Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Stews

I didn't sleep much last night, so I've been a bit distant for much of the day. Tiredness aside, it's unacceptable to start a new week with laziness, so I worked like the clappers, first on yet another application for funding - get back on that horse - and then on my website which is a pitiful mess at the moment: completely out of date. I think I must have expected it to magically update itself because I've been blithely attaching it to all kinds of applications, despite the fact that I've not touched it for two years! Self-promotion has never exactly been my strong point.

We went to the gym. They're still repairing holes in the road on all the streets around us, so the car journey up into Highgate Village and back down the other side is twice the length that it used to be.

After returning from the gym, I worked on Em and then on the Nene project. I spent the evening listening to, and logging the various field recordings I made on my journey, which include all sorts of bird noises, trains, military jets and tolling bells in Wisbech. I also did a fair amount of composing as I walked, so there's a lot of me trying out little melodies. Singing, in the main, really badly and then giggling away like a lunatic. Listening back to the sounds of the epic walk was rather comforting. It was a safe space in a funny sort of way. I didn't have to think about anything other than getting from A to B. I looked forward to simple things like sitting on a bench or having a sip of tea. My mind has already started playing tricks on me. Because I walked during a period of unseasonably sunny weather, I've started imagining I did the walk in the summer! I'm surprised to hear myself on the recordings chatting away to myself in rather good spirits. Even the day after the awful trip to A and E. The recordings are hugely atmospheric, right down to everything suddenly sounding echoey on the mist-bedecked fens. I still find it difficult to believe I actually completed the walk. I still feel an immense sense of pride in myself for doing so.

We had a vegetarian stew today to use the lovely vegetables Little Welsh Nathalie left on our stairs. It was unbelievably delicious. 

Is it weird that I've eaten half a tin of pears after tea every night this year so far? Does that count as one of my five a day, I wonder?

Monday, 16 January 2017

Who put the great in Great Britain?

I can't sleep. I'm sitting in the living room looking out across a misty London, wondering if I should acknowledge that I'm not going to sleep, and head up into the loft to write some music, or whether, after finishing this blog, I should try to go back to bed. I did actually manage to fall asleep at a decent hour, but Nathan dropped the alarm clock, and it made such a clatter that I instantly woke up, and then immediately started worrying about money. So that was that...

I switched the Antiques Roadshow on this evening. It was, without question, one of the most moving television programmes I've seen for a long while. I'm not sure why the show was allowed to deviate so spectacularly from its usual format, but I'm pleased it did. The programme was a celebration of Holocaust Memorial Day and all the objects brought in were related to concentration camps and Kinder Transport. I suspect very few of the items had a great deal of actual financial value, so I was rather pleased that the BBC decided not to underplay their importance by valuing them. After all, who can put financial value on a story which simply has to be heard? All of the stories associated with the treasures were utterly heartbreaking and deeply compelling.

You know, I feel very proud to be British when I think about what this nation did to combat fascism. The scores of Jewish refugees we welcomed into this country during, and immediately after the war, were but a tiny part of the overall story. I can't help but think Brexit has potentially thrown all that pride away. I never thought I'd live to see a day when Brits started shirking their responsibilities as human beings, blithely turning their backs on 21st Century refugees in need. There's been so much ghastly talk recently about turning the clocks back to the "time when Britain was great", but, in my view, the last time this country was truly great was during the war, and then immediately afterwards when the Labour government provided us with the Welfare State. (You could probably argue that there was a secondary moment of greatness at the end of the 60s when another Labour government brought in a succession of human rights bills including the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the abolition of the death penalty and a change in abortion and adoption procedures...)

Anyway, it seems to me that the things which made Britain great are the very things that the dreadful Tories are currently throwing back in our faces.

It's been a quiet day and I've spent most of it inside, suffering a degree of cabin fever. I haven't been to the gym. I haven't experienced any fresh air. I ended up having to drag Nathan out for an evening walk around the block just to combat the fact that I was feeling so deeply claustrophobic. We went down to the Sainsbury's Local on Archway Road to buy soup and vegetables and ended up having to use a cardboard box because they'd run out of shopping baskets. It felt a bit weird, like we were in some sort of health food collective in the late 1970s. All that was missing was an overwhelming smell of vitamin B12 and an assortment of staff members with varying degrees of special needs.

I've been working a little on a song from Em called "The Cavern." It's the only thing I've got to show for an otherwise very lazy day. I have a target of finishing a song a week in first draft form over the next few months. I want everything down on paper as soon as possible, so I know the nature of the beast, and I've got a framework to slowly chip away at.

Right. I'm going to give bed a chance...

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Dear Mrs May

Dear Mrs May,

When are you going to realise that a number of the deluded fools who voted Brexit did so merely because they wanted a better NHS? The leaders of the Brexit campaign, whose great work you seem so keen to continue, made a big deal about their desire to spend the money we save on Europe on the NHS, and in the light of the Red Cross - the actual Red Cross - describing the British NHS as a humanitarian crisis, it might be time for you to stop pooh-poohing this deeply well-respected organisation, get off your sparkly harris and actually do something about it. Your task is to protect the nation. Stop saying Brexit means Brexit, cus shit means shit, and start listening and interpreting.

Love from one of the 48%, all of whom saw this nonsense coming.

We went to an industrial estate in Woolwich today which I subsequently found out was right next to the Thames Flood Barrier. I'm disappointed that I only found out this fact after I'd left the area because I've never seen the Thames Barrier and have always wanted to. I wonder if they raised it in the recent storm. They certainly got a bit over-cautious when it came to evacuating most of the coastal inhabitants of East Anglia, whom, I hear, are all heading back to their homes today, no doubt feeling somewhat bemused.

We were celebrating Tina's 50th birthday today at Jon Dunn-Balham's yarn dyeing studios, which happen to be just opposite Alex and Moira's Circus Space. Jon is known for dyeing the most gloriously vivid colours into wool, and in a woollen world saturated (or not so saturated as it happens) by girlie pastel colours, it's rather wonderful to see a wall lined with skeins of yarn in bright, vibrant colours. And if anyone reading this likes the sound of this, check out Jon's website at:

http://www.easyknits.co.uk

Tina had invited lots of her crafty friends, and we sat for much of the afternoon eating party food and knitting. Obviously I didn't knit. I'm the knitting widow. The bloke that hangs about with knitters, like the proverbial drummer hanging out with musicians!

The highlight for me was Jon and his partner Roy's little short-haired miniature dachshund, Sweep. Obviously, I prefer the long-haired variety, and preferably a female dog, because I've never been that keen on seeing a dog's willy bouncing about everywhere. That said, Sweep is a deeply charming creature. He's actually fed on a diet of raw meat, which, apparently, is why his coat is so shiny. I still maintain that if I had a small dog like a dachshund, I'd probably want to feed it a strictly vegetarian diet. I've heard that vegetarian dogs have good, calm temperaments, but maybe that's because they're zonked out from not having enough energy! I would be interested to hear from someone who actually knows about vegetarian diets for dogs, and is in possession of scientifically-proven reasons for or against. Forgive me for not being terribly interested in the instinct of a die-hard meat eater who merely has a hunch that being vegetarian is not fair on a dog! People used to make those sorts of statements about me when I was a non-meat-eating child, and believe me, it can get a little boring!

We spent the evening with Tina at her house in Canary Wharf, watching The Voice and the Gary Barlow Show. When Barlow is interviewed and says things like, "ever since I've been working in theatre, I've wanted to develop a musical using the songs of Take That" I just want it to be acknowledged that someone has already been there and done that. It was called Never Forget and it tanked. Quite how the BBC can justify promoting yet another cynical money-making production using the same material I'm not sure. I'm also not sure how they can justify hiring a panel of judges who can probably only claim to have been in a handful of West End shows between them. They demonstrate a woeful lack of knowledge about musical theatre. Gary Barlow actually asked one lad who'd understudied a role in Mama Mia whether he'd minded sitting in a dressing room every night. Any self-respecting musical theatre writer would realise that all covers come from the ensemble unless they're swings. Barlow also opted to raise the stakes by telling one auditionee that this new show will demand more of its actors than any other show in the history of musical theatre, "you have to be able to sing, dance, act and move people." Welcome to musical theatre Mr Barlow! And if you want someone who can do all of those things for eight shows a week, then you need to find musical theatre performers with stamina and stop telling lads with vocal damage, who simply can't sing in tune, that they have soul!

We keep getting tantalising glimpses of NYMT kids, however, whom, I assume, will be auditioning sooner or later. Both Callum from Brass and Sario, who was in Spring Awakening, have been spotted hanging out in the "green room" which never seems to show the same crowd of lads in back-to-back shots! Ah! The artifice of telly!

We returned home to find a bag of vegetables on the top of the stairs running up to our flat. I assume they've come from Little Welsh Nathalie downstairs, but there is no note. It's a lovely thing to find on our steps whoever it's from!

La la Land

I booked myself in for a speed awareness course this morning. Unfortunately, I got flashed on my way back from a quiz in Milton Keynes a few weeks before Christmas. Doing the course means I won't end up with 3 more points on my driving license, however, and bizarrely that I also won't have to pay a fine - although, cleverly, the course costs exactly the same as a speeding ticket! I'm actually quite keen to go. I was driving too quickly because I hadn't noticed the speed limit dropping to 50mph on the section of the dual carriageway I was driving along. If the chap running the course can give me a sense of why these roads suddenly change tempo, seemingly so randomly, I might learn what to look out for in the future! The course is next Wednesday.

There was a light dusting of snow on the rooftops of Highgate when I woke up this morning, but, despite a secondary flurry later on, the whole lot had cleared by mid day. So much for this so-called thunder snow!

Far more interesting was Nathan's experience, whilst at work yesterday, when he witnessed an underground explosion beneath High Holborn! Apparently the lights in the theatre went out for five seconds, accompanied by the strangest sound, which he said could only be described as "loud white noise." At the same time, he saw a burst of flames coming from a drain! Underground electrical fires and explosions are apparently not that unusual in central London. There was a massive one back in April in the same sort of area which lead to hundreds of people being evacuated.

I finished my song Delusion today, and Nathan has given me a set of notes which I shall implement after putting the song away for a few days. These things need a bit of down time. In other composing news, I put pen to paper for the first time last night on the Nene piece, which feels like an exciting milestone. I'm obsessed with the idea of the babbling source of the river being represented by laughter, because I feel rivers in their early stages have a sort of child-like innocence. I'm just not altogether sure how practical laughter is for performers. Once you start, it's quite hard to stop. String players go all floppy and Brass players lose their embouchures!

We visited the shrine outside George Michael's house in Highgate Village on our way back from the gym this evening. It's much larger than I'd originally thought. There are literally thousands of bouquets of flowers and hundreds of heartfelt messages. He was very obviously a much-loved man. A camera crew was there. I think the size of the shrine has surprised many people.

We went to the cinema to watch La La Land this evening. With one or two caveats I would say it was a very wonderful piece. I found it transporting, engaging, atmospheric, inspiring and really rather moving in places. The central performances were excellent. Ryan Gosling is a very lovely and charismatic actor. The singing was a bit ropey all round, with some horrible breathy noises coming from Emma Stone. They also made a bit of a weird choice to turn ensemble vocals down really low in the mix. The songs themselves were lovely, however, and I can almost guarantee that this year's Oscar for Best Song will go to City Lights, which instantly pulled me in with its simplicity and mournfulness. As my good friend Abbie said of the film, "its well worth a watch."

Happy Friday 13th to you all.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Thunder snow!

I woke up this morning to the news that Trump has caused mayhem at his inaugural press conference as president of the US. He's started to remind me of one of those mad African dictators like Gadaffi: Paranoid. Not very bright. Narcissistic. Bordering on psychopathic. Saying astounding things that you can't believe even he agrees with. Visibly perking up when someone asks the sycophantic question which allows him to spout more nonsense. It's like talking to a religious nut, who won't listen to sense, and merely glazes over and spouts dogma when challenged with rationality. Watching him at the press conference, refusing to take questions from certain journalists because they come from "rubbish organisations," was astounding. He's like a child in a playground, "you shut up, no you shut up, no you shut up, it wasn't my fault, Meryl's a slag..."

I went to the orange cafe today. I don't often go there, despite it being just below my house on the Archway Road. I tend to work in cafes further from home because I like a little commute to work! I call it the orange cafe because it sits underneath a giant orange awning. I have no idea if the cafe actually has a name but it seems to serve lovely croissants and panini.

I stayed close to home this morning because London was bracing itself for dreadful weather. They always make such a big deal about these sorts of things in the media, with yellow and red warnings and crazy faux scientific phrases like "Polar Vortex." Today's weather was described as "Thunder Snow." You'd think Armageddon was on its way.

The lady who works at the cafe is French, and, during the morning, one of her friends dropped by for a cappuccino and a natter. They chatted for ages, and I very much enjoyed listening to the sing-song quality of their language. I reckon that French women talk higher than the women of any other nationality. They go right up into their head voices, like little theremins. I joined the conversation later on, after a singer songwriter of some description walked into the cafe and saw the manuscript in front of me. He lives four doors down. Londoners very rarely know the people with whom they share postcodes and, well, air. He's given me his album and I'm looking forward to hearing it. He rents on the Archway Road after a messy divorce robbed him of a two-bedroom flat in Camden. 

Anyway, it turns out that the French lady behind the counter was an architect who had been brought up in Chile before moving to Paris and then London. She told me all about Chile's capital, Santiago, which is, apparently, polycentric, meaning it doesn't just have one central business district. You learn something new every day!

The sheeting rain came at midday, followed by fairly heavy snow, which has settled in a "here-today-gone-tomorrow" kind of way. One assumes it will freeze solid tonight and create mayhem for commuters tomorrow morning. I'll be awoken by the sound of cars spinning out of control on their way down the A1. Or it will simply be fine... I am certainly no more aware of what thunder snow is this evening, having lived through the phenomenon.

The road where we park has effectively been marooned by road closures set up whilst they repair the broken pipe which turned the road into a river last week. There's a giant hole in the middle of Southwood Lane now, which looks a bit like it might have been created by work men who have given up on the notion of fixing a leak and decided instead to dig down to Australia!

Thursday, 12 January 2017

George Michael's house

On our way back from the gym today, we passed George Michael's house up in Highgate Village. The entire front garden and pavement outside has become a shrine of flowers, candles and Cypriot flags. A car parked in the drive is similarly bedecked with ephemera. That man was well loved. It's rather strange to think he lived just up the road. I never saw him wandering about on the streets, as we'd often see Victoria Wood. 

I spent so much of the day doing admin that I think I've turned into some sort of hermit-like accountant. I didn't sleep much last night. I woke up in the middle of the night yelling, and realised I'd been dreaming about money! It was impossible to go back to sleep, so I sat in the sitting room through the wee smalls, working on another application. I rather like being awake at that time in the morning. A stillness descends and the air becomes thick with a speckled wall which looks a little bit like a translucent version of one of those snow storms you used to get with old-fashioned tellies.

There's not a lot else to say. I'm so astonished by what Donald Trump is doing and saying in the US. I just can't quite believe he's for real, and this isn't some extraordinary episode of Candid Camera. He is clearly a narcissist who sets out to punish anyone who disagrees with him or crosses him. Heaven knows how this is going to pan out on the world stage. Not very well, one assumes.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Down the line

Today's been a bit of a trial. I discovered at about 3pm that I'd failed in another attempt to get funding, on this occasion from the PRS Foundation. That's the fifth time they've now turned me down for a grant. After the fourth, I actually decided to give up on them, and only reapplied when they announced they were now prioritising musical theatre applications. They told us very proudly in a meeting that they'd funded Tim Minchin to write Matilda. Like he needed funding! It's so destabilising when you miss out on a grant that you thought you were quids in on. I have to reappraise a great many things as a result and am actually not quite sure I know how I'm going to survive the year. God it's frustrating out there in the world of musical theatre. Closed door after closed door... It's as though Brass never happened. What I need is a wealthy benefactor...

Fiona was with us this morning, which was fabulous. I sat in the bedroom writing at the piano. One of my neighbours tumbled down a flight of steps. I heard the clatter and a scream and then repeated expletives. I opened the window and looked out to find her lying in a heap on the path. She assured me she was okay. And then was forced to do the same for the other four neighbours who'd opened their windows at the same time.

We went into town for an interview about Beyond The Fence with an American radio station. They'd booked us in at the BBC Studios at Wogan House. I was trying to remember if it was always called Wogan House, or whether it had somehow been re-named after our beloved Sir Terry. I've certainly done several down-the-line interviews there before. It's a funny experience: you sit, with headphones on, in a hessian-lined room, and then suddenly a little distant voice starts asking you questions. I didn't enjoy talking about Beyond The Fence after all these months, particularly after the news from PRS.

We worked in a cafe for a few hours, before meeting our old friend Carey for a drink and a lovely spot of food at a little Mediterranean cafe on Berwick Street, where the borek feta parcels are to die for. Carey is from New York and talk for a long time centred around Trump and Brexit as we tried to work out who lives in the shittiest county right now. I think the Americans might just edge it. I've taken great delight in recent days in hearing that Trump's campaign was pretty-much sponsored by the Russians. It's almost too deliciously ironic. Senator McCarthy will be spinning in his grave!

We were joined at the end of the evening by one of Carey's friends who's currently working as a producer on the Mary Poppins sequel. We probably asked him way too many questions because you could see him visually trying to work out if the information he was telling us was stuff it was safe to say because it was in the public domain. I don't think we managed to get an exclusive out of him, but I did leave the dinner feeling pretty sure that it's going to be a very lovely film. Shot entirely in the UK. Well why not? The pound's worth jack shite at the moment.