Monday, 1 February 2010

Royal Nancy

I woke up bright and early to start February as I mean to continue. It was a freezing, yet beautifully sunny morning and the streets of Highgate were covered with delicate flakes of ice which looked like snow. I ran my finger along the top of a wall and they danced like pieces of iron filing around a magnet. It was very bizarre. It's incredible what Mother Nature is capable of creating! It’s perhaps even colder tonight. Walking from St Olave’s Church to Bank Station was like wandering around Leningrad in February. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a prolonged cold snap; even in the early 80s, when my mother went through a stage of taking us to school on a little plastic sledge.

Today was the day I started proper work on the Pepys Motet. It’s still not fully funded, obviously, but I figured I might as well make a start whilst there’s time in my diary. It feels like a momentous occasion. I’ve not yet put pen to manuscript - there’s much to do before this can happen - specifically the process of selecting the diary entries that will feature in the work. This could, and probably should take me at least a week. At the moment I still have a short list of almost 18,000 words, which will never do. This is the text for a 15-minute composition, not a university dissertation.

I was emailed this morning by the lovely lady at BBC Leeds who says she wants to go ahead with the Yorkshire Symphony. Hugely exciting and more than a little scary! The moment one of my projects mutates from glorious concept into something inevitable I experience a few jitters. The same questions bubble up again and again. Am I capable of uniting hundreds of individual musicians across Yorkshire with a television symphony? (okay, perhaps that question is fairly unique to this project) Will I write something the Yorkshire folk can feel proud of? Will the good folk of Yorkshire mind a Midlander abseiling into their county telling them to get all patriotic? Will I embarrass myself by suddenly talking in a Brummie accent? A weird quirk, which tends to happen when I’m greeted by someone with a strong accent, usually a Midlands one, but the phenomenon has been known to occur when talking to Glaswegians or people from Durham. It’s part of the weird form of Tourettes I’ve had from childhood which sees me mimicking anyone with a slightly unusual voice. It happens directly to their faces and it's mortifying. I'm experiencing it a lot with Slavic waitresses at the moment.

I’ve just returned from another excellent lecture at St Olave’s Church; part of the Pepys 350 series given by the highly entertaining Graham Fawcett, who today was reading diary entries from January 1660 alongside newspaper cuttings from 2010. It’s fascinating to see how everything and yet nothing has changed. More lovely food and recorder music, which turned into bagpipe music, which had the potential to be the most excruciating musical experience, but somehow wasn't. The bagpipes that came out were wonderfully ancient and had an incredibly soft yet unusual timbre. She played music from Pepys’ time and I was transported into a different era...

350 years ago, Pepys ate pease porridge for lunch and nothing else. Quite why he mentions this, I’m not sure. Perhaps it caused a row with Elizabeth. Perhaps he thought she was being lazy. Perhaps they'd blown their food ration on the lavish party last week. Or maybe Pepys had put himself on some kind of 17th century detox programme. He doesn't mention eating anything else that day. And for those of you who don’t know what Pease Pudding or Porridge is, here’s a recipe

Much of the rest of the entry is dedicated to discussions about the expected arrival of General Monck in two days' time. It really was like waiting for Godot! Pepys spoke to soldiers who were threatening to mutiny for lack of pay, something which would happen with increasing regularity and severity in the future when he started working for the Royal Navy, (which for some reason I just typed as Royal Nancy! )

And by the way, here's the man himself. This is the John Hales painting from 1666. In it, Pepys is proudly holding up the manuscript of his beloved composition, Beauty Retire.

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