Thursday, 21 May 2015

La Trav

I’m currently sitting on the floor at Euston Station, waiting for a the Northern Line train which will take me to Highgate. 
I’ve just been to an early-doors screening of a BBC film about La Traviata, which was presented by an old university friend of mine, Tom Service. It’s a charming film. I don’t actually know the opera. I’d never seen it before, and if I’m honest I tend to avoid opera these days because I can’t really get my head around the ghastly sound of women shrieking their tits off and “schmackting”. People seem to think it’s sublime for some reason. The same people love Shakespeare for the sake of loving Shakespeare. It’s rooted in snobbery, of course. But the film actually touched me very deeply. It was fascinating to hear the story behind the piece, and Tom is a very engaging presenter; gloriously gauche in his delivery!
I chatted a lot to the production team afterwards. I am so awful at schmoozing. My instinct is always to hide in the shadows, which probably comes across as aloofness rather than crippling shyness. 
Today was all about relaxing. I met my old mate Matt Lucas for lunch at Wagamama on Wigmore Street and we caught up on about six months of chatter and gossip. It was so great to see him. He’s such a lovely man. I realised today that our friendship goes back to 1999, which feels like another world ago. 
I took myself up to our gym in Kentish Town for a swim after lunch. The time has come to get back into shape. A sharp mind is fed by a well-conditioned body, so it’s back onto fresh fruit and vegetables, lots of soup and daily exercise before I’m too old to haul my sorry ass down a flight of stairs. 

I reclaimed the Brass soundtrack today. A few days aural rest, and a successful edit was all I apparently needed to realise what a wonderful album we’ve made. I had a lovely time listening to the Prologue sitting outside a cafe on Carnaby Street whilst waiting to go the screening. I am now officially excited to show it to the world.
Loose Women update: apparently some of the panel were hypnotised by a dog today. Serious journalists these women!

Loosely whinging

I’ve spent the day tidying the house. I washed the carpet. I hoovered. I polished. I was like a cleaning machine. I wanted Shake and Vac, but couldn’t find any, but the sitting room looks and smells glorious. 
Far too much of my spare time was spent dealing with ITV and various other people regarding the Coleen Nolan nonsense on Loose Women. It all kicked off when I watched the show this afternoon and realised that no one was going to make any apologies for the debacle of the day before. To make matters worse, Coleen went off on another rant - this time, astonishingly, about the etiquette of apologising in relation to Thomas Cook’s boss and the Corfu “gas deaths.”
I immediately phoned up the complaints line at ITV, whinged for ten minutes, and was told, as I was yesterday, that someone at Loose Women would call me. No one called me yesterday, and no one called me today. In fact, later in the afternoon I was sent what can only be described as a threatening email from someone at ITV complaints informing me that I had effectively been banned from ever calling them again based on “the highly emotive nature of your repeated telephone calls, viewers services and all members of the Loose Women production team have been given instructions that all future correspondence with you on this matter is to take place in writing. I have instructed my team to reaffirm this communication and if they receive any further emotive challenges, they have  been authorised to terminate any future calls from you politely but immediately.” 
All a bit Third Reich if you ask me. If someone doesn’t play the game, pull rank and make it very difficult for them to complain in the future! It seems that my telling them that I had formally complained to Ofcom has got them in a panic.
Minutes later I received an official response from Loose Women telling me that Coleen “emphatically did not equate ISIS with homosexuality or gay marriage at any point.” Her email to me came across as a woman grasping at straws, and more than that, one who had obviously taken legal advice to find watertight justifications for what the various women had said. I was astonished and told her so in a response. Basically, the overwhelming fact which is coming out in all of this is that no one on the Loose Women team, not the presenters, or the producers, has any idea about the very specific situation that the LGBT community is in in Northern Ireland. They’re also taking me more seriously than anyone else. Nathan wrote to them yesterday and has still not heard anything back… 

Standing up for human rights is a tiring old business though! I don’t like the antagonism and have to view the whole thing as a game to stop myself from feeling deeply depressed. Nathan’s had some awful dealings on twitter with Christians with chips on their shoulders and I have been contacting people all day about the issue. It seems that the story has really captivated people. 250,000 people alone have looked at the PinkNews piece which was inspired by our initial frenzy of twitter activity yesterday. It was me who contacted the editor of the paper to tell him what had happened. 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Loose Women Schmoose Women

We’ve had quite a day today. It should have been a really calm one. Nathan was writing up a knitting pattern. I’d decided to thoroughly tidy the front room because I’m bored of living in a pig sty… 

We had the telly on in the background and Loose Women came on. For readers outside the UK, Loose Women is a sort of chat show which is presided over by a group of women, who can loosely be described as celebrities (that’s why they’re called Loose Women). They interview other celebrities and talk about issues of the day, all from a very tabloid-like perspective. Imagine a bunch of fish wives sitting at a bus stop and you won’t go far wrong!

Anyway, we pricked our ears up when they started talking about the landmark case in Northern Ireland where a judge has just ruled against a “family-run Christian bakery” who refused to make a cake with an image which supported gay marriage. 

Normally on the show, the four presenters are expected to give all sides of an argument, so I was expecting a little bit of homophobic bile from Coleen Nolan (the fat Nolan sister who can’t sing) because she’s been openly hostile in the past about gay adoption and gay parenting. I thought Janet Street Porter, who’s always seemed an abrasive, yet fairly sensible sort, would be tasked with the role of defending the decision and supporting her legion of gay fans. 

How wrong we were. It seems that the producers of Loose Women were not interested in balanced argument and allowed the four women on the panel to make some of the most bigoted and offensive remarks I’ve heard this century! It was like going back twenty years and watching Robert Kilroy Silk! (Who, for readers outside this country, was a big orange blob of a bloke who vanished into a puff of right-wing extremism.) 

Street Porter waded in first, claiming she knew all about the case because she’d “written about it before.” And yet her opening statement was incorrect:

“Obviously in Northern Ireland, gay marriage is legal and discrimination against people on the grounds of their sexuality is illegal…”

Gay marriage is not legal in Northern Ireland. It should be, but religious bigots have managed to keep it at bay.  

Street Porter went on to say that she had great sympathy for the bakery, and the whole conversation turned into one of those ones where people say that everyone’s got a right to their own opinions and that the rights of the religious people were not being taken into consideration. 

- Before I go on, I must make one thing clear. I defend anyone’s right to be religious. What I cannot condone is anyone who uses religion as an excuse for bigotry or persecution. One doesn’t choose to be gay. One chooses to be religious - and one certainly chooses what one does with one’s religious views - 

Jamelia Davis (a sort of poor man’s rubbish one in Destiny’s Child) waded in to the discussion with a line which teetered on the edge of offensive; “I completely support equal rights for everyone, but, for instance, if somebody went in and asked for a sexually explicit cake, should they be forced to do that?”

- No, Jamelia. There are obscenity laws in this country which would prevent a cake shop from having to decorate a cake like a giant vagina. Trying to compare gay marriage to hard porn is both offensive and ludicrous. - 

Coleen Nolan’s response, however, was priceless. Her little fat face went all red as she spoke, like she was seething inside: “what if somebody said ‘right, I want a cake, and I want the whole Islamic State on it, and how I support it, and how I support them killing our people? Because it’s a business do they have to make it?”

- No, you stupid, talentless, bigoted woman. There are anti-terror laws in this country. If you went into a cake shop and asked them to put a pro-ISIS remark on a cake, you could legitimately be arrested for inciting terrorism.-

Not one of the four women stood up for gay rights, and I find this deeply worrying when considering that Southern Ireland is holding a referendum on the issue of gay marriage on Friday. These are sensitive times, and all sides of the issue must be explored and discussed. 

ITV have not yet responded. Twitter has gone bananas. Lots of people are up in arms and demanding apologies left, right an centre, from Janet for being a sloppy journalist and getting her facts wrong, from Jamelia for comparing gay people to sexual perverts and to Coleen for comparing us to supporters of ISIS. The latter is particularly nasty. ISIS are currently tying gay men to chairs and throwing them off tall buildings. Coleen’s was a wholly inappropriate and deeply offensive comment, one which I think is bordering on a sackable offence. 

I’ve been on to ITV all day. The manager of the Loose Women team, someone called Penny, refuses to call me back, so has left a poor woman called Lucy in the firing line, trying to deal with the complaints. Complaints in this issue are vital because apologies need to be made. It was a catastrophic ten minutes of telly; the blind leading the blind. Not one woman knew any facts. They were talking for the sake of talking… and we all know that careless talk costs lives. 

So anyway, as I was speaking to ITV, I managed to drop my iPhone and the whole thing has shattered into a million pieces. The rest of the afternoon was therefore spent trying to get a replacement handset to use until the insurers have done their thing, which apparently could take as much as a week… and we all know, in insurance terms, that probably means three.

So I bought the most rubbish little old-fashioned hand set with old-fashioned predictive text messaging which I’ve entirely forgotten how to use. I don’t have any of my contacts in the phone, so basically, if you text me over the next week, it’s worth saying who you are!

I went up to Halfords in Friern Barnet to replace the bulb in the break light of our car, and solved a mystery whilst I was there. For some days now, as we’ve got into our car, we’ve been aware of a sort of cabbagey smell. All became clear when I opened the boot to change the light. During the Billy Whistle shoot last week, a McDonalds package with a load of half-eaten food had been shoved in the boot and forgotten about. It was full of, I think, mayonnaise, which has gone utterly rancid. As I pulled it out, a great big dollop of the smelly stuff smeared itself down my trouser leg. The smell was so insanely grotesque that I instantly gagged and probably would have thrown up all over the car park had it not been raining and therefore somewhat suppressing the smell. 

So, up until that point it wasn’t a very pleasant day… 

The evening, however, was lovely. Izzy Mant and Little Michelle came over to watch the first Eurovision semi-final. I cooked baked potatoes, salads and cheeses and we had cherry pie and custard for pudding. It wasn’t a classic line up of songs. I think Thursday’s semi is a much stronger affair, but Estonia, Serbia, Georgia and Armenia were well regarded. We all had to acknowledge Russia as well, despite the fact that we love to hate that bunch of rancid homophobes. 

Speaking of which… I wonder what the Loose Women will have to say for themselves tomorrow… If you do feel compelled to send ITV a little email about the subject, the address you’ll need is:

On a much more positive final note... I released the trailer for the Brass Cast Album last night at 11pm. I showed it to the cast first... we all gathered in our special virtual Brass room on Facebook, and then let them loose with the tweets and things. It's had a good number of views already - well over a thousand - so if you fancy a look, it's only thirty seconds long and it's here


Monday, 18 May 2015

Mr Sands

At Starbucks in Manchester Station today, a woman was going down the long queue asking if she could take people's drinks orders. I asked for a cup of tea and she looked at me like I'd gone mad. Three minutes later she returned and asked if she could take my drinks order, so I asked for a cup of tea again, and off she toddled. When I reached the front of the queue, the woman behind the counter asked what drink I wanted, so I said "I'm the one who ordered the tea" and she shrugged, asked what kind of tea I wanted and filled a cup with hot water personally... Begging the simple question... What on earth was the purpose of the woman working the queue? Was she there simply to focus my mind so that by the time I arrived at the counter I wouldn't waste precious time by saying umm...?

It was raining in Manchester this morning as I battled my way from the Travelodge to the nearest tram stop. The only bright side of my journey to the station was passing a tram stop called Pomona, which I thought was a very cool name.

I feel utterly wiped out today, a fact which was not helped in any way by my having arrived an hour early at Manchester Station. It's a ghastly barn of a building at the best of times, but when a series of alarms go off, coupled with an echoey message which says (on loop) "attention please, would Inspector Sands please go to the main office" it becomes like something from a dystopian novella. When I worked in theatre, "Mr Sands" was a code for fire, which staff were expected to use to prevent mass hysteria amongst theatre audiences in the unlikely event that the building went up in flames. "Mr Magpie" was a suspicious package and "Mr Dudley" was a suspicious person. I once had to radio through a Mr Dudley message when I found someone hiding in a darkened toilet after the audience had vacated the building one night. He gave me the shock of my life and was making up all sorts of nonsense about not being able to find the door because it had gone dark whilst he was peeing... I very casually left the loos, stood on the staircase outside, switched on the walkie-talkie and radioed the announcement to the fireman and front of house manager who were the only people left in the building. They were there in seconds and we were able to escort the man off the premises. I have no doubt that if we hadn't found him, we'd have been burgled that night, but there was, of course, no way of proving the fact.

My hunch about the meaning of Mr Sands in the setting of Manchester train station, was bailed out by a follow-up announcement urging "the person who has left an unattended suitcase by the entrance to platform four" to collect said bag as soon as possible!

The girl sitting opposite me on the train back to London spilt her coffee all over the table, but fortunately managed to miss my computer by a millimetre. She didn't apologise, probably cus she was embarrassed. I'll forgive her for that. What was less forgivable was the amount of makeup she systematically managed to trowel onto her face between Rugby and Watford. She was a pretty little thing in her mid-20s, with beautiful eyes, but layer upon layer of brown foundation was being applied, even to her forehead, to the extent that I would have described her makeup as three-dimensional! It was sort of flaking off! She ended up looking like an old leather handbag which had been basted in the oven for too long, or one of the trannies I met on Canal Street yesterday. Her cheeks looked like they'd been boxed by a kangaroo, there was a tide mark under her chin, her lips looked like she'd haemorrhaged and her eyebrows were giant slugs. She would have graded really badly in an edit.

Perhaps it's cus I'm gay that I genuinely don't understand the need for a shedload of make up on a woman. Perhaps it's also because I'm gay that all I can think about is the mess that poor girl is going to leave on her pillows this evening!

I came home and ground to a halt in front of the telly before proudly and obsessively watching the Billy Whistle film on a loop. It's times like this I understand why Björn, after finishing the mix of Dancing Queen in the middle of the night, drove around Stockholm for hours, searching for early-riser friends whom he could play it to!

I've finished!

Waking up at 7.30am this morning was deeply distressing. I was aching all over and for the first time in this manic period, I can feel my body screaming at me to stop. It is, however, the final day of mayhem. As of tomorrow I can start reclaiming my life.

The house was a pitiful mess. I found a loaf of bread under a pile of Union Jack bunting this morning and realised my creative life had completely engulfed my ordinary existence! Last night I put some washing on and then realised I was too sleepy to stay awake until it was done. Sadly, I knew I needed to turn the washing around in order to have something clean to wear for this morning, so I turned in, set my alarm for an hour's time and duly woke up and went down to the kitchen when it went off. Sadly, the load was still spinning around, so I went back to bed and set my alarm to go off in another hour. Imagine my horror, therefore, when I discovered, nearly three hours after putting the load on, that the machine was STILL going! It never usually takes that long. What on earth was I doing wrong? Is there some sort of AI function in my washing machine which is capable of identifying that I spent a full week away from home and therefore that my washing might be considered to be "heavily soiled..?" (I learned that phrase from Daz adverts...)

Anyway, at 4am, I finally got up to turn the load around, and felt pretty sure I was doing it in my sleep.

Still, getting up at shit o'clock on a Sunday was rewarded by beautiful spring sunshine. I walked down the little causeway to the tube and found a rather charming scene: The cafe kiosk was open, and a number of people were sitting, very calmly drinking coffee and reading newspapers on the chairs outside, in a most glorious sun-trap. I don't see many early mornings, but part of me wonders what I'm missing out on. I probably ought to have joined the Highgate early risers for a few minutes because I reached Euston supremely early and had to mill about for the best part of an hour.

The train to Manchester was unnaturally crowded and rather noisy. I forget that Sunday, at this time, is when pissed-up, aggressive Midlanders, who've had a night out in London return home, and often use the journey as an excuse to keep drinking beer! Someone behind me reeked to the high heavens of curry! I got really quite claustrophobic at one point.

There aren't enough loos on Virgin trains these days, and the queues were six or seven deep. The loos themselves smelt of cider and yeast. Ghastly!

At one stage I went to try and buy a cup of tea only to find a buffet compartment which resembled some kind of rugby changing room with a light film of sweat hanging in the air and about fifty people trying to buy alcohol. I withdrew to my seat and tried to pretend I wasn't there.

At the end of the journey, the train guard apologised to everyone for the over-crowded train. It turns out that the large majority of passengers were football fans. The guard said he hoped the next time we took the train we'd be able to travel with people who were being more polite to their fellow travellers.

Pulling into Manchester itself was a somewhat significant moment.  The last time I was here was to do auditions for Brass. It was February 2014. At that stage Brass was a mere embryo. I'd written a couple of songs, and most of the script. It was Manchester where we first met Hannah Lawson who was destined to play Titty in the show, and, of course, Ben Jones, now Mabberly, who became our Alf. I will probably never forget his audition. Hearing him play the Concierto de Naranjuez on his cornet was a deeply moving moment which actually inspired the show's title track, Brass.

I went for lunch on Canal Street which was rammed with trannies. I think there was some sort of event going on, although the presence of trannies on Canal Street is always something I notice.

I had a horrible sandwich in Via. The food in there always used to be so tasty, but today the bread was stale, the salad was limp and the cheese was suspiciously hard...

I took the tram to the BBC at Media City in Salford and found myself lodged like a sardine into a carriage, surrounded by more football fans heading to Old Trafford. I wanted to run in the opposite direction, but decided it was better to arrive on time stinking of soggy football scarves than not arriving at all. So I stood with my face pressed against the window, breathing deeply and wondering what would happen if the tram went up in flames whilst the peculiar bloke next to me kept nudging me and pointing out the window to say "funny tractor." After engaging him in conversation I ascertained that Manchester United were playing Arsenal, which explains why my entire journey was peopled by fans. I also ascertained that, despite being from North London, my new friend was actually a Man U supporter.  He also had an enormous dent in his forehead, which may well have explained the curious tractor obsession!

This is the first time I've been to Manchester in a long time, possibly ever - when it's not been raining, although there were some suspiciously grey clouds which threatened to revert the place to type. In the sunshine, the city looks rather grand and attractive, although I still find it rather pleased with itself. I've never really taken to Manchester.  They're not my tribe up here.

I love working at the BBC, however... Particularly at night or on a Sunday when it's quiet and relaxed, and people don't feel the need to rush about looking important and too busy to smile. At one stage there was a late-night show from BBC Manchester playing out in the atrium; old-school songs from the shows, like On The Street Where You Live. I rather enjoyed listening to it whilst making myself a cup of tea.

I was at the BBC editing our Billy Whistle film... This was the last of the major tasks I have to do this month before I can kick off my shoes and take a few days to do nothing but sleep.

I've been editing with a chap called Phill, who also edited my Hattersley film. He's a brilliant editor and a Leicester lad, so we had a lot to chat about. Even more brilliantly, one of the graphics guys here is a Kenilworth kid, so it's been a Midlands-tastic evening.

We finished at midnight, which was rather respectable for a day which had started at 4pm. Phill even did a grade of the film, which we've done in incredibly muted colours... Almost sepia.

As I walk back to the hotel, Manchester is raining, which isn't at all surprising.

I cannot believe I've managed to get through the last two weeks with my sanity intact. I genuinely feel the most astonishing sense of achievement, having pulled off the impossible. I've written and produced an original cast album and produced and directed and two promotional videos to accompany it. It's not often I feel really proud of myself, but I'm just going to take five minutes to allow myself that indulgence.

I am, of course, mindful of the people who have helped me along the way on this particular journey. Victoria and Jezza from the NYMT sprung into action and kept me buoyant when I thought I couldn't take another step forward. The amazing, fabulous, talented young people of the NYMT whose enthusiasm for Brass would light up the marquees of a million theatres. PK, whose attention to detail nearly killed him, but he's created magic... Genuine magic. Olivia, PK's wife, who cooked for me every single day and slept in the sitting room so that we could continue to work at night. Keith the cameraman who nicked equipment and slashed his rates so that the NYMT could have only the best... and of course, my darling husband, Nathan, who never fails to pick up the pieces when my heart breaks.

Thank you to you all. And goodnight! I may sleep for some time!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Twins by different Dads

We slept like the dead for ten hours straight. Closing my eyes when my head finally hit the pillow was like going under anaesthetic!

This morning we went to see my ex boyfriend, Daniel and his partner, Matthew, who have just had twin babies with a surrogate mother. Each egg was individually fertilised, so the twins are actually half-siblings, with Daniel and Matthew being the separate fathers. It never ceases to amaze me what can be done in modern medical science.

It's intriguing to watch masculine parenting in action. Neither Daniel nor Matthew uses baby language, or speaks to their children in high-pitched kiddy voices. There was also a refreshing lack of anyone trying to convince us that they're the most effortless, organised and happy parents in the world. Both admitted to finding child-rearing very tricky at times, although from my perspective they seemed incredibly good, caring, loving parents. I'm deeply intrigued to see how their children develop.

We had brunch in their garden, in the glorious sunshine... Scrambled eggs, croissants and a great big jug of freshly squeezed orange juice whilst their dog, Molly, jumped about wondering why her daddies had suddenly started ignoring her.

From Belsize Park we went to Earls Court, to the thanksgiving service for Abbie's Dad, Gary. We actually ended up going to the wrong church, and got really confused when there didn't seem to be anyone around.

Fortunately luck, and traffic were on our side, and we were only five minutes late in the end. It will, however, be the last time I ever drive to Earls Court. For four hours meter parking I paid £17, which, for a Saturday afternoon is daylight robbery and wholly unacceptable. It's less than that to park in Soho!

It was a lovely do, however. Abbie sang Not a Day Goes By beautifully. God only knows how she managed to get through such a devastating song on such an emotionally-charged occasion. We were all agreed that Gary's brother did a wonderfully brave and moving address, which made us all think about our own siblings. A little nervous chuckle went through the church when one poor woman spoonerised Abbie's parents names, Di and Gary and created Guy and Darry!

I think rather a lot of us emerged from the event realising that, in many instances, a memorial can be so much more appropriate than a funeral. Just that little bit of distance enables a much more well-considered, dare I say celebratory event. It's the second "funeral" I've been to this year without the presence of a coffin, and I'm wondering if it's not the way forward for us all.

At the end of the memorial we went to The Coleherne Pub, which, funnily enough, was where we had our 40th birthday last year. We sat on the terrace with Little Michelle and Abbie and talked about singing, Eurovision and musical theatre. Gay or what? Well we were at the Coleherne... Now the height of middle-class West London straight respectability but once one of London's most notorious gay pubs!

The Brass CD was being mastered throughout the day, and periodically I received emails and various sound files from PK or Ben (the masterer.)
We went home via the Arcola Theatre where I dropped a white label copy of the Brass CD to Mark Shenton who has very kindly agreed to review it. The CD goes to the manufacturers tomorrow and then it's completely out of my hands and I can do nothing, but try to mend my body and learn to love the show again!

Friday, 15 May 2015

Still awake!

Shit, it's 4pm and I've still not gone to bed. This is the longest I've ever managed without sleep. I don't know whether to be proud or terrified!

We drove back to London at 7am. I've no idea how Nathan managed to drive on no sleep. I kept nodding off, doing that head rolling thing that happens to the wildly tired. At one stage I nodded off mid-sentence and ended up hitting Nathan by mistake as I woke up with a start!

For some reason I found this astonishingly amusing and had uncontrollable hysterics for a good five minutes which made Nathan doubt my sanity.

We did our filming this morning. Interviews with producers, both of whom I knew. We got another parking ticket for parking in a space we'd paid to park in.

Then I went into Kentish Town to meet a lawyer who wants my advice for a case he's working on. It made me laugh to think that he's charging his client goodness know what per hour for giving her advice, but not offering me a penny for my advice! (Not even a cup of tea!) Still, it's an important case and I've said I'll help as much as I can, even if it means testifying in court.

I came home, had a much-needed bath and then headed out to the osteopath. And that's where my blog must end today. Apologies for the boring list of events... I'm seeing the screen in triplicate!!