Friday, 31 July 2015

Filth

Every time I take a blinkin' 134 bus into town, there's a driver change near the Archway bus depot. I'm not sure it's something which routinely happens on this particular route, so I do think I've been unlucky to encounter it as often as I have. The process is a faffy one, and, if the new driver isn't ready and waiting for the bus to arrive with his little tin money box, then it can take forever. As it did today. There was also a little flash of road rage as the bus pulled away from the stop in the form of a rather aggressive exchange between the bus driver and a trucker who'd inadvertently broken some sort of Highway Code.

I went to the dental hygienist today. It struck me what a peculiar blend of unique sounds and tastes one experiences at the dentists. There are high-pitched whines and scraping noises whilst vaguely aniseedy tastes drip down the back of one's throat. Apparently my dental hygiene is good, but I need to wear my special disabled person's gum guard more regularly at night. "I can tell you've been stressed" she said, through her paper face mask and thick Greek accent, "I can see the imprint of your teeth on your tongue..." She's not wrong but I instantly felt like a failure. Still, my teeth now feel smooth and delicious and I was loathe to eat anything for the rest of the day.

I worked the rest of the morning in the cafe opposite the dentist and there experienced a rather lovely moment when I glanced around and saw nothing but a sea of people with relaxed, smiling faces. A rare treat in London. A pair of very old men were talking about the Labour Party leadership, a Dutch family had just tucked into some delicious-looking croissants, a pair of female academics were deciding which type of herbal tea to sample. Everything felt calm and balanced. I suppose a cafe is a good place for witnessing people at their best. We go to cafes with friends as a treat, and use them as little stress-free refuges from the frantic pace of the towns and cities in the outside world.

From the best of society, I happened upon evidence of the worst in the form of graffiti scrawled inside one of the lockers at my gym. "Israelis are Nazis" it said. A bloke was shovelling his belongings into the locker seemingly entirely unaware of what the great big letters said. I could not have used that locker. By using it passively, in my view, you're agreeing with the ghastly sentiment it expresses.

I immediately went upstairs to the manager and reported it. By the time I'd finished my work-out, the locker was open again and the graffiti was still there. I went back to the manager and showed him a photo of the words. "Oh" he said, (I thought he was going to say how shocked he was) "if it's in marker pen, we have to get specialist cleaners in." "Obviously in the meantime you'll be closing the locker down so that no one else has to be offended by the wording?" He started to um and ah. "Let me put it another way" I said, "if you don't immediately shut that locker down, LA Fitness are passively agreeing with the sentiment expressed within and I will immediately print this photo." I held the picture up so he could see that I wasn't joking, and sailed out of the gym feeling angry yet somehow slightly righteous. 

filth
For the rest of the day I've bounced up and down like an emotional yoyo. I worked like the clappers and finished formatting another score from Brass. Hurrah. I then read a review of our wonderful cast recording which is currently appearing in programmes in West End theatres. It describes Brass as a "haunting and evocative" musical. The review goes on to say that the cast's "astounding performances are immortalised forever in this beautiful cast recording" and that the show now has "the opportunity to reach an even wider audience." Hurrah.

The cast of Brass then went a bit loopy searching for reviews of the album elsewhere and found one lurking in a public forum which was a little less than favourable. It pottered along in a vaguely positive way until the following paragraph was dropped like a stink bomb in a 1970s subway;

"The music from Brass is not going to be the next big thing in musical theatre and it might leave you singing more well-known songs that it reminds you of rather than the songs from Brass itself... From listening to the music alone it is difficult to find one stand out, show stopping number. However, all of the tracks are pleasant to listen to; you will tap your toes along to We’re Forming a Band, feel haunted by I Make the Shells, and Billy Whistle is a hugely catchy tune that you will be whistling for days."

I mean, it doesn't even make sense. No stand out number, but one song which you'll be whistling for days! A little bit of digging reveals it was written by a peculiar-looking creature from Wales who's an amateur performer of musical theatre who likes to post videos of herself singing dreadful songs on YouTube. The problem with the Internet is that no-one knows whether the critics are legit or not! We write what we like when we like... (Hence why I'm allowed to publish this lousy blog on a daily basis!) Boo!

...Then I got turned down for some funding from the Arts Council. Triple Boo!

I went to see Llio tonight. Hurrah. And listened to some of the demos for her next album which were sensational. Double Hurrah. She excels as a creator of electronica. At this stage she's just used the samples and sounds she can find on logic, but she's making brave, sometimes breathtaking choices. I'd love her to have the opportunity to work with a really decent engineer to see what magic she comes up with.

We then listened to the Pepys Motet album in its entirety. We sat with our headphones plugged into a splitter and experienced the full sonic ride as PK intended. Llio was incredibly effusive with her praise afterwards, describing the work as a masterpiece, which was very kind and made me feel very happy. She wept, got shivers, laughed, smiled, wept again. I would love to have filmed her reaction, if for no other reason than to give me something to look at when I'm feeling low about all things creative! The day ends on a triple hurrah!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Cecil the Lion

I started my day by reading an article about the awful case of Cecil the Lion, a much-loved Zimbabwean male lion who was lured from a conservation area and killed, for sport, by an American dentist wielding a bow and arrow, who paid £40,000 for the privilege. Cecil didn't die immediately and was pursued for forty hours before being shot, decapitated and skinned. For sport. The world is up in arms about it, and chat show host, Jimmy Kimmel got so emotional about the subject that he very nearly broke down...

But is it time to call the hypocrisy police? Every year millions of animals are killed so that we can have tasty food in our bellies. Because eating meat is actually no longer something we need to do to stay alive, technically, our only reason for eating it is that it's nice. We eat for sport, I suppose.

...Of course we can argue long and hard that animals who are bred for meat are killed humanely and probably wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for the trade that ultimately kills them. Kimmel was, of course, quick to point out that the situation would have been far more acceptable had it been hungry local people killing the animal because they needed to eat rather than because they wanted an adrenaline rush. To an extent, I agree, particularly as I'm not sure there's a great deal of nutritious vegetarian food on offer in Zimbabwe!

...but WOULD we actually accept a lion being killed for food? A beautiful lion with an enormous flowing mane? Of course we wouldn't. And so a catalogue of double standards reveals itself. We admonish the Spanish for bull fighting, yet we'll happily eat cow. We condemn posh people for fox hunting, yet begrudgingly support badger culling. We eat pig, but are horrified when someone tries to feed us horse. Some of us are okay eating any sort of meat whatsoever, as long as it doesn't actually resemble the animal from whence it came. Scratch the surface and there are a thousand moral dilemmas going on. And yet because most of us are agreed that we wouldn't eat a lion, we feel we can come down like a tonne of moral bricks on someone who kills one for sport.

Surely the bottom line is that animals are animals, regardless of how rare or protected they are? Pigs are probably more intelligent than lions, they're just not as majestic or beautiful. Cows who line up to be slaughtered in an abattoir may not suffer pain as they are killed, but they do smell blood and panic whilst they wait. Death is death whatever form it takes.

I'm not a militant vegetarian. I genuinely don't care what other people eat. Some of my best friends are meat eaters! I went to a bull fight once and wasn't hugely shocked. I drink milk and acknowledge that if everyone else turned veggie, but still drank milk, we'd still have huge issues in terms of what we'd do with the boy calfs. I wear leather shoes. I occasionally eat gelatine in sweets. I'm as much a mass of contradictions as the next man. Ultimately I'm a vegetarian because I don't like the notion of animals being killed for food and don't much trust the meat industry not to poison me. Let's not forget that the first cases of HIV probably came as a result of humans eating a bush meat...

So whereas I find the case of Cecil the Lion incredibly distressing, I'm just not sure we ought to be starting a witch hunt. Hand on heart, are the rest of us really so irreproachable?

I feel similarly about Lord Sewel, who seems to have got himself into all sorts of trouble for snorting cocaine and having all sorts of kinky sex. I think there's a passage in the bible which says something along the lines of "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." We all got our knickers in a twist about the concept of bugging telephones, yet it's apparently okay to feed our lust for the salacious by secretly filming someone? We all do things in the bedroom that would make us feel incredibly embarrassed in the cold light of day and yet we're capable of ripping someone else apart for the mistakes they make in the heat of the moment. And, if we're honest, many people take drugs. In fact, 38% of young British people admit to having taken an illegal substance of some sort. If everyone who'd taken illegal substances in their life suddenly lost their jobs, then the infrastructure of our country would collapse.

One of the great tragedies of modern life is that we expect our politicians to behave in ways only the most boring people in society do. This only has just one outcome: boring politicians. The interesting ones are always forced into resigning. Do I know anything about Sewel? No. Do I know whether he was any good as a politician? No. Does anyone else? No. So why do we care what he does in the bedroom?

There. I've bored myself now...

Disastrous Colchester

I watched a bit of a Time Team documentary last night. They were searching (rather unsuccessfully) for an ancient palace belonging to King Canute. There's obviously been some sort of top-down reappraisal of the way we're expected to spell Canute. Apparently he's henceforth to be known exclusively as Cnut. CNUT! Now I'm all for a bit of historical accuracy, and am the first to refer to Boadicea as Boudicca, but I reckon you've got to draw the line at calling someone by a name which could become an auto-correct catastrophe on your computer!

My mate went to school with a girl called Fuquenisha. I think she was a young Muslim girl. The teachers actually insisted that everyone call her Nisha. Imagine having your actual name banned from the playground?

I went to school with a Chinese girl called Hoo Flung Dung, and someone whose middle name was rumoured to be Cuckoo. That may have been casual racism, though...

I have seldom seen so many people descending on Highgate tube this morning. They were actually queuing to get into the little causeway which runs down the hill to the station's back entrance. I felt like I was in a Lowry painting.

There were more ferocious queues just to get out of Moorgate Station. At one point we were all funnelled into a tiny corridor where the queue came to a stand still for the best part of five minutes. I can't imagine what would have happened had someone shouted "fire." London is surely bursting at the seams in a way which has to be remedied before there's an event which causes an unimaginable loss of life.

I took the train from Liverpool Street to Colchester this morning for a meeting at the beautiful Mercury Theatre. I'd always thought Colchester was meant to be a rather charming city filled with impressive Roman remains. Not so if you arrive by train...

The train station is a mile or so out of town and the walk into the city is uninviting, un-signposted and covered in concrete. This is plainly not a place which wants to invite people in. I ended up walking along a horrifying dual carriageway with no pathways. One slip and I would have cascaded under a lorry. On the outskirts of the city centre sits the most beautiful former cinema building which has been boarded over. The place feels bleak. Unloved.

After my meeting, I sat in a cafe and listened as someone asking for directions to the station was told, "you wouldn't want to walk it, mate..." Well at least it's not just me! I tweeted the town council and they said they were working on "improving this route." You'd think it was the first thing any self-respecting council would have worked on.

I got the bus back. The sign said "all busses stopping here go to the train station." As I got on I double checked and the driver said he was indeed going to the station. Imagine my horror therefore when he didn't actually stop there! Busses go near to the station but not actually to it! If anyone from Colchester is reading this, and you value outside visitors, I suggest you get onto the council and urge them to sort this nonsense out!

I came home, working on the train and back at the ranch, before heading to my dear friend Daniel's house in Belsize Park. Daniel has recently had twins with his partner, Matthew, and I got there early enough to hang out with the babies, who are delightful. Masculine parenting is quite fascinating to watch. The kids were having their feed when I arrived and after they were done and burped and things, Daniel said "I think it's time isn't it?" Within a minute, both kids were in their cots, the lights were out and there wasn't another peep out of them!

I'm afraid I've become all too used to bed time being quite a drama with my friends' children. Seeing it happening so casually and effortlessly was striking, almost brutal.

Michelle of the Turkie joined us for an evening meal. I'll confess to being rather chuffed that Daniel and Michelle (though both contemporary alumni from York University) only met properly at our wedding where they got on like ancient friends.

We ate an amazing pie with eggs and onions and tomatoes and a crispy topping which is apparently an old Burbidge family recipe. I remember Daniel making it for me twenty two years ago. Twenty two years! Where do those pesky years go?

Michelle came to stay with us tonight and is presently asleep in the loft. Nathan is totting up the sales from his new knitting pattern, which is a glorious scarf based on Peano's space-filling curve. He released it yesterday and it's already sold more than twenty copies. He's understandably fairly chuffed.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Woodpeckers and Mongolians

I woke up this morning, a bit peeved at the idea of being up so early, and desperately wishing that I could have had another hour in bed. As I sat, in a partial coma, eating my cornflakes, staring out of the kitchen window, I was rewarded with the sight of a beautiful woodpecker bouncing about within the branches of the enormous tree in our back garden. I'm used to woodpeckers round these parts being green and yellow, but this one was black and white, almost as though his little body (or was it his wings?) was a tiny chess board. He had a bright red head, which I think must mean he was a juvenile greater spotted woodpecker. (I looked that up on google!) We're certainly doing alright at the moment for birds in our garden. Beyond the nesting robins, magpies, black birds, wood pigeons and great tits, we've had wagtails and now woodpeckers. I'm holding out for a pair of flamingos...

It's a good job the view out of the kitchen window was so inspiring, as, baring a quick trip to the gym, I've done nothing but sit at the kitchen table from 8.30am this morning til 9pm tonight. I've been working on Brass again, developing the score so that it matches the rewrite of the script I finished in June. There's a hell of a lot to do. I've blithely re-written the whole of the Prologue and decided that the piece needs to start with an epic, virtuoso overture played by a brass band, which of course I now have to write! There comes a time when you long to stop working on a show... and that moment has arrived with Brass. I've pampered this dark beast for two years now and I need it to stop demanding food from me! That said, I'm sure there's at least another month's work in the score, so I have to take lots of deep breaths and complete this final stage a bar at a time.

It was nice to get back to the gym, although some of the blokes there are somewhat cliched. I reckon all that grunting and sparring can't be good for anyone, and I would question any man's sexuality who feels the need to be so brutally masculine. The way they talk to one another is insane. They call each other "cuz" and "bro" and communicate in little bursts of nervy chatter which explodes from their mouths like the last remnants of ketchup from a plastic squeezy bottle.

We sat down to watch some telly at the end of the night, but some kind of atmospherics (I assume) meant that none of the channels were working properly. The screen kept freezing and breaking up. It got so frustrating that we were forced to switch the telly off. I even considered reading a book (I don't read*) until I realised there was a blog to be written.

*Of course I know HOW to read and I fairly regularly end up with my nose in a non-fiction book when I'm doing research, but novels have never really been my thing. My brother is not a reader either. Perhaps it's in the genes. Perhaps it's more to do with my being slightly ADHD. I certainly don't think I have the mental stamina and calmness for reading novels. I'd constantly want to be doing something else.

I reckon I've read no more than thirty novels in my life, which sounds like rather a lot, but that includes periods when I've actively tried to read a book a week, like the time I worked on the stage door of the New Ambassadors Theatre, which had to be one of the most boring jobs in the world. I once did a 40-hour shift and slept in an area no larger than my curled up body! I'm somewhat proud to say that, back then, I read everything by George Orwell and a whole host of other dystopian novels by like likes of Huxley and Henry Miller. I've also read Joyce's Ulysses... But before you start accusing me of being all high-brow and intelligent, other novels that I've consumed and enjoyed include Death on the Nile, How Green Was My Valley, Murder She Wrote: The Novel, Duty Free: The Novel and Mrs Tiggywinkle.


...Please don't bombard me with ideas for good reads! I feel obliged to point out that I simply don't have time to read. By the time my days are in their twilight, I'm so spent that the best I can manage is a TV show with no plot line.

That's said, we've just watched Joanna Lumley's Trans-Siberian Express documentary on ITV player, which does offer food for thought. It's a stunning series which I would urge you all to watch. She's such an unbelievably engaging woman and she's travelling through parts of the world which I can't even begin to comprehend. Mongolia. Siberia. Parts of rural China.

It's actually made me want to go to Mongolia. It's rather mystical, and they have a good track record of dealing with LGBT people. Being gay was decriminalised in 1961!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Cold collation

Based on the weather today, I'd say yesterday's bride, Catherine, totally lucked out! It was raining cats and dogs when I woke up this morning and seems to have done so all day. It wasn't an unpleasant sort of rain. It was that heavy rain you only get in the summer which brings with it an inexplicable, powerful smell which evokes childhood. I went to buy milk from a local shop and was a little surprised to see the streets full of joggers, the majority of whom appeared to be wearing prat hats. I've always rather enjoyed running in the rain; it brings with it a sense of liberation not dissimilar to the times in our early childhood when we were given permission to strip you down to our pants and run into a hose pipe in the garden.

We went up to Thaxted again today. It was my Dad's birthday yesterday and we were due to go to Cambridge for a meal in a Grantchester pub until my Dad came down with a bug and we decided there wasn't much point in going somewhere which is much nicer when it's not raining with a bloke who wouldn't enjoy eating the food he was kindly offering to pay for! So instead, we took food with us and prepared what my mum would call a "cold collation," which is essentially a table of cheeses, salads, breads, quiches and nicknacks. Brother Edward and Sascha were there, with Ted's university friend Daniel, whom I've known since I was seventeen. He's adorably easy to shock (a product of having lived in the U.S. for way too many years) and, as a result, always brings out the outrageous in me.

Sally and Stuart from the town popped by with their two kids to have a slice of the ludicrously large birthday cake which my father had found in the local bakers. It was less cake, and more hand-crafted stool; a great big chocolate thing covered in more chocolate, which we ate with raspberries because we all know there's nothing better than the combination of chocolate and raspberries.

We left at 7.30pm, and, in the short time it took us to drive from Thaxted to the M11, a blinding sun burnt through the hazy, murky rain clouds which turned the sky opal blue and lasted all of ten minutes before the clouds descended once again and darkness rushed in. 

On our way home, we tuned into Radio 4 and were greeted by a "topical comedy show" about words called Wordaholics. It was a little confusing as they seemed to be making jokes about the BBC's recent move to Salford and the "forthcoming" London Olympics. It was only as the programme finished that they announced it had first been broadcast in 2012. 20-bloody-12?! Words cannot express how disappointed I am with the BBC at the moment. Repeating a three-year old "topical" radio show in, what must be, a fairly well-listened-to slot, is almost unforgivable. It's not like these radio panel shows are expensive to make, or that what we were listening to was comedy gold which has stood up to being repeated so long after it was relevant. If the BBC genuinely wants us to believe it's taking itself seriously as a broadcaster at the moment it has to do better than this. This is BBC Radio 4. Not Dave.

For those of you who are interested in the caricature that was done of Nathan and me at the wedding yesterday... here it is. We didn't tell the artist we were married, but he seems to have put hearts all over the picture! Could it have been that obvious?


Sight reading

We woke up in Chippenham this morning and had breakfast in the Premier Inn. Full vegetarian English. Eat as much as you like. Bish, bash, bosh. Thank you very much for asking.

From Chippenham we drove to Melksham, a pretty little market town in Wiltshire, which my phone has repeatedly auto-corrected to Milkshake!

It was Nathan's cousin's wedding, or, I think, more accurately, his first cousin once removed's wedding. Nathan was singing Love Changes Everything in the church, so we got there early to work out levels for his CD backing track. As a precaution we'd thrown the sheet music into his suitcase, just in case there was some sort of technical error. It turned out everything worked really well, however, and I was put in charge of clicking play on the computer which was feeding into the sound system. I'm not altogether sure why the person from the church who showed me the ropes didn't seem to want to hit play on his own sound system. As it turned out, he spent the wedding plodding about nervously in the church's side aisle singing hymns in a voice like Harvey Fierstein, and when it came to the key moment, followed me over to check I was doing things properly!

The service was great, although the vicar went on a bit, to the extent that I wished I'd brought a book with me, or some colouring in. I'm sure no one would have noticed. If you're not going to make your sermon either theatrical or relevant, you can't expect anyone to bother to listen to you. Sometimes, when I'm forced to sit in a church listening to the droning sounds of a vicar, I think how amazing my sermons would have been had I gone in the direction of the cloth. There would be light effects, illusions, songs, dramatic costumes, smoke and crazy smells. Get the senses going, you know. Religion is no excuse for dullness.

Anyway, when it came to Nathan's moment, I duly walked to the back of the church to press my button (followed by the church's technical guy) and, horror of horrors, immediately discovered that the computer had gone to sleep. The tech guy panicked and turned the whole thing off, which was about the silliest thing he could have done.

Meanwhile, Nathan had been announced and was standing like a dick at the front of the church, making small talk with the congregation. He later told me he was about to start reciting rude Limericks out of pure desperation. I looked down at the computer screen. Still dead as a doornail...

There was nothing for it. I grabbed the sheet music and ran to the front of the church, where a nutty professor had been sitting at a keyboard playing organ music as the congregation came in. He must have wondered what on earth was going on as I elbowed him out of his seat and asked how I got the keyboard onto piano setting. I then did the unthinkable and sight-read my way through Love Changes Everything, whilst Nathan sang. It was the biggest adrenaline rush I've probably ever had, and, bizarrely, it went really well! Just call me Mighty Mouse!

We came out of the church and helped Nathan's cousin (not the cousin getting married, another cousin) to change her flat tyre in a local car park. Our puncture (which turned out to be caused by a nail embedded in the tyre) was a slow one, so we decided to drive to the reception (at a very swanky golf club) before attaching the spare wheel.

There was a very amusing moment when Nathan's uncle, who'd also helped to change the tyre, finished putting the nuts onto the wheel and proudly said, "right, jack off, Nathan." The timing of Nathan's retort, "steady," made for comedy gold, particularly when Nathan's cousin, blissfully unaware of the smutty turn in conversation, suddenly said "does anyone want a wet wipe?" We could have gone on all day with lines about nuts and spanners...

The reception was a dream: great food, lovely company, all sorts of innovative little additions, like a caricaturist who sat in the corner of the room working his way through the guests. Nathan and I had ours done. I've never been caricatured before (apart from in the form of rude poetry graffitied on a university wall) and assumed the end product was going to be about my nose. It turns out he went for the eyebrows! Great big stripes of black felt tip!

We changed our own car's flat tyre in the early evening and couldn't get the sodding wheel off the car. It had been on so long that it had sort of welded itself to the axel. Straight men at wedding parties have a sort of sixth sense for anything to do with cars (they smell grease and oil in the sea of crepe de chine and floral bouquets) and an increasing crowd of blokes in suits gathered around us, each holding a glass of wine and an opinion. It turns out that the wheel simply needed a strong kick, which was eventually provided by the most gung ho of the crowd, in an illegal-footie-tackle kind of diving motion delivered from the front of the car, which was so base and masculine I felt quite giddy!


We had to leave the party just as the music at the disco went 1970s. I have never in my life left a party whilst Staying Alive was playing. A true indication of how old and sensible we've become!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Dirty

The weather in London was astoundingly awful today. Dirty, dirty weather. It seems to have done nothing but rain. Typical, really, for a day when loads of people will be trying to take their families on holiday. Worst perhaps because there's mayhem at the Cinque Ports as a result of the migrant crisis, so you can't escape the British weather even if you want to.

This has been our first day off together in what seems an age. We were very sad not to have been able to take ourselves off to Highgate Woods or something. Instead we stayed inside whilst I watched endless clips on YouTube about Liverpool in the 1960s on the Internet. We also signed off all the art work for the Pepys album and sent that off to the CD manufacturers. Now comes the task of trying to get people to buy it when it's released. The task I hate more than any other!

We had lunch at the local greasy spoon and made the decision to head west this evening rather than tomorrow morning. We have a wedding to attend in Wiltshire and decided to treat ourselves to a Premier Inn this evening to avoid the hell of getting up at 7am and getting unbelievably stressed in the ghastly traffic which the first day of school holidays invariably brings.

We left Highgate late enough to avoid rush hour traffic, but drove straight into a massive rain storm and traffic jams on the North Circular brought about by heavy flooding. It took an hour to reach the M25, although God knows I was relieved not to have been one of the poor drivers in the surprising number of abandoned cars we saw by the sides of the road. A wheel had fallen off one of them. In another, a woman driver looked extremely frightened. Horrible.

We listened first to the hits of the Pet Shop Boys on our journey and then the Waterloo album by ABBA before trying some Tori Amos which we couldn't hear above the sound of the rain whacking down on the windscreen, so we had Deacon Blue, the BeeGees and a load more ABBA and arrived in Wiltshire at 10pm.

We arrived with a flat tyre on the car. Joy. These things are best left till the morning!