Tuesday, 31 August 2010


What a difference a day makes. London is currently bathed in the most beautiful late summer sunshine. The days of non-stop rain seem to be over and there’s finally a sense of optimism in the air again. I often think the start of September brings with it an element of hope, which no doubt goes back to childhood and the start of the new school year. I still remember the excitement of endless hours spent in Woolworths choosing pencils which smelt of cola and sets of multi-coloured felt tip pens. For some reason I always ended up buying one of those useless plastic set square/protractor combination packs, which would never fit into my brand new furry pencil case. Walking out of my first lesson of the new term, trying to hold all my stationery was like the cabbage game on Crackerjack!

Like all sensible people, I had my annual sexual health MOT today and all was fine. I went to a very lovely clinic in Soho, where the chairs were comfortable, the deco was plush and there wasn’t that all-pervading sense of degradation and sadness that these clap clinics can often generate! The results came back in 3 minutes flat, which has to be some kind of a record and made a very welcome change from that old-school 2 week wait.  The woman who did my test was friendly and kept calling me honey, which I liked for some reason.

I would urge everyone to periodically get tested for STIs. There’s a very unpleasant sense of ignorance, particularly in the heterosexual world, who seem to believe that these kinds of diseases only affect the gay community, but, as Nathan often says, a baby is the nicest thing you can catch! I'm often horrified to hear about the sexual practices of some of my straight friends; the risks they take on a daily basis make my blood run cold. That said, the lady in the clinic announced a very troubling statistic; 1 in 5 of the gay community in London is now HIV positive. Deeply shocking. Of course, it’s now a disease that is eminently treatable, but there’s still no cure, and the side effects of the drugs can be very unpleasant. And be warned; the number of heterosexuals testing positive is rising and rising...

Despite the glorious weather, I’m still not feeling 100%. Today was meant to be about starting as I mean to go on for the rest of the year. Autumn is typically my most productive season, but there’s a distinct lack of energy in me at the moment. Perhaps when I head back to the gym tomorrow, things will change.

Is it just me, or is the man who sings the Go Compare advert jingle, the most irritating person in the world?

August 31st 1660, and Pepys seemed very upbeat and pleased with his position in the world. He spent much of the day “waiting upon” Montagu, who had been called to sea rather suddenly, and as a result there was much that needed to be organised.

Monday, 30 August 2010

On top of the world

Today I got to fulfill another one of my life's ambitions by visiting the Whispering Gallery at St Paul's Cathedral. I can't believe I've lived in London for over fifteen years without stepping foot in that magical place.

I've been on a day out with my very dear friend, Edward, and rather than making a dash for the nearest bit of countryside, we decided we'd have a look at what London had to offer.

As we walked along the South Bank it became very apparent that there weren't many other Londoners on the tourist trail. Most city dwellers had, no doubt, taken advantage of the sunshine and cleared off to Southend On Sea to watch the baptisms!

We popped into the turbine hall at the Tate Modern to see what was going on and were hugely disappointed to discover that there wasn't an awe-inspiring, enormous work of art hanging-out there. Instead they seemed to be running ballet classes, tucked away in one corner of the enormous space, which felt way too self-conscious to be some kind of installation that I didn't understand!

It was whilst we were having a pub lunch that the idea of visiting the cathedral came to us; both of us confessing that we'd never visited it before.

The initial impact of the place is breathtaking. It's fabulously gaudy and terribly high! Standing underneath the giant dome whilst looking up at rows and rows of balconies and frescos, is so awe-inspiring it actually gave me vertigo!

We decided to climb the 500 or so steps to the very top of the building. It's the human condition to want to be as high as possible even if the view is a bit rubbish and the climb is tiring or dangerous.

The Whispering Gallery is the first of three levels and is far grander than I'd imagined. Looking up it's still many, many metres to the top of the dome and the circumference is very large at this point. We did what we were meant to do and took up positions against the walls opposite each other with perhaps twenty meters of empty space between us. I cupped my hand against the wall and whispered Edward's name, and then put my ear to the wall and listened. It took a moment, but then I heard something magical. "Benjamin Till." I heard my name. It was faint above the sound of the cathedral organ, but very definitely there. It was disembodied and extremely eerie; the sort of sound you might expect would wake you up from a nightmare and make you sit bolt-upright in bed in a cold sweat! It was terrifying, yet wonderful and deeply mystifying. We were both thrilled. What on earth causes this phenomenon? I vowed to return at the start of a day when there weren't any other sounds to get in the way.

From the Whispering Gallery, we climbed upwards to the Stone Gallery and then to the Golden Gallery, where we were able to look down at the cathedral floor from a ball-tingling height! But I suppose it was the view of London from the viewing platform outside of the building that properly took our breath away. You could see for miles. Highgate was particularly clear on the horizon, as was Crystal Palace in the south. We stood for some time, looking down on the scores of roof terraces and urban gardens in the City which are completely invisible from street level. Very exciting, in a way, just to know they exist and interesting to wonder who is allowed to use them and whether they know just how lucky they are!

Before I talk about what Pepys was up to, I feel obliged to bring your collective attention to this:

This single, by The Unconventionals, is out now on i-tunes, and was made by a group of my friends. It is guaranteed to cheer you up, and only costs 79p.  Buy it. I dare you!

Pepys woke up on this date 350 years ago to discover that all was well within his house and that his troublesome boy hadn't spent the night destroying the joint. In fact, quite the opposite, he seemed utterly destoyed and very apologetic, but Pepys was unimpressed, claiming he was "the most cunning rogue that ever I met with of his age."

Pepys headed for Westminster and dined with a lawyer at Heaven, which was a bar-cum-restaurant within the complex of Westminster Hall. Apparently there were other bars in the vicinity called Hell and Purgatory!

Elizabeth, meanwhile, went off to the christening of Mr Pierce, the surgeon's child. At the last moment, they asked her to be a god-mother, but Pepys stepped in and urged her to decline; it's not clear why. Pepys noted that today was the first time his wife had worn black patches on her face; a European tradition, which made its way to this country following the Restoration, and made an incredibly good cover-up for any pock-marks created by small pox.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

One Day More

I am sitting in a room somewhere in Ealing whilst around me twelve West End performers sing songs from the shows in multiple-part harmony. They're currently singing Seasons Of Love from Rent. No one seems worried that an enormous vat of multi-coloured  popcorn has just been spilt all over the floor. They're all too busy singing at the tops of their lungs. It's amazing what happens to a group of Wendies when someone begins to play songs from the shows. A similar thing happens to dancers when you say 'a five, six, seven, eight.' Try it some day. Nevertheless, I consider myself to be hugely lucky. There's many secretaries in Leicestershire who would pay at least sixty quid to hear this many show queens doing their thing. They're doing One Day More at the moment. Hysterical.

Last night, after my trip to Southend, I went into Soho for food with Nathan and our friend Cary, who is currently writing the book for the production of Flashdance which is about to open at The Shaftesbury Theatre. Yet another musical based on a 1980s chick flick! Next up; Ghost.

We ended the evening in Shuttleworths; a dive of a bar which sits underneath the Phoenix Theatre. It attracts theatricals, and is a rather glorious place, lined with posters from previous shows and countless signed headshots of actors. It's normally a charming place to sit and while away a few hours but last night it was horribly crowded, hot, sweaty and noisy, so we made a speedy exit.

350 years ago, Pepys and his wife spent the morning interrogating their boy, Will, in an attempt to discover whether he was the thief who had been stealing things from around the house. He denied everything "with the greatest of subtlety and confidence". But later, Elizabeth, no doubt by using her feminine wiles, managed to eke a confession out of him. And more besides. Pepys became incandescent with rage and swore to "put the lad away".

The incident obviously made everyone a bit jumpy for in the night, Jane the maid heard a sound downstairs, which was assumed to be the lad, who'd been unceremoniously thrown out of the house, plotting his revenge. Poor Jane was sent downstairs on her own to lock all the doors, Elizabeth went into a proper panic, and the entire family ended up sleeping in one room with candles burning all night!

Saturday, 28 August 2010


I’m in the back of brother Edward’s fancy car heading back from Southend on Sea. I’ve been on a day out with Sascha, Gemma, Michael and little Thomas. We seem to be listening to a Eurovision Song Contest playlist, which is making a good job of obliterating the memory of the ghastly town we've just visited! I don’t often say this about a place, but Southend is a horrible dump with few, if any, redeeming features.

I love nearly every British seaside town. Some are posh, some are arty, others, Like Whitby are stranded in a sort of joyous 1950s world. But Southend seems to be singularly lacking in any form of charm. The town itself feels like any number of Essex towns; down at heel and badly affected by the recession. I tried to find Nathan an anniversary gift and could only find a TK Maxx, a Superdrug and various pound shops. The seafront has a couple of arcades, a little amusement park and a never ending supply of chip shops, rubbing shoulders with Rossi’s ice cream parlours, but it’s filled to the brim with really tragic-looking characters. Women with faces plastered in makeup walk hand in hand with toothless young men plastered in shell-suit material. Pubs advertise lunchtime striptease acts alongside signs which offer “entertainment for all the family.” In Southend, it’s obviously deemed appropriate for a father to stick his son on a bucking bronco in a pub car park whilst he sneaks off for a quick ogle at a few hard-faced Eastern European whores; deeply unsavoury in a sort of soulless way. This town has plainly lost its way...

Imagine our surprise, therefore, to discover literally hundreds of black Christians, bedecked in white robes, being baptised in the sea. From the markings on the mini-buses they arrived in, it appears that most had come down from Doncaster; begging the question, why on earth were they not baptised on the beautiful Yorkshire coastline? The Christians were arranged on the beach in two distinct groups; one sat in countless rows praying and singing, whilst the other gathered around the seashore, some waist deep in the water, doing whatever ritual they’d come there to do. It was deeply sinister. I’m of the opinion that religion should be a very private thing. These public displays make me feel as uncomfortable as I do when I'm forced to watch a young couple snogging whilst wearing braces! Why not head for a private beach, or frankly somewhere with a bit more atmosphere, class or beauty? Who were these people? Why were they all black? What branch of Christianity were they followers of? And why on earth did they choose Southend?

August 28th 1660 was a Tuesday and Pepys spent most of his time at home with Elizabeth. The day generated another passage which I’m using as text for the motet; “some time I spent this morning beginning to teach my wife some scale in music, and found her apt beyond imagination.” Attempting to teach Elizabeth music became a regular occurrence in Pepys’ life. The cycle would start with him writing about how talented his wife was, but always end in disaster with him becoming utterly infuriated and Elizabeth running away in floods of tears!

Later in the day Pepys called in to the Privy Seal and emerged with 80l, which he took home, delightedly. He was, however, sad to hear that his mother was unwell again, and wrote that he feared “she will not last long.”

Pepys went to bed, greatly troubled, not just because of his mother’s illness, but because he was worried that his boy servant, Will (not to be confused with his trusty clerk, Will Hewer) was a thief. A letter from Mr Jenkins with half a crown inside had gone missing and all the evidence suggested that the lad had pocketed it. Oh dear...

Culture clash in Southend

Friday, 27 August 2010

Salty anchovies

It’s pizza and telly night tonight and we’re presently watching the programme about home movies, which yet again I’m finding incredibly moving. They’re currently showing sequences from the Silver Jubilee in 1977 and I’m struggling to believe that any future celebration would have the capacity to bring communities together like that. Seeing little films like this make me realise quite how much we’ve lost over the last 30 years. Maybe it’s because I live in London. Perhaps there are wonderful street parties in villages and towns across the country where people welly-wang, pancake-toss and race homemade boats down local rivers, but I’m sure there can’t be as many as there once were, and I think it’s a shame.

I had a lie-in today in an attempt to try and shake this cold. It’s done no good. The cough is still here and I'm feeling ridiculously energy-sapped. I did an afternoon’s work at the cafe and then came home and just sort of sat there, doing nothing.

Bad news came this morning from my parents, whose friend Anne lost her struggle with cancer yesterday. In a bizarre twist of fate, they picked up a card from the sorting office this morning, which had been held because it didn't have enough stamps. The card was from Anne. A message from the other side.
Monday 27th August 1660, and a smack boat arrived, bringing Pepys all sorts of gifts from his aquaintances at sea. There was a vessel of Northdown ale from Mr Pierce the purser, a Turkish rug from Captain Cuttance and a “pair of fine turtle-doves” for Elizabeth from John Burr, who'd been Pepys’ clerk at sea. There's no such thing as a free gift, however, and I assume that all the above were expecting a good word from Pepys at some point down the line.

The smack also brought Eliezer Jenkins back to London, who’d been Pepys’ extremely loyal boy during the days when he was at sea. His navy job was over and he was hoping Pepys would be in the position to take him on as a domestic servant. Sadly there was no room for him, which apparently made him cry so much that Pepys gave him half a crown, which was not a small sum in those days.

There were drinks with the boys at the Bull Head 'til late, and then home, where Pepys entertained one Major Hart with wine and anchovies. But the anchovies were so salty that Pepys was ill in the night and his maid, Jane Birch was woken up several times to fetch him water.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Laughing, jovially

I'm melting on the tube from Bank heading up to Highgate. It has literally done nothing but rain all day and I’m now at the stage where I've stopped dealing with it particularly well. I smell like wet dog. Every time I’ve walked anywhere today, I’ve been properly drenched, and then of course the moisture in the air turns the underground into a massive sauna and everyone ends up feeling even crappier than they were at the start of the day. And I have holes in my shoes! It’s now officially time for my cold to go away. It’s moved from my throat to my chest, and now I have a tickly cough, which is frightening the Tyndarids.

Today was the first day of auditions for The Pepys Motet. They took place at St Olave’s Church, which felt very special; particularly as the light has been fixed which illuminates the statue of dear Elizabeth Pepys. You can now see every detail in her face as she stares down from the ceiling, as though she’s half way through shouting at her husband for complaining about her clothes, or being too jealous...

Before the auditions started I was able to spend about an hour writing music in the church. What a thrill. Obviously it was just my subconscious playing tricks, but I felt an incredible atmosphere in there, almost as though, and you’ll no doubt think me mad for even bothering to write this, the great man himself were standing behind me, tutting and saying; “no no... too busy... too much polyphony...” He's probably right. I'm in the process of thinning things out a bit. My friend Fiona once told me the best thing you can do as a composer is to write the music, and then cut half of it. I was working on the section where Elizabeth finds Pepys in flagrante delicto with Deb Willet and wondered if the statue was suddenly going to come crashing down from the roof. Come to think of it, Elizabeth did look a little angrier than usual today. Sometimes I look up there and merely think she's laughing, jovially...

The auditions themselves were good. I felt a bit out of my depth to begin with, trying to teach people music I’ve only just written, and immediately became aware of a few errors which I hadn’t previously spotted. Of the 11 people who auditioned, I’d say around half were good enough to sing in the piece. There were some lovely voices; many of whom will be fighting over places in just one choir; unsurprisingly the early music bunch. As ever, it was a joy to chat to people about their lives and backgrounds. The most interesting career has to belong to the Coventry-based engineer at Aston Martin, whose job it is to crash cars for a living!

Give or take a few wrong notes, and a couple of very unconfident singers, it was a real privilege to hear the music for the first time. We focussed on the fugue from the Great Plague movement and there were very brief moments, when I started to get a sense that I might just have written something very exciting. I kept looking towards the alter, under which the Pepyses are lying and wondering if they would approve. I very much hope so.

Speaking of which, the 26th August 1660 was a Sunday and Pepys went not once, but twice to St Olave’s Church; the first time hearing a stranger preaching a “dry and tedious long sermon”. He went with Sir William Pen and the two of them were placed in “the highest pew of all”. I had assumed that the Royal Navy pew when it was built was the only galleried pew in that particular church, but obviously not. I've no doubt, however, if Pepys had anything to do with it, that it was the tallest!

Pepys and his wife walked on the leads of their roof in the evening. So it obviously wasn’t raining in 1660 like it is right now!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Pauline Fowler

Stay with me. There's been a power cut and all of my batteries have run out!! Hope to post by midnight if I can fix the fuse!!

Well, that was a disaster...

So there I was, sitting in front of the television, about to write my blog, when all the lights suddenly went out. I was slightly confused because the street lights outside didn't seem to have been affected, so assumed the problem was internal. Unfortunately I tend to turn into an imbecile when it comes to anything practical like finding and changing fuses, and it seems my new neighbour downstairs, who I discover is an accountant, is similarly useless. I therefore decided to light several candles and wait for Nathan to come home. Nathan, as usual, would save the day...

Unfortunately Nathan couldn't save the day, so we phoned EDF and were told that they were aware of the problem and were working on it. I'm highly suspicious, however, that the power finally came on, a full twelve hours later, just after the start of office hours this morning.

Poor Nathan (Pathan) took himself off to watch Into the Woods at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre last night, but unfortunately rain stopped play, so he ended up in Marylebone eating pizzas with his friends, Hannah Waddingham and Jenna Russel, who both play lead roles in the show. I don't know why anyone would bother to try and arrange anything outdoorsy in August these days. It used to be that you could rely on the month to bring unadulterated sunshine, but nowadays you'd be better off relying on December.

I did a favour for a friend yesterday and sang in an ad hoc choir that had been assembled to perform the soundtrack for a feature film about Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. As you'd imagine, it wasn't exactly uplifting stuff, but it was very interesting music, which was a lot of fun to sing. I’m sure the organisers were fairly relieved that I’d turned up, cold or no cold, because I was the only bass there! I love doing this sort of thing and try to do as much of it as I can. Frankly, in order to keep the Arts alive in this dreadful financial climate, we need creative people to continue to think big, and it is our duty as performers of whatever kind to help out wherever we can. Perversely, whilst no one’s earning any money, now is probably the moment for people to get together and do the most audacious pieces of art. People should all be thinking about spectacle. Frankly, if there was ever a time to cram 60 people and 17 dancing ponies into a Fringe theatre to perform Aida, it’s now. These are very exciting times, as long as we all keep going, and don’t expect to earn a great deal. I’ve said it countless times before, but the one positive thing about this recession is that it wipes the fat cats in our industry off the face of the earth. People who charge hundreds of thousands of pounds to make low-quality documentaries, for example, will no longer be able to afford to work. Everyone has got to be more inventive and creative but above all, supportive. This is probably the best time to be graduating in the arts. There are no expectations. So get out there and change the world!

August 25th 1660 was business as usual for Pepys, who was getting rather used to splitting his time between the Navy office and the Privy Seal. There was more drinking at the Leg in King Street and the Sun Tavern (both in Westminster) and Pepys was handed a book of lute lessons by Mr Fowler the Apothecary. The book came courtesy of Mr Fowler senior (I’ll call him Arthur), who had used it regularly in the days when he played his lute, which were in the days before he lost the use of his hand. We’re not told how he lost the use of his hand. Maybe was struck with a saucepan by his wife, Pauline.

Later on, Pepys called in at Westminster Hall to buy a “half shirt” from his mistress, Mrs Lane. Having made the shirt, she would no doubt relish the opportunity to whip it off him!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Gladys Pew

It’s 11pm and I’m in a car driving back from Thaxted to London. It's amazing what modern-day technology will allow you to do in a moving vehicle! It’s been another one of those niggly little days. My cold is now in full swing, but I had to get up early once again, to move my parents’ car to avoid a parking fine.

Sadly, I wish I’d also taken time out to move my own car, for later on this afternoon, when Nathan tried to go to the gym, he discovered it was missing. He called me, and I went to meet him on the street, where we stood, for some time, scratching our heads, trying to remember if we’d left it somewhere strange. At one stage I even wondered if I’d moved our car instead of my parents’. Had it been stolen? Had it been clamped? Was it the other side of London for some inexplicable reason?

...And then it occurred to us that the tax had recently run out. We’d been meaning to sort it out, but couldn’t do anything until it had been MOT’d, which neither of us had had the time to do.

I called up Harringey Council, and sure enough, the car had been taken away and stuck in a pound and it was going to cost us £100 per day to keep it in there. So, obviously, we immediately went to pick it up and also discovered we'd have to pay £160 as an assurance that we’d immediately get it taxed, which means a last minute MOT which means dipping into our pockets even further. It was perhaps unsurprising that the only method of payment they’d accept at the pound was cash, despite the council having told me on the 'phone I could pay by credit card. One suspects, therefore, that not all the cars that are impounded are dealt with in an official capacity. The whole place stank as much of corruption as it did of slightly sharp BO.

I was in a bad mood anyway on account of having been embroiled in a messy row with Amazon due to their flagrant inability to deliver a package to me. They'd even managed to mess up handing said package to the man who sits all day behind the till at the delicatessen below us. More outrageous is the fact that the company they emply to make their deliveries (now that the Royal Mail has lost its contract) uses a premium rate phone number to deal with tracking parcels. All phone-calls start with a compulsory 3-minute automated voice-activated whatever system which you have to sit through just to start the ball rolling. Money makes the world go round...

Aside from all this, and the hideous rain storms that now tell us rather cruelly that the summer is officially over, I have been almost swamped by Pepys Motet admin. Just trying to organise auditions for the many people who want to be involved is a nightmare. There have been wild misunderstandings; people thinking I was still up North; that St Olave’s Church is in York. Everyone seems to have a very different set of criteria in terms of availability. Add to this the plethora of different vocal types, all of whom require a different passage of music to learn, and you have one very confused composer who wishes he could afford someone who enjoyed doing this kind of thing. Frighteningly, there was no time today to do any writing at all, but at least I feel a little bit more in control. I had hundreds of unread emails hanging over me and up until today it felt like I’d thrown a load of dirty socks into a wardrobe and was trying to ignore the smell.

Friday 24th August, 1660, and Pepys went with the Sir Williams to St Olave’s Church (in London, rather than York) to choose a location for their gallery-style pew. Gladys Pew. The last time this idea was mentioned, it was shot down in flames by the church wardens, but now Pepys was writing about how speedily the work was going to be done. No doubt by Navy carpenters. I wonder what happened in the meantime?

Later in the day, after finding there was no work at the Privy Seal, Pepys called in on his parents and found his mother not feeling well. He promptly gave her a pint of wine, which no doubt perked her up no end. In a rather ghastly display of pomposity, Pepys then interviewed his cousin, Dr Thomas... in French. Dr Thomas had merely asked Pepys if he’d look out for a place for him but Pepys was unconvinved, finding him “a weak man” who spoke “the worst French that ever I heard of one that had been so long beyond sea.” Hmmm. Probably suddenly feeling all puffed-up and grand, Pepys then strode away to St Paul’s Churchyard, where all the booksellers had stalls, and bought himself Barkley’s Argenis “in Latin”. He returned home to discover someone had left him a gift of 48 bottles of wine. It's surprising he got his head through the bedroom door that night!

Monday, 23 August 2010

A Musk Melon

I very nearly forgot to write this blog today. I think I must have spent most of the evening in something of a coma, for it was 7pm when I finished writing, and suddenly it’s 11, and all I feel I’ve done is eat some pasta!

I had something of a rude awakening this morning when I suddenly realised the car I’d borrowed from my parents was parked on single yellow lines. I therefore had to rush out to park it somewhere more appropriate in a pair of pyjamas and a smelly t-shirt. I got back into bed, fell asleep and immediately woke up again when I realised today was my signing on day. So up I got, my cold intensifying and dragged myself through the rain to the dole office, only to be served by a lady who seemed more interested in discussing her anti-depressants than talking to me. I was in and out in seconds...

The afternoon was spent in Costa listening to a group of girls talking about going to university. They were all incredibly excited and I enjoyed trying to work out from what they were saying, which universities they were going to be attending. One was going to Edinburgh, the other to Leeds. I have to admit to having had a little flush of excitement myself when I thought about what amazing experiences they'd have in the coming years and how they'd change and grow as people. Edinburgh, I’m sure, would be a lovely place to study, baring the rain. I was, however, horrified to hear them talking about one of their sister’s boyfriends; “OMG, he’s 30" one of them shrieked, showing them a photograph on her i-phone, "he’s an old man!” What on earth does that make me?!

Pepys started his day 350 years ago at Doctors’ Commons; which was a society of lawyers practising civil law, who lived and worked in a group of buildings on the present day Victoria Street.

There was much business to be done in White Hall at the Admiralty office, including a discussion about what needed to happen to a master ship-builder who had apparently called the King a bastard and described his mother as a whore. Oops.

There were drinks and a “dish or two” of meat for lunch at the Leg in King Street and then a visit to the office of the Privy Seal, where there wasn’t much work going on, on account of the King having been out of town for the last few days.

In the late afternoon, Pepys was back in a pub, eating a musk melon (a cantaloupe) in one of the only references to food in the diary that actually made my mouth water. It was, Pepys said, the first melon that he’d eaten that year. I wonder where it was imported from. The quote reminds us that Pepys very rarely seemed to eat anything that wasn’t meat!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Homemade Chocolate

It’s been a funny old day. I woke up this morning with a shocking sore throat, and ever since have felt like I might be in the early stages of a cold. It’s also been extremely hot all day, so I’ve been sweating profusely and can’t work out whether that’s the illness or the weather.

Nathan’s mother and her partner, Ron made a surprise visit today to watch Nathan in a very special performance given by his show choir at the Gatehouse in Highgate. We staggered up the hill from our house in the horribly humid weather, but it was absolutely worth dripping with sweat for. The gig was amazing. The choir sang songs from all sorts of musicals; some that I knew, some that I hadn’t heard for a long time, and some that I didn't know at all. A lot of the songs had a really strong gospel vibe and it was a privilege to hear a choir whose sopranos were chesting notes that only dogs can hear! It’s so wonderful to be able to throw oneself into the enjoyment of gospel music without the hideous embarrassment of knowing it’s all about Jesus. Gospel for the godless strikes me as the perfect genre. Our Lady J, the transsexual singer who the choir had spent the last few weeks accompanying at the Soho Theatre also did some of her songs. Again, brilliant. She has so much grace, wit and talent. I actually lept to my feet at the end of the gig, which is something I very rarely do.

After the show we ate at Cafe Rouge in the village, and Celia and Ron kindly paid for everything. They've now left to get themselves back to Shropshire but it was wonderful to see them and to share with them such a special concert.

Nathan has just informed me that there could well be some homemade chocolate coming my way, which makes me feel very excited. Unsurprisingly it's now raining cats and dogs, so I need something to cheer myself up!

350 years ago, Pepys' fellow Clerk in the Navy Office, Mr Turner, announced that he was pursuing the Duke of York for an extra allowance that would enable them to have an extra clerk. Pepys agreed to support him in his quest, as long as it was made clear they didn’t need an extra clerk because he himself wasn’t doing his job properly.

The rest of the day was spent in Westminster, meeting the great and the good, with Pepys continually feeling astonished by the respectful way that MPs and incredibly important people were now responding to him.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Official unofficial god parents

Once again I’m in Thaxted, sitting in my parents’ living room, surrounded by a lovely group of their friends. We talking about all manner of things. The Faraway Tree, The Sealed Knot, Arizona... At the moment, and for some bizarre reason, we’re trying to count the number of films we can think of which involve a character making clothing out of curtains. So far we’re at three. Gone with the Wind, The Sound of Music and Enchanted. If anyone else can think of one, I'd be happy to hear of it...

Today was a very pleasant occasion. It's astonishing to think that my parents have now been married for 40 years. What an incredible achievement. A great number of people from different stages of my parents’ lives gathered together in a gastro pub somewhere in Huntingdonshire... or Cambridgeshire as the government now insists on calling it. I found myself surrounded by teachers from my old school, various family friends, a number of unofficial godparents and my official unoffical god parent. Every face took me on an incredibly nostalgic sun-bleached journey. Some faces had aged. Many seemed not to have changed at all. Some were fatter. Some were thinner. Some seemed greyer. Many had really dodgy teeth, which I never remember from before! But the occasion was joyous.

I did my speech and it went well. People seemed to be genuinely moved, they laughed at all the jokes, and afterwards many people said how well they thought I’d done. I opted to go first in case brother Edward pulled off a blinder, and he obviously did incredibly well, but our speeches were like chalk and cheese, so there was no need for me to have worried. I hope my parents were proud of us both.

There was a slightly uncomfortable moment when some of my oldest friends had to leave before the pudding came, which offended me slightly because I’d only known that one of them had to go. It was something that perhaps should have been brought to my attention because the exodus made me feel rather embarrassed and worried for my parents. I tend to think if someone’s paying for your dinner, the least you can do is stay and eat your pudding, but I am equally aware that we live in a fast-paced society where people try and pack as much as they can into their weekends. I was touched that they came - and I know my parents were.

Pepys took delivery of his new velvet coat on this date 350 years ago and immediately locked it away. It would be 9 months before he actually wore it!

There were various conversations about the Navy’s finances, and various plans were made to try and get some more money from the government. But aside from this, it was just an ordinary day...

Friday, 20 August 2010

A bit of Britten

I'm sitting in the snug at my parents’ house in Thaxted watching an assortment of clips from Proms this year. We’ve seen some tremendous Arvo Part, a bit of Britten, Lenny Stokes' amazing orchestration of Bach's Toccata and Fugue and now it’s the turn of Dvorak. There’s a composer who understands how to write a good tune... and what a charismatic conductor Andre Nelsons is! He's wearing the most enormous smile on his face and the music seems to be passing through him like a dose of absolute joy. Sometimes he stops altogether and simply listens to the players. He's at one with his orchestra. The more I listen to Dvorak, the more I realise what an influence his music had on my early writing.

I’ve just returned from Leeds where I had a meeting with the BBC. It was lovely to be back up there again. The sun was shining brightly and I had a lovely walk from the station via the indoor market, where I brought a Belgian bun and a cup of tea to celebrate. After the meeting, I had lunch with Alison in an Italian restaurant that I used to jog past and always hoped to visit. It used to smell so fabulously garlicky! Alison has just moved house and now lives practically next door. Lucky her.

I’d love to say the meeting went well, but I’m not sure the powers that be are as enthused about the idea as we are... but we’ll see. It was lovely to see everyone up there and I was sad not to bump into cameraman, Keith, who has just had an operation on his knee.

I'm in Thaxted to borrow my parents’ car. Nathan can’t make tomorrow’s Ruby Wedding celebrations, and needs his car to get to Berkshire... My parent's do is somewhere very peculiar in Northamptonshire, which is basically only accessible on four wheels.

It was a busy day for Pepys 350 years ago, which saw him rushing around London in search of the Lord Chancellor, Sir Edward Hyde, who'd sent for him to discuss Naval finances. Pepys looked for him first at his residence, Worcester House, before heading to the House of Lords where Hyde was sitting. Pepys was thrilled to see all the traditions associated with the chamber, “seeing their manner of sitting on woolpacks etc which I never did before.” The woolsack still exists in the House of Lords, and is, as you might expect, a giant (red)cushion, stuffed with wool. In those days wool was almost as valuable as gold and an enormous cushion stuffed with the substance was a great display of wealth and importance.

In the evening, after finding out he’d earned 100l at the Privy Seal in the space of a month, he went “all alone” to drink at Harper’s, where he found Mrs Crisp’s daughter, Diana, and stayed and drank with her friends all night.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Ja Ja Ja

It’s the day students across the country collect their A-level and AS-level results, and the cafe saw a steady stream of chaps and chapesses from Highgate School and Channing School for Girls talking excitedly about what they’d got. The place reeked of juvenile privilege. There was an almost stifling amount of “ja ja ja” and “oh my god” –ing. I transcribed one particularly obnoxious monologue, because I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. “She got two As and a C, so she’ll never get to Harvard now. She’s going to have to try for Cambridge and hope to push her marks up... Yeah, I got 83 per cent in history. It’s still an A, but I’m really disappointed. No, but Saph got 4 As and so did Eliza. But Pandora got a C, a D, and E and a U. I know, scandalous. OMG, I might actually cry for her. It’s really sad. No wait. She’s spiteful. Did you see the pictures of her in Hawaii? I KNOW.”

A moppy-haired chap in front of me had done particularly badly and kept opening and closing his results like something was going to change if he did it often enough. He was bleating away to someone on the phone in one of those hideous Sloanney voices and I began to feel secretly pleased that he’d  messed up. I was particularly thrilled to hear him whingeing about getting a D in music. There’s something about the kids at Highgate School that has always wound me up. That place doesn’t just have a music classroom, and a cupboard with a broken violin and 27 glockenspiels inside, it has an entire building dedicated to the subject. They have recording studios, edit suites, top of the range musical instruments. You walk past the windows and all the kids are playing concertos. They pretend to be common and go on to form bands like Razorlight because they have supportive parents and don't have the pressure of needing to find proper jobs. They come from the wealthiest backgrounds and most won’t need to lift a finger to get ahead in life. It makes me sad and a bit angry.

I used to tutor two A-level music students and they couldn’t have been more different. One was a black girl from Neasden, the other was a middle class lad from Uxbridge. She’d been taught really badly and desperately needed tutoring. He didn’t. She lived in a tiny little council house and could only afford two lessons, which came out of her own pocket. He had lessons with me every week for an entire year. His mother left the money on the top of the piano. I took him through his grade 8 theory and we spent hours listening to music and working on his compositions... Much as I would defend the comprehensive system to the hilt, I’m aware that it fails many children.

At my school, many of the kids who aced their GCSEs fell apart at A-level because they simply didn’t know how to learn. They were badly advised, insufficiently taught, not given a sense of the incredible opportunities in the world and were often dealing with so much weirdness at home that they just didn’t have the head space for studying. One friend had to pay rent to her mother all the way through her A-levels, which meant working at Kwik Save. Another had to look after his baby sister, because his mother, as a recent divorcee, felt that finding a new partner was more important than his education. And the saddest thing was that he didn’t know he was heading for catastrophe. He thought he’d breeze through, just like he’d done with his GCSEs.

One girl got her A-level results and went running around the classroom screaming that she’d got three As, when in actual fact she was just looking at the A in the word A-level! Somehow I blame the system for giving her the belief that she might have been capable of getting 3 As, when her results actually weren’t even good enough to get her into her second choice of higher education. So I guess if you can afford a private school, why on earth would you send your children to a comp? Well, because it teaches them about life, I suppose. Going to a comp was actually very good for me. I think it gave me a much clearer idea about what was going on in the real world, but then again, I had intelligent, middle-class parents, so I was always going to have the best of both worlds. I don't know... I thought writing this blog entry would make my mind clearer on the subject, or at least begin to sand away at that chip on my shoulder. Sadly, I don't think there's an answer to the problem. But that doesn't stop me hating those kids!

August 19th 1660 was a Sunday, and Pepys' entry for the day provides us with a piece of text that will feature in the first movement of my motet. "In the morning my wife tells me that the bitch has whelped four young ones and is very well after it, my wife having had a great fear that she would die thereof, the dog that got them being very big... After dinner my wife went and fetched the little puppies to us, which are very pretty ones”

The entry also includes, I think, the first reference to St Olave’s Church, which was round the corner from the Navy Office and where Pepys had decided he would worship. It's where both he and Elizabeth are buried and it's where the motet will be performed on November 25th. Pepys went with Sir William Batten to see the church wardens to “demand” a pew “which at present could not be given us, but we are resolved to have one built”. In those days to have one’s own pew, particularly if it was elevated above the rest of the church was seen as the ultimate status symbol.

After hearing Mr Mills, the minister, preach, Pepys went home to dinner to discover his wife wearing her new petticoat. He concluded that it was made of a “very find cloth and a fine lace; but that being of a light colour, and the lace all silver, it makes no show.” Poor Elizabeth. I have images of her slinking her way down the staircase hoping for coos of adoration and getting a big fat slap in the face. Worse still, Pepys then discovered his wife was carelessly leaving her clothes all over the house and he became angry. Still, things were obviously patched up before they retired for the night; “my wife and I went and walked in the garden, and so home to bed.”

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


I’m currently sitting in the bar of the Soho Theatre. It’s our American friend, Carey’s birthday, and I’ve ventured into town for a bite to eat and a lengthy chat about the state of British Musical Theatre. It’s astonishing to see how the grass is always perceived as greener. Carey swears that the climate, the culture and the nightlife of London knocks New York into a cocked hat. I think he’s very much mistaken.

The music in here is inappropriately loud. This is a theatre bar, not a night club.

I worked this morning until I started shaking; a mixture of caffeine and pent-up energy, I suspect. I’m writing in incredible detail at the moment. It’s lovely to have the time to really get into the notes, but it makes my head hurt. Periodically, I have to stand up and do lots of stretching and staring into the middle distance because I’ve been hunched over the computer with my eyes glued to streams of tiny little dots.

Today is my parents’ Ruby Wedding anniversary. That’s 40 years of marriage, which I think is astonishing. At the moment they’re with the extended family in Dorset. There’s a party for friends this weekend, which we’re going to. Brother Edward and I are going to do speeches and Edward will undoubtedly put me to shame. He’s a toastmaster extraordinaire and structures his speeches like mini stage plays. I remember him doing a speech at a sort of school reunion a few years ago and I’ve never felt so proud. I fear I’m far more shambolic and will no doubt wander around the tables muttering to myself, whilst feeling incredibly emotional...

That said, I suppose one of the benefits of writing a daily blog is that words have started to come more quickly into my head. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of making a speech in public, and probably would have chosen to sing something instead, or just sat watching the others, wishing I’d had more courage to get up. When you’re a composer, you get very used to thinking you’re no good with words. Even as a director, I never felt particularly articulate. I just used to wave my arms around and tell people to try something different if I didn’t think it was working. I learnt a very valuable lesson about being too prescriptive with actors early on in my career. I watched an actress giving what I’d considered to be an Olivier Award-winning delivery of a song. After she’d finished I told her exactly what I thought she’d been playing as subtext and how moving her interpretation had been. I was incredibly shocked, therefore, to discover that she’d simply been thinking about what she was going to have for tea that night, and whether she’d be able to get a lift home with one of the other actors! From then on in, she tried to think all the thoughts I’d told her I’d seen, and her performance was never as good...

I have a very tight chest today. Perhaps it’s the weather. The rain has made things very muggy and the air feels incredibly heavy.

350 years ago, and Pepys went to Westminster by water with his wife. He landed her at Whitefriars and gave her 5l to buy herself a petticoat, which seems like a fair old price to pay for a petticoat in those days. He should have gone to Matalan. I think he was expecting some change, because he was “somewhat troubled” when Elizabeth reappeared saying that his father had recommended she buy a “most fine cloth of 26s a yard, and a rich lace” which not only maxed out the budget, but required Pepys to dip his hand into his pocket again. Elizabeth knew that she was becoming a trophy wife!

During lunch, Captain Robert Ferrers appeared. He had a tendency to do that. He’s one of my favourite characters from the diary, because he’s plainly unhinged, prone to mania and no doubt came from the family who gave their name to my childhood town of Higham Ferrers. Ferrers, like the volatile cad he was, whisked Pepys away to the Cockpitt Theatre where they saw The Loyall Subject, remarkable only in that it featured Edward Kynaston who was one of the last “boy players” (boys who played women on stage) of the Restoration period. The doors had recently been opened to women and would never be closed again. Pepys nevertheless writes that Kynaston “made the loveliest lady that ever I saw in my life.” He was so impressed that he took the lad out drinking afterwards. Pepys eventually found his way home but went to bed, leaving Elizabeth up with their dog, which was “a-whelping”, or giving birth.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Lovely Anne

My rancid finger is feeling slightly better this evening, thank you very much for asking, but the sitting room now smells of TCP because I had an unfortunate little accident this morning. I think I thought my finger was larger than it actually is; and some TCP might have dripped down the side of the sofa towards Nathan's computer.  I thought I'd managed to clear it all up, but Nathan, who has the senses of a wolf, spotted the smell immediately and now can't walk into the room without gagging. It is a horrible smell. You'd think they could invent something with a similar purpose which smelt of lavender or mushrooms or...

The Tyndarids continue to amuse. They’re naughty boys and seem to spend all of their time adventuring and trying to find ways out of their cage. Even though they’re brothers, I’m not altogether sure they actually like each other, which is a tragedy! They sleep at opposite ends of the cage, and spend quite a lot of time play-fighting. Perhaps they’re just bickering to establish a ratty pecking order. All I want them to do is cuddle up and look cute. They’ve already developed rather strong personalities. Castor is the slightly skittish and cautious one, whereas Pollux seems properly fearless. That said, Castor just knocked the remote control off the side of the sofa and the two of them ran back to the safety of their cage at the speed of light.

I went to the Job Centre this morning and met a lovely lady there called Anne. I couldn't understand a word she was saying and I’m not really sure she knew herself what words were babbling out of her very friendly mouth. What I did manage to establish was that I wasn't managing to tick any of her boxes, which made her quite unhappy. I think she signed me up for all sorts of professional networks which were horribly inappropriate for my line of work, but I just said yes in the end, because I could suddenly smell TCP and was starting to feel ashamed. The whole self-employed thing causes all sorts of problems, seemingly because I’m not a fisherman and don’t own a factory. Still, I mustn’t complain. The world doesn’t owe me a living, and I’m extremely lucky to live in a country where signing on is an option at all. I just wish I knew what Anne was saying...

I worked the rest of the morning at the cafe, making sure, now that I’m watching the pennies, my pot of tea lasted all the way until lunch. We went to the gym in the afternoon (the first time in ages I was able to run without pain) and then I worked all afternoon and evening and really got stuck into the fourth movement of the motet. That's the one about the Great Fire of London.

It’s now raining like you wouldn’t believe. Fiona called me from Brussels earlier, and it seems they’re having similarly awful weather over there, which begs the question: Summer? What summer?

August 17th 1660 was a Friday and the Pepyses dined with Elizabeth’s tailor, John Unthank on “nothing but a dish of sheep’s trotters”. In the afternoon, Pepys headed off to Whitehall and to the Privy Seal where there was a great deal of work to be done. The evening came and Pepys and his bitter rival, Creed went to see Mr Pim the tailor, who took them both to the Half Moon on the Strand and gave them good wine and anchovies and paid for the lot. Good old Mr Pim. But Pepys, never one for letting one of his rivals escape without a good tongue-lashing, or pen-thrashing adds;

This night I saw Mr. Creed show many the strangest emotions to shift off his drink I ever saw in my life

Sometimes you just can't win...

Tree Cathedral

I woke up this morning with a rather tight sensation in the middle finger of my left hand and discovered that the nasty cut I’d received whilst falling off a punt on Saturday had got somewhat infected. I have smelt of TCP all day as a result, but probably better this than the stench of rotting flesh...

I had a lovely surprise this morning at Costa when one of the neighbours I'd recently met out on the street came to visit me. Her name is Keeley, and she’s an actress with a wonderful energy, and a very charming little daughter called Betty.

Unfortunately, and mainly as a result of not yet being paid for a big chunk of work I did before the Yorkshire Symphony, I realise with horror that I'm going to have to sign on for a short period until I officially start working on the Pepys Motet at the start of October. I don’t have any particular issue with signing on. It feels a bit weird, and slightly humbling to be 36, doing very well in my career, yet still not being able to earn enough money to survive when someone decides (for whatever reason) that they’re not going to pay you for a job you've worked incredibly hard to complete.

I finished working in the cafe at 3pm today, stepped out into the most glorious sunshine and immediately brought myself a roll and some hummus and went to sit in Waterlow Park. It suddenly struck me that we might not get a great deal many more days of summer sunshine like this, so immediately called Nic and asked if she wanted to come for a drive. After all, what is the point in being a freelancer, and an impoverished one at that, if you can’t periodically take yourself away from the city?

I picked her up in Stoke Newington and we drove due north, eventually finding ourselves at the Dunstable Downs. We ate chocolate at the top of the chalk ridge before taking ourselves for a little stroll. It was incredibly beautiful. Over our heads countless kites and gliders were silhouetted against the sky.

Later on, we went to have a look at the Tree Cathedral, which is part of the Whipsnade Estate. It seems to be a set of trees which were planted in the shape of a rather grand cathedral by two men in honour of friends they'd lost in the First World War. It was, I must confess, slightly disappointing, although the “Lady Chapel” area had a very strange atmosphere, which pleased me in a funny sort of way. It had a bench inside, with a single bouquet of lilies resting against it, which had filled the very still air with an incredibly pungent smell, but the atmosphere was very heavy and dark and quite disturbing. Both of us felt it and wondered why...

We ended a rather charming evening eating Italian food in St Albans, which is a very attractive city, particularly at night.

August 16th 1660, and Montagu took his leave of Pepys, and disappeared with his strange daughter, to the family seat in Huntingdonshire. It is clear that Pepys mentioned the offer that Mr Man had made for his position, and that Montagu advised him to turn him down, saying it “was not the salary of any place that did make a man rich, but the opportunity of getting money while he is in the place.”

Pepys had lunch with some of London’s finest musicians; Humphrey Madge, a violinist and member of the King’s Musick and Captain Cooke, who in Pepys’ words was a “famous singer”. No doubt Pepys was in his absolute element.

Sunday, 15 August 2010


I’ve been spring cleaning all day. The house was a tip this morning and I felt utterly ashamed. I’m also one of those people who puts off working when living in a messy house. Now that the house is clean, I have nothing hanging over me and can really start to focus on the work that needs to be done. I have music to write, choirs to audition, tax to sort and bills to pay.

Today we took delivery of the Tyndarids; a pair of male rats, we’re calling Castor and Pollux who’ll be staying with us from now on. They live in a cage in our sitting room and seem to spend all their time at the moment play-fighting and exploring their new surroundings. I’ve had them both out today to sit on my shoulder and, like all male rats, they’re very placid and enjoy being fussed. I think they’re going to prove to be very lovely additions to the family.

I was taking a look at some of the comments on You Tube about A Symphony for Yorkshire today, and have been horrified to see people STILL going on about how dreadful it is that the BBC have asked a Northamtonian to write an ode to Yorkshire. Obviously, I’m not about to give these people the satisfaction of responding directly, but I do want to make one thing very clear. Yes, of course there are hugely talented directors and composers in Yorkshire; I’ve never said that there weren’t, but none of them came up with the idea to make the symphony! The assumption seems to be that the seed for the project was sewn by the BBC and it was them who went out looking for composers, but the idea was very definitely mine and was formed because I learnt to compose in Yorkshire and have always dearly loved the county.

This certainly doesn't mean that the BBC wouldn't happily talk to any Yorkshire-based creative people with the necessary skills to make a similar project in the future, but on this occasion they agreed to fund the project on the strength of my idea and my previous work. It also needs to be pointed out that the BBC insisted that all filming, recording, editing and post-editing was done in the county. It could easily have been done exclusively in London but BBC Yorkshire wouldn't have that. The symphony therefore gave many creative Yorkshire-based folk (and not just musicians) a chance to show off their wonderful skills. So if you’re a Yorkshire-based composer/ director with a back-catalogue of award winning, community-based documentary films which you've made for pennies, and you’re still feeling hard-done-by, I suggest you stop whingeing, you get your thinking cap on and you start pitching ideas! And if you find a project in Northamptonshire, you will have my total blessing! Rant over.

The keenest-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I wrote about August 15th 1660 yesterday. Blame it on the sun stroke or the Cam water that I obviously swallowed too much of! It’s therefore, with slight embarrassment that I now write the entry that you all should have read yesterday...

August 14th 1660, and Pepys commissioned a posh velvet coat from Mr Pym the tailor. He spent much of the day at the Office of the Privy Seal, and had his supper with his father and various others at The Tower of London; which in those days was the location, not just of a prison, but also a menagerie, various chapels, public meeting spaces/sites of execution, the home of the crown jewels, and, of course, the royal mint, where all coins were made. At the end of the day, round the corner, back at home, Pepys “made good sport” in the kitchen by forcing his maid Jane, and Will Hewer to comb his hair before he went to bed. This might have been more entertaining for Pepys, as it’s likely they were combing his hair for lice. Nevertheless, the “sport” became something of a regular event, which eventually got him into all sorts of trouble, for it was often after a good hair-combing session that Pepys would make a play at various females in his service. Most notably Deb Willet... But that would happen in 8 years' time!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The end of an era

We're sitting on a Stansted Express train heading from Cambridge to London. There's something wrong with the line from Cambridge to King's Cross so we're being forced to hastily change our homeward plans.

It's been a charming day of punting and picnicking. The weather was glorious and sunny, but for a brief exciting shower when we nestled under a tree with our hearts somewhat in our mouths!

There was a quiz and a pub lunch to kick things off and then two punts-worth of us drifted slowly up the Cam for what I've decided will be the last time on my birthday until I'm forty. We've done it now for something like twelve years in a row and sometimes a  wonderful thing reaches its natural end.

Besides, this year the unimaginable happened. Not only did I manage to lose my pole whilst punting on a terribly easy stretch of the river, but, whilst attempting to slow the punt down to watch Nathan jumping over a bridge, I fell in! I've been punting since childhood and haven't fallen in since I was 13!

The episode attracted a huge number of screams and yells from, amongst others, my Mother. I found the whole thing hysterically funny but I've had to spend the rest of the day wearing an African rug like a sarong and one of Nathan's t-shirts which makes me look a very strange shape!

As we sat in the glorious evening light having our faces painted by Lisa and her daughter, Poppy, I realised how lucky I was to have such extraordinary friends. Top marks have to go to Helen for coming home from Yorkshire to join us and Jim, whose never missed a punting trip in all the eleven years that we've been coming in this block. His record of attendance is only threatened by Sam, who's missed just one, but was also present at both my 18th and 20th birthdays, which were also celebrated on the Cam. My brother of course remembers birthdays in the city going all the way back to the very beginning!

Good times. And the perfect end to an era!

Next year I will be running an old-fashioned sports day on Hampstead Heath... Dressing up races, egg and spoons, obstacles, sack races, a relay race for the under fives... Watch this space!

August 15th 1660, and Pepys’ day started in the office. After lunch he went to White Hall and discovered that Montagu and the King had gone to London Bridge to have their dinner on a Dutch pleasure boat. Apparently they were gone by 5am which surprised Pepys enough for him to add; “The King do tire all his people that are about him with early rising since he came.”

In the evening he found himself in Westminster Hall, drinking with his old friends, Mr and Mrs Michell, until the latter excused herself; “she and Mrs Murford and another old woman of the Hall were going a gossiping tonight.” A charming sentence, which makes me wonder where the old ladies of the hall went to do their gossiping!

He returned to Montagu’s residence at the end of the night and discussed various plans. Montagu was off to his country estate for a period and was leaving Pepys pretty much in charge during his absence.

Pepys stayed the night in his old attic room at Montagu's, a room which he’d recently given over to one of Montagu’s clerk’s, William Howe. It would seem the idea was for the pair to share a bed, but there was much tossing and turning and eventually Pepys kicked Howe out... (of his own bed.)

Friday, 13 August 2010

Super 8

I’ve never felt less like writing a blog entry. Not because I'm in a bad space but because I've almost nothing to write about. It’s been raining all day and will continue to do so tomorrow, which is a shame because tomorrow is the day we all go to Cambridge for my annual birthday punting trip. I spent the morning today working on the latest draft of the motet and the afternoon writing a little quiz for my friends. If we’re all forced, like miserable sardines into a pub, we might as well have some fun things to do with scraps of paper and pens; a bit like those lunch breaks at school when you weren't allowed to play outside and the dinner ladies were forced to come round with carrier bags filled with broken felt-tips and reams of that cheap printer paper with the holes along the sides, whilst the children very slowly began to climb the walls. I can still see the condensation building up on those windows.

Well it was always going to be a bit different this year. Very few of my friends can make it, and in fact, I have a horrible suspicion I’ve forgotten to mention it to a whole load more. Frankly, from a social perspective, this year’s been something of a wash-out. Everyone seems to be too busy, either nursing babies or nursing successful careers, and in one or two cases, both...

I'm watching a show on the television about old-fashioned cine films. Such wonderful images. So nostalgic and atmospheric. Every shot somehow reminded me of my Grandparents. It also made me very aware of the fact that, although I’m a photographer and a director, I’ve never actually personally shot moving images; well not in any meaningful sense. Perhaps I should buy myself a little super 8 camera and start filming? For my 40th birthday I’ve always told myself I’m going to make a musical film; a celebration of my wonderful friends and family; my community. Perhaps I should aim to film it myself...

Anyway, there’s plainly nothing more interesting to say. How old am I, again? 36? It ceases to mean anything when you get above the age of about 32... I guess until I'm in my 90s when my age will suddenly become the only thing I talk about...

Monday 13th August 1660 was a fairly uninspiring day for Pepys as well. He split his day, as usual between the Navy Office and the office of the Privy Seal and somewhere in between, he visited his father who’d been busily match-making on behalf of Pepys’ distant cousin, John Pickering. Pepys never liked this particular cousin and didn’t much approve of the suggested match, claiming Pickering didn’t deserve it. In the midst of all the vitriol, however, Pepys did coin a rather charming verb; “to propound.” “He had propounded Mr John Pickering for Sir Thomas Honywood’s daughter”. To propound: to put forward for consideration, acceptance or adoption. Perhaps this is a word that many of the readers of this blog will know well, but I've never heard it before and intend to use it!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

I'm on the case

I’ve just been kicked out of Costa Coffee! Not because I was being a naughty boy and using a plastic straw like a pea-shooter (although this has been known), but because, and this is really weird; “if they’re quiet during the summer months, they’re allowed to close half an hour early.” This seems very strange to me. The sign on the door says that the cafe closes at 7pm, and in any case, what constitutes “quiet”? Five of us were unceremoniously removed by a surly Polish woman and we had to ask a number of times before she’d even tell us why they were closing early. Surely a policy like this cries out to be abused by employees who are feeling a bit bored and just want to get home early? It’s a nonsense, but rest assured I’m on the case...

I’ve been talking to various official types today regarding the trees, or sadly now, the complete lack of trees. Obviously, I realise that there’s nothing I can do to bring them back, but I do want to find out why none of the people living in the area were consulted about the plans to remove them. Many of my neighbours, I’ve subsequently discovered, are also up in arms. We live in a conservation area and the council are being hugely evasive. I smell a rat, so again, I’m on the case...

Today I sat and watched a pair of magpies who used to live in one of the trees hopping around aimlessly. I wondered if they were looking for a new home and if they understood that their old home wasn’t coming back...

The bright side of the situation is that the episode has brought people out onto the streets and I finally got to meet some of my neighbours. Who’d have thought that within twenty metres I’d find an actress, two film directors and an editor? We spend so long, as Londoners, hiding behind doors, fiercely protecting the tiny spaces we can claim as our own, that we rarely make connections for fear that our privacy will be compromised. It was lovely to talk to likeminded people who, now that the trees are gone, I can wave at from my kitchen window!

August 12th 1660 was a Sunday and Pepys was behaving appallingly. The big news of the day was that he met up with Betty Lane and took her to Montagu’s garden where he plied her with alcohol and got a bit fresh. It seems he was interrupted by one William Fairbrother, who joined them for some time. No doubt Pepys couldn't wait to get shot of him. Pepys then took Ms Martin to his old house in Axe Yard; “where I was exceedingly free in dallying with her, and she not unfree to take it.” Dirty dog!

On his way back to Seething Lane at the end of the day, he called in on his father, but didn’t stay, probably because he found Fairbrother there and didn’t want the awkward conversation in front of his Dad which would, no doubt, start with the question; “who was the hussy in the garden, Sam?” Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive...

And I can't finish this blog before wholeheartedly recommending Our Lady J at the Soho Theatre. She's only there for about another week, but she's utterly electrifying. She's a huge talent and a wonderful composer and the London Show Choir, who accompany her, are sensational. Go tomorrow...

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The death of trees

I have just negotiated the rabbit warren that forms the lower ground floor of the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead. I have an appointment with the orthopaedic team here, who will, with any luck, sort out my stupid feet. I have been ushered into a strange, rather clinical room, with a beige plastic floor and a bed covered in blue paper. I have no idea when someone will come to help me, so am going to sit and blog...

I was woken up at 8.20 this morning by the BBC in Newcastle who wanted to interview me on air about the Metro project. Because it’s been announced I suppose I can tell the world I’m going to do it. The Metro is the North East’s answer to the DLR. It’s a sort of railway-cum-tube and it’s celebrating its 30th birthday this year. This means it was opened in August 1980, which makes it a very interesting prospect in terms of music. 1980 marked the death of disco and the birth of electro pop. The Winner Takes it All by ABBA was at number one, and Xanadu was still in the top ten. And if that doesn’t inspire a composer, nothing will!!

We did an appeal for people to come forward with interesting stories about the Metro, and by the time I’d finished speaking, the phone lines were apparently going bonkers. If my experience of A1 is anything to go by, the Geordies will not disappoint on the story telling front...

I feel awful today. It’s like I’ve been stamped on by a thousand tiny feet. I’m shivery and tender and have a horrible suspicion I’m coming down with whatever it was that Nathan had. It’s a bad day for me to get ill. I have a million and one things to do including a radio interview at Broadcasting House and a shopping trip with my brother down Oxford Street. He is buying me a suit for my birthday. You gotta feel well to go suit shopping...

I arrived at the Royal Free incredibly early and bought myself a cup of tea from the cafe opposite. I went to sit on a bench and realised the young girl next to me was in floods of tears. Proper heaving tears which almost broke my heart. It’s always difficult to know what to do in these situations. Does she want a quiet moment? Does she want someone to ask if she’s alright? Would she think I was being creepy if I did? So, what did I do? I went to a local newsagents and bought a Milky Way which I gave to her. “You’re obviously sad” I said “chocolate sometimes helps. I hope things get better soon”. I felt a bit silly doing it, but she seemed genuinely touched and with any luck she’ll realise that the world isn’t always a terrible place

It is now an hour later, and I seem to have been subjected to a form of torture! It was decided that I needed a steroid injection in my foot. And how do they administer a steroid injection? Imagine a needle going through your heal and scraping around for about three minutes and you’ll come close to imagining what I’ve just been through! Mr Galea, the handsome Malteser who was administering the injection, seemed fairly surprised that I was howling with laughing throughout, but what else are you going to do?! I now feel like there’s a weird layer of something under the skin of my foot; like I’m somehow walking on a cushion, or one of those things the ladies wear with high heels. I’m warned there will be more pain. Fantastic.

I’ve returned home to find that the majestic tree at the end of our neighbour’s garden is being ruthlessly chopped down. First I thought they were doing some hard-core pollarding but now I know the sad truth. Horrific! Now I have to peer into their house instead of looking at a thing of great beauty. There were squirrels and pigeons living in that tree. Where are they going to go?

Worse... worse... Three trees are being cut down. All the trees that I can see! I asked why and was told it was so the owners could re-build their wall. We don’t need more walls, we need trees. Surely we should have been consulted about this? This barbarous act has completely changed the view from the back of my house. We’re now completely over-looked and all I can see out of my kitchen window is Victorian red brick. I want the trees to come back.

Unlike me, Pepys woke up 350 years ago in no pain, which made him assume (probably correctly) that the previous day’s ill-health was as a result of heavy drinking the day before. It was another busy day, which saw a visit to his old house in Axe Yard and a trip to see his former neighbour, Mrs Crisp. He dined with Montagu before heading home, where he sent for a barber and was trimmed in the kitchen “the first time that ever I was so”. How grand! Pepys’ beloved clerk, Will Hewer, remained out of the house until ten at night, which made Pepys extremely angry, “but was pretty well satisfied again when my wife told me that he wept because I was angry, though indeed he did give me good reason for his being out; but I thought it a good occasion to let him know that I do expect his being at home. So to bed” You tell him, Sam!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Body dysmorphia

I went back to the gym today for the first time in ages and weighed myself to get a sense of exactly how fat I'd become. I’m happy to report that I’m not the heifer I’d imagined. I’m probably about half a stone heavier than I should be, so you can add body dysmorphia to my list of psychological flaws!

LA Fitness was, as usual, pretty hideous. They’ve ripped up much of the floor in one area, a drinks fountains is falling off the wall, and machines and lockers are broken everywhere you look. To make matters worse, the little sign that they now put on every dangerous object shows a picture of a rather perky looking LA fitness model, who seems to be grinning like some kind of imbecile. Surely, to accompany the; “Sorry, I don’t seem to be working at the moment” message, they need a photograph of someone looking a great deal less happy about the situation. Or no photo at all, ‘cus I just want to punch this guy – and I’d probably want to punch any face I’d learnt to associate with shoddy workmanship!

I am finally cranking myself up towards full speed again. At the moment I’m still allowing myself a lie-in until 9.30am and taking things rather slowly but I’ve been working on the Pepys Motet for much of the day and it’s a relief to find my mind swinging back towards this particular project. I still wake up with my teeth clenched together, however, and am wondering what the root of the stress must be. Maybe it’s just this ageing business; that bald patch on the back of my head, the slightly saggy profile, the realisation that I’m approaching 40 with no mortgage or pension. For the first time I realise why many of my friends spent their 20s being slaves to jobs they hated doing and lived only for the weekends...

The rain doesn’t help. It’s just after my birthday that I always begin to feel the summer is nearly over and the only antidote to the sadness this invariably brings are those beautiful hazy, sunny evenings when the shadows reach for miles and the thistle down floats in the light breeze and the only thing you can do is sit in a pub garden, by a river somewhere in the countryside, and eat salt and vinegar crisps whilst the wasps dive into your coca-cola.

Pepys woke up with a pain in his back, having tossed and turned all night. He wasn’t generally one for giving in to these things and instead of taking “physic”,went by boat to the Privy Seal office, and then to Hyde Park, where he watched “a fine foot-race three times round the park between an Irishman and Crow, that was once my Lord Claypoole’s footman". You’ll be pleased to learn that Crow beat the unnamed Irishman by about two miles, which seems pretty comprehensive!

Pepys went home, stopping off at Montagu’s en route to collect his lute. He retired to bed, in some pain still. And pain, as we know, for Pepys was troubling, because it could mean a return of the bladder stone which had almost killed him some years before.

He then writes in his diary about how full his head had been with business, very much to the detriment of family, friends and politics, all of which he felt he’d neglected. “Never since I was a man in the world was I ever so great a stranger to public affairs”. I know how he feels. He then thanks God for bringing him the work at the Privy Seal office, which was making him as much as 3 l per day. Many people had been enquiring about the possibility of renting his old house in Axe Yard, but even this provided him with a set of problems. Pepys could use the money this would bring him to lavishly furnish his house at the Navy Office, but the offer from Mr Man of £1000l for his position still stood... Where would he live if he were to give up that post?

Life is very complicated...

Monday, 9 August 2010


I spent the morning in the A and E department at the Whittington Hospital. Nathan has not been very well for the last few days and woke up with a terrible headache which simply wouldn’t go away. We got there at about 10am and it was 1pm before he was given any pain killers, which struck me as appalling. And really, he only received them after we’d both nagged the nurses a ridiculous number of times. The official diagnosis is that he's had some kind of nasty virus, which is now affecting his sinuses; hence the headaches. He’s been told to dose up on painkillers and get on with life, which can’t be easy when you’re opening in a show!

We went to see Toy Story 3 last night, which was a charming little film, which I confess made me bawl my eyes out. There’s a scene in it when a teenage boy hands his childhood toys over to a little girl, which obviously symbolises the loss of innocence and all that. I guess it just played right into the hands of my subconscious, which seems to want to take me on a nostalgia fest at the moment. Is there any reason why a 36 year-old would be hankering after the safety of his childhood, I wonder? Is it because I'm steaming along towards the big 40? Perhaps it's because many of my friends are now having children and I’m finally having to face the fact that this might not be a journey I’m destined to go on? Who will I give my toys to?

We returned from the cinema and watched the last two episodes of Rev. on i-player. If any of you have missed this little gem of a series, I wholeheartedly recommend it. All the episodes are still available, and it’s a fabulous little format which brims over with love. It’s about a reverend in an East London church and it’s shot almost entirely in Columbia Road and St Leonard’s, Shoreditch, which happens to be an Oranges and Lemons Church. When the bells ring in the programme, I always think about the grand belfry in that church, which houses an extraordinary Victorian wrought iron structure on which the bells hang.

I was thrilled to receive a 1904 edition of the complete Pepys diary from my parents for my birthday this year. They now sit very proudly on our Blue Peter shelves in the sitting room; a sort of book case-cum-display cabinet where we keep all of our special things including a chess board which Nathan made at school and a cigarette box which I inherited from my Grandmother. There’s a picture of Matt Lucas dressed as Orville, a version of Guess Who, which features all of my best friends instead of the normal characters, a tiny copy of the Liberty bell, a picture of Philippa in front of giant spring onion and a tin box with an image of ABBA on it.

August 9th 1660 seemed to be a day of non-stop drinking for Pepys. Heaven knows how he managed to do any work. There was heavy drinking at the Rhenish winehouse at lunch time and then even more with his wife at Mrs Blackburne’s in the afternoon. On top of this, Pepys was fed a fine collation of collar of beef, so it was hardly surprising that the last line of his diary reads; “and so to bed, not well, and very ill all night.”

My birthday yesterday: lawn darts on the heath

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Happy birthday to me

It's my birthday and Nathan and I are about to watch Toy Story 3 in 2D as I can't be doing with watching a film in sunglasses. I don't like 3D technology. Everything is way too dark and I don't feel the quality is yet good enough for every film to now be shot that way.

I spent the afternoon on Hampstead Heath with my parents, Edward and Sascha and a group of friends including my god daughter and her parents, Meriel and Roy, the newly-pregnant Nicky and Ted Thornhill. A hugely pleasant picnic, followed by a game of lawn darts. The weather was wonderful and I was slightly disappointed when the Sunday evening panic set in and everyone rushed off to do their washing, or whatever it is that people who work ordinary hours feel they have to do!

Pepys spent a day in the company of Elizabeth 350 years ago. They went to visit their friend, Catan Sterpin and advised her on how to put off her forthcoming marriage until her betrothed was in a better financial position.

A hectic and social day ended at Mrs Hunt's house where Pepys and Elizabeth stayed the night. It's also where they had sex for the first time since Elizabeth's illness.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The A1 or The Ouse?

We’ve just returned from the centre of London where Nathan bought me three shirts for my birthday tomorrow. We went to Jermyn Street and I chose, amongst others a bright orange one. It looks a bit like I’ve thrown up all over it, or painted it with an organic egg yolk, but I think it’s suitably eccentric. I had an email asking me where I bought the purple shirt I wore on Look North last week, so have decided I'm now a style icon with a bohemian image to protect!

It is raining like you would not believe outside. The A1 actually looks like a river at the moment. I sincerely hope it’s not like this tomorrow because I’ve invited some of the people who can’t make my official annual birthday punting trip in Cambridge next week for a picnic on Hampstead Heath. The BBC tells me we’re due for a lovely day, which does seem to be the norm for my birthday, but I find this very hard to believe when I look out of the window.

We found ourselves walking down New Bond Street earlier on, which is a road neither Nathan or myself had ever explored. It’s a hideous place, filled to bursting with footballers wives, Hooray Henrys and the Twin-set and Pearls brigade. Tutting women bash you rudely with designer handbags as they jostle their way down the street. Chinless men dressed in chinos and double breasted blazers stand in shop windows being fitted for more double breasted blazers. I couldn’t believe how expensive things were. Here a scarf for £400. There a bowler hat for £250. It’s a world I’d be happy to never visit again.

Pepys did a full day’s work at the Privy Seal 350 years ago today. He lunched at Montagu’s with Mr Henry Moore, the lawyer and then in the evening went with his good friend Samuel Hartlibb by coach to Holland Park. Hartlibb went off to do some business and left Pepys in the coach for so long that he got bored and walked (a pleasant walk) to a inn in Kensington, where he waited “very long” for Hartlibb to reappear. The two then returned to Westminster and drank til 11 at night. Pepys returned home by foot and found his wife “pretty well” again. One thing I'd say about Pepys’ days is that they seem to last an eternity. A full day’s work, a social lunch, a trip to Holland Park and Kensington, a night of drinking in Westminster and a walk home to the Eastern edge of the City would be a full day by anyone’s standards! He may have existed on a diet of meat and alcohol, but at least he got regular exercise!

Friday, 6 August 2010

Gospel for the Godless...

Today has been a day of doing very little... In fact, I’m struggling to think if I’ve done anything at all. I’ve watched a bit of telly, sat in something of a coma on the sofa and done some tinkling on the piano, but sadly I’ve run out of manuscript paper, so the creativity bank is now closed. What a waste of a day.

I suppose I’m just winding down whilst my body attempts to recover from the shock of what I’ve put it through over the past 4 months. I’ll crank things up again on Monday.

I’ve been doing the slightly tragic thing that all creative people try their hardest to avoid doing, namely reading reviews. I've now read all the comments about A Symphony for Yorkshire online, including, several times, every single remark written on You Tube! It still seems that people are being rude about the young rapper in the film, which I think is really tough. I suppose putting anything into the public domain opens it up to whatever criticism comes its way, but I wonder what goes through these people’s minds when they write so viciously about a youngster. Aside from this, I do seem to have become unnaturally obsessed with reading what people have to say about the project. I’m not sure I believe the people who say that they never read their reviews, but I'm sure my behaviour is a league of its own. Not only do I read everything, good or bad about six times, but I regularly google myself to boot, which is surely not healthy. I felt very bad when Nathan pointed out that I’ve been somewhat self-obsessed since coming back from Yorkshire; my mind so firmly fixating on the symphony and the way people are responding to it, that I haven’t spared any time for him and what he’s been up to. This must change...

And for the Nathan fans out there, he’s just about to do a two week run at the Soho Theatre singing as part of the London Show Choir with Our Lady J, who is a transsexual singer songwriter, who plays the piano, I’m told, like a Goddess. The show is called Gospel for the Godless and it starts at 10pm and runs for an hour.

Monday August 6th, 1660, and Pepys was forced to have his dinner all alone. Elizabeth was still in bed, and still in a great deal of pain, “which I was troubled at, and not a little impatient.” Pepys, as ever, refreshingly honest. He spent the afternoon at the office of the Privy Seal before heading back to the City with Mr Man, the sword-bearer. The pair drank on Fenchurch Street until 11pm. Mr Man was still after Pepys’ Clerk of the Acts position, and offered a fat 1000l to have it signed over to him. Pepys wrote later that the offer had “made my mouth water”. I'll say!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Setting fire to the corn fields

I'm on a train from Sheffield to London St Pancras. The journey up was frustrating. Not only was there no catering on the train “through lack of staff” but there was also no internet or phone reception for pretty much the whole way up; a hopeless state of affairs when various people from the BBC are trying to get in touch. I realise I’ve become ridiculously reliant on modern day technology. I'm addicted to email and text messaging. I was never like this about telephones. In fact, and here’s an admission, I have an almost pathological fear of making phonecalls! When I was young, I used to make my brother phone people on my behalf; not because I was grand, but because the process filled me with uncontrollable fear. It’s fine with people I know well. I talk to my mother almost every day, but ask me to call a relative stranger and the panic bells, even nowadays, start ringing. This freaky weirdness is perhaps made even more bizarre by the fact that I’d happily make a phone call to anyone on someone else’s behalf.

I’m better than I ever used to be. Just after graduating from drama school, I missed out on a series of wonderful opportunities because I simply didn’t get back to people who’d asked me to call them. When emails and text messages came along, I suddenly found myself able to say everything I needed to without that crippling fear. It’s absolutely bonkers... but it's very real! A psychiatrist would have a field day.

I’ve been in a tiny village on a hill just outside Sheffield this evening, being interviewed by Look North about the symphony. They’ve been showing one movement each night, so tonight’s was the last, which means the project is officially over. I now have to start facing up to realities like finances, fitness, foot problems and court cases...

The outside broadcast probably didn’t go as well as the Look North team would have wanted. Part way through the interview with me, the sound cut out, and they hastily had to return to the main studio. Everyone was incredibly apologetic, but I’ve seen far far worse and we were right at the top of a hill in a place where a mobile phone has never been able to ring! The only issue I had with the whole broadcast was a slightly peculiar package, which was meant to show how Doreen had reacted to the symphony, but actually just showed shots of her hands, a repeat of part of the film and a very odd shot of an abbey that had neither featured in our film, nor had Doreen in it! It was possibly the most baffling package I’ve ever seen broadcast, and didn’t have any of the wonderful shots that Keith had taken of her mouthing along to the music, which were some of the most moving images I’ve seen. I wondered if there’d been some kind of mistake if I’m honest. Look North’s coverage of the whole process has been so brilliant, so on-the-money and so professional that this very short, but rather hastily cut package really stood out.

Still, it was maybe a good thing that my interview went wrong, because I was able to disappear into the nearby pub and watch the film being broadcast. It was a hugely memorable experience because the whole pub seemed to be watching intently. It was wonderful to see how people were responding to the locations, almost like excited school children. It genuinely seemed to matter to them, “eh, look, Sue, it’s Hillsborough... Oh my God, I used to go to school just behind that pub... Where’s that? That looks like Sheffield as well... Ooh, isn’t this lovely” and so it went on whilst I felt prouder and prouder.

It’s not often you get to watch something with a group of people who aren’t on their best behaviour because they know they’re sitting with the director. At the end of the film, a bloke turned to the whole pub and said; “well, I reckon that were marvellous. Weren’t that marvellous?” Obviously, a massive round of applause would have been a nice touch, but I had to make do with a few subtle nods of agreement, which felt like a suitably Yorkshire response, and one which I shall cherish.

The route from Sheffield to London will take me through the Midlands fields of my childhood. If the light holds out, I’ll no doubt get to see the mystical Triangular Lodge at Rushton, the Weetabix factory at Barton Seagrove and Sandy Hill in Bedfordshire. The last time I did this journey, I passed these locations at sunset on one of those misty, nostalgic, late summer evenings when they used to set fire to the cornfields. It was almost like watching a film. There was a memory waiting for me everywhere I chose to look; the field where we found the crop circle and sat until midnight hoping the aliens would return, the place where I got chased by a bull, the spot where the gypsies and their daschunds were murdered, the forest where I saw black squirrels, the spire of the church, I’d go to find my brother on Christmas day and hear the most astonishing organ voluntary emerging triumphantly from the last verse of O Come All Ye Faithful. Happy in the main, yet somehow painful memories. Where on earth did those simple times go?

August 5th 1660 was a Sunday and Pepys’ wife was still not well. Pepys went to Holborn to visit one Dr Williams “who had cured her once before of this business”. He gave Pepys an ointment, which was duly sent home with Will Hewer, who was obviously no longer at death's door. In fact, we're told later in the entry, that Hewer's brief illness was as a result of not being very used to riding horses! Lack of fitness, in other words. Pepys was also given a plaster, which for some reason, he decided to take with him to the next part of his day; namely lunch with Mr Sheply.

After dinner came church and after church came a visit to Mr Pierce the surgeon, where a great deal of singing and music-making took place. On his way home, Pepys stopped at Westminster Stairs to watch a fight between a waterman and a Dutchman that Pepys had met at a wedding recently. The fight, according to Pepys, “made good sport”. Rather cheekily, and perhaps because water travel was limited on Sundays, he then hitched a lift with a bread or reed carrying boat (depending on how you interpret the Shelton shorthand system that Pepys used). The boat was bound for Gravesend, but it dropped him off at London Bridge. Poor Elizabeth, we’re told, had a very bad night of it... Poor Elizabeth. Pelizabeth.