Friday, 19 January 2018

A gap too wide?

I washed myself with ‘Lynx Excite’ today which bills itself as “a body wash with a fragrance so tempting that even angels will sin for its heavenly masculinity.” What?! Now, those who know me well will know that I’m not averse to a bit of hyperbole, but I find myself wondering what on Earth went on during the branding meeting when they came up with that nonsense!

I personally think it’s best to keep away from religious iconography when trying to sell every day items. In fact, it’s best to stay away from religious iconography for anything other than religious purposes. Surely those of us who don’t believe in angels will consider the comment to be non-sensical, and those with Christian or New Age beliefs run the risk of being offended. The one thing we can all agree on is that the statement is a baffling lie. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Quite recently, I met a woman who’d written a musical about a fifteen-year old convent school girl who mysteriously falls pregnant. The girl is an atheist, but it turns out she’s actually given birth to the son of God. I felt compelled to ask the writer who she felt the show’s audience was. Atheists watching would, of course, be gunning for the central character, viewing her as one of them but if the show’s twist is that they’re all wrong and God exists after all, they’re going to be a little miffed. Similarly, I can’t really imagine Christian people being hugely impressed at the idea of God choosing a 15-year old atheist as the vessel from which the Second Coming springs. When it comes to religion, people can get quite touchy and if you’re going to use religion out of context, you really have to know your stuff. I still remember the Christian Union at York University demonstrating outside our production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

I went to Mountview School today for a meeting, and decided to walk there in what turned out to be the most stunning morning sunshine. It was icy under foot and the journey took me through all sorts of pocket parks and leafy causeways. Google Maps doesn’t have a “prettiest route” function, but if it did, and I’d selected it, I’d have felt pretty happy! The squirrels were out in force, digging up their carefully hidden stashes of winter food and lining their nests for another couple of months’ hibernation. They can make some rather peculiar noises, the most surreal of which is a bird-like squawk. I sometimes hear it coming from the tree in our back yard. It took me ages to realise the noise was coming from a squirrel.

The calmness of my walk was temporarily interrupted by two young teenagers sauntering along the path in front of me in a particularly quiet spot by the New River in Hornsey. They were all swag and juvenile aggression. I felt very uneasy as I passed them, particularly at the moment where I could see their long shadows stretching out on the pavement in front of me, despite my having overtaken them. I watched the silhouette of the taller of the two nonchalantly forming the shape of a gun with his hand and casually miming shooting me in the back of the head. It was genuinely quite shocking, to the extent that I immediately turned around to check if he was actually holding a real gun.

...And it struck me that, whatever initiatives we invest in, we still have a very long way to go when it comes to living in harmony with those who live around us. I’ll confess, I felt uneasy the moment I saw those lads. I didn’t like the fact that they weren’t at school. I didn’t like the language they were using or the way that they were walking. I found it threatening and suspect I would have felt the same way had the lads turned out to be the nicest kids in the world. That’s my prejudice. But similarly neither of them had any respect for me. If they had, they wouldn’t have tried to intimidate me and certainly wouldn’t have mimed shooting me in the head. So how do we bridge these gaps?

Thursday, 18 January 2018


Was it me or was there a mega gale blowing in the night? Nathan got up in a bit of a trance to close the window and promptly fell asleep standing up. He made a proper clatter as he fell against the wall. The jolt woke him up again.

There was a beautiful clean, orange light across London this morning which made waking up quite a treat. I understand it’s been snowing up north again. Fiona sent me pictures from Glasgow which looks like a winter wonderland. I instantly felt a pang of envy. I love snow. It was impossible to enjoy the one day of it we had in London this winter because we were stuck in a car, panicking!

I’ve applied for a proper grown up job! It feels very strange because it will mean an end to my writing career, at least for now, but there comes a time in everyone’s life when the future has to be considered. I’m sure this job will have a pension, holidays and tax taken out at source, and these are basically the things that I crave. Of course I may not get it. I may not even be interviewed. Sometimes - possibly usually - these jobs have already been given to someone else and they’re only advertising because protocol insists on it. But I’ve opened up more options, and that feels like an important step.

I don’t think there’s a great deal more to say about the day. I’m helping out in a quiz at a school tonight and I have to take my passport to prove who I am. It makes me sad to think that we’re living in such times. And it’s not just schools. Our synagogue is crawling with security people who will regularly stop and question anyone who’s even passing on the street outside. Whilst waiting to get in one day, I was quizzed at length about my credentials.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018


Is it really bad to say that one of my pet hates in this world is people who say “bless you” when you sneeze? By and large, I like to keep my sneezes fairly private. I’m not one of those sneezers who likes the world to notice their pleasure with great guffaws and shrieks. Actually, when I sneeze, I find it quite intrusive and more than a little embarrassing when a stranger says “bless you.” Why do we do it? Do young people still do it? It seems so Victorian! 

I’ve been doing my taxes over the last couple of days. It’s one of those hideous jobs you have to do at this time of year if you’re a freelancer. It can be really depressing when you start to look at your bank records and begin to feel the panic that you felt when you looked at them at the time and saw the money literally draining from your account like the sands of time in your life. I suppose the only benefit about doing taxes is that you’re looking into the past. However bad it got then, you know you’ve survived at least another eight months!

I am rather ashamed to say that 2016/17 was my lowest EVER earning year. I’m actually to embarrassed to say how low my earnings actually were, but the figure is considerably lower than £10k. I earned more the year I left drama school! And yet, during the year in question, I wrote Nene and Em, I had Brass performed at the Hackney Empire (to rave reviews), I released the Pepys album and wrote a composition for the Shame Chorus. All of this makes me want to question why. I guess the simple answer is that there’s been a shift away from people wanting to pay writers. There’s an assumption that we’re all hobbyists and writing for the joy of being performed. There is no other industry where people will so willingly work for nothing. To make matters worse, more and more creative people are undercutting each other these days. Someone’s always got a mate who says he’ll do it for less, which almost invariably means whoever does the undercutting will deliver something substandard which performers will need to justify cleverly.

In terms of other factors, Brexit, and a ten-year recession have not helped my industry. Money goes less far. Rents are out of control. My generation became experts in their fields just as no one could afford experts any more. There’s also been a shift towards needing to justify public arts funding by ticking boxes, which does mean that the white man has to fight that little bit harder for funding. That’s not sour grapes. It’s just the way it is. I can’t change the fact and I don’t think there’s an argument in the world which would change anyone’s views on positive discrimination, but it is an added factor. One which I have to consider.

So that’s my lot. It’s sobering, but also heartwarming because it makes me realise how well I’ve done when it comes to managing my finances. I can make a meal out of odds and ends. I don’t spend obscene amounts of money on clothing, alcohol or fancy holidays. And I’ve never been in debt.

I just wish I had a bit more money...

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Barnum and sausages

Hilary came to stay with us last night and we took ourselves on a charming walk up to Ally Pally and back home, via Marks and Spencer where I discovered quite how awful their range of veggie sausages are. I know they like their own brands and things, but no one wants sausages which look like blocks of Edinburgh rock!

So we trolled off to Planet Organic organic instead, where I had a very strong allergic reaction to the shoppers inside. They were all posh women dragging children called Tarquin around, saying things like “shall we get you some trail mix, darling?” Everything in that shop is deeply overpriced, largely, one assumes so that those inside can Lord it over the rest of us: “look at me affording all the best quality, organic products for my children. I’ve banned sugar from my house, you know, and we have a goji berry shake for breakfast every morning.” It all made me feel incredibly angry. Privilege like this is the red rag to my particular bull. And I guess I feel more strongly about this particular issue as I was brought up on whole foods when eating them wasn’t a status symbol. In fact, everyone thought my Mum was crazy for feeding them to us. She didn’t take us to Daily Bread in Northampton to show off. She took us there because buying in bulk was cheap and because it sold really healthy food at very low prices.

In the end we bought veggie sausages at our local Sainsbury’s and had them, swimming in gravy, with mashed potato and peas in giant Yorkshire puddings.

After tea, we walked down the Holloway Road to the Odeon at Nag’s Head to see The Greatest Showman. It’s a wonderful film, which loosely tells the story of the famous 19th Century American circus entrepreneur, Barnum. It’s a strange choice for a musical film. The stage musical, Barnum was, after all, about the life of the very same man! I kept wanting Barnum’s wife to burst into a rendition of The Colours of my Life. (Do you remember when Torvill and Dean did Barnum on Ice?) They made the very brave decision to keep the music feeling highly contemporary, which, bizarrely, worked.

They opted to play Barnum himself as a relentlessly fabulous individual and papered over some of the less reputable aspects of his character. I’m not sure his Circus freaks were meant to have been treated hugely well and he had some pretty hard-core views. After going into politics, he actually became the legislative sponsor of the 1879 Connecticut anti-contraception law. That said, he was also an anti-slavery campaigner. The merging of fact and fiction led to a fairly confusing end card which said something along the lines of: “these characters are based on real people, but any similarity to individuals living or dead is purely coincidental.”

But it’s a fabulous film. It’s everything a musical film ought to be. Escapist. Great music. Energetic. Magical. It lacked a bit of an emotional core for me. I like to weep like a baby when I watch a film and would like to have cared more, and learned more about the assortment of oddballs he hired to work as performers. I think they missed a slight trick there. But ultimately that didn’t matter. I had a wonderful night.

The only trouble is that the cinema smelt of urine. Odeon cinemas always feel so uncared for, when compared to the somewhat fabulous Everyman Cinemas which are replacing them.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

False alarms

Ooh, this cold is a humdinger! Singing yesterday was a proper trial. I had absolutely no control over what my vocal cords were doing and felt like someone had packed a great big dollop of cotton wool behind my ears. The only enjoyable aspect was finding myself with the sudden addition of about a minor third at the bottom of my vocal range. I was popping out bottom Cs and Bs purely for the fun of it, like some sort of crazy Russian bass. The coughing, however, has not been fun at all, and neither has the constant hunger which often accompanies these sorts of head colds. I am trying to fight the urge to eat the stuff I’m craving, which is all high carb, high fat nonsense like chips. Surely my body ought to be forcing me to eat healthily and overdose on oranges? But instead, as I’m writing this, I’m craving a toasted sandwich from Sam’s lovely toasted sandwich maker.

I was horrified to hear about the ballistic missile false alarm texts which were sent out in Hawaii yesterday. It’s difficult to know how terrifying it must have been to receive a message which read, “ballistic missile threat. Inbound to Hawaii. Take immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” TV and radio broadcasts were even interrupted with the message. People went running for cover. Parents stuck their children in bath tubs. Students sent panicked messages to loved ones. It’s astonishing that something like this could have happened. It just shows how edgy we’re all feeling at the moment.

State governor, David Ige has apologised, saying it was mistake caused by an employee “pushing the wrong button.” To me it’s astonishing that a text with such wide-reaching and horrifying consequences could be sent out universally without a cascade of checks and balances. Surely there was a follow-up message which flashed up saying “are you sure you want to send this?” And what set of bizarre consequences leads to someone pushing the wrong button of this nature?

It apparently took eighteen minutes for the statement to be retracted, and then this only happened by email. It was another fifteen minutes before a follow-up text revealed it had been a false alarm.

I am reminded (in a much smaller way) of a recent train journey which took me through London Bridge Station. As we passed through, an eerie, echoing tannoy announcement was blaring out to all and sundry which said, “would Inspector Sands please report to the ticket office.” It was accompanied by a somewhat discordant electronic alarm. These days, we all know that Mr Sands indicates that there’s some sort of fire in the building, so it’s not a message that any of us likes hearing. My favourite part of the shenanigans, however, was the fact that after every announcement which instructed Inspector Sands to head to the ticket office, another tannoy announcement echoed trough the station saying, “this is a false alarm.” People in the station were looking considerably non-plussed!

Perhaps I’m being a bit simplistic here, but isn’t it time to deactivate the Inspector Sands message?

Saturday, 13 January 2018


I tell you something: waking up on a cold, winter Saturday morning at 7am, before it’s light outside, is not the most thrilling thing, especially when you have a raging cold.

As predicted, exactly a week and a half into my new health and fitness regime, I’ve come down with a cold. I wonder why it happens? It always happens... Singing at synagogue today is going to be a trial. Thank heavens I’m singing bass.

Donald Trump is all over the news. I keep wondering whether we’re all going to wake up and realise he was some sort of Hallowe’en joke that we all fell for.The latest double whammy, where he seems to have described about half the world as “shit hole countries” and then decided not to come to the UK later this year because he doesn’t like the American Embassy he was due to open, is absolutely bizarre. Not that I hugely blame him for not wanting to come to the UK. People would have thrown eggs. I would have thrown eggs. I’m totally with Sadiq Kahn when he says that Trump’s finally got the message that he’s not wanted in London, that he’s at complete loggerheads with the multy-culty spirit of Londoners. That other tit, the ludicrous engineer of Brexit, Boris Johnson, has, of course, leapt to Trump’s defence, by describing Kahn as a “pompous popinjay,” which basically tells us all I know about who’s more in touch with the British people. But then again, I sort of feel that we’re going to wake up and discover that Johnson and Brexit was all a joke.

But can we wake up from this nightmare soon please?

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Never again!

Please remind me never to do what I’ve done today again! I have not left the house. Instead I have sat, semi naked, on the sofa all day finishing parts for Nene. I haven’t eaten lunch, I’ve just hidden away from the world on this ludicrous mission. It’s a mission, I’m pleased to say, that I achieved. But I’m wondering at what cost to my sanity!

Our car has broken down. There is something very wrong with the back wheel. It has been making funny sounds for months and suddenly, two days ago, it entirely froze whilst we were trying to reverse. The tyre skidded across the gym car park like something from The Wacky Races. Our garage is permanently engaged, so we can’t have it fixed!