Friday, 1 July 2016

Guy's Cliffe and Warwick

It's Nathan's birthday and we've been in Warwick all day. We were going to make one of our bi-annual pilgrimages to Avebury to soak up a bit of prehistoric energy, but we decided instead to go to Warwick, which is half way between where Nathan's Mum lives and London. The good folk of Warwick also voted to stay in Europe, so I felt they deserved our tourist pennies!

We took Abbie with us and met my Mum and Dad and Nathan's Mum and Ron there.

The day started at the Saxon Mill at Guy's Cliffe, which is on the outskirts of the town. It's a stunning little country pub with its own water wheel, and it has deep significance for my family. My aunt had her wedding reception there, well over fifty years ago, and my Mum used to walk there across the fields from Leamington when she was a young child. She announced today that she'd done a great deal of courting there... Not with my father I should add! She described a rather horrific-sounding scene where she and a previous beau freed fish in the lake behind the mill from the clutches of a parasite of some description by squeezing the worms out of them. The image I've had in my mind ever since is probably a great deal worse than the reality, but squeezing worms out of fish is close to my idea of hell!

We had lunch on the terrace over-looking the lake. The vegetarian selection was stunning. (The fish story came after we'd eaten thankfully!)

We went for a short walk after lunch across a wooden bridge and into the fields behind the Mill, where there's a stunning view of the romantic ruins of Guys Cliffe House, which used to excite me so much as a teenager. We read today that you can book a tour of the building, which is considered one of the most haunted in Britain, so Abbie and I have vowed to return one Autumnal day. Preferably when the mists are swirling.

The last time I came to the spot was when I was 18. It was Christmas time and the fields were covered in a thick frost. I was wearing a floppy cloth cap and a big brown coat. I had just become obsessed with Marlowe's Edward II, and we'd come to Guy's Cliffe to find the spot where the king's lover, Piers Gaveston, was murdered. There's a very strange, somewhat inaccessible statue with a sternly-worded plaque on it, in the middle of a nearby wood which marks the bloody spot. My Uncle John told me where it was. There are all sorts of pictures of me sitting by the monument looking grave and bohemian, a huge green woollen scarf thrown around my neck.

We went from Guy's Cliffe to Warwick, which my parents warned us wasn't that interesting a place. It's charming, but, if you're not visiting the castle, I sort of understand what they meant. We drifted around a few antique shops, searching for one of those porcelain chickens that people store eggs in. It's something Abbie has apparently always wanted for her kitchen. We didn't find one, but my Mum bought herself a Muffin The Mule puppet which is something she'd always wanted. Tick!

We met up with Brother Edward and Sascha's Eurovision wives, Fiona and Sylvia, who found out we were in Warwick and travelled to us from Coventry and Kenilworth where they live. It was SO lovely to see them. We sat outside a Weatherspoon's in the town square listening to the somewhat eerie sound of a carrillon of church bells bouncing off a building and giving the aural illusion of the church from whence they came being situated in a completely different part of the city.

We probably should have sat inside the pub, but left against our better judgement. It was cold and wet outside. We stuck it for as long as we could, but were finally forced to go back in with our tails between our legs. I don't think the people who'd stayed inside were particularly thrilled to see us. It looked like we'd left them with quite a mess to tidy up.

We talked about meteorology and the First World War. We regaled Fiona and Sylvia with stories of our recent trip to France and the subject got on to Thankful Villages, those forty or so villages in the UK whose residents didn't suffer any casualties in the First World War. To think there were only forty such places in the entire country is really very shocking. I googled a list of them and noticed that one, Woodend, was in Northamptonshire, not a million miles from the route we were due to take home. So we jumped in the car and took ourselves there!

It wasn't the best idea I've ever had! The countryside surrounding the village was pleasant enough. The West of Northamptonshire has always been considerably more beautiful than the Eastern side where I grew up. I don't know what I was exactly expecting at Woodend. I know some Thankful Villages have plaques and things, but this place had nothing. We couldn't even find a church. Just a few houses and a number of sleepy residents walking dogs.

It did mean we got to eat our tea in Towcester. We went to an Indian Restaurant. It was that or fish and chips. The area has gone up in the world since I was last there, but its cuisine has festered in the 1990s! We were hoping to meet my old mate Tash but we probably should have given her more than five minutes' notice!

We came back via a traffic jam on the M1. I always come back via a traffic jam on the M1!

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Better late than never

I entirely forgot to blog last night. Very strange. I think I'd been a bit dormant for most of the day, and then suddenly started working in the evening in a sort of frenzy, so it entirely slipped my mind.

I was dormant due to depression, I guess. I worked myself up into a terrible state about the referendum, reading quotes attributed to Boris Johnson, who was vociferously pro Clause 28, and anti gay marriage until it suited him not to be. There was a very distressing interview with him and Eddie Mair doing the rounds which shows him as an aggressive bully and a liar. It's desperate and all the worry is making me entirely lose perspective. It's also giving me the mother of all writers' blocks.

So I went to the gym and ran and ran and ran until I was exhausted, at which point I felt a little better.

Right, that's all for now. It's Nathan's birthday today and we're in Warwick, so there's going to be a lot more to write tomorrow (or tonight...)

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The power of musical theatre

I'm beginning to feel a little lost. I may be suffering from exhaustion after France and the build up to France, but I'm just so worried about what's happening in Britain at the moment, that I keep realising I'm crying. I'm not crying for no reason, like some sort of nut job, but pretty much anything is likely to set me off. My old boss, Shaheen got called a "fucking paki" on the bus today. Some idiot then told her to "go back to where she comes from." In Shaheen's case that is Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham. She was born in the UK. Her mother is white. The images of grotesque thugs on a tram in Manchester ranting and railing at someone they perceived as an immigrant made me even more upset, largely because all the other passengers remained passive throughout the ordeal, only shouting back at the louts when one of them realised there was a baby in the carriage.

Nigel Farage's display in the European Parliament today was beyond embarrassing, and troubling because I believe it has made it incredibly likely that there will be no chance of negotiating an exit strategy which works for the UK. He behaved like a puerile school bully, giggling, throwing insults, pretending he didn't give a stuff when the chamber started to boo him. My God, I felt ashamed. Add to that, the behaviour of Dominic Cummings, Brexit's Campaign Manager, in front of the Treasury Select Committee. This rancid turd, whom I'd not even heard of before, claimed that “accuracy is for snake-oil pussies" before launching into an insane rant about the people who would kill him if he told the truth about what is going in in Europe. We now have a situation where the lunatics are genuinely running the asylum and the people who voted Brexit still seem to think everything is okay. We have to get order back before there's some kind of Civil War.

If you're reading this and you voted for Brexit, LOOK WHAT YOU HAVE DONE! Look at your country sinking into the mire. A laughing stock around the world. Do you care yet? Are you still believing the bullshit you were told, nearly all of which has subsequently been retracted, or are we going to need to sink deeper into the shit before you start to stand up and say "I voted for Brexit, but I didn't understand what that meant, please can we have another referendum before it's too late." This is serious. It's not a game.

In the late afternoon we went to Trafalgar Square and stood in the rain with Brother Edward, Sascha and about three thousand other people demonstrating against the referendum. I don't think any of us truly knew what we were hoping for. Probably the most likely option would be another referendum in the light of what we now know that we didn't know then. Any campaigning this time would need to be monitored carefully to prevent the bare-faced lies we witnessed from Dick Farage. I felt very proud that we'd braved the rain to be there. Sascha had made two placards which they held with pride until the rain made all the colours run.

There were news crews from around the world. We were interviewed by Germans, Australians and Japanese, all of whom, if I'm honest, seemed to be taking great delight in our country's meteoric fall from grace.

The demo: Very Evita!
This evening I discovered why musical theatre in the UK took off so spectacularly in the recession-torn 1980s (and indeed in 1930s USA.) Maddie, who is playing the role of Rosaline in this year's production of Brass, is actually a trumpeter in the first year at The Guildhall, and invited us to see the third year production of On The Twentieth Century which she was playing in. It was so lovely to sit in a darkened theatre and allow all my worries and fears to temporarily disappear into a blaze of show tunes and sequins. The production was fabulous. A thirty piece orchestra and as many in the cast. The whole experience was utterly transporting. I really needed it.

I don't normally get star struck in the slightest, but Imelda Staunton, Jim Carter and Judi Dench were all in the audience, and afterwards, when they saw each other, went in for a three-way hug, which was really very lovely to see. Maddie came out of the theatre and walked right past, her eyes almost bulging out of their sockets. It truly was a luvvie sandwich!

Laughing Stock

We slept for eleven hours straight last night. Really heavy sleep. The sleep of the dead. I woke up in the night and felt like I was hallucinating. There was a very funny moment on the coach yesterday night when I was talking to Emma Barry. I asked her a question, which I was genuinely interested in, but I promptly fell asleep whilst she gave me the answer. I think the silence that followed must have woken me up again, and I managed to blurt out the word "yes" before waking up enough to continue with the conversation.

I spoke to my Mum today who told me that my Dad has been really depressed about the referendum results. He's not the only one. I was astounded to hear that there had been a considerable spike in hate crimes in the UK following the referendum which includes vandalism and a string of despicable letters aimed at the Polish community. Part of me thinks this nonsense would be more understandable if the Brexit campaign had lost, but to my mind it just goes to show how Twatty Johnson and Titty Farage have legitimised xenophobia in this country. It's also now very clear that they told half-truths and full on-lies during their campaign. They're even saying now that they don't think immigration is much of a problem. We're told that Boris didn't think for a moment that he'd win. He simply thought he'd give the "stay" campaign a run for their money then tell Cameron that his position was untenable. I feel like 51% of voters were stupid enough to fall for a little practical joke run by a set of Eton school boys. And more fool them. When the pensions start getting slashed due to austerity measures, they'll only have themselves to blame. When areas of Wales and Cornwall lose millions of pounds of investment, they'll only have themselves to blame.

...But then again we're all blaming everyone else at the moment, aren't we? And punishment always follows blame. The Europeans will punish us. We have lost all power to negotiate a decent exit. The Westminster politicians blame each other. I genuinely think that lily-livered bunch of time-wasters would actually rather punish Pudgy-faced Gove and Wig-head Johnson for their naughty prank by allowing us to exit Europe than step up to the mark and fight to have us stay in. We need them now more than ever. If they fail us, the country might genuinely enter a phase of anarchy.

Jeremy Corbyn's position looks utterly perilous. There seem to have been more resignations from the Shadow Cabinet than there are places in the shadow cabinet. I'm wondering if there have actually been examples of people being offered posts who have immediately resigned. It's like a revolving door of people wearing red ties. I like Corbyn enormously, and agree with him on most of his policies, but he appears to be too weak to be a leader. He should have been all over the Tories during their recent crisis, and should have been fighting to prevent traditional Labour folk from voting to leave Europe by acknowledging that some people are frightened of immigration. He did neither. Frankly, he just needed to make the right noises. If the people who go on about immigration are too stupid to know when a bunch of Posh Twats are pulling a fast one on them, they'd certainly not notice a Labour leader standing with his fingers crossed behind his back saying, "oh yes. Immigration. Big problem..." For the record, European immigration is not a big problem. Some people are just racist. How many Brexit voters does it take to change a light bulb? It doesn't matter, there's been another power cut.

So, we took ourselves off to Thaxted to cheer the parents up and watch the Great British Sewing Bee. We spent some time trying to work out if the Queen's Coronation Oath was at loggerheads with what was happening in Europe. If it is the Queen's duty to protect the Union, she would have to block any attempt to invoke Article 50 because it would almost certainly lead to the disintegration of the Union. I'd love to see the Brexiteers trying to get their heads around that. They could start sending the Queen hate male. After all, they're tired of being ruled by unelected Europeans. Not including the Queen? Fair enough... She's more of an immigrant than most of us!

So apparently we lost to Iceland in the football this evening? We're such a great nation aren't we? So proud. So strong. If we thought we were a laughing stick in the world this morning, we're like a terrible farce this evening. Oh well, we better get some world-renowned British scientists and literary figures to make us seem relevant again. What do you mean they've left the country? Human capital flight? I'll see you in Scotland.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The future is in safe hands with these wonderful people

Well, I haven't slept a single hour in the last 36 and I can barely focus on this blog, but I feel incredibly relieved, happy and upbeat. Spiritually renewed, almost...

Our trip to France couldn't really have started any less well: horrible thunder storms, and the car park flooded at Thurrock as we were trying to leave. But it was at Dover where the shit spattered itself all over the fan! I don't know who should take more responsibly. P and O suggest getting to the port 30 minutes before a crossing. We got there 1 hour and 20 minutes before ours. And sat. And sat. Apparently we were in a queue waiting for the French border police, who were taking their own sweet time. Maybe it was because of the European cup but I assumed we were being shown how difficult it's going to be from now on to get into Europe. The British police were just standing around saying there was nothing they could do. Blaming the French. And P and O couldn't have cared any less. Everything was someone else's fault. These days it's always someone else's fault. I spoke to a woman in hi viz: "you need to start telling people to get to the ports with two hours to spare..." I said. The response was bizarre, "we always tell people they should leave a reasonable amount of time..." "yes, you advise half an hour!" "And we have no control over how long the French police take..."

So we missed our ferry by seconds and had to sit in a dingy ferry terminal until the next crossing at 3.20am. We weren't the only ones. A large number of other coaches were booked in with different ferry companies and, because they'd missed the last crossing of the night, had to fork out hundreds of pounds for a ticket on the next P and O boat. This is a miserable glimpse into the post-Brexit world. I spoke to bus drivers who said it would no longer be tenable to do day trips to France because the waits at the ferry terminal would eat into their driving hours by too much.

We tried to make the most of it. We rehearsed music. The four trumpeters stood in the car park against the darkened famous white cliffs, and then all the singers got together and sang. Our wonderful drivers, Paul and Cliff, from Abbott's of Leeming, swore they'd go hell for leather to get us to Serre for our ceremony at 7.30am. But at 3.20am, word got around that a "technical issue" involving a life boat on the ferry, meant that we'd be delayed. We eventually left Dover at 4am, with no hope of getting to Serre for 7.30am. Turns out the issue with the life boat was that they'd decided to launch a boat as a "test" at 3am which they couldn't get back onto the ferry. They'd had to cut the lifeboat free and then limit the number of passengers on the ferry accordingly.

I was so depressed. I'd dotted every i and crossed every t in organising this trip and had fallen at the last hurdle through no fault of my own. Instead of watching the sun rise at 6am on a French battlefield, we watched it rise from the ferry. It was the most beautiful sunrise. Bright red streaks across the sky. "Red sky in the morning, shepherds' warning," I thought, and called out to the universe to make the rain it promised hold off, at least for the morning.

The drivers were true to their word, and sped through France. Who knows if they broke the law for us. I was so so grateful.

We arrived in Serre at 8am. We'd missed the zero hour, but, we were all there safely, and, more crucially, there was still no rain.

As we walked up the dusty track towards the little cluster of cemeteries around the Sheffield Memorial Park, the air felt deeply charged. The young cast were soaking the atmosphere in, looking at every detail: the position of the sun in the sky, the gradient of No Man's Land... We stood in the first of the cemeteries looking at gravestone after gravestone belonging to Leeds Pals. A silence descended as they tried to comprehend.

We walked to the Queen's Road Cemetery which is where we ran our little ceremony. It's such a peaceful place. The only sounds we heard from nature were the rustling of trees and the noise of a blissfully happy skylark. The trumpeters played The Last Post in a glorious canon. They wore their banding uniforms proudly. The cast did wonderful readings. We sang "You'll Always Have a Friend" to the Pals as a sort of lullaby. And I know they were listening as they slept because the sun came our from behind a cloud and bathed everyone in the most beautiful light.

The Sheffield Memorial Park is a bitter-sweet place. It commemorates a number of the Pals regiments. Accrington, Barnsley, Sheffield... But the Leeds and Bradford Pals were apparently the "wrong regiment" despite having gone over the top in the vicinity. I have pleaded with the owners of the land to put up a little plaque for the Pals. Their response is that "we can't remember everyone" and that they have "standards to uphold." It makes me very angry.

We went to Serre Road cemetery number 2, where Robyn did a deeply moving reading and Ben Jones, now Mabberly, became incredibly emotional at the grave of my Great Uncle, William Mabberley, after whom I named the central character in the show, which Ben has portrayed so beautifully in two productions. God, it was moving.

And as we headed off to Beaumont Hamel, the promised rain still didn't fall. The Newfoundland Park at Beaumont Hamel is a lovely place. The area was purchased by Newfoundland immediately after the war because they knew it held the remains of so many of their people, who were slaughtered on the first day of the Somme. They left the area as it was, and, over the years, it has simply grassed over. We should all have a real sense of gratitude to the Newfoundlanders because, by purchasing this land, and leaving it the way it's been left, we can all gain a great deal of understanding about the layout of First World War battlefields, with their networks of support, front-line and communication trenches. Every year hundreds of Canadian students come over to the area to give visitors free educational tours, which are really very interesting.

The only issue I have with the set up, and, for some reason, I felt this acutely today, is that you'd think it was only Newfoundlanders who died on this hallowed turf on July 1st 1916, despite the fact that they weren't part of the first wave of the attack, which saw the massacre of countless other battalions, the majority of whom were British. Our tour guide mentioned the "British front line" once. She knew we were English. She didn't feel the need to tell us which battalions had died there and to make matters slightly worse, she talked about the Highlanders having the "relatively easy" task of taking the German lines a few months later when they were exhausted. The Highlanders were known as some of the fiercest and bravest fighters of the entire war, and to pass over their significance felt somewhat disingenuous. Our guide was from Newfoundland itself, so I completely understood her passion, but I think you sometimes need to know your audience and she came across as nationalists and naïve.

As we left the park, we all posed for a group photograph. When we'd taken a few pictures, I asked the kids to run at the camera to see if I could get a bit of a fun "action" shot. It was all vey lighthearted and silly, and it lasted about three seconds.

As we walked out of the park, I became aware that one of the Canadian guides was staring at me, so I thanked him. "What the hell were you doing?" He asked, humourlessly. "Asking people to charge? Have some respect." I instantly apologised but felt somewhat aggrieved, largely out of embarrassment because it was important for me not to upset anyone whilst we were in France. I was also more than a little surprised because we were simply having a little moment of fun and the young people I was there with had been utterly respectful and brilliantly behaved all day. But being told I had no respect for the men who had fallen in the First World War was very galling. I wondered how many musicals he'd written about the war. Whether he'd ever lobbied to have a plaque placed in a memorial park. I wished I'd told him that I felt he and his tour guides ought to show a little more respect for the non-Canadians who had died at Beaumont Hamel. Or that perhaps they might like to take themselves a little less seriously.

As we left Beaumont Hamel, we'd still not had any rain...

We did a little diversion to Thiepval Monument so the lovely Carol, our Barnbow expert who has been so much fun on the trip, could jump out, run across a car park and take a quick picture of the memorial. I don't know how old Carole is, but most women of her age wouldn't have been able to sprint the way she did. We cheered her from the coach!

The third and final part of our day took place at Bus Les Artois, which, I think, for some, was the most magical part of the day. The lads got a chance to walk into and explore an actual barn where the Leeds Pals were billeted. Ben and Oscar even climbed a ladder up into the hay loft. It's such an atmospheric place, which has plainly not changed at all since the war. Shafts of mysterious light were pouring through the roof.

The cast also got a chance to go to the tiny little private museum to the Pals in the town which is stacked full of curios including the little porcelain tea set which so inspired one of the story lines in Brass. I think a number of the girls were fascinated to see and hold a real life shell... Just like the ones their characters made at Barnbow.

As that was our special day. We returned to the UK without a great deal of issue and the first drops of rain we'd seen since leaving Dover fell on English soil.

I invited some of the cast of Brass who came on the trip today to write a "guest blog." The first is a joint enterprise by Maddie and Anna:

"Never did we think that at some point in our career we would be rehearsing at a coffee shop at 2am with an audience consisting of two anti-terrorist police men. All of us in the cast of Brass knew all too well that we could be sleeping, but instead we all agreed that it was more important to rehearse for what was going to be the most important few minutes of our time as a company so far. After an unplanned delay and sleepless night- or should we say morning- we arrived at Serre and walked onto what was once No Mans Land. The first thing that struck us was the deafening, but oddly peaceful silence that surrounded us. It seems strange to think that one hundred years ago this exact spot would have been deafeningly loud. As we prepared to pay our respects to the fallen, we realised how carefully the memorials have been maintained over the years- It was comforting to see how every individual solider was not going to be forgotten.

I (Maddie) had the honour to play the Last Post at the spot where my Great Great Uncle was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. While I was playing I became instantly aware of the silence that surrounded us and how vast the battlefields really were. I also experienced something that I had never felt before. Looking at the war graves around me made me feel angry. They never found his body and to me, he deserves a grave stone like every other solider, even though he is still out in No Mans Land. I also felt enormously proud to be standing when he fell representing my family. Even though I never met him, I feel as though I was with him at that moment. I felt the same when we sung the end of 'Letters'. We were no longer singing about them, we were singing to them.

After the ceremony we started to think about the events that have happened in recent days. The men that fell for our country gave their lives to ensure that we had a better, brighter future and quite frankly, with the the recent choice our country has made, we feel like we've let them down.

After an amazing and insightful day we began our journey home. As we were approaching the border at Calais, we noticed hundreds and hundreds of tents packed together on the side of the motorway. We were then informed that these were the homes of migrants fleeing their horrific situation. Never in our lives have we seen a sight quite like it and for us, this realisation came at a poignant time. Having just come from the war graves, we see how important it is for us to love and build bridges, not walls. As the younger generation we understand that it is us who have to change the way our world is, something that has become even more apparent because of our trip today. Thank you NYMT."


Emma Barry, who played Grimsby in the 2014 incarnation of Brass, wrote this about her experience at Sheffield Memorial Park:

"A thing that struck me most about today was the silence; the sense of peace and utter stillness that came from the absence of any sound bar the rustle of the wind and the birdsong. One area we visited in Serre had grown over into a miniature forest, and as soon as we entered the area (roughly on the spot of the British front line trenches) I couldn't help but notice how the trees seemed to guard the area like sentinels.
They reminded me of the soldiers, and it was almost as if the trees represented their souls - marking each spot where, an entire century ago now, a brave young man had fallen in battle, giving up his life to protect his country. It was a humbling thought, and somewhat comforting to think that even in a place which has known such chaos, new life can always flourish. When I think of Serre I will think of that forest: the final resting place of so many lives, yet the symbol of rejuvenation and peace."


The following comes from another collective:

"We feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to have gone to the place where the Leeds pals went over the top 100 years ago. It was an incredibly moving and emotional experience that will make our performance in Brass all the more real. We love this cast so much and when the sun shone brightly as we sang "Just remember my eyes and my chin and my smile" we were astounded with a sense of love and peace for all humanity for the sacrifices that so many of our own men made. Thank you for an incredible experience that we will take into our performance and will remember for the rest of our lives. All our love, Kitty Watson, Ben Jones and Oscar Garland
We love you benj!!! Xxx"


Ruby Ablett who plays Peggy in the show writes:

"Not had enough time to reflect and think this through, but feeling so strongly right now that I wanted to contribute to the blog (or at least just let you know how grateful I am for today). Too many bottles of wine so bare with me!

Right now I'm not really thinking about the show or even really about world war 1, but about humanity. We've really fucked some things up. But I also believe we have something very special as a human race. And yet last week people denied this connection, and chose, selfishly, and probably ignorantly, to think of themselves, and not the whole picture. Today I saw the whole picture; I saw the blessing of life and family and community destroyed by the pointlessness of politics and international war. We are so much more than this. As we sang today it was clear we shared so much with these men as fellow humans. Too many lives and for nothing but a few metres of field. I wish we could just pack up the weapons and collaborate. I don't know why this seems so irrational and idealistic.

Despite feeling deeply saddened by the results of the referendum, I do feel hope, because young people are seeing this now. The brass cast are wonderful and it's been an honour to spend this day with them. So thank you so much for the opportunity. It's been beautiful. Sorry if we've been loud at the back of the bus."


Tom Strang from the cast writes the following:

"Just wanted to say a huge thank you for organising one of the most insightful trips I'll probably ever experience, especially whilst being surrounded by such a fantastic group of people.

Probably the hardest part for me emotionally, was singing in the grave yard as the sun rose and shone down onto our faces whilst hearing the birds sing in the background. Also meeting all the graves of some of the characters in Brass really brought the stories to life and really hit home that these people were a similar age to most of us in the cast and from similar locations across the uk. I'm so glad that so much of it is caught on camera as I'm sure it's going to be a huge benefit for us to be able to picture everything we witnessed over the few hours whilst performing the piece on stage. A specific highlight which definitely made it that tiny bit more memorable was singing the end of 'letters' at 2am in the morning at the Dover ferry terminal. There was something very calming about that moment and at that point I think our focus really changed to why we were on our way to Serre and what we were going to do.

Again, a huge thanks for all your effort to make that a special trip for all of us. See you soon, Tom X"


And Charlie from the cast sent this to me late last night:

"I can't thank you enough for organising the special trip we've just experienced. I feel enormously privileged to have visited places that are so important (from all manner of perspectives) and to have learned from you, Nathan and Carol. The ceremony in the first cemetery we visited, in particular, shall live long in the memory. And to have stood where the Leeds Pals once stood, to have explored the real barn from the show and to have seen so much ephemera from life in the 1910s... just overwhelming. For me, seeing pictures of monstrous engines of war in the Newfoundland museum brought home just how mercilessly humans can view one of their own kind. I got much more of a sense of this from these monochrome photographs than I have ever got from images in the modern media. Perhaps this is due to my age: putting myself in the shoes of a young soldier from 1916 comes more naturally to me than doing the same with the generally more experienced soldiers of today in mind. (Nathan mentioned that you'd like reactions from us for your next blog - please feel free to use this if you want.) I (and I've no doubt everyone else, too) hugely appreciate the hard work that went into the trip. Thank you."

I would personally like to thank Karen Murgatroyd at Leeds City Council for assisting us financially with this trip, Voctoria Bracey and all of the relatives, friends and BBC people who have given us donations.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Going to France

I'm on a coach with 35 members of the combined casts of the two productions of Brass. We're going to France to stand where the Pals went over the top at the exact time in the morning they went over. 100 years on. The young people are behaving themselves very well. They're mostly singing songs from the '70s and sharing food. We have a Welsh flag flying at the back of the bus on account of the Welsh football team's triumph. We're joined on the trip by Tina, Nathan and Abbie, and the wonderful Carole Smithies who is the world expert on the Barnbow munitions factory in Leeds, which features so prominently in Brass.

The coach left Leeds at 3.30pm today and drove down to London via Watford Gap, picking up people en route. The cast seemed thrilled to see each other again and the lovely thing about the show is that it doesn't divide people into cliques. It's very much an ensemble piece. The cast of Brass wander around in a huge amorphous blob. I have always said that I want everyone who does my show not to see it as a show but as an era. Years of student drama and orchestral tours has taught me how important this is. These people will know each other for the rest of their lives and I feel very honoured to have brought them all together.

This trip promises to be very special indeed. Fingers crossed for the weather. And that the French don't hate us as much as we hate ourselves.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Rant. Rant. Rant.

There are few words to describe how I feel at the moment. That's a silly thing to say. Obviously I'm going to have a bash at using words to say how I feel, because this is a blog, and I'm feeling so MANY things at the moment, all of them with great intensity and many of them at loggerheads with themselves. I feel tired. Washed out. Angry. Frustrated. Hurt. Terrified. I feel ashamed at my brothers in Wales for putting their trust in Boris Johnson over the people of Europe who have pumped money into their most deprived areas. Boris Johnson epitomises the type of man who they should be railing at, and yet they've given that ghastly man a permanent smile. I thought, when Johnson shuffled his way down the street, that he looked like a character Matt might have played in Little Britain. I felt ashamed that the eyes of the world were on him. I feel proud of the cyclists who blocked Boris' fancy car from leaving his street in Islington chanting "you want to come out of Europe but you can't even get out of your own street." I feel proud to live in Haringey, the fifth most pro-Europe district in the country. I feel proud that the people of York, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Oxfordshire, Cambridge, Warwick, Leicester, Lewes and Brighton wanted to stay. Places I love. Places I can still visit without feeling angry. I am grateful to the Scots. I am angry that this ludicrous decision will mean that we no longer have a United Kingdom when the Scots say goodbye to us and switch the light out as they leave. I am grateful to the forward thinking, gracious, calm, stay campaigners for finding words of love through their pain this morning. I want to smash Nigel Farage's face in for instantly going back on his pledge to plough more money into the NHS if we exit Europe. I want to ask him if he thought the whole thing was a game. I want to shout at every single Brexit voter who has the audacity to say we should all be friends again now that "this ugly business is behind us". I want to shout even louder at the Brexit voters who voted out without expecting the vote to go that way. I want people to know that my industry could well fold in on itself as a result of this vote. I want people reading this who voted Brexit to know that I am frightened for my future. I want to know what people mean when they say they've "got Britain back." I want the woman from Barnsley who was interviewed on the news at lunchtime, the one who said she didn't know the EU had invested in her area after the pits closed down, to feel ashamed. I didn't want to be fleeced when I went into the post office this morning to get some Euros out for my trip to France tomorrow. I wanted to be able to take the kids of the National Youth Music Theatre to France with their heads held high. I wanted to show them the foreign field in Picardy where thousands of British men died to protect Europe and make them feel proud to still be part of that ancient, wonderful, forward-thinking continent. I do not want to feel like I need to apologise to every French man that I see. I want every single Brexit voter to have their passports removed. I don't want to see my European friends in tears, or receive Facebook messages from American friends saying "what the fuck?" I am ashamed to come from Northamptonshire. I don't want to hear crowing Brexiteers laughing at the concept of "bleeding heart Liberals "crying into their Prosecco." I want people to stop whinging about London and to have a bash at understanding what it feels like to live in a city where the transport is broken, where we're all living on top of one another, where the price of living is so high that people stay in most nights because they can't afford to go out, where Russian oligarchs and Chinese businessmen own beautiful houses which no one lives in. Do you think anti-immigration legislation is going to stop those bastards? Like fuck it is! Did Jo Cox die in vain? Yes. Do I give a shit about the people of Sunderland? Not any more. Do I wish that the hundreds of millions of pounds that the EU invests in the British film industry was still going to be invested in the British film industry? Of course. Do I think that this decision will have a crippling effect on musicians touring Europe? Yes. Do I wish I could turn back time? Yes. Do I blame anyone for removing all their friends on Facebook who posted racist nonsense to prove a point about Brexit? No. Have I removed anyone from Facebook in the last four weeks? Yes. Five people to be precise, all of whom offended me deeply with their views. Am I lucky not to have needed to remove any more people? Yes. Am I grateful that my family all voted to stay? Absolutely. But good will prevail. Now more than ever we need to shine every last drop of positive light into the darkest shadows. We need to tell our European friends not to be frightened. We need to shop in Polski Skleps. We need to support anyone who is suffering at the hands of xenophobes. We need to change the face of British politics, but above all else, we need to keep on loving. Love will triumph over hatred, fear, bigotry and paranoia and yesterday I learned something amazing: 16,141,240 British people agree with me. Love Is Everyone.