Saturday, 10 October 2015


Waking up and taking a bath in a room with sunlight streaming through mullioned windows is not a bad way to start a day. I was also rather thrilled to discover whilst I ran the bath this morning, that, after carefully and systematically unsubscribing from all junk mail, I only had two spam emails in my inbox. I call that a fairly marvellous result.

We had a relatively early breakfast this morning before taking ourselves off to Tintagel Castle, reportedly the birth place of the legendary King Arthur. I'll be honest and say that the Knights of the Round Table is a myth which has largely passed me by, so, I wasn't really aware of the place's mystical significance. It is, however, beautiful in an almost staggering way. It's not a place to visit, however, if you have an issue with heights, or climbing steps!

For those who haven't visited the place, Tintagel castle is a sprawling Medieval ruin which clings to a pair of cliffs which are linked (these days) by a wooden bridge and the steepest stone steps I think I've possibly ever climbed.

The views are tremendous. You can see as far as the South Coast of Wales. The Atlantic Ocean was indigo today and glinting and glittering majestically in the sunlight.

The highlight for me was the little beach below the cliff, whose crowing glory is a tall, white frothy waterfall which drops thirty or so feet from the rocks above onto the sand. The beach has a huge cave in it which is has a second entrance on the opposite side, so from about half way in, you can see the sea bubbling hazily on both sides. It was a breathtaking spot, and an ideal day to see it; warm with a lovely breeze, and off season, so there were only a couple of other people there.

We had Cornish pasties and a cheddar Ploughman's in a little restaurant in the rather tatty village at the top of the hill, where the service was lousy but the food, after the relentless climbing up and down flights of stone stairs, was delicious.

We've come back to the manor house for fabulous food and a quiz about the Tudors. Everyone staying here (there are fourteen of us) is gay, which, if I'm honest, I'm struggling a little with. The majority of my closest friends are female, and find myself much happier in mixed or all female company. Gay men can get a bit noisy and trashy en masse and in these instances I rather vanish into myself despite the fact that everyone is absolutely charming.

Anyway. It's time for bed again. One of our number was awoken in the night by the sound of scratching and footsteps behind his door. I saw odd lights in the night and a rather weird shadow drifted across the wall at one point... So we're convinced there's a ghost.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Tudor houses

We're in a beautiful Tudor manor house in deepest, darkest (and I mean darkest) Devon. I was working in the car on the way here, so I have very little concept of where exactly we are, but we appear to be somewhere near Launceston. We're here to celebrate our friend, Tobias' 30th anniversary of coming to the UK from Brazil... And what a wonderful way to celebrate becoming English! We're convinced the house is haunted. All of us have already either seen shadows or heard voices where none should have been. Legend says that, at 2.30am, a man called William will roam the house making a right old racket. I await that event with great excitement.

We're having a very heated conversation about gun grime with an American who is talking a great deal about the need for people, above anything else, to defend their homes and property. I feel that's a particularly American argument which probably has its roots in their constitution.

On our way down here we stopped off at Nathan's father and step mother's house in Weston-Super-Mare and had a lovely mid-journey cup of tea and a chocolate muffin.

We got here at about five pm and took ourselves off on a walk into the countryside as the sun set. The air in these parts is wonderfully fresh and just before the sun vanished behind the distant hills of Exmoor the entire world seemed to turn a glorious shade of Amber.

This evening we turned all the lights off in the house and went outside to look at the stars. I've seldom seen a better, brighter display. Apart from seeing two shooting stars, we were able to see a number of constellations in an entirely new light. The Milky Way stretched in a long bright stripe right over our heads. It was an utterly magical sight.

It's too late to write any more. Whilst everyone chats and eats and has fun, I have one eye on the computer. We worked out today that the material associated with Brass which I'm delivering to Rogers and Hammerstein is composed of 850 individual files: 34 separate pieces of music, 21 instrumental parts, three whole full scores... It seems a little more reasonable to have gone mad as a result!!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


We drove into work in yet another monsoon this morning. For a minute or so it was like nothing I've ever seen. We aquaplaned our way down Highgate West Hill, past scores of reversing drains spewing yellowy-brown water all over the place. The road was like a waterfall.

The nearest shop to the office is unfortunately a Tesco Metro, which I'm quite convinced is the worst kind of shop in the UK. Unless, of course, you count the Co-ops on North England estates, which seem only to stock special offer fondant fancies and bars of Turkish Delight Dairy Milk! The Tesco stores never have anything in them that I'm remotely interested in buying. Today I wanted a fresh bread roll. They had one sort: the kind that my Grannie used to cut in half, smother in margarine and leave uneaten until it become stale and chewy. You might find something similar soaked in malt vinegar in a chip shop. Not great for soup...

As we walked past William Ellis school just along from the Heath, we became aware of scores of big fat conkers on the pavement. For old times' sake, I picked the biggest one up and stuck it in my pocket, thinking, for old times' sake, that it would be at least a nine-er!

I desperately hope that most of the people reading this blog will know what I mean when I talk about the game of conkers. In short, if you don't, it's a game little boys play in playgrounds which involves threading a piece of shoe-lace through the toughest looking conker you can find and using it to bash merry hell out of someone else's conker until the weaker of the conkers falls apart. Simple. If you win, your conker is a one-er, win two games, it becomes a two-er and so on...

A few years ago the game hit the headlines when health-and-safety-conscious head teachers started banning this "violent" game from schools, but sadly, I think, as evidenced by the sea of conkers lying in the road outside the school today, the game may have had its day, swept aside by Nintendo and Wii. When I was ten we'd travel miles for a decent horse chestnut tree and break into all sorts of orchards and things in our pursuit. Trees near the school would have long-since been stripped of fruit by bigger boys who could throw sticks higher and with more force into the branches to make the conkers drop prematurely.

The saddest sight today was possibly the countless conkers which had been trodden into the pavement by hundreds of little feet. True evidence, if any more were needed, that kids don't revere them any more.

The same, I'm afraid, seems to be true of blackberries. When I was a kid, the bushes would have been stripped of fruit long before we turned up with our Tupperware bowls. Other women on the estate where we lived were always cursed by name for getting there first. Yet, every bush I've seen this year, be they on the Heath, or Greenham Common, are positively laden with blackberries which are slowly going over. It is so sad to think about the death of folk crafts and these traditional pursuits. Why does everything we eat now come out of shrink-wrapped plastic? I'm as guilty as the next man, of course, demanding fresh bread roles and bemoaning the quality of supermarkets...

If you're reading this and you went blackberrying this year, please imagine that I am shaking you firmly by the hand!

I went to the chemist today to buy some Gaviscon, and came out laden with a whole load of soaps and smellies but without the very thing I went in for! I did, however, overhear a hysterical conversation between a woman (obviously a heavy smoker who looked years older than her age) and the Pharmacist. The Wheezey Jet woman wanted cough medicine "for bronchitis." The chemist was trying to help, but tactfully pointing out that if she actually had bronchitis, she might need some prescription medicine; "don't be stupid" said the woman "I was born with bronchitis. I know all about it..."

And I wondered if it was possible to be born with bronchitis? The pharmacist certainly looked bemused!


We worked from 10am till 10pm today, putting final touches to the first draft of the script for our secret project. I call it a draft. It's really just a splurge, and as we read it through today, we kept looking at each other embarrassedly and saying, "yeah, we'll have to revisit that..." The trouble is that important people need to read the script, and they have to know that we're making progress, so we were forced to deliver it way earlier than we might otherwise have done.

Nathan cooked tea whilst I worked and then, after we'd sent the document off to the necessary people, I did another couple of hours on Brass, slowly working my way towards the first pass of this whole new set of scores I've been asked to format. They're not the worst things to need to deliver. Essentially I've been asked to create a "vocal only" score, which is a copy of the sung music, minus any piano accompaniment. I thought everybody rehearsed new shows from a piano score, but Nathan tells me that most of the West End shows only give the cast a copy of the vocal only parts. They are, of course, cheaper to reproduce because there are far fewer pages.

So, of course, this all means that the pressure is on me to make the document look attractive. People will actually be using it! Boo!

We woke up this morning in some sort of monsoon, which basically destroyed any notion we might have had about walking to work, staggering instead to the car with a couple of flimsy umbrellas, and the rain water pouring into the ripped seams of my ruck sack.

Nathan pointed out today that we're very "make do and mend" types. All our clothes have holes in them, our crockery is all chipped and mismatching and we've recently reconstituted a ripped bath bringing it back to life as a pair of highly absorbent tea towels. I recently left a pair of boxer shorts at my parents' house which my mother actually threw away because she was so ashamed that her son was wearing them. I'm actually wondering if all of this makes us tramps...

We watched the results of Strictly this evening and I was thrilled to see the ghastly Jamelia down there in the bottom two. The look of shock on her narrow-eyed, bigoted face was well worth my not being able to reach for the remote control quickly enough to move her on. I've no idea how she danced in the dance off. Plainly I fast-forwarded that bit with a look of triumph on my face...

In the spare few moments that I've had today I've been trying to deal with my online spam problem by unsubscribing myself from email lists. The jury is out as to whether or not this exacerbates the problem by allowing the spammers to know that your email address is a valid one, but when my junk mail started to top 200 per day, and I started to miss actual emails because they were buried in piles of nonsense I had to do something. At points today I was receiving two spam emails per minute! It's horrifying.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Hell on earth

There's nothing to say about today. I've sat on the sofa from 10am this morning working on Brass. I thought today would be the day that I finished, until I checked the requirements "the materials" listed on my contract with Rogers and Hammerstein Theatricals and discovered that I needed to generate 23 more scores! No joke. Well, I mean, it IS a joke isn't it? The problem is that I've lost all concept of a sense of humour. 

I haven't put trousers on today. I haven't left the house. The most exciting thing I did was wash up some plates. 

And yet I'm still not done. 

Sunday, 4 October 2015


So, it turns out that my sister-in-law, Sam, whom we toasted earlier in the week, didn't get actually married in a wedding chapel in Las Vegas (as reported in Monday's blog), she had a much more glamorous and astonishing-sounding ceremony in the open air at the Valley of Fire, which is part of the Grand Canyon. I'm told it was just her, her new husband, a photographer and the registrar in the middle of nowhere, which sounds sounds utterly spectacular. Over the past three weeks Sam and Julius have been biking their way along the entire length of Route 66, all the way from Chicago to Santa Monica Pier in LA. They did the entire trip on Harley Davidsons, which is about as cool as you can get, and they finally completed their journey yesterday. It's curious to think of them driving along the last section of Route 66, the Santa Monica Boulevard, which was the road we spent much of our time on whilst staying with Matt in LA in July.

It's felt incredibly autumnal today. Everything was a little hazy and the sun took most of the day to break through. Heaven knows why, but the air smelt of woodsmoke when I left the house. It's a smell I associate with the countryside rather than Highgate and it's incredibly reminiscent of my childhood.

I got incredibly stressed leaving the house today after realising quite how much I've still to do on Brass. At some point along the line on this project, I let my guard down, thinking I had nearly finished, so everything I'm forced to do now feels just miserable. It doesn't help that I've had no time to keep fit. My skin is breaking out in spots. When I run for trains, I feel out of breath. In the last few days, my back has gone into spasms. I'd love to say that nothing was worth this sort of stress, but, of course, it is. It's my career and unfortunately I've realised of late that I'm one of those people who's always climbing a hill rather than sailing down the other side! Perhaps my subconscious feels something isn't actually worth doing unless I'm grinding myself unnecessarily into the ground!

Life is very complicated sometimes.

It was cake and craft this afternoon and I went down to Catford via public transport because Nathan was up in Stamford doing a gig. Fortunately the journey passed without incident and I was down there before I knew it.

Today's Craft and Cake was great fun. It was a good crowd and Julie spoilt us with raspberry eclairs, scones and a fruit cake.

I cadged a lift back to central London with Uncle Bill who was heading to the theatre. Sadly we got horribly snarled up in South London traffic (mainly jams caused by aggressive drivers) and watched the sat nav as our expected arrival time haemorrhaged from thirty minutes before the show to ten minutes after! Fortunately we were able to park up just outside the theatre, so I reckon she won't have missed too much.

The show she was seeing was at the Shaw Theatre up near Euston in the area known as Somers Town, where I once spent a term teaching singing in a very under-privileged school. It was a sad old place; a wonderful school, but because the kids were from so many different backgrounds, the school was forced to prioritise bi-lingual classroom assistants over any form of musical provision. They used to bring me in for a few lessons here and there when they could afford it.

I remember a little Bengali girl at the school who was blind. She was a lovely natured girl who used to like to sit behind the piano with me. It turned out that she had perfect pitch. Had she come from a more middle class background, or been born in the 1970s when music provision in schools was taken seriously, I'm sure she would have made a very fine musician... Or at the least, a piano tuner! It made me angry.

One of the streets in that particular area is called Polygon Road. I'm told it's named after a very curious and eccentric multi-sided building which, until the 1860s, stood in the middle of a square in the area, growing over the course of many years with people adding little bits to it whenever they felt so obliged. I imagine if it were about today, it would be a major tourist attraction. Instead, its foundations lie under a pool of concrete.

I got home and spent the evening working on Brass with Strictly on in the background. There are some lovely performers this year. I still don't know who many of them are!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The girl who flew

We did a bit of filming on Hampstead Heath this morning. I took our director, Cat and Nathan up to my latest discovery; an area of shallow ponds in a woodland, where the sun dances on the ripples of the water and is reflected in the form of hundreds of dancing, shimmering lights in the trees. It's a magical, rather powerful spot.

The weather was magnificent. We stood for some time, watching a little dog repeatedly following a stick into the water, wondering if there would be an end to his boundless energy. I mean, if you let it, would a dog just keep running until it died of over-exertion? Today's little fella certainly seemed more than happy swimming again and again through the duck weed, his excited panting getting higher and higher the nearer he got to his destination! Dogs are funny. So much more entertaining than cats. Discuss. (He pulls the pin and lobs the grenade...)

When we returned to the car park, we found the woman who'd parked up next to us in a bit of a state, and realised that two of her car's windows had been smashed. Thieves had apparently only stolen her sat nav, so quite why they felt the need to smash two windows I'm not sure. Neither am I sure how our car ended up unscathed. My laptop and my camera were both on the back seat. It was a remarkably lucky escape... But not, of course, for her. So in my relief, I felt great guilt.

We went back to Uncle Archie's in Kentish Town for lunch (a very hearty pasta salad) followed by a very heated meeting where we finally managed to open up about the issues we've been having on the secret project thus far. I shouted at everyone, somewhat unnecessarily I suspect, but the pressure of the last few days had built and built and, like all good Leos, needed to blow.

It's a funny thing, shouting. There are people who shout, and people who don't. Those who don't are very intimidated by those who do. Just as those who do are hugely intimidated by those who don't! I tend to think non-shouters bottle things up in a dangerous way, and that they will store up unnecessary antagonism towards a shouter, which they'll possibly never get out of their system. Shouters often say all sorts of awful things in the heat of the moment which are forgotten as soon as they've been said. They're like flash fires. One explosion and it's gone. A non-shouter will remind them of these things in a year's time!

I think shouting is really useful in the creative process. It shows that everyone cares!

We went to a quiz in Thaxted tonight. Our team came second albeit with vastly reduced numbers. If we'd have known, we'd have bought a few Londoners up with us. Our hopes of glory were effectively wiped out by a round about spies and a tendency for the questions to be a tad "hetty". It was, in fairness, a fund raiser for the local cricket team so art, music and literature questions were not high on the list. Slightly sad to report that, on a "name-the-countries-on-a-map-of-Europe" round, we managed to muddle up Azerbaijan and Georgia, and then Albania with Bulgaria. Brother Edward would have been horrified. Nathan did, however, spot that the question master had incorrectly labelled an annexed part of the Black Sea as a country in its own right.

We went back to Till Towers for a quick cuppa afterwards and talked about ancient memories and some of the people who had fluttered through our lives twenty or thirty years ago. We remembered a lonely French exchange student called Anne, who used to turn up at our house and play Messian on the piano like a blacksmith forging a horse shoe. She played so loudly and so relentlessly that my mother sometimes ended up sitting at the end of the garden to escape the noise. We remembered an eccentric girl called Sarah, an astro-physicist who played twelve musical instruments and once took Brother Edward on a two-man plane flight above East Northamptonshire. My mother also reminded me that, at the age of ten, I was offered a chance to see ABBA being interviewed on Wogan. A sixteen-year-old lad, whom I'd never met but vaguely knew my Mum, offered to take me down to London. The mind boggles. I said no. Unsurprisingly. Although I believe the interview was one of the last times the band appeared together. I would, of course, in retrospect, love to have been able to add that particular occasion to my pantheon of memories, though heaven knows why a sixteen-year-old would have wanted to hang out with a ten-year-old. Chatting about the past was a lovely way to end a week where the present has been so complicated. I think I shall sleep well tonight...