Saturday, 23 October 2010


I’ve had a rather disappointing 12 hours since last writing this blog. At 10pm I started an epic journey through driving rain and high winds to Devon. It was one of those nights where drivers find themselves huddling in service stations, rolling their eyes to heaven and swapping stories about the chaos on the roads. I found myself talking to all sorts of strangers. Conversations always ended; "drive safely now." Nathan had very kindly booked me into a hotel in Paignton and handed me a lovely print out from the AA telling me how to get there from London. Everything went pretty much to plan until the directions suddenly stopped making sense. The rain was tipping down, my petrol tank had been flashing on empty for some 20 miles and I was going up and down steep hills in the middle of absolutely nowhere. There was no reception on my mobile phone and I was resigned to spending the night by the side of an empty road.
When I finally got in touch with Nathan I’d limped my way down to Paignton. It was at this point that he realised he’d given me directions to a hotel in the wrong town! Pol the rat was just out of hospital and he understandably had other things on his mind. He talked to me whilst I journeyed back to Torquay, and I eventually found the Travelodge at 3am. Imagine my horror, therefore, to discover Nathan had booked me in for the next night by mistake!

The man behind the counter was icy. It was the middle of the night and when I arrived he was trying to smoke a crafty fag outside. He told me there was nothing I could do other than wait for check-in ... in 12 hours’ time. If I wanted to stay an extra night, he’d only accept cash and certainly wouldn’t be doing me a swap. I called Nathan, close to tears. I was so exhausted. The man must have overheard the conversation, because by the time I’d got back, he’d taken pity on me and decided to allow me to swap the room for no extra cost. Something about a day only stay...

I woke up this morning at 9.30am, thinking I’d get to Dartmouth, have a nice stroll around the town and eat my breakfast before the rehearsal with the Navy boys at noon. Unfortunately, I discovered the route from Torquay to Dartmouth involves either a ferry, or a 30-mile trip through countless, twisting country lanes. Not knowing how expensive or infrequent the ferry was going to be, I opted for the country lanes. It took me an hour.

Dartmouth is a deeply uninspiring place. There’s absolutely nowhere to park and it’s full of old people who amble along in the middle of the road assuming everyone around them is also on a nice relaxed jaunt to a seaside town. Everywhere I turned they were in the way. It was truly horrible.

The Navy chaps weren’t as good as I hoped they’d be. Two of them were very much on it, one didn’t know the music at all, and two were patchy. When they sang together, the tuning was very dodgy and they’re certainly not yet up to the standards of the other groups. Unfortunately two of them had to leave after 40 minutes and by the end it was just me and a very good bass. It’s so difficult because out of all the people singing, they’re probably the busiest and are least used to performing; certainly at the level I need them to reach. So now, I have to sit down and make some cuts and simplifications and hope I can create an ad hoc score that plays more to their strengths. I so wish I’d been able to visit them before today...

So as I journey back to London, all sorts of things are troubling me... not least the fact that I'm unbelievably knackered and not sure how I'm going to get through the next week!!

Thursday 23rd October 1660 and Pepys and Shepley were rushing around sorting things out for Sandwich’s journey to France. Shepley, who as we know, could do nothing right, was put in charge of packing up Sandwich’s guns, and one of them went off – fortunately whilst it was facing downwards; “it did not hurt us, but I think I never was more in danger in my life, which put me into a great fright,” wrote Pepys, who bid a fond farewell to Sandwich before taking the portrait of his master he’d so admired to be copied by artist, Emanuel De Cretz.

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