Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Eurovision boo

My dear friend Jo came to stay with us last night. She'd been rehearsing with an impro troupe in Islington and needed a place to crash, so we stayed up into the wee smalls, laughing hysterically at YouTube videos whilst drinking cups of tea. It made me miss the old days a little. A whole gang of us used to have all sorts of adventures together. Picnics, trips to the seaside and parties where we'd dance for hours on end. I'm hoping those carefree days will return at some point, when the kids are a little bit older and everyone's settled into the routine of who they actually are as opposed to who they long to be. It strikes me that almost everyone my age longs for something they don't have, be that kids, or a loving partner, or money, or happiness, or, in my case, a mortgage, a roof terrace, a pension and job security!

Julian and I spent the day in the Crouch End Vicarage, slowly working our way through the rest of the Oranges and Lemons mix. I'd had a mini-freak out in the night after listening to our end-of-day-one rough mix and deciding, as I always do at this stage, that I'd written something hopelessly dense and utterly pointless. Today, however, we took a deep breath and worked through the piece bar-by-bar, slowly polishing every hemi-demi-semi quaver until we started to see the gold hidden in the concrete.

Yesterday I extolled the virtues and inherent speed of the Victoria Line. Today I find myself forced to retract almost everything I previously wrote! The Victoria Line was on a go-slow today, literally crawling from station to station, just when I needed it to go quickly. The same recorded announcement came over the tannoy system every three minutes informing us that we were being held at a red signal. The driver eventually announced that the delays had been caused by someone pulling the emergency cord on a train somewhere ahead of us. I sincerely hope whoever pulled it did so in a genuine emergency situation. Rule number one: If you get into trouble in London, no one actually cares. In fact, you can consider yourself a nuisance if you don't have the decency to slink off somewhere convenient to have your heart attack.

I don't know what it is about me running late for Eurovision events. In fact, the one time I actually got to see the contest live (1998, Birmingham) the train broke down outside Northampton for five hours and the contest had started before we were on the move again. I don't think I've ever been so distressed!

As we pulled into Earl's Court (having changed onto the Piccadilly Line) the announcement came through that the train would be stopping "half in and half out of the station to enable Underground staff to go onto the tracks to retrieve an object!" We weren't told which object. I would have liked minute-by-minute running commentary by the driver, but none was forthcoming. Minutes later, the train was held in the platform to regulate the service. There was a collective sigh of "whatever next" from people in the carriage.

So, this evening I was heading to the 60th anniversary Eurovision concert at the Hammersmith Apollo. The last time I came here was to see Kate Bush. That place certainly allows me to tick off all my obsessions one by one!

Highlights of the evening were almost certainly seeing Brotherhood of Man singing Save All Your Kisses for Me and Nicole giving a rendition of A Little Peace. Both songs instantly took me back to scenes from my childhood, aided hugely by the presence of Brother Edward, who kept reminding me of little memories of his own. My first strong recollection of Eurovision was from the year Bucks Fizz won. 1981. I remember my Dad saying that if we scored more than (I think) seven points in the final vote, the UK would have won, and thinking how clever he was to know that.

The whole thing was being televised and will be shown on Friday night. I felt genuine pride when the entire auditorium erupted into jeers and boos at the mention of Russia. I am appalled the BBC opted to include a Russian act in this particular celebration. For starters it's not fair on the performer, but for puddings, there's no place in Eurovision for Russia whilst it has draconian anti-gay laws. As a result I believe the audience responded with appropriate noises. Sadly, we were later duped into cheering. The warm-up man came on a few songs later and said, "we're going to get some shots of you all cheering and smiling now..." It was plain to me that this was the emergency band aid for the Russian catastrophe, but the audience fell for it, buoyed up and excited by the presence of Loreen, so you'll be able to watch all of us  cheering wildly for Russia. Just know we weren't. Not even slightly!

The absolute coup de theatre was Conchita Wurst and Dana International appearing from behind a screen singing Abba's Waterloo. The room erupted with trans-pride. That, right there, encapsulated the joy and importance of Eurovision. Love or hate its campery and cheese, an extremely important political message about tolerance and equality was sent out tonight. If only every day Russians were allowed to see it.

Sunday, 29 March 2015


It's our first wedding anniversary today. We kicked off the celebrations in a rain storm up at Alexandra Palace, which is, of course, where we got married. We thought it would be rather nice to go up there exactly a year on to evoke a few memories and see if the old place was still looking fabulous. The hope had been to take Nathan's photo for the front cover of the Pepys album up there, but rain very firmly stopped play!

Spring must have come very early last year, because it was only when we were standing there this morning, shaking and shivering in the sheeting rain that we realised how lucky we'd been with the weather on our wedding day. It was glorious this time last year. The sun shone. The guests wandered around the boating lake eating ice creams, and the blossoms were in full bloom. Today they were barely visible.

As we drove up this morning, both of us felt a little flutter in our tummies recalling the nerves we'd felt as we took the taxi up to the Palace with Nathan's sister on our big day. Nathan grabbed my hand and pointed to our rings: "we weren't wearing these twelve months ago..."

We drove from Ali Pali to Huntingdonshire to meet up with Lisa and Mark and celebrate three things: the life of their son, my honorary God-son, George, the second birthday of their daughter Rosie, and our wedding anniversary.

When we arrived - late of course because the clocks had gone forward - Lisa told us that she had a present for us in the sitting room, and as we walked in, four people popped up like Jack-in-boxes from behind the sofa. It took us both a few seconds to compute that Philippa, Dylan, Deia and Silver had travelled up to Huntingdon to spend our special day with us. It was a wonderful, wonderful surprise and we both felt very deeply touched. They all met at the wedding, but Lisa and Mark and Philippa and Dylan come from different parts of our extended friendship groups, so it was rather surreal and quite pleasurable to see them all together in one space. The kids got on famously, Philippa and Lisa seem to adore one another, and Mark and Dylan instantly disappeared into the study to play songs from the musical Matilda, and look at Mark's drums for what seemed like hours!

Lisa cooked a lot of stunning food for us, mostly things from the Ottolenghi cook book, which, for a veggie, is a huge treat. Chilli-infused halloumi? Not 'arf!

We went for a lovely walk in Spaldwick village, which I learned today (due to community activity) has some of the fastest broadband in the country. It's also the only place I know whose village shop is also a delicatessen!

We went to the blustery churchyard to see little George's grave, which looks beautiful covered in primroses. The last time I visited this particular church was during his funeral when hundreds of white helium-filled balloons were released into the air. I will never forget the beautiful image of them all flying up to heaven with little messages attached, silhouetted against the bright spring sunshine.

There was a last-minute dash to the train station in Huntingdon to get Philippa, Dylan and the kids to their train. We went via Brampton, erstwhile home of Pepys, and passed Hinchingbrooke, the ancestral home of his Pepys' supporter and cousin, Lord Sandwich.

I didn't sleep at all last night. My mind was full to the rafters with thoughts and worries about films and projects, so when I got back from the station, I had a lovely sleep, like a little old man, on the sofa.

We came home and went back to Ali Pali. It felt right to start and finish our day there, and, because it was dry again, we were finally able to take Nathan's photograph, in front of the glorious rose window up there which was glowing like some kind of mystical orb, whilst the lights of London twinkled and fluttered in a sea of darkness.

Tyres, trenches, tea and tarts

I was up incredibly early this morning and on the road before 9am, taking the westerly M25 route around London to a little village just outside Gatwick Airport.

The car journey was eventful for two reasons. Firstly, because I overshot the exit for the M23 by a miserably embarrassing twenty miles. I was in some kind of trance, listening to ABBA, and suddenly realised I was in Kent! I might have got all the way to Dartmouth, had one passing car driver not beeped his horn obsessively as he passed me whilst pointing down at my car wheel...

It turns out I was driving with a flat tyre. That was the second eventful aspect of the journey. It didn't seem to be having any affect on the car's steering, so I decided to crawl to my destination before stopping to change the wheel. I'll be honest: the process made me feel quite manly! I realise I've actually never changed a wheel on my own before.

I was in Surrey to see a reconstructed trench system, which has been dug into a field behind a farm building. It's hugely authentic: in fact it was created by First World War archeologists, so the attention to detail is staggering. There are dugouts, braziers, support trenches, and even a little railway system. We're definitely going to be using it for our promotional film for Brass.

I drove from Surrey to Catford, for the latest episode of Craft and Cake, which found me working on a project for my brother's wedding next week. Speaking of which, from about mid day today, we were blessed with a plethora of first anniversary greetings, which was a little perplexing as our anniversary is actually tomorrow. Of course we then realised that the first messages were coming from Australia, where, of course, today is tomorrow.

Craft and cake was fun. Julie had created an amazing raspberry and mango mousse cake, which was messy to serve but absolutely delicious.

From Catford we drove to Covent Garden. Jem, whilst waiting for his American visa to arrive, is living with a friend in the most beautiful penthouse apartment just off Upper Saint Martin's Lane. He cooked for six of us today, all wonderful people that we must make a huge effort to keep in touch with once he's no longer here to bring us all together. The food, as ever, was sublime. Jem is one of the best cooks I know. We're going to miss him bitterly when he joins Ian across the pond. Ian Skyped us all today from a Starbucks in the lower midtown district of Manhattan. I think he was on about 30th and 8th, which instantly made me want to be over there with him. It's far too long since I've recharged the New York batteries.

Friday, 27 March 2015


Today was meant to be a day off, but it felt like nothing of the sort. I had rather too many things to do and technology kept failing me. It was 4pm by the time I'd had my lunch, which meant for at least the three hours before I wasn't functioning as a human being. Today I had another mass storage device grind to a halt. I'm hoping this one's just an issue with cabling, which was chewed through by our per rats about three years ago. But then again, I thought Nathan's device looked fixable.

I am not quite sure where the hours of today managed to go, but I worked myself into a right old tizzy at one point. I must learn to stop doing that!

I took a trip into Muswell Hill to develop some photos, pay in a few cheques and buy some card for a crafting mission I'm presently on. I sat in a cafe, four doors along from Barclays Bank and was continually disturbed by their free wifi announcements popping up on my screen. On one hand, I think it's fabulous that Barclays wifi has such a large reach that customers in two nearby cafés can take advantage, but on the other, if you're half way trough a very tricky bar of music and your screen is suddenly filled with a box which says "would you like to log on to free Barclays wifi?" it can get somewhat irritating. Particularly when, if you tick the "no thanks" box, you're asked again in exactly ten minutes. To make matters worse, the box takes at least twenty seconds to load, during which time you can't do anything but sit and stare at it! Starbucks uses a similarly frustrating system. Frankly, I'm not keen on anything which can crash into my computer without being invited.

I went to Earl's Court this evening to see an evening of songs and monologues performed by the Earl's Courtiers in the immensely grand setting of St Cuthbert's Church, with sits on the equally impressive Philbeach Gardens. Abbie was performing. In fact, she'd also directed the evening. She sang You Have to Be There, which is from the musical Kristina by Benny and Björn off of ABBA. It's a glorious song, which she did with great dignity and aplomb. Abbie's having a bit of a rough ride at the moment, so our thoughts and prayers should all be with her and her family, particularly in the next few days.

I don't think there's much else to say about today. At midnight last night I finished the eleventh draft of Brass and sent it out to a few people for their thoughts. Quite a lot of people who saw the show felt it could do with being 15-20 minutes shorter, but only seemed to have suggestions as to what else I should add rather than any comments on what outstayed its welcome. The new draft is fairly different, yet, I'd say, less than five hundred words shorter than the last! I maintain that the overall pace of the first production was slow, however, so am hoping this version isn't going to be subjected to too many more trims. Trimming the piece is like hacking off pieces of my own flesh!

Thursday, 26 March 2015


My eyes feel like they're closing as I walk through Victoria Station. It's been a long day and I'm almost in a panic to get home. Sadly my tired feet won't carry me any faster than I'm going, despite the fact that everyone around me seems to be running like bridesmaids in a rain storm. I suppose at this time of night no one wants to miss their last train home. Returning to London after the relative calm of Hove is always a shock to the system. I'm sure I'll soon be running everywhere myself, but for a few blissful hours I'm operating at a slower speed.

There must have been some sort of storm in the night, because when I woke up this morning, the pavements in Hove were shimmering with rain water, and the sea was a yellow raging tiger.

PK and I worked our way through the last of the songs from Brass. We ended with Scared - or Sacred as Paul misread it. It's the big love song in Brass, the moment that the four protagonists realise they've fallen for each other. And of course they do so in song. Why else would I write a musical? I get sick and tired of people who don't understand the one basic rule of musical theatre. When the stakes are too high to speak, sing. And when singing isn't enough, dance. If your drama doesn't happen in music, then you've written a play and you won't have to get the MU involved!

At the end of the day, PK showed me some of the tracks he'd been working on, including I Make the Shells, which is so epic and symphonic that I secretly burst into tears!

I treated PK for lunch at a greasy spoon. The plan had been to take PK's wife, Olivia, with us, as a thank you for always cooking such lovely food when I'm working there, but she has such an astonishingly healthy diet, that the idea of fried and processed food entirely freaked her out. She genuinely couldn't imagine what anyone would manage to eat in a greasy spoon, so stayed at home and ate hummus in pitta. Meanwhile, we returned stinking of fried bacon. I suddenly saw her point!

To save money, I booked my train tickets in advance, but due to filming commitments, had to keep cancelling tickets and buying new ones. By the time I'd travelled to West Worthing and back, twice, I had exactly twenty extra tickets and receipts in my wallet. So many, in fact, that the wallet wouldn't close!

The cheapest tickets were for the latest trains, and, because we finished work at six, I sauntered back to Hove and met Fiona for tea whilst waiting for the train. We sat in Hove Station for a while, which is peopled by the most bewildered assortment of misfits I've possibly witnessed under one roof. An announcement came over the tannoy at one point about delayed trains and cancellations, which no one could hear. I went to the ticket desk to ask what the announcement was all about. "I dunno" said the man, "I couldn't hear it. I should think it was just routine..." "But it featured the word cancellation," I said, "surely that's a little more than routine..." "Oh.." He said. And that seemed to be the end of our conversation.

Another staff member just giggled nervously whilst a third, somewhere on the autistic spectrum, barked something. She looked at me: "Did you get any of that? Me neither..." Her face said it all; "we're a bit rubbish aren't we?" In fact, I think she may even have said words to that effect, prompting Fiona to comment on what a typically English thing it is to wear ones uselessness on ones sleeve. It sort of ties in with the whole supporting the under dog thing. It's okay to be rubbish, if you're bumbling and being charming at the same time.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Tyne and Wear Metro

Meriel reminded me this morning that it's exactly four years since Tyne and Wear Metro: The Musical was first aired, which means, exactly four years ago, I was in a state of confusion and shock! I'd hitherto been rather used to my films being positively received by audiences, but Metro: the Musical caused what can only be described as a disproportionate amount of mayhem!  I guess I first realised that things weren't going as smoothly as usual in the back of a taxi heading away from our premiere party. Our producer, Alistair, kept checking his iPhone and suddenly announced that the film was trending on Twitter. I didn't really know what that meant at the time, and assumed it was a good thing, until we started to look at the comments and realised the film was being utterly savaged! People were going as far as to say that piece made them feel ashamed to be from the North East and they were saying so with vitriol!

As the days went on, it was YouTube which established itself as the main battle ground.  Exactly 50% of those that saw it hated it, and because I'm a glass-half-empty type of person, I ignored the positive comments and focussed on the fact that as many people had given us the thumbs down as had opted for a thumbs up. As the days rolled on, the YouTube hits grew and grew. For at least a year I would periodically go online and force myself to look at the terrible things that people had said. I was like someone watching a road traffic accident. I couldn't look away once I'd started to drive past.

These days, of course, I'm proud to have created something controversial, something with 100,000 YouTube hits and something which has riled and excited people in equal measure, because all of these things are cited as definitions of good art. As it happens, I watched the film from start to finish twice last week and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was made with love and humour, and that's good enough for me... And the 50,000 people we can assume liked the film!

So, anyway, this time four years ago, I was in Newcastle with my entire family. We'd spent the day walking from Tyne Mouth to South Shields, via the Tyne ferry, which anyone from the region will know is a fair old hike. My family have always been big walkers but on this occasion, my mother was struggling and none of us could work out why. She continued to struggle throughout the rest of the year, really, and by the summer was in agony. Her joints ached. She could barely lift her arms above her head. Even the vibrations of cars passing on the street outside her house caused her to shudder. The doctors, of course, told her it was merely wear and tear, just as they'd told me that my whooping cough was psychosomatic. It turns out that my Mum had a condition called PMR (Polymialgia Rheumatica.) I am mentioning this fact because I know a number of this blog's readers are women of a certain age. PMR is treatable with steroids, but if left, can lead to Temporal Arteritis, which is a more serious condition, which Nathan's mother is currently getting over. PMR and TA are both more common than you might think and don't seem to be particularly high up on the list of conditions that GPs spot. Nathan's mother actually diagnosed herself! So here's the deal: If you're post-menopausal and you find yourself inexplicably aching profusely in the shoulders and neck, ask your doctor about PMR. Simple.

Today's been spent in the familiar surroundings of PK's loft in Worthing, working through three more of the tracks from Brass. The Prologue almost sent us insane. It's twice the length of any other track and vocal lines weave their way in and out like trains at Clapham Junction. A couple of performers needed an astonishing amount of remedial work and we spent hours digging out solos which had been buried under a heap of other stuff. It was epic.

Speaking of which, I've just been on an epic walk along the seafront in Brighton, from First Avenue in Hove all the way to the Brighton Marina, which must be a six mile round trip. I was accompanied on the journey by an orange crescent moon, which looked very much as I imagine the eclipse must have looked in Manchester last Thursday, with the difference that today's moon was mounted in black velvet rather than greyish skies.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Scummy Brummie

I was up with the lark this morning to drive to Birmingham with a young cameraman called Tom. For the first time in my life, I signed up to the Nathan school of navigation, which involves planning your route and then staring at street view images on google to familiarise yourself with visual landmarks which turn blue and red lines on a map into something tangible. So instead of turning off the M6 onto the A38, I turned left after seeing a weird concrete over-pass, and got into the right hand lane at a distinctive red brick church in the city centre... It's actually a lot of fun, not just because it entirely does away with the need for a map on what might otherwise be considered a fairly complicated journey, but also because it's blinking impressive to those who are in the car with you! "Have you not got sat nav?" asked Tom. "No," I said smugly, "I don't need it!"

We made it to Brum in pretty good time, where we met a bubbly lass called Tina, who talked candidly to us about her experience of diabetes. The interview happened in a whole food cafe where all the food was either vegan or dairy free, which I thought felt somewhat un-Brummy!

We were back in London by 4.30pm, feeling wiped out and achey, which was a shame, because I was back on the road again at 7, heading to Victoria Station to get the train to Fiona's house in Hove where I'm staying tonight before doing the last two days of first stage mixing on Brass.

I desperately wanted a nice quiet journey down to Hove, but the experience was blighted by a man to my right eating some kind of meat pasty which smelt like one of the kids in my form at junior school, and an enormously fat Nigerian bloke behind me who did nothing but shout a blend of English and Nigerian at the most extraordinary volume, which became almost impossible to ignore.

Fortunately he got off at Croydon, and I must have got used to the urine-biscuit-smelling pie because everything was fabulous by the time we'd passed Gatwick. That was, of course, until we got to Hayward's Heath, where the train divided, and the first four carriages went off to Hove. Sadly, when the dot-matrix machines inside the trains have been switched off, and you approach the train in the platform from the back end, there is no way on earth of telling where the first four carriages start...

The man opposite on my the table tapped me and said "this train does go to Hove, doesn't it?" "I certainly hope so!" I said, and we both laughed. I went back to my work, wondering if anyone ever ends up going to the wrong station and thinking how terrible that would be.

A second later the man opposite was legging it out of the carriage, and a fight or flight instinct told me to run after him. Just as well. We weren't sitting in the front four carriages and barely made it there before the train doors closed and we ended up somewhere ghastly!

Hove was freezing cold. It's often either very hot or very cold here. We've been told to expect temperatures around zero tonight and tomorrow, which begs the question; where on earth is spring?!