Friday, 30 April 2010

I'll give you fine beavers

This morning I went to Cecil Sharp House in Camden, which is the official home of the British folk scene. It’s situated, appropriately, in a rather grand “arts and crafts” style building around the corner from Regent’s Park. I’d only ever been there once before, on that occasion to a barn dance, which was, you know... rock and roll. Today I was visiting their wonderful library, trying to locate a few Yorkshire-based folk melodies which might work in the symphony. The mousey librarian looked like a reject from Steeleye Span, but was incredibly kind and brilliantly helpful, introducing me to the work of Frank Kidson, one of those bicycle riding bohemians who collected, transcribed and saved folk songs in the early 20th Century. Much of his work was done in Yorkshire, which made his collections perfect for me, particularly as he seems to have unearthed some absolute gems, which I took great delight in copying out. None of them was particularly cheery, however. When you analyse folk songs, they’re all either; “a cumly, honest maid sat on my knee in the merry month of may way hey” which can get a bit mind-numbing or “he took a knife and buried it in her heart and the blood trickled into a basin, a basin, fidili dee di do”. The latter type is always much more entertaining, but not exactly cheery or appropriate for a work of celebration. I also found a lovely folksong which was frankly destroyed by the line; "I'll give you fine beavers". I think we could all do without that...

In the afternoon, after skipping like a girl at the gym, I retired to our loft to do some writing. We have a sort of unofficial conversion up there where we keep most of our books and musical instruments. It’s a dusty, dark, atmospheric sort of place. You’d expect to find it at the top of a secret staircase in a book by E Nesbit. There’d be a spinning wheel of some sort up there, and a doll crying tears of blood. Well, possibly not in the E Nesbit version. It gets too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, but about this time of year, it’s the perfect place to sit and stare into shafts of sunlight whilst waiting for the muse to make her entrance. She came in abundance today, so quickly and effortlessly, in fact that I’m worried I’ll wake up tomorrow morning to discover I’ve re-written Jerusalem!

Pepys was playing ninepins on this date 350 years ago, and his beginners luck had run out, for he lost 5 shillings a-piece to each of his opponents, which seems like a preposterously large amount to have gambled. In the afternoon, he went ashore to Deal. He described the fields as being very pretty, but wrote that the town was “pitiful” probably after a hugely disappointing trip to a "famous" ale house, "renowned" for its variety, but on this date only serving what was hanging around in a giant vat.

Pepys left the town, probably in a huff, and went back to the fleet, where he gate-crashed another ship, The Assistance and was treated to some harp music by a musician the captain was keeping on board specifically for the purpose. Pepys was extremely taken with the grace of the music. A fact which was made all the more bizarre by the look of the man who was playing; "a drunken simple fellow to look on as any I ever saw"

Back on the Nazeby, the evening descended into utter chaos in the Lieutenant’s cabin. Much alcohol was consumed, and then by all accounts, lobbed around the room, destroying countless items of clothing and no doubt wrecking the curtains and carpets! At one point, Pepys’ velvet studying cap became a tankard, which probably says it all! He went to bed as pissed as a fart!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Out damn spot

It’s been a strange old day today. It was muggy to begin with and then windy and now it’s raining. I’ve been busily trying to finish off this particular draft of my motet, so there’s space between it and the symphony. I think I've probably finished it. I’m certainly at a stage when I need to stick it in a draw and come back to it with fresh ears. Sadly, I don't feel very much like celebrating, as I'm not sure the last movement is any good.

We had a very perplexing situation in lower Highgate today. There’s been a suspicious smell floating around the pet shop at the end of the alleyway that leads to our house. It’s a putrid kind of smell. A smell that made me gag. It’s like 400 durian fruits bathed in sick. It’s the smell of the offal trucks that used to rattle through Higham Ferrers on their way to the glue factories. Something had obviously died.

Nathan and I ‘phoned the council, because it’s not the first time strange rotting smells have floated around the area. We had to wade through the most astonishing amount of red tape; 

“Where is the smell coming from?”

“We can’t tell...”

“In which case we can’t help you because we won’t know which team to send out”

“Well that’s plainly not good enough! What if someone's died?”

“Could you just hold for a second?”

And round and round it went. Nathan spoke to a particularly useless jobs-worth for a grand total of 54 minutes and at the end of the conversation, was back where he’d started from. Somewhat annoying when we were simply trying to be responsible citizens. I immediately ‘phoned back and demanded to speak to the press office and suggested that in the wake of the Baby P scandal, Haringey Council ought to be more sympathetic towards someone reporting the sweet stench of death on their streets. It was a bit below the belt, but it did the trick and someone was with us within an hour.

Of course, by then, the smell, which had been present for 4 rancid days and even caused local builders to gag, had dissipated somewhat, to the extent that Nathan suggested it might have been some kind of nostril haunting! (You can imagine how well that went down with the man holding the clip board!) Fortunately it was still just about present enough for the man to smell it, identify it as death and start a detailed search of the area. Sadly there were no doors, vents or drains that could give him any indication of where the smell might be coming from.

Eventually we had to admit defeat and agreed with the man that if the smell got any worse, we’d give him another call. We went back inside with our tails between our legs.

A few minutes later the guy called me again. Fortunately (or not so much for him) whilst looking at a bin bag in the vicinity, he’d stumbled and put his hand into a sort of stain on the pavement. And that, he said, was our smell! A tiny, almost invisible patch on the pavement was actually a rancid, repugnant, puddle of death and the poor man had fallen into it. He told me he thought a fox might have died there and been carried away by the council, who'd left a few of the poor creature's internal juices on the pavement. I bet he was thrilled to have them all over his hands. Out damn spot...

The 29th April 1660 was a Sunday and Pepys dressed for the occasion in his best suit which had been recycled from a cloak he’d bought the year before which seemed to have got covered in poo somehow. “This day I put on... my fine cloth suit, made of a cloak that had like to have been beshit behind a year ago the very day that I put it on.” Maybe that explains the smell...

Things were hotting up in London. A letter from the King had arrived and been placed under lock and key until Tuesday when it could be read out to the Parliament. Montagu informed Pepys that the Puritans and Fanatiques had finally and conclusively been tamed by the Cavaliers, and that it was a matter of weeks at the most before the King would step once again upon English soil.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The poetic murmuring

We’ve just spent a rather magical day in the countryside around Cambridge. Everything’s looking so fresh and beautiful at the moment. The leaves on the trees are a vibrant shade of lime and hundreds of multi-coloured flowers line the country lanes. Cowslips, dandelions, poppies, daffodils, tulips, bluebells and daisies are all blooming at once and the air is sweet with the smell of fresh blossom. We met up with the parents and picnicked in a country park before playing a game which involved launching giant darts at a scoreboard on a molehill.

We then made our way into Cambridge for a sneak preview of the house that my very dear friend Helen is about to move into. She wasn’t there, which was a shame, because my mother seemed very keen to get the tape measure out and advise her on carpets and curtains. We’re all agreed that she’s picked a particularly lovely area of town, which is filled to the brim with alternative shops and cafes. We used to visit this part of Cambridge rather a lot in the early 1980s. There were rows of whole-food shops back then, and places that sold wrap-around skirts and joss sticks, so it was a sort of Mecca for my CND-supporting, bran-tastic mother. It’s also the place where I bought my ‘cello. I still remember the smell of the case and how proud I felt to have my very own instrument. Previously I’d had to make do with a borrowed 'cello which had been thrown together on a production line somewhere in China and sounded like a sitar when I played pizzicato.

We spent the afternoon at the Orchard in Grantchester eating cream teas in a garden filled with apple and cherry blossom. I’m sure if we’d closed our eyes and listened carefully enough, we would have heard the poetic murmurs of Virginia Woolf and Rupert Brooke carried to us on the soft Cambridge breeze. Their ghosts still haunt these parts, 100 years after they sat under these very trees. It was a delightfully English way to spend an afternoon.

Brook and Woolf: The Ghosts of Grantchester.

Reading Pepys' diary for this date, 350 years ago, I’m amused to discover our hero was also playing a game which involved throwing things. In his case, it was nine-pins, and like me, he won. Unlike me, however, he was playing for money and earned himself a crown from Mr Pickering, who conveniently didn’t have enough money to pay up. After supper Montagu plainly got a bit squiffy, because the evening ended in a riot of music-making on the lower deck.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Flocking like flies

Arriving back in the big smoke this afternoon felt like something of an anti-climax. I’ve suddenly realised how knackered I am, and as a result have decided to take tomorrow off. We’re going to have a picnic to take advantage of the last day of this tropical weather. From Thursday, it's all down hill again. Back to the rain and misery...

There’s all sorts of niggling nastiness going on in the background at the moment. Hilary, whose wedding I went to a month ago, returned from her honeymoon, and on her first night back in her riverboat home, was burgled. Perplexingly, the incident happened whilst she was asleep and was made utterly shocking when she discovered the little bastards had not only taken a camera with all their honeymoon snaps, but also shat all over the boat. Absolutely disgusting. It’s one thing to be so poor that you feel you have to take what’s not yours, but quite something else to defile a person’s home. What kind of hatred and disregard must these people have for the world if this is something they’re prepared to do? It’s a level of primitivism that astonishes me. Isn’t it gorillas that fling poo? Are we not more sophisticated than that, nowadays? I'm almost tempted to suggest that these people should be kept in cages, or sent to jungles, where they can smear shit wherever they want. And I refuse to be called a fascist for saying it!

Nathan is really hard up at the moment. Sadly, Nunsense (one of the shows he does in the West End) has been given its notice, which means he’s down to three shows of Naked Boys a week; and that won’t keep him in tap shoes! The life of an actor has to be one of the most insecure existences on the planet. Actors live their lives without being able to take any control of what they do. They can’t put themselves up for auditions, they can’t predict whether they’re right for a role. They get treated like cattle in auditions and when they finally get a part, if a producer decides to pull the plug on their show, it’s all over. No notice. No severance pay. It’s barbaric. And their union is getting progressively weaker which means more and more so-called producers are taking more and more actors for granted. If I’m out of work, I can pitch ideas to people. I can write music. An actor merely waits for the phone to ring...

April 27th 1660, and yet again, Pepys’ clerk Burr had gone AWOL! He’s beginning to remind me of an assistant I had when I was making films for HSBC. I emailed her one Monday morning with a list of jobs to do in the first half of the week and received an “I’m away for the next seven days, if it’s urgent, please contact Benjamin Till” response. I'd no idea she was going on holiday...

Pepys spent the morning in his cabin with Pym the Tailor, who was “putting a great many ribbons to a suit”. This statement is a fascinating insight into mid-17th Century fashions, which were moving speedily from Puritan simplicity towards the flamboyant nonsense of powdered wigs, black patches and such. I love the thought that people were simply adding frills and fancy bits to whatever clothes they had...

More gentlemen came on board the ship en route to Holland. It seems over the last few days there'd been something of a steady stream, with all of them claiming to be off to the city of Flushing for no particular reason. Pepys was no fool, however and knew they’ were flocking like flies to the King, who’d stationed himself at Breda in early April.

Monday, 26 April 2010

A magical, endless, golden time

It’s my last day in Yorkshire and I’m sitting on a bench in Hull train station, feeling somewhat wistful whilst staring into a milky orange sunset. It feels like I’ve been on the most bizarre and wonderful odyssey over the past ten days. It’s been a magical, endless, golden time and I genuinely feel a little piece of me will remain in this beautiful county forever.

Today I auditioned the most wonderful musicians; players with incredible faces, personalities and staggering levels of musicianship which made my heart beat like a machine gun. A folk band sang to me from the darkest pits of their souls. A samba group played such infectious music, I wanted to jump up and down like a child at a wedding. The drummer from the Housemartins jammed with the BBC Young Folk Musician of the year, who was playing the accordion whilst tap dancing on a knackered wooden board. There was a Klesma band and a ukulele orchestra, a jazz pianist and a man with a voice like chocolate and the silliest hat in the world and all the time there was brilliant banter from a genuinely fascinating set of people. I felt so proud and grateful and thrilled and excited about the thought of bringing them all together in one piece of music. I kept having to pinch myself. “I’m in Hull” I kept thinking. “Why are all these fascinating people in Hull?”

I was up with the lark this morning, doing a series of interviews to announce the winner of our poetry competition. Her name is Doreen and she’s from Harrogate. When told by a roving reporter that she’d won, she made all the right noises, which became a series of squeaks, clucks and “gollies”! She was immediately bundled into a taxi to Leeds to meet the Look North camera crew and I finally got to say hello to her at about 3pm. What I hadn’t realised was that Doreen is 98. 98 years old but her watery blue eyes reveal the sharpest mind and the most wonderful sense of humour. We sat on the Look North sofa and she was asked to read out the last verse of her poem. It’s a sad verse and she read it so beautifully that the entire studio burst into tears, including all the butch cameramen!

The poem seems so heartfelt and genuine and it reminds me a little bit of Danny Boy, which can't be a bad thing. Meeting the wonderful, proud woman who wrote it has raised the stakes, almost to a level of terror. If I don’t do her lyrics proud I will have failed her and I desperately don’t want to do that. As she hobbled out of the studio, she said “wouldn’t it be lovely to know I’d left something of me behind when I’m gone.” and my God I’m gonna try to do my best by her. Although, that said, one felt perhaps she was already having one of the most exciting days of her life.

Her poem is as follows:

Sing a song of Yorkshire from the Humber to the Tees;
Of horses, wool and terriers, of pudding and of cheese.
I know no other county where the land is quite so fine.
England’s lovely county and I’m proud to call it mine.

When the shining purple heather stretches far across the moor,
And the lapwing’s cry above you takes the place of traffic roar.
And peace comes drifting gently, there’s no place I’d rather be
Than this land on hills and valleys ‘twixt the Pennines and the sea

So when I’ve done my roaming and when my step grows slow;
When heart and mind and body assure me that t’will soon be time to go,
Then let me rest in Yorkshire for it’s there I want to lie
‘Neath the sun and winds and heather and a gleaming Yorkshire sky.


1660, and news had reached the Nazeby of a re-shuffle in the House of Commons. I won’t bore anyone with the details, but the man with the most ridiculous name before Dickens put pen to paper had been elected as speaker of the house. Sir Harbottle Grimstone. How fabulous is that? Praisegod Barebones eat your heart out!

During the afternoon, Pepys went on a bit of a naughty school boy adventure with William Howe to the lower decks of the ship, more specifically the storerooms where Montagu kept his wine. Whether he stole a bottle or two, we’ll never know, but he spent some time gazing at the timbers down there, astonished that they were already lower than the level of the sea, with a whole deck still beneath them.

Pepys-the-unkind makes a brief appearance at the end of the entry for after supper there was a spot of “musique” and Mr Pickering played the bass vial “so like a fool” that Pepys “was ashamed of him”. Steady on, Samuel! Not everyone in the world can be a gifted musician. That said, I had to bite my tongue yesterday when a lad came in with his bass guitar and played so badly that I didn't know where to look! So, perhaps Pepys and I are on the same wavelength, trapped in our miniature fantasy worlds away from London...

Sunday, 25 April 2010

A symphony with no strings?

The auditions reached fever-pitch in Leeds today. We were absolutely inundated. It was mayhem. The over-all standard was lower. If I never hear another flute player again it will be too soon. Flutes, flutes, flutes, clarinets, a few saxophones and a shed-load of people with verbal diarrhoea, who made me want to slit my wrists! And then there were the children with pushy parents; the ones with sinister mothers who sit in A-line skirts knitting whilst keeping a watchful, if not slightly warning eye over the judges. The ones who answer the questions you ask their children, for fear that someone will discover they've been frog-marched to the audition with the threat of no dinner if they don’t play well... I like the kids that shamble in with dog-eared bits of music, undone shoe-laces and parents who keep their distance. They're the ones who remind me of me...

That said, there were a number of stars; a brilliant violinist (who frighteningly was the only string player of the day), a fabulously funky group of Columbian drummers, a cool rock band and a burlesque singer with the biggest chest I’ve ever seen! There was also a saw player, who played The Swan and reminded me of my Grandmother, which made me feel a bit sad.

...But I can’t write a symphony without strings! I have two brass bands, a wonderful wind ensemble and a top-notch choir, but I can count the professional standard string players who’ve shown up on the fingers of one hand. In fact, I can count them on two fingers, despite the fact that I've called for strings in every single interview I've done! I’m particularly annoyed at the two string quartets who promised they’d be coming today, and simply didn’t show up. That kind of behaviour wastes everyone's time.

350 years ago, Pepys was dining on yet another ship in the Fleet. This one was called The Speaker, and our hero described it as a very brave ship; "brave" consistently being one of his favourite adjectives. By this point, Pepys seemed pretty content with his life on the seas and at one point described the Nazeby as “home”. It’s Stockholm Syndrome, of course. Even I am beginning to view my colourless, airless hotel room up here as a home, simply because it’s the only place I can vanish to and close a door on the busy world outside... It's my little sanctuary, although I wish Nathan were here to share it.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Snooker Loopy

It’s a very beautiful, sunny Saturday evening in Leeds and it feels rather depressing to be staying in my hotel room, sitting at a Formica desk working. I have the window open, and a lovely breeze is drifting in from the canal outside, so I can at least pretend to be relaxing!

We visited snooker-loopy Sheffield again today and met another eccentric assortment of musicians, which included djembe drummers and the usual selection of Yorkshire's finest brass players. Today’s star performer (apart from Steve Davies of course) was the organist from Sheffield’s City Hall. He’s only a young chap, but he plays Hammond organs and Wurlitzers for ballroom dances and was taught to do so by his 80 year-old father who still plays the drums in dance bands. It's utterly authentic and he’s Sheffield born and bred and I’m thrilled he took the time to come in and see us.

The afternoon was spent in Huddersfield, where we listened to a saxophone choir, who were excellent. Just before they played, another saxophone choir (...and who knew so many existed) played Grieg’s Holberg’s Suite, which is a shining beacon in the string orchestra repertoire and a work which is jam-packed with memories for me. It worked beautifully on saxophones and made me cry like a little girl.

En route to Huddersfield, we got to take a closer look at the highest structure in the British Isles; the radio mast at Emley Moor, which you can see here. It towers above the surrounding moorland like something out of a George Orwell dystopia. I got very excited about a little prefabricated chip shop which resembled a matchbox underneath it. I’m not altogether sure why, but it felt somehow more real than many of the locations we’ve been looking at during my time up here. It was just sitting there, all lonely on the edge of a moor, dwarfed by a giant radio mast. It felt like a little snippet of genuine Yorkshire life.

On 24th April, 1660, Pepys shared the remainder of his pickled oysters with Montagu’s servant Sheply and Mr Luellin. After a morning of work, he was invited across to The London, which was the second most important ship in the fleet. It had a bigger stateroom than the Nazeby but according to Pepys, wasn’t as richly decorated. When he got back to the flagship, he was greeted with the news that Lambert was back in captivity. Keen readers of this blog will remember that he’d recently escaped from the tower and whipped the Puritan fanatiques up into a frenzy. Recapturing him brought the situation under control and the quest to return the King to England could roll forward once again, completely unhindered.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Imagine a cross between an ocarina and an owl

We had another very good day of auditions today, this time in Sheffield. We were based at the enormous Methodist Church in the city centre, which seems to be a true community space in the proper sense of the word. We kept hearing this bizarre Wurlitzer music drifting around the building’s network of corridors, and followed it to discover scores of old people line-dancing in a room across the way. I went to watch them for a while and found it really touching; particularly as, when it came to dancing in pairs, there plainly weren’t enough men to go around.

We met a ridiculously talented child prodigy who seemed to play the saxophone and accordion with an equally dazzling proficiency and a girl who could play extremely complicated tunes simply by blowing into her cupped hands. Imagine a cross between an ocarina and an owl and then imagine writing a symphony which includes one of them!

The BBC up here continue to get behind the project and word now seems to be out amongst the musicians in the county. I’m doing three or four interviews each day and every single audition is now being filmed and archived. This was posted on You Tube earlier today.

There’s a really good feeling about things, and I haven’t yet met my Internet nemesis, who I really expected to turn up at an audition simply to fling poo at my head!

I met performance poet Ian MacMillan earlier on; a charming and hugely witty man. I think we're going to meet up for a cup of tea when he's next in London to throw some ideas around. He was one of the judges of the competition to write an anthem for Yorkshire, which I'll set to music, and was reading the unanimous winning entry as part of a pre-recorded package which will be broadcast on Monday.

Monday 23rd April, 1660 and Pepys spent the morning putting a package together to send to London, whilst tucking into a barrel of pickled oysters. The evening became something of a sports day on board the Nazeby, with games of ninepins (an early form of ten-pin bowling) and probably gambling. Pepys then retired to the great cabin where he played string trios and sang late into the night with William Howe and Montagu, who chose to sing a satirical song about the Rump Parliament, to the tune of Greensleeves.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

A childhood hero

Today started excessively badly when I realised I’d lost the power cable for my computer. A couple of lengthy phone calls established that I’d left it in York, so I had to get on a 9am train from Leeds, and then take a taxi to the back of beyond to retrieve it. Wildly depressing and expensive on a morning I’d promised myself a lie-in.

Since then, however, the day has done nothing but improve. We’ve just seen an amazing brass band in the purple hills above Sheffield, and auditions in Bradford provided us with two musicians who will be amongst the most memorable in the film. One of them was a 16-year-old, stunningly beautiful, jazzer from Huddersfield. She was absolutely authentic. Heaven knows where the voice came from and I can guarantee it won’t be long before half the world knows her name! Perhaps more even more thrilling was the harpist who lives in a farm underneath the Wuthering Heights at Haworth. She is exactly what I hoped I’d find when I set out to do this project. She wears bangles made from bottle tops around her ankles so that she can provide her own percussion. She’s hypnotic and plays with breathtaking emotion. It’s Kate Bush all over again...

But the big news of the day is that I also got to meet one of my childhood heros. She used to present a programme called Playschool in the 1970s, and she was incredibly fit. I fancied her and wanted to marry her. Her name was Jemima. And for the American readers of this blog, Jemima was a rather sexy, slightly bohemian, rag doll who lived in the toy cupboard of a well-known children’s TV programme. Since her well-documented retirement, it transpires she’s been living a somewhat decorous life at the National Media Museum in Bradford with her friends Big Ted, Little Ted, Humpty and weirdly, Poppy. Poppy was the little, pug-faced, coffee-coloured imposter that replaced Hamble. The official story was that Hamble had lost the ability to sit up properly and kept falling on her face, which was distressing the more feeble viewers. But I smell political correctness. Hamble was, afterall, a) terrifying b) a drunken whore and c) a Nazi.

But the Hamble scandal is nothing compared to what has happened to poor Jemima, who at some point was forced to trade in her delicate, dainty floral dresses and replace them with... wait for it... a pink velour jump suit! Big mistake, Jemima! You are not Mad Lizzie! Alison, who was clutching Humpty to her bosom at the time, said that looking at Jemima was almost as disappointing as watching the Bananarama come back tour. How the mighty fall.

Anyway, I don’t know if I can say that I was more excited to be holding Jemima than I was the first volume of Pepys’ Diary – but I certainly felt a rush of something...!

The 22nd April 1660 was Easter Sunday, but Pepys didn’t feel the need to mention the big JC. Perhaps the last breaths of Puritanism hadn’t quite left his body. Instead he tells us about several Londoners, strangers and friends of the Captain, who dined on board the Nazeby. They brought the news that all over the City, in houses and churches, the King’s arms were being displayed. A statue of the soon-to-be monarch had also been commissioned from the Mercers’ Company and this would be displayed in the Exchange; right at the heart of London life.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

the cogs that power the restoration

I’m proper knackered. It’s been quite a day. It started with Alison and me climbing up what seemed like the steepest hill in the world to the top of Sutton Bank in the Yorkshire Moors. We were location hunting and I thought the white horse there would make a fairly iconic backdrop. Unfortunately it looks a bit rubbish close up. It’s Victorian as opposed to Neolithic and it seems the locals aren’t that fussed about its future. The white stones, which are now grey, are sliding off all over the place and being held up by little wooden planks, which have weathered so badly that they look like pieces of soggy cardboard. It's like looking at a beautiful smile, moving in for a kiss and discovering all the teeth broken and decayed. I was so disappointed. I remember that place as having an almost mystical energy. I used to sit up there in the middle of the night, listening to foxes barking. The last time I visited was on the darkest, frostiest night I think I’d ever encountered. Our car refused to climb the hill and we walked to the top in such extreme mist that we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. It was the first time in my life that I’d known the power of nature.

Rievaulx Abbey, on the other hand, proved as spectacular and spooky as I’d remembered it 20 years ago and I can’t wait to film there.

We ate a vegetarian lasagne and bought homemade cakes in Helmsley, stopped off at a cool scrap yard (you gotta keep these films real) and then found ourselves in York Minster watching Dr John playing the carillon. It was a truly magical experience. I walked through the Minster Gardens and could hear this delicate chiming getting louder and louder. It was astonishing how complicated and intricate the music seemed to be. I stood for some time, in awe, looking up at the minster, which was yet again gleaming in the late afternoon sunshine. We climbed up in to the ringing chamber. The light was streaming in through enormous circular windows on all four corners of the room that revealed breathtaking views of York and the countryside beyond. Standing on the roof, we could see both the Moors and the Dales.

This evening’s auditions were great. I finally got my drag queen, and to boot found an amazing and beautiful African drummer, and a crazy keyboard player who specialised in trance music. I'm thrilled at the way the BBC up here are developing the piece. Despite the general election and Icelandic dust nonsense, they’re sending all manner of reporters to cover the story and researchers across the county are busting their guts to find us interesting players.

Driving back to Leeds along the A64, I feel very tired, yet extremely relaxed. There were moments today when I felt like the luckiest man alive. I am, afterall, being paid to dive into God’s Own Country whilst bringing a once in a lifetime opportunity to a whole batch of people. Life is good!

350 years ago, Montagu was entertaining a veritable cavalcade of the great and the good, mostly “gentlemen, former great Cavaliers.” (No doubt ones who’d been even better Roundheads!) Their agenda was plain. They were going to bring King Charles the Second back home; probably in the Nazeby. Pepys was suddenly right in the middle of the cogs that were powering the Restoration. But there was still an element of intrigue. Montagu requested that certain shady figures be left from the ship’s log – and received several letters for “his eyes only”. Pepys was excited and intrigued...

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

And indeed there will be time

Today felt rather long and frustrating. We were in Hull again, auditioning musicians, or we would have been had anyone turned up! A brief investigation seemed to reveal that the man from BBC Radio Humberside who’d been put in charge of outreach for the project had spoken to the head of Hull Youth Orchestra and then called it a day. These films only work if they demonstrate the diversity of a community. I want a film which features a broad range of ages and musical backgrounds. East Yorkshire is famous for its folk music and sea shanty traditions. So why haven’t any of these people been told about the project? Hull has an adult symphony orchestra, a gospel choir... A youth orchestra is not enough. I want drag queens, hippies, people who play carrots, an old women with hair that looks like a dandelion clock, limbless whores, black people with white hair, white people with dreadlocks, freakishly tall 8 year-olds, orphans and cyborgs... but above all, I want people with a great passion for music and life in their eyes... And only some teenagers fit that particular bill!

I took the matter to the bosses of Radio Humberside and explained that York, for example had already generated a carillon player, a busker who wheels his piano around the city and a violinist who looks like Jeff Lynne. Visual viagra! The man in charge of outreach in York was last seen leaving the office with a pile of fliers as tall as a bottle of Ribena which he was going to hand out in the streets. That’s how you get good results. So Humberside agreed to put someone else on the job, and I agreed to stay an extra day in Yorkshire to see if we could find some more people in the region. Within a few hours we’d been sent an email with promises of flamenco guitarists and all sorts, so everything seems to be moving in the right direction again.

The day ended back in York in a porta-cabin listening to an astonishing brass band whilst a bleached setting sun lit up the minster like a piece of ivory in front of a blue-black sky. And suddenly I felt calm again...

When will they invent a shower that you don’t have to turn on by putting your arm through a jet of freezing cold water? I hate starting my day with a short, sharp shock. It’s the same when I go to the gym. I assume it’s because I’m not a shower person. i don't understand shower mechanics. I’m sure shower people have methods of dealing with the issue, which I’d love to hear about. Answers on the back of a postcard, please...

I had a good chat with my brother, Ted, yesterday who told me the saga of his being trapped in Amsterdam for 4 days. I’m astonished to hear that so many people were cashing in on the mayhem. The cost of his hotel literally doubled over night and then went from 300 euros per night to 1600. Apparently Edward’s voice was broadcast all over Dutch radio complaining vociferously about this outrageous situation. I’m glad to discover I’m not the only hell-raiser in the family. On the bright side, Ted got to look at the glorious Dutch tulip fields in beautiful spring sunshine and said it was a treat to be in Holland in weather that wasn’t either terrifyingly cold or a sort of muggy rain. I don’t think I’ve spent enough time in the country to know whether this is a Till generalisation!

350 years ago Pepys decided to have a bash at flexing his muscles and demanded the window and table in his cabin be altered. He confessed to being “infinitely pleased” with the result, not least because it proved “what a command I have to have everyone ready to come and go at my command”; a quote I love purely because it sounds so much like TS Elliot.

And indeed, there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet...

Monday, 19 April 2010

High tea on the Peninsula

I’m staying in an hotel in a very pleasant corner of Leeds, just south of the city centre in a complex of wharves where the River Aire gushes over a weir and runs parallel with the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. Every morning, I go down to breakfast and eat my beans on toast whilst working on the motet. After a full day on the Yorkshire Symphony, I go back to the hotel and work until midnight. It means I’m utterly knackered. Unfortunately, there seem to be mirrors everywhere in the hotel so I wake up and am forced to see a wizened old sage staggering around the room. I slap on the moisturiser like a clown wearing grease paint and hope for the best. To make matters worse, I’ve just stuck a piece of paper in my eye which means it’s now bloodshot. I look like a sweaty, elderly alcoholic.

We’ve been reading poetry today. BBC Look North launched a competition a few weeks ago for people to write a poem about Yorkshire. I’ll be setting the winning entry to music as part of the symphony, so it needs to be right... And yet so many were wrong! There were poems about Yorkshire puddings, David Blunkett, Emmerdale Farm, the Arctic Monkeys (who apparently have a tribute band called the Antarctic Monkeys...) But in amongst the endless verses which sounded like the crap they read out on Countdown, there were some proper gems. One came so much from the heart that I couldn’t seem to read it without crying. There’s certainly no shortage of love for Yorkshire. We’ve now whittled down the entries from 150 to 20 and a new set of judges will take the reins. I’m very excited to discover which poem will be chosen.

It seems many of my friends have been affected by the volcanic ash. My brother, Ted, was stranded in Amsterdam until yesterday when he took an over-night ferry to Harwich and Julie is stranded in Hong Kong with no idea when she’s going to get back. I asked if it was worrying or exciting and she replied; “currently sitting in the Peninsula having high tea, so I can live with it for now...” I’ll say!

The 19th April 1660, and hysterically, Pepys’ assistant Burr disappeared again without leave! A less even-tempered man would have made him walk the plank! It was also the day that Montagu discovered he’d been elected as the MP for Dover, which no doubt blew even more smoke up the preening peacock’s arse! Poor Pepys’ day ended in catastrophe, however. It had been raining nonstop, and by the time he got to his cabin his bed was soaked through. He was forced to wrap himself up in a dry sheet and no doubt spent the night shivering and wondering where the hell his clerk had gone!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Patti Boulaye

Today I found myself in York. It was a joy to be back in a place filled with so many special memories. I went to university in the city, and I suppose it’s the place where I became a man. When it comes to filming there, we’re pretty spoilt for choice to the extent that I’m almost concerned that any shots the city will generate might tip our film into a sort of twee, picture-postcard version of Yorkshire which only really exists for tourists. The place is almost too beautiful, particularly at this time of year. The weird harsh winter has meant that all the spring flowers York is famous for have bloomed at once. Bright yellow dandelions and buttercups were sharing lawns with delicate daffodils of all shapes and sizes. Trees seemed to be almost collapsing under the weight of white blossoms and blood-red pinks and lilac clematis flowers were peeking over the tops of stone walls. It was an absolute riot of colour... And you couldn’t find a place more different from Hull. In Hull, chavvy lads wearing Burberry hang at on the street corners. In York, it’s the posh old ladies who wear the Burberry!

The turnout was much better, and some wonderful characters came along to audition for us including someone who’d be in A1: The Road Musical, which was a great treat. The highlight for me was probably meeting the glorious carillon player at York Minster. A carillon is a tuned set of church bells which are operated from a keyboard, and since writing Oranges and Lemons, I’ve always wanted to feature one in a composition. Click here to see what a carillon looks like.

Other auditionees included a lad whose relatives were all sea workers in Scarborough. His great-grandfather was a lifeboat man and died saving a fisherman’s life in the early 1950s. We also met someone who’d won a couple of heats of Opportunity Knocks but had been beaten in the grand final by Patti Boulaye. He’d also been inappropriately propositioned as a young man by the genius music-man Joe Meek – him off of Telstar. That’s certainly an anecdote that not many people would own up to!

Camp: Bouleye and Meek

I returned to Leeds to the sound of bells ringing across the city, seemingly carried to me by the light spring breeze. I wondered what the special occasion was before realising it was just a Sunday. I am obviously way too used to living in a secular metropolis!

350 years ago today Pepys’ assistant, Mr Burr was back on board the ship. Keen readers of this blog will remember that he disappeared without leave on April 5th much to the chagrin of his master. One assumes he’d been back on board some time, but sadly it’s never mentioned where he’d got to, why he’d left, when he’d returned, or whether he was boxed over the ears for going AWOL.

One of Pepys’ best friends, Peter Luellin, appeared on the boat which makes me wonder whether perhaps it hadn't set sail the day before and if Pepys really was being thick for thinking the coast of France was the coast of England! Even keener blog-followers will remember Luellin as a clerk and one of the hell-raising lads that Pepys regularly went out on the town with in the early days of his diary. He was three years Pepys’ junior but sadly died unmarried of the plague 1665.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Every day bringing me a fresh sense of the pleasure of my present life

There’s definitely something odd going on in the atmosphere. Perhaps it’s just me, but Yorkshire seems just a little bit hazy. There are very strange, curiously pink, wispy cloud formations hovering in the sky and periodically the air smells a tad sulphurous. Alison’s car was covered in dust this morning, which she seemed to think was the simple accumulation of months of neglect but when every car we passed on our journey looked just as filthy, even she started to wonder if we were looking at something which belonged to Iceland. How dare they try to repay their banking debts with volcanic dust!

Today we did our first day of auditions, in Hull of all places. The turnout was low, although many of the musicians from East Yorkshire will come as part of larger musical ensembles. It’s also the first of two audition days in the city and the experience rather eased us into the process. It was worth it, though, because I can guarantee at least three of the musicians who turned up will have solos into the final piece. One of them was a saxophonist who specialised in playing baroque music and another was a violinist whose father once piloted ferries on the Humber. He reminded me pretty much of everyone I knew in my youth orchestra days. The poor lad was out of practice and terrified, but beneath the bow shakes a very fine violinist was waiting to pounce.

After lunch we went location hunting and I found myself standing underneath the awe-inspiring Humber suspension bridge. It’s an astonishing feat of engineering and from below it seems to disappear into the distance in a perfect inverted triangle. How cool would it be to film there?

I’m still burning the candles at both ends. I was working on the motet at 2am this morning and doing the same thing over breakfast at 7.

April 17th 1660 was a clear, sunny day and Pepys spent much of the afternoon on the deck with Montagu’s telescope looking across the English Channel to Calais. The cliffs over there were apparently “as plain to be seen as Kent” so much so that Montagu tricked Pepys into believing they were Kent! We can deduce from this information that the Nazeby was no longer anchored outside Deal and had made progress into the Channel. Pepys was an innocent abroad (or aboard), but he wasn’t stupid!

He drifted off to sleep that night whilst John Goods and William Howe sat by his bedside talking, which seems strange by 21st Century standards. His last line proves that Pepy- the-optimist was still very much alive and well;

So to sleep, every day bringing me a fresh sense of the pleasure of my present life

If only we could all drift off to sleep in that frame of mind...

Friday, 16 April 2010

We used to be paid in tickets

I’m now in Leeds and am celebrating by sitting in a Pizza Express on my own staring at a gerbera in a vase. Rock and Roll! I’ve just been with the BBC crew up here drinking in a lovely pub down by the canal. It’s been a beautiful day today, almost summer-like, and outside I can see the setting sun dropping between two industrial buildings. It’s the kind of moment I’d like to spend running around on Ilkley Moor, watching the sun glinting in the windows of Bradford whilst little plumes of volcanic ash waft above the city like birds migrating at the end of summer. Instead I’m stuffing my face with pizza wondering why I ordered one with an egg on the top.

The BBC Leeds crew seem genuinely lovely. I’m so lucky with the people I work with on these projects although Alison will be hard-pushed to be any more wonderful than Siobhan in Coventry and Anna in Northampton. We were all royally entertained in the pub by a chap called Matt from Newark, who’d never spoken to a gay man before, which felt a touch 1980s. He seemed astonished that I used to play rugby, even more astonished that I was a forward and then decided that if he were gay, he’d want to marry me. He was on a stag do and invited me to come along. I politely declined for no better reason than they were off to a transvestite bar, because it’s apparently where straight men go to pick up women on hen dos. How hideous! Matt seemed genuinely shocked that I’d attended more hen dos in my life than stag dos. Sometimes I forget what a meterosexual, gender-confused existence I’m proud to call my life in London. Perhaps it’s to do with my sexuality. Perhaps it’s having been to a mixed comp, but I find very few differences between men and women; certainly not in the way I behave with them, or vice versa. Oddly, it seems only when they interact with one another that the mayhem begins. Women suddenly become women and men become men. Sometimes I can’t believe what lunatics my straight friends turn into when faced with an interested member of the opposite sex. I’m convinced that game playing will eventually bring about the end of the human race!

Mid-April 1660 was not exactly a vintage period in Pepys’ diary, probably because he was spending long periods of time shut up in a cabin in a ship that wasn’t going anywhere. 350 years ago to the day, he spent much of his time handing out tickets; a sort of IOU from the Navy to its employees which could be traded in for money (or promises of money) when the individual was back on dry land. The system didn’t work very well. The Navy was under-subsidised and sailors would often go unpaid for months, which led to horrific problems for those with families. This was a situation which upset Pepys greatly - particularly when the emaciated wives of sailors appeared in the garden of the navy office and banged angrily on his study window. He spent much of his time lobbying the government to release more funds for the Navy but things were slow to improve and for a time they got a great deal worse. During the Dutch Invasion in 1667, many sailors became so fed up with the endless empty promises of money that they switched sides. English voices were heard on Dutch ships shouting; “we used to get paid in tickets, now we’re paid in dollars”...

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Those pesky fanatiques

So, it would seem that England is currently languishing underneath a cloud of volcanic dust which has floated down from Iceland. It’s a fairly surreal concept. Philippa, who’d been up all night with a jet-lagged baby wondered if she’d dreamt it, because it felt so much like the beginning of an apocalyptic screenplay. All flights have been grounded for 24 hours and the only way out of this place is by ferry or Chunnel. I was going to head to the top of Parliament Hill to watch the sun setting. I seem to remember from my childhood, a series of spectacular sunsets following the Mount St Helen’s eruption, but a quick look at of my window revealed there were no glamorous looking darkened clouds floating around, so I stayed at home and continued with my writing, sinking ever-deeper into the sofa cushion. I stood at the top of Highgate Hill earlier on and decided that London was looking particularly misty in the spring sunshine; almost autumnal, I thought. I wonder if that was smog, volcanic activity or my tired eyes...

I had to get up at 6am this morning to travel into Broadcasting House for a 45 second interview with BBC Radio York. Since then, I’ve been ploughing my way through the third movement of the motet, determined to finish it before I go to bed. Somebody fetch me the matchsticks! Tomorrow, I’m off to Leeds to start the next phase of my creative year. The madness begins on Saturday with a 10-day tour of 5 Yorkshire cities running auditions for musicians in each of them. It’s going to be absolute mayhem. I can feel it in my bones...

I very specifically turned the television on earlier expecting to see the big prime-ministerial debate. Instead, I put up with 20 minutes of the repugnant Nick Knowles weeping over a band of Down's Syndrome kids before realising I was watching the wrong channel. The debate is now on. It's rather tawdry yet polite affair. A tiny little audience are watching the proceedings impassively in a sort of silent haze. The leaders are smiling politely at one another, plainly seething with anger deep within, but trying not to be passionate about anything because passion apparently shows weakness. I think they should be kicking one another and trying to tear each others' hair out but these aren't conviction politicians. They're barbie dolls. I’m looking for a big old close-up; a really creepy one, which focuses on their eyes to see if they’re lying or sweating profusely or wearing too much makeup. I’m slightly disconcerted by Nick Clegg who is delivering everything straight to camera. The media training he’s obviously been through recently, which worked so well in his party political broadcast, seems to have gone a bit too far!

Pepys started his day 350 years ago in the hands of a barber. I still find it rather strange that there was a barber on board the ship. Could they not have waited until they got onto dry land? How fast does hair grow? Or was the barber merely trimming his facial hair? The rest of Pepys day was spent fanning Montagu’s fragile ego and being thrilled that his patron was about to become MP for most of the towns in England. The escape of Lambert from the Tower was not without its fall-out, and apparently the religious “fanatiques” (in this context, probably a set of hard-core puritans) were rushing around excitedly, plotting a counter-revolution, no doubt, before the inglorious revolution took place. I think the three men I'm currently watching on telly would learn much if they re-read their 17th Century history books...

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

A knitted silk garter

I’m feeling more on top of things today, so perhaps I’ve not completely lost my mind... well not just yet. I did, however have to get up extremely early this morning to do a series of telephone interviews with various regions of the BBC. I’m completely knackered. I’m sure I made absolutely no sense on air but with any luck it’s encouraged a few more of the good folk of Yorkshire to sign up for the symphony. Tomorrow I have to get up even earlier for even more interviews. I'm officially burning the candle at both ends. Thank God whatever illness I had seems to have finally passed through my system.

My new software is working like a dream, and so it should do for the price I paid! I’ve now finished the second draft of the second movement. It should have taken two days but with the never-ending technical catastrophes, it took seven. I’m now wading into the third movement armed with a pair of sheers and have just cut 3 minutes of musical material, which feels weird and horrible. I’ve got rid of countless passages which were riddled with writing that I longed to keep, including Pepys’ rainbow and all references to his losing his brother. Talk about killing your babies, but I have to keep telling myself that I’m doing it for the good of the over-all piece... A motet should not last forever and I am not Mahler!

I’ve just seen the Liberal Democrat party political broadcast with all those weird bits of paper floating about on hillsides. It’s a crazy concept but in the middle of the weirdness, Nick Clegg really does come across like a decent, honest man. More interestingly, he seems to be able to walk and talk quite happily to camera without looking like he’s just filled his pants. Astonishing for a politician. This appeals very much to the filmmaker in me. Frankly, I’ve worked with professional presenters who look less at ease in front of the camera.

I’ve just visited It’s a simple concept, and everyone should have a bash. It lists lots of statements and you vote for the policies that most appeal and after a while it tells you which party you sympathise with. I assumed I'd be Lib-Dem down-the-line so was horrified to discover I was 60% Green and 40% Labour! Nathan came out as a Lib Dem, but seems to share the BNP’s views on the National Health system! What? No Indian doctors?!

350 years ago, Pepys decided he rather liked the sea life and its lack of the distractions and worries that he suffered in London on a daily basis. A man without a wilting wife in Buckinghamshire would perhaps have been as happy as Larry! That said, the sea was high, and rough, and Mr Pierce the surgeon almost drowned attempting to transfer to the Nazeby, one assumes from the shore. He was saved by a rope.

There was good news from London. The army had finally made it clear that they would no longer oppose any decisions Parliament made regarding the future of the country. A really important development. The other interesting gossip reaching the boat was the rumour that heavy-duty Parliamentarian Lord Lambert had escaped from the Tower of London in a dazzlingly audacious plot which involved cross-dressing, a rope, a barge, 100 pounds in cash and a knitted silk garter.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


Last night I had an incredibly disturbing dream. It was one of those ridiculous and frustrating nightmares that I'm sure everyone has from time to time. I was on a cluttered stage in a theatre somewhere and I didn’t know any of my lines. To make matters worse, everyone around me was facing upstage and mumbling incomprehensibly as though they were part of some strange cult. I couldn’t hear any of my cues and kept wondering how awful the experience was going to be for the poor audience. When I came off the stage, everyone was yelling and telling me that if I’d bothered to study improvisation like they had, I wouldn’t have wrecked the show. They didn’t seem to be interested in the fact that their finely-tuned improvisation skills were entirely lacking in any form of theatrical craft. You can put a turd in a Harrods bag, but it's still a bag of shit!

I woke up with a start; an annoying bloke called Adam's voice was vibrating in my ears. My i-Phone alarm was ringing a crazy marimba light-motif. In my daze, I picked it up, said hello and was very surprised when no one answered...

To my mind all of this means I’m stressed, and possibly very close to losing my mind. I’m currently on a tube heading into town because my music writing software has just gone up the swanny. I’ve no idea what’s happened and right now I have an incredibly strong desire to throw my computer through the window of the tube train so it smashes into a million useless pieces and gets eaten by rats and scorpions and whatever else hangs out in these airless, sooty tunnels...

It first crashed (probably just for fun) last night and I worked until midnight and then until 1pm today painstakingly copying the second half of the second movement of my motet into a new file. At 1.15pm, that file also crashed and I waved goodbye to something like 10 hours’ work. I have called the software helpline – several times – but rather fabulously it’s located in the States, which means you can’t call them before 2.30pm. It also means you have to talk to an American. American customer service people are machines. Impassive machines. Chat to someone in the UK – or even India - and you’ll hear emotion in their voice. When you shout at them they cower and sound close to tears. The Yanks just say; “well I am sorry, Sir” in a sort of monotone “welliamsorrysir” kind of way, which makes you wonder what went wrong in their childhoods.

For the past week, it's felt like I’m running up a slippery hill wearing a pair of flip flops. For techno geeks out there, the problem seems to be that Windows 7 is one step too far removed from anything Allegro Finale (an ancient programme at 3 years old) recognises. There are upgrades, but they're not downloadable and more frustratingly they need to be sent over from the States, which could take weeks.

So I’m off to Chappell’s to wave goodbye to £250 as the very kind gentleman there is allowing me to have the academic version of Finale 10, which is apparently the same as the professional version but cheaper. I'm assured it will work with Windows 7 but I have my doubts. If it doesn't, you'll find me at 11pm in a tube tunnel somewhere between Highgate and Archway feeding myself to the rats and scorpions.

And to think a little girl was singing Ring a Ring o Roses in the cafe this morning and I took it to be such a sign of good things to come. How was I meant to know she was a bloody harbinger of doom? She looked so sweet with her silly little bunches and her toothless, imbicilic grin.

Friday the 13th of April 1660 was (unluckily for some) a nasty, gloomy, angry day. The weather did nothing but huff, puff and spit. Pepys, who really ought to have been born a Virgo, spent the day tidying his room and sorting through his papers. (We had a girl like that at school. She was called Jenny. She looked like Mrs Mangle and her eyes used to go all funny when you mentioned stationery.) Pepys drank ale and wrote letters late into the night, but when it came to going to bed, he discovered rain was dripping in through his roof and soaking his mattress. He went to the great cabin immediately below and bunked-down with John Good, one of Montagu’s servants, who must have been thrilled to be sharing a bed with the noisy bugger from upstairs who entertains posh people and plays depressing violin music at anti-social hours. The wind was so high through the night that the crew were forced to lower some of the ship’s masts. That said, John Good’s bed was, according to Pepys, most comfortable and the rocking of the boat sent him into a deep slumber which lasted until 10am. It's not mentioned if poor John Good slept, or even if he got to do so in his own bed!

Monday, 12 April 2010


An article about the Pepys Motet has recently been published on the BBC London website. You can see it here
Lots of people are now getting in touch and registering their interest in performing the work, which is very exciting. I'm hearing from all sorts of people who come from many countries and musical traditions. I love the fact that Pepys has such global appeal.

I had a note from a chap in Dublin, who tells me Dr Luckett at Magdalene College was wrong. Sadly, it seems Pepys didn’t invent the bookcase. I find this a terrible shame, but feel it’s important that the truth is published. Here’s the email he sent:

The oldest surviving bookcases in the UK are those in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, from the late sixteenth century, in other words several decades before Pepys. There are older ones on the Continent and there are older illustrations of bookcases from the Continent and from England. Whatever Pepys invented, it wasn't the bookcase!

I spent a couple of hours at lunchtime today in Highgate Woods with my goddaughter and her mother, Philippa. We drank cups of tea and then had lunch sitting in the open air cafe. Deia has grown up enormously and is now speaking. She says Mummy a lot, usually as she’s running into the corner of a table. It’s astonishing and terrifying how quickly a bruise can develop on a tiny child! We played in the sandpit; well I played in the sandpit. Deia was much more interested in looking at a steel fence, whilst standing on a daffodil.

I would and should still be working, but my music programme has crashed 8 times in the last 10 minutes. I can only hope it just needs a moment to chill out and that the situation will improve when I’ve closed down some of the myriad programmes that seem to be running on my laptop. I know it's a compatability issue, however, and hate the fact that with every new Microsoft prgramme everything you've paid good money for goes out of date. I’ve got homework tummy as a result. Too many bars. Too little time. I'm also upset not to have made the Pepys 350 event tonight at St Olave's Church. They're always such good fun and I recommend them to every reader of this blog. Here's the science.

Pepys wrote a particularly bland and factual entry 350 years ago today. Perhaps he was in a panic after revealing the diary’s existence the day before. Whatever the case, I assume the poor man was bored stiff and suffering from cabin fever. (I certainly know how that feels!) The weather was bad, so no strangers and friends were allowed on board the Nazeby to keep the crew entertained. Pepys, instead, spent the day writing letters to his wife and friends in London and that’s about as interesting as his day got!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Those fickle skinners

Yesterday evening was fun. I went to eat at La Porchetta on Old Compton Street with Nathan. Dreadful food. Absolute crap. When I asked Nathan what his anaemic-looking sludge tasted like, he simply replied; “it will keep me alive”. At the same point I was wondering if my tomato salad was going to kill me. At one stage, the waitress asked if I wanted a drink and I said; “do you have any lemonade?” which rather surreally was met with the response; “Germany?” Nathan was angry with me for simply staring at the woman, blinking disbelievingly, but I have to confess she'd rather flawed me... and I'm not often lost for words.

It wasn’t me who got drunk at Soho House but by 11 o’clock when I went home, rather a lot of red wine had been consumed by the others, baring Helen, who like me was on the cranberry juice. We discussed the rather annoying problem of being an impoverished, vegetarian, non-drinker when some meat-eating, wealthy alcoholic says “shall we just split the bill?” Helen once drank tap-water and ate a plate of pasta worth £8.95 and was stung for £40. I went to a surprise birthday party about 4 years ago and ate a plate of vegetables and a trifle. It set me back £90 and to make matters worse, the bloke who'd ordered all the hideously expensive bottles of wine, left early and threw £50 on the table, uttering those words we all dread at communal meals; “that should cover it...” Having seen how the bill was standing at 11pm last night, I’m very concerned for those I left behind... and not just for their wallets. Red wine seems to give people strangely blackened teeth, which is no good if you're searching, looking for love (as Hazell Dean would say)

Tonight another Dorothy will leave the BBC reality show. Like last week, she will exit the studio draped on a giant moon and disappear into the roof singing Over The Rainbow. It would be every drag queen’s dream to leave a stage like that, but seems a tiny bit lost on those stage school brats! I have to say, if I was going to get kicked off a reality show, I could think of no better way to go than by hanging off a big glittering moon singing one of the most beautiful songs ever written. I'm sure I'll gret bored of the formula, but I can't wait to see that particular coup de theatre tonight...

The winds were high on this day 350 years ago and the Nazeby was swaying like a one-heeled, drunken slapper. Pepys seemed much calmer about the prospect this time, and even commented on the scandalous behaviour of a "gentleman" at dinner who'd had to “rise” (one assumes) to vomit out of a nearby window. I'd say he was showing a great deal of respect for his fellow diners. Perhaps Pepys never experienced a face-full of someone else's vom.

Letters arrived from London and amongst them were two from Elizabeth. Pepys didn’t say what she’d written, but he seemed more than a little pleased or perhaps relieved to receive them. Another letter brought the news that Londoners were now ready to welcome King Charles II to the capital  with open arms. The Skinner’s company, for example, had recently entertained General Monck, with the King’s Crest hanging on their hall wall where once the Parliament’s Coat of Arms were proudly displayed. A fickle lot, those skinners.

Later in the day Pepys played his violin, this time in the company of the ship’s chaplain, Mr Ibbott and one Lieutenant Lambert, who has now gone down in history as the first of only two people that Pepys in his lifetime told of the existence of his diary.

“I staid the lieutenant late, shewing him my manner of keeping a journal”

...Bet he was relieved the fiddle playing had stopped!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Happy one hundredth birthday

This would appear to be my 100th blog, which I feel ought to be marked with a fanfare of some description. Perhaps a fanfare of cake. I’m in Soho after all...

I spent the morning with Nathan, Nat, Nic and Jo; my friends from a play I worked on at the Edinburgh Festival 17 years ago. 17 years! Surely my life must be speeding up! I hadn’t seen Jo for over a year and she seemed very well. She had her second child 10 months ago and is emerging from the baby haze and longs for a decent conversation. The mood was fairly sombre, however, as close friend of Nic’s has just died. I think it’s probably time for her to have a bit of good news...

We milled around the Southbank and then wandered up through Covent Garden to Soho in the lovely spring sunshine. We talked about the past and remembered the weird dramatic stunts we used to pull in our youth. Jo and I often pretended to be a married couple and would have these dreadful rows on the tubes to see how people would react. She’d often stick a jumper under her coat, pretend to be pregnant and scream; “look what you’re leaving me with...” On other occasions we’d try to get people on buses singing, more often than not pretending to be a troupe of born again Christians who wanted to sing Kum Ba Yah. How ghastly we must have been back then! No wonder I was known as King Thesp at university! I used to stumble around bare-footed wearing pyjama trousers whilst quoting scenes from Abigail’s Party. I don’t know how I stayed alive!

Anyway, I’ve officially overdosed on cups of teas and have a sniffy nose, which I’m hoping to God isn’t the first signs of hay fever. That would be horrific. This year seems to have been a blur of ill-health for pretty much everyone I know.

Tonight is my mate Ted’s unofficial birthday party. I’ve known him for well over 20 years. We used to busk in Coventry as a string trio with Fiona. I was there at his 18th birthday and many birthdays from then on. Today’s drinks have been organised for those who couldn’t make his official do! We’re going to Soho House and I predict that someone’s going to get drunk!

I suspect the Nazeby remained anchored at Deal on this date 350 years ago. Most of the commanders of the Fleet came on board and made a lot of noise whilst eating and drinking and generally over-indulging. Pepys reported that he was having a great deal of fun until the point when he'd probably had a little bit too much to drink and suddenly retired to his cabin “in a melancholy fit”. And there he sat for some time playing his violin. I think I should probably indulge in the odd melancholy fit. I reckon it would suit me. Wouldn't the world be a much better place if sad people periodically retired to quiet corners to play stringed instruments?

Friday, 9 April 2010

Where in the world? Calcutta

Oh how i mourn the day i dismissively walked past the clean white lines of the Mac Store. How i wish i’d been able to foresee the hell i was signing up for at PC World; the sleepless nights, the broken computers, the weird phone-calls to head office, the hours spent leaning against those grubby little tech-support counters...

Today i saw a tantalising glimpse of the future before falling into a massive rabbit hole which took me on a helter-skelter ride back to the 1990s. And what was the future? The future was Apple. i am now the proud owner of an i-phone. This may come as a shock to those of you who read my blog on Easter Monday and saw my disparaging remarks about people disappearing into an i-existence; an i-hole if you like. i may now have an i-phone but i promise you i will not be pulled into that place. The i-phone will not rule my life or change me in any way. i shall simply i-be.

So, why did I vanish into a rabbit hole? Unfortunately I got a call yesterday informing me that my laptop was repaired and ready for collection at PC World in Moorgate. Nathan came down with me, and after picking up the lap-top we went to the Orange Store for the Apple product and whilst they failed to transfer my contacts from my luddite mobile phone, I took Nathan on an adventure through the streets of the City, which ended at St Olave’s Church; the church where Pepys is buried. We stared up at the wonderful, animated statue of Elizabeth Pepys, and sucked up the atmosphere in what’s fast become my favourite London church. It looked very much like it looked the first time I saw it; beautiful dusty sunlight streaming through the windows. A sort of melancholy stillness, that would spiritualise the most hardened atheist. A pair of musicians were preparing for a lunch-time concert so we were able to check out the acoustic, whilst imagining our 40 singers in a circle around the audience...

We returned to Highgate and I rushed up to the village in something of a panic, realising I hadn’t started work yet and it was already 1pm. I sat down, and keenly opened my computer... and immediately realised it was still broken.

...So I left my tea and headed straight back down to Moorgate, angrily demanding to talk to the manager of PC World. The red-faced geek behind the counter was offering to put it back in for repair. Everyone was confused and embarrassed. No one knew quite what to say but everyone was being so kind. I wanted them to be arsy so I could enjoy being nasty but it felt like I was drop-kicking a row of blue-eyed Andrex puppies. I think they know there’s little point in arguing with customers because like Andrex puppies, they know everything’s a bit shit. The manager had tunnel vision; not metaphorical tunnel vision; actual tunnel vision. He could obviously only see one of my eyes at a time, which didn’t help matters. If there was any requirement for him to look at something, he had to hold it up at a very specific angle about 6 inches from his face. But disabilities aside, I found his attitude impressive and he soon acknowledged that I wasn’t getting value for money or particularly good customer service.

The decision was therefore made that I would be given a new computer and that an assortment of inadequates would transfer all my data from my old computer to the new one. Unfortunately it took four people 30 minutes in front of a computer to work out how best to do this – and during this time the life drained from my soul. Another member of staff, the one who told me the last time that I ought to think about buying a Mac, said; “now you must decide whether to laugh or cry... or read War and Peace” which I thought was quite witty for a spod.

Meanwhile, the man who’d been served before me in the queue and had, like me this morning, picked up a newly mended computer, had returned. His computer hadn’t been fixed either. It was like an episode of multi-coloured Swap Shop, except we were the guys who’d swapped a BMX bike for a game of Operation where all the internal organs were missing.. Actually, it wasn’t at all like that. I’m currently just writing words for the sake of writing words. It's like therapy.

Eventually I was taken on a tour of the shop/ jumble sale to choose a new computer. Unfortunately every time I touched one of their display models, an alarm went off, which forced the person demonstrating to crawl behind the display unit to stop the dreadful noise. This happened again and again until he said he’d just have to stay there, calling up from below to tell me the specs of the various computers I was looking at. I wasn’t really listening. He could have been speaking French. A man kept walking past who smelt like he’d been bathing in lardons and it was making me feel a bit light-headed. Besides, computers for me are like cars. I just see the colour. So, I chose a nice red one which the man said would make me smile when I woke up in the morning. I thought that sounded fun and I needed him to come out from behind the display unit.

Meanwhile, other members of staff were playing a game in the aisles of the shop which seemed to involve racing around with a shopping trolley. I wanted to join in. It felt deliciously inappropriate.

It was at this point that I started laughing hysterically. My feet and back were aching, I’d watched the day disappear into a meaningless blur. The stapler behind the counter had stopped working and the red-headed lad was trying to extract my new contract from a crumpled heap of paper and mangled metal strips. The bloke with the other broken computer was screaming at someone else, so I thought of my little i-phone in it’s neat little box sitting in my computer bag and how I could look forward to caressing its virtual little buttons... and I laughed and laughed... Sometimes when the shit hits the fan, you just gotta hold your breath and dive into the cow pat.

The Nazeby had sailed through the night and Pepys woke up just off the tip of Kent, able to see Calais and the coast of France glinting in the distance. This pleased him greatly. There was another gale in the afternoon, which he faced better than the last one. They anchored just off Deal. The town’s castle sounded an approving gun salute, and the boats of the fleet responded with an orgy of canon and gun fire which filled the air with such intense smoke that for a few minutes the world and everyone in it vanished from sight. Later on, Balty finally left the ship armed with letters to Elizabeth and 15 shillings, which he'd borrowed from Pepys and was promising to return to his sister. Finally, Pepys could relax and focus on the adventure that was to come...

Thursday, 8 April 2010

A brave wind

I’ve plainly been staring at this computer screen for too long today. My eyes feel itchy, my back is aching and I just want to go to bed! I’ve been working for two solid days on the first movement of the motet. The inspiration stage is over and I’ve entered the time-consuming process of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. My plan is to have a finished second draft before I start work on the Yorkshire Symphony next Friday. Bitter past experience has proved that I can’t usefully work on two creative projects at the same time. If the motet is still playing on my mind I won’t be able to start all over again with a symphony featuring 300 Yorkshire-based musicians. Can someone remind me why I don’t just do something simple?

I finally walked out on Cafe Nero today and moved next door to Costa. Such a short trip, but it was like walking out on a partner and knowing you’re never going to return. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a mix-tape of salsa music which just got louder and louder. I kept expecting to see some kind of carnival making its way between the tables. I’d just hit a brick wall with a really complicated bar of music and I almost threw my enormous mug across the room.

Entering Costa was like entering heaven. Everything was still and the music was barely registering above the sound of the air-conditioning. A very strange little girl sat in front of me at one point. She was holding a fluffy animal, which I suspect was some kind of dog but it might have been a lamb. She decided to sing the entire soundtrack of Glee, whilst cooing over the animal as though it were some kind of fluffy baby. She wasn’t singing very well and perhaps unsurprisingly the poor dog/lamb eventually lashed out. I thought I was going to be forced to witness the sort of mauling that you read about in the Daily Mirror but fortunately the situation calmed down, and eventually the Glee soundtrack stopped. Perhaps the dog or lamb had died of boredom or become the soft toy that the strange little girl obviously thought she was holding.

Sunday April 8th, 1660, and the weather was calm again. Pepys was feeling perky, although his head was aching all day. There was a “brave” wind, which carried the boat at high speed and simultaneously inspired our hero, whose writing became so descriptive one could almost smell the sea air. He wrote about the various masts and shipwrecks which the fleet used for navigational purposes. I assume there’s nothing that screams "dangerous water" louder than a sunken ship. The Nazeby seemed to be playing a game of cat and mouse with a boat heading to the East Indies and Pepys spent some time hanging out of a window, presumably with his binoculars, ogling at the pretty women on board. Fears for his dear wife stranded in Buckinghamshire were probably for a few blissful moments allayed.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010


I sometimes wonder if the cafe here in Highgate isn’t filled with lonely people. So many men and women come in here to read a book or do a crossword, or just sit silently in front of a little pastry. Some of them spend hours sitting in the same spot, occasionally looking up and trying to catch someone’s eye across the room. Sometimes I find it heartbreaking. I wonder what goes on in their lives and whether they’ve always been alone or whether coming here gives them a much needed opportunity to interact with another human being, even if it’s only a weak smile from the other side of the room. I’m sure many of them come to the cafe to escape the mayhem of their regular worlds. A trip here gives them a few moments respite; an hour of golden silence away from the barking dogs and the screaming grandchildren. I hope that’s how it is for everyone, but somehow I doubt it...

London’s a lonely place and Londoners aren’t very good at acknowledging this fact. Sometimes I feel someone trying to catch my eye but worry it’s going to lead to an unnecessary conversation and often I’m too busy for small talk. Worse still, if someone smiles in London, the assumption is hey’re mad... I’m sure we all miss out on so much...

On Saturday 7th April 1660, Pepys suffered his first dose of seasickness. The Nazeby was anchored in shallow water and there was something of a gale. Pepys described the sensation as feeling “dizzy and squeamish”. To make matters worse he'd eaten a shed-load of oysters. To prevent himself from vomiting frogspawn he walked back and forth on the deck all afternoon before retiring to bed at 5pm with a caudle* which fortunately made him sleep soundly.

I was once on a cross channel ferry when the sea got choppy. I was thirteen, un-cool and on a school trip. I was feeling really smug. I was the only kid in my class who hadn’t vomited. Surely this was going to increase my popularity. They’d think I was tough and cool... but it’s not easy trying not to throw up when everyone around you is a grey-green colour and the boat is wobbling like a Weeble.

I went out on deck for some air and stood next to a strange lad from another school whilst the wind massaged my face. A few seconds later it started to rain. The droplets hit my face, and rolled soothingly down my cheeks. But the rain smelt a bit weird and tasted even weirder. The lad next to me suddenly apologised. I looked at him in horror to discover that he was projectile vomiting in the style of someone from the Witches of Eastwick. There’s a phrase my Mother taught me about not peeing into the wind and at that moment I realised it’s the same with vomit, except for some reason vomit's more likely to hit someone else. I was literally dripping in sick.

I rushed to the loo to wipe my face. Every sink was filled with chunder, the plugs were blocked and there was no water in the taps. Utterly disgusted, I turned to rush out again, but as I ran across the lino floor the boat tilted, and I skidded on a pile of vomit so slippery it could have been used chip fat. I landed with my arse in what can only be described as pumpkin soup. I then knelt in something which looked like syllabub and smelt like offal.

I remained the only person in my class not to vomit on that crossing but I became the only person who kept the class waiting whilst all the suitcases were unloaded from the boot of the school bus so that I could change my trousers.

*a medicinal drink in this instance, not a fancy walking stick

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Troublesome Balty

We’re stuck in a dreadful traffic jam in Hackney on our way to Julie’s house. Despite the traffic, I’m feeling celebratory. This is definitely the first day of spring. There’s warmth and optimism in the sun and most people seem to be wearing little light jackets rather than big dark coats buttoned up to their eyeballs. I’m also celebrating a rather important milestone. I’ve just finished the sixth movement of the Pepys Motet, which means I’ve now completed the first draft of the entire work. Tomorrow I’ll start at the beginning again and work my way through the piece with a fine-tooth comb; thinning out the orchestrations, and cutting at least five minutes. It’s officially the longest work I’ve ever written and it's certainly the most complicated...

We met up with Fiona last night and ate at Stingray in Tufnell Park. Lovely cheap food, particularly the potato skins, although it’s now officially over for me and the Spaghetti El Greco which seemed particularly insipid last night.

On our way home, we took a detour via Hampstead Heath and went for a wonderful walk in the cool night air. The sky was that familiar milky orange colour, although there seemed to be a convenient gap in the cloud just big enough for us to see the Big Dipper. We walked through the fair, which was being packed up on the Western fringes of the park. Piles of miserable cuddly toys were face down in the mud, waiting to be thrown mercilessly onto passing trucks and brightly coloured flashing bulbs seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. I was hoping to find a toffee apple, but I’m not sure those things exist anymore.

As we staggered along the dark network of pathways which criss-cross the heath, stealth joggers appeared and disappeared again, reminding Fiona and me of a day one October when we crossed the heath and every little dell in the ground was filled to the brim with mist which swirled around our feet like dry ice. Fiona was really freaked out that night. She kept seeing ghostly white figures drifting around in the corners of her eyes. The Heath is such a magical, haunting place.

Fiona left again today for the next leg of her Placebo World Tour. This time she’s off to South America to catch tantalising glimpses of unknown countries through the windows of various tour busses and aeroplanes. I shall miss her.

350 years ago, Pepys was joined on board the Nazeby by his brother-in-law, the troublesome Balty. Balty was something of a maverick and for much of Pepys’ life was a bit of a millstone around his neck, constantly pushing for outrageous favours, using his family connections almost as a threat. Today was no different. He’d decided he wanted join the Nazeby’s crew and Pepys was horrified.

Later in the day, there was still no news from Pepys’ assistant, Burr and the boat crept its way a little further down the Thames. Pepys and William Howe found a quiet corner and played their violins (as you do) the first time, apparently, since they’d come on board, for which I’m sure the crew were very grateful! The evening was spent upon the quarterdeck in fine moonshine with Mr Cuttance who taught Pepys many sea-faring terms; Pepys as ever has an almost unslakable desire to learn!

Monday, 5 April 2010

A notted caudle

It’s Easter Monday and I’ve sat in front of my computer for so long now that my eyes have lost the ability to focus. We’re going to go out to dinner to celebrate the fact that I’ve sat in the same spot on the same sofa for 8 hours flat. Now I know how Pepys felt cooped up on board the Nazeby!

Today would appear to be the end of the tax year, which means until I can get my act together, I’m going to have an enormous pile of unsorted receipts tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me I ought to be more organised in the future. It’s the time of the year that all freelancers dread. The moment we’re forced to stop playing the “I’m a fluffy, lovely creative person, who shouldn’t be expected to understand evil money things” card. I appreciate that I have a very limited grasp of all things financial, but surely taxes should be greater for bankers, politicians and those who have borrowed large sums of money over the past year? After all, it was them that got us into this mess. Or perhaps, as my (banker) brother jokingly suggested, we should be taxing people on the “profit” they make on their houses, or better still only taxing the people who go on and on about the profit they’ve made on their houses, particularly at dinner parties...

Speaking of which, my interest in British politics is now officially over. I used to be hugely political. I was the partner of an MP. I spent all my weekends canvassing in North London, or trekking across the country to Labour party fundraising events in the rural Tory heartlands, where the ladies made the teas and vegetarianism caused apoplexy. They often carefully manufactured things so that I’d win the raffle, which was often embarrassing and always a poisoned chalice. On one occasion, I had to travel home carrying a wooden wheelbarrow tied up with an enormous big pink bow. They thought it was something the partner of the gay MP would appreciate. How wrong they were! Anyway, I’m bored to death with the lot of them. I can’t think how my life is going to get any better under a change of political regime. There’s no money for the Arts. There’ll be even less when we start the process of paying off all those debts. We no longer have politicians with consciences. We just have rows and rows of airbrushed Ken and Barbie dolls who do whatever they can to do to keep in power, which generally means doing nothing except looking pretty. Obviously I will vote. We must continue to vote, even if we go into the voting station intent on destroying our ballot papers.

Nathan has bought an i-phone, which troubles me. He’s currently pretending to drink a pint of Carlsberg whilst demonstrating the fart machine application. I think it must be possible to disappear into one’s I-phone; to become lost in that tiny virtual world to the extent that you cease to exist when it runs out of battery. One day we’ll be able to feed ourselves via the I-phone or shrink down to a size where we can run around fighting the virtual snakes, or hopping over the coloured cubes that we spend so many hours stacking pointlessly into neat little rows.

I'm very much enjoying Glee on the television at the moment. It takes me back to the days of the Kids From Fame. They days when I started to play the ‘cello because I wanted to run down a corridor with my case like Julie used to do in the credits. I’m loving the fact that Glee dares to be so politically incorrect. One of the characters genuinely seems to go by the name of “other Asian” and any show that allows a wheelchair-bound character to perform “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” is very much on my wavelength. I was also thrilled to discover that the smug-addict baddie in the show is called Sue Sylvester, which happens to be the name of one of my parents' oldest friends. I relayed this information to my mother, who seemed very relieved; “Oh that explains it” she said; “I sent Sue some flowers the other day and the florist laughed hysterically when I said who they were going to”

350 years ago, Pepys' troublesome assistant, John Burr, vanished somewhere in coastal Essex without taking leave and wasn’t back on the boat by the time she was ready to set sail. That said, the boat was travelling so ridiculously slowly that he would no doubt be able to join the fleet the next time it dropped anchor. Frankly, they’d have got on better by walking along the cliff tops, pulling the ships with long ropes... or swimming to Holland might have got them there more quickly.

Later in the evening, Captain Clarke brought Pepys a “noted caudle” which has caused much debate amongst Pepys scholars. A caudle seems to be a sort of malty drink, which was often dished out to invalids and women after childbirth. But why would the caudle be noted? There’s a school of thought that suggests a caudle is a type of walking cane and that a noted caudle is actually a knotted cane. So Pepys was either feeling poorly, or he was being offered a lovely gift, which thoroughly established him as an important person on board the ship.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Those pesky Regicides

Easter Day, and we’re sitting in my brother’s new flat looking out across the Thames towards the O2. It’s an amazing place, with an astonishing view and they’ve made it look just wonderful. Unfortunately the Thames seems to be the colour of silage this afternoon which makes me wonder why people are quite so desperate to live on it. That said, it’s hugely relaxing to sit here in a gentle breeze, watching the river traffic (and sanitary towels) slowly drifting by. If everything you saw on a daily basis was simply drifting, why on earth would you need to rush around? Living on the A1 isn't quite this idyllic...

We’ve just been to the Mudchute City Farm where we spent a great deal of time with the pigs, who seemed well up for being scratched and patted. I’m a big fan of pigs. I always have been. I’ve never understood why anyone would want to eat such a plainly intelligent creature, although one of them did seem to be troughing on huge quantities of mud. It was wonderful to be out and about today. Spring seems to have arrived, the trees are budding and very slowly things are becoming that fresh lime green colour that will soon fill the world with optimism...

On Wednesday 4th April 1660, Pepys had lunch with Admiral William Penn (who was the father of the man who founded Pennsylvania) and Colonel Thomson (who had a wooden leg.) They brought important news from London. It was now not just a certainty that the King would return, but a “necessity” . Negotiations were taking place as they spoke and the declaration of Breda, where Charles accepted the invitation to return, had already been signed. Thomson and Penn spoke of the King as a sober man, one who would be happy to live quietly whilst, more importantly, Parliament pulled his strings. How wrong this prediction turned out to be! Charles the II lived his life anything but soberly. He had countless mistresses and his illegitimate children were bursting into the double figures. As an extra piece of information, I’ve just been informed by my historian father that Charles II was a phenomenally ugly baby with an enormous head and a top lip which looked like a rock garden! People used to faint in the street when they saw him. Perhaps the Regicides were on to something when they tried to stamp out that particular blood line!!