Monday, 24 October 2016

The hairy lad at school

Has anyone seen the advert for Asda on the telly at the moment? The one about the werewolves? Do people even watch adverts these days? Anyway, I'm not one for understanding levels of subtlety, but I believe the premise of the advert is that there's a vey hairy family - probably a family of werewolves - and one of them says "I don't want to be a werewolf for Hallowe'en." Does this mean Hallowe'en is the only time this family gets to be themselves because they're all so hairy? Or because they actually ARE werewolves and Hallowe'en is the only time they can go out in public? Whatever the case, they go shopping for costumes at Asda and the lad selects something very odd and tells his Mum he's now some sort of ninja. He looks at his Mum rather tragically at the end and says "are all Ninjas hairy like me?" His Mum, who is also hairy, says "only the most beautiful ones like you." And the lad smiles proudly.

It's a terrible advert really, but it makes me feel a little sad, and for ages I couldn't work out why this was until it struck me that I had been that hairy lad at school! I hated being hairy so much. The kids in my class seemed to think it was hysterical, and I got called every name under the sun to the extent that I once tried to shave my feet after the games teacher sent me back into the showers after rugby because he thought the hair on my legs was mud! I was twelve. He made me strip off in front of all my class. At that point people started calling me "gorilla boy."

It's funny how you suck all that stuff in without realising. I've always been a little ashamed of my hirsuteness and, in a funny sort of way, that awful Asda advert has made me realise why!

I walked up to the village today to write in Costa Coffee. I'm focusing on another pass of the script and lyrics of Em this week for a potential early-doors read through at the start of November. I'm never particularly sure that read throughs tell a writer a great deal that he don't already know about a script. Unless those participating are brilliant sight readers, you never get a sense of the pace of what you've written and that experience can be quite frustrating.

Speaking of frustrating, the atmosphere in Costa was really rather lovely until the place became a crèche! Babies, toddlers and Mummies with babies and toddlers can be terribly noisy and incredibly boring. One little girl decided it might be fun to emit a scream, which, like an air raid siren on helium, got higher and louder in an ear-splitting, violence-inducing manner. It went on so long that I was half tempted to chuck an oboe in her gob and compliment her on her breath control. I left the cafe an hour earlier than expected and walked home down the hill, following a woman who either had rickets or had spent rather too much time in her life sitting on horses.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

One year at sea and still no sign of Dick

Nathan and I are driving across London from Southwark, where we've been watching Moby Dick at the Union Theatre. And what a funny, silly, irreverent piece it is! I believe it was first performed 25 years ago at the Old Fire Station in Oxford, and then, for a tragically short period, in the West End. Nathan was an über fan, back in the day, and says, as a teenager, he saw the Oxford production as many as four times. 

The conceit of the musical version of this most famous of famous books is that a St Trinian'seque girls' school is putting on their own production with the head mistress playing Ahab, and various students, caretakers and teachers playing the other roles. In this respect it was rather reminiscent of Big Book For Girls, the show we performed for two years at the Edinburgh Festival in the early 90's. I assume there was something in the air at the time which made these silly school romps rather successful. Maybe it was a sort of counterbalance to the heavy anger of shows like Trainspotting which were also big news back then.

Anyway, today's was a lovely production which must have been incredible fun in rehearsals. There was more than a whiff of coarse about it and everyone was gloriously over the top to the extent that I was somewhat worried about the vocal health of a couple of the performers. Some of the little touches were hysterical. The set and all the props were made out of the sorts of things you'd get in a school hall; a vaulting horse, a climbing frame, various balls, bean bags, ropes and, most amusingly, an overhead projector, which was used to exquisite comic effect. At one stage, a giant blue cloth was used to represent the sea. It was painted with the words Wind In The Willows - plainly last year's school production. If you like all that campy, silly stuff (which I do) it's well worth a watch!

Never stay in a Budget Ibis

The Ibis Budget hotel in Leeds has to be one of the worst I've ever stayed in. I spent the night grappling with its internet service which kept dropping off line. Every time it conked out, it took me twenty minutes to get back online again. All I wanted to do was watch something on iPlayer. I'll put up with a lot for the sake of staying in a budget hotel. No chair? Okay, I'll sit on the bed. TV won't go louder than a whisper? I'll close the window and listen carefully. No kettle? I'll drink water from the tap. No bath to relax in and shower cubical so small I can't really fit in? I'll make do, and out of a sense of propriety will mop up the water from the floor which has spilled out because the cubical isn't big enough to contain the spray from the shower nozzle - even with the door shut. The thing I struggle to deal with, however, is the promise of internet which is perpetually broken. I'd almost rather no internet at all because then I don't invest in the fantasy of enjoying a TV programme of my choice.

My trip down to the foyer yesterday morning told me everything I needed to know about the clientele of the hotel. The lift doors opened at the 6th floor to the sight of a hand towel encrusted with fecal matter lying on the carpet. It wasn't attached to anything or anyone, and, until a human being appeared from around the corner, I was beginning to wonder whether said towel was making a bid for freedom and had pressed the button for the lift itself! 

Turns out the lift had been called by a Scottish gentleman who was only wearing a pair of boxer shorts. I assumed he'd been locked out of his room in some sort of horrifying argument with his misses. He looked at me and immediately apologised. "I need to buy some water" he said. "Can't you drink the water from the tap in your room?" I asked. He looked at me as though I'd asked him to perform a lewd sex act. "You can't drink water from those taps." I wanted to say, "but you're okay going down to reception wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts?" But thought better of it. The poor bloke was plainly still drunk. The Ibis budget hotel is obviously where you stay when you're out on the lash with the lads. I've seldom felt so old. Next time I'll pay an extra tenner and stay in a Travelodge.

When I arrived at the train station I decided to eat breakfast in Upper Crust. I quite like the baguettes they make there. What I don't like is their ludicrous policy which instructs staff to respond to the question "can I have a tea please?" with "what size would you like? Medium or large?" There is, of course, the option of a small tea, which costs less, but you're deliberately not offered that. Cynical and money-grabbing in the extreme. The practice has been going on for years, and I've written about it in this blog in the past. I challenged the woman behind the counter. She giggled nervously. Rumbled.

I took the train from Leeds to Liverpool, and it was rammed with people. There were only three carriages and people were standing in the aisles. I'd booked a seat but ended up hemmed in by a woman who decided it was appropriate for her eight-year old son to sit on her lap which made me so claustrophobic I started to panic. I managed to lose myself in the glorious countryside outside. Those tall chimneys and dark mill buildings in towns like Hebden Bridge. The trees, just on the turn, glowing like rusty metal in the sunlight. The hillsides mauve with bracken and heather.

And then suddenly I was jolted back into realty by the sight of a globule of lime green snot hanging out of the girl's nose opposite. I mean, how does that happen? I was unable to stop myself from looking at it. It was like some sort of verdant road crash.

It was Nathan's Mum's actual 70th birthday yesterday, which is why I was traveling west. I met Nathan in Liverpool, where he's been working on a corporate show all week. We sat down for a quick dose of Italian food for lunch and that's when I realised I'd managed to leave Nathan's Mum's present on the train, having taken it all the way up to Leeds and worried over it for the past 24 hours. Ironically, I knew I was going to leave it somewhere. It wouldn't fit into my suitcase, so I was carrying it about in a Sainsbury's bag. I even texted Nathan on my way up to Leeds to tell him not to be angry with me if I lost it. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophesy!

We went back to the station, hoping against hope that someone might have handed it in, so imagine our shock and joy when we discovered it at the lost and found. It hadn't yet been processed, so the lovely man gave it to us without charging us a fee... (and yes, I was a bit surprised to find that it now costs £5 to pick up an item of lost property in a train station!)

We drove from Liverpool to Nathan's sister's in Cheshire where his family had gathered, not just to celebrate Celia's 70th, but also to celebrate her great-grand daughter's 4th birthday. There was a barbecue, cake, pasta salad and much laughter. Sam and Julius now have four chickens. Two camp fluffy ones and two normal-shaped but fancy-coloured specimens. Chickens are horrible, skittish things. I held one. It felt like wooden sticks which had been tarred and feathered by an angry mob. I hope they lay decent eggs.

I spent the afternoon trying to delete more emails from my phone but not managing to free up any space. It turns out there were 30,000 emails on my server. 30,000! Bonkers! I got rid of almost all of them, but kept the most recent ones from Arnold Wesker, which, as he got less steady had become shorter and pithier: "Happy New Year. Good luck with Brass - I'm in need of royalties from somewhere... anywhere!" "When you ask how V is, are you asking if she's still alive?" "I don't think I know Raymond Briggs. Are you sure he's not dead?"

We got home and watched Bake Off.

Saturday, 22 October 2016


I'm in Leeds. It's nearly midnight and I've ordered a pizza to eat in my room. Alone. Mega decadent!

I came up here with Carol and Julie to watch Chris Ash' Wasted at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It was essentially the presentation of a work in progress. The first half was semi-staged, and the second was a little freer. The show is mostly written, and will probably go through a few more drafts before it hits the stage for a proper run, but my GOD it was good. 

It tells the story of the Brontë siblings, which sounds twee and a bit naff, but it's told in angry rock music. It's alluring, daring, intriguing, jarring, stirring, moving, evocative. The music is actually brilliant. It's restless, continually changing tempo and key. Some of it was breathtakingly beautiful. Emily Brontë is portrayed as a sort of gothic-cum-flower child. Her big number in Act II was written as a sort of Indian raga. It was delicate and touching. The next moment the four siblings are stamping their feet and head-banging like the cast of Spring Awakening on acid. This show has to be seen. It has to be developed. It is as innovative a British musical as London Road... The only succinct thing I can think of to say about how good it is, is that it's made me want to raise my own game as a writer. It is rare that a work of musical theatre has that effect on me.

It's good to be in Leeds again. The hotel's a bit shit. In fact, I had to change rooms because the first room they put me in literally smelt of shit! But the view from my room is spectacular. I can see for miles; from the River Aire right up to Headingley. I'm on the eighth floor, so the cars circling on the roads below me look like tiny lit up Tonka Toys.

We got here just after lunch and slowly made our way to the Corn Exchange, which looks like it's finally found its feet. I've popped into that building on many occasions over the last ten years, and it's always been a beautiful empty chasm. Today it was bustling. There's a lovely cafe in the middle and lots of interesting shops in the little rooms around the edge including quite a number which are obviously catering to Leeds' metrosexual men. There's a painfully trendy barbers', a drum shop, a guitar emporium and a tattoo parlour. All the men passing through the building seemed to be incredibly hipster-like wth spectacular hair... and designer tats!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Deleting emails

I spent the whole of yesterday trying to delete stuff from my iPhone which is now officially full. The main culprit seems to be my emails. I have 11,000 of them, which seem to be occupying about a third of the available data space! Please don't judge me! I'm just rubbish at deleting stuff. The big issue is that, for some reason, and don't waste your brain energy trying to work out why, I can't actually delete emails on the first go. I delete 200, they immediately return to my inbox, I delete them again, and only then do most of them actually vanish. Not all of them, of course. Just most. It's terribly depressing!

Was it yesterday that I went to see my new agent? I have a new agent. Her name is Kate. She's lovely.
I really don't know what I've done at any time this week. I'm still in a bit of a fuddle. Life feels a bit hazy at the moment. I'd love to spend a week underneath a duvet or something. I think I'm suffering from exhaustion, or one of those illnesses I'd be able to take time off work to counteract if I weren't a freelancer. If freelancers get depression, or, in fact ill in any way, we don't get paid. End of. The doctor tells us we need to take time off work. She offers to write us a letter. That's lovely, but who would we hand the letter to? We have to plough on. So plough on we do...

So, after spending half a day deleting emails, I spent the rest of the day composing. I have written a big old opening brass Fanfare for the NYMT's West End Gala at the end of the month, and was putting a few cuts into that. I was also working on a song from Em. It sort of doesn't matter what I was doing. It's been a horrible week: one which I will be pleased to see the back of.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Sad poster

I saw a poster advertising a collection at the Imperial War Museum on the tube today which just about finished me off. The advert was very simple, and showed a photograph of a 100-year old calling card which had obviously been posted by some sort of door-to-door salesman. The poster was headed with the words: "An ex-serviceman carried me when he no longer carried a rifle and the nation's hopes."

The card was worded as follows: 

"Unemployed ex-soldier.

Sweet lavender and white rose. Fragrant and lasting.

Price: 2d per packet

Protect your clothes and linen from moths etc by keeping this packet in your drawer or wardrobe

I get no help from the Labour Exchange. I have served in China, Egypt and Malta and have a wife and four young children to provide for.

I will call later hoping you will patronize a deserving cause."

I don't see the need to write anything else today.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

British musical theatre must be better

I proved to myself that I shouldn't have left the house today by first taking the wrong branch on the Northern Line and not noticing until I'd travelled three stops out of my way, and then, in an attempt to remedy my mistake, going in the wrong direction on the Central Line. The packed tubes I encountered at every stage made me apoplectic with rage. 

I am just not in my right mind. Not at all. My heart is breaking for Llio and Silvia and I'm mentally and physically spent.

I read in the Metro today that Cliff Richard has been speaking to the House of Lords to recommend a change in the law stating that accused sex offenders can only be named after they're actually convicted of a crime, which is something I categorically and wholeheartedly agree with. We live in a ludicrous world where any Tom, Dick or Harriet can accuse someone of something untoward whilst hiding behind a screen of complete anonymity. A famous person, particularly, ends up with absolutely no hope of a fair result, once the brutal trial-by-media has kicked in. Take the Ched Evans case. He gets shafted, goes to jail for the best part of three years, emerges a social pariah, and, when the case is overturned, an appeal goes out to raise £25k so that his false accuser can move to Australia and continue to live an anonymous existence. It makes me livid. It makes me want to spit blood. And yes, I am convinced that the same would not be the case if the wild majority of people accused of sex crimes were women.

I get that there are still glass ceilings in this world, and terrible examples of misogyny and violence against women, but unless we acknowledge that it's not always that easy to be a man, we'll never be able to properly address the true meaning of equality.

This evening, after meeting the lovely Josh for the fastest of pots of teas at Soho Theatre, I went to a second platform of new musical theatre writing at Shuttleworths. I'll be brutally honest and say very little of it really floated my boat. Some of the writers showed promise. Some of the music by American writers particularly was actually very accomplished. Michelle's songs shone brightly, but the overarching sense was one of great laziness. Christ, I write a song, then re-write it, then put it in a drawer and then come back to it to see if it's any good, and I heard song after song tonight which felt like it had been written on the back of a Cornflakes packet. I consider lyric writing to be the area of my writing which needs the most work, so, to quote Arnold Wesker, "I worry at it, hone what I write..." until it feels good enough. Until it's the best that I can write. There were some dreadful lyrics this evening and I was left wondering how many writers could genuinely say they'd done their best. Anything other than your absolute is simply not good enough.

But the thing that made me most angry were the two girls who popped up on stage in the second act, performing a huge chunk of a Footlights-style "comedy" revue, minus the political bite or daring parody. It reminded me of the stuff I run a mile from at the Edinburgh Festival, namely people "doing" funny rather than actually being funny. Up until that point, the most songs performed by a single group by a single writer had been four. These girls did seven songs, even though only four were written down in the programme. To add insult to injury, at this NEW writer's cabaret, a great big chunk of their material wasn't original. They ended with a five-minute rendition of Liza Minelli's Ring Them Bells, which I found almost insulting within the context of the evening to the extent that I worried a lot of the younger writers in the room wouldn't even know the song was an old standard, and might become despondent thinking they'd never be able to write something which matched its quality. The two girls were charming and the pianist was brilliant, but a revusical filled with clumsily re-written standards was absolutely not what the evening was about. At one point they burst into Taylor the Latte Boy and my heart sank! On and on it went. Grossly arrogant and mis-pitched.

British musical theatre needs to be better than this. I ought to go to these events and instantly feel the need to raise my game. Instead, tonight, I sat there wondering if people listening to my songs have the same angry responses.

...And if I have to hear another singer pronouncing her d's like t's I'll go insane! The words are bed, head, land... not bet, hett and lant! Estuary English has a lot to answer for!

Rant over!