Friday, 30 January 2015


Don't laugh, but I've spent the entire day crafting! I wasn't exactly doing it for fun, although it turns out that crafting can be a lot of fun... until the back starts to ache because you're crawling around with bits of newspaper on the floor. I'm trying to conceptualise the front cover of the Pepys Motet CD and have decided to make a series of twenty little boards onto which I'm going to write shorthand characters based on the very first page of Pepys' Diary. I'm then going to photograph choir members peering out from behind the placards. 20 individual portraits. It's going to look amazing.

I went to the art shop in Muswell Hill and emerged carrying twenty foam mount boards, a vat of PVA glue and a shed load of tissue paper, which I used to cover the boards in 17th Century-style papier-mâché, which I bolstered with manuscript paper covered in scores from both Pepys and Oranges and Lemons. The results are charming, but I'm pretty sure I don't have the artistic skills to paint the shorthand onto the cards once they're dry. Pepys had very distinctive writing, and I want everything to look highly authentic, so, Little Welsh Natalie, if you're reading this, I may be heading downstairs in a few days' time with a paintbrush!

Today's calamity was almost certainly dropping my iPhone as I returned from the shops. I've dropped it from much greater heights before, but this time the entire screen smashed into thousands of terrible splinters, which made it impossible to use without cutting my fingers to shreds.

So back to Muswell Hill I went, to visit the dodgy little Turkish man whose convenience store has a sideline in finding solutions for these sorts of disaster. £50, a visit to the gym and another trip up to Muswell Hill later, and I had a brand new screen. But £50?! When I start signing on, that'll be the sum total of my weekly allowance.

I subsequently found out that Nathan's sister had her iPhone stolen today as well. What's that all about? I dunno, Apple discovers it's the wealthiest company the world has ever known, and all hell beaks loose!

Speaking of ludicrous wealth, I sold another Requiem today, thus proving that you wait six months for one sale to come along, and then two come at once. Fortunately this one wasn't going off to France, so a few extra quid will go into the coffers to be split between investors.

Thursday, 29 January 2015


I started the day a little demotivated. I've just started trying to re-score the third movement of a Symphony for Yorkshire for brass band and it's very slow going. I've been putting it off if I'm honest because there's almost nothing about the original movement - all rappers, rock bands and folk singers - which naturally lends itself to the dulcet warble of a brass band. Really, I have to start from scratch, but that's a deeply daunting thought. Shame. The first drafts of the other movements flew off the page...

There's actually only one cure for writers' block, and that's hard graft. You've simply got to start writing, even if you're writing rubbish. You can always go back and rewrite what's bad, but the key to writing is flow, and you'll never find flow if you're not writing...

I chatted to the man from the Arts Council today, who basically had to tell me - in the nicest possible way - that the application I was working on didn't really stand a chance of success. He then said lots of things in a language I didn't understand, which turned out to be the language of funding bids. He was highly apologetic, but I was actually genuinely grateful to him for nipping things in the bud. The Arts Council genuinely couldn't function if it didn't have strict guidelines about the sorts of things it funds. On this occasion we've fallen through a crack. The next time we'll be lucky.

I had another contre temps with an impatient driver today; this time in Dartmouth Park, with a man who beeped his horn four times at me (in a residential area) because he thought I should be driving more quickly. The last straw was when he sounded his horn as I went, rather slowly, through the middle of a pair of bollards which are renowned in the area as being way too close together. I got bored, and stopped my car for enough time for him to pass. Instead of passing, he simply beeped his horn again, so I got out of the car, approached him menacingly, and shouted, "if you think I'm driving too slowly, just drive around me, you silly  tit." It's amazing the vocabulary that decides to pour out of your mouth at times like this!

I then drove down the street as slowly as I could, with him behind throwing his arms in the air. He'll learn.

I got home and decided to pay my tax bill online. Unfortunately I couldn't find my tax code, so was forced to call the inland revenue. Their website is an absolute mess, especially when it comes to working out which of their hidden phone numbers is the right one to call. I entered a hell-zone of automated messages. At one point, I was asked to say, in a sentence, why I was phoning, "for example, you might want to say, 'I am having a baby.'" Why would you phone the tax office to say that? I wondered at that stage if I was actually dreaming!

Eventually the option came up for me to "press 5 to talk to one of our advisors..." And that's when the hell began. Some incredibly loud cheap 1980s funk came on as hold music. An 8-bar phrase was looped over and over again. Over and over. I waited for five minutes. I then put the phone on loud speaker and carried on with my work whilst waiting another five, the looped music going round and round in circles until my brain felt like it had been whisked. A few minutes later, I turned the volume right down. At 28 minutes... 28 minutes... I gave up.

And that was my day really. That, and doing a complete written transcript of Our Gay Wedding the Musical, for yet another award entry. It's amazing how many different awards one film can be entered for. Not that I'm complaining. Sometimes it feels like an honour to just be considered. I know that's what you're meant to say in these instances, but, certainly with the Grierson, I was just happy to have my name read out by Sue Perkins!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Sur le pont...

I sold a copy of the London Requiem today... to someone in France. It's exciting to think of the album
being played in the city of Avingnon, but a little distressing to think that I parted with £3.70 just to post it there! The CD price was, I believe, about £8, so even my basic maths informs me that I'm not exactly making money hand over fist here! Still, everyone who buys it represents another person whom my music is touching; something which can only be celebrated. If only lawyers and plumbers had the same attitude towards their work!

Today's sale - or lack there of - is a reminder that there's something of a crisis going on in the record industry at the moment. No one wants to buy CDs, or even pay for downloads any more. It's a very sad state of affairs. The delight with which I hear some people talking about how they managed to rip a CD for nothing sends daggers through my heart. If you're reading this, and you're partial to downloading music for nothing... Do think twice. It's people like me you're ripping off. Not just huge record labels! Perhaps Bob Geldof's next charity release can be on behalf of artists in the British music industry!

I took the first steps towards signing on today, which made me feel a little ashamed and sad. It turns out you can't actually pay rent with the awards on your mantlepiece, which I feel is a very sorry state of affairs! It's obviously dented my pride a little bit, but I always use these periods of signing on mega-productively. The last time I claimed benefits was in 2011, and during that time, I wrote The London Requiem. My only worry is that, now I'm married, signing on will involve Nathan's finances being raked over as well. It's hard enough to make sense of one self employed person's finances, let alone his husband's, who never earns the same amount two weeks running. I suspect I'm in for a bumpy ride!

I initially tried to log my details online, but my application was instantly rejected. I assumed this had something to do with my marital status, but when I spoke to someone official, in somewhere like Liverpool, I was informed that I'd been rejected due to a ludicrous glitch in their system, which meant if you ticked the box which said you also intended to apply for housing benefits, you were instantly turned down. The man on the phone then informed me that I'd need to reapply online, ticking the "no" box when asked about housing benefits. "But I DO want housing benefits," I argued. "The form has a glitch," I was told, bluntly. "So, because there's a problem with your software, I'm expected to lie? Can we not sort things out on the phone?" "Your age group is expected to be computer-literate, so I'm not permitted to give you telephone assistance with the filling in of forms." "But your system doesn't work, and I don't feel comfortable lying on an official form..." I then told him I was recording the conversation, and that he'd need to confirm to me that he was asking me to lie on a governmental form... At this point he hung up on me, telling me that if I was recording the call, it was his right to terminate it. I'm not sure there's a great deal of logic or truth in that. After all, how many times are we told the calls we make "may be recorded for training purposes...?" Ho hum. I try ever so hard to play the game when it comes to collecting benefits, but every so often you encounter such illogical behaviour, the only option is to raise a metaphorical eyebrow!

There was a delightful exchange between two middle-aged Italian blokes in the gym today. They obviously knew each other rather well, and immediately burst into animated conversation. Strangely, one was talking in Italian whilst the other spoke in English. Plainly both were understanding each other, but mid-way through the chat, the one speaking Italian suddenly said, "why are you speaking English?" At which point the one speaking English dissolved into hysterics and started speaking Italian. I suppose he's lived here for so long and become so used to speaking English that he hadn't realised he was doing so to a fellow country man! It made me chuckle.

The rest of the day was spent, you guessed it, filling in application forms for the Arts Council. That's four full days and counting...

In the early evening I ventured into central London to meet Nathan in his lunch break, before heading to The Farm edit suite in Soho Square to cut together an edit of Our Gay Wedding for another award entry. The journey involved alighting at the new Tottenham Court Road station which is rather disappointing if I'm honest; all clad in cheap metal and shiny blue plastic panels, with all of those delightful and iconic 1980s Edualdo Paolozzi murals gone. I couldn't help but think I was witnessing change for the sake of change! This was a real opportunity for the powers-that-be to breathe new life into a really grubby corner of London. Said to be permanently cursed, and once one of the most gruesome and lawless slums in the world, the area around Centre Point has always struggled to find an identity. Shops and bars open and close like flowers in the summer. It always feels just a little bit dowdy and sleazy, and I don't think the new tube is going to help the situation.

Monday, 26 January 2015


We walked down Highgate West Hill to Kentish Town this morning in driving drizzle, which made us very wet and very ratty. We were walking down the hill for a meeting with Uncle Archie, which was followed by a somewhat pleasurable trip to the gym. I felt strong, and ran fast, imagining I was a fit, lithe gazelle skipping through the Veldt. Then I looked at myself in the mirror and saw Captain Caveman peering back, and my wonderful fantasy came crashing down around me!

I had beans on toast for lunch in a local spoon and took the bus back up the hill to Highgate Village where I worked in another cafe for a while.

As I wandered through Pond Square, I stumbled upon on highly un-Highgate-like sight, namely an undercover policeman putting on a stab-proof vest, and then covering it over with a puffer jacket. It was a little unnerving, if I'm honest. I wondered where he was heading and why he needed that sort of protection in Highgate of all places! People don't carry knives in Highgate: they carry copies of the Guardian. And dachshunds.

I rehearsed the Fleet Singers tonight, and spent a great deal of time in a sectional rehearsal with the tenors and basses, somewhat perturbed by the periodic bleep of hearing aids, which I initially mistook for the sound of my own tinnitus! I was reminded of a cabaret which I attended with Julie Clare's dear old Mum, who was obviously having a dreadful time with her hearing aid judging by the terrible noises it seemed to be making whilst the poor girl on stage tore herself apart in a deeply emotional rendition of a Sondheim song. The irony, of course, is that a deaf person is unlikely to be able to hear the sound of a hearing aid in crisis! When I am old and deaf, I'm going to bring back the ear trumpet. Much more bohemian... Much more "me."

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Witch finder general

We've been at my parents' house for much of the day, and are currently driving along the North Essex country lanes on our way back to London. It is these very roads where you occasionally witness a peculiar semi-paranormal phenomenon, which involves little spumes of white mist dancing about above the white lines in the centre of the road. On several occasions I've swerved to avoid them, thinking they were rabbits or white cats. It's a little unnerving, but then again, this area will always be associated with witchcraft, having been the stamping ground of Matthew Hopkins, the Witch finder general, who was responsible for the deaths of over 300 innocent women in the mid 17th Century.

The day started at Philippa's house in Columbia Road, an area of London which literally buzzes on a Sunday. There are street markets all over the place, stretching from the famous Petticoat Lane, via Spitalfields and Brick Lane, up to Columbia Road itself, with its extraordinary Sunday morning flower market.

We had tea with Philippa, her two daughters and her mother, Kate. Deia showed me some of her writing from school. It turns out she's left-handed, but that her writing is really rather neat. She's obviously a very clever little girl. #proudgodfather

We drove from East London to Thaxted, where my Mum had thrown together a delicious roast dinner complete with a cherry and plum crumble, which we had with both cream and custard. Why go for 'or' when 'and' will do?

After dinner, Nathan and I took advantage of the fact that a vacuum cleaner could be attached to a extension lead and dragged out to the front drive. Our car has been a shocking mess for months now, and we spent a good hour filling two bin bags with detritus, some of which was absolutely disgusting. Half sucked sweets, a whole packet of mince pies and a Tupperware box in the boot filled with something indescribable which had turned liquid and gone rancid. There were five slate tiles from Sanquhar in Scotland in the boot, four umbrellas, three mugs, a couple of quid under the front seat and a roll of Christmas wrapping paper (not from this year...) If we hadn't been so disgusted with ourselves, we would probably have found the whole thing quite amusing!

We did a FaceTime chat with Brother Edward and Sascha, who were making their customary Sunday night wraps. I love the fact that they make wraps every Sunday evening. In fact I love anything which involves routine. I was taking about that to Fiona the other day. Neither of us has any stability or regularity in our lives so we both tend to cling like glue to anything which even resembles routine. I have my day of writing in cafés after attending the osteopath, and the monthly craft and cake, and my yearly birthday and Eurovision celebrations... Seeing Sascha making the wraps made me want to be there about to eat them! They're always delicious.

Saturday, 24 January 2015


...So, I appear to have spent the entire day working on an application to the Arts Council, and I'm still not done!

The one positive aspect in this is that the form-filling is focussing my mind, and making me determined to make the project happen.

That said, when I tried to read out everything I'd written to Nathan, I suddenly became engulfed by a wave of utter futility. I think there's officially a one in four chance of receiving a grant, and because our contact at the Arts Council is away until the end of the month, there's no one to advise us on the content of the application form before we're forced to sling it in. I should have thought to do this before Christmas... They take six weeks to make a decision.

I guess I'm just knackered and bored... and wishing I could have spent the day doing, well, anything else...

It's been freezing cold today, and a brief excursion to the local cafe for a plate of beans on toast was a somewhat frosty affair. I rushed home and buried myself under a blanket.

Aside from this, I've nothing else to report. Is the very definition of narcissism persisting in writing about yourself even when you have nothing to say?! Actually, don't answer that question. I know the answer...

Friday, 23 January 2015


The walk up to Hove Station from Fiona's flat was wonderful this morning. Crisp, wintry sunlight made the stucco-fronted buildings glow a mysterious shade of yellow and the sea resembled a Monet painting, all pastel shades with chalky accents.

Today has been exhausting. We focussed on two songs; Barnbow Lassies, and the show's title song, Brass, which is a curiously fragile piece, which needed a great deal more sonic help than I'd initially expected. Brass had the slowest incubation period of any of the songs from the musical. So many of the others came ready formed in my mind, but Brass required an almost painstaking amount of care and attention. It was like creating a statuette out of soap stone; a little nip here, a tuck there. I'd put it away, return to it a week later and thin out an orchestration or make a chord more subtle or impressionist. We were still tinkering with it on the last day of rehearsals. I think all of this has made it less robust than the other numbers. Bad intonation really shows up and there were some painful moments when we listened back to some of the orchestral takes. I continue to insist on hearing the music we've recorded without any reverb or equalising. That just masks the problems which need to be solved

Barnbow Lassies, by comparison, is a mega-barnstormer, which was clearly a great favourite with the performers. It flies off the page and was already sounding fabulous by the time I left this evening.

I treated PK to a fry-up for lunch, and we went to a greasy spoon run by a dour-faced Scottish man in sub-zero temperatures. We sat and ate with our costs buttoned up. The food was delicious, but he did nothing to turn the Scottish surly, austerity-loving stereotype on its head.

By contrast, as I walked through St Pancras International station on my way home, I was confronted by two stereotype-busting young black men who were playing classical music on two of the pianos they leave around the station for passers by to tinkle on. I've always approved of those pianos - particularly when they're being played well, and not thumped at by some small child whose mother has run out of ways to otherwise entertain him. They used to be all over London, many were outside in squares, and, in some instances, on the street. I think they're a genuine way of bringing music to the masses. They cheer me up every time I pass one.