Wednesday, 31 March 2010

How much is that tin of soup in the window?

I’m currently facing the horrible dilemma that I may have to change cafes. The music they play in Costa in Highgate is getting louder and louder and more and more predictable. It cuts through my headphones, ravaging my eardrums with easy listening mush and renders me incapable of writing anything useful. That said, I have somewhat loosened the writer’s block I’ve been fighting for the past week and am now moving forward, as my mentor Arnold Wesker would say, by killing my darlings. There are passages of text that it’s made me almost weep to cut out, but I need structure and they’re not helping. Just so I feel I’ve shared at least one of them, here’s a section of text I struck from the work this morning:

“Thence to Westminster, in the way meeting many milkmaids with their garlands upon their pails, dancing with a fiddler before them, and saw pretty Nelly standing at her lodgings door in Drury Lane in her smock sleeves and bodice... she seemed a mighty pretty creature”

Nelly, is of course Nel Gwynn and I love the thought that there was ever a time when milkmaids danced in the streets. I thought my life was one massive musical!

This afternoon I had my feet examined again. This time by a dashing Aussie who prodded around a bit before announcing that my carves were still too tight and that I needed to up the stretching regime. He also re-did my insoles and added about a centimetre to their height. I’ll be in callipers yet...

I celebrated the prospect of a yellow disabled badge by heading to the Corner Shop Deli on Highgate High Street because fancied a can of soup for dinner. My eyes were drawn to the Baxter’s “Luxury Range”. They’re usually about 50p more expensive than Heinz, but the quality wins through every time. One can looked particularly tasty; courgette and gruyere, so I took it down from the shelf and immediately gasped. £3.49. £3.49 for a tin of soup! The other soups in the range were £1.89. Expensive enough but £3.49! What were they going to do? Cook it for me? Throw in a loaf of bread. Make it from scratch and pour it into the tin themselves? We all know that the Corner Shop in Highgate is pricey. We doggedly put up with it because we hate the fact that Tesco has opened a branch half-way down the hill and being middle class we have to pretend its arrival didn’t excite us just a little bit. But £3.49 for a tin of soup? I took it with me to the counter and complained vociferously whilst the man smiled sweetly and said; “yes, expensive soup... customer like... customer buy”. Not this customer.

Being a great believer in human rights, I went home and immediately phoned the press office at Baxter’s. I often call the press offices; more gets done if you have a whiff of the documentary film-maker about you. I asked what the recommended retail price was for their courgette soup and was told £1.50. “Even with the gruyere?” I asked, not knowing the price of gruyere, or even what gruyere is. “Yes” she replied. I explained I was being asked to pay more than twice that amount and she was horrified, but pointed out eventually it wasn’t Baxter’s policy to police individual shops. Fair enough. Five minutes later, they called back. Someone more senior had heard about Gruyere Gate and they wanted to take action! I shopped the shop. So if anyone from Highgate Corner Shop is reading this blog, hurry up and re-price your goods, because the man From Baxter’s... he say no!

Very little happened to Pepys on this date 350 years ago. The ships were all still anchored at Gravesend and no one seemed to be in any great hurry to get anywhere. Pepys made a bit of money, for doing one Captain Jowles a favour, and later entertained one of his neighbours from Axe Yard, feeling very thrilled that he was respected enough to be allowed to make his friends welcome on the ship. Quite why his neighbour from Axe Yard happened to be passing a flotilla of ships on the Thames Estuary, I’ve no idea, but Pepys, I’m sure made him feel very welcome.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Cabin Fever

I’ve just been on the phone to a lady in India, who wanted me to ask me some questions on behalf of a “leading UK brand”. I took pity on her. I once spent the most horrific week of my life conducting a survey on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions. I was told to lie through my teeth and tell the person on the end of the phone that the questionnaire would only take 10 minutes. Unfortunately, I knew it was going to take close to an hour and after about 20 minutes I could hear the life draining out of the people I was speaking to. The questions I was forced to asked were ridiculous, they went round and round in circles and the whole enterprise was obviously a huge waste of public money. Anyway, the lady in India asked me to confirm my postcode and because I refused and said I didn’t want to be contacted in future, she simply sighed and hung up on me, which I thought was fairly rude. Part of me quite likes answering silly questions.

I’m not sure why so few businesses have learnt that nobody wants to talk to call centres in India, and furthermore, why we’re all forced to feel like such racists for making these kinds of statements. Frankly, if someone has to ask me how to spell the name Benjamin, we’re going to get into very deep water when I begin to explain the reason for my phonecall. And why do they always chose such cruddy “western” names to call themselves? Cindy, Frank, Gloria.

I’m still struggling with the 5th movement of the Pepys Motet. It’s based on passages which deal with Pepys’ tempestuous affair with his maid, Deb Willet and I’m trying to make it a bit bluesy to give the musical theatre and gospel singers something to get their teeth into. But it’s all sounding a bit pompous and structure-less at the moment. It doesn’t help to hear it played back all 4-square and emotionless on the computer. It also doesn’t help that I’ve got cabin fever, so I’m going to go up into Highgate now to meet Fiona for a drink.

A very short entry from Pepys on this date 350 years ago. The most exciting news was that Pepys and Montagu, whilst having dinner, caught sight of the Nazeby for the first time; a giant ship, with 80 guns, which they watched slowly drifting towards them and then laying anchor close by. It seems they were destined to transfer to this ship for the next stage of their journey so they went on board to discover much work had been done on it. Montagu was particularly pleased to find a new chimney had been installed in his bedchamber. The concept of a chimney on a wooden boat almost beggars belief but these were strange times!

Monday, 29 March 2010

Gullible romantics

We went to the quiz at the Curtain’s Up last night and came second by one point. A very badly worded question about Buckingham Palace did for us good and proper. Sometimes, having just that little bit too much knowledge about a subject means you get the answer wrong!

Today has been all about the motet. I was up early, dealing with a large number of emails from people who are interested in performing in it and it’s becoming rather apparent that there are still too few gospel and folk singers asking for more information. On the bright side, we already have a choir of five Magdalene College Cambridge graduates lined up, so that’s a great weight off my mind! I did an interview for an on-line magazine, ate spaghetti on toast and then went to the gym, where amongst other things, I skipped 1000 times, pretending to be a boxer, but probably looking like a little tiny girl!

Somewhere in all that, Philippa telephoned to say she was worried that her semi-feral cat was going to ravage little Deia. The other day it lashed out and scratched her perilously close to the eye, in response to having its tail pulled. Deia is 15 months old, and probably not yet aware that Dandelion the cat isn’t a soft toy, so Philippa is wondering whether she should try to re-house her. The cat, not her daughter. Initially I wondered if she was being a touch over-protective, until she told me that her Mum knew someone who was scarred for life by a childhood incident involving a cat.

We talked about Hilary’s wonderful wedding, laughed at the incident with the bouquet of flowers, and discussed the fact that she’d also been perturbed by the minister’s sermon, feeling that the story about little Ben and the blood transfusion was actually a plot line from an episode of The OC. She also reminded me that before that particular story, the vicar spoke about the importance of a wife being servile and keeping quiet, and that no one could work out if he was being ironic or not. We were probably all too busy taking photographs of the beautiful sunlight to give it much thought!

Not a great deal was going on in Pepys’ life 350 years ago today. The fleet of ships remained anchored just short of Gravesend, whilst messengers from London came aboard to bring news of elections for Parliament and reports that various statues and portraits of King Charles I were being returned to prominent public places. Many had been destroyed by Cromwell, but a fair number had been hidden, some were even buried, and these were slowly re-appearing. There’s even a tale of a smith who bought a bronze statue of King Charles which he was meant to melt down, but made a fortune selling its pieces to Royalists. Imagine everyone’s surprise when, after the Restoration, the statue magically re-appeared, fully intact! I’m sure that 330 years later, many pieces of the Berlin Wall were similarly being sold to gullible romantics!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Marital Bliss

It’s been an incredibly eventful couple of days. Hilary’s wedding was a magical occasion. She was utterly radiant and sat in the church in a shaft of yellowy sunlight looking incredibly serene. The singing went well and it was a joy to perform Hilary’s father’s version of Panis Angelicus whilst he sat in the front pew with a big smile on his face.

The service wasn’t as long as I’d thought it would be. But even so there seemed to be a great lack of respect for its religious content from most of the guests. People were taking photographs with flashes, which I found embarrassing and inappropriate, not least because the light in the church was beautiful enough and would have been completely wrecked by a flash! 

The vicar or whatever they call them in the Catholic church didn’t exactly endear himself to anyone during his sermon which was all about love. He rattled off some random story about a little boy called Ben from Yugoslavia who’d been asked if he loved his brother enough to donate a few pints of his blood for some form of live saving surgery. The boy had said yes and after the procedure had asked when he himself was going to die. He hadn’t realised that donating his blood wasn’t going to kill him. The wonderfully convenient point to the story was that this brave young solider had demonstrated true love for his brother to the extent that he was prepared to die for him. It’s this kind of nonsense that makes me proud to be an atheist. If someone had told that story on television, or in print, a huge numbers of complaints would have been registered and upheld. The story just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Why would a doctor or a parent not bother to tell a child that giving blood wouldn’t kill him? And more to the point, why on earth would someone in former Yugoslavia have a name like Ben?  I’m sure the name was plucked out of thin air to make us feel the story was about a nice little Christian boy. The story wouldn’t have worked so well had it been a brave little Muslim lad from the area.

The wedding reception took place on the fringes of the Peak District with ridge of rolling hills in the distance, glowing majestically in the late afternoon sunshine. I’ve never been to a more grown up wedding and looking around, I realised with horror that all my university friends are now approaching middle age. There were laughter lines, pot bellies and flecks of grey hair almost everywhere I looked. And more worryingly, dirty teeth. It seems as we get older, the concept of stained teeth becomes more acceptable even though nothing makes us look more haggard than grimy gnashers! A lot of it, I guess, comes down to people being in long-term relationships. Marital bliss and a shed load of kids are often all it takes to make us forget to make an effort. And my God were there lots of kids! They talked and cooed and ran around during the speeches and whilst I was eating, one of them sat under the table and undid my shoelaces! The bright side was that my two godchildren finally got an opportunity to meet. One day, perhaps, they'll get married and I'll be the weird uncle with brown teeth sitting in the corner wearing wee-stained trousers!

Unfortunately, when Hilary threw the bouquet, everyone just stood and watched whilst it sailed through the air and hit the floor in a crumpled mess.  I suppose marital bliss meant everyone decided someone else would gain more by catching it. The remnants of the bouquet were picked up by a gay bloke, so let’s hope he finds himself a nice man. I think he’s the marrying sort...

After the meal there was a little cabaret and a few people got up to show off a bit; the high point was undoubtedly the chief bridesmaid, Mez, reading Sassoon’s Everyone Sang; a more beautiful and appropriate poem, you’d struggle to find to celebrate the marriage of an opera singer.

Hilary came rushing over at one point and told me there’d been a mess-up with the first dance and that Nathan and I would have to sing Dancing Queen at the piano. NOW... And so with no notice, we got up and blagged our way through a sort of ballad version of the song, which went ridiculously well for a piece of pure improvisation!

Later on, us nearly middle aged people had a good dance to Rupert’s incredible selection of music, which started with Yes Sir I Can Boogie and didn’t really stop until ABBA sang Thank You For The Music. The highlight for me was jumping up and down like a maniac to Mr Blue Sky, and watching a room full of people doing expressive contemporary dance moves to Wuthering Heights. Philippa sent me a text this morning which read: “Abiding memory of you on the decks waving arms in air, ecstatic, during Wuthering Heights”. If Kate Bush and ELO can’t make you feel ecstasy, then you’re dead inside!

We stayed the night in a Travelodge family room, which seemed to involve a pull-out bed, and talking long into the night with sagacious Sam whilst Nathan slept beside us.

This morning we took ourselves to the Peak District, via the godforsaken slums of Stoke-On-Trent. What an unfortunate, confused, red-brick nightmare that place is! Young offenders institutes, shell suits, toothless BNP supporters smoking cigarettes in doorways, sallow-faced children with hollow cheekbones kicking footballs against windowless terraced houses, tall chimneys surging towards the sky… and yet within seconds you’re in the glorious Peaks, where the air smells of newly washed linen, and middle-class walkers in cagoules sit in coffee shops poring over Ordinance Survey maps.

The trip ended with a blustery walk in Dovedale; a rather charming place I'd remembered visiting as a child… and thankfully it hasn’t changed a bit.

On 28th March 1660, the fleet of boats had docked at Gravesend. No one seemed in any particular hurry to get anywhere and Pepys’ clerk, Mr Burr, went into the town to do a day of business. A curious incident took place. A chap, one Mr Banes, was hauled onto Pepys’ boat (from anther vessel) for drunkenly shouting “Vive le Roi”. I think it was his rowdy behaviour rather than the content of what he was yelling that got him into trouble for it seems that after convincing them all he was a gentleman, with a good grasp of Latin and French, and not one of the troublesome and obsessive Cavaliers, who had all recently been asked to leave London by Monck, he was allowed to go on his way. I bet he wouldn't have used his flash in church! 

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Back firing

We’re on the M6, heading to Manchester, or Macclesfield, or somewhere up north beginning with M. We’re travelling to Hilary and Rupert’s wedding, which is happening in a Catholic Church so no doubt will go on forever!

We’re sailing through Birmingham at the moment. Such a horrific looking place. You’d think as a proud Midlander I’d feel a kind of affinity with this place, but as far as I can tell, aside from a fairly charming city centre, it’s all cemeteries, concrete overpasses and electricity sub stations. We never came here as kids. We never got beyond Coventry. Perhaps I should do a musical project here. That might give me a sense of why 1 million people have chosen this barren land as their home.

I’m being a stroppy git because I’ve not eaten anything today. I’m very similar to Pepys in that respect and wish I could find some kind of solution to the problem other than by gorging myself on the first thing that comes to hand when the cranky behaviour starts to effect others.

Nathan and I are singing in an 8-part choir in the service so we’ve been going through the music. One of the pieces is by Walton and the bass part is dead tricky. Half the time it feels like I’m singing in a completely different key to everyone else. This is somewhat exacerbating my shirtiness as every time I sing it through I seem to be ending in the wrong key. I'm now gorging on Opal Fruits and suddenly I feel at peace with the world.

Sam continues to knit his socks in the back seat of the car; sagely commenting on the flickering world outside...

350 years ago, the wind direction changed and the fleet was finally able to set sail, drifting slowly up the Thames Estuary. Pepys was plainly travelling in THE ship, for as she raised her anchor, the other ships it the fleet let off a multi-gun salute. Unfortunately this caused such major vibrations that all the windows smashed in Pepys’ cabin! Oops.

Friday, 26 March 2010

The cutting of the stone

I was sitting in Cafe Nero this morning when a pair of teenagers came and sat on the sofa next to me. He was a little bit camp, and she was asking for his advice about a boy who’d been flirting with her. The conversation moved on to the fact that the lad felt none of the other boys at school liked him that much. He didn’t really know why. She said she thought it was because he got on so well with girls. He was the only bloke she knew that she could talk to about anything. What they didn’t mention was the elephant sitting in the room: the lad was gay, or would be gay, and suddenly I was whisked back to the very same conversations from my own youth. I had that terrible thumping fear again; the desire to change the subject. Too much chat about how well I got on with girls, could well lead to an accusation or a probing question; and that would change things irreversibly. I hope to God that this particular young lad is living in a very different world; one where he’s able to be open about his sexuality. One where he’s never frightened about the feelings he’s having because everyone around him understands and supports him. I wanted to call over and tell him everything would be okay. But he’d already steered the conversation onto safer ground and very soon they disappeared back to school.

This week’s been a bit of a wash-out regarding the motet. I’ve done a few hours here and there, but don’t feel I’ve jumped forward as far as I should have done. I’m 2/3rds of the way through the first draft and am suffering from the self-imposed pressure that always comes at this stage. The feeling that you have to keep topping yourself; that there must be something even better that you can drag from your soul so the whole piece ends in a blaze of magnificence. Sometimes you just have to plough on through.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of admin; sending out emails to all manner of places and beginning the lengthy search for singers. I think I’m going to struggle to find folk and gospel performers. I emailed about 10 gospel choirs today.

Sam is currently sitting opposite me, knitting a pair of trendy socks out of bamboo wool and sagely commenting on the dreadful television we’re watching.

March 29th 1660 marked the second anniversary of Pepys’ life-altering operation to remove a bladder stone; a procedure that took place on the kitchen table in his beloved Mrs Turner’s house. In the 17th Century, you were much more likely to die from an operation of that magnitude and Pepys was all too aware of the fact. In fact, he was more likely to celebrate this anniversary, the day of his re-birth, than he was to mark his birthday. Stuck on a ship, however, there was little he could do in terms of partying, “only within my soul I can and do rejoice” but he resolved to mark the event every year from thenceforth, always in the company of Mrs Turner.

The rest of the day was spent doing what Pepys became famous for; making inventories. He made a note of the number of guns and the number of men on each ship in the fleet. Pepys’ meticulous bookkeeping would eventually revolutionise the Navy.

In the evening, Mr Shepley and Mr Howe appeared in Pepys’ cabin with bottles of wine and a few bits and bobs to eat; an improvised party to celebrate the cutting of the stone, which was by all accounts a very jolly one!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Samuel Pepys esquire

It’s done nothing but rain all day, and I’m beginning to wonder if spring is ever going to make an appearance.

I’m currently drinking peppermint tea in Dean and Hudson, a new cafe just down the road from me, underneath Fiona’s house on the Archway Road. This place has a very nice atmosphere; chintzy in a cool sort of way. It sells old-fashioned sweets in jars, alongside a window filled with multi-coloured and beautifully-frosted cup cakes. There’s 1940s jazz on the sound system. It’s got a very New-York-meets-my-Grannie’s-front-room kind of vibe. I must remember it in the future, although it’s packed with toddlers and their middle-class parents, who are obviously too posh to shout or tell their kids that they’re not necessarily the centre of everyone else’s world.

I’ve just returned from PC World, where my computer is now being repaired. I’m writing on a borrowed machine, which, humiliatingly, is George-from-Rainbow pink. My least favourite colour. It’s also incredibly hard to use. Ten minutes ago it completely froze over and I lost everything I’d done in the past hour. You also have the bash the keys incredibly hard on the keyboard and I can feel the shock waves shooting up through my fingers. RSI-tastic.

And if you don't know George from Rainbow; the campest Hippo in the world, you do now... Imagine a computer this colour...

PC World is a tragic place. You go to the Mac store and it’s immediately like being in some crazy cool party from the future. Cool music. Cool people with cool hair-dos. Even the techies are Geek-chic. PC World – or PC Third World – is like entering a mall on the outskirts of small town in the 1980s Mid West America. Everything looks shabby and a bit broken. Like in the last days of Woolworths when you’d go down the toy aisle and all the produce had been pulled out of its packaging and scuffed or chipped. In PC World, the geeks look like proper geeks; a veritable parade of jovial red heads, fatties with greasy hair and cold sores and people with body odour issues. They’re incredibly kind and incredibly good at their jobs but they know they’re the B team. Like the air-hostesses who aren’t glamorous enough to do the cross-Atlantic flights. Like the blue-stocking women who sit at the side of the 1950s dances and hand-jive with invisible tears caressing their porcelain-white cheeks. Damn those trendy Macdoctors. Damn them all!

Not much was happening on Pepys’ ship 350 years ago today. They weren’t going anywhere, they were still anchored at the Long Reach and Montagu was refusing to get out of bed. It was a Sunday, so the ship chaplain did his thing at the dinner table, in the morning and then again in the afternoon. Pepys fell asleep and felt ashamed. The rest of the day was spent writing and receiving letters; one of which made Pepys incredibly happy as it was addressed rather flatteringly to SP esquire “of which God knows I was not a little proud.”

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Boxed on the ear, stabbed in the mouth

It’s been a long old day and I don’t feel like I’ve achieved a great deal. I’m writing this on Nathan’s Mac because my computer seems to have broken down. It’s been nothing but trouble since I bought it and because I’m now on a Mac, everything is suddenly in the wrong place on the keyboard and it’s taking me an age to write anything. I'm incredibly frustrated... and blighmy, would you look at the size of this font!?

I wrote in the Rustique Café in Tufnell Park today; my old local from the days when I lived on The Fortess Road. It’s a literary café, which means it’s lined with books and various paintings for sale. I remember when it opened. It was run by a bohemian American Greek woman and I thought it was the most glamorous and artistic place I’d ever visited.

Later in the day, I went back to the gym and was horrified to find that after 2 weeks of jippy tummy, I’ve not lost a pound in weight! I was hoping there was going to be a bright side. Obviously not.  

Went to the dentist and had my teeth scraped and cleaned. A bizarrely pleasurable experience even though I thought she was trying to carve her initials into my enamel. She went at it like a woman possessed and at one point I felt like she was actually driving the sharp water-spurting machine thingie directly into my gums, and more horrifically, enjoying it. I refused to give her the satisfaction of yelling out loud. I’m never quite sure why they tell you that the blood you hoik up in the little spittoon at the end of the experience is a result of having “slightly inflamed gums”. The sadistic woman just spent ten minutes scraping sharp objects around my mouth. Surely that’s more likely to be the reason I’m bleeding?

I’m currently going through the automated hell of trying to book a Travelodge room firstly on line, and then on the phone. We’re trying to get a family room for Hilary’s wedding on Saturday, but it’s an almost impossible system to use if you’re looking for something that specific. Why can’t I just phone a number and talk to someone in the hotel I want to stay in who can give me options if they’re unable to help me with my first choice? And for future reference, Travelodge phone lines cost 10p per minute and the recorded messages go on and on till you’re ready to slit your wrists.

Nothing much was happening on the Pepys front 350 years ago. He may have been on board the ship, but the fleet was staying put in the Long Reach. Pepys spent the day working; writing letters etc, whilst various people appeared on the ship, drinking and having supper with the crew. At the end of the day, Pepys’ footboy, who’d been employed at the same time as Mr Burr the clerk, dropped a can of beer (which sounds very modern, but is actually the name they used for a sort of metal jug with a lid) all over Pepys’ papers and ruined many of them, causing a great deal of extra work all round. Poor boy got boxed on the ear as a result. 

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Seasonal food on the M1

We made it to Wrecsam and spent the evening with Nathan’s sister and family, playing board games and eating microwave meals.

I reckon I’m pretty much better now, although the last few days have exhausted me beyond words. Nathan has just handed me a Cadbury’s Cream Egg to celebrate the fact that I can now eat dairy again, although I'm not sure that a huge amount of actual dairy product gets inside one of those things. That said, they taste great and I’m excited to report it’s my first of the season. I’ve said this a few times recently, but it’s a rather damning indictment of British society that the only seasonable food we can buy in the shops nowadays is a chocolate Easter Egg. Whatever happened to delayed gratification? I remember the days when we’d wish on the first new potatoes of the year. When strawberries were a rarity outside of June. And we pay for this year-round convenience with bland flavours. I don’t think I’ve had a tasty tomato in this country for years!

We spent the day with Nathan’s Mum and her partner, Ron, in the middle of rural Shropshire. I slept comfortably on the sofa whilst snippets of conversation floated around in the air above me. We had a lovely pasta meal for lunch followed by butterfly cakes, which I don’t think I’ve eaten since I was a child. It’s felt like a glorious Sunday all day.

Pepys was up early on the 23rd of March 1660. He’d been given the important task of carrying Montagu’s will in a black box to the politician who’d agreed to be its executor. When he returned, he discovered that the moment had finally arrived. They were off to sea! From then on, everything seemed to speed up. Everywhere he went, people were exchanging little good-luck tokens including sugar-loafs (mounds of sugar, like giant sugar cubes), and ornate rapiers. Pepys bought Montagu a little “perspective glass” (an early form of binoculars, which cost him 8 shillings). A large group of Montagu’s people then took a flotilla of coaches and Hackney cabs to the Tower of London, where barges were waiting to take them to the Long Reach, an area of deep water around Purfleet, Essex on the Thames Estuary where a fleet of ships was waiting. En route they witnessed the shocking damage that the recent floods had caused to the areas around Limehouse. Pepys estimated the damage at many thousands of pounds.

Pepys and Montagu’s ship was called The Swiftsure and as soon as Montagu stepped on board, a rousing round of respectful gunfire echoed through the air from all the ships in the fleet. Pepys was shown to his cabin, which he described as a little short, but otherwise the “the best that any had that belonged to my Lord”. He immediately got papers out of his luggage and started doing work with the clerk he’d recently hired, one John Burr. He may have been on board ship, but he was there as Montagu’s secretary and there was much work to be done. He slept well, describing the weather as good, and was relieved to find he didn’t suffer from sea-sickness. At least not that first night...

Monday, 22 March 2010

Was God listening?

We’re driving on the M62, somewhere between Bradford and Halifax. There seems to be a problem with the car as we’re unable to drive above 60 miles per hour, which means it could take us rather a long time to get to Nathan’s sister’s house in Wrecsam. That’s if we get there at all! Jeopardy is something this blog’s not had for some time.

We arrived in Leeds at about 1am last night and I was up by 6 to do my radio interviews. It was a rather beautiful, still, spring-like morning and walking through Leeds on my way to the BBC was quite a treat.

The radio interviews were, as usual, fairly surreal. Only one was with someone in the flesh and the rest were what they call “down the line”, which means you sit in a little room, facing a wall covered in blue hessian, talking to a disembodied voice. More often than not, you hear your own echo through the headphones and that's when everything becomes a touch existential. Who is that man? Why is he repeating what I’m saying? And if it’s me, why does he sound so camp and so much less resonant? Meanwhile you realise you haven’t heard the question the interviewer’s just asked and suddenly your face feels hot, and your heart beats like thunder in your ears and you get an uncanny desire to swear or start singing Baa Baa Black Sheep because for the first time you’re all too aware that you’re live on air and no one can control you.

We wandered around Leeds in the early afternoon marvelling at a seemingly endless supply of eccentrics, whilst feeling the love of a city where everyone seems so wonderfully warm and polite. Certainly by London standards. We were amused by the bloke who seemed to express himself simply by honking like a goose, and the fully-grown man who sounded like a tiny little girl. I had my hair cut in the market by a brilliant women with an amazing hair-do and we ate beans on toast sitting next to a gothic cowboy with a smile that would bring light to the darkest of shadows.

I was interviewed on Look North about an hour ago and felt quite excited to be sitting there on the big red sofa with the presenters. We’ve launched a competition for people to write a poem which expresses what they feel about Yorkshire. I’ll use the winning entry as the basis for the Finale of the mini-symphony. I very much hope something unique and wonderful will turn up as the meetings I’ve been having with the technical people suggest we might be on for the most extraordinary film which will feature groups of musicians playing in locations across the counties of Yorkshire right the way from trawlers off the coast of Hull to the bottom of coal mines in Sheffield. Genuinely thrilling.

Pepys woke up on the 22nd March 1660, convinced that today would be the day he’d finally go to sea. He took leave of Mrs Crisp and gave the key of his house to Mr Hawley for safe-keeping. When he arrived at Montagu’s house, however, he was told that the weather was still too bad for his Lord to leave London, despite the fact that many other crew members including Pepys’ servant boy, and Mr Sheply had already gone on board. Perhaps Montagu felt there was still business to take care of on dry land as he spent much of the day sorting out his will.

Pepys took the hiatus as an opportunity to go shopping. He bought himself a pair of grey serge stockings, and a sword. He was now a proper gentleman and wanted to look like one. By mid afternoon, he’d hit the pubs, drunk and eaten himself into a stupor and was thrilled to find the bill being picked-up by his drinking companions. Everyone was trying to woo him; offering him an astonishing array of goods in return for his good word. Pepys the Puritan remained philosophical; “I pray God to keep me from being proud or too much lifted hereby”. I’m not sure God was listening...

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Macrame Owls

I am in the very middle of nowhere in a tiny cottage over-looking a beautiful lake somewhere near Belvoir Castle. It’s an incredibly spooky place, particularly now that the sun has set. There’s a Neolithic burial mound on the hillside behind the lake, and the stable block I’m in is built from the stones of a disbanded abbey. Apparently if we listen carefully enough, we’ll be able to hear the sound of rats scuttling about in the stables below. A sobering thought... and I’m a fan of rats.

There are four of us, holed up in a room with a microphone and a multi-track machine. We are recording the vocals parts to the Book of Hope; the set of songs I’ve written for the Lincolnshire Choir, and we’re very slowly going mad. It’s taking rather longer than I think we’d all hoped, and I’ve had to take myself into a different room for a moment of calm, whilst my stomach unknots itself and makes the horrible gurgling noises of a man who has still not got over a stomach virus. When on earth will it clear, I wonder?

We have to drive up to Leeds this evening. No doubt we’ll not get there until the wee smalls and I’m up with the lark tomorrow doing press for the Yorkshire project, which will be launched first thing. Very exciting, but with every extra minute we spend recording these songs, I lose another minute’s potential sleep. I think I’m meant to be interviewed on the telly as well, which will be fun for everyone as I’m bound to look like death warmed up.

350 years ago today, Pepys was still in limbo. The winds were high, and once again he couldn’t go to sea. There was much to do with Montagu, however, and he spent a day in meetings. He also noted that this day was actually the day he said his sad goodbyes to his mother and father, and not the day before, as reported. With this amendment it becomes clear that Pepys didn’t write his diary on a daily basis; he collected notes here and there and wrote everything up at a later point. This explains a number of the inconsistencies that take place in his writing, particularly when it comes to his tenses.

At the end of the day he went back to Mrs Crisp’s house, where he described things as being “very merry”. The old lady of the house, obviously a big Pepys fan, sent out for supper, and then gave him a little gift; a handkerchief with strawberry shaped buttons sewn into it. How ghastly! Definitely the sort of present only an old lady could give. Perhaps she also knitted him a little jumper with a ship sewn into the front and made him a macramé owl!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Tessa Virtue and Jan Moir

It’s been a miserably murky day and it doesn’t seem to have stopped raining since I woke up. Fortunately I spent most of the day ensconced on my friend Julie’s sofa, watching re-runs of the Olympic ice dancing whilst around me people ate soup, crocheted doilies and knitted pairs of purple socks. I am a rock star!

Apparently an "arts and crafts" day is being planned for the third Sunday of every month, but sadly I’m not invited after my disparaging remarks about decoupage in an earlier blog. But I desperately want to go, so will need to find myself a craft; one that I can talk about passionately without sounding sarcastic... hmm

Unfortunately, I can’t think of anything that might fit the bill. I just googled the word craft, and found a picture of a pathetic-looking finger-mouse made of paper, which made me feel a little bit sad. But what else is there? Watercolours make me want to hurl. Knitting is for girls, men called Sam and reverends. Macrame? Well that's a craft isn't it? Crumbs, I just looked it up. I thought it was something to do with paper but it's wool and it's revolting and the thought of it makes my fingers itch. All those weird owls staring up at me...

Perhaps I could decorate eggs. I used to do that as a kid. We'd blow out the contents via a couple of little holes at the top and the bottom, (a sort of Egyptian brain scenario) and then we'd cover them with all sorts of interesting faces and swirls and... Who the hell am I trying to kid? I'm obviously just not a crafty person.

The Olympic ice dancing was phenomenal and made me wonder why I bother to watch Dancing on Ice. The winning dance came from Canadians, Virtue and Moir, whom I hope are no relation to the hatchet-faced, homophobic, grot-bag columnist Jan Moir. They danced to the slow movement from Mahler’s 5th Symphony, better known as Death In Venice, and it was as close as I’ve ever come to the spine-tingling joy I felt as an 8 year-old watching Bolero. Ah Torvill and Dean... Why do you dance to pop music nowadays?

My god. Anyone reading this would think I was gay.

On the way back home, I dropped Nathan off in the West End. He’s performing Naked Boys Singing tonight... And thrillingly for the next two weeks, he's performing with a real life porn star. Dean Monroe has starred in countless high-art films including The Raspberry Reich, Disco Bang, Bang Bang and Blackballed 5 (which I assume is some sort of thriller set in a prestigious gentlemen's club.) Perhaps fortunately, he's only joining the cast for one number, but apparently he knows how to sing in tune... And here he is holding a gun...

Here’s the revolting Jan Moir* disappearing into her own neck...

And the delightful Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir...

Oh yes, and here's some macrame... (Told you it was sinister)

Tuesday 20th March 1660, and just like today, it was raining. Pepys was hoping that tomorrow would be the day he’d go to sea, but the weather would need to improve significantly and 17th Century forecasting (banned under the Puritans) was not the most precise science. Nevertheless, he was up early doing paperwork for Montagu. At lunchtime, he met up with some of his mates, Luellin and co, and he gave them his foy – which seems to be a traditional meal, which someone who was leaving a place would buy his close friends to say goodbye. He was pleased to report that they all promised to write to him whilst he was at sea.

He then took a trip into the city to say a “melancholy” goodbye to his parents. His mother had a very bad cold, and because this was a time when people died of very bad colds, he was worried he’d never see her again, which methinks is sad, and Pepys probably bethought sadder.

The weather got so bad by the early afternoon, that the Thames started to burst its banks, and an easterly wind took the water into Westminster. It flooded Pepys’ house and many others in Axe Yard and people were going up and down King Street round the corner on rowing boats. Before anyone gets too worried about Pepys’ worldly belongings locked into that dining room, it’s likely that this particular room was on the first floor as ground floors were usually used for businesses only in those days. Whatever the case, Pepys doesn’t seem too bothered, so we can assume all was okay.

And if anyone doesn't know who Jan Moir is, this article (written before she angered the entire gay community with a piece of filth about her perception of homosexual lifestyles) pretty much sums it up. I'm particularly fond of its title...

Friday, 19 March 2010

Ribena and Peppermint tea

I’m stationed in my little corner of Cafe Nero in Highgate, feeling very pleased with the work I’ve just done on the motet. Without wishing to sound too much like Pepys, it might just be that I’ve written the most exciting music of my career! It's certainly the most exciting music I've written today!

The rashes continue, although I wonder today if the heat has gone out of them a little. I certainly don’t feel as washed out as I did yesterday. I continue with the doctor’s advice to eat nothing but boring food. Yesterday I had toast, a banana, and a plate of potatoes and peas. I am drinking nothing but water, Ribena and Peppermint tea. God, this blog is scintillating. Roll on the weekend, where I might actually find myself with something a bit more interesting to write about.

I read Pepys’ Diary for March 17th 1660, quite expecting him to be leaving for sea today, but having dispatched his wife to Buckinghamshire, and found himself a very comfortable bed in Mrs Crisp’s rather fine abode, there didn’t seem any particular hurry! Perhaps they were waiting for favourable weather before setting sail.

Pepys went to Montagu’s and found an “infinity of business to do” which made his head almost explode. He chatted and gossiped with various Admiralty bods and later heard that Montagu’s “negro” footman, Jasper, had got drunk over lunch and embarrassed his master. In those days it was all the rage in high society to have an exotic little black man in your service. Pepys himself in later life employed a couple.

He spent the rest of the day drinking, eating and worrying about his wife. I’m sure he was missing her, and was probably frightened that she might be having a bit too much fun marooned in her rural retreat.

By this stage it was clear to Pepys that the desire of everyone was that the King should return, and return quickly, and we get the first hint that the imminent trip abroad might include a visit to Holland to pick up the King and bring him home.

At the end of the day, Pepys retired to Mrs Crisp’s house where he met Dr Clodius, who was pissed. They played cards and went to bed.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

A haze of smoky nostalgia

I’m still feeling miserable. The rash is exactly as it was. I wake up every morning hoping to find it gone, but there it remains, smiling up at me. It makes me itch when I get hot and I’m remarkably fed up. It took me until midday today to crank myself into action. I daren’t eat for fear of more stomach issues, so I’m tired, and headachey and just want to feel better!

I’ve spent the past 8 hours continuing with the motet sequence about the Great Fire. I hope I’m writing something as exciting as the text. At the moment it’s sort of petering out, but then again, so did the fire itself, so I might need to accept that, along with all the other structural eccentricities that are thrown up by working with a text that was never designed to be set to music.

I’m currently watching a television programme where scientists are attempting to lure worms out of the ground by a variety of methods including fork twanging (bouncing on a fork), grunting (rubbing sticks together), and playing glockenspiels. Only the British would be unconventional enough to do this, although, and perhaps because I'm British, I'm finding it compelling viewing. For the record, by far the most successful approach is fork twanging, so if anyone’s looking for some worms to feed a pet budgie, you know what to do.

That’s about as fascinating as my life gets at the moment! That, and watching the documentary about Ann Widdecomb which has replaced the thing about worms.

A slightly more interesting day for Pepys who rose early on the 18th March 1660 and went to Jervas the barber to have his hair trimmed, and afterwards, a few cups of beer. After church, he headed to an alehouse in Drury Lane with one Mr Woodfine, and there the two men drank and ate toasted cakes, which Pepys thought extremely fine. He enjoyed the company and seemed particularly taken, perhaps unsurprisingly, with the mistress of the house. His wife was, afterall, safely tucked away in Buckinghamshire. Later on, he collected a lute from a porn broker in Westminster before returning to Mrs Crisp’s house; that’s the old lady who plays the harpsichon in a sort of haze of smoky nostalgia!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Burned with a shower of firedrops

The rash hasn’t gone anywhere, and I’ve just got back from the doctor who thinks I probably have a stomach virus, which has caused my skin to react badly. The good news is that I’m not running a temperature, so whatever caused the problem is probably in the past tense. It doesn’t mean I’m feeling any better. At the moment, I’m completely wiped out. The advice was to alter my diet and stick to simple, boring foods like pasta, bread and rice. The worst thing I can eat right now is cheese and that’s something I’ve been tucking into rather a lot recently. Oops!

I’ve been writing the motet all day. I even struggled up the hill to Highgate to work in the cafe, although it took me about half an hour to recover from the walk. Nevertheless, it’s been a productive day. I’m working on the Great Fire of London sequence; a gift for any composer. Such extraordinarily colourful writing;

"All over the Thames, with one’s face in the wind you were almost burned with a shower of Firedrops"

On Saturday 17th March 1660, Pepys said a fond farewell to his wife whilst the two of them lay in bed. He gave her some money and the papers she’d need should something happen to him. Whilst she got herself ready he slipped out the house and made a will which left everything to her, except his books, which he earmarked for his brother John (except the ones in French, which would go to Elizabeth.) Pepys returned to take his wife by coach to Holborn, where they shared a drink before she started her journey to Buckinghamshire. He went home to an empty house. All of his belongings had been locked into the dining room and his wife had the only set of keys. He stayed the night at a neighbour’s house in Axe Yard, ending the entry with a rather wistful and dusty account of listening to the old lady of the house practising her repetitive studies on the harpsichon.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

In a rash to get there

I woke up this morning covered in a rash, which is slightly depressing. I have tiny little heat blisters all over my hands and feet, and the rest of my body is covered in red patches, almost as though I’ve scratched myself and it’s got a bit infected. I feel a bit prickly and uncomfortable. I’m not hugely concerned as the same thing happened to me almost exactly a year ago. The rash seems to be my body’s way of dealing with stress; telling me that I’m not looking after myself properly and that I need to stop and take stock.

On the brighter side, I had a meeting at St Olave’s Church today and can now reveal that the motet will be premiered on Thursday 25th November. Half way through the meeting, my stress levels started rising again, when I started to think about the reality of finding 40 astonishing singers who will do this project for the love of it; the love of Pepys, the love of my music, the love of a challenge, the love of lunacy...

350 years ago, Pepys was up first thing, dealing with his landlord, sorting out paperwork and meeting various navy types. He had his morning draught at the Rhenish Warehouse alongside a breakfast of neat’s tongue, which seems to be something ghastly that originates in the mouth of a cow.

Lunch was with his father, wife and cousin Joyce in the City. No doubt they ate more meat. His wife left early with much to do. The following day would see her moving to Buckinghamshire to start lodging with Mr Bowyer.

A quick trip to Westminster Hall confirmed that Parliament was now ready to receive the King and as a result there was an air of excitement across London. More bonfires had been lit the night before and people were shouting; “God bless King Charles the Second” and defiling anything; plaques, statues etc, that said something to the contrary.

Great news has just come via email. My godson, Wils now has a little sister. Jean Rae Annat. She seems to have been born at lightening speed and my prediction is that she'll be a dancer. Her almost name-sake, Gene Anthony Ray, played Leroy in Fame!

Jean-Rae Annat
Gene Anthony Ray

Monday, 15 March 2010

If I should die think only this of me...

Whatever’s wrong with me has shifted into my throat and ear and I’m feeling rather tender and a bit sorry for myself. Not half as bad as poor Nathan must be feeling, who has a major ear infection, which means a luminous green liquid is seeping from his ear, which would be sort of gross if it weren’t such a bizarre radioactive colour! We're in the doctor's surgery now waiting to find out what is wrong.

Natalie and Nicky came over last night and we looked through fifteen years of photographs in my albums. Fifteen years of shared memories. There was much laughter and a few moments where I had to hold back the tears. The three of us met on a production called Big Book for Girls, which the National Student Theatre Company presented two years running at the Edinburgh Festival. Many of the cast are still in touch with one another and it's hardly surprising, as the times we spent together, during those long, carefree, sunny festivals rank as some of the best of our lives. We used to dance all the time. That's something I remember very fondly. There was one pub that we went to after the show each night, and we’d stick songs on the juke box and literally dance until it was dawn. They were happy, uncomplicated days.

It struck me after they’d gone, whilst thinking about the wonderful time I’d also had with Debbie and Bex, how lucky I am to be surrounded by so many genuinely uplifting and loyal people.

Pepys was up early on 15th March 1660. He packed his belongings and they were sent by cart with Montagu’s baggage, presumably to the ship. Pepys then went to a tavern close to Westminster Abbey where he said his farewells to some close friends and bumped into an old school pal who he’d not seen for sixteen years.

Before long, he pottered off to Westminster Hall, settling a few accounts and paying some bills, including his rent, in advance. He then took his wife by boat to the City of London and at Fish Street treated her to a particularly expensive salmon, which they had cooked and ate at the Sun Tavern 'round the corner. Whilst eating the fish, they had an emotional conversation, where Pepys promised his wife everything he had in the world, with the exception of his books, if he were to die at sea.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Broken Clarinets

I’m still not feeling right. Heaven knows what’s wrong with me, or how long it’s going to last, but I’m definitely over it! That said, I did manage to have a wonderful day with Nathan and the girls yesterday. We walked along the river from Temple to Westminster, and then up through Trafalgar Square to Leicester Square where we ate at Wagamamas.

Night fell and we drove to the top of Parliament Hill. I wanted the girls to see the view; the thousands of multicoloured lights twinkling across the capital from Canary Wharf in the East across to Pimlico in the West and Crystal Palace in the south. We went for a stroll which became something of a hike across the gloomy heath. It was a mysterious and magical experience. The wind was rustling in the blackened trees, the sky was an eerie shade of orange; all the halogen of London was trapped in the thick, low clouds. Bex decided she wanted to climb trees and kept disappearing and eventually emerging, perched on a darkened branch, silhouetted against the milky sky.

We went from Parliament Hill across to Spaniards and then back via the Vale of Health, which was sitting silently in a mist-filled hollow. Oddly, every time we emerged from the heath onto a road, we’d find a Panda car hovering and as we drove back to Highgate, we discovered that the entire heath was surrounded by police cars. There were helicopters in the sky and at one point we heard a gun shot. Heaven knows what was going on. I’d spent the entire walk telling the girls how wonderfully safe the place was, whilst God knows what was going on behind those darkened bushes...

Back home we laughed our heads off, singing and playing music long into the night. The hysterical highlight has to be the Dynasty theme tune played on a broken clarinet.

Today was all about enjoying the first spring-like sunshine of the year. We pottered up to the village, walked through Waterlow Park and visited Highgate Cemetery. My first time. It’s an incredibly peaceful sort of place. The kind of spot that takes away just a little bit of the fear of death.

On the 14th March 1660, it was still raining, and Pepys travelled to Montagu’s residence to start his first day as his official secretary. He was confronted by a bewildering amount of paperwork. Finally a job which would involve some effort and better still, one which involved hiring his own staff! More interestingly, more and more people were courting him; viewing him as a man with influence. Later in the day, Pepys crossed paths with General Monck and what a difference a few months made. Far from seeing him with rose-tinted glasses as the saviour of the monarchy and therefore the country, Pepys merely described him as “a dull, heavy man”. Perhaps this is more a sign that he considered himself to be heading up in the world. Finally he could have opinions about those in the upper social strata.

At the end of the day, Pepys headed home to tell his wife about his adventures, including a detailed account of what he’d had for his dinner. Rather randomly, this gave Elizabeth a taste for cabbage, which I can only assume was something of a delicacy in those days. Pepys sent for some, and she duly ate it!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Eurovision What What?

I’m still feeling rather peculiar, with the sense that whatever I had before could well be developing into some form of cold. My head’s been spinning all morning and I've woken up with mouth ulcers. I had very strange and graphic dreams last night. In one of them I survived a plane crash and in another I was looking at the aftermath of a bizarre multi car/ train pile up underneath a New York style overpass. The doctor who was walking by my side was pronouncing people dead at the scene. In the middle dream I was having a lovely chat with my friend Kevin, who died last November. I was aware that that he was a ghost, but this didn’t seem to bother me. It was good to see him again and he seemed very happy. I miss him.

All this surreality probably follows the sheer horror of the Eurovision selection programme last night. What a waste of space, time, energy and frankly, vocal chords. Pete Waterman’s song is average. I can't think of a nicer way to describe it. The arrangement isn’t dynamic enough for the competition and it’s firmly planted in the late 80s without a nod to the tacky nostalgia many of us feel for that era of pop. There’s no key change, no drama and no gimmick. My prediction is that it will come 3rd from last; in front of France and Germany.

The grotesque parade of “singers” who we were asked to select from was even more pointless than the song itself. Not a single one of them was over 21 and therefore had the balls, the panache or the experience to pull off performing in a live TV studio, let alone in a stadium filled with 60,000 people. One of the girls, who reached the final stage, dried up, forgot all her words and apologised in a moment of proper road crash telly. The boy who won looked a little bit like he was doing karaoke down the Queen’s Head, or performing Danny in a school production of Grease. He was self-conscious, awkward and unaware of himself. I have woked with kids who are fifty times more talented. If he wants to come third from last, he’s going to need to do a lot of work. Arleen Phillips is going to need to wave an enormous magical wand or he’ll not even bag us the 7 points from Ireland and 3 from Malta that we’ll need to beat France.

I’m currently sitting in the land of Pepys, on the Strand, waiting for the wonderful Debbie and Becky to emerge from the matinee of Dirty Dancing. I sang in the Northamptonshire Youth Choir with them both and they recently performed in Watford Gap: The Musical. Debbie was at my 18th Birthday party, which happened in a flotilla of punts in Cambridge. We were looking at the photographs earlier. What children we were... Just had an interval text from them saying Johnny was very disappointing, but there were plenty of lovely bums to look at instead! Outrageous.

It rained all day on March 13th 1660 and Pepys didn’t have a lot to say for himself. He called in on Montagu to discover that his principal rival, John Creed, had been given a slightly more influential position on their forthcoming trip to sea, which put his nose very firmly out of joint. He wouldn't need to worry for long, however. Creed may have won this particular battle, but Pepys won the war, and eventually advanced a great deal faster than his rival; many claim due to Creed’s rather sanctimonious puritan views, which Montagu, it seemed, very quickly grew weary of.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Eurovision What Contest?

I’m feeling slightly better today; but only just. I tried to clean the bath earlier and ended up so knackered that I had to sit down for ten minutes. I've slept 17 out of the past 24 hours. I’m sure this has as much to do with the illness as it has with the fact that I haven’t eaten for 2 days. On the bright side, my trousers feel considerably looser than they did when I got back from the States. Who was it that said; “I’m just one bacterial stomach infection away from my ideal weight”?

I hope I perk up considerably by tonight. My brother, Sascha, Alex and Wiesek are coming over to watch the programme where they select the British entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. I'm an enormous Eurovision fan; it’s something that unites me with both of my brothers. It’s one of those occasions, like Christmas, where we’re either together, or on the phone to each other, moaning about eastern-bloc voting mafias or the quality of the British entry. It was always my dream to have a song selected for the competition, and one year I shall. It’ll need to be third time lucky, however, because I’ve entered songs on two occasions in the past; one of which was a co-write with playwright Sir Arnold Wesker. Now there’s a fact*. Sadly, both crashed and burned, or disappeared without trace. I’m not sure they were heard by anything resembling judges as the more I learn about the selection process the more I understand it’s about who you know and not what you write. On that note, I’m hugely perturbed by the fact that we’re selecting the artist this year and not the song. This is a song competition and I’m not sure I want to be represented in Europe by a pre-selected song. It’s a bit like being asked to vote for a dictator.

I’m on a tube, sweating and panting en route to the hell of Notting Hill, where I have another meeting about the US Route 50 musical film. This project certainly feels like it would be the big one if only we could get it off the ground. I certainly think if anyone’s going to make it happen it will be Glyn and Tomboy Films. I find her utterly inspiring and love the way she runs her company. It feels like a proper family, even down to the dog which wonders around the office.

350 years ago, Pepys noted that his servant, Jane woke up at 2am to start the monthly wash. She must have woken him up for he writes that he sat with his wife in the early hours talking and not being able to get back to sleep because of his bad cold. When the morning finally arrived, they went shopping to the New Exchange, a sort of 17th Century shopping mall on the south side of the Strand, and bought a great deal of stuff (unspecified), one assumes to keep Elizabeth occupied and content during his trip away.

After lunch he borrowed a horse and rode to Mr Bowyer’s house in Huntsmore, a small hamlet to the west of London in Buckinghamshire. It was here that Elizabeth would board whilst Pepys was at sea. From Pepys’ perspective, it made far more sense to find his wife lodgings outside of London. The political situation in the capital was still uncertain and perhaps more importantly, there would be far less temptation for her in a tiny village. After discussing business, Mr Bowyer fixed Pepys up with a remedy for his cold; a spoonful of honey with nutmeg scraped into it. One wonders if the nutmeg was offered in enough of a quantity to produce something of a natural high as Pepys seemed very pleased with the results!

*If you want to hear my Eurovision Song Contest entry played on Arnold Wesker's Desert Island Discs, go here and click on Shone With The Sun (bottom row, box just to the right of the middle)

Thursday, 11 March 2010


I've been ill all day. I got the shakes before going to bed yesterday and spent the night shivering and sweating. I woke up this morning with terrible stomach gripes and have been unable to do anything useful all day. I’m curled up on the sofa feeling incredibly sorry for myself. Daytime TV is so rubbish when you’re forced to watch it. I get so irritated by all the adverts, the canned laughter, the tinny theme tunes and those endless competitions with stupid answers. I just don’t have the energy to find something more interesting.

350 years ago, Pepys wasn’t feeling very well, either. He had a cold and a cough and was much troubled with it all night. He spent the day, dressed informally, packing things for his journey to sea. It was a Sunday and he doesn’t seem to have gone to church. Certainly if he did, he didn’t write about it, in this, the shortest diary entry from him I’ve read for some time. Perhaps he was just too busy packing. The wench, (or Jane, as I like to call her) was also a busy woman, sorting all the things she’d need to wash for him for his trip to sea.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Caps and stockings

Today was a rather dull day, which saw me up with the lark and working on the motet flat out for something like 9 hours. My eyes ache and my fingers hurt from using the mouse on my computer. I would have gone to the gym, just for a break in the monotony, but haven’t been feeling very well today.

I started on Movement Two this morning, which begins with the Coronation of Charles II in 1661, an event which Pepys was lucky enough to have witnessed in the flesh. Perhaps calling the man lucky is to do him an injustice. One gets the impression that Pepys very deliberately placed a foot in every door to make sure he could be present at such events, one assumes so that he could document them with accuracy; both in his diary and more officially (and much more floridly) in copious letters to Montagu, various friends, associates and family members.

The 10th March 1660 was a Saturday and Pepys visited his father, who was busy at work. He was a tailor. He spoke about his plans to go to Sea with Montagu and they discussed where best to send his wife during the period. It seems she would have been quite incapable of looking after herself.  I guess she was only 19 at the time. But what seems almost unbelievable is that it was only after talking to his father that Pepys went home to tell his wife of his plans to go away. She was, perhaps unsurprisingly, somewhat troubled at the news, and there was an argument.

He must have been forgiven eventually, however, for when he returned in the evening, he found her lovingly making him a hat to keep him warm on his voyage and his maid, Jane, knitting him a pair of stockings. Bless.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Paint Never Dries

I’m still jet-lagged and could barely sleep last night. I lay in a pool of sweat with un-used melodies and the dog-ends of hundreds of conversations whirling about in my head. I started worrying about the motet, wondering what on earth I’m doing, and why. I’m almost constantly out of my comfort zone and the weight of responsibility is heavy upon my shoulders. I showed some of it to my soprano friend, Hilary, last night who had to remind me that although most sopranos have the high notes I’ve written, most won't have many of them before their voices get tired and pack up. Damn.

I’ve just heard the “single” from Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies or Paint Never Dries as the bitchy bloggers are calling it. Is it just me, or does the chorus have an uncanny similarity to the “single” from the same composer's Beautiful Game?

For a comparison, see the glorious Hannah Waddingham singing Our Kind of Love from Beautiful Game here

And then have a listen to ghastly Catherine Jenkins singing the very same song with a new set of lyrics here(Pay particular attention to her wonderful acting skills and listen out for the moments when her voice sounds like a honking oboe.)

I’m not sure why Lloyd Webber would choose to rip himself off in this way. Love Never Dies is a sequel – but it’s not a sequel to Beautiful Game, which is all about football, and not about a Phantom. Perhaps it was a mistake. Perhaps he’s surrounded by so many "yes" people that no one felt they could point it out. Or worse still, perhaps his music has become so generic that no one bothers to listen to it properly anymore!

On Friday 9th March 1660, Pepys finally agreed to go to sea with his master, Montagu. He’d spent a few days mulling over the offer and finally acquiesced in the auspicious surroundings of the Painted Chamber at the Old Westminster Palace. There were a number of practicalities which would need to be dealt with. Someone would have to do Pepys’ job at Mr Downing’s office whilst he was away. Someone would need to look after his wife and maintain his household. As the day went on, Pepys obsessed more and more about the changes. He drank himself silly at Harper’s Pub, and then couldn’t sleep. The entry ends with one of Pepys’ first promises; "to drink no strong drink this week, for I find that it makes me sweat and puts me quite out of order"

These promises would become more regular as the diary progressed; and would frequently involve decisions to drink less alcohol alongside vows to limit his theatre visits and avoid sleeping with other women. Pepys was constantly wrestling with his inner Puritan...

Monday, 8 March 2010

The return of the Pepys-o-meter

Great news! You’ll see from the Pepys-o-meter that we now have enough money to make the Motet a reality. The Arts Council have come through with a grant AND some of the cost of the conductor is going to be met by the GLA. Still waiting for confirmation of a few other funding sources, but in the meantime, a big thank you to Boris and to Munira Mirza. Who said the Tories were a waste of space?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the muse came to me in a big jolt earlier and I’m now speeding through the first movement of the work, which essentially deals with passages from 1660. And for those of you who are interested, here are the texts I'll be using:

Jan 1st 1660: Blessed be God, at the end of last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain but upon taking of cold. I lived in Axe Yard, having my wife and servant Jane, and no more in family then us three. My wife, after the absence of her terms for seven weeks, gave me hopes of her being with child, but on the last day of the year she hath them again... My own private condition very handsome, and esteemed rich, but indeed very poor; besides my goods of my house, and my office, which at present is somewhat uncertain.

Jan 4th 1660: It snowed hard all this morning and was very cold, and my nose was much swelled with cold

Jan 16th 1660: I sat up till the bell-man came by with his bell, just under my window ...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.

Jan 29th 1660: Spent the afternoon in casting up of my accounts; and do find myself to be worth 40l and more, which I did not think, but am afraid that I have forgot something

Feb 12th 1660: My wife and I had some high words upon telling her that I would fling the dog which her brother gave her out at the window if he pissed the house any more

August 19th 1660: My wife tells me that (her little) bich hath whelp(ed) four young ones and is very well... My wife having had a great fear that she would die thereof, the dog that got them being very big... After dinner my wife went and fetched the little puppys to us, which are very pretty ones

August 28th 1660: I spent this morning beginning to teach my wife some skill in Musique, and find her apt beyond imagination...

September 25th 1660: And afterwards did send for a Cupp of Tee (a China drink of which I never had drank before)

October 13th 1660: “I went out to Charing Cross to see Maj.-Gen Harrison hanged, drawn and quartered... he looking as cheerfully as any man could do in that condition. He was presently cut down and his head and his heart shown to the people, at which there was great shouts of joy... Thus it was my chance to see the King beheaded at Whitehall and to see the first bloodshed in revenge for the blood of the King at Charing Cross.”

If any of you have any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear from you. Obviously there's another 8 and a half years of quotes to feature in the work, so there isn't scope for a huge amount of material!

Thursday 8th March 1660, and Pepys spent a morning in Westminster Hall where there was still a great deal of uncertainty regarding the return of the monarchy. Pepys noted that everyone he encountered seemed either edgy or glum or as he perfectly worded it "a general damp over men’s minds and faces". Rumours of military rebellion were rife and people were still losing their jobs hand over fist. No problems in this respect for Pepys, however, who continued to shine like a beacon with countless people coming up to him and offering favours for favours.

Later in the day, he took his wife shopping on Paternoster Row to buy some Paragon (a kind of heavy duty fabric) for a petticoat. The new swaggering Pepys was beginning to place appearance right at the top of his list of priorities and Elizabeth would become a glamorous, nouveau-riche extension. Pepys had money almost constantly on his mind and the world was suddenly tempting him with almost limitless possibilities. He met up with Captain Philip Holland, who gave him advice about how to make money out of his forthcoming trip to sea by hiring extra servants, and siphoning off some of their pay, or worse still, pocketing the pay of fictitious servants who would never set foot on board the ship!

It seems Captain Holland was a somewhat shady character with extremely loose morals. Wider reading reveals he deserted the British for the better-paid Dutch in 1667 at the height of the war, when all was looking pretty glum for the home team. After a spell in prison, he switched sides again and agreed to become a spy for the English, no doubt sensing another opportunity to make a fast buck.

It’s interesting to wonder whether Pepys considered Holland's suggestions to be corrupt, or whether he was beginning to dip his toe into a world where taking bribes and skimming the cream was simply de riguer, very much like his wife's Paragon Petticoat.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Mimosa Pudica

I'm back in London feeling wiped-out, stuffy-nosed and slightly jet-lagged. My bank's just called to tell me there's been some fraudulent activity on my account, something to do with florists in Russia, so I won't be able to use my card for about a week. Boo!

Today is about taking things easy. I'm hoping my brother Edward, Sascha and Hilary will be coming over later for food and Dancing On Ice, but if not, I'll simply curl up on my sofa and try to convince myself that it’s not 5 hours earlier than I think.

March 7th 1660, and Pepys was bustling about all day. He covered huge distances by foot all the way from St James’ Park in the West to the Eastern edge of the city of London and met a bewildering array of people. He was beginning to feel that he was right in the middle of things; people were asking for his advice and generally swarming around him and he was loving every minute.

Today's entry provides us with an early glimpse of Pepys-the-inquisitive, the man who would become obsessed with science and technology and end up as president of the Royal Society. On this occasion, Pepys met up with Mr Lynes, the surgeon, who promised him some seeds so that he could grow a “sensitive plant”, probably a Mimosa, which had fascinating leaves which curled up or temporarily dropped upon being touched or shaken. They’d have been imported, probably from the Caribbean and were about to become all the rage. Here's what wiki has to say on the subject.

It was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and Pepys noted that people across the city were eating fish dinners. The puritans had abolished fasting for lent, so perhaps the people refraining from meat were actually making a political rather than religious statement.

Later in the day, Pepys went to the wonderfully named Popes Head Alley, which was a road just off Cornhill and the London centre for the sale of cutlery and toys. In Adam Chard’s shop he bought a catcall, which cost two groats (four English pennies) see here.

A catcall was a whistle-like instrument that produced a cat-like cry which was used for expressing disapproval at the theatre. Perhaps Pepys was planning a guilt-laden trip to a play, or maybe he brought it to irritate his wife’s troublesome dog, which avid readers of this blog, will remember arrived on February 8th.

In the evening, Pepys met up with his father, who had returned from their country cottage at Brampton, near Montagu’s estate in Huntingdon. He brought the news that Pepys’ Uncle Robert was gravely ill. Something had gone very wrong with his leg and if he died it looked likely that Pepys would inherit his estate.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

The New York Symphony

It’s about 2am, and I need to leave the hotel in 3 hours. We’ve just spent a very exhausting day trekking across Manhattan and my feet feel like blocks of concrete. We had lunch in the village with Sharon and Ailsa, tea on the Upper East Side with Matt and Kieran and in the middle took a trip to the Rockafella Center to watch Matt and Mike Myers talking on the Jimmy Fallon show. Very entertaining.

This evening we’ve been trawling around the bars. Nathan remains somewhere on 28th Street, but I had to come back here to pack and write this blog, fearing the loss of time as I wing my way back to England, could well mean I don’t have another opportunity to post something.

Lower Manhattan is buzzing outside my window. I can smell toffee apples and someone is playing Lady Gaga at an incredibly loud volume. People seem to be dancing and singing on the pavement in a sort of The Kids From Fame meets Nightmare on Elm Street mash up! Car horns and sirens are cutting into the music, almost as though they’ve been scored that way. This really is a New York symphony.

March 6th 1660 was Shrove Tuesday and became a hugely important day for Pepys. Montagu took him aside, told him he had his back, that he trusted him implicitly, that he believed it was a certainty the King would return (if he could behave himself with appropriate sobriety) and finally asked Pepys to work as his secretary and accompany him to sea. Very exciting!

Later in the day, Pepys went to an annual Shrove Tuesday dinner, where he played a great deal of music and was generally very merry, particularly after a special dinner of "a leg of veal and bacon, two capons and sausages and fritters, with abundance of wine.” He dusted off those hollow legs again then.

It seems London was partying left, right and centre, for on his way home, Pepys called in on Mrs Jem “at whose chamber door I found a couple of ladies, but she not being there, we hunted her out, and found that she and another had hid themselves behind a door. Well, they all went down into the dining-room, where it was full of tag, rag, and bobtail, dancing, singing, and drinking, of which I was ashamed, and after I had staid a dance or two I went away”

It’s not clear why Mrs Jem was found hiding behind a door. Maybe it was something to do with her unsightly neck. Perhaps the girl she was discovered with was equally disfigured. Maybe they were quietly weeping and wondering why the world should be so cruel. We also fail to learn why Pepys felt ashamed at the party in the drawing room. Could it be that the ladies were behaving themselves inappropriately? Spilling out onto the streets and dancing to Lady Ca-Castelmayne? Or maybe Pepys was simply being overly protective of the young Mrs Jem. Perhaps all the guests were dancing in a circle around her and chanting the word "cripple". That's what they'd have been doing in Northamptonshire when I was Mrs Jem's age.

Whatever the case, Pepys rushed home but was too excited to sleep and sat up for some time with his wife in bed talking about his Lord’s "great expressions of kindness this day." He was going places. And he knew it!

Friday, 5 March 2010

A glaring Mary

Yesterday was a very pleasurable day, which became about pottering around in New York. We discovered The Highline; a parkland walk on an old railway line raised above the streets of the West Village. It was a brilliant place to sit and watch the world go by; a haven of calm, hovering above the frantic city streets.

We met Sharon in the East Village; a very dear friend who was at drama school with me. She’s one of the most effervescent people I know and always makes me feel that life’s just that little bit more worth living. She’s getting married in October and her excitement is infectious. We saw pictures of the dress and the reception venue, whilst sitting in a little hummus bar opposite the bass player from Travis!

Later on, I hooked up with my arty painter friend, Lee, before drifting up to Mid-town to meet the New York gang; Frank, Kevin, Adam and an assortment of Broadway performers, one of whom, Jimmy, had played baseball in the Olympics, which I thought, for a Broadway Gypsy was quite the claim to fame! I’m ashamed to say I know nothing about game. It’s always struck me as a rather tedious pastime. I’m more of a Rounders man, which became all too obvious when Jimmy revealed he’d played in a position called “short stop”, information I later embarrassingly regurgitated as “he played short-bus in the US Olympic Baseball team ”. A short bus over here is something the spastics ride to school in. Oh how we laughed...

It’s the 5th of March, which means it’s Matt’s birthday. After the hell he’s been through recently, he doesn’t really want to celebrate or even acknowledge the day, but we’ve bought him a few little gifts and we’re going to try and mark the day somehow, if not just with a raised glass to a better future.

Pepys’ March 5th, 1660, began with Mr Hill, the instrument maker, coming to string his theorbo; yet another instrument in Pepys’ ever-growing collection. A theorbo is a type of multi-stringed lute, see wiki here. Pepys loved anything to do with music making, and described his morning’s experience as greatly pleasurable. At lunchtime, he went by water taxi to Billingsgate, met up with friends at the wonderfully named, Salutation Tavern, ate enormous plates of meat and drank copious amounts of alcohol. One of his friends, Mr Adams, drank til he “began to be overcome”, which brings to mind a rather tragic scene, one which I'd love to have witnessed.

Pepys then returned to Westminster where he met Mr Pinkney, who proudly revealed a Charles I crest of the Lion and Unicorn emblazoned on a screen at the back of his chimney. I’m sure on many occasions during the interregnum he’d have felt the need to cover it up, but he claimed he’d cleaned it loyally every day. Symbolism like this, in periods of political and religious uncertainty, becomes incredibly important; a way of subtly expressing a view without attracting the disapproval of the world. Pepys’ early diary, for example, is littered with references to Catholic sympathising. On his visit to Audley End just a few days previously, for example, he finished a pint of ale and discovered the Virgin Mary glaring up at him from the bottom of his glass.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Sleep tight, the milkman's on his way

I'm still getting over the shock of Nathan being here in New York. I can genuinely say that I had no idea something like this was being planned. It was such a magical moment. So many bizarre thoughts went through my head as I looked up and saw him standing there. On one level it seemed to make perfect sense; “Oh look, it’s Nathan” I thought... but then I started panicking; “oh my God, it’s Nathan. What's he doing here?  What's he come to tell me. Something must be wrong!” Then of course I decided it wasn’t Nathan after all! And it was only then that I was thrilled. I think the You Tube video shows all these emotions fairly clearly.

Matt has put us up in THE most astonishing room at Soho House. It’s enormous. You could sleep a family of matchstick makers on the bed alone, and there’s an enormous bath standing freely in the middle of the room, which you could swim in.

Last night we had our tea in a diner on 42nd street and then watched Dame Edna Everage doing a show on Broadway. She was performing with an over-sincere crooner called Michael Feinstein, who was apparently famous, but had never entered my radar. His speciality is the Great American Songbook, that slightly nebulous genre of easy listening songs which seem to include anything written in America from 1920 to about 1970. He was caked in orange make-up and his hair (and shirt collar) was raven black. Before each song he’d say things like; “music touches my life and makes my heart leap” and then there’d be the pre-requisite references to Liza, Frank, Ella and all the other performers who only need a Christian name by means of introduction... sadly Michael hasn’t quite made it onto this list, although I’m sure he’d like to think he has. Edna, however, very much has. And she was hysterical. Laugh-out-loud funny.

We went down to see him (Barry Humphries) afterwards and he was incredibly charming. He remembered meeting Nathan before and described Matt as the greatest comic in the English speaking world.

Half an hour later were were in the West village at the Monster Bar, where we propped up the piano and
sang show tunes. Nathan did Anthem from Chess, Matt sang The Man From La Mancha, and I spluttered my way through Gethsemene. The highlight was definitely the moment when the whole bar – and I mean about 40 people – erupted into a rousing rendition of One Day More from Les Miserables; all the harmonies, all the different parts. Definitely one of the moments in my life that I thanked God for making me gay!

It turned slightly sour, however. Whilst we were making our way through Little Shop of Horrors there was a bang, a smash of glass and a shout from the other side of the bar. We looked up to see two men fighting. Proper fighting, not bitch slapping. A few guys waded in to split them up and it became clear that one of them had glassed the other with a bottle. His face was covered in blood, almost like something from a film, literally just pouring off him and gushing onto the floor. Very distressing, although we were told later that he was okay. It’s astonishing what people will do to avoid hearing show tunes!

350 years ago, Pepys started his day at his viol, playing and singing Orpheus’ Hymn. I reckon Skid Row might have proved to be more catchy. He then went to church where Mr Gunning, the minister, preached about charity. After church he ate at his mother’s house with his wife and maid and there was much high talk about religion; Anglicanism versus Puritanism. Surely not as interesting as Stephen Schwarz versus Stephen Sondheim, but Pepys hadn't just seen someone being glassed!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010


I’m currently on a giant metal dart sailing over the clouds from Miami to New York, where the next instalment of my adventure will take place. American Airlines don’t seem to understand the concept of vegetarianism, so I’m tucking into a tiny bowl of warm nuts and loving every mouthful. The air stewards are a right bunch of surly bastards, which is apparently not unusual for a domestic US flight. As I write, they’ve blocked off an area with a service cart, whilst one of them tucks into a cookie, and the other one uses a pen to remove food from his teeth.

I have to say, the difference in me as a flyer nowadays is marked. I used to get on a plane and literally be in a state of blind panic until I got off again. I would dread trips abroad because I couldn’t imagine anything beyond the flight. A few early disastrous experiences didn’t help; an emergency landing on foam in Canada, and turbulence so bad once that an air hostess injured her head on the roof of the plane. At one point the fear got so great that I stopped going on holiday. Today, after a few jitters on take-off, I’ve been feeling almost calm.

We had a storm in Miami yesterday, and the wind was extremely high, whistling eerie tunes through the skyscrapers. We managed to get a few hours of sunshine, however, and I had a swim in the sea; my first since arriving here. Such clear water, such delicate white sand; such a far cry from the effluent and tampax-laden brown seas off the coast of the UK!

Another interesting UK/US Miami/New York comparison; I couldn’t find anywhere to buy a newspaper yesterday! The drug stores are filled to the brim with trashy magazines and novellas, but newspapers are something of a rarity. I don’t know what this says about Miami culture. Perhaps the residents get their papers delivered and it’s the tourists who aren’t interested in anything other than the shimmer of celebrity lifestyle. Perhaps I was simply looking in all the wrong places.

I’m excited to discover what New York will bring and very much looking forward to meeting up with all my friends there.

Bad news from the UK, however, as I called my Mum to discover a good family friend is very ill with a form of lung cancer. I hope very much she makes a recovery and wish her family the very best in what must be the most horrific time.

March the 3rd 1660, was a Saturday, and Pepys had a sheep’s head for his lunch; a thought which brings a small amount of bile into my mouth! Much of the rest of his day seems to have been spent brown-nosing and forelock-tugging. He was called for by Montagu and spent long periods of time waiting patiently in sub-chambers whilst his patron dined with the great and the good and settled into life at the very top of the social tree. The return of the monarchy was still by no means a foregone conclusion, and rumours were floating around about the possibility of MPs continuing to run the country with Monck, or even Cromwell Junior at the helm. This was bad news for Pepys, who consoled himself, unsurprisingly, with much alcohol. There was also troubling news from Sweden. King Carl X was dead.

I've just arrrived in New York at the Soho House to discover that Nathan has secretly come all the way here to surprise me! What an incredible thing! I am astonished! Matt was in on the whole thing and filmed me as Nathan appeared. He's put the film on You Tube. You can see it here

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A whiff of Milk Tray

Miami is a proper cacophony of sound. It’s not even 9am and the place is buzzing with dissonance. I can hear several motorbikes, lorries reversing all over the place, air conditioning units, the sea, cars horns galore, the bangs and crashes of building work, aeroplanes and a million musac tracks... I’m sure the same is true of London, but I suppose I’m never trying to relax in London! Plus, I suppose, after 15 years in the place, I must have got very good at filtering out unnessary noise.

My ear feels a lot better today. Whether that’s due to the amateur “lavage” I was subjected to, the weird nasal sprays, or the incredibly expensive eardrops that wouldn’t stay in my ear I don’t know. It certainly feels like the US health system is WAY behind the British one. Something I didn’t expect for a moment. For a doctor to poke a stick blithely into a man’s ear he knows to be a composer was perhaps the most shocking aspect for me! Oh well. Life is all about these experiences. Speaking of which, a man has just appeared (abseiling from above) on my balcony. A whiff of the Milk Tray, but sadly I discover he’s just here to clean the windows! These chaps must have balls of steel.

I continue to write the motet. Even here in Miami I’m trying to work for 2-3 hours each day. I'm relieved to say that I feel much clearer about its structure now. There will be 6 linked movements and I’ve now finished the first draft of one of them. Rather eccentrically, I started half way through the piece with the dark, slow third movement, which begins in 1664 with the death of Pepys' brother and runs through to the end of the plague in 1666. I'm sure it will turn out to be the longest of the movements, both in the amount of diary time it covers, and in purely musical terms. Par for the course for an Adagio.

350 years ago, Pepys went to visit Montagu and found the place bustling with well-wishers and sycophants. General Monck had even arranged some of his trumpeters to give him a quick fanfare. Quite when this took place, we can only imagine. Maybe it was as he came down the stairs to breakfast. A sort of 17th Century equivalent to entrance music in a tawdry 1970s American sit com. I hope it was accompanied by some canned applause.

Much of the rest of the day was spent debating politics. People were getting jobs back that they’d had under Cromwell. The ones who'd backed the wrong horses were running for their lives, or desperately attempting to change their allegiances. The great and the good were trying to work out the practicalities of a free parliament. Who would head it up? And what would this mean to everyone else, including Charles II?

Pepys then headed off to a tavern in King’s Street, Westminster, where, with two friends he ate an enormous dinner of “two brave dishes of meat, one of fish, a carp and some other fishes.” He adds that they were “as well done as ever I ate any”. Hardly a surprise for Pepys, whose superlatives knew no bounds. The group then went to another pub, where they drank a few pints of wine. Oddly, for a man who’d been drinking so heavily, he seems to have conducted a full day’s business after this point. Hollow legs, our Sam. Unlike me.