Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Brexit vs Legsit

I worked most of the morning and early afternoon in Costa Coffee. I'm now doing forensic work on the Nene composition, which involves diving into the piece and looking at it section by section, part by part. It's the sort of work you can sit and do for long periods of time without coming up for breath, and it was 3pm before I realised I had to stop for lunch.

At a certain point I found my eyes drifting over to the rack of newspapers they have in the cafe and saw, to my great disgust and horror, the Daily Mail's lead story. It showed a picture of Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May, photographed from below with their legs on display. The headline read "never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it?" The article, one assumes, discusses the merits of each woman's legs. I don't even understand the pun.

It is offensive for so many reasons. Aside from being hideously sexist in a Bernard Manning kind of way, what the paper singularly fails to recognise by publishing that piece is the pain that Brexit has caused our country and continues to cause, regardless of which side we're on. Denigrating and trivialising it like this hugely belittles the collective feelings of the nation. I immediately ripped the front cover off the paper and threw it in the bin. Someone I know has removed all the copies of the newspaper from her shop. I went up to the poor (Spanish) bloke behind the counter at Costa and asked whose choice the newspapers were. He looked worried: "Mine. Have I done something wrong?" My heart melted slightly: "What criteria do you use for buying them?" "I buy the two most popular. If you tell me which one to buy, I'll buy that next time." I couldn't bring myself to be the cliche and say "The Guardian." I don't even read the Guardian and although I suspect the good folk of Highgate are more likely to read the Guardian than the Mail, it's not the sort of comic-like paper you want to dip into whilst you sip. The barista's willingness to help had been so disarming that I simply said, "anything but that paper." And that's really how I feel, if I'm honest...

Only the Mail would publish something so offensive on the eve of the day that Theresa May triggers Article 50, which could mean the break up of, not just the European Union but the precious Union of of United Kingdom.

I know they do it for effect. In this respect the Mail is no different to Katie Hopkins or Milo Yiannopoulis. Even talking about the horror I'm feeling is playing right into their hands. But I can't help it. I hate sexism and I feel sad: Losing Europe makes me feel illegitimate. It takes away a huge part of my identity. It's a very bleak day.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Listen to ABBA

It's been a rather frustrating day. Every time I sat down to do some work, something else happened to prevent me from doing it. Phone calls. Emails. A whole heap of washing up. Things I had to attend to. By the time I left the house this evening I'd achieved nothing that I actually wanted to achieve and was a hideous sweaty mess.

This is going to be a deeply pointless blog post as I haven't got enough time to construct a set of views about anything important and I can't write anything about what I was doing tonight because it's all top secret. This itself sounds far more interesting than it actually is. Don't worry; I'm not about to get married in another TV musical or write a composition for Sky Arts using only computer technology. I've simply been on a judging panel. I can't say what I was judging, but I can say that the rest of the panel were lovely people and that I had a very entertaining night. 

I returned to Highgate this evening to find thick, swirling mists rolling up and down the A1. There had been clear skies in Central London, so I actually initially wondered if it was smoke that I was seeing. I even found myself sniffing the air to discover whether Archway Road was ablaze! It turns out that Autumn has returned to these parts, which is strange because I thought the weather was meant to be rather spring-like for the next few days. The fact that I'm attempting to discuss the weather means that it's really time for this blog post to end! Pleasant dreams, blogger pals, and if you're reading this over breakfast, your mission today (should you chose to accept it) is to smile at everyone you pass on your journey to work, to drink a pint of water before you leave the house and to listen to at least one ABBA song. All three things will make you feel much happier.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Mothering Sunday

We woke up rather early this morning after losing an hour with the clocks going forward. I've managed to get to the ripe old age of 42 without ever really knowing whether the clocks go forward or back at this time of year, or even what the concept of going forward does to the actual time. Sometimes I think I must be really rather stupid.

We were on the road by ten, I guess. Quite early on in our journey, we hit a rather large piece of metal which had been deposited in the outside lane on the M1. It was about the size of a bumper. We didn't have time to swerve to avoid it, so made the choice to go straight over the top of it. It made a terrible crunching noise on the bottom of our car which forced us to pull over onto the hard shoulder to check for damage. Fortunately we could see none, but an ever-growing number of people were hitting the obstruction and instantly grinding to a halt. I made the decision to call the police and dialled the non-emergency police number. A pre-recorded voice informed me that there would be a five-minute wait before I'd be able to talk to anyone, so I decided to call the big boys on 999.

Calling 999 is always a bit of a weird experience. There's always a palpable sense that you're wasting someone's time, or that you're somehow tarnishing yourself by being pulled into the murky, dirty world of crime. I was astounded to find myself in a queue for this service as well. A recorded message might as well have informed me that my call was important to them and that they'd answer as soon as a member of staff became available. It took almost five minutes for someone to answer. I imagined how I'd feel if my life was in danger. If I was choking. If someone was in the process of breaking into my house. If I was a woman being followed by someone down an empty street. It's quite horrifying to think that there aren't enough staff to answer these vitally important calls.

I was sent a very charming video today of a group of young children from West Yorkshire singing my "Sing a Song of Yorkshire" composition as part of a medley of songs from that part of the world which included Scarborough Fair and, of course, Ilkley Moor Bar T'at. It's perhaps interesting, and a little sad, to note that none of these deeply patriotic songs were actually written by card-carrying Yorkshire folk. Ilkley Moor, for example, was written by a shoe-maker from Canterbury. I think, having lived in the county for three years, I probably come closest to being legitimate! Anyway, the performance was stunning, the kids were bang on in tune, and my heart broke when one of them pulled out a giant Yorkshire flag at the end and started waving it in the style of Les Miserables. I blinking love everything about Yorkshire!

It's Mothering Sunday today. I refuse to acknowledge the term "Mother's Day" as it feels somewhat American. We drove up to Nathan's Mum for a glorious lunch with his close family. I'm thrilled to report that Nathan's four-year old great niece is developing a glorious Lancashire accent. A northern accent is the best gift you can give to a child, after music and a second language! We crammed ourselves around the kitchen table to eat. I think I was sitting on an occasional table. Poor Ron was forced to sit on his own, on a stool against the side board. It felt like we were ostracising him. I was instantly reminded of the tales my Mum tells of the days when she was courting my dad. My Welsh Nana didn't approve of my Mum in the slightest, so, whilst she, my Grandad and my Dad ate their food in the dining room by the patio windows, my mother was forced to sit in the garden on a little bench eating sandwiches she'd brought from home with her! It's one of the most tragic stories I've ever heard!

Facebook was filled today with my terribly conscientious friends attempting to wish each other a happy Mothering Sunday whilst being deeply inclusive to those without children or mothers. It all got a little bit ludicrous if you ask me. It's not as though Mothering Sunday was invented to deliberately exclude people. I realise that it's a very sad day for some people, and my heart absolutely goes out to anyone reading this who has recently lost a child or a mother, but at the same time, if we're hell-bent on investing energy in celebrating these peculiarly manufactured days, I do think we ought to be able to celebrate the positive without worrying about causing offence. I enjoy celebrating my birthday without feeling the need to wish everyone else a happy unbirthday. Humpty Dumpty I am not!

Before we left Shropshire, I was introduced to a word I'd never heard before. Seersucker. It's a type of slightly-ruched fabric which was popular in the 1950s for dresses and tablecloths. Nathan's Mum showed me a table cloth made from seersucker which had once belonged to her Mam.

We went home via Thaxted. My Mum sounded very glum on the phone when I called her after lunch, so we thought a little surprise visit was called-for. It actually only added about an hour onto our journey time and it was so nice to see the parents and have a few cheese crackers for the road.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Waves of dust

Fiona has one of the most comfortable beds I've ever slept in. Her bedroom in Hove has enormous windows and the rising sun pours in in waves of dusty light. We always sleep with the curtains firmly closed at home, in a South West-facing room, so it's a while since I've been awoken by a rising sun. Actually, because the clocks went forward last night, it strikes me that it will also be a while before the sun rises at such an early hour again. I lay for some time in the glorious shaft of light wondering whether to get up or fall asleep again. I fell asleep again...

Before returning to London, I took a final walk along the seafront from Hove to Brighton. It was a glorious day: Blue skies and fluffy white vapour trails thrusting vertically towards the heavens. The sun was reflecting on the surface of the sea so dazzlingly that it burned into my retinas.

I had breakfast behind a giant wind break at one of the little cafes on the seafront. Full vegetarian. Orange juice. Nice cup of tea. I didn't rate the tomatoes, which were served them raw. I like cooked tomatoes at breakfast time, so I gave mine to a passing seagull. I watched the doggies jumping excitedly on the heaped pebbles of the beach, and children stumbling barefooted down to the water's edge.

I got to the train station only to learn that a rail replacement bus was randomly going to be taking me to Three Bridges, where I'd need to catch my train to London. I genuinely don't know how anyone lives on the god forsaken Southeastern train line without experiencing depression on a daily basis.

This evening we went down to Limehouse to a party at Nathan's friend's Francine's house. It was a fabulous occasion. I met a potter from Hastings and a fabulous woman who's turned her recidivist tendency to write letters of complaint into a book.

We always have to remember to call the host Francine with a soft c. The registrar at our wedding was also Francine, but she pronounced it with a harsher "ch" sound. I'm reminded of the story of a friend of mine called Marc, who went into a Starbucks where they write your name on the paper coffee cups and told them that his name was "Marc with a c." Imagine his horror, therefore, when the cup came back with the word "Cark" scrawled across it!

I learned today that UKIPs only MP, Douglas Carswell, has now left the party. Twat. That piece of information cheered me up almost as much as Donald Trump's recent political catastrophes.

Saturday, 25 March 2017


I was very frustrated this morning to hear an Imam on television talking about his anger at the phrase "Islamic terrorism." His point was that terrorism is always a response to the political situation in the Middle East rather than a man's personal religion. Obviously I have a degree of sympathy for what he's saying - we mustn't tar everyone with the same brush - but, at the same time, religious leaders within the Muslim community can't completely wash their hands of responsibility for what is going on within their own religious community. The fact remains that, whether these people are nutty or not, and whether their actions are triggered by world politics, the terrorists doing these deeds are linked by an interest in Islam. It's an unavoidable fact. You can blame the West intervening in Iraq and Afghanistan as much as you like but there is something implicit, or at least something which can be interpreted as implicit within the Muslim faith which justifies violence being committed against those who don't share the same beliefs.

I think if there's one general problem with Western Liberalism, it's that we tend to excuse or justify dreadful behaviour in our rush to find a reason for why it's happening. The "Hug a Hoodie" campaign was probably the most extreme and tragic example of this particular tendency. I personally believe that bad behaviour is bad behaviour. There's always an excuse. Actually, the fact is that some people are just nasty.

Bizarrely, it strikes me that one of the only communities which regularly finds itself criticised without anyone feeling the need to view its members' behaviour through a wider lens is the Jewish community. No discussion about the Jewish people in the UK seems to be complete without some sort of Israel-bashing. If we're not allowed to blanket criticise all Muslims, we certainly shouldn't presume that all Jewish people are somehow implicit in the decisions the leaders of Israel make.

What I would say is that if all of England's annexed neighbours - Scotland and Wales etc - were vowing to wipe us off the face of the earth, whilst the rest of our neighbours were different shades of hostile or indifferent, I think we'd probably be behaving a little bit more aggressively ourselves.

I spent the day in a single cafe today. It was heavenly. The sun was shining and warming my neck. The sea breeze was blowing. I got all the work done that I needed to do. Brighton is certainly a good place to visit if you need to knuckle down and do a bit of work.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Je ne suis pas London

I sat in the Bandstand Cafe in Hove today listening into a conversation between two Dads. They had four children between them and were having exactly the sort of conversation I overhear amongst the yummy mummies of Highgate. It was very strange. Somewhat emasculating. They were talking about their children's physical and mental development in that "I'm pretending to listen, but actually I now just want to tell you how amazing my child is because you're making me feel inadequate" sort of way.

It's a little weird being in Brighton whilst my beloved home town comes to terms with what happened yesterday. Obviously I've been thinking a great deal about. I've been doing the thing I think we all do and imagining what would have happened if I'd been in Westminster witnessing those awful events. Would I have run away like a little frightened animal? Probably. If I'd have been carrying a pack of bacon from Tesco, would I have smeared it all over the attacker as he lay dying? I like to think so.

I found myself instinctively moving away from the edge of the road at one point. I realised I was waiting for a vehicle to mount the pavement. At that point it occurred to me that the most important thing Londoners can do is to try to put a little perspective on the event. The media is not exactly helping, with its insatiable appetite for dogma, hyperbole and generally emotional reporting. The fact is that it's been ten years since London was last attacked in this nature, and the loss of life on this occasion was relatively small. I don't feel the event merits an hysterical "Je Suis London" response. Dangerous drivers cause far more death and destruction on our motorways, and we haven't yet entered a moral panic about drink driving. Yes, it's terrible that a religious ideology exists that would think it okay to kill indiscriminately like this, but we're not going to change that fact by assuming the role of the victim. Actually, I tend to think that the more we collectively grieve, the more we play into the hands of IS, making it all the more likely that some other religious dick will do something similar in the near future. Until we recognise religion as a form of mental illness, people will continue to legitimise war. 

It was incredibly cold in Brighton this afternoon in a brutally surprising way! Great arctic winds blasted their way down the avenues, freezing everyone's skin to the bones and ruining the carefully quaffed bouffants of the good burgers of Brighton.

I walked from Hove to Brighton to meet Hilary, who'd hopped on a train from Lewes to have tea with me. We walked along the sea front and then ate in an Italian restaurant, chatting about vocal cords and the state of music education in both state and private education, which is usually where the conversation ends up when the two of us hook up! It was so lovely to see her although I ate way too much.

I have done a lot of work on Em today. I rather like being down here. My mind feels sharper. More focussed.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Victoria meeting

I had a meeting in Victoria today in a tall concrete building, not dissimilar to Centre Point. We were up on the 13th floor in a room with commanding views across a wet and windy city. It's been a ghastly day today. London turned a dark shade of grey and everyone was in a terrible rush to be, well, anywhere else! Someone knocked my mobile phone clean out of my hand at the tube station. He was in such a hurry, that the force of him bashing into me sent the phone spiralling out of my hand and across the ticket hall where it came to rest underneath the legs of a little old lady. She gave me such a look as I grappled to pick it up. As though I were some kind of gerontophile, trying to get a look up her skirt!

After the meeting I went to a little cafe to do some work, and, somewhat momentously, joined the two halves of my Nene composition together. The piece needs to be 12 minutes long, so I was somewhat astonished to discover that the two halves together were running at exactly 12 minutes! The piece still needs more space to breathe, however, so I might have to lift out a section and reserve it for the longer version which is being performed next year. It feels like a really important moment, however, in the time line of the composition. Obviously, there's a multitude of work to do on the piece in terms of fine-tuning, but to be at this stage already feels like a huge achievement.

I feel slightly blessed to have left Victoria some twenty minutes before the terrorist attack happened in Westminster, which was just a five-minute walk from the cafe in which I was sitting. My original plan had been to stay there until my train to Brighton this evening, but I was scuppered by my tumble drier deciding not to dry my clothes properly. I ended up needing to return home to pack before heading out. Quite where I would have been otherwise, I dread to think. My heart goes out to anyone who was caught up in the mayhem. It must have been deeply terrifying. But we have to do the British thing of keeping calm and carrying on. Those bastards will not prevent democracy or liberty.

I don't know what I was expecting by getting a 5.40pm train to Brighton on a week day, or in fact, why the was selling cheap tickets on this particular train, but it was standing room only. I ended up crammed into a corner by the door, barely able to breathe without choking on halitosic fumes, whilst the man next to me listened to the Fine Young Cannibals singing Good Thing on his headphones. I joined in at one point. He was plainly playing the music so loud that he didn't notice.

At Croydon, there was enough of an exodus for me to be able to sit on the floor in the train's vestibule. The stale stench of the sticky carpet serenaded my nostrils. I could see the glimmer of a beautiful pink sunset through the flickering trees in the window above me.

I finally got to sit down on a proper seat at Hassocks. I had a blissful five minutes' of composing time before arriving at Brighton Station.

I walked to Fiona's house in Hove via a series of back streets. I've eaten some pasta tonight, watched some films and composed some more music. I think it's going to rain for the rest of the week, which rather dashes my hopes of sitting by the sea with a manuscript, all tragic and pale, like something from Death In Venice.

I'm up late trying to upload something onto iTunes, but it keeps failing. It's only three minutes long. I'm plainly doing something wrong. Just call me Grampa!