Monday, 2 May 2016

Brent Cross

I went to Brent Cross this afternoon and instantly regretted my decision. The place was rammed to the rafters and it took half an hour and much wriggling, wiggling and impatient beeping to find a parking space. When I got into the shopping centre itself, I immediately found myself swamped by people who, how should I put this, weren't my tribe. There was a lot of aggression. One man walked straight into me. Like a true Brit I heard myself mumbling an apology, but his friend wanted more: "that's right" he shouted at me aggressively, "don't apologise." Off he swaggered with his hand stuffed down the front of his track suit trousers, the brim of his ludicrous Pratt hat pointing jauntily towards the shopping centre roof!

I was looking for the holy grail: a suit that isn't made of wool and isn't designed for a nineteen year-old lad who's made of nothing but skin and bone. Wool makes me panic. It clings to my legs and makes me sweat and itch. I like to look at fabric and imagine how many chemicals have died to make it so soft!

There was a very silly woman whom I had to deal with as I left the car park. I'd parked next to her and her husband and their oh-so-swanky sports car which was so low to the ground I couldn't see it in my wing mirror. We arrived back to our cars at the same time, so I suggested they leave first because I was reversing out of the space and couldn't tell how close I was to them. "But I need to get into my car first and there's no room for me to open the passenger seat door" she said, "well perhaps the driver could pull out of the space and then you'll be able to get in more easily?" I said. "No. You'll have to pull out first so that I can get in." "But if I pull out I'll hit your expensive car, which I'm sure we'd all like to avoid..." She sighed and spent the next five minutes squeezing herself into the tiny little space between our cars and then, like a pathetic contortionist in a cheap magic act, squeezed herself into her passenger seat. She stared at me as though to say "look what you've made me do." Silly tit.

I learned something horrifying today, namely that the organisers of Eurovision have banned certain "politically sensitive" flags from being taken into the Eurovision stadium. The list of flags includes the Welsh flag, which I find very insulting, particularly as one of the British performers is actually Welsh, and the Islamic State flag is on the same list! Can someone please tell me what this is all about?

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Hypercorrection

I learned a new word today. It's a word I love because it describes the thing I hate most in the world! Hypercorrection. It is defined thus:

"A speaker or writer who produces a hypercorrection generally believes that the form is correct through misunderstanding of these rules, often combined with a desire to appear formal or educated."

In my view hypercorrection is most ghastly when used in relation to pronouns. I noticed recently someone writing on Facebook about the death of their mother: "myself and my brother were there when she died..." Grief is no excuse for bad grammar. Another friend, a writer who should know better, writes, "this is a photo of my sister and I on holiday..." I don't actually mind old-fashioned honest bad grammar. "Me and my sister on holiday" wouldn't have bothered me in the slightest. It's simply the notion of someone trying to seem fancy whilst getting it wrong which makes me wince. It's like someone from Essex over-pronouncing their t's and s's when they answer the phone.

Speaking of Essex, we went to Thaxted with Brother Edward and Sascha this afternoon. It's been a glorious day. The sun hasn't stopped shining and the air was permanently warm. The parents' garden looks glorious, filled with red tulips and purple Jacob's Ladder. My mother is horrified because their little shed-cum-barn has recently been re-roofed with very shiny corrugated metal, which has taken on something of a solar panel vibe. Apparently they can't have it repainted or recoated for a year, so we enjoyed winding them up, telling them to remove all plastic objects from the widows of their house in case the sun caught the roof and melted everything in the near vicinity!

We had a very pleasant lunch in a pub out at Great Easton where the male staff were all incredibly tall and stupidly handsome in a "you're-young-enough-to-be-my-son/grandson" way. My Dad made us all laugh by not being able to explain how he'd managed to inadvertently tip the waiting staff whilst paying for the food. It was only when Nathan and Sascha started to do some digging that we realised he'd tipped the same amount as his PIN number! Thank God his PIN doesn't start with the number 9, else he could have tipped over ninety quid!

We went for a walk across the fields behind Thaxted after lunch. The rape crops have started glowing that rather sickly yellow colour, which, against the lime green, Spring-like grass, and bright blue sky is all a bit vibrant for my taste!

As we walked along, my brother told us about a very unfortunate occurrence at a recent public speaking event he'd attended where one poor, somewhat foolish bloke had managed to smash a glass on his forehead. Blood apparently went everywhere. Just as he was telling the story, my Dad managed to walk into a rogue tree branch and cut his ear open! He was fine, but my brother, who is very squeamish when it comes to blood, ended up with it all over his fingers.

My mother made us all chortle when she revealed that two of her neighbours are called Sue Parker. They live two doors apart. How often do you think the mail goes to the wrong one? How would they know? Imagine being the person who lives in the middle?

We went back to Till Towers and sat in the garden until the heat left the sun, when we retired to watch the Antiques Roadshow with a plate of what my Mum would probably call an "improvised cold collation" on our laps. Something came up in conversation which triggered her to fetch a file filled with the order of services from the shed load of funerals she's attended in the last five or so years. It must be so so hideous to reach the point where death starts to become so horribly commonplace. When is that point? Am I close to it?

It's oh so quiet

A quiet Saturday. The weather was quiet. I was quiet. Nathan was at work.

I did a bit of admin. A bit of composing. Then, when Nathan got home, we drove a mile up the A1 to order some pizzas. I did a quick shop in Sainsbury's in Muswell Hill and bumped into young Sario, one of the NYMT actors who is in Spring Awakening this year. "Have you been having fun today?" I asked. "I've been playing football" he said. "Did you win?" I asked. "No" he said, "we got relegated!" Oops! His hair looked cool. Mine, I realised, looked like a Hebredian sheep.

We watched Britain's Got Talent and enjoyed the all-male, all-black opera-singing man band. They weren't the most amazing singers I've ever heard, but I predict they'll do very well for themselves. They sang Nimrod set to uninspiring lyrics and the audience went wild. Of course they did. Nimrod goes straight to the heart of every British person. I wish TV programme makers would sometimes acknowledge that audiences often applaud music rather than performances.

How many adverts must I watch with adults lip-syncing to the sounds of children speaking? There's a hideous set of adverts for Haribo sweeties and one for Harry Potter World where a series of Rep actors make themselves look like compete tits. To make matters worse, the voice-overs are very unlikely to be done by actual children and far more likely to be done by adults pretending to be children. So, actually what we're viewing in these adverts is adult actors pretending to be adult actors pretending to be children. Layer upon layer of ghastliness.

So we've traumatised ourselves by watching Steve Backshall roaming around a tropical jungle man-handling tarantulas. I literally watched the show with my teeth permanently clenched and my fingers in every contortion under the sun. Why would anyone want to live in a country where there are electric eels?

Friday, 29 April 2016

Joint tinnitus

So the weirdest thing happened last night when it became clear that Nathan and I were experiencing the same tinnitus which manifested itself as an identical high-pitched whistle oscillating between an Eb and a D/Db. I genuinely don't know how this can be happening. Does anyone understand tinnitus? It's the same noise that I've been experiencing on and off for some time, but Nathan has never heard it before. What's going on? Is Nathan actually hearing the inside of my head?! Are we so aligned that we're sharing conditions of the inner ear? Or do we not have tinnitus at all? Is there an electronic device in the bedroom which is making the noise? Nathan says that he could still hear it when he blocked his ears. When I block my ears I just hear the sea. And my heart beat!

We took our car to the garage in Highgate this morning. The garage is a lovely place, situated through an archway in a little courtyard on the hillside behind the High Street. It's located in a beautiful, somewhat functional 1950s building which has apparently always been a garage and looks like something from the mid West of America. They always do a brilliant deal on the work they do, which, for a garage in an area filled with people with more money than sense, is astounding. The mechanic, with his enormous grey eyes, is ridiculously easy on the eye and is obviously a really nice bloke. Instead of a calendar of naked women on the wall, he has framed photos of his children.

Our car was officially written off by the insurance company following our little prang with the lorry, despite the fact that we've been driving around in it ever since. The damage is actually nothing more than a broken back light and a little dent in the boot, which it turns out is only going to cost £150 to remedy, or £400 if we want to have it all done properly and re-painted. The insurance company are plainly just lazy. They're more than happy for us to spend the write-off money "as we wish," even if that means fixing the car. The only stipulation is that it passes its next MOT.

I worked the rest of the morning in Costa. A child was screaming so loudly that I recorded the noise and sent it to Llio as an MP3. Llio periodically sends me little recordings of the sounds of the madness she hears around her. The little girl in Costa had been toddling about quite happily, and, ten minutes before the screaming started, had walked into a table and muttered something incomprehensible, which only the Mummy understood. "You did bang-bang didn't you?" She said, unacceptably. When the child started yelling, everything became clear in my head. The child was plainly screaming out of pure frustration because Mummy isn't teaching her proper grammar. She's screaming because she knows the language she's been taught will have to be unlearned when she gets older. She's screaming because she doesn't have a friggin' clue what bang-bang is!

It snowed heavily for about ten minutes this afternoon. The snow fell at a 45 degree angle with great force. It didn't settle. A few minutes later the sun was shining again.

Just before the snow started, a pair of plastic gloves floated past my window. That was a little random. We're on the third floor. How do gloves get that high by wind alone? Plainly they were motorised...

The rest of the day was spent planning our trip to the trenches in France. We have to raise £1500. I hope the BBC will help us, and I have a few other ideas, but if not, I may have to open up a little crowd-funding initiative.

Loiners

I drove to Leeds and back today in the most miserable weather. I'm told a snow storm is currently ravaging Scotland and I guess I was driving through its tail end... For the entire length of my journey!

The M1 is a mass of 50 mph speed limits and weird dot matrix signs which flash up with the message "reduce speed to 40! Incident." Then more exclamation marks flash up. Said incidents were almost systematic in their non-appearance!

But it was great to be in Leeds. I love Leeds. I had a lovely moment on Briggate listening to a busker playing Time To Say Goodbye on an electric violin, to a Bossa Nova beat, which felt eccentric in a wonderfully Yorkshire kind of way.

I was in Leeds, cap in my hand, talking to the BBC and Leeds Council about my plan to take the cast of Brass down to the place where the real Leeds Pals went over the top. Both parties were incredibly friendly and love the idea of a group of young Yorkshire folk on the trail of the Leeds Pals. The council people even offered us a donation towards the coach hire, which is incredibly generous of them. We have a coach company willing to take us to France, but they're a little pricey, so unless I can subsidise the trip with financial good will gestures from kind folk, we still may not be able to do it. I don't know why everything in my life tends to take on the quality of an uphill climb. Nothing ever seems to come without struggle or drama. It's plainly the path I've chosen for myself. Sometimes I wish someone would wade in with a magic wand and say "thank you for this fabulous idea. Step aside and I'll make everything brilliant!" I even found myself wishing for good luck on every hay lorry that passed me on the road today. I don't know what was more bizarre: me wishing on hay trucks or hay trucks in April driving through sleet!

I'd never been to the civic building in Leeds before. It's a stunning Italianate art-deco blog, built during the Great Depression as part of an initiative to get unemployed people back into work. The Leeds Motto, "pro Rege et lege" ("for King and law") is inscribed in giant letters on the building's portico and huge golden owls (also a symbol of the city) sit proudly at every entrance. I also discovered today that the "rege" part of the motto is most likely to have been pronounced with a hard "g" rather than a "zh" (which is how we sing it on the cast album.) So from now on in we'll be talking about "reggae"... Man.

The BBC look like they're going to make a few little films about the trip. Nothing, of course, is ever set in stone when it comes to the media. The week before our trip, Britain goes to the polls. If we vote to stay in Europe, all will be fine, but if the fascists get their way, and the government goes into meltdown, there might not be much room for a little TV piece about a group of musical theatre actors. Frankly, heading to France two days after the referendum might open us up to having our coach pelted with eggs if we vote to leave. The French don't tend to need an excuse!

The journey home was ghastly. Heavy traffic. Solid rain. When I got to Highgate, they'd closed off the road we normally turn onto. They're building fancy flats where once there was a magistrates' court. In the end I went on a fifteen minute detour practically via Crouch End AND Muswell Hill just to beat the ludicrous traffic chaos that this single road closure generates. Even more horrifyingly, I got flashed at the traffic lights on the corner of our road. (By a camera, not by a pervert in a rain Mac you understand.)

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Parakeets

Parakeets have moved into the trees opposite our house. I saw a tell-tell flash of luminous green earlier on. It doesn't surprise me that they've come. The ravine around Highgate tube is full of wildlife and very very tall trees, and I'm told that parakeets are drawn towards areas of wildlife near city buildings. They like the warmth apparently. One day I'll see a parakeet sitting in my garden and I'll be thrilled.

It's been a quiet day. I've been slowly coming down from my ELO-induced high. I worked from the kitchen table on a single lyric. It's not right yet, but I'm placing a huge amount of pressure on myself to improve my lyric writing, which I've always considered to be the poor cousin in the world of my writing.

The dreadful lyrics that I used to pen were legendary in my family when I was growing up. People would howl with laughter at the shite I used to come up with, to the extent that if anyone questions my lyrics these days I'll instantly assume that they're right and I'm rubbish!

So today I'm trying to write lyrics that actually matter or at least lyrics that aren't predictable. I'm also trying to limit the rhymes I'm using. I'm never going to be a Sondheim with loads of clever internal rhymes. I'm also not sure rhyming is the be-all-and-end-all of song writing. And yet I persist...

Llio came over tonight to watch Suffragette on DVD. The film was directed by the lovely Sarah Gavron with whom I recently reacquainted myself at Arnold's funeral. Some years ago I worked as the casting assistant on Brick Lane which Sarah also directed. I used to get her into terrible trouble by giggling in auditions. On one occasion we both got so hysterical that the producer of the film sent us out of the room. We stood outside like naughty school children wondering when we'd be allowed back in.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Grrrrrooose!

I walked past a man this morning, with a balding head, who had 666 tattooed onto his crown. I wondered what possesses a man to do something like that. Is it a form of self-loathing? Does he think it's a bit of fun? Did he do it when he was drunk? Does he believe in the Devil? Does he think his tattoo will help him to pull the ladies or intimidate the crap out of those who stand in his way? Answers on a postcard...

I was writing an email to someone today about the song How Can I Keep From Singing. I was pointing out that it had been sung very beautifully and wistfully by Enya. Imagine my horror, therefore, when auto-correct altered Enya to EBay! Surely the clearest indication (if one were needed) that I no longer live in the world I was born into! I was trying to tell him the story of the Radio 1 DJ who was so shocked and saddened by stories coming from China during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre that, after one particularly chilling news broadcast about nuns being run over by tanks, he simply said, falteringly, "I don't know how to follow that" and played Enya's How Can I Keep From Singing instead.

I went jogging at lunchtime. It looked lovely outside. Sunshine. Blue skies... Some time between putting my trainers on and opening the door, the weather took a serious turn. Three minutes later, I was running around Highgate Wood whilst being pelted by enormous blocks of hail whilst icy winds battered my face. One of the park rangers was mowing grass on the cricket pitch, one assumes in preparation for the summer season. He must have been even more confused than me!

This evening we jumped on a hugely crowded tube and made our way to the O2 to see that great Midlands band, ELO (now branded as Jeff Lynne's ELO). I don't perhaps waffle on as much about ELO as I do Kate Bush or ABBA, but I can assure you that they were as big a part of my childhood sonic landscape as either of those other two great acts. As a teenager I was obsessed with them to the extent that I probably single-handedly ruined my Dad's love for the group! I spent hours in independent record shops looking for obscure album releases from the early 70s when the band used recorders, French horns, 'cellos and anything Jeff Lynne or Roy Wood could get their lips or fingers around to create naïve prog rock masterpieces. The Battle of Marsden Moor was a personal favourite, listed by mistake on the back cover of the album I had as "The Battle of Marsden Moot!"

After Wood left the band (to form Wizard), ELO went mainstream and became a prolific singles band, and, from 1976 to 1981 entered an imperial phase where every song they recorded became a hit.


The fabulous Feeling were the surprise (well surprise for us) warm up act. What a treat! The last time we heard them playing live, they were playing us up the aisle at our wedding! They performed brilliantly. They're surely one of the tightest live acts on the circuit. You can hear every layer of sound. Dan, the lead singer, is a true showman.

The sense of anticipation for ELO was extraordinary. I tweeted that I was in the venue and was instantly hit with a barrage of tweets from people who had seen the show and wanted me to know I was in for a proper treat.

The typical ELO fan, it would seem, is about ten years older than me, male, relatively well-preserved and heterosexual, although there were a surprising number of women there, all - literally all - with regional caramel slices in their hair!

The gig was stupendous. Hit after hit after hit, starting with that epic gong and heavy-string introduction to Tightrope. Every song brought the memories flooding back. I thought of my Mum and Dad during Telephone Line, I thought of Brother Edward during Secret Messages and Fiona and Ted during Sweet Talking Woman. The string trio at the start of that particular song reminded me of teenaged busking trips to Coventry. I think I transcribed it for us to play alongside the Miss Marple theme tune! We certainly used to listen to it as we drove to busking pitches around the Midlands.

The 10538 Overture was a personal favourite. It instantly transported me back to my bedroom in Higham Ferrers playing a live version of the song on my little record player with its silly speakers. I had the image of a 14 year-old lad singing to the moon, unable to comprehend how excited he was to hear the 'cellos thumping away in that particular tune.

Don't Bring Me Down went big in the crowd. I swear the backing vocalists were singing "Bruce" instead of "grrrrroooose" but Jeff Lynne's mondegreens are legendary.

It was a treat to watch the original ELO keyboardist, Richard Tandy doing his legendary thing. He's old school rock. Cool as a cucumber. No extraneous energy. He just gets on with being brilliant. Some of the moments when he did the iconic vocoder solos were amongst the best moments of the night. He took it all in his stride and then casually pushed the microphone away like he hadn't just re-created 1970s pop-rock gold.

Jeff Lynne sang well. Hearing his unassuming, unpretentious spoken Birmingham drawl between numbers was rather magical. The band was top-notch. I think it was only the three string players who let the side down a bit. It didn't ultimately matter because a lot of the string material was on track, but they just seemed a little lazy, almost as though they'd mistaken the gig for a West Life concert. They looked neat and tidy but paled into insignificance compared with the fiery, theatrical performances of Mik Kaminski and the great Melvyn Gale which made 1970s ELO concerts so special. These new girls just seemed a bit tame, glam and, well, boring. They reminded me of everything I used to hate on X Factor when the singers were bland and the girls playing strings around them were paid to sway a bit whilst looking pretty but unassuming. I got the impression that the violinist was fudging some of the iconic string runs as well. Wrong girls for the gig, sadly.

Obviously everyone's highlight was Mr Blue Sky. The hall erupted into dancing, jumping and singing. Everyone in the space was united in their love of the music and, frankly, their love of everyone else in the 02 who was loving the music. There was a fabulous sense of camaraderie. Like Jeff Lynne had handed out several thousand ecstasy pills at the start of the show and everyone was suddenly coming up!

I have discovered that my new facial hair makes it impossible to whistle with my teeth, which seems a little random, and totally unfair when you want to show your appreciation of two great bands without shouting yourself hoarse.

We got out of the O2 mercifully quickly. I'm sure the poor bastards who were sitting in the Gods are probably still at North Greenwich tube trying to get on a train. I don't know how they manage to get however many thousand of us dispersed without major incident.