Monday, 31 May 2010

Hopping in and out of the shadows

It feels incredibly odd to be working on a bank holiday. It's like there’s some kind of anti-work fog floating through the air. You look out onto the street and people seem to be drifting purposelessly. You turn the television on for company, and instead of daytime chat shows and quizzes with complicated rules, they're showing obscure Judy Garland films. Fiona called me up at lunchtime and asked if she could come over. She had a stack of admin to do before leaving the country and was having the same problem. She felt that being in the presence of another person working would spur her on, so we spent the afternoon holed up in the loft with me banging my head against a wall, trying to write the final movement of the Yorkshire Symphony, which features perhaps the most bizarre line-up of players. How on earth am I going to write for a rock band, a euphonium and a Wurlitzer!?


At about 5pm, the attic air became stifling and we took ourselves for a walk across the heath. It was a good decision. It had been cold and overcast all day, but the sun was suddenly shining and it felt quite magical to be hopping in and out of the long, early-evening shadows.

We sat inside a hollow tree and met a family of rats living by the side of one of the ponds. They seemed to be incredibly tame. We tried to feed them pieces of dried mango, but a golden retriever came lolloping over and spoilt our fun! We wandered through the fair, which is back in town again. After a slightly disappointing visit to a travelling hall of mirrors, I bought a toffee apple, which tasted heavenly. Every bite brought with it another happy memory of Hallowe’en parties from my childhood.


May 31st 1660, and Pepys spent a pleasant day on board The Charles. He played some songs written by the composer Henry Lawes, was given a pair of light-blue silk stockings and walked until 10pm on the deck with the captain of the boat; his mood much improved by being no longer in pain down below.

“This day the month ends, I in very good health, and all the world in a merry mood because of the King’s coming...I expect every minute to hear how my poor wife do. I find myself in all things well as to body and mind, but troubled for the absence of my wife.”

So he hadn't forgotten she existed. I was beginning to worry.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Euroriot

Eurovision was an absolute riot. About 30 people managed to cram into our tiny living room and each and every one of them seemed incredibly happy to be there. Jim made the most astonishing scoreboard for the wall. I've never seen the like. Everyone registered their votes with pieces of coloured card of varying lengths. The song you liked the best was awarded the longest piece of card and so on down to your tenth favourite, which was given the smallest. The countries were written in a line at the bottom of the wall, and as people stuck their different pieces of card, end to end, on the scoreboard, the columns representing our favourite songs grew and grew. The winner ended up with a column that went from the floor to the ceiling. It was very incredibly exciting to see the votes piling in. It retrospect it was probably more exciting than what was happening in the official competition on the television at the same time!


We ended up choosing France as our winning song. It certainly wasn’t my first choice, but as soon as it started, someone in the room began to dance and before you could say; “oi, this song’s crap”, about 8 people were on their feet, jumping exctiedly in the middle of the sitting room. I think the large majority of people at the party decided that if a song had the power to make 8 people spontaneously dance, it had to win! Denmark, which was my choice, came a close second.

Bizarrely, the winner of the proper competition was Germany, which came a miserable 16th in our vote, and barely made an impression on any of us. The good news is that the Germans love Eurovision, so they’ll host the mother of all contests next year. Brother Edward, no doubt, has already booked his ticket.

The UK actually came last, which made me incredibly happy. Having predicted we’d get between 20 and 30 points, we actually got fewer than 10, which is almost a record. I’d love to have seen Pete Waterman’s arrogant, crabby face afterwards! If you don’t respect the contest, Pete, it certainly won’t respect you!



The scoreboard committee make preparations


The start of the night. Is it just me, or does my god-daughter look like Resusci-annie on this picture?


Spontaneous dancing to France



End of the evening; note the spotlight illuminating the winning column of votes

May 30th 1660 was an uncomfortable day for Pepys. He was besieged by all manner of aches and pains and was terrified, but decided it was simply a cold and got on with eating a lovely breakfast of freshly caught mackerel instead.

A day of accounting followed, which also saw him calculating his personal fortune, finding himself to be worth 80L; “at which my heart was glad and blessed God”. Pepys’ gratitude to The Almighty in the realm of finances seemed to know no bounds, and as he became wealthier and wealthier the thank yous seemed to become more and more elaborate!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Eurostorm

I’m posting today's blog in a moment of calm before the Eurovision storm arrives in town. Brother Edward is due any time now and we need to go shopping as I’ve foolishly agreed to cook vegetarian lasagne for the 25 guests who are coming over for our annual party. The scoreboard committee will arrive at 4pm. Their task is to build a scoreboard the size of an entire wall, so that our guests can post their votes in a mini-competition all of our own. It’s deeply exciting.


We’ve just been into Kentish Town to buy sheets of paper and thick marker pens. I got hungry and ratty so we had a Subway sandwich for lunch whilst the rain poured down outside.

We witnessed a rather upsetting event on the High Street. A dog had been tied by its lead to one of those signs outside a shop that flaps around in the wind. Obviously something had scared the poor creature, because he bolted across the road, causing cars and busses to screech to a halt, with the heavy sign dragging along in his wake. I assume he thought the sign was chasing him as he was obviously in a great deal of distress. At one stage he tripped over, and the sign, still moving with the momentum, careered into him and rolled onto his back. Nathan and I rushed after the dog and eventually found him in a side street, cowering and terrified under a parked car; the sign still attached to him and lodged between the pavement and a back wheel.

A man appeared and was trying to pull the dog out from under the car. “Are you the owner?” I asked. He ignored the question. I asked again. No answer. We helped him to untie the lead from the sign whilst trying to talk about what had happened but still the man still said nothing. Eventually the dog, who was looking incredibly sorry for himself, was dragged back across the road and out of sight. I can only assume that the silent man was the dog’s owner, and if he was, a little thank you wouldn’t have gone amiss. Perhaps he was in shock, or felt embarrassed. Perhaps this is something the dog does regularly. Or perhaps he’s a rude bastard, who doesn’t deserve to own such a lovely creature.

May 29th 1660 was the King’s 30th birthday and rumours abounded that he’d chosen the occasion to triumphantly enter London. Much as I’m sure Pepys would have given his right arm to be able to witness the spectacle, his Navy work wasn’t done, and The Charles remained anchored off the coast of Kent. Montagu, however, decided that the auspicious date deserved to be marked by a day off, so took Pepys to the shore, found some horses and the pair went riding for the day.

He showed Pepys a house, which had recently been built at a great cost, which was on such inaccessible and barren land that it had been nicknamed The Fool’s House. Later in the day they rode underneath a tall cliff, which Pepys wagered was as tall, if not taller than St Paul’s Cathedral. Montagu pulled out a couple of measuring sticks (where did these people store such things!?) and convincingly calculated that the cliff was only 35 feet high, which suddenly seemed very small indeed. St Paul’s was said to be over 90 feet.

On the way back to the mother ship, they rode through Deal, where the citizens were celebrating the King’s birthday in style by building bonfires in the street. It was a fine day, and stopping for breath on some high ground, they could see the coastline of France, right the way across the English Channel.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Kitsch blandness

I’ve never known the cafe busier and noisier than it was this morning. It didn’t help that I was holding my eyes open with matchsticks, but the world and his wife, or more specifically the wives of the world seemed to rush through the doors at about 9.30 and literally shout at each other for about half an hour. And then the place fell silent again...


The Eurovision Song Contest season is upon us, which means gay men across the world are dusting off their giant scoreboards and rifling through their wardrobes for something sparkly to represent their favourite European Country. The event has been described as the gay men’s world cup and it does seem to generate hysteria amongst us, although it’s difficult to say exactly why. The ABBA thing obviously helps, and the fact that it's glitzy and tragic in equal measure, which seem to be two of the main ingredients of camp. It’s theatrical, musical and dependable and reminds many of us of the safety of our childhoods, which in this fast-paced world is a place we all occasionally need to visit.

So last night, I was with brother Edward, watching the second of the semi-finals. Most of the songs were of an incredibly high standard and it makes me furious and somewhat embarrassed to think that the UK is content to enter such a genuinely pointless song with such a talentless singer when the rest of Europe, baring France, is throwing absolutely everything at the competition. Watch out for Norway, Denmark, Turkey, Iceland and Azerbaijan this year. Spain deserves to do better than it will, but my prediction for the UK remains the same; fourth from last, with a score of about 27 points.

And if you want to hear a great Eurovision Song, take a listen to last year’s entry from Iceland, which came second. It literally ticks every box; a great vocal, a pretty girl, a key change, a lovely melody, a big show-off note, a 'cello... You can see it here. The video seems to have been filmed in the middle of volcanic ash cloud. How very prescient.

And the backing vocalist in this song, who was obviously considered too fat to appear in the video, is actually singing this year’s Icelandic entry.

Compare what you’ve (hopefully) just watched to the kitsch blandness of the UK’s entry and feel a deep sense of shame prickling through your veins – and to think we didn’t even get to choose it. Here it is...

It was a fairly dull day on board The Charles 350 years ago. Pepys was given his share of 60 ducats from the King’s recent gift. He was expecting 30L, but I’m reliably informed that European exchange rates meant he actually received the equivalent of just 27L. It didn’t seem to affect his mood, however, and he celebrated by being thrashed at 9 pins. The final statement in the diary is worth quoting as, not only as an example of incredibly candid writing, but also because it says much about Pepys’ rather fragile state of mind...

This night I had a strange dream of bepissing myself, which I really did, and having kicked the clothes off, I got cold and found myself all muck-wet in the morning, and had a great deal of pain in making water which made me very melancholy

Whenever Pepys had problems with his waterworks, he suspected the bladder stones, that had nearly killed him a few years earlier, were returning. To have something like that hanging over your head for an entire lifetime must be a fairly depressing state of affairs.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Emeralds in a waterfall

I’m exhausted. I’ve been working on the symphony without a break since 7am and now every time I close my eyes all I can see is manuscript paper and thousands of little dots. To make matters worse, my feet are hurting rather badly. I plainly need a new pair of shoes. The ones I’m wearing have worn down so badly that I look like Tiny Tim when I walk anywhere. Very soon, people will be throwing money at me in the street. It’s hugely frustrating. All this stretching and wearing of insoles seems to be doing me no good whatsoever.

I spent a very charming hour yesterday with three generations of my god-daughter’s family. We strolled around Highgate Woods and marvelled at the sun glinting through the green, green trees. The leaves looked like emeralds cascading down a waterfall.

In the evening, I went with Ellen to see Jonathan Harvey’s new play at the Hampstead Theatre. It’s a great piece; a real departure from the innocuous farces I associate him with. This play had real depth, and at times was incredibly hard to watch. It constantly reminded me how lucky my generation is. If I was ten years older, in the same job and living a similar lifestyle, it’s likely that half of my friends would have died of AIDS. Although I’m aware that it’s almost impossible nowadays to watch a gay play that doesn’t somehow reference the disease, there was something about the way that it was dealt with in this piece that felt both fresh and incredibly hard-hitting... and at times, deeply moving. I doubt I shall ever forget the image of a young lad, hallucinating on his death bed, flying above the stage, hand in hand with his mother, whilst an instrumental version of Don’t Cry for me Argentina played at full volume. It shouldn’t have worked... but it choked me up. Ellen enjoyed it as well, and was thrilled to get the opportunity, beforehand to meet a Pet Shop Boy.

350 years ago, and amidst much pomp and ceremony, Montagu became a knight of the garter. The King wasn’t present on the ship to do the honours, but he’d sent one Sir Edmund Walker with a sealed letter on a crimson cushion in his stead. The ceremony seemed to involve tying a little ribbon around Montagu’s neck, and then attaching a garter to his leg; a camper procedure I’m sure it would be hard to find, but then again, this was the Restoration. And Monck fans need not worry. The day before, he’d also been blessed with this particular honour.

The ship was filled to the brim with various lords and fancy types, so Pepys found there was no room for him at the dinner table and was forced to eat in his cabin. Unfortunately, his lobster was served with a bottle of oil instead of a bottle of vinegar, and Pepys managed to ruin his meal, much to his chagrin.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Nothing but a tiny purple speck

I woke up this morning feeling incredibly sad. I’d had a bad and incredibly vivid dream. I was with Nathan half way up something which looked like a bizarre cross between a tower block and York’s medieval City walls. I’m not altogether sure how we’d got there, or where we were going, but we were high up, and the road underneath us was a long way down. Nathan, for some reason, got on a motorbike and started riding away from me along a ledge. He was singing happily at the top of his voice. I was distracted momentarily and when I looked again, he’d vanished. I ran to the edge of the ledge to discover that he’d slipped off and plummeted to the ground, and was lying face-down on tarmac 30 feet beneath me. I immediately started to scream and shake uncontrollably and for some time couldn’t make my legs move. Eventually, I was able to I run into a lift. I pressed the button and started moving downwards, but became aware that Nathan was in the lift with me, holding me and hugging me and telling me that everything was okay, even though I was aware that he was still lying, half-dead on the street outside. At that moment I woke up, with tears streaming down my face. I assume I’d called out in my sleep, because Nathan woke up at the same time and asked me a number of times if everything was okay.


This was very clearly a dream about the fear of loss. At the moment, everything for me is hurtling past at an alarming speed. I’m living life at an intense pace, balancing on a perilous tight-rope, unable to stop and take stock even for a second for fear of losing my balance. Nathan represents stability. He is my backbone and without him I would be utterly lost. I think the dream was my subconscious subtly pointing out that I need to remind him of this fact a little more often.
It’s rare for me to have dreams that have so clearly been formed by a lucid place in the brain. Years ago, when my Grandmother was still alive, I dreamt that she was on the hillside behind her house, using two tea trays to scoop up an enormous pile of autumn leaves which she was going to put on a bonfire. She was always making bonfires. It was one of those white, intensely misty October afternoons. I suspect if the sun was visible, it would be close to setting. I could hear music; beautiful string music, and suddenly it was clear that I was in a dream and I was able to interpret everything I was seeing. I was observing the cycle of life. One day my Grandmother was going to return to the very ground that she was clearing of leaves. I sat and watched her for some time, feeling an extraodinary sense of grief, but realised I was drifting further and further away and that she was getting smaller and smaller. Eventually, she was nothing but a tiny purple speck on the hillside, surrounded by a rusty field of autumn leaves. The heavy white mist turned blue, and then grey, and suddenly all that was left was the music...

Pepys woke up on Saturday 26th May 1660 in his own cabin, and spent the day on board the ship mooching around, missing the company of the great men he’d been rubbing shoulders with over the past few days. No doubt he was also wishing he was able to follow the King and witness his triumphant arrival in London.

Montagu was out and about, in fact, he was able to go on land for the first time since the epic journey began, having vowed to stay on the boat until he’d safely delivered the King to England. With the job done, he was free to celebrate.

And Pepys’ mood was soon improved with the news that, of the 1000 ducats the King had presented to the crew of the Nazeby-cum-Charles, Pepys was to be awarded 30 pounds, which was not to be sniffed at. Why, even nowadays, that sum of money would keep me in pots of tea for at least 2 weeks!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

I hate you, Mr Sax!

I’m having another rather frustrating day trying to create scores and parts for the multitude of bizarre instruments that we’re featuring in the Yorkshire Symphony. Yesterday was about brass. Today is about wind and right now, I’m wishing that dear old Adolphe Sax had spent 1841 doing something other than inventing the saxophone! The rules and regulations associated with that instrument are particularly mind-numbing. I’ve just been on the phone to Sam trying to understand how to write for the smallest member of the saxophone family, the sopranino. It’s so rarely played that Sam wasn’t sure he’d ever even seen one... and he’s a saxophonist! The fact remains that it is now almost midnight and I have been working solidly since 9am. I am utterly brain dead and I have no idea what I’m writing! All I know is that I have ten minutes to finish this entry before I officially fail in my task to keep a daily blog! Pepys would be horrified!


I think it’s also been a tough day for Alison up in Yorkshire. She has the almost impossible task of trying to organise rehearsals and recording sessions for 300 musicians and at one point sent an email which simply said; “I’m not replying to your emails today as I’m getting arsey”. I do hope it was sent with at least a hint of jest! I had been bombarding her with countless worried emails about string players!

The weather’s been much cooler, which means I’ve not been sweating like a pig, which means until very recently I was able to focus on the task in hand. It’s been sunny, but there was a distinct chill in the air, which became apparent when I took a 30-minute break at tea time to sit in Waterlow Park with Nathan and Fiona. I ate a Fry’s peppermint cream, which felt kind of old school! Tomorrow, I'm going to search for a Wham bar!

Friday 25th May 1660, and by the morning, The Charles had reached Dover. As everyone prepared to disembark, Pepys found himself in conversation with the Duke of York and was thrilled to discover that the King’s brother actually knew his name. Everyone else was fawning around the King. Word was out that he was going to knight a few people before leaving the boat, but this turned out to be a rumour.

Barges were taken to the shore and no doubt the musicians who Pepys had booked all those weeks ago were playing beautifully. Montagu got to share the Royal barge whilst Pepys had to make do with the company of a footman, and one of the King’s favourite dogs, who systematically shat all over the boat. Pepys was highly amused at the incident and it suddenly occurred to him that the King, and all his possessions “are but just as others are.” It’s well documented that Charles II loved dogs. What’s less well known is that they kept getting stolen from him, and he was forever placing adverts demanding their safe return!

The King was received by General Monck “with all imaginable love and respect at his entrance upon the land of Dover”. And there was an “infinite” crowd of people. Noblemen rubbed shoulders with townspeople. All had come to see the King and all were cheering; “the shouting and joy expressed by all is past imagination.” Montagu, as one of the major masterminds behind the King’s return was particularly chuffed, in fact “almost transported with joy that he had done all this without any the least blur or obstruction in the world”.

And that was that. Not that I heard it mentioned on the news, but 350 years ago on this very day, the Restoration officially happened. And that, my friends, is why the Queen exactly 350 years later, was invited to sit on a throne and read a speech outlining what parliament would be doing in her name. And I’m afraid in my brain-addled state and as the clock ticks towards midnight, that’s about as eloquent as I can be about something that feels like an important parallel.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Stressed!

I’m stressed out of my tiny mind! I’ve been formatting music for the Yorkshire Symphony all day, and have absolutely no idea how much longer it’s going to take. With so many ensembles and musicians and instruments playing in the most ridiculous keys, I could feasibly still be doing this in a years’ time! To make matters worse, the temperatures outside can best be described as searing, we have visitors who are keen to be entertained next door, and I have just had the mother of all rows with an extremely close friend via text message! I feel frantic.

Fiona whisked me off for an evening stroll and I frog-marched her at top speed around North London. Our whistle-stop tour took in Muswell Hill, Hornsey and Crouch End and we did it all in a record-breaking time. I talked and talked and talked at her, but as my flat feet pounded the pavement, I could feel myself getting slightly calmer. I’m now back at home, listening enviously to our guests laughing their heads off whilst wondering when I last sweated this profusely! They say the temperatures reached 30 degrees in London today, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

Pepys got up early 350 years ago, and dressed himself as finely as he could. He was incredibly excited to be in the midst of such greatness and bounded like a puppy dog from one conversation to another. He gossiped and talked about science and philosophy and politics with the finest minds in the country as The Charles skimmed and bounced across the North Sea. As evening fell, those on board caught sight of England for the first time. I can't quite imagine how that must have felt, not just for Pepys, but for King Charles and Montagu and everyone who dared to hope that the Restoration was the answer to their prayers.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Shingay-Cum-Wendy

We’re currently speeding south on the A1, travelling through an evening sunlight which is almost as intense as the smell of manure blended with dust and oil seed rape! It’s been another stunning day and we took the opportunity to get out of London and visit Lisa and Mark in Spaldwick; a very pleasant village in Cambridgeshire. We sat in a garden, ate way too much barbecue food and then stood in a paddling pool that an assortment of children had filled with soil, rose petals, Pringles and something which smelt suspiciously sweet. Having seen one of them weeing into a sprinkler, I’m not sure I particularly want to know what else had gone in there...

En route to their house we visited the Royston cave. It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since doing research for A1: The Road Musical alerted me to its existence. It’s a very magical place, situated at a spot where two ley lines apparently cross one another. No one is really sure what it is, or how old it is. It seems to be some kind of bell-shaped, underground chamber, which is covered from top to bottom in medieval carvings. It’s lit rather gloomily and a hotchpotch of eerie images stares down from the walls. Crude and violent carvings of St Peter, St Laurence, St Christopher, St Catherine and Jesus on the cross rub shoulders with pagan iconography and strange numerological codes. The theory is that the cave was once used by the Knight’s Templar, which, together with the ley-line thing, gives the whole place a sort of mystical twist. I was slightly disappointed, therefore, to find myself sharing the experience with a load of fat, be-hatted tourists from Essex, and Japan’s answer to David Bailey. I probably could have done without our tour guide as well, who was somewhat surly, slightly under-informed and gave everyone the impression that she didn’t want to be there. The overall experience, however, was thrilling and I vowed to write a piece of music which could be performed down there.


St Catherine and her wheel at the cave

We went to Spaldwick via Huntingdon and used the opportunity to take a mini-detour through the village of Brampton, which is of course where Montagu had his country estate, and Pepys’ father owned a house. Both properties still exist, but there was not enough time to get out and visit them, or wonder around the village, much as the water meadows in Godmanchester looked an absolute picture in the green summer light. I will return, however, when I have more time to enjoy the experience.

Place name of the day has to go to the Bedfordshire hamlet of Shingay-cum-Wendy, which is almost worth visiting if not just to stand and be photographed by its sign.

350 years today was the day that Charles II boarded the Nazeby to start his journey back to England. Montagu collected him from the shore and the King was said to “kiss him affectionately upon his first meeting.” Other members of the royal family came on board to wish the King a safe journey. At one stage, the two dukes (James and Henry), the Queen of Bohemia, the Princess Royal and the Prince of Orange were all present, which meant Pepys, who could never have known it at the time, was in the company of three future Kings of England. Predictably, much hand-kissing and gun-firing took place and everyone seemed to be in a state of profound excitement. After dinner, the King and Duke of York altered the names of most of the ships in the fleet. The Nazeby, predictably, was the first to be renamed and became The Charles. Many of the boats were named after members of the royal family; Mary, Henry, James, Henrietta, whilst others were given more optimistic names like Happy Return, Success and The Speedwell.

Later in the day, the Queen, Princess Royal and the Prince of Orange headed back to shore whilst the two Dukes disappeared to other ships in the fleet, namely The Swiftsure and The London. And now Pepys should take over, because he says it better than I ever will...

“We weighed anchor, and with a fresh gale and most happy weather we set sail for England. All the afternoon the King walked here and there, up and down (quite contrary to what I thought him to have been), very active and stirring.

Upon the quarterdeck he fell into discourse of his escape from Worcester where it made me ready to weep to hear the stories that he told of his difficulties that he had passed through, as his travelling four days and three nights on foot, every step up to his knees in dirt, with nothing but a green coat and a pair of country breeches on, and a pair of country shoes that made him so sore all over his feet, that he could scarce stir. Yet he was forced to run away from a miller and other company, that took them for rogues...

In another place at his inn, the master of the house, as the King was standing with his hands upon the back of a chair by the fire-side, kneeled down and kissed his hand, privately, saying, that he would not ask him who he was, but bid God bless him whither he was going. Then the difficulty of getting a boat to get into France...

At Rouen he looked so poorly, that the people went into the rooms before he went away to see whether he had not stole something or other..."

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Intermezzo Number One

I’m taking a break from composing whilst Nathan plays Intermezzo Number One by ABBA on full volume in the sitting room. It’s difficult to score a symphony whilst music is playing this loudly, so I might just have to dance instead...

It was another glorious day in London today and once again we took ourselves to Waterlow Park where I sat and wrote whilst the sun cooked me to a crisp. The place was crammed full of people. I assume that everyone was panicking that this might be the one day of sunshine they’d see this year.

We sat next to a young couple, who were obviously very much at the honeymoon stage of their relationship. They seemed incredibly old-fashioned and formal. There was lots of cooing and sighing and polite conversation. I couldn’t believe quite how enthusiastic the young lad was being about the bread his new girlfriend had bought on the Green Lanes. Similarly, she claimed never to have seen such a beautiful tuna salad. I thought it looked like cat food. But they were in love. Obviously, my instinct was to vomit all over them, but Nathan said he thought it was lovely and that I must have a heart of stone. Perhaps I have.

I'm very worried about money at the moment. The BBC always takes way too long to pay, and because of the Lincolnshire business, I have nothing in my account to tide me over. To think that I actually turned work down so that I could do that commission. I wonder if it’s occurred to the woman who runs the choir that her actions have directly affected my livelihood. Or perhaps I should be more understanding. From her perspective, I suppose, she's just been handed an end product. Why should she pay for it if she doesn't know how to interpret it? She doesn't read music so she probably doesn’t realise how long it takes to write a four movement work for strings and large choir, even if she's written in the contract that it should have "some of the qualities of the Barber Adagio", which is not exactly setting the bar low! I'm sure Barber didn't write his seminal masterpiece in his lunch break on the back of a cornflakes packet. Perhaps when she asked for full scores of the work which she wasn't expecting to look at, or hand out to the choir, she didn’t realise how long it takes to format a score properly - or for that matter how long it takes to create a piano reduction, which has been asked for mid-way through a commission, or indeed how expensive it is to do four 200-mile roundtrips to Lincolnshire and back to work with her choir. I suspect by the end of this process, these are all things that she will learn.

Tuesday 22nd May 1660, and the Dukes of York and Gloucester, dressed in yellow trimmings, and grey and red respectively, came to inspect the Nazeby. Montagu went in a boat to meet them, and the rest of the crew stood at the entering port to greet them. The dukes were “exceedingly pleased” with the ship and Pepys described them as very fine gentlemen.

Pepys was part of the group who were chosen to see the Dukes safely back to land again, and there were so many people crammed onto the beach awaiting their return, that Pepys described the normally white sand as looking black. By the time they’d deposited the dukes and returned to the Nazeby, they heard that the King was now examining the fleet from the shore. There followed an enormous gun salute. Every gun on every ship in the fleet was repeatedly fired until the sound became cacophonous and deafening. Pepys pointed out that this was the first time that the King had ever been saluted by his own ships and they were making the most of it! Never one to be left out, Pepys felt he needed to get in on the act. He rushed to the gun nearest his cabin and started firing it. Unfortunately, he positioned his head too close to the mechanism and very nearly blinded himself.

In the evening people started to move cabins to make way for the more important guests. Pepys downsized to the carpenter’s cabin, which he was forced to share with one Dr Clerke. Many of the King’s servants started to appear on the ship, and a good many Dutch people too had come on board, simply out of curiosity.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Happy Families

Last night, as the sun melted into a mauve sunset, Nathan and I went for a walk across the Heath. I took the opportunity to have a good whinge about the Lincolnshire commission. The whole business has made me feel incredibly angry and I vowed not to let things rest until a satisfactory conclusion had been reached. Just being able to moan for a while made me feel much calmer, so we watched the people flying enormous kites at the top of Parliament Hill and met a dog called Lupin before taking ourselves off to Tops Pizza. We spent the rest of the evening watching episodes of True Blood, which felt like a very relaxing way to spend a night.


It’s been a beautiful day today; the finest sort of British summer day. I don’t know anywhere in the world that can rival this sort of weather; the fresh breeze, the greenness of the trees, the softness of the grass. When the weather’s like this, everyone in London seems to burst into colour. It's almost as though we've suddenly forgotten those long days of rain and are all falling in love once again with this extraordinary place. How many other cities in the world are filled with so many woods and heaths and parks? On a day like today, London is the greatest city in the world.

Nathan and I met Fiona and Vicky 'Cello in Waterlow Park for a little picnic. We ate whilst the sun burnt our foreheads and the smell of dope wafted over from a grungy-looking bloke sitting the other side of the lawn. I did some composing, Vicky sewed some straps onto a dress, Fiona bought ice cream and Nathan ate a banana sandwich. Perfect. Fiona was suffering from a bad back, however, and has taken herself off to an osteopath. I don’t know what it is about bad backs at the moment, but it seems the world is suffering from them.

A dull day for Pepys 350 years ago, which was spent catching up on work after so long an absence from the Nazeby. Pepys was careful to point out that he was still ignoring Mr Pierce the Surgeon but that he’d had his supper with Mr Piece the Purser, whom he liked a great deal more. Sometimes reading Pepys’ Diary is a bit like playing a game of Happy Families! “Is Mr Pierce the Purser in his cabin?” The weather was still foul but everyone hoped that as soon as it improved the King and Duke of York would come on board and the history-making journey back to England would begin.


Thursday, 20 May 2010

Big gob

It’s been like a party in Costa Coffee today. The place was full of Highgate residents who all seemed to know each other and were talking about orchestras, art galleries and Christmas lights.

I tuned into one conversation about Dianna Abbott, who seems to have thrown her hat into the ring for the Labour leadership contest. I was initially thrilled at the thought. I wondered if maybe this is the shake-up that the labour party needs. She’s articulate and knowledgeable. She’s meant to be a pretty good constituency MP. She’d be a superb role model for disaffected people. The idea of having a black woman leading the labour party, and perhaps even going on to become prime minister, is incredibly exciting.

Unfortunately, Abbott is proving herself to be something of a media whore, who seems to be largely motivated by the idea of self-promotion. She's also been a thorn in her party’s side since 1997. She hated Blair and supported Brown, and then hated Brown when he took over. Can she really expect to lead a party whose policies she's systematically criticised? I view people like Dianne Abbott the way I view the Guardian newspaper and to a lesser extent, the Lib Dems. It’s terribly easy to position yourself on the outside whilst criticising the people within. It’s like back seat driving, or watching the football. It’s much more difficult to be the person who makes the decisions and even more difficult to stand by them, or the people who've been forced to make them. On second thoughts, perhaps it would be a very good exercise for Abbott to put her money where her mouth is... But then again, she knows she has no chance. Surely this is just another ploy to raise her media profile that little bit higher...

The writing is going well but I’m suffering from cabin fever and looking forward to the break I’ll get from composing when we start recording the music and putting the film together. I realised earlier on that I've actually been composing non-stop this year, but haven’t yet had the opportunity to hear anything I’ve written. Sadly, it’s now looking like the music I spent the first two months of the year writing will never be performed. It's a somewhat depressing thought, which is made considerably worse by the commissioner still trying to withhold payment for the work I’ve done, despite everything, including logic and the small matter of a contract, pointing towards the fact that I should have been paid back in February. Being a freelance composer is never exactly a walk in the park!

Pepys got up early 350 years ago, and headed to Scheveling with the young Montagu. The weather was still unseasonably poor, so it was impossible to transfer to the Nazeby. Instead, Pepys, who was hungover, went for a lie down in some kind of lodgings. Curiously, he must have ended up a communal chamber, because a young Dutch lady was resting in another bed. This situation generated one of Pepys’ more sensual diary passages, which I shall quote in full:

I went to lie down in a chamber in the house, where in another bed there was a pretty Dutch woman in bed alone, but though I had a month’s-mind* I had not the boldness to go to her. So there I slept an hour or two. At last she rose, and then I rose and walked up and down the chamber, and saw her dress herself after the Dutch dress, and talked to her as much as I could, and took occasion, from her ring which she wore on her first finger, to kiss her hand, but had not the face to offer anything more

*An earnest desire or longing

Pepys eventually left the lodgings and went to have a look around the church in Scheveling, where he discovered the skeleton of a whale’s mouth hanging in the chancel. He was astonished by its size, which I can sympathise with, having often marvelled at the size of the whale jaw-bone arch in Whitby.



Eventually the order came through for men to return to the Nazeby, and they were forced to tackle incredibly rough seas in boats that simply weren't up to the task. Pepys believed they were all in great danger, and pointed out that of the men in his transfer boat, he was the only one not to vomit everywhere. Charming.

A mixture of not enough sleep, the trauma of the boat trip and the effects of too much alcohol meant that as soon as Pepys reached the Nazeby, he fell asleep in his cabin, fully clothed. He was awoken by the ship’s gun sounding at 4am the next morning, but assumed it was 8pm the previous evening. When he peered out of his window, he mistook “the sun rising for the sun setting the night before.” And I'm sure we’ve all been there at least once in our lives...

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Crambo

I’ve just got back from the gym, where I watched myself skipping in a mirror... and felt ashamed! Until today, I had no idea I skipped with chronic pigeon toes, and to make matters worse, sometimes I sing whilst I’m doing it. I began to feel self-conscious about my skipping a week ago when a ruggedly handsome man, with cool tattoos appeared out of nowhere and started skipping in front of me. And when I say skipping, I actually mean expressing his innate masculinity and absolute ease with his body. He was double-skipping, side-skipping and jumping up and down at a speeds I’ve never seen before. Everyone in the gym was watching him admiringly, and you could see their eyes flicking from him towards me. I'm sure they were thinking; “look at the little fat girl with the pigeon-toes skipping in the corner. I bet she’s got no friends”. Minutes later, the Adonis was in another corner, spinning on his head and doing all these cool street dance moves. I consoled myself with the thought that he probably, well, hopefully, hadn’t written a symphony...

On that note, I had an email today from Alison up in Leeds with a copy of a letter she’d received from someone who’d seen our Doreen reading her poem on Look North. Here’s what it said:

"On the day that you recited your lovely poem for the Symphony for Yorkshire on Look North my dear husband lost his fight against cancer. He was born in Yorkshire and spent all but a few of his 83 years living in Leeds, escaping, whenever he could, to the countryside that he cherished and enjoyed so much. It was as if you had written the poem for him and so I arranged for it to be read at his funeral - the last verse being so moving and so appropriate. The whole congregation was touched by your words that took us in our imaginations to the fresh air and space of the moors and dales."

It’s moments like this that make me realise I’m doing at least something right

Saturday 19th May 1660, and still no news from Montagu junior. Pepys didn’t seem hugely concerned. Mr Pierce the surgeon was probably still with him, somewhere in Holland, so there was little he could do other than wait for his return. Instead, he went shopping. He called in on a lady who made pretty carvings in shells and rocks, which he thought were very fine, but too fragile to transport back to England. In a picture shop, he saw countless examples of trompe l’oeil, which was something of a speciality of Dutch painters at that time. The image Pepys particularly liked was framed by a curtain, which seemed to be almost three dimensional. It was, however, incredibly expensive and Pepys was interrupted by the arrival of Montagu Junior with Mr Pierce, with whom Pepys was incredibly angry and vowed not to forgive him for a long time. A bit rich, by all accounts...



A surprisingly modern-looking 17th Century example of Dutch Trompe L'Oeil

Pepys and the boy then took a trip to Lausdune (Loosduinen), a small village on the outskirts of the Hague, where the Countess Margaret of Henneberg was said to have given birth to what can only be described as a litter of 365 children in one gestation! This eerie event, which was thought to be the result of a curse, was said to taken place on good Friday in 1276. The story is as surreal as any I’ve encountered. Each of the children was said to be no bigger than a worm. All the boys were called Jan, and all the girls were named Elizabeth and everyone in the tale (Countess included) died shortly afterwards. The house then disappeared into the ground.

They returned to The Hague on a wagon, playing a rhyming game called crambo as they travelled. Pepys palmed Montagu Junior off on a passing uncle and spent the evening drinking heavily with a university friend, in a tavern, where the serving girl was an “exceeding pretty lass.” Pepys was convinced that she was up for a bit of how’s your father, but despite staying in the pub until past midnight, he didn’t manage to pull her. His friend, on the other hand, got lucky "and lay with her all night".

Pepys ends the entry with a rather charming line, which to me captures a moment in time...

"Going to my lodging we met with the bellman, who struck upon a clapper, which I took in my hand, and it is just like the clapper that our boys frighten the birds away from the corn with in summer time in England. To bed."

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Schuit!

Every morning, a different group of women sit in the same corner of the cafe. They talk about their lives, and their children and the committees they’re on. All of them are always immaculately dressed, with immaculate hair-dos, immaculate nails and immaculate handbags and matching cars. They’re always talking about the extraordinary events they’re organising at Highgate School and I find myself regularly astonished by the opportunities they regularly hand to those kids on golden platters.

I suppose I wonder what these women do all day, apart sitting in the cafe and making themselves look pretty, and doing flowers for the church and organising nannies to pick up their children from school. Perhaps I’m doing them a disservice because they’re obviously intelligent people, but it strikes me that these women have been indulged all their lives. If they feel like doing a course in massage, or reki, then their husband pays, just like Daddy did when they were young.

Do these women meet in Costa Coffee because they’re going out of their minds with boredom? They plainly don't like each other. When one leaves, they all lay into her. They spend their time exchanging stories about their latest status symbols and talking about how they’re worried about their teenage children, who've plainly already entered the cycle of indulgence to the extent that nothing excites them in life because they don’t actually want anything. Their daughters will, no doubt, go to Africa on a gap year, drift through university and train as lawyers, but very quickly get bored, because they’ve never had to do a day of hard work in their lives. So they'll start fixating on finding a wealthy husband/daddy, so that they can have a society wedding and a clutch of children and ultimately leave the job that they find boring... and so the cycle begins again.

But what would happen, I wonder, if one of their husbands lost his job? What would happen if they couldn't have their hair done every week, or shop in Prada? What if they were forced to buy their clothes in the charity shop that they used to volunteer in? Would they still be allowed to meet for coffee? After work, perhaps? Would they stand by their man? Or simply move on...?

I don't want them to stop coming to the cafe. They're all too thin to eat, but one of them always buys a cake, which she leaves, untouched on the table. And I'll let you into a little secret. Sometimes when I'm feeling poor, or greedy... I eat it!

I sat and wrote for a bit in Waterlow Park at lunchtime, with the glorious sun setting my face on fire. At one point I watched as two men re-painted some of the ornate dustbins in the park. They were taking enormous care to make sure none of the black paint went over the golden piping and watching them became almost hypnotic. It struck me that there must be far worse jobs to do on a sunny day in May. Your one task in life is to make sure than none of the black paint goes over the golden piping. Perhaps when I'm old, and the music has left me, I'd be able to do a job like that...

We’ve just got back from Clissold Park in Stoke Newington; a mercy dash to see a friend in need, that turned into a beautiful picnic and a hysterical game of giant darts. I am determined not to miss the sun when she shines this year.

Pepys woke up early 350 years ago, having been informed that the Duke of York would be inspecting the Nazeby. He hot-footed it back to the coast and left the young Montagu in the hands of Mr Pierce the surgeon with orders not to let the boy out of his sight and remain at all times indoors. At Scheveling, Pepys discovered that the wind was far too high for a transfer boat to deliver him safely to the Nazeby, so he headed back to The Hague, only to find that young Edward had gone to Delft. So Pepys jumped on a schuit (a sort of canal boat) and headed to the land of blue pottery and Vermeer.

Fortunately, he caught up with the runaway lad en route, but they continued to Delft nevertheless, and were shown around the town by a young lad who seemed to have a great interest in tombs and church organs. Pepys described the town as “most sweet” and noted that there were bridges everywhere and a river on every street. The following picture of Delft by Vermeer was painted in 1660.



Their sightseeing tour was disbanded when the group stumbled upon the house of a Brit, who invited them in for drinks.

On the journey back to The Hague, Pepys attempted to chat up a “pretty sober Dutch lass” who sat on the boat reading, no doubt trying to avoid making eye-contact with the enthusiastic but slightly odd foreigner who was attempting to make small talk.

This seemingly endless day concluded with yet another trip to the Princess Dowager’s House. I’m surprised she didn’t just kick them all out whilst screaming “leave me to grieve...” She did, in fact die within months. No doubt her slow fade into oblivion was observed by a stream of visitors trampling around her house. It was here that Pepys met Lord Fairfax, of Civil War fame and spent some time marvelling at the nuts growing on the trees in her garden. He was also delighted to discover a fine echo in the vaults of her house. Predictably, he whipped out his flageolet and played “to great advantage”. He doesn't say why he was snooping around the Princess' cellar. Perhaps he was helping himself to wine.

Unfortunately somewhere in all this excitement, Pepys managed to lose sight of Montagu Junior, and was forced to go to bed without discovering where he’d got to...

Monday, 17 May 2010

Voorhout

The muse stood me up royally today, and left me twiddling my thumbs in Costa Coffee whilst two irritating Chinese housewives cackled behind me. My complete lack of creative inspiration ended up making me feel a bit panicky. What if the muse never returns? What if I’ve used up all my credits with her for the year? This must be what it feels like to be Andrew Lloyd Webber. Perhaps the time has come when I’ll be forced to start regurgitating old melodies and rifling through chests for the half-finished manuscripts I wrote as a student.


Nathan and I have just been to the heath with Fiona to watch the sun setting from the top of Parliament Hill. It’s so beautiful and there was such a treacly light up there this evening that the trees were almost glowing. I never knew so many shades of green existed.

We’re now sitting in a newly refurbished pub near the gym on Highgate Road. Unsurprisingly, we were drawn in because they were running a quiz. This place used to be an absolute dive. I would never have dared to come in here ten years ago, when the windows were all painted over, and the inside was a smog-filled den of nastiness; which even then seemed completely at odds with the area, which has always been a bit of a haven for yummy mummies. Fortunately, the pub now sells cloudy lemonade, has piano evenings on a Wednesday and serves picnic packs for people spending the day on the Heath. Sadly, it smells a little of stale beer but since the smoking ban, I think we’ve all had to get used to what pubs actually smell of...and indeed what their ceilings look like!

May 17th 1660 was a momentous day for Pepys. He woke up early, left the Nazeby and took a coach to The Hague with Montagu’s son, Edward in tow. Pepys had decided that if the King wasn't going to come to him, then he’d go to the King. He figured that the young Montagu would open doors and he wasn’t wrong because within a few hours, he'd come face to face with the monarch. There followed an orgy of hand-kissing; first the King’s, then the Duke of York’s and then the Princess Royal’s. Pepys described the King as “a very sober man” and seemed hugely impressed with the quality of his court and those he'd chosen for company.

Before long, Pepys and Master Montagu had set off on a veritable pilgrimage of countless exiled members of the British royal family. They called in on the Princess Dowager, who like all dowagers was wasting away following the death of her beloved husband and had an audience with the Lord Chancellor, Sir Edward Hyde, who was in bed with the gout, but still managed to speak “merrily” to Pepys and his companion. The concept of having a constant trickle of strangers standing about whilst you lie ill in bed seems somewhat strange, but wasn’t unusual for that time. I suppose the nearest I’ve ever come to that kind of behaviour was when my friend Moira was awfully ill on the day of her birthday, but still insisted on having a party, which ended up taking place around her bed and culminated in a rather pathetic rendition of Away In A Manger whilst we offered birthday gifts to the sickly girl.

But I digress... After popping in on the Queen of Bohemia, Pepys drifted back to the centre of The Hague to watch the ladies of quality strolling up and down the tree-lined, Voorhout, which is still the main thoroughfare in that City. Pepys thought it looked a little bit like Hyde Park, which was where the great and the good paraded in 17th Century London. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find a single attractive lady to ogle at, although he was impressed by the quality of their carriages. Ooer misses.

At the end of the day, he headed back to Scheveling but had the mother of all rows with a Boatswain who refused to take him back to the Nazeby, so in a fit of pique, jumped on a wagon with just one horse (horror!) and headed back to the Hague where he was forced to sleep in a somewhat shonky guesthouse.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Dollywood

I did three hours work in Costa Coffee today, and in that time, put the finishing touches to one of the movements of the Symphony for Yorkshire. There’s no rest for the wicked, however, because tomorrow morning, I’ll need to start working on the third of the four movements, so it’s almost back to square one. That said, I’m pretty sure the lion’s share of the writing is done. I’ve already scored for both brass bands, the carillon, the tap-dancing accordion player, the saxophone choir, the Wurlitzer, the samba duo, the 12-piece wind ensemble and the musical saw! But I’m not quite out of the woods yet. Challenges on the horizon include finding cameos for a 5-piece folk ensemble, a rock band, an early music choir, a ukulele orchestra, and a set of Columbian drummers! One day, I’ll write something simple like a string quartet...


We’re currently driving away from The Curtain’s Up pub, where we won the quiz. Hurrah! I will confess to one tiny cheat. We were asked the name of the grace and favour residence of the Deputy Prime Minister, which was something I ought to have known and was genuinely on the tip of my tongue. Unfortunately the only word that would come to mind was “Dollywood”, which plainly wasn’t the answer. However, I believe it’s not cheating to contact your ex-partner on these occasions, particularly when said ex used to be a government minister! I texted him and was immediately provided with the answer; “Dorneywood.” But doesn’t Dollywood seems so much more appropriate?






Who'd live in a house like this...?

Good news for Nathan, who's just been cast in one of the Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells. These semi-staged performances have been taking place for about 20 years. All are forgotten musicals by hugely well-known composers, so in the past they’ve done pieces like The Flower Drum Song by Rogers and Hammerstein. The show Nathan’s doing is called The Day Before Spring. It’s by Lerner and Loewe and will run for 5 consecutive Sundays from 13th June.

350 years ago, Pepys spent the entire day on board the Nazeby, which was anchored off the coast of Holland. Montagu, emerged from his cabin at one point, shimmering like a disco ball draped in some of the glorious garb that had been delivered the previous day. It transpired that he was hoping to meet the King, who’d been due to come to Scheveling to see the Navy fleet. Sadly the King never arrived, so everyone played nine-pins instead. Pepys doesn’t mention if Montagu changed into something more appropriate before the game but I like to think that he didn't. Furthermore I hope the dreadful sycophant slipped on a little pile of sick and ruined his ostentatious clobber!

Later in the evening, conversation turned once again to the King, and what a difficult financial situation he’d managed to get himself into. No doubt this was caused by living completely outside of his means, which became something of a speciality during his official reign. All his attendants were said to look ragged; “their clothes not being worth forty shillings the best of them”, so you can imagine how overjoyed the King was to receive a generous gift of money from Parliament. “So joyful” in fact “that he called the Princess Royal and Duke of York to look upon it as it lay in the portmanteau before it was taken out”. Aww bless.

The poet, Andrew Marvel, who was a contemporary of Pepys, wrote about this particular event;

“At length, by wonderful impulse of fate,
The people call him back to help the State;
And what is more, they send him money, too,
And clothe him all from head to foot anew.”

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Eliezer Jenkins

I feel fairly useless today. I had intended to do a day’s work, but seem to have done nothing of the sort. I guess the odd day off doesn’t do anybody any harm, but I think you only benefit psychologically if you're doing something other than staring at a computer screen and trying to motivate yourself. That said, there’s never an excuse for being a stroppy bastard and I’ve been one of them all day. The fact that I’m suffering somewhat from hay fever, general exhaustion and acid indigestion is not helping things, and our new oven doesn’t seem to be working properly, either, so perhaps I should give myself a bit of a break.

I woke up this morning, having had another dream that I was at a hotel in Seven Dials having tea and cakes with Benny from ABBA. It’s a dream I keep having and it always fills me with a rather pathetic sense of joy. I can list my life’s ambitions on the fingers of one hand; to own a house with a roof terrace, to win a Grammy, to live to the age of 90 without losing my mind, to see the pyramids and to meet Benny from ABBA. Perhaps it’s time to make the last of these ambitions a reality.

I’m currently sitting with brother Edward and Sascha in their beautiful home in Canary Wharf. We’ve been having an evening of television and food and are currently watching the entries for this year's Eurovision Song Contest. Aparantly the Bulgarians have found the only attractive man in the country to represent them. It's a shame he sounds like someone blowing tracing paper over a comb! It’s rather lovely to sit here, right above the Thames. At one point I heard the sound of waves lapping against the building and thought it was the air conditioning.

We had an email last night from other brother, Tim, who is in Bangkok, seemingly terrified out of his mind. Poor bloke. The riots over there appear to be happening just outside his hotel, and his photographs of Molotov cocktails and Les Mis-style improvised barricades have even been featured all over the BBC’s website. The whole city is descending into chaos and Tim, very wisely, is packing his belongings and hot-footing it out of there on the first flight he can find. Unfortunately, I’ve just heard that planes might be grounded yet again due to Icelandic ice, so I’m not sure where that's going to leave him. If you're interested in seeing the BBC article, it's here

350 years ago, Pepys was still in the Hague and by daylight was finding the city even more to his liking. He was pleased to discover that the most refined citizens spoke either French or Latin, and that the women were pretty; many of them already wearing fashionable black patches on their faces. Pepys went shopping and bought a few books and a couple of baskets to take home to his wife and their friend Mrs Pierce. Elizabeth Piece made Elizabeth Pepys feel very jealous, and it was hardly surprising. It is said that after giving birth to her 19th child, she still looked like a 20-year old.

But I have a confession. Yesterday, I wrote that I’d changed my opinion about that troublesome Burr, only to discover today that the “boy” who diligently went back to collect Pepys' rapier; the one who took great delight in anything mysterious or new, and had almost died in a gale trying to rescue his master’s laundry, was not in fact the lazy Burr (who was Pepys’ clerk), it was Eliezer Jenkins from Ely. I make this amendment purely because I feel such an obviously open and innocent character, deserves something other than the humiliation of disappearing un-mentioned into the annuls of time. I’m, sure his life on this planet can’t have been much fun. So, I propose that everyone reading this blog should take a few moments to think about the millions of un-named men and women who died in wars, plagues and natural disasters, who have been entirely forgotten by time.

The weather continued to be horrid, and Pepys and Eliezer went back to the sea port of Scheveling, where the Nazeby was anchored and drank for some time in a “house of entertainment”; which surely must have been some kind of brothel. They sat and watched the waves crashing onto the sandy beaches whilst countless boats overturned in the sea, which was awash with “trunks, portmanteaus, hats and feathers.”

Later in this seemingly endless day, Pepys was back on board the mother ship. Montagu took him to one side to show off his brand new wardrobe of posh clothes, which had just arrived and were described as; “very rich as gold and silver can make them, only his sword he and I do not like.” In the process, Montagu talked openly about his decision to switch allegiance to the King, and the exact moment he decided to jump ship, which seemed to be during a trip to Denmark. He genuinely seemed to be very fond of Pepys, and had obviously started to trust him implicitly.

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.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Cast out those harps!

We went down to Clapham last night to watch our friend Jonny in a play called Bent. It’s a brilliant piece. I read it first when I was at drama school. It’s about the treatment of homosexuals under the Nazi regime, and it’s a stifling, claustrophobic work, which is almost too painful to watch at times. The tiny auditorium was packed to the brim with theatre royalty. It was almost unnerving to see Kevin Spacey slumming it in a fringe theatre. This is, after all, the man who has become the face of first class plane travel.


I got to meet the lovely Frances Rufelle. Nathan would describe her as one of the West End’s finest daughters, but to me she’ll always be the girl who sang Lonely Symphony at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994. I still remember watching it in my student house in York.

Talking of which, I’m now back in Yorkshire. Today I was in Sheffield meeting a set of very good string players, one of whom had played in the Northamptonshire Youth Orchestra, so we got misty-eyed and had a natter about the good old days. After Sheffield, we drove cross country, through the beautiful undulating landscape of South Yorkshire to a little village underneath a wind farm, where we listened to the Mill House Green Male Voice Choir in a tiny community hall. I don’t know if I’m just a bit tired at the moment, but they had a profound effect on me. Every single one of them seemed to be singing from his heart and when they let rip in glorious four-part harmony, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I was deeply moved by the experience and would be honoured to work with them in A Symphony for Yorkshire. So it’s with a feeling of great contentment that we drive back through the gloaming; the yellow rape fields on either side of the road glowing almost iridescent in the half-light.

Less good news on the Nathan front. Naked Boys Singing was served its notice today. They haven’t even been given the honour of a last performance, which is sickening because Nathan’s father was due to watch the show tonight. There seems to have been some kind of row between the producers and the new owners of the Arts Theatre and the show was axed in a millisecond despite being the nearest thing to a hit that that theatre has seen in years. Yet again it’s the actors who get shafted at the hands of a whimsical, tin-pot dictator who’s convinced she knows how to run a theatre better than any of the countless changes of regimes who’ve failed before her. Go back to being an agent, darling, you were shit at that, but you’ll be even shitter at this.

Sunday May 13th 1660 was a busy day on board the Nazeby. The tailors were still making and amending flags, painstakingly cutting out pieces of yellow cloth into the shape of crowns and sewing them over anything that resembled Cromwell’s Arms. Their day’s work was shown to a poorly Montagu, who'd taken to his chamber, but he was thrilled enough with their labours to offer a tip of 20 shillings for them to share between them. Probably money he’d won playing nine-pins! Pepys continued to hear stories about the great and the good paying homage to their King in Breda. Some were knighted, others left Holland in disgrace for saying all the wrong things to their new monarch. Later in the day a council of war was called, but seemingly only to tell the tailors that they needed to remove all the harps from the union flags. Under the commonwealth the instrument had featured in the middle of the British flag to represent Ireland, but this was apparently offensive to the King, who viewed Ireland as nothing but a leech-like dependency. The harps were duly unstitched.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Fruitless Precaution

The conversations that I overhear in Costa Coffee never cease to amaze me. Take today for example. I sat opposite the members of a young rock band who were shouting at their manager about the deep rifts that seemed to be developing within their group. The lead singer was apparently a lazy four letter word beginning with c, who wouldn’t know a good riff if it slapped him in his lazy gob. Simultaneously, I was aware of a middle-aged woman behind me who seemed to be having a session with her shrink. She went for an incredibly long swim in Lake Indulgence and emerged, she said, feeling like she’d had a mini-breakthrough. I almost applauded. An hour or so later, a young girl to my right spent what seemed an eternity talking about her “ex-BFF”. She’d frozen her out of every social networking site on the planet because BFF had invited her to a fancy film premier and then changed her mind. Her monologue, which was like something from a Beckett play, proved comprehensively that her ex-best-friend-forever had had an incredibly lucky escape!


I also managed to tune into the most horrendous work-appraisal meeting. A young, rather surly-looking girl was literally being hauled across the coals. I wasn’t altogether sure what was meant by the phrase “you’ve got to work WITH me, not AT me...” but I don’t think she was in line for a promotion. The girl seemed to be taking the insults on the chin, but suddenly burst into floods of tears when her boss informed her that she was “impossible to work with, especially in the mornings.” It was good that she felt she could be so specific. If the girl was taking anything in, (and she wasn’t) she’d be able to go away with the knowledge that she needed to eat a larger breakfast, thereby making herself, well, possible to work with. But it didn’t stop there. She was then accused of having an incredibly messy “in-box”, which seemed to be the last straw, because the girl, still weeping, yelled without a hint of irony; “I can’t help it if someone’s been fiddling with my box”. Cue everyone in the cafe looking up from their newspapers and a few gasps from an elderly Jewish lady. I guess it would have been inappropriate for her boss to have laughed and said “more tea, vicar?” I don’t think I’d have been able to stop myself. But then again, I wouldn’t have been washing my dirty linen in public. Silly tart.

I did a full day’s work in the cafe and now smell like a weird blend of chocolate, coffee and toasted sandwiches. Fiona is back in town and came up the hill to see me, bringing tales of her life on the road. Apparently South America was somewhat disappointing as the band she’s in were playing cities which she described as the equivalent of doing Coventry, Birmingham and Stoke On Trent. Eek. I hope at least the weather was warm...



Does anyone think I look like this chap? It’s from the publicity for the film 4 Lions, and when I saw the picture, I wondered if perhaps I’d been pap’d hiding underneath a blanket whilst waiting for the men in white coats to arrive.

May 12th 1660, and the fleet was finally sailing on the open seas. The ships made speedy progress across the channel, and at one point were equidistant between Dover and Calais, Pepys commenting how pleasing it was to be able to see both places at the same time. I assume the fleet then headed North, for Pepys noted that the further they went; “the further we lost sight of both lands”.

Later in the day, over a game of cards, he was told an “admirable” story, called The Fruitless Precaution (which sounds like the Beckett play the girl in the cafe was performing.) Pepys thought the story “exceeding pretty” and swore to memorise it if he could get his hands on a copy of the book from whence it came.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

That troublesome Burr

I think my brain has been wired badly. I came to this particular conclusion when our team, The Eristicats, came almost last at our regular Sunday night quiz. The quiz-master, aware of the almost unstoppable rise of the i-phone, has tried hard to make his questions relatively google-proof, but this means they tend to revolve around visuals and it would appear I have no aptitude in this department. We’re given sheets of paper which are covered in pictures of Hollywood directors, famous landmarks and various company logos. I look through them, faking a kind of knowledgeable air, but nothing seems familiar, even though afterwards I realise I should have recognised almost all of them. And it happens all the time. I often don’t remember faces that I’ve seen in the flesh. And this confuses me. I’m a relatively successful director, and I'm regularly complimented on my photographic skills. I must, therefore, have a good visual eye. But why don’t I process what I see?


I suppose my entire life is based around instinct. I pride myself on having good instincts, so perhaps my subconscious is actually stopping me from transporting visual information to the part of my brain where it needs to be processed. Perhaps I just like to use my instincts! Sadly, I’m not much better with words. I forget words all the time, and find it difficult to bring them from the little grey cells to the tip of my tongue. Are these all symptoms of early Altzheimer’s, I wonder? My biggest fear in life is losing my mind. I have dreams where I’m locked in a tiny space, terrified beyond belief, because I don’t recognise the voices of the people outside who are calling my name. Sometimes I wonder if that's how it must have felt to be my Grandmother in those last few confusing years.

I'm watching the pictures of Brown resigning and feeling a little bit sad. I think the image of him walking away from Downing Street with Sarah and the two children will stay with me for some time. We were all watching the end of New Labour: the end of an era that had been such a large part of my life, an era which started with joyous singing and dancing on that misty Spring morning in 1997.

Friday 11th May 1660, and everyone on board The Nazeby was making arrangements for the start of their journey to Holland. All the flags and heraldry in the fleet had been removed and replaced with images bearing the King’s Arms. But once again, the troublesome Burr had gone AWOL. When he finally returned to the ship, an apoplectic Pepys came within an inch of sacking him, but yet again, Burr managed to wriggle his way out of trouble. A more cynical person would wonder what he had on Pepys. Nevertheless, and perhaps as punishment, he was sent back to shore to pick up Pepys’ laundry and told to meet the Nazeby, which was about to raise her anchor, further along the Kent coast.

As it happened, the fleet snaked all the way to Dover, where it was rewarded with a 30-gun salute from the castle.

There was a bad storm that night, and Pepys became worried about Burr, who still hadn’t returned to the ship. Eventually a fleet of smaller boats arrived, bringing a bewildering amount of provisions for the voyage ahead which included all manner of livestock. And it was these boats that also returned Burr, and some freshly washed linen, to their master. Pepys went to bed and slept soundly.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Baroque 'cello

Gordon Brown resigned at 5pm today and I feel strangely unaffected by the news. I suppose I never really saw him as a prime minister. He was like that supply teacher at school that you laughed at and ignored until the real teacher came back. Getting rid of him is a bit like clearing out a wardrobe, and finally chucking away that threadbare coat that saw you throught the good times but ultimately stinks of mothballs.

I’ve just returned from St Olave’s Church, where Graham Fawcett spoke with great wit and wisdom about Pepys in 1660. It’s great fun to go to his lectures armed with the knowledge I’ve accumulated since beginning my Pepys odyssey. I occasionally felt like one of those irritating people who laugh at Shakespeare comedies. Graham would begin to read a passage, I’d know what was coming, and titter a little to myself, somewhat thrilled that he’d found something as amusing as I had. Graham's lectures are about comparisons. Like this blog, I suppose, he compares what happened in 1660 with what happened 350 years later. He pointed out today, for example that in April 2010, Brown had gone to the monarchy to ask if he could dissolve Parliament exactly 350 years after Monck had gone to Parliament to ask if we could un-dissolve the monarchy.

We were treated to some delightful music played on a baroque ‘cello. It started off wonderfully, but as the poor guy began to scrape his way through some unaccompanied Bach, playing with a bow which looked like it could have fired arrows and the ‘cello gripped perilously between his knees, I couldn’t help but wonder how much nicer it would have sounded on a ‘cello with a spike and a modern bow. These were, after all, inventions which were designed to improve the sound of the instrument! I've heard it said that less capable musicians either learn to play the viola or head towards the fringes of music. Some "specialise" in modern music because you can’t tell if they're playing out of tune and others play early music on "period" instruments so no-one can tell if they're playing out of tune. That said, it was an absolute joy to hear him accompanied by the superb organ at St Olave’s.

If you have a chance, and you’re a fan of Pepys, go to the last two lectures. It only costs £15, and you get food and wine thrown in. More information here

Fiona called today. She’s just been to New Orleans. The place sounds exactly as I’d imagined it; cocooned in a colourful and glorious time-warp. She talked about jazz and people dancing in the streets, of dogs on leads made from pieces of string, and a general atmosphere of tolerance and openness. She said it all felt a bit like one of my films which made me want to jump on a plane and go there. She also talked about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and how she’d bought a book filled with images of the catastrophe which made her weep because suddenly she was standing on the very streets where everything had happened and was finally able to get a sense of the scale of the disaster. I suppose I had the same response when I saw Ground Zero for the first time.

Thursday 10th May 1660 was important for Pepys because it was on this day that he found out for certain the Nazeby would imminently sail across the North Sea to pick up the new King of England and transport him to the land of his birth right. This news had Pepys staying up until the wee smalls, writing letters and making plans. In other news, Montagu’s son Edward appeared on the boat, and was immediately sick. Nice!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Epicureans

I’ve been writing all day and am therefore feeling a bit light-headed and over-emotional. I demonstrated this particular fact rather comprehensibly earlier today when I burst into tears whilst watching Over The Rainbow, which for the American readers of this blog, is a TV search for an actress to play Dorothy in the West End's production of The Wizard of Oz. We’re now down to the final 5 contestants, who include a pint-sized Beyonce, a gurner from Middlesborough and a lass with a face like a tea tray.


I finally have music software that works, although the irony, which we discovered at about 4pm yesterday, is that my pervious computer wasn’t broken at all. The entire problem was caused by the downloadable upgrade of Finale, which is obviously riddled with all manner of glitches that need to be sorted out before it's offered to any more technophobic composers. It appears that I’ve spent 3 whole days, feeling like I’m losing my mind, rushing around the home counties and replacing a perfectly decent computer, for absolutely no reason. I’m furious, and feel I’m probably owed some kind of compensation, or at the very least an apology.

Last night saw us speeding through rural Essex to a quiz in Thaxted’s village hall. The average age of those taking part was 73 and the air was infused with a whiff of Worthington’s Originals. Camp quizmaster, Vince had turned the event into an occasion by dressing like Elton John, in platform boots, a dodgy wig and a sequin-bedecked suit, which we all decided was very fetching in a repulsive sort of way. Our team, The Epicureans, won comprehensively, although the prizes were a touch disappointing. I was hoping we’d win some kind of livestock, or an item of farm machinery, but we ended up with nothing but an inflated sense of pride, a couple of bottles of wine, a laminated certificate and a box of white chocolate mice. I also felt like a light narcotic might have been baked into the fruit cake, because a single mouthful made my head feel woozy. It’s amazing what these country people will do to see off the opposition!

I had a lovely chat in the car on the way home with Ellen about the pitfalls of being a free-lance writer: those feelings of loneliness coupled with being incapable of finding ways to relax. She, like me, regularly works late into the night and like me, sometimes wonders if she’s losing the plot... But what are the alternatives? A doctor may well diagnose stress, and offer to write a letter that signs you off work for a bit, but taking time out of a freelance contract means either losing the job, not being paid, or needing to work twice as hard when you return to make up for lost time.

Speaking of which, Pepys was up early on May 9th 1660, writing up a letter to the King from the generals of the fleet, promising to be dutiful, obedient and, no doubt, throw their capes over puddles and wipe the royal posterior if he clicked his lazy fingers. The rest of the morning was spent writing letters to London, which were given to Montagu’s servant, Mr Cook, who would be responsible for delivering them to the capital in person. Yet again, Pepys lost at nine-pins. 5 shillings this time. Proving, if proof were needed, that he was obsessed with the game, but ultimately really crap at it! A bit like me and rounders...

Saturday, 8 May 2010

The tugging of forelocks

I have an inkling that I'm back on track in matters computorial, which bodes well for my mental health. Comically, the soundcard on my computer was found to be faulty, so I'm now on my sixth computer in the space of a year, which must set some kind of a record.

So yet another day has been wasted! I ate chips to celebrate and then sat rather miserably as Nathan installed various programmes on my replacement computer. On the bright side, I no longer feel the urge to scream into a pillow and on the even brighter side, I discovered that the man in my favourite chip shop loathes corriander, which I have long suspected to be the devil’s food. I have dedicated an ever-increasing percentage of my life towards setting up a group which promotes its banning. Today is the day I go public, so if you think corriander tastes of soap, or Grannie-spit, please get in touch.

Later today, I’m driving up to Thaxted to take part in a mega-exciting quiz at the local village hall. There’s a ploughman’s dinner to be eaten and, no doubt, an astonishing set of raffle prizes. One year the winner received a brace of pheasants and my Mum was so horrified, she had to pretend not to have the winning ticket! I have a very good feeling about the team we’ve assembled; a good mix of ages and interests, with one or two unknown entities... which is always fun!

I went out in Soho last night with Matt and Philip Sallon. We ate at Balans and then did a grand walking tour through the sleazy heart of London. Philip seems to know every rent boy, mini-cab-taxi owner and transsexual crack whore in the city. His eccentric existence usually begins after dark and often ends with him drifting through the darkened alleyways and back streets of central London, talking to anyone who seems entertaining or in need. Hang out with Philip for long enough and you’ll be introduced to an exciting parallel world existing in the almost invisible neon-lit cracks between our capital’s shiniest and most well-trodden streets. I’ve said it before. I feel extremely privileged to call him a friend.

There was another day of pomp and circumstance on the Nazeby on this date in 1660. The great and the good continued to call in en route to pay homage to the King in Holland. Each of them needed to be treated with respect and there was much saluting and tugging of forelocks. One of those passing through brought Pepys news of his wife, who had recently been taken on a trip to London, and had talked much of her love for her husband, which pleased Pepys enormously, despite having just lost the enormous sum of 9 shillings in a game of nine-pins.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Armed siege

It's official! I'm all over the place! My music software continues not to work, and I can feel the clock ticking down on the Yorkshire commission. The bottom line is that a month ago, I invested a large amount of money in software that simply doesn’t work on my new laptop. The soundcard is not of a high enough calibre and when I play anything back, all I can hear is static. Worse still, no one seems to be able to help me. I feel sick and I feel angry and right now I’m having to force myself not to scream into a pillow. I’m wasting hours and hours that I just don’t have to spare. Today I’ve visited PC Worlds in Moorgate and Tottenham Court Road, and right now, Nathan is in a store in Stevenage! It’s been one long wild goose chase. If I wasn't so stressed, I'd be laughing.


Great Britain woke up to a hung Parliament this morning, which is interesting but not altogether surprising. That inane Scottish woman, Lorraine Kelly tried to tell me all about it on GMTV but I was forced to switch over because her chirpy “och, enough about you, let’s talk about me” was making me want to punch the television. I’ve tried incredibly hard to like that woman. She’s very pro-gay, and, according to my mate, (who admittedly could bull-shit for England) is often viewed staggering around Heaven holding a bottle of poppers whilst yelling about how much she loves queens.

But I digress...

Hornsey and Wood Green has remained Liberal Democrat, but elsewhere the support for the party seems to have flat-lined, largely due to our ridiculous electoral system which forces us all to vote tactically. My little outburst in the Polling Station was categorically trumped by, of all things, an armed siege later in the day. The story hasn’t yet made the headlines so I can’t think it was a particularly successful siege. Quite why they decided to raid a polling station in an Arts Centre in Highgate, I’ve no idea. Perhaps they were carrying comedy water pistols and were actually members of the Monster Raving Loony party. Perhaps it was some kind of protest against the lack of literature available regarding candidates in the council election. Or tragically, maybe some wise guy with a sawn-off shotgun figured that the vegetarian cafĂ© in the complex would be doing a roaring trade on election day!

It still feels very odd and more than a little upsetting to see Midlands towns like Corby and Nuneaton turning blue. I appreciate that all the parties are the same nowadays, but even the word Tory makes my blood start to run cold. I am, however, extremely proud of the good citizens of Brighton Pavilion, who will shortly deliver the first ever Green MP to the house. Roll on electoral reform. We need more mavericks in Parliament!

It was a rather jolly day on board the Nazeby on May 7th 1660. The ship was full to the rafters with dignitaries, having evidently been selected as the boat that would eventually bring Charles II back to England. But there was much to do in the meantime. Flags bearing the King’s arms would need to be made and everything had to be spruced up and decorated with the monarch’s colours. Pepys was given the task of booking a barge of musicians and perhaps, as a thank you, was presented with 12 bottles of Margate ale, much of which he consumed during the day. Mr Shepley and William Howe joined him in his cabin at the end of the night and the three men drank and giggled like school boys until 1am.