy, or been jeered at for wearing an AIDS ribbon.

Tackle the behaviour of louts by all means, but not like this, because by doing it this way, you're sacrificing one person's safety for another.

I had lunch with Meriel today in a rainy Spitalfields Market. We had veggie pie and mash, which was rather delicious, before taking a walk along Brick Lane and back round to Moorgate where I took the tube back home and worked on the Brass scores until midnight. Not a great way to spend a Bank Holiday, but I guess the weather was so awful, so anything else would have been a nonsense.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Old Friends

I have done a lot of work this weekend, and seen a lot of old friends. I would call that a pretty perfect way to spend my time! Saturday started at the kitchen table formatting another two scores from Brass. I’d love to say that I could see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, but I still have to return to a piano to write (from scratch) two new numbers. I’m procrastinating. I know I am. I am doing everything else that needs to be done, because the idea of sitting down to re-write the show’s prologue is profoundly distressing, especially as Tuesday really marks the start of our going hell for leather on the documentary project. 

Anyway, at about 6pm, I jumped in the car, and drove down to a tiny village in deepest, darkest Kent. I must say, I’ve usually only ever driven through Kent on my way to the Cinque Ports. For me, Kent is nothing but a rather green-looking place with alluring Oast houses poking out from behind dark trees, brown estuaries and grey power stations wrapped in early morning mists. These are the snapshots one views from a car speeding along the M2. Kent means holidays are getting closer. 

I actually felt a little freaked out when I left the motorway and started driving into the somewhat dimpsy Kentish countryside. Perhaps it was the blueish evening light, or the fact that the fields were covered in a light layer of whitish haze, which made me feel a little like an extra from the Midwich Cuckoos.

I was in Kent for my old mate, Tom’s wedding party. Tom was in a show I did at the Edinburgh festival exactly twenty years ago. Twenty years! What happens to time? It was a 1920s-style girl’s school romp called Big Book for Girls, and I was the show’s musical director. The piece was described as being “camper than a bottle of coffee with chicory essence,” a description I rather liked. We’d probably just done one of our last performances this time twenty years ago. I think we left the city in very early September. Those last few days at the Festival, the ones after the mega-busy August Bank holiday weekend, always made performers feel a bit like they were the hangers on at a party which has been ruined by gate-crashers. The magic has gone. The audiences have dwindled. These days I don’t think the festival goes into the first week of September. 

Anyway, Tom had invited a big group of people from the show, and we had a riotous evening, catching up, taking silly photos, dancing like lunatics, and, for about twenty minutes, searching for my wallet (which I subsequently found underneath the seat of my car!) I feel genuinely privileged to have met, and stayed in touch with that particular group of people. The highlight of the evening was almost certainly dancing to Wuthering Heights in the style of Kate Bush. 

It was actually Nathan and my thirteenth anniversary yesterday, which means it’s exactly a year since I was at the Kate Bush concert… one of my most treasured memories…

Should yesterday not be known as Notoday?

The former Big Bookers...
Emily on the dance floor

Today, I worked again through the morning, before driving (with Nathan) to Hackney to meet an old, dear university friend, Waidehi, whom I haven’t seen since 2008. She came over from the States at the start of the week, and has spent the last few days hooking up with old friends. A group of us, mostly former students from York University, sat in a beautiful pub on the edge of Victoria Park called The People’s Park Tavern. It’s a great place to go with kids with an enormous garden backing onto the park itself. The kids with us had an amazing time searching for slugs, rushing around and drawing pictures with giant crayons. Poor Philippa, who’d organised the event on Waidehi’s behalf was too poorly to attend, and was greatly missed. It was wonderful to see Waidehi. She looks so well; utterly at peace and radiant. I hereby make a pledge to see more of her in the future. And Philippa, if you’re reading this, thank you for organising such a wonderful event. 

Waidehi and Ellen

I came home and worked more; polishing off another song from Brass. On and on it goes…

Saturday, 29 August 2015


If I’ve learned nothing else in life, it’s not to tempt the universe. When you blithely write blog posts which start, “today couldn’t have been a great deal more frustrating and stressful if it tried” the universe, with it’s great sense of irony and sarcasm, will instantly say, “wanna bet?”

And so, just after I’d posted yesterday’s blog, all hell broke loose… 

I’d popped to Old Street to do a quick errand, found a parking space just off Great Eastern Street, and, after returning to the car at about 11pm, sat for a few minutes writing my blog. Blog duly posted, the battery went on my phone, before I could text Nathan to say I was on my way home, or place the blog on my Facebook feed. 

Imagine my horror, therefore, when I tried to turn the car’s engine, and realised that it wasn’t just the phone’s battery that had died. The car had broken down. Entirely…

I sat there for a moment trying to work out what on earth to do. As I got out of the car, all of its alarms started sounding. I walked down the street and realised my only option was to find a phone box and try to call Nathan to see if he could call the AA on my behalf. I didn’t even know if phone boxes existed any more, but found one fairly speedily. It was horribly mucky inside and smelt of pee. The receiver was sticky for some reason, and, as a little knife-in-the-back message from the universe, an advert in the phone booth said just four words: “no more flat batteries…” So, so ironic. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any money with me and the phone refused to accept my credit card, so I had to phone the operator, old school style, and reverse the charges! Thank God, something in the back of my mind told me to dial 100. 

Old Street on a Friday night is a hideous place to be. It’s full of drunk, edgy people and rather dodgy-looking fellas who all seem to want either a fight, or to rob you. 

Nathan had the devil’s own job with AA, who kept him waiting for twenty minutes and then told him they couldn’t help him unless they could talk to me in person, which, for a man in a phone box, unable to do anything other than make reverse-charge phone calls, seemed a like an odd request. Eventually, after many arguments and much swearing, he was forced to phone back and pretend to be me. 

By the time he got through it was about 11pm, and the AA said there might be a waiting time of up to three hours. Meanwhile, I was standing outside the phone box waiting for Nathan to call back, being hassled by pretty much every drunk person who passed. 

When Nathan finally called back and told me the grim news about the wait, I decided to take myself to Brick Lane to find some money and buy a bagel, which I thought it might be nice to sit and eat in the car whilst doing some work. I walked all the way to Spitalfields because I knew there was a Barclays Bank there. When I got there, I discovered it had closed down. In the end I paid through the nose to get money out from a cash dispenser in some dodgy convenience store, where the local youth kept pushing into the queue in front of me. I didn’t say anything for fear of being stabbed. Brick Lane at that time of night is a somewhat frightening place to be, filled with people tripping out on drugs, drunken city workers, hassling Bengali curry house workers and angry homeless people. It really was like some sort of nightmare.

When I finally got back to the car, with my cup of tea and bagel, I discovered that some sort of electrical fault meant that I couldn’t actually sit inside the car without the alarm permanently going off, which brought unwanted attention from every passing piss-head, all of whom felt the need to bang on the window; “are you breaking into that car, mate? Good for you…” “Your alarm’s going off…” In the end I was forced to leave the car and sit in a wee-stained doorway reading a copy of The Sun which had been left there underneath a McDonald’s wrapper. And there I sat, like the central character in a 1950s Kitchen Sink drama, for about an hour, wishing I were anywhere else. 

The AA man arrived at 1am, mercifully earlier than expected, and it turned out that the car’s battery was entirely knackered, but he was able to sell me a new one and fit it, and within half an hour I was on my way home. Relieved, but knackered, vowing never to tempt the universe like that again! 

Friday, 28 August 2015

Pee Hitting a Bowl

Today couldn't have been a great deal more frustrating and stressful if it tried. At about 4pm I finally reached the end of my tether with Brass formatting. I'd spent the day making scores of ridiculous, yet utterly time-consuming mistakes, and then the computer decided it had had enough and went on a mega "go slow." At various stages during the afternoon I found myself laughing hysterically, banging the table and shaking uncontrollably. I even found myself YouTubing clips of awful choirs just to take my mind off the hell I'd stumbled into. It turns out there's basically a limit to the amount of time a fella can work on something so pernickety under time constraints of this nature without loosing it altogether. Almost everything I did today was unproductive as a result.

I guess you have to put that down to emotional and physical exhaustion and, I guess, just one of those days. I think there will be a few more days like this before I'm done, so it's time to batten down those hatches and stop whinging! The alternative is no work, which I've experienced this year and is to be avoided at all costs!

By the way, who decided to put a new emoticon button on the keyboard for the iPhone? For those who haven't yet come across this grotesque phenomenon; these days, right between the "press here for numbers" button and the space bar, there's a button with a smiley face on it. It's not just any smiley face. It's a big round blob with a mouth like something unspeakable. If pressed by mistake by a man with gigantic trowel-like fingers (i.e. me... all the time), the screen fills with lots of pretty colourful pictures which apparently allow a writer, who has no real words, to express his inner feelings. There are pink bows, red broken hearts, silly little pumpkins (heaven knows what that's to express) and they're really bloody irritating...

To make matters worse, there's also a button which the kids of today use when they're too lazy even to use an emoticon. This one allows them to leave a pithy little spoken message. Press the button, speak, and the text is sent. It is a catastrophic button if, like me, you're a man who often sends a quick text whilst peeing. Fortunately Nathan is the only person who has actually received a sonic message featuring the comical sound of wee hitting a toilet bowl, but to any of my mates who receive something similar in the future, all I can do is apologise... profusely.


This morning's rain was unbelievable. At about 9am, the heavens opened and a day's worth of rain dropped from the sky like a million ice bucket challenges. The sound on the roof in the attic was intense. I thought the windows were going to break. I actually had to force Nathan to delay leaving the house for five minutes, under the belief that rain simply can't keep falling at that velocity. I was right. The storm eventually subsided and the morsel of blue in the Western sky provided me with my cue to leg it up to Highgate Village, sweating profusely as I ran. It was hot, sticky and nasty.

Speaking of double entendres, I found myself trying to describe a keyboard sound for the Brass score this morning. Usually I end up writing words like "warm pad," "Wurlitzer," or "Hammond-like" to describe the sound I'm after, but this morning I simply opted for "dark, throbbing organ." It took me way too long to realise the error of my ways. I had images of musicians in the orchestra pit of future productions laughing so much they become too floppy to play properly. I thought about taking it out but I've obviously left it in. Just as every single film I've ever made has a rude-sounding fake name in the credits. Quite frankly, I can think of no better set of words to describe the sound I want to hear!

After a ten-hour day down at Uncle Archie's, we had dinner with Penny in Tufnell Park. We went to Stingray, my favourite eating place in North London. It's cheap and cheerful - you can get a three course meal there for £13 - but the atmosphere is lovely, the staff are hugely friendly and the food is surprisingly good. I always have the "Greek style" pasta and potato skins. Nathan once made a little film of Fiona and me sharing a meal there. We watched it again today and it's really rather fun. You can see it on YouTube here. Quite what we're doing with the basil leaves I'm not sure.

It was so lovely to see Penny. She was on great form. Penny is actually the woman I owe my career to. She commissioned the first film I ever made, the random, and somewhat embarrassing Hampstead Heath: The Musical, which I actually can't watch these days without feeling slightly perky! That was exactly ten years ago. Imagine that? But without that film, who knows what I'd be doing these days...

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Broken windows

So, it would seem that my gym is on the way down! I've had many issues with the LA Fitness Highgate over the years. The place has been mismanaged and physically falling apart since I first set foot in there just after it opened in 1999. The clientele, however, have always been polite. Quiet. Respectful of others. Until now that is. It seems the gym is being taken over by a different company. We're losing the pool, there will be no staff on reception and, as the little carrot to get us to stick around, we'll be charged less for the privilege of using the place. In the meantime, it seems that LA fitness have entirely lost interest in repairing the building. The floors are damp. The ceilings are covered in mould. No one has bothered to clean away the anti-Semitic graffiti from the changing rooms. This is proper broken window syndrome. The customers who use the gym have lost all respect for the environment, the decent personal trainers have all headed for pastures new, and a shadier, seedier, nastier type of person is making himself known. They shout crudely at one another in the changing room, talking about "nailing old women" (old being 30 apparently.). I don't know how much longer I'll be able to last with dick heads like that about.

The news continues to worsen to the extent that I actually feel like I might stop watching it. Today's headlines felt a little too close for comfort. Some poor presenter/cameraman duo have been shot and killed whilst broadcasting live in the States. It doesn't really bear thinking about. We're told the murderer was a disgruntled former employee of the TV station, who had accused the people he shot of being racist. As if the race relations situation wasn't bad enough in America. Frankly, after this, I don't think any side gets to claim the moral high ground. I actually worry that this will spark a modern day civil war. Time to ban guns in the States? No! Let them keep shooting one another, I say. See how far they can take this blessed footle...

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Breast feeding

It's been another long and gruesomely tiring day down at Uncle Archie's in Kentish Town. It was most tiring, I suspect, because I'm having to keep my head inside two worlds at the moment. I've been surrounded all day by people researching the documentary project, so have been keeping one ear on all of that, whilst the other ear is immersed in Brass. Today I dusted off an old familiar, the somewhat clunkily titled, Wire, Ire, Mire, Fire, which didn't make it onto the original cast album because it's largely instrumental, and a bit scary in its scope and ambition. As a result of all of this, it's taken me a great deal longer to format than I'd hoped. The sixteen songs which featured on the album have all been through more processes than the songs which were last performed live at the Leeds City Varieties theatre a year and two days ago. Album tracks were re-scored for studio sessions, and then thinned out again during the process of mixing, so by this stage I'm pretty confident everything is playable and sonically spot on. The process of peeling back the layers of Wire, however, has uncovered countless problems. To make matters worse, a whole new section has gone back in which didn't even make it to rehearsal. It's dense. It's hideous. And it nearly tipped me over the edge!

It was good to have Nathan with me in the office all day today. He's been busy working at various box offices for the past two weeks, so hasn't been able to be hugely present, which can make matters a little frustrating when decisions need to be made which he needs to have a say in. We walked all the way to Kentish Town this morning in glorious sunshine. We took the route down Swain's Lane, through Highgate Cemetery, which was traffic-free and rather charming. As soon as we arrived at the office, the heavens opened, and it pretty much rained all day until home time, when it cleared up again. I'd call that fairly considerate weather!

We had takeaway pasta for tea from Papa Del's, the little Italian two doors down from us. There's a sign on the door which I found really quite heartwarming, if I'm honest; a true commitment to the local community. "Breastfeeding mums..." The sign reads, "Need a pit stop? Come in and have a cuppa on us. No need to eat. No need to ask."

I'm wondering if there's a post-recession shift going on in society at the moment. I'm pretty sure people have started to look out for one another a little more of late, as evidenced perhaps by the wave of interest in Jeremy Corbyn and his more humanitarian policies and, of course, in the overwhelming support the gay community has garnered of late. People seem less greedy, perhaps, more caring. Nathan thinks it's a knee-jerk response to a second term of Tory government: when people realise that their politicians don't give a stuff about them, maybe they start thinking about protecting one another.