Sunday, 31 January 2010

Hanged, drawn and quartered

Spent all afternoon working with Fiona and Nathan on the Lincolnshire project. We’ve been trying to record a track that makes it easier for the singers to understand and hear the music, but ultimately we failed because a) we’re not a choir and b) we’re not a recording studio! I now think there’s no other option than to teach to teach the music directly to the choir, having proven there’s not a computer programme or lengthy Sunday process that can properly represent the work. It’s been a hugely frustrating day. Instead of going to the Curtain’s Up quiz, I’m going to sit at home and lick my wounds... and wait for the text messages to come from the rest of the team!

Yesterday’s late night cabaret was hosted by Hannah Waddingham, a good friend of Nathan’s and a fabulous West End performer. It was a hugely entertaining evening. She’s got an incredible set of pipes and a wonderfully witty way of interacting with the audience. Her mother, who performs in the chorus at ENO, joined her on stage for an all-too brief blast of the flower duet. The rest of the evening was Big Band-tastic and I’d definitely suggest a visit to see the Fabulous Lounge Swingers who were one of Hannah’s guests for the evening. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Madonna’s Hung Up performed by these guys as a high-energy, mad-cap big band classic! Genius.

I can’t believe it’s the last day of January today. It makes me feel a bit panicky; the feeling I used to get on a Sunday night when I hadn’t finished my homework and Last of the Summer Wine was on. I suppose I still haven’t got a clear sense of how this year is going to pan out, which makes me nervous. I’m also uncharacteristically aware of the passing of time at the moment. Thirty five suddenly seems so incredibly old.

Pepys was 27 on this day in 1660. He wouldn’t turn 28 until February 23rd. He started the day playing the lute and then did his usual round of socialising, delivering important messages and collecting money that had been borrowed or needed to be repaid. In the time before banks existed, this was pretty much the way the world worked. Later in the day, Pepys wrote that Colonel John Jones was about to be impeached for treasonable practices in Ireland. Jones was one of the men who signed the death warrant for Charles Ist, so it was only going to get worse for him as the country swung back into the hands of the Royalists. In fact, it got about as bad as it could get for the poor man who was eventually hanged, drawn and quartered, redeeming himself only slightly in the eyes of the watching public by being so jolly brave about the unbelievable pain he must have been in!

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Abbasolutely Fabulous

We came 5th in the quiz. Out of 15th. Not bad, but not great. The winners were a mirthless crew who all looked a bit like they been peeled and dipped in vinegar. We could well have won, had we used our joker more wisely. I had no idea I knew so little about "famous people"! That said, it was a nice little quiz. We were fed a decent nosh and the question master was charmingly eccentric, referring to us constantly as the Royal Box. I think this was a reference to where we were sitting in the hall, but Nathan said it was because our team was full of Queens. The questions were all a bit geared towards people of a certain age (which didn’t seem to correspond with the average age of our team) but thrillingly, there was a question on Samuel Pepys. It wasn’t exactly specialist knowledge, so I couldn’t wade in to make up for the mistakes I’d made on earlier rounds. But overall a wonderful evening, with incredible company.
Speaking of incredible, we’ve just returned from The ABBA World Exhibition at Earl’s Court. Brother Edward and Sascha took us for a belated Christmas present and we were all like children in a toy shop. We saw the Arrival helicopter, the Waterloo costumes, exclusive interviews, unique photographs... Nathan finally got his Jim’ll Fix It wish to sing with the band, care of a rather special hologram package (pictured) and Edward and I sang Money Money Money in the karaoke booth. Every image of the band brought back a different childhood memory. I remembered the day Edward first went to school and sitting in a lonely trance listening to the Greatest Hits album staring miserably at the picture of them on the park bench until he came back home. I remembered dragging him around various second hand record shops looking for B-sides I hadn’t yet heard... Oh, the joy, the sadness, the nostalgia. Heavenly!

Now sitting in a cafe on Old Compton Street with Fiona and Nathan. We’re having a cup of tea before heading off to see some late night cabaret. It’s been a very musical week. And a week where I’ve consumed large amounts of tea, to the point of getting caffeine shakes on a number of occasions!

We know for a fact that Pepys wasn’t a tea drinker, at least he wasn't until September 25th 1660 when his diary includes one of the first references to drinking tea in literature; “And afterwards did send for a Cupp of Tee (a China drink of which I never had drank before)”. Unsurprisingly, the words Cup Of Tee are not written in shorthand and rather jump off a page which otherwise seems to consist of nothing but symbols and squiggles.

January 30th was the anniversary of Charles I’s execution (or “murder” as it was being referred to by 1660). Pepys woke up, and worked for a while on his new composition (did I mention he was a keen composer?) before pausing to realise the gravity of the day.  He noted that it was ten years since the King died, even though the execution happened in 1649, so it was actually 11. You’d think he’d have remembered. He wagged school that day to watch the event taking place!
Benjamin with ABBA on a park bench

Friday, 29 January 2010

Quiztopher Biggins

I’m crammed into a car surrounded by bags, sweet wrappers, water bottles, Nathan, Hilary and Philippa. We’re heading towards my parents’ village – just south of Cambridge - to take part in a quiz. But this isn’t just any quiz. This is a Thaxted village quiz. It will take part in the village hall and it will be hard core. To cheat would be to flirt with death! I can't wait.

The comedy last night was actually pretty good. It was more a surreal sketch-based drama than the stand up I was dreading and there was enough decent acting in it for me to focus on enjoying that rather than trying to interpret the jokes! It was a weirdly star-studied audience for such a tiny venue. A quick glance around revealed I was in the company of comedians, impressionists, shoe designers and a Pet Shop Boy!

Went for a meal afterwards with Matt and his wonderfully quirky friend and then met Nathan out of Naked Boys Singing, which is the show he’s doing in rep with Nunsense. As I sat waiting for him to emerge in the foyer of the Arts Theatre, a number of people with rather flushed faces were creeping out; “it wasn’t really for me” one of them mumbled, apologetically. Not sure what he was expecting from a show called Naked Boys Singing! Apparently the full frontal nudity in the show attracts a fair number of hen parties, and of course, a smattering of the dirty mackintosh brigade. Some of the things that have been found in the auditorium after the show would make a grown man shudder!

350 years ago, Pepys spent much of the day looking over his accounts. He was fanatically organised when it came to money and at any given moment would know the value of his worldly goods down to the last penny. At the end of every month, there was usually an entry dedicated to summing up his finances, sometimes involving intricate lists revealing how he’d spent his money from the most expensive piece of jewellery, right down to the cheapest of notebooks. One of the joys of the diary is watching these end of month figures rising, first very slowly and then escalating almost out of hand as Pepys rapidly became a very wealthy man. On the 29th January he was worth £40. Within ten years he’d be worth more than £10,000; a figure which would enable any 17th Century man to retire and live a life of absolute luxury!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Was Samuel Pepys gay?

I’m on a tube heading to Warwick Avenue, which means once again, I’m suffering the hell of trying to travel from North to West in London. Almost impossible. I seem to be surrounded by shrieking women, and if that isn’t bad enough, I’ve got the whole King’s Cross subterranean Marathon to endure, just to change onto the Metropolitan line.

I’m off to watch some comedy, which if you know me well, is tantamount to my saying “I’m off to watch calves being slaughtered.” There’s more than a whiff of autism surrounding me, and I find it very difficult to understand when a joke has been cracked. My mother once taught me to carefully study the face of the joke teller to know when to burst into that sort of fake laughter posh people do when they watch Shakespeare.

I worked all day today in the cafe, relieved to find myself in some kind of routine again but suffering from sleep deprivation and feeling like I might be coming down with some sort of cold. All these particular gripes, however, were whisked away by the joy I experienced upon handing in my Nero loyalty card and receiving a free cup of tea. There are no words to express the excitement I probably shouldn’t have been feeling at that moment!

Still buzzing from Fiona’s string recording yesterday. I was so proud of her. I sat there listening to what she’d written with my jaw open, wondering where the inspiration had come from. Of course, the immediate response is to fire off about a million composers that the work has briefly reminded you of, but when you get into lists which include Bartok, Vaughan Williams, Grieg and Adams, you have to acknowledge that the girl actually managed to create something refreshingly unique. Bravo, Fiona! And thank you for having a good impact on my writing. When someone raises the bar like that, you have to step up to the mark – amidst other platitudes.

Interesting to note that it’s January 28th today, which makes it the anniversary of the Challenger Disaster. Quite why this had enough of an impact for me to remember the date I don’t know. But I still remember it being announced on John Craven’s Newsround and the shock I felt, perhaps because there were two women on board, one of them a teacher, and I found that hugely upsetting.

A typically busy day for Pepys. Lots of walking. Lots of socialising. Not a great deal of work. Pepys’ boss, Mr Downing (of Downing Street fame) left England for Holland and was very civil to Pepys as he said his goodbyes. This excited Pepys somewhat and sent him randomly rushing back home to fetch his best fur hat. The plans seems to have been to present it to Downing as a token of his esteem, but by the time he’d found it, Downing had left. Pepys then visited St Clement's church, which must mean St Clement Eastcheap (another bell I’ve recorded) and then drank at a place called Heaven! Comic thoughts enter my mind of men in periwigs and patches pouting behind fans and fighting with handkerchiefs, but we know for a fact Pepys wasn’t gay... In fact, he seems to have had no idea what buggery was; a confession he made in his diary upon hearing the news that some Navy men were in court accused of engaging in the wicked act! If there was a 17th Century gay bar, it’s safe to assume it wasn’t called Heaven!

Fiona and her talented string players at yesterday's recording

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Missing Cat

Up betimes and to a recording studio in Willesden, where I’m taking photographs of a string orchestra playing one of Fiona’s compositions. It’s a wonderful piece; sobbingly moving, highly visual and incredibly subtly scored. The players are daemons. I’m curled up on a sofa allowing the experience to drift over me like a mist rolling down from the Yorkshire Moors! This ought to spur her on to write more original music. She’s a deeply talented composer with a distinctive voice; and a Northamptonian to boot!

Last night I introduced the Choir Invisible to sections of The Book of Hope. They were enthusiastic and a joy to work with. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how the project develops with them.

It’s been a week of hugely differing musical experiences. Nunsense on Monday night was the opposite end of the spectrum to the elegiac music which is currently tickling my senses. Nunsense is a brassy Vaudevillian review show with tits, teeth and lashings of cheese. It felt a tad under-rehearsed and still needs to burst into life, which ought to happen when the actors feel confident enough with the material to claim it as their own. Performances needed to be bigger and bolder, although Nathan was excellent and I was very proud of him, particularly when he dusted off his diva vocals and slung them at the audience during the last song.

Pepys’ diary on this day in 1660 is neither revelatory nor particularly entertaining; very much like the entry I’m writing today! He met an old comrade and they drank a morning draft together whilst talking about dreams and ambitions. Later in the day Elizabeth caused slight concern by suggesting to Pepys that his bosses were beginning to bristle at his long absences from the office.

Some images are just too tragic. I found this poster attached to a tree in Highgate Village. Unfortunately something terrible has happened to the photograph of the cat, so all that's left is the missing image of a missing cat!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

A loin of veal, a great tart and a dish of anchovies

I'm in the library of a strange stately home near Grantham which seems to have been turned into a university for Americans. It feels so strange to be cocooned within a building that represents such British-ness whilst hearing only the faintly nasal strains of wealthy American teenagers. It's also strange to drive to a building less than a mile away from the A1 that is accessed via a road covered in cattle grids!

I've come up here to work with the Choir Invisible on the music I’ve been writing over the last few weeks. It's always nerve-wracking to take your babies out in public for the first time, particularly when you know they're works in progress. Fortunately their conductor, Sally, heard them earlier and seems to like at least  of the four songs. I think she feels the fourth is pompous; which obviously doesn't fit the soulful vibe of her choir. Perversely, I feel the song represents my best writing and feel the synth strings and brutal precision of computer music software would make anything sound pompous, but it's difficult to convey this without sounding... well, pompous! We’ll have to see what happens when I get the choir singing a bit of it later on.

My journey up the A1 was great fun. It’s impossible to get bored of driving on that eccentric road, lined as it is with a bewildering array of strange houses and countless distractions including a full-sized fighter plane outside RAF Wittering and a two-dimensional representation of a black cat in the middle of a roundabout just north of Sandy. For me, every Little Chef, truck-stop and bridge along its length brings back a memory of my time working on A1: The Road Musical. The mayhem, the anxiety but above all the absolute joy as I drove up and down feeling like I was finally doing something extraordinary with my life; something truly unique which justified my existence and gave me my first stab at leaving a legacy. All be it a quirky one. Odd to think I'll never know if I've achieved that particular goal. I often wonder if some of those incredible composers who died before achieving recognition are given the odd leave of absence from heaven to attend recitals of their work.

There’s no doubting that Pepys left the world with a legacy. Hence, we know that exactly 350 years ago he was hosting the dinner party he'd been thinking about for days. Most of the guests were relatives and Pepys seemed to enjoy himself as much as anyone surrounded by family politics can. He was particularly impressed by the food that Elizabeth had cooked, and listed it in detail: “a dish of marrow bones; a leg of mutton; a loin of veal; a dish of fowl, three pullets, and two dozen of larks all in a dish; a great tart, a neat's tongue, a dish of anchovies; a dish of prawns and cheese.” It sounds ghastly! I wonder what vegetarians did in those days...

The photograph shows Janet Wood in A1: The Road Musical, performing in a scrap yard a stone's throw from where I'm sitting today.

Monday, 25 January 2010

A 17th Century Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen

I feel washed out today. The weather’s damp and miserable and I don’t feel I’ve slept properly in days! I spent this morning assembling a short-list of quotes from Pepys’ diary which might work as text for the motet. Part of the process is categorising the passages to work out which lines will work when sung by different voice types. This could well make a difference to the singers I'll eventually want to work with. I still like the idea of “Pepys the social climber” being represented by opera singers, but wonder which group will sing all those atmospheric passages relating to Pepys’ home and family life. Folk singers? Gospel singers? If anyone has any thoughts on this subject or is interested in reading the short list, please get in touch. I’d love to know which of the passages have resonance with people today.

I spent much of the afternoon trudging across Hampstead Heath with Fiona, looking for locations for a video shoot she’s involved with on Friday. It was incredibly muddy and my one pair of sensible shoes now resembles ancient Egyptian bricks! Bring back the pattens! That said, the heath, as usual was stunning. Everything seemed to be silhouetted against a sky which looked liked bruised flesh. It’s such an incredible place; whatever the time of year.

I’m on my way into town to watch Nathan in his first performance of Nunsense A-men at the Arts Theatre. It’s about nuns. Nuns played by men. The clue’s in the title. Puntastic!

350 years ago, Pepys and his wife spent much of the day preparing for a dinner party they’d scheduled for the morrow. To give it a dose of proper glamour, the plan was to host the event at Montague’s London residence. Pepys doesn’t mention if Montague had granted them permission, or whether, like naughty school children, they were running riot behind his back. Elizabeth spent the day making tarts and larding her pullets (fnah fnah) whilst Pepys prepared fires and decorated the house. Pepys was an aesthete and loved nothing more than tasteful and fashionable home improvements. From the time he started making money, builders were almost entirely present in his house. In fact, I read somewhere that Pepys used his Navy boat-building connections to commission the world’s very first custom built bookshelf! A 17th Century Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Decorous mayhem

Last night was a very long night. It started as a perfectly decorous gathering of be-suited creative types (pictured) and ended with high energy, semi-naked line-dancing to disco music. I felt like a student again.

In the meantime, each of us had provided a round for a quiz. People were extraordinarily inventive; mine involved tea-tasting, but there were also rounds which featured ABBA songs being played backwards, those which involved reading film scripts, smelling herbs and spices, and finding Tibet on a map. It went on for hours, but was enormous fun.

Upsetting news came half way through the evening. A friend of mine’s father died very suddenly yesterday. He was a hugely interesting man and used to email me regularly with ideas for documentaries. He was always setting something up. Always busy. He was also following this blog and emailed me to say as much only a week ago. It's terribly sad. I suppose as we move through life, this kind of thing will happen more and more frequently. At the end of last year I lost a close friend and it was very tough.

Today in 1660, Elizabeth Pepys was “exceedingly troubled with a pair of new pattens”, which annoyed Pepys because it made her walk so slowly. Pattens (pictured) were a type of under-shoe made of wood and metal that elevated a wearer above muddy or wet ground. I could have done with a pair this morning as we wandered around the grounds of the country house.

Pattens were a necessity for ladies in London until they started paving the streets. The last working patten maker died in the 19th Century. In the late 17th Century pattens were so important that one of the churches which burned down in the Great Fire was re-built and renamed St Margaret Pattens and it still has a notice on the door requesting women to remove their pattens before entering the church. But I digress...

Pepys spent much of the rest of Januray 24th in the company of people whom he seemed to find distasteful. The social climber had returned with a vengeance: “after dinner a great deal of mad stir... A great deal of fooling... that I and my wife did not like. Mr. Lucy and several other gentlemen coming in after dinner, swearing and singing as if they were mad.”

He sauntered home and continued with the slightly superior tones, this time accusing his sister Pall of stealing a pair of scissors. Poor Pall often ended up suffering at the hands and tongue of Pepys, who considered her to be inferior. He was constantly trying to get her married off, suggesting she was getting uglier and older. At one stage she came to live with Pepys and Elizabeth but was treated like a servant and not even allowed to have meals with them. She got her own back in time by providing Pepys with a nephew, who became the apple of his eye and his sole heir.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Brideshead Revisited

I am currently in the deepest wilds of Norfolk celebrating my friend Helen’s birthday in the most incredible country house. There are twelve of us, an open fire, about thirty rooms and countless acres of incredible garden. It’s as perfect a setting for a weekend as you could imagine.

We struggled here last night through rain and wind from London, arriving just in time for a perfect meal of cannelloni and lemon tart, cooked by the lovely Suzy, Helen's oldest friend. We then played games long into the night, culminating in an attempt to convey messages to one another using nothing but pen, paper and group telepathy. How very Bloomsbury. Pepys would have been proud!

I went to bed and slept badly, chiefly because living on the A1 in London has made me lose the capacity to deal with silence! I also find it hard to sleep without Nathan to cuddle. Bless me.
We seem to have woken up this morning in a thick Fenland mist and I can't wait to don a pair of wellies and get out into the grounds. I shall endeavour to take a photograph, which I shall post here. The plan for tonight is to don our DJs and spend the evening behaving like drunken extras in the film version of Brideshead Revisited. I can’t wait!  (photo shows Alex, Ellen, Nico and Helen in front of the country house)

The evening of January 23rd, 1660 was by all accounts a dark one. So dark, in fact, that Pepys ended up falling into a ditch somewhere between Whitehall and the river. He conveniently blames the mishap on lack of light rather than any alcohol he might have consumed, but frankly, the fact that there ever were ditches in Westminster is the thing that interests me! After the accident, Pepys meets up with some of his clerk friends. They really do seem to have been the stereotypical young lads out on the town. They eat “a rare pot venison” whilst singing and drinking ale long into the night. You can just imagine the disapproving faces of those Puritan elders!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Splendid Periwigs

I enjoy my mornings in the cafe. They feel extremely productive and I love watching the regulars coming and going. Some of them are heartbreaking. There’s an elderly couple who come in twice a week, and sit with a coffee and a bun doing the crossword together and then there's proud old lady who smells of mothballs, but always looks so beautifully turned out. Today she was wearing a beret and a smear of incredibly pink lipstick. I wondered what would happen if someone told her she smelt of mothballs. And that made me feel incredibly sad.

You’ll notice that the Pepys-o-meter is back, with a wonderful $100 pledge from a Pepys Club member in the United States. We’re slowly creeping up!

The blue and red of the Pepys-o-meter made me think of the enclosed, which is a picture of me as a child. It surfaced with a set of slides that my parents have just had converted into sensible formats. I’m dressed as Wonder Woman. Obviously. I’m not sure why I’m carrying a wand although I remember at the time thinking it looked rather special. I adored Wonder Woman, and if any of you want a reminder of the marvellous Charles Fox theme tune, click here. Look at the photo of me whilst you listen. It’s bound to bring a smile to your face. It was taken shortly before the party I refused to go to unless I could dress as ABBA, which seemed to involve a crocheted shawl and a pair of my mother’s knee high platform boots. I wonder how I got to be so butch in later life!

Today in 1660 was a Sunday and Pepys went to church. He sat in the pew belonging to W. Thurburn and listened to “a very eloquent sermon about the duty of all to give good example in our lives and conversation” but then adds of Thurburn; “which I fear he himself was most guilty of not doing”. Pepys could be bitchy. His diary is filled to bursting with snide remarks about people, particularly those he was jealous of. Even King Charles II feels the sharpness of his quill! Pepys was a man of superlatives both good and bad.

The last sentence in his entry tells us that on this day Pepys began to wear buckles on his shoes. Fancy shoe buckles were the first ostentatious sign that Londoners were moving away from the simplicity and austerity of puritan garb towards the camp mayhem of Restoration fashions. In 1660, a nice shoe buckle subtly indicated refinement and wealth. Pepys the social climber had been born and very soon, he’d be adding a splendid periwig to the look!

Thursday, 21 January 2010


It is 4.31pm and I’m at Leeds train station about to head back to London. I’ve just had a very interesting meeting with the BBC about the possibility of writing a symphony which unites musicians from across Yorkshire, so it’s with a sense of excitement that I return to the capital and write this blog.

On the train up, it struck me how perilously close we are to the collapse of the English language as we know it! Without wishing to sound like my Grannie for a second day running, the carriage was positively buzzing with little snippets of conversation as people barked shamelessly into their mobile phones; a veritable Bon Marche of “innit”s and “you get me”s. The catering manager announced; “if myself or any of my colleagues can be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to ask” and the woman opposite was chuntering away in pure management speak; “I wonder if Sue could action that for us. Internal Coms want the initiative cascaded across the piece by Tuesday.” It could have been a sound installation entitled; “The death of English represented by random people in a train carriage.” I don’t so much mind the ghetto talk, we had a fair amount of that going on in East Northants, but I start to shudder and sharpen my elbows when people replace meaningful words with posh-sounding rhythms.

Rant over.

I spent last night in the company of my dear friends Imogen and Marinella. We had an Italian in Soho (a meal, not a person) and I got to meet Imogen’s brother for the first time. There was a lot of laughter, I stole a tea pot, and Marinella added a story to the collection of tales so tragic you’re powerless to do anything but laugh. Some years ago, her Grandmother went on a coach trip and decided to use the on-board toilet facilities. Unfortunately she forgot to lock the door; an error which coincided with the bus suddenly breaking and then swerving. This sent Grannie careering out of the loo and down the aisle of the coach with her skirt hitched up around her waist and her knickers ‘round her ankles; a roll of loo paper limping along in her tragic wake. She came to rest pressed firmly to the inside of the windscreen, with her dignity in tatters. It’s stories like this which make me pleased to be alive!

Today in 1660, as usual, there was no work at the office for Mr Pepys. He also had to endure an embarrassing conversation with one of the recently-unemployed clerks who claimed Pepys was elevating himself in society by climbing all over his friends. There’s also reference to the return to Parliament of Speaker Lenthall, the man who, in 1642, famously and courageously refused Charles I’s entry to Parliament to arrest five troublesome MPs. This act of defiance was seen as the beginning of the end for the monarch. By 1660, Lenthall, like the rest, was hedging his bets; using his influence with the likes of Monke to protect himself from being punished if, as was seeming increasingly likely, the monarchy returned.

And for those who are interested in quirky facts, Edwina Currie has come out in support of the Pepys Motet and even offered to present it to the audience at the premier. Good for her! And as the ex-partner of labour MP, I never thought I’d ever be saying that about a Tory!

An example of the shorthand Pepys used in his diary. This is part of the second paragraph of the diary:

The condition of the State was thus; viz. the Rump, after being disturbed by my Lord Lambert, was lately returned to sit again. The officers of the Army all forced to yield. Lawson lies still in the river, and Monk is with his army in Scotland.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The Pachelbel what?

Every morning I walk up the steep hill into Highgate Village laden with bags. There’s something rather symbolic about starting the day with an uphill climb! People often tell me how lucky they think I am to be following my star, and in many ways I think they're right, but the flip side of freedom is an extraordinary lack of security. I'm 35 years old and I don’t have a pension plan, or a mortgage, or any of things I imagined I’d need by the end of my 20s. I don't even know how I'm going to earn money from the start of next month! Friends think twice before inviting me out for expensive nights on the town because they know I’ll drink tap water and complain like my Grannie about the cost of bread rolls. But there is an upside. As I've grown older, I've reconciled myself to the fact that I’ll never own that house with a roof terrace over-looking the heath, or indeed ever be wealthy enough to have my suits made by a tailor. And this feels quite liberating. Finally I can focus on enjoying what I have as opposed to obsessing about what I want or worse, feel I need.

My oldest and closest friend is now back in the country after a couple of months away. She lives the life of a glamorous nomad, touring with a rock band, then spending long periods in Texas with her partner. It's always exciting when she comes back to the UK. Sometimes I can't believe we’ve known each other for over twenty years. We're heading into Muswell Hill later to celebrate by buying some paint and manuscript paper.

I'm finding it hard to write in the cafe this morning, because instead of playing Enya style musak, they’re playing classical pop music, which I find very difficult to ignore, even with my enormous headphones. At the moment it’s the turn of Pachelbel’s Canon, which is bringing back memories of busking at the age of 17 in Coventry Market. What’s peculiar about this version is that one of the violinists has gone off on one and seems to be improvising some of his part whilst playing with the most astonishing 1920s type vibrato, which rather defeats the object of playing a) a canon and b) something that was written during Pepys' lifetime. He's out of control. He must stop. He has stopped. Now there's a harp. I have to leave...

On 20th January 1660, Mrs Lane makes her first appearance in Pepys' diary. Betty Lane kept a linen stall in Westminster Hall and Pepys had a long-term casual affair with her. In fact, at one point, she claimed to be pregnant with his child. On this occasion there is no mention of a sexual encounter. Mrs Lane and all the other maids from Westminster Hall were wearing the white scarves of mourning following the burial of a young bookseller from the hall.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

"Can you spare a bit of change, please?"

A busy day for me today; but ultimately one of little consequence. I did a morning's composing in Highgate and then settled down after lunch to look at potential funding avenues for the motet. Fortunately, my Arts Council application made it through the lack-of-snow to Manchester, but following the bitter disappointment of the PRS turning us down, I’m mindful of putting all my eggs into one basket. It’s also clear that the Arts Council received a stupidly large number of applications at the same time as mine, far more than normal due to their change of application procedure, so I think I’ll be lucky if they’re able to help. All very depressing.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of proactiveness, I got on the phone and spoke to a few of the livery companies to see if they could help. I then ‘phoned about six charities, feeling increasingly like someone in an advert for the Yellow Pages. It seems nowadays that most funding bodies concern themselves with giving opportunities to children and young people, making me wonder where all these opportunities were when I was growing up!? Regardless of sour grapes, I have to face facts. My inter-generational, inter-cultural project seems to only half-tick the boxes, which isn’t good enough for these organisations’ specific funding requirements. Even if I threw caution to the wind, and took a punt on one of them, the process could well take too long. One suggested if I applied today, I’d only find out if I'd been successful in six months' time... Crumbs!

So, I took a deep breath and fired off an email to the wonderful Law firm who stepped in at the last moment to save the live performance of Oranges and Lemons. I felt bad. I’d told myself I wouldn’t go cap in hand to them again. They we so generous in July and I surely can't expect them to fund me a second time in the same tax year. Still, I must continue to mumble; "can you spare a little change please?" to anyone who'll listen.

350 years ago, London was a jittery, nervous place. No one knew which regime was going to get the necessary foothold needed to take over the running of the country. Was the old monarchy on its way back from Holland? Or were we eyes down for a meritocracy headed by General Monck? Certainly Cromwell Junior’s chances had ebbed away. He wasn’t up to the job of Lord Protector and rumours were rife that he was losing his mind. Besides, no one was interested in replacing one system based on birth-right with another. But whilst the upper echelons of society were taking it easy in their country piles, the new middle classes were playing a proper game of musical chairs as their bosses changed allegiance, or became persona non grata. On this day, for example, all the clerks of the council (Pepys’ drinking mates) bar two, were sacked and Pepys’ name was put forward as a potential replacement. It was clear the country couldn’t go on like this and London waited for Monck's arrival with bated breath.

Monday, 18 January 2010

The instrument of the devil

We came second in the quiz. We tried to cheat, but it did us no good. The carefully chosen texts I sent out to close friends were either answered too late, or greeted with moral outrage!

I’m currently on my way home from a very enlightening and witty lecture about Pepys, given by Graham Fawcett at St Olave’s Church. It’s part of a series of lectures, one for each month in the 350th year, and anyone with an interest in Pepys should go. There’s food, wine and (on this occasion) a recorder recital. Recorder player, Emily Baines, was actually rather good. She played the mid-range mellow types of recorder; a far cry (or scream) from those nasty high-pitched things with crazy harmonics you hear in schools that can only be described as the sound of the devil. I did, however, keep wondering what form of insanity makes someone choose to be a professional recorder player. Perhaps she also plays the flute. I hope so.

St Olave’s is a charming, tiny, eccentric church; probably my favourite in the City of London. It’s fabulously cluttered. Everywhere you look there’s something even more awe-inspiring. The bust of Pepys’ wife, which he had made after she died, peers down, as though deep in conversation from above the altar, below which she and Pepys lie together sleeping. I discovered tonight that Francis Bacon’s older brother is also buried here, so my blog about the frozen chicken is relevant after all! Furthermore, the old show queen in me is proud to reveal that the real Mother Goose also lies somewhere beneath the church. How camp is that?

My journey through the city reminded me quite how unique this corner of the world is. Every building seems to come from a different century and there’s a surprise around every corner. Here a shabby 15th Century church, there a sleek glass skyscraper. Pubs, gyms, coffee houses, train stations, fusty law firms, trendy wine bars are piled on top of one another and squeezed into roads with curious and curiouser names; Seething Lane, Mincing Lane, Old Jewry, Poultry. And yet after treading these streets on a daily basis whilst doing Oranges and Lemons, the place still remains an entire mystery. I sort of felt my way to the church today from the Monument.

Today was a day like any other for Pepys. He talks briefly about the letters he was exchanging on an almost daily basis with his distant cousin and patron Sir Edward Montagu, later the First Earl of Sandwich. Montagu, a staunch Republican, was busy turn-coating; a process which seemed to involve retiring to a country estate and emerging in London a year or so later wearing a new suit of armour like I might change a pair of socks. A bit rich considering ten per cent of the entire population died during the English Civil War!

During Montagu's self-imposed exile, Pepys was given the task of sending his master daily letters, with detailed accounts (often written in code) of the goings on in the capital. Graham Fawcett suggested tonight that it was these letters that inspired Pepys to start writing a diary.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Fickle Creatures

I’m back at the Curtain’s Up pub in West Kensington. A group of us is about to enter the quiz that we won last week. Being a returning champion carries with it a huge amount of pressure and an intoxicating desire to cheat! Still, we have wine gums, mini eggs and our winnings from last week, so life is good.

I’ve just returned from Canary Wharf, where my parents and I were given the first tour of the flat my brother’s just purchased with his partner, Sascha. It’s a beautiful pad, with incredible views of the Dome, and they have wonderful plans for it. I’m very jealous, and plainly in the wrong career! We had a lovely Italian meal for lunch, care of Jamie Oliver (the franchise, not the person - if I were name dropping, I’d be a lot less subtle!) I also brought some new headphones. I had become rather attached to the eccentric foamy boats I'd been wearing on my ears for the last few weeks but I showed them to my Mum and she said; “good lord, don’t you feel embarrassed wearing them?” and I had to acknowledge that maybe I did.

Pepys was also in Kensington today, resting whilst on his way to Twickenham. This information comes care of a long, involved and somewhat busy diary entry, which includes a great amount of politics; detailed accounts of a Coffee House debate about the efficiency of the Roman government and news of more MPs being flung out of Parliament, one of whom was immediately dispatched to the tower. On a more personal level, there also seemed to be some intrigue involving Mrs Jem, and one Mr Moore, who I can only assume was the former’s suitor, because he seemed to be very melancholic following “some unkindness from her after so great expressions of love.” Poor Mr Moore. These 17th Century women were such fickle creatures!

Saturday, 16 January 2010


I've pretty much bedded in for the day, just like Pepys did yesterday. It’s cold and rainy outside and I could do with a day of television and relaxation.

Last night was a proper treat. I ate with Sam at the glorious West End kitchen off the Haymarket. Our food looked like road kill - I've never seen so much orange on a plate - but it was cheap and filling. After eating, we decided to go on a Pepys-inspired wander. I wanted to buy my own copy of the complete diaries, so we visited nine different bookshops. Very strange to note in a year as important as this – and in London – not a single shop had the full diary in stock. Foyles offered to order me a copy; but at £100, I thought better f it. Instead, I bought a copy of John Evelyn’s Diary. Evelyn was Pepys’ contemporary and they were close friends, particularly towards the end of Pepys’ life. I look forward to reading about our hero from someone else's perspective.

We left the bookshops on Charing Cross Road and wondered through Covent Garden, stopping underneath the plaque commemorating Pepys’ account of the very first Punch and Judy show in 1662. Unfortunately as I jumped around repeatedly shrieking “Punchinello” in the style of Mr Punch, a very strange dwarf person with a hunch on his back walked past us in the street. Uncomfortable.

Spem In Alium was a joy to hear. A little rough around the edges, but for a group of amateur singers they did amazingly well. They stood in a circle in the gallery at St Martin In The Fields, giving it absolutely everything, and the polyphony drifted down onto us in a sort of angelic haze. It was incredible to hear the music spinning around in a circle, being passed from one mini-choir to the next. It brought the house down and gave me a sense of quite how extraordinary the Pepys work could be. It also made me feel quite terrified. Before it began my palms were sweating and my head was spinning with countless questions. Am I a good enough composer to write such a challenging work? Will my music writing software even allow 40 staves? What if I end up with one rubbish singer who brings the whole thing crashing down on his or her shoulders? But as the singing began, with that first empty, tragic interval, a tear came to my eye and all the worries drifted away. 440 years old, and this work is still capable of moving a grown man to tears.

I do wonder if Pepys ever saw the work performed. 350 years ago, he was making music of his own, with various groups of friends. Music regularly sent Pepys into a near ecstatic state and this night was no exception. He boasts about having sight-read music on his flageolet and talks about the company singing one song after another until none of them could believe how late it had got.

The diary entry ends with Pepys returning home and writing a closing line laced with such wonderful detail, that if I could, I'd transport myself to that drafty Westminster bedroom, just to feel the shiver and hear the sounds that Pepys notated:

“Staid up till the bell-man came by with his bell just under my window as I was writing of this very line, and cried, "Past one of the clock, and a cold, frosty, windy morning." I then went to bed, and left my wife and the maid a-washing still."

Friday, 15 January 2010

Lay All Your Love On Me

Up betimes and into Highgate Village where I met a very friendly journalist, who I must have bored into a coma with talk about the Pepys Motet. I stayed in the cafe after she’d gone and wrote some music, wearing my tragic headphones with pride. After lunch I went to the gym, where my legs nearly fell off. I’ve spent much of today with fingers crossed that my application will have fought its way through the non-snow to Manchester; or that if it hasn’t quite made it, the Arts Council will take pity on me.

I’m on my way to watch Spem In Alium, which is hugely exciting. I’m sitting in Soho waiting for my friend Sam, who’s joining me for a pre-performance bite to eat. Fortunately, I’ve remembered to shave this time, so I can parade along Compton Street with pride. Almost. I had a bit of a disaster in the kitchen at lunchtime involving Olive Oil and a considerable amount of smoke, so I smell like a council house in Rushden. Hopefully no one will get close enough to notice.

Today is one of those days when I feel proud to be a Londoner. I’ve treated myself to an orange and lemon muffin to celebrate and am drinking my third cup of tea of the day. (I shall be peeing all night.) A man was playing a ukulele on Dean Street, which was kind of magical, and words cannot express the joy I felt on exiting the tube at Tottenham Court Road to hear a busker performing a sort of Jimmy Hendrix version of Lay All Your Love on Me by ABBA. ABBA brings so much joy into my heart - no matter who's performing it. It is my dream that fate will throw me into the path of either Benny or Frida, just so that I can tell them what their music has meant to me throughout my life.

January 15th 1660 was a Sunday. Pepys had been kept up for much of the night by a barking dog. He slept in late, and woke up to a particularly cold day with a great deal of snow. He took medicine, which didn’t work, and stayed in his house with Elizabeth until bed time. The highlight of his day seems to have been reading an account of the blessing of a set of bells in Rome. Much as Pepys claimed to be a Puritan, he always maintained an interest in Catholicism; primarily in its music. This harmless fascination got him into a great deal of trouble in the late 1670s, when he was briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London; a victim of the paranoia thrown up by the Popish Plot.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Shite Krispies

I woke up feeling stressed and uneasy. My alarm clock failed to go off and it was almost 11 o'clock when Nathan flung open the curtains and called me a lazy bones. The day has spiralled downwards since then, raising one question; do we create our own bad luck?
My first mistake was probably having Rice Krispies for breakfast. If you’re hypoglycaemic do not expect this breakfast cereal to fill you up at the start of the day. You'll be ready to punch a wall by lunchtime.

My second mistake was attempting to leave the house. I should have stayed on the sofa all day with a hot water bottle and a packet of Jaffa cakes. It's miserable outside. The snow's thawing and Highgate is a mass of brown sludge that seeps into your shoes and doubles the time it takes to get anywhere.

I went to the post office with my completed Arts Council application to be told that “because of the bad weather” they weren't able to guarantee a next day delivery. Even if you pay for one. Instead of this, and for the same price, they can “prioritise” your mail, which means it might get there the next day and it might not. Perfect!

Obviously this sent me into something of a spin. The application needs to reach Manchester by tomorrow or it won't be considered until the end of March, which is too late. I phoned the Arts Council and could barely understand the man on the end of the line, but he did manage to convey that there were no extensionson to the deadline and that if I wanted to guarantee my application reached them by 5pm tomorrow, I'd need to get on a train to Manchester. “What? From London?” I asked. “Yes” he replied. “Paying sixty pounds for a ticket?” I gasped (remembering that I drove to Manchester last week precisely because it was cheaper than going by rail.) “Possibly” he mumbled, helpfully.

Frankly, if you can afford to pay £60 quid to deliver a document by hand, you don’t need the money they’re offering. I’m fairly shocked at the Arts Council. It’s not my fault that it snowed and it's certainly not my fault that the Royal Mail can’t get their act together. I hope very much they’ll consider re-appraising this hard-line attitude.

I'm now on a tube heading for a meeting with a lovely lady called Glyn, who is hoping to work with me on a film about Route 50 in America. This would be similar in feel to my piece about the A1, but with any luck, bigger and better. Route 50 goes from San Francisco to Ocean City in Maryland; coast to coast, literally cutting the United States in half. It ploughs through salt plains and over the top of some of America's highest mountains, passing through ghost towns that are literally blowing into deserts, and into the green leafy suburbs of cities like Washington DC. All humanity must live along that road, and I think it would make the most wonderful focus for a musical film. I'm very excited about it.

I’ve changed trains and am winging West to the ghastly world of Notting Hill, which is just like Highgate, really, but with a trendy mullet. It seemed to take forever to get from the Northern Line to the Circle Line at King's Cross. They must be doing some heavy duty renovations at the station, cus I reckon I could have walked to Birmingham in the time it took me.

A very short entry from Pepys today. There was no work for him at the office. There often wasn't at that time. It was after he'd changed jobs and the money started to roll in that he became something of a workaholic. Captain Holland and his wife called in to see him unannounced. Pepys sent for a dish of meat and they stayed all afternoon. In the evening, he took Elizabeth for a walk, deposited her at the market and headed to a coffee shop for what he describes as an "exceeding good argument."

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Swine 'Flu

I felt just like Pepys today, trudging around London in the snow to various meetings. Unfortunately, I didn't randomly bump into any friends, but I did find myself walking up and down the Strand, which was one of Pepys' main stomping grounds. I was looking for a mysterious Court "tucked behind a Starbucks" where I was meeting a man about funding. This is beginning to sound like a Joe Orton play. What I didn't realise was how many Starbucks there were on the Strand! The meeting went well, and we've thrown a few ideas around about how we might find some more money for the project. I am feeling positive.

I also got a chance to walk past St Clement Danes church on the Aldwych, which is pretty likely to be one of the churches where the Pepys Motet is performed. Its church bells feature in Oranges and Lemons, and it brought back happy memories of near death experiences. It was here that I came within an inch of falling 40 feet onto concrete from the bell tower. Those were the days... And if you feel like listening to Oranges and Lemons, you can do so here.

I've been exhausted all day. I stayed up so late last night working on the Arts Council application that I thought I was going to be sick. I woke up early this morning and continued with the process. I think it's close to being ready, although last-minute references are still coming through, and I've lost all sense of objectivity!

Had lunch with my God daughter, her mother and her mother's mother in Holloway. A very pleasant lunch. Deia (goddaughter) was particularly amusing, using her little trolley to charge at every cabinet and table leg in sight. She seemed particularly angry that the walls weren't giving way.

350 years ago, Pepys was his usual busy self. In fact, he had a particularly sociable day, mentioning eleven friends and colleagues by name. He also had a minor spat with his wife, Elizabeth, which ends badly with her being frog-marched home, then sneaking out to see a Gentleman behind his back. Jealousies on both sides tore through their relationship. There were fights and rows. Pepys gave Elizabeth a black eye on one occasion, and on another became so jealous of her dance teacher that he would regularly check the beds for evidence of her infidelity. The lengths a guilty mind will go to!

In the midst of the argy-bargy, Pepys, with a typical lack of subtlety, goes to visit Mrs Jem, who had been, for some days, in quite a state, believing she was ridden with small pox.  He found her "up and merry" however, having discovered she was actually suffering from the much less troublesome swine pox, which sounds rather too much like swine 'flu to be taken seriously.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


I’ve established a good regime this year. I spend the mornings composing in a cafe in Highgate. The change of scene makes concentration easier but the cafe makes me smell of cigarette smoke, which is slightly surreal because no one smokes in there. I compose on my computer and block out the sound of musak with a pair of enormous 1970s headphones, which Nathan lent to me. I feel a bit ashamed wearing them, not least because they’re reminiscent of the earphones I had to wear as a child when we went to see the fireworks. Unfortunately, the loud bangs made me scream and fill my pants. Shameful.

After lunch I go to the gym. Today was miserable because I forgot my trainers, so had to swim instead of doing all the proper stuff. Add to this the unfortunate experience of meeting a pair of twerps in the forecourt, who skipped the queue for parking spaces, and responded like a proper pair of Gangstas, telling me to “chill” when I suggested they might be in the wrong.

After the gym, I go back to work, more often than not at home. Today I’ve been sitting on the same sofa for 8 hours. It’s 11.30pm and I’m trying to fill in the Arts Council application form. It’s taking forever and I’m already knackered.

It wasn’t a hugely interesting day for Mr Pepys. Much of his entry was concerned with the sending and not sending of letters, which never makes for particularly good reading. He shared a drink with a barber and then a seaman, had more drinks paid for by one Mr Billingsly and enjoyed listening to a man playing a Welsh harp at the Half Moon Pub.

Now it's time for me to eat a chocolate chip cookie. I wish I could say "and so to bed" but I think I'm going to be up with this form for some hours yet!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Stuffed Chickens and Shittle-cock

The big news of the day is that I've lost a kilo of weight. Crumbs, that surely can’t be the only thing I’ve got to say for myself? Ah yes, on the way back from the gym I got stuck in a snow drift whilst trying to turn my car around and ended up having to dig myself out with a spade whilst a very unhelpful man twitched his curtains and looked concerned. This anecdote will confuse most Londoners. The snow has all but disappeared across much of the capital, but Highgate is greedily hanging on to its quota. It fits the whole oldy-worldy vibe up here. 17th Century houses look great with a dusting of snow, besides, all the residents have limitless supplies of Wellies, flat caps and 4x4s. These accoutrements go with the territory of being called Tristan. Plus, even more excitingly, Highgate is the only place in the world which is haunted by a dead chicken, stuffed to the gills with snow. I kid you not! Something to do with the death of Francis Bacon and his obsession with methods of refrigeration. Read about it here. This all happened in the early 17th Century, so perhaps even Pepys, who was a big fan of ghost stories, had heard the sorry tale!

On this day in 1660, Pepys was also busy exercising. No gym for him, however. He was playing a game of Shittle-cocks, which I thought might well be something to do with Bacon's stuffed chicken, but in fact turns out to be an incredibly violent pre-cursor to Badminton, which I'd love to have a razz at, having once been a bit of a badminton ace myself. At the age of six. When I played my Mum. When her back was bad.

Pepys spends the rest of the day trying to track people down in the City, leaving notes with porters, and calling in at various ale houses and cafes. It shows how mobile phones and the internet have revolutionised the world. I'd be fed up to the back teeth if I had to spend an entire afternoon following someone's scent across London. It's a social way of going about, however. Pepys was never short of friends and relatives to bump into as he went about his business. 350 years ago, whilst searching for someone else, he called in to see one Mr Crowly who had "now grown a very great loon and very tame", by which I can only assume he means a bird and not a human of the psychotic variety.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Curtain's Up!

I am in West Kensington in a lovely theatre pub, The Curtain's Up. We've just celebrated a friend's birthday with a vegetarian cottage pie and a game of Connect Four, which I won. We also played Scrabble, which I lost. Spectacularly. Prompting the question; is it better to win Scrabble or Connect 4? We're about to take part in a quiz. If this were twitter I could tweet and cheat.

It's still freezing cold. There was snow in the night and more is forecast today. Highgate still looks like the lid of a chocolate box. In 1660 a great thaw had begun. The sun was shining and according to Pepys, the snow had become a sludgy, dirty mess. Pepys, as usual, was out and about, drinking a pint of wine on Cheapside at lunchtime and spending the night deep in discourse at a coffee house. Whilst pottering around the City, he bumped into the fabulously named Ralph Greatorex, who crops up in the diary on numerous occasions from then on in. Greatorex was a famous maker of mathematical instruments and as such became one of Pepys' guilty pleasures. There are countless references to Pepys going to Greatorex to have set squares and protractors custom made. On this occasion Greatorex shows Pepys a "sphere of wire", which Pepys describes as "very pleasant." I can't for the life of me work out what a sphere of wire is. Perhaps it's a type of compass. Anyone with ideas should feel free to respond to this blog!

Pepys also demonstrates his propensity for commenting on life's little details: "To Westminster, overtaking Captain Okeshott in his silk cloak, whose sword got hold of many people in walking." That there ever was a time when people wandered the streets armed with swords is strange enough, but I'd love to know what they did with them. Were they just status symbols for military men? Did people regularly have sword fights on the streets? Or did swords have more practical uses in those days? Opening bottles? Cutting paper? Deflating balloons made of cat gut? Were they the Swiss Army Knives of their day?

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Cheesy Wotsits and Balsamic Vinegar

I haven't left the house today other than to go to the gym, and now it's dark, and really cold, so I'm consoling myself by eating Halloumi cheese with Wotsits dipped in Balsamic vinegar. I didn't sleep well last night. Little thoughts and snippets of conversation were bouncing around my mind, and I ended up having to watch News 24 whilst the snow drifted around the lamp post outside my window.

350 years ago, Pepys was also having sleepless nights. He was worrying about his finances. He owed money to various people and didn't know how to pay them back. The other recurring comments in the first week of his diary belong to General Monk, and the rumour that he was travelling to London from Scotland. Monk was Oliver Cromwell's trusted Deputy, and with Cromwell's son out of the picture, and Charles II still in Breda, he was probably the most important man in the country.  He was heading to the capital to throw his weight around and attempt to ease the growing political crisis. He eventually entered the City on February 3rd and with immense diplomatic skill paved the way for Charles' return. After the restoration he switched allegiance officially, and was greatly rewarded by the new King. 

Today, after spending a number of hours working on The Book Of Hope for the Choir Invisible, I started the process of applying to the Arts Council for money. I sincerely hope the motet project meets their requirements. It's such a lottery and I'm sure there's going to be an enormous amount of competition so I'm keeping my fingers firmly crossed. Pepys isn't the only one who spent January 9th worrying about money!

Likelihood of succeeding with the project: 55%
Likelihood of going mad: 82%

Friday, 8 January 2010

Legally Blonde

It struck me last night that if I truly want to raise money for my project, and genuinely am a card-carrying child of the 1980s, I need a totalizer. I didn’t grow up on a diet of Blue Peter and Northamptonshire village fetes for nothing. Obviously, I can’t process old stamps and bottle tops, so don’t start sending me your useless junk, but I can reveal that last night, just after I’d finished my blog, I had my first pledge of proper cash. Drum roll. Fireworks. £500... And from a Pepys Club member! That’s the equivalent of 16 Joey Deacon Bring and Buy sales.
This wonderful piece of news means that I can launch the world’s first Pepys-o-meter... It’s even got a little bit coloured in to show where we are and how far we have to go. I feel so proud.

That little confidence boost sent me into a frenzy of activity this morning. I contacted the Arts Council, the Royal Navy, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, The London Museum and a few other art lovers who’d enjoyed Oranges and Lemons and I figured might know some people who might know some people who might know some wealthy people. The Arts Council are changing their application process, which means there’ll be zero activity on that front in February and March. If I’m to get money from them in time, I need to rush in my application in the next few days.

I’m currently sitting on a tube heading home from the centre of London. I wonder what Pepys would have made of the tube. Nathan and I have just been to see the press night of Legally Blonde, the new musical starring Duncan off of Blue. I saw the show on Broadway, and this felt like a low rent version, but it was charming escapism and Sheridan Smith put in a very likeable performance as Reece Witherspoon. Her Valley Girl seemed a touch more Manhattan than Malibu, and her wig looked a bit like hay, but it was a treat to hear a score than felt like it was written rather than chewed and spat out onto the back of a postage stamp. I was hoping the tiny dog/dishcloth featured in the show would wee all over the stage, or get kicked into the orchestra pit, but sadly it remained intact throughout!

En route to the theatre I walked past the lovely blind lady who busks opera at Tottenham Court Road, and felt somehow that she would be the kind of thing that Pepys would have found familiar in his London. What I can guarantee is that Pepys never experienced anything like the gays of Old Compton Street who were parading in all their bovine glory tonight. As one of them walked past me, cussing me with his long lashes; it struck me that I probably should have made more of an effort – especially going to a premier. I’m unshaven, my hair looks like a halo and I’m wearing something that resembles a brown bag. I feel like a hairy balloon wrapped in man-made fibres.

The 8th January 1660 was a Sunday, and Pepys, being at that time (at least outwardly) the good Puritan, went to church twice. The early years of his diary are peppered with comments about the sermons he sat (and often slept) through. He also used church as a court for his favourite game; lady watching. There was often at least one pretty young thing who caught his fancy. And he didn’t stop at window shopping. He crossed the line many times. On one occasion he was attacked by a terrified girl armed with a pin. Pepys, you see, was a recidivist groper!

The weather (like today) was still freezing across London and for the first time we read a fairly pitiful account of quite how poor the Pepyses were: “From thence to my father's to dinner, where I found my wife, who was forced to dine there, we not having one coal of fire in the house, and it being very hard frosty weather”.

And so to bed. With the heating on.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

White outside but in a dark mood

I have to confess that I'm feeling enormously down about the motet project today. In fact, I'm very close to throwing in the towel because I can feel myself beginning to invest too much in it. It comes back to daring to hope again. I'm desperate to create the piece, and with every blog I write, I want to make it that little bit more. But if I continue to hope that it will happen, I run the risk of being bitterly disappointed. Should I just walk away?

I haven't heard for some time from the Pepys club members who initially said they'd help me out. It's very frustrating and upsetting. Oddly, one club member just emailed to tell me he doesn't think I'll get very far with the club. Everyone he's spoken to seems to be out of money. So maybe that's that. Such a awful shame. I thought this would be a one-off opportunity for Pepys lovers to be part of creating a real legacy; something really special. This is, after all, the one Pepys anniversary that our generation will live to see.

Should I approach the Arts Council? They funded my Oranges and Lemons project and seemed to enjoy the publicity that it garnered, but their forms take days to fill in and it's always such a lottery. The PRS foundation turned the project down based on the fact that the application we filled in didn't include enough information about the project, or its relevance; frustrating as their application form has a word limit! Do I try them again? Who knows, perhaps by then, will my project have become magically more relevant. But what does relevant mean in an arts-based community-based context? Is this blog relevant, for example? Is Pepys himself relevant? Or is he too dead to count? Are my previous works irrelevant? Sadly, I worry relevant is just a word like "journey" that people use when they can't think of anything else to say!

Still, two films have cheered me up somewhat in the last 24 hours. Avatar, was an extraordinary film. I have not been dazzled to that extent by film technology since Jurassic Park, which must have been at least fifteen years ago. I was also warmed to the cockles by a little film that you can see here. It shouldn't work, but somehow it does.

I also had an email this morning from my great friend, the even greater composer, Samuel Becker, who wondered if I'd like to join him in watching Spem In Alium being performed by candlelight at St Martin In The Fields Church on 15th January. Sounds like a plan. I've never seen the work performed live, and can think of no better place to watch it than in St Martin's Church. It was, after all, one of the churches that featured in Oranges and Lemons. Curiously, it was also the church where a clapper dropped out of one of the bells whilst we were recording them. It made the most astonishing thump as it crashed down onto the ceiling above the bell ringers. A haze of plaster fell down onto us and I wondered if the whole steeple was about to collapse! Just one of the many times when I thought my life was in danger on that project!

The hard frost continues across the country. Apparently Benson in Oxfordshire, at minus 17, was only two degrees warmer than the South Pole last night. But isn't it Summer at the South Pole at the moment? Maybe we should start comparing like with like! The fact that it's colder here than it is in Moscow is a more impressive statistic. Although maybe Moscow is having a heat wave. They keep running shots on the news of people slipping over in the streets, which is giving me more pleasure than perhaps it should. Schadenfreude.

Pepys doesn't mention the weather on January 7th. He does, however, mention a very lengthy debate he'd had about the zeal of the French compared with the zeal of the Spanish. What he doesn't mention, is what conclusion (if any) was drawn. In true mercurial fashion, he's dashing off again, this time calling in at the unfortunately named Dr Whore's, where he listens to some music which he describes as a "symphony". A symphony in those days wouldn't be anything like a symphony today. In the 17th Century, pretty much any piece of music could be described as a symphony, even vocal music. You'll also be thrilled to hear that Samuel finally got a bit of sack posset. Saved for him by Mrs Jem, who let him down so heinously the day before! So really, the entry only leaves me with the one unanswered question: who are more zealous? The French or the Spanish? Answers on a postcard...

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Snowed in of Highgate

I woke up this morning to find the blizzards had followed me all the way down to London. It has snowed ever since, and Highgate is now languishing under about 10cms of snow. Very exciting. The place looks beautiful; like the Swiss Alps (with a motorway running through them). That said, it became something of a dangerous mission to get me to a hospital appointment in the arse end of Haringey. I've just returned and put my feet up because the lovely lady informed me that I have plantar fasciitis; which accounts for my being in absolute agony as I take my first steps in the morning. She prescribed rolling a can of frozen coke underneath my tragically flat feet and then told me my calf muscles were over-developed. "Doesn't that make me look like a footballer?" I asked. "Yes" she said, kindly, stifling a laugh, "but it's why your feet hurt". Hmm. I'm not altogether sure frozen coke can possibly be the answer to my prayers, but I'll try anything once. Well, almost...  (picture shows Nathan at the end of our street in the snow)

It is Twelfth Night and I'm off to the cinema to celebrate by donning a pair of 3D glasses and watching the most expensive film ever made. Pepys celebrated 1660's epiphany with his family. They had the traditional Kingscake and his sister Pall was the Queen. Oddly, this tradition of having cake on the 6th January was something I'd never heard of until Nat's party on Sunday. A cake came round, which had been stuffed with two tiny porcelain figures; a King and a Queen. I ended up with the King, which apparently, amongst other things, makes me responsible for buying the cake next year. Sadly the Queen was never found; presumed swallowed by a stoner who sat in the corner systematically eating everyone's leftovers. That's what you get for celebrating a tradition three days early! Punished by the baby Jesus. For more information on King Cake, click here. (Check out the freaky cake in the picture. Less cake, more patchwork quilt!) (Picture shows Nat with her version of the King Cake.)

I've been busily writing music all morning. I'm currently working on a commission for a group in Lincolnshire. The Choir Invisible performed on A1: The Road Musical and have subsequently become Desmond Tutu's official Choir of Peace. I like to think it was working with me that brought them this huge honour, but I think their amazing conductor, Sally may be more responsible, alongside their incredible repertoire of African music! It's a joy to write for them as they sing entirely from their hearts. Choirs can often be rather stilted creatures; performing only what's written on a page, and not imbuing musical dots with any form of emotion. Not this bunch. They swoop up to notes, and most of the women sing in their chest voices, which gives an exciting, emotional gospel-like sound. Opera singers reading this blog will want to shoot me for saying that!

Off now to the gym. The fitness regime needs to continue, especially in the light of my eating ten chocolate coins last night after the Wimpy meal. I went large. So did my stomach!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010


I am sitting in the Wimpy at Watford Gap service station. It doesn’t get much more glamorous than this. I feel like a film star. I’m about to eat a Lemon Pepper Quorn burger, which I’m sure will prove to be the most delicious Lemon Pepper Quorn burger I have ever sampled.

Watford Gap brings back many happy memories. It was the setting for my most recent musical film, which was performed by the brilliant people of Northamptonshire; the county I’m proud to have both grown up in... and escaped!

I’m still shaking like a leaf. Today was the day I chose to drive up to Manchester for a meeting with the BBC about a potential project. Today was also the day that God decided to punish Manchester with what can only be described as a shit load of snow. I can’t say I wasn’t warned. My Mancunian brother texted me several times with increasingly apocalyptic tales of a city in a Danny Boyle-esque standstill, but the sun was shining in the south and I was feeling optimistic. “How bad can it be?” I wondered. Incredibly bad, as it happened...

It was okay as far as Chester. There was an exciting sprinkle of the white stuff at Birmingham and a Christmassy dusting on the fields around Stoke. But half an hour later, I was weeping like a poof at my steering wheel, begging God to give me an indication of where in the white fog I’d landed. The car suddenly spun out of control somewhere in the city centre and I abandoned ship. Oddly, it looked a bit like I’d parked it so I got out. Didn't bother to try and pay. Couldn't see any yellow lines under the snow. I had a quick look around in the hope that someone in the vicinity had seen me and thought I was doing a cool hand break turn into a parking space; like they do in the films. Just my luck. No one was watching. The snow was too thick.

And finally I'm back in the south. The weather has followed me down the M6 and the M1. But Wimpy makes everything better. Such a treat to have vinegar on chips. Thank the lord that at least one fast food chain has upheld that terribly British tradition. Shame they seem to have ditched those classy porcelain plates... and I can't see a Brown Derby or Coke Float on the luminous menu. Boo! Further disappointed to discover I poured sugar onto my chips rather than salt; but hey, the first food of the day is bliss, however late it comes and however bizarre it tastes!

350 years ago, Pepys was also suffering a great culinary disappointment after taking his wife to one Mrs Jem’s house for a sack posset, which sadly never came. And for those of you who fancy a sack posset, you can find the recipe here

And for those of you who are waiting with baited breath for news of the Pepys Motet, the up-to-date situation is as follows. St Olave’s Church are backing the project (hurrah) and have kindly offered to pay for a much needed recording of the work (hureeh), should enough money come in from other sources to pay for the writing and premier (ah...) I reckon we’re looking for £6,000...

I've already had interest from some very kind members of the Pepys Club; a wonderful organisation who promote and celebrate the work of our dear Samuel. Quite how much money they’ll be able to spare, I don't yet know, but every penny counts and I'm very grateful to them. Frankly, it’s thrilling to think anyone would even consider sponsoring the Arts in this awful climate! That said, the process of going cap in hand to people is horribly embarrassing. I think it must be for any creative person. I hate discussing money and the process of asking for it feels slightly invalidating. If I'm a great composer, shouldn't they be queuing up to get me to wave my magic wand? Or is my brand of magic just that little bit too way out there? Perhaps my compositions are like iPods. No one knows they need one until they see someone else with one! I bet Damon Alburn and Anthony Gormley don’t have these sorts of problems.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Syrupy light

Up betimes to find London glowing in a syrupy wintry light. What a lovely way to start the working year. It's freezing both outside and inside my flat and suddenly all the Christmas decorations look rather tawdry. Time to take them down.

Pepys was chilly 350 years ago; "it snowed hard all this morning, and was very cold, and my nose was much swelled with cold". His swollen proboscis obviously gave him gip all day as he was still talking about it by the time he went to bed. Other highlights of his day include being merry with a piece of Cheshire Cheese (not altogether sure how this is possible, but it sounds fun...) and yet more card games. He also talks a fair amount about national politics, which at the time could best be described as "inconclusive". Oliver Cromwell was dead. His feckless son had taken over as Lord Protector (and been removed) and Charles II was waiting patiently in Holland for his moment to decadently sweep back into the country and restore the monarchy. Left, right and centre noblemen were turning their backs on the Republic. Even Pepys, who'd witnessed the beheading of Charles 1st (and cheered like a true convert) was now talking of the "murder of the former King".

Interestingly, January 4th was a day of fasting and prayer in Parliament. I assume the members of the Rump Parliament were hoping for divine inspiration to guide them through the complicated times. The whole fasting thing was a fairly regular occurrence in those days. In a few years time, they'd be fasting and praying for harsher winters. The unusually mild climate of the early 1660s meant the possibility of a plague. What little good their prayers did them! That said, I'd still love to see a bit of dedication like that from our current MPs. Gordon Brown on the Daily Politics Show all hypoglycaemic and irritable after a day's fasting. Shots of MPs in the house in deep prayer instead of shouting at one another whilst waving those silly pieces of paper...

Yesterday, I went to two parties. The first was the one I was nervous about, but I needn't have been. It was wonderful to see my friend again and her daughter, my god daughter, who is walking. Thrilling. She's a very intelligent child. You look into her eyes and she peers back with a sort of haughty understanding of the world, which is almost unnerving.

Later in the day, we went to my friend Nat's house in Queensway and I played the piano for what seemed like hours. It was one of those parties where everyone just wanted to sing. Pepys would have been proud, although I'm sure he would have been confused at our song choices; "I Need a Hero" "Hey Jude" "Fame" "Waterloo." Cheese. Cheese. Cheese. Perhaps that's what Pepys meant when he talked about being merry with a Cheshire!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Getting into my stride

I didn't quite make it to Westminster Hall yesterday. Having been a tour guide at the Houses of Parliament in my dim and distant past, I can reveal that nowadays, it ain't all that. You won't find Nell Gwynn selling oranges there any more, and you'll be lucky if you see an MP in the haze of security people trying to stop terrorists from blowing the place up. It's still got a very fine hammer-beam roof, however, which sadly, Pepys never comments on!

Instead of heading to Westminster, I went to one of Pepys' other haunts: Islington. Probably the area he would have referred to as Moorfields. I spent the entire evening with friends eating and chatting about the state of musical theatre today, being very much of the opinion that the Olivier judges should remove the category of best new musical in the awards this year. It doesn't seem right to me that a show as mind-numbingly awful as Dreamboats and Petticoats should get a nomination purely because it opened! There are so few new musicals opening in the West End (I think only four this year) and we need to take drastic action to avoid drowning in revivals and American transfers. A statement like removing the award would bring much needed publicity to the crisis. I think the long-term answer is for the government to fund a theatre that specialises in new musical theatre. We have publically subsidised theatres for ballet, Shakespeare, new writing, contemporary dance, opera... but where do we go if we want to see cutting edge new musical theatre? Who's funding the young writers? Stateside it's an entirely different situation. Musical theatre is revered and properly funded. Rant over.

Aside from whinging about musical theatre, I reckon I must have eaten at least half a loaf of very delicious bread. I am now adding bread to my list of things to start going easy on tomorrow. I've heard one slice of bread is as fattening as 16 pounds of cheese or 998,000 Jaffa cakes (which we all know are as low fat as celery). I did go to the gym yesterday, however, which gave me the right to eat the Eton Mess we were served for pudding.

Today I am wearing my brand new brown jumper. I now have 4 jumpers; one admittedly a hand-me-down from my father, but it's a joy to have some choice finally. I spent the entire 2007/8 season wearing a lime green thing which became increasingly threadbare, yet appeared on every single photograph of me over a four-year period. It was a horrible jumper, it made me look pasty and ill, yet for some reason I wore it with pride. I shall burn it with pride.

350 years ago, Pepys talks about a great frost across London. There is frost on the roof of Highgate tube down in the dell opposite my house so I can assume that weather conditions are comparable. Pepys dined on a piece of beef and cabbage (an early roast dinner, perhaps) and seemed to spend much of the day playing cards with an assortment of different friends. He also ate more brawn. As a vegetarian I have no idea what brawn tastes like, but it sounds pretty miserable.

My partner gave me a copy of the score of Spem In Alium for Christmas. I looked through it yesterday and it's frightened me. There really are passages (all be it only 34 bars in the whole piece) when all forty performers are singing at once; all entirely different lines. No doubling up. That's some achievement!
A little research tells me that (to use it's proper title) Spem In Alium Nunquam Habui means; "I have never put my hope in any other but you", which I think is a very warming thought. Hope is such an important yet risky emotion. Daring to hope is a bit like daring to love. It opens you up to so much potential pain and as a result, people often don't bother. Yet without hope the human race is nothing.

I am in a hopeful mood today. I am about to visit my very dearest friend and my goddaughter, who I have not seen in some time. Unfortunately seeing her will also involve seeing a group of people who brought a rather large blast of pain into my life at the end of last year. But without seeing them, I will not be able to call myself a proper Godfather or a true friend. So see them I must, hoping all will be fine.

If you don't know the piece and want to hear Spem In Alium (and I very much recommend it) click here to listen on You Tube.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

It's the second of January

I have decided that my new year's resolutions will begin on January 4th. I'm visiting lots of friends between now and then and it would be rude not to at least offer to finish everyone's unwanted Quality Streets! My aim from January 4th is to lose weight and eat only proper food. I have also decided to find more time to relax but promised to work even harder and always to the very best of my ability. I guess all creative people thrive on the idea of leaving a legacy, and as I'm unlikely to have children, I guess that can only happen through my writing, which means I need to keep pushing those boundaries and constantly trying to work outside my comfort zone. Crumbs. So I'm writing a 40 part motet! 40 vocal lines, each one entirely unique. Is that even possible? And is it just me, or is it really hard to type motet without typing motel by mistake? 40 part motel. 40 room motel. Am I just too trashy to be writing this kind of stuff?

Looking at Pepys' diary, I see 350 years ago, on the 2nd January 1660, he had a typically busy day. At that time, he was incredibly poor. I know how he feels. He'd married for love, a French girl called Elizabeth, who was much younger and from a family even poorer than his. They lived in the draughty turret of a house in Axe Yard, in Westminster. Pepys calls it a garret. They had a maid, Jane, but Elizabeth did much of the work around the house. When the diary begins, Pepys is hopeful that Elizabeth is pregnant. He longed for children, but children never came. He works as a humble clerk. His patron, ("My Lord") Edward Mountagu, later the Earl of Sandwich, is his cousin.

Pepys never stops. He's a bundle of energy and walks everywhere; usually from Westminster to the City and back again. He visits friends, hangs out in cafes and taverns, and observes everything he passes en route. He never stops observing. So much of our knowledge of the minutiae of 17th Century London life is down to what he wrote.

On the 2nd of January he spends a day pottering. There's not much to do at work, so he walks around Westminster Hall (which in those days was a bustling meeting place lined with shops and stalls). He borrows money for himself and collects money on behalf of Mountagu. He drinks ale and eats nothing but bread and cheese until late at night, when his wife cuts him a slice of brawn (which he declares, in typical Pepys superlative fashion is "as good as ever I had any"). He learns how to play cribbage and sings until 9pm with friends.

Pepys loved music. Music regularly sends him into a state of near ecstasy. Countless pages of his diary are filled with descriptions of concerts, street performances, sung masses, theatre pieces, evenings spent playing music by candlelight, long summer days spent singing on boats, under trees, at dusk with his wife and the nightingales in the garden. He made judgements about people based on how well they could sing. He played many instruments and even composed.

So what better way to celebrate the diary than by turning it into a choral work? A busy contrapuntal choral work with 40 different vocal lines representing the effervescence of his writing; the constant flitting from place to place and thought to thought.

But am I really capable of doing this? Do I know enough about music? Do I understand the diary well enough to set it to music? Which passages will I choose? Will I choose the right ones? And this is the point at which I need to take a leaf out of Pepys' book...

Pepys believed that anything was possible. He was astonishingly optimistic. He lived in perhaps the most complicated and difficult political times and dealt with death, disease and constant pain on a daily basis, yet he remained resolutely optimistic and succeeded. I go into a sulk when I haven't eaten for four hours! Time for me to get outside and start walking 'round London before the sun sets on this beautiful crisp, sunny day! First stop Westminster Hall, after a brief appointment with a banana, which no doubt shall prove to be the finest banana I have ever sampled!