Friday, 19 December 2014

Too many bags

I entered my house at 5pm today carrying altogether too many bags which were filled with wrapping paper, Christmas presents, photo frames, ten blocks of cheese and a Grierson award. It struck me that there would be people all over the world similarly weighed down at the end of the last major working day before Christmas.

I spent the morning ticking off a mercifully short list of things to do for the Brass recording. At this time of year, everyone is engulfed by the same panic; the panic which tells us that if it's not achieved before Christmas Eve it will remain undone, probably for ever. That's because all communication in the Western world ends on December 22nd and isn't reestablished until the middle of January! Never ever try to contact somebody from the BBC between now and then!

The Christmas tree went up this morning. It's a charmingly mangey affair, which Nathan tells me is 20 years old. We draped it with a riotous assortment of baubles of different colours and textures. My favourite are almost certainly the scary pin-cushion clown heads we won at a party in New York!

We had lunch with Uncle Archie in Kentish Town, and discussed a few rather exciting ideas for future documentaries. We ate omelettes and stale cake and he presented us with our Grierson Award, which is now sitting proudly on our mantlepiece next to my RTS Award and a load of Christmas cards.

We went from Kentish Town to Camden to buy lashings of Christmas cheese and enough wrapping paper to stretch from Highgate to the moon!

We stumbled upon a little barber shop and decided to give it a whirl, having suffered one or two too many butcher jobs at the hands of various branches of Mr Toppers. The barbers, a highly friendly bunch, were all Turkish and North African, and did a lot of work with cut throat razors, which I found terrifying and exciting in equal measure! They actually offer a shaving service there, with hot towels and things. It's something I think I might try for a special treat one time. Being shaved by someone else is a rather extraordinary sensation. You're forced to place your entire trust in a complete stranger, whilst your subconscious screams "get the f**k out of this chair!" When it's done well, however, it's like being tickled by a master painter!

Dodgy names

Nathan was watching This Morning on the telly today. They came to the ghastly bit where the children from regional schools re-enact the Nativity scene and then sing a carol rather badly. At the end of this particular sequence, they always scroll up some mini-credits displaying the names of the kids who have taken part. I have seldom heard such shrieks of disapproval as Nathan read the names! "Chloë with a K?! Who ARE these parents?!" It did seem that many of the kids in that particular school had genuinely ridiculous names. Most of them were bastardisations of perfectly decent names. Mummy obviously decided that a normal name was too good for her child, she wanted something a bit different, and in the process opened her child up to a lifetime of ridicule. The sad fact is that, if you're going to spell Chloë with a K, people will judge you!

There was a shock headline in the Daily Mail yesterday which suggested a staggering 4 out of 5 nurses were foreign (whatever foreign means in a country where most people have a bit of something else in us.) I wasn't sure what the fuss was about. If 4/5ths of nurses are foreign, then thank God for immigration, else there'd be no one to look after us! Let's not forget that many of those wonderful West Indian people who came over here on the Windrush were health workers, invited here because we simply didn't have enough nurses of our own. I honestly wish people would shut up about immigration. Obviously I think it wouldn't harm to tighten the rules on people coming here. I am not sure someone coming here should instantly be able to claim British benefits, but I suspect the prannies of UKIP won't stop whinging until we've entirely closed our doors, at which point they'll start looking for someone else to blame for our country's woes. What do they want? A full-scale pogrom?

I've spent the day single-mindedly producing parts for the Brass recordings. It's utterly mind-numbing, and I'm going cross-eyed. You just have to keep ploughing forward, always assuming there's a million more parts to format. Eventually you'll suddenly realise there are no more to do, and that's when the sun comes out. I'm still on target to finish everything by the close of business tomorrow, which fills me with a great sense of relief.

It's not easy trying to work with a computer which is on a permanent go slow. I left the house this evening uploading 1.44Gb of music, which I'm told will take the computer over 3 hours to process. Boo!

We went to see Philip and Daryl last night, and ate large quantities of delicious macaroni cheese whilst talking about the death of one of their close friends. Words cannot describe how lucky I feel not to have suffered a major loss in my life. I think about people like Tina and Sam and sometimes wonder how they get out of bed in the morning. Sadly, I think I'm entering an age where losing someone dear to me is probably inevitable and it's the thing I dread most of all.


Thursday, 18 December 2014

Pantos and Phantoms

Last night became a fairly unpleasant evening, with Nathan almost constantly on the phone to Talk Talk, who weren't able (or perhaps couldn't be bothered) to ascertain why my computer seemed to have suddenly become incompatible with our rooter. The raised stress levels caused us to row, and I ended up sulkily watching episodes of Time Team late into the night.

When I finally got into bed there was a rather peculiar atmosphere in the house; nothing to do with Nathan, who was sound asleep, but a slightly eerie quality. I must have drifted off to sleep, because a few minutes later I woke up screaming. I was aware that I'd been dreaming about my Mum, and trying to shout something at her.

When I got up this morning, an email arrived from Nell at Wingspan saying what a shame it was that we'd missed their Christmas party yesterday night. My blood immediately ran cold. Instead of rowing like petulant children last night, Nathan and I should have been at a lovey Christmas party, where there was a quiz, and a beautiful dinner (the menu for which I'd chosen), and where we were meant to be presented with our Grierson Award. I had been looking forward to the event all week, and then, suddenly, both Nathan and I forgot all about it. I felt awful: rude, angry, sad, embarrassed. I can only think that the visit to Bagshot House and the sheer amount of work I've been doing on Brass, dislodged it from my mind. I'm just not normally that person. I pride myself on not letting people down. For the first time in recent years I felt truly ashamed of my behaviour.

The day picked up somewhat with a journey up to North Wales to watch Nathan's nephew, Lewis, in a school pantomime. The journey up was insane. The M6 was a disaster zone, with road works and burning lorries (I kid you not.) We arrived at least an hour later than expected, but there was a lovely plate of pasta waiting for us, along with a full compliment of in-laws, and a delicious Tiramisu care of Nathan's Wicked Step Mother (WSM) who currently lives in Weston Super Mare (WSM!)

Lewis was brilliant in the show, and smiled like a superstar through all of his songs. One of the teachers made a hugely convincing dame, and another lad put in a cracking performance as a monkey! Some of the chorus girls were a bit under-energised. I'd have knocked the self-consciousness out of them within seconds, largely by mocking them mercilessly until they remembered to perform!

I texted Michelle of the Turkie mid-way through. Bizarrely, she went to the same school as Nathan's nephew and nieces, and I thought she might enjoy the idea that I was sitting in her old school hall. I love little coincidences like that. My father also tells me that we have distant relatives in that same little Welsh village. I guess this is not so surprising. I was born within a stone's throw of the place, and we've always had relatives in Rhiwabon and Rhos. What I don't quite understand is why none of the kids in the Panto sounded like my Nana! The kids actually all sounded disappointingly English, whereas my Nana very much didn't. Maybe there are two discrete accents up there, depending on whether your first language is Welsh or English. My Nana's was very definitely Welsh...

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Tea with a prince

An intensely blue light was rolling in through our sitting room window when I got up this morning. Cutting through the blueness was a contrasting strip of orange which came from the halogen light outside. It was really quite beautiful in an intensely urban sort of way. I went to get my breakfast, and by the time I'd returned, the lamp had gone out and been replaced by an even brighter orange light, which I suddenly realised was the rising sun. A spectacular sight.

Highgate Station was in a hopeless mess when I passed through, with a queue of people snaking around the ticket hall, attempting to top up their Oyster cards. A sign in the window of the ticket office informed the passing world that no one was manning the decks due to a "shortage of staff," and, to add a sprinkling of gold dust to the catastrophe, only one of the three ticket machines was working. I've no idea how the station coped at the peak of rush hour. Chivalrously and with great panache, probably. People don't tend to go for angry displays in Highgate. A well-placed tut, or a carefully considered philosophical one-liner is enough to make one's feelings more than felt in this part of the world!

If I thought Highgate was crowded, my experience of the Victoria line from Euston to Oxford Circus was hopeless beyond words. I ended up on a crowded platform perilously close to the tracks. At one stage, some sort of surge pushed me within about an inch of falling into the path of a tube train. It suddenly struck me how likely it is that at least some of the people who are regularly reported as a "person under a train" are people who were actually pushed or tripped in these sorts of situations. My previous assumption was that they were always suicides which felt a little easier to accept.

We were sandwiched into the tube carriage itself like olives in a jar. The politeness of Highgate had melted away and was replaced by people shoving, nudging and elbowing, and the odd sex addict having a subtle little grope of a conveniently-placed thigh!

Every time I get onto a rush hour tube I think about 7/7, and the panic which must have passed through the tube trains which were bombed on that dreadful day. The underground system is almost certainly going to be the scene of the next awful terrorist attack and the thought upsets me greatly.

I had a meeting with Prince Edward again today in the sitting room at his home in Berkshire. Both NYMT Jeremys were present, alongside the wonderful poet, Ian Macmillan, for whom I have almost endless respect.

The meeting, which lasted about an hour, went really well. Prince Edward is a kind man: erudite, charming and really rather witty. The surroundings were beyond surreal, however. I found myself at one stage staring at two enormous portraits on the wall, which I suddenly realised were his great grandparents. On the side board sat a lovely informal photograph of Edward's children on two little horses, flanked by an older lady with a great big smile on her face. The Queen. The whole experience was an extraordinary blend of the informal and the ultra formal; a lovely reminder that people are people regardless of which social echelon they were born into.

The house itself continues to intrigue  me with its Indian oak panels and dark, winding corridors. I complimented HRH on the glass work in some of the doors leading off the central hall, and he took me for a closer look to demonstrate that they were actually all the stems of wine glasses.

I spent the afternoon working in cafés in Soho, and in the process heard every cover version of every single Christmas song ever written. One version of Jingle Bells was so insanely upbeat that I thought I might be having some kind of seizure!

We had a late lunch in Stock Pot, having discovered that the other actor-friendly cheap-grub institution, West End Kitchen, has closed down. Stock Pot itself had been closed for restoration for some weeks. Oddly nothing in there had been repainted or rebranded in any way, begging me to wonder whether the "refurbishment" was actually some kind of environmental health issue.

I returned home in my second rush hour of the day to find our internet not working. Nathan is still on the phone to them right now trying to sort the matter out. Tonight was meant to be the night we put our Christmas Tree up. Bah Humbug Talk Talk!!

Cloudbusting

I had a massage today, and got chatting to the masseur afterwards, who has spent much of the past year  travelling to Yorkshire and back to tend to his elderly, semi-senile mother. He told me that they were driving along in the car last week and that she'd said to him, "I think me and you will stay friends. I don't think we'll get married." It's both hysterically funny and really unnerving. How genuinely distressing must it be to have your own mother say something like that to you? All I can hope is that his mother is at least happy, and that she's unaware of or unbothered by the confusion which is engulfing her brain. The concept of losing my sense of self is the thing which keeps me awake at night.

The massage was a lovely change of scenery, however, and hugely relaxing despite the fact that I got pummelled like a piece of mutton. There was a lovely moment when I was lying on my back, having my feet massaged, when I found myself staring up at the skylight, watching the sky very subtly changing from blue to black. There was a magical moment when all the clouds floating past were a different shades of pink.

It's 11.30pm and I've just finished work for the day. I was determined to get the score of Oranges and Lemons off to the Rebel Chorus by hook or by crook today, which gives me the rest of the week to focus on music for the Brass soundtrack.

My goal is to have everything done by Saturday so that I can have a few days thinking about Christmas, but I think this is fairly unlikely! I'll probably be working on Christmas Day itself!

Golly. I genuinely don't think there's anything else to say about the day. I am horrified to read the news from Sidney today, and my heart and thoughts go out to Australian readers of this blog. The fact that the dreadful man who was responsible for the terrible events was an asylum seeker, who was given sanctuary in Australia twenty years ago when he fled Iran, just makes the whole thing even less easy to swallow. I've never been prouder to be an atheist!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Guiness cake

We've been at Craft and Cake at Julie and Sam's for much of the day. Most people knitted. In fact everyone seemed to be knitting enormous shawls with great long rows, which took hours to complete. Periodically someone would shout out that they'd finished another row and everyone would cheer! Kate was carefully removing little eiderdown feathers from a cushion and stuffing them into a sock owl. I stuck photographs into one of my albums. In fact, I completed the album and was able to sit back and look through it, fondly enjoying the memories that the pictures stirred. It starts with photographs taken at our wedding reception. It's been a busy and rather wonderful year!

Julie made a Guiness cake. Delicious. And a massive vat of macaroni cheese. Beyond delicious. We talked about theatre, religion, paedophilia, the state of the record industry, marriage and Stephen West knitwear designs. Life in all its guises...

On our way to Catford, we stopped off at Spitalfields Market to buy Christmas presents. I recommend that place for anyone short of ideas and still needing stocking fillers. Nothing in that market is made in China, or sold on behalf of ghastly multinational companies. It's just a little corner of London full of people making a humble living out of arts and crafts, and some of the things they're selling are beautiful and hugely inventive. The atmosphere is terrific. There was a wind band playing Christmas songs and loads of food stalls and people with smiles on their faces milling around with nowhere specific to be.

Fiona just texted to say she was at a charity gala this evening where The Feeling, who we were so lucky to have performing at our wedding, played God Only Knows, the song they sang at our wedding. Apparently they referenced this particular fact before performing it, which feels very special indeed.



High ceilings

Michelle and I are currently at Brother Edward and Sascha's house watching the X Faxtor final. We're enjoying the concept of battle buses emblazoned with the images of the finalists. There seem to be one or two too many subliminal messages knocking around, however, suggesting we vote for Fleur. I was half expecting to see her battle bus driving through the background of shots where her competitors were visiting their families in Croydon and places.

The poor Italian contestant (largely tipped to come third) didn't get to go back to Rome. He was sent instead to an Italian Restaurant in Soho, and when it came to the round where the contestants duet with famous pop artists, he had to make do with the low-rent Ella Henderson. The poor lad's mentor, Spice Girl Mel B, was apparently too ill to be there to unreservedly gush about him, so the poor lad looked utterly abandoned.

We're counting the cliches; "you don't know how good you are," "you gave it 110 per cent," "you look like a star, you sing like a star..."

Michelle has been with us for much of the day, which was, by all accounts, a very lovely sunny one. This is the sort of weather I believe the Germans would call Kaiser Wetter. Crisp blue skies, a watery sun and a hint of frost in the air. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, which meant the temperatures plummeted as night fell, and as we walked to the local Sainsbury's to buy mince pies, the roofs of cars were all covered in a thick layer of ice.

The Greenwich peninsular opposite Edward and Sascha's house is a hive of activity right now. Every time I come here it seems there's another skyscraper being built. Apparently there's a massive development of hexagon-shaped buildings planned for the area of scrubland on the other side of The Dome. Perhaps the ludicrous cable cars they've built from nowhere to nowhere in this part of the world will finally prove useful for someone. My friend Rupert tells me it's the most terrifying ride he's ever had.

I dropped Michelle off at Canary Wharf tube. Seldom have I visited a less welcoming part of town. There are checkpoints on every corner searching for bombs and god knows what. And every road is closed or inaccessible due to building works. We snaked our way through traffic cones and walled-off streets, with little faces of men in hi-viz peering suspiciously at us. No city of mine should be this unaccommodating. The Gaza Strip is a friendlier spot!

I went home via Hackney, where I was picking Nathan up from the party of a mutual friend. What a god forsaken dump Hackney is. That said, the flat where our friend lives is one that I deeply covet. It's a beautiful, tall-ceilinged artistic pad with enormous windows with sills big enough to sit on. The party was a rather fabulous affair as well. It was peopled almost exclusively by members of the box-office/ ticket seller fraternity. An entire table in the kitchen had been dedicated to the making of cocktails with almost every alcoholic drink, mixer, chaser and shot that you could imagine lined up, and books floating about which dealt with how to make the perfect drink. We stayed a great deal longer than expected, largely because it was so much fun.

We drove back home and I was asleep before my head touched the pillow!