Friday, 14 May 2010

The 9.30 from Piccadilly

I woke up in Leeds this morning rather bleary-eyed, so staggered my way to a greasy spoon somewhere near the Corn Exchange. Sometimes the only thing that’s going to wake you up is a piece of fried bread that’s so soaked in fat, you can't decide whether to eat it with a knife and fork... or drink it.

The people in Yorkshire are, without question, more friendly than Londoners, and 'though I’m ashamed to admit it, infinitely more jovial than my fellow Midlanders. I’d not been in the cafe for more than five minutes before I’d got into a chat with several people, all of whom were taking my accent, my vegetarianism and my requests for poached eggs entirely in their strides! As I sat composing, a old lady smiled at me. Every time I looked up, she was grinning. Not in that; “I’m looking at you disapprovingly, but when you notice I'll going to smile politely because you might get angry” kind of way. This lady was smiling the sort of smile that made me know she just wanted to be my friend. She was simply spreading a bit of kindness, and God bless her for that.

I have now crossed the Pennines and am sitting in a bar on Canal Street in Manchester, watching the gays go by. They’re a ramshackle bunch, all ages, shapes and colours, but they feel like real people. I like the fact that they’re not all preening themselves like their shiny Soho bedfellows. Every time I come to this city, I’m aware of how much more confident and at ease with itself it’s becoming. Shiny new skyscrapers have popped all over the place, and futuristic trams rattle round the corners. This is a major European city, and it knows it. That said, I sincerely wish I’d managed to get an earlier train back to London. For reasons I can’t even begin to imagine, I opted for the 9.30pm from Piccadilly. Perhaps it was the cheapest option. You have to book so far in advance these days that it’s possible to forget why you wanted to travel in the first place! I think I was hoping to hook up with my Mancunian brother, but didn’t realise he was going to be in Bangkok this month, no doubt running away from some kind of riot..

I had a meeting this afternoon about 7 Sisters, which is the project I’ll be working on immediately after completing the A Symphony for Yorkshire. I think it ought to be rather good and for the first time in my career I’m being encouraged to make a film which is dark and mysterious. The whole film will be about the people who live in a set of 7 concrete tower blocks in Rochdale. It feels very gritty and will be a good challenge.

The 14th May 1660 was a particularly important day for Pepys. The Nazeby dropped anchor off the coast of Holland, and Pepys found his way to the shore. Unfortunately, the weather was awful, and he got entirely soaked in the process of transferring from the mother ship to dry land.

He rode to The Hague in a carriage, “wherein were two very pretty ladies, very fashionable with their black patches”. Pepys had been starved of female company for so long, I’d quite forgotten what a rogue he could be. The ladies sang beautifully as the coach trundled along, and Pepys, never one to miss an opportunity, whipped out his flageolette and accompanied them. Unfortunately, in his rush to unsheathe the beast, he managed to drop his rapier, and later in the day, sent the troublesome Burr back along the road to see if he could find it. And Burr was successful! His uncharacteristic diligence earned him a 6 pence reward!

Pepys described The Hague as neat. There were neat rows of houses in neat streets, which on that date were filled to the brim with Englishmen. One of them took Pepys under his wing and gave him a tour of the city, showing him, amongst much else, the curious maypoles of varying heights which stood at the doors of the houses of Holland’s most influential men. The height of the maypole was apparently dictated by its owner's position in society, which seems more than a little peculiar.

No doubt the tallest maypole was stationed outside the residence of Pepys’ next port of call; The Prince of Orange, who keen historians will spot as the man who would go on to become the next but one King of England after that revolution that someone once described as “glorious”. Pepys didn’t feel the need to write a great deal about his encounter and was, by all accounts a great deal more interested in the Prince’s tutor. He nevertheless described the 10-year-old orange child as a “pretty boy”, which is an improvement on Charles II, who you’ll recall was such an ugly baby that he regularly caused people to faint in the streets.

Phrase of the day, however, has to be Pepys' description of Burr, who like my Grandmother, and all the subsequent generations of my family, apparently found wonder in almost every new experience:

I sent my boy, who, like myself, is with child to see any strange thing

How lovely is that? I'm starting to reappraise my opinion of Burr.

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