Monday, 31 January 2011

A relentless flow

I’m sitting in the Newcastle Travelodge, about to sample a vegetarian noodle dish, which I’m desperately hoping isn’t laced with coriander. I’ve been tipped off that a very good vegetarian moussaka exists in a restaurant within a stone’s throw of here, so I now have my Friday night treat sorted out. Until then, I may have to make do with evening meal which consists of pepper and tomato soup, or this noodle thing, if it’s any good, which it won't be.

The Travelodge here is crap. I arrived yesterday to discover that they’ve now brought in a system of self-check in. Sadly, none of the codes and numbers I’d been given bore any resemblance to the code the check-in computer expected me to have, and it took me 20 minutes of knocking and coughing loudly before anyone appeared to help me. Why not go the whole hog and have the entire hotel staffed by robots? They’d be considerably less surly than the silly cow who "helped" me yesterday.

My head is spinning. I went to bed rather late last night and was up too early, and since 10am, I’ve been sitting in a tiny studio at BBC Newcastle working with some of the soloists from the musical. It was considerably more exhausting than I thought it would be. Fortunately, the singers were all really good and came in looking excited and ready to enjoy the experience. I thought some of them would struggle with what I’ve written, but they all sailed through. The exhausting part was the sheer number of people we were working with. It seemed like a relentless flow of individuals were coming into the room, working with me for 20 or so minutes and then being replaced by someone else.

Still, it’s wonderful to reclaim the project, and be able to spend some proper time with the people who’ve been working so hard up here whilst I've been in London creating the backing track. Someone showed me some photographs of some of the choir sessions that have happened in my absence, and all the singers looked hugely engaged, which made me feel both relieved and proud.

One of the ladies who I saw today said the project had given her a massive sense of worth, and a huge injection of confidence. She said people had started to comment on the change in her. Jumping into the unknown has triggered something and now that she’s learnt how to sing with confidence, she’s taken herself off for swimming lessons and even wants to finally learn how to drive, which I suspect would change her life completely.

One after another came in, and said how much they’d been enjoying the experience; some even said that it had had a profound effect on them. One mother told us her daughter’s grades had gone up as a direct result of her being involved in the piece! It’s experiences and stories like these that thoroughly justify, not just the project, but my very existence!

I had a phone call this morning to tell me that the big project I’ve been rabbiting on about for what seems like weeks now, had taken another baby-step towards reality. I feel sick!
BBC Newcastle smells of hyacinths. Someone has brought a pair of them into the office and the smell is almost overpowering. I’m never altogether convinced that it’s a scent I particularly enjoy. I think it’s a bit like some kind of industrial toilet cleaner, mixed with the whiff of an old people’s home. Alistair simply described it as the “sweet smell of death.”

So, it’s the end of January, and a twelfth of my “significant year” is almost over. It doesn’t feel hugely significant just now, but I have my fingers crossed.

350 years ago, Pepys was once again visiting the theatre, this time to see Argalus and Parthenia by Henry Glapthorne, which sadly was “wronged” by Pepys’ “over-great expectations.” Expect nothing, Mr Pepys, and you’ll never be disappointed!

He called in on his parents and found his mother fresh from a visit to Huntingdon, where she reported on the comings and goings of his extended family. Pepys’ Auntie Anne was dying and his Uncle Robert was already talking about the fact that he wanted to remarry when the inevitable happened. Pepys had been chosen as his heir, and was obviously keen to avoid any complications of this nature! Brutally honest as usual!

Sunday, 30 January 2011


I’m heading back to Newcastle on another ridiculously crowded train. The world and his girlfriend seem to be heading back North after a weekend in the Big Smoke. I’m surrounded by young people and feel rather decrepit.

My suitcase is perilously balanced on the top of a huge pile of luggage in one of the vestibules. I’m too scared to check on its wellbeing, in case it’s caused a health and safety incident. I am staring at an Upper Crust sandwich, which I’ve brought for my lunch. I’m going to wait at least another half an hour before eating it, because, at the moment, it’s all the excitement I’m going to get on this journey.

I’m listening to some music that someone sent me through the post. It seems to be one of the things that people do when they see me on television. I’m really not sure what any of them expect me to say. I guess it’s financial backing they’re after, and not words of encouragement or criticism from a fellow composer. Sadly, the work I’m listening to at the moment defies comment. Its lyrics are amongst the worst I’ve encountered, and it sounds like lift music. I regularly find myself hearing the work of musical theatre writers and being astounded by the sheer amount of delusion that seems to be present in what they've done. It upsets me, partially I suppose, because I imagine people hearing my music and thinking exactly the same thing!

The guard on this train speaks with a light Brummie accent. Every time he makes an announcement on the tannoy system, he mentions that there are still plenty of seats in first class. Apparently I can upgrade for just £25, but, aside from £25 being rather a lot of money, I’ve been put off by his describing it as “sumptuous first class accommodation.” Sumptuous is such a ridiculous word to use in this context. I wonder if anyone pays their £25 and then asks for a refund based on the accommodation not being sumptuous enough. What does sumptuous even mean? informs me that it means “revealing great expense; luxurious.” Hmm. This is an East Coast train, and first class or not, people still put their feet on the seats and grind chewing gum into the carpets.

My legs are aching in a rather pleasant way; a way that suggests they’ve been working hard... which they have. I woke up early today so that I could take myself for a jog. I’ve been jogging every day now, for the past week and a half. I weighed myself last Friday and then again yesterday, and discovered that I’ve lost a pleasing 3kg, which is half a stone in old currency. It’s astonishing how quickly a body returns to its natural weight, which in my case is still about half a stone lighter than I am now, but I’m well on the way.

I just have to make sure that these nine days in Newcastle don’t destroy all the good work. It’s almost impossible to eat healthily at a Travelodge, and there doesn’t seem to be anywhere in the Newcastle quayside area that sells anything as simple – or low fat - as a salad, or a bowl of soup... It’s all chips, burgers and steak bakes...

On that note, I’m part horrified and part excited to report that our night shoot on the Metro project is being sponsored by Greggs. Greggs cheese and onion pasties are my big weakness. They taste so good, but they’re sent by the devil to make me look like Captain Caveman! In the middle of a night shoot, however, I’d happily have them shovelled into my body intravenously or by some kind of process of osmosis. My new food regime makes me dream of Greggs... and pizzas... and Cadbury’s Cream Eggs. I have to keep reminding myself that there’s also a lot to be said for the re-emergence of cheek and hip bones! Time to eat that lovely sandwich from Upper Crust...

January 30th 1660, was a fast day, observed as a penance for the death of Charles I, lately referred to as his murder. Pepys went to church, and Mr Mills made a sermon about God punishing men for the sins of their ancestors. Nothing like wallowing in the past. I've always thought it would be a great idea for a clergyman to horsewhip me for the terrible treatment of homosexuals in the early 20th Century. Obviously this would make a great deal more sense than him horsewhipping himself for systematically abusing choir boys.

I’m pleased to report that Pepys himself was far too sensible to fast. He went home from church and immediately tucked in to a lovely dinner.

He then took himself for a walk with Sir William Penn. They went to Moorfields, which was the place that the fashionable went, merely to be seen to be walking, just as Hyde Park in those days was the place where the even more fashionable went to incessantly ride about in expensive coaches. It was still unseasonably glorious weather and Pepys and Penn were pleased to observe two of their clerks, young Davis and young Whitton “going by us in the field, who we observed to take much pleasure together, and I did most often see them at play together.” Maybe they were gay? Just a thought...

Later on, Pepys called in on the other Sir William (Batten), and found Elizabeth there with Batton’s wife - the other Elizabeth. The two of them had been away, watching Cromwell and co. being hanged and buried at Tyburn. Rugge’s Diurnal gives us even more information about the event: “This morning the carcases of Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw (which the day before had been brought from the Red Lion Inn, Holborn,) were drawn upon a sledge to Tyburn, and then taken out of their coffins, and in their shrouds hanged by the neck, until the going down of the sun. They were then cut down, their heads taken off, and their bodies buried in a grave made under the gallows. The coffin in which was the body of Cromwell was a very rich thing, very full of gilded hinges and nails.”

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Birthday tea in porcelain cups

It's icy cold outside and we're driving through the country roads on the border of Cambridgeshire and Essex. We've been to a quiz in Thaxted, which we won comprehensively. I'm with Philippa, Helen and Nathan and the quiz has been a sort of unofficial birthday party for Helen. My Mum provided a lovely  cake, which we ate in front of an open fire with tea in porcelain cups. The perfect setting for a high tea.

The highlight of the evening was probably the moment that Philippa and I both realised that we'd a) lost the ability to write and b) the ability to count and add up. Tears were rolling down our faces as our deep ineptitude began to reveal itself. It's frightening to think how little I write these days. My handwriting has completely gone to pot, and it starts to hurt if I write for too long! Ah, the curses of 21st Century life!  

January 30th, 1660, and Pepys went to Southwark and walked over the fields to Deptford. It was a gloriously sunny and warm day, which Pepys found astonishing. He then went to Blackfriars, and watched three acts of a play, which he enjoyed thoroughly, but it got late, so he left before the end. He went home by boat, through London Bridge. 

Friday, 28 January 2011


It is utterly freezing outside, but I've made a lasagne, which is now cooking in the oven. I’ve been for a jog, had a nice hot bath, QI is on the television and I’ve done an excellent day’s work in the studio. Things are good. Better still, I found out this afternoon that our wonderful project has been given a small reprieve by the BBC. We’re not out of the woods yet, but the will is most definitely there... We just don’t have enough money to make it work right now. Apparently more discussions are planned for Monday, so I guess I just have to sit with my fingers and toes firmly crossed until then.

Today’s studio session revolved around guitars and thanks to the combined magical fingers of Ivor Talbot and our producer, Julian, the song has suddenly burst into three dimensions. It’s still a bit of a wall of sound, and this will continue to be the case until we get the vocals in, and start the process of mixing, but we’re heading in a very exciting direction. We even did some experimentation with vocoders for that added 80s sheen. It’s been a proper, well-paced studio process, which I’ve enjoyed enormously. Compared with the mayhem and high stress levels of Pepys, this one’s been an absolute breeze, bordering on slightly dull, because my adrenaline levels have been so low. I’m drinking huge quantities of tea, just to get that weird caffeine buzz!

As I returned from my jog earlier on, I found a man weeing in the alleyway that leads to our house. A long trickle of pee was slowly making its way towards our garden. I suppose we all get caught short from time to time, and he was at least apologetic; "sorry mate, there was nowhere decent to go..." I shouted as I stormed past; "how about the pub opposite?" then hastened my step in case he decided to stab me or something. That's the London way.

Nathan came home late last night, and I immediately sat him down and played him his quartet. I think he was lost for words, but as the last notes rang out, he said, "I think that's the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me." We listened to it twice, and as I drifted off to sleep, I was aware that he was listening to it on headphones next to me. I was thrilled to have been able to give him something he enjoyed so much.

January 28th, 1660, and Pepys went to Fleet Street to have his sword “refreshed”. I find it not only bizarre that people carried swords in those days, but that they were obviously kept in fully working order. I suppose with religious fanatics regularly running riot in the City, no one could be too careful. This was the date that Cromwell and various luminary figures from the Interregnum period were dug up and hanged at Tyburn before being buried under the gallows there. The event was watched by huge crowds.

Pepys steered clear of the Cromwell circus and went instead to the King’s theatre to watch a production of The Lost Lady. He sat in the shadows, no doubt trying to remain incognito, and was shocked when the woman in front of him spat over her shoulder and the nasty gloop landed on his lap. Fortunately, Pepys noticed that the spitter was actually a very attractive lady, so decided not to be troubled by the event. I think I'd have vomitted down her back and told her to be grateful I wasn't calling the police.

Later in the day, Pepys went shopping, and bought a hat which cost him a rather whopping 35s. I hope it was a good hat!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

A surprise for Nathan

Ah, the joys of an evening off! It’s not even 8 o’clock, and I’ve finished all the work I need to do for the day. I’ve been running, I’ve printed out all the scores I need for tomorrow, so all that’s left for me to do tonight is eat a bit of food, and relax.

It’s a joy to be inside the house. The weather has taken a considerable turn for the worst and it was blowing a force ten gale earlier, which froze me to the bone. I just ran myself a lovely hot bath, but when I came to get in, found it was stone cold. The hot water is obviously programmed to come on later than I had thought. I don’t know what it is with me and cold baths. I guess they’re just a by-product of looking forward to something too much!

I’ve just finished my session with the string players. They played wonderfully; so wonderfully, in fact, that I had time at the end of the session to very quickly record a piece of music that Nathan wrote many years ago. I used to play in a string quartet with close friends Fiona, Ted and Chloe. We were all former members of the Northamptonshire Youth Chamber Orchestra and played together regularly as teenagers. In later years, we’d meet on Sunday afternoons in Kentish Town, to eat biscuits and play through highlights of the string quartet repertoire. Nathan, very kindly, wrote a piece for us to play, and we only ever managed to play it through once before life got in the way, and we stopped meeting for our nostalgic Sunday sessions. Nathan has always said how sad he was that he didn’t think to record his quartet as we played it through that one time. I've always wanted to remedy this by recording it for him with some proper musicians. I can’t bear the thought that someone would spend hours writing a piece of music that he or she would never get a chance to hear properly played.
Unfortunately, all that existed of Nathan’s music was the original score, which was covered in coffee stains. I therefore had to spend a few evenings this week creating a new score from which I could print the individual parts. Frankly, it was the least I could do. Nathan has spent so many hours of his life making websites for me, singing my vocals, conducting my music, choreographing my films and generally keeping me sane, which itself is a full time job.

I didn’t actually know what I was dealing with, in terms of music. I couldn’t remember a great deal of the piece from the time we played it before. It was therefore an incredibly pleasant surprise to discover that Nathan had written something really very good; certainly good for someone who’d previously never written classical music, but also good by the standards of any composer. There’s a section in the middle which is breathtakingly beautiful. The recording we made is by no means perfect. We didn't have very long, which meant the players were pretty much sight reading, but they really enjoyed playing it, and I hope Nathan will be thrilled and proud of the result. I can’t wait to see his face when he hears it!

50 years ago, Pepys went to church. He left Elizabeth at home suffering from her “menses.” Poor Pepys was so desperate for children, that his regular charting of his wife’s monthly cycle takes on a rather tragic significance.

In the evening, Pepys called in on Sir William Batten, where a veritable crowd of people was beginning to assemble. They ate oysters and drank strong waters and were very merry. So merry, in fact, that Elizabeth was dragged from her sick bed to join the party.

The final sentence of the entry is worth quoting in full. “This day the parson read a proclamation at church, for the keeping of Wednesday next, the 30th of January, a fast for the murther [sic] of the late King.” A day of fasting? What a perfect little royalist state England had become in the space of a year!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Pulling garters

We’ve been in the studio this afternoon programming synthetic drums and adding synthesizers to the Metro track. The whole thing is beginning to take shape. When all the keyboard pads were down, the song suddenly started to sound like Frankie Goes to Hollywood. It was a fairly unexpected outcome, but I guess the output of Frankie is about as quintessentially 1980s as music gets!

It’s amazing to spend time really listening to some of the sounds those bands opted to use. Today we tried to recreate the fake brass noise that crops up regularly in ABBA songs, and then moved on to the jangly piano at the start of The Winner Takes it All. We were also listening to Atomic by Blondie, which features some pretty outrageous drumming.

It’s a lot of fun to be in the position where we’re not in a terrible rush all the time. We can finesse what’s going down and make it sound as good as possible. Remind me that I wrote this sentence when we head up to Newcastle next week to record the vocals. That’s potentially when all hell could break loose and I could end up eating my words!

I had an upsetting phone call midway through the afternoon, which seemed to suggest that the big project I’m desperate to work on this year, could be one step closer to collapse. The internal mechanisms of the BBC are incredibly complicated. The will being there is often not enough. There are all sorts of technicalities which can, and usually do scatter themselves in front of a project, often causing such a major blockage that diversion becomes impossible. It looks like we might just have hit that point. It’s very frustrating. I can’t begin to think how awful we’re going to feel if the whole thing slips through our fingers. I have to cling on to the wise words my brother uttered when the Symphony for Yorkshire hit a major stumbling block back in July last year. No deal is good unless it’s failed twice. There’s still nothing I can do to change the outcome, other than hope, I suppose, and keep my fingers crossed that some of my supporters at the BBC will try to steer the project back on track.

Saturday 26th January, 1661, and Pepys was, once again entertaining. On this occasion, both the Mr Pearce’s and their respective wives came for dinner and with any luck, didn’t leave with the wrong partners in tow. They were joined by Captain Cuttance and Lieutenant Lambert, whom they ragged mercilessly, pulling at his ribbons and garters and making him confess that he’d recently got married... One assumes this mirth was all part of some kind of drunken banter. I don’t think the Lieutenant had recently got married, but the business of pulling garters was an age-old tradition relating to marriage, and it was astonishing what 17th Century people got up to in the name of fun!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


I have very little to report. I’ve spent the day doing next to nothing. I’ve been to the gym and done various bits of admin, some composing, and a few arrangements, but it’s genuinely been one of the least interesting days of my life!

I continue to worry about my voice. All these pills from the doctor don’t seem to be making any difference at all, and earlier, when I was singing, the notes kept cutting out on me. Afterwards, my throat felt really tired, like I’d been yelling continually for hour. If all this is not a result of acid reflux, the alternatives start to get a tad worrying. It could be nodules, I suppose, which is bad enough, but my subconscious is doing cartwheels at the moment, thinking about my cousin, who is just getting over throat cancer. I am, however, a known hypochondriac. Those who know me well will be reading this with smiles on their faces. I even told a doctor once that I was a hypochondriac, and he wrote it on my notes, which is probably not the best thing to have written on your records!

I'm frantically thinking of something more interesting to write, but the truth is that Nathan has come home early from work, and I’d actually quite like to go for an evening stroll, so I’m going to be lazy and not talk about Russian terrorism, or the double-dip recession we’ve just entered into, or any of the other things that are milling around in the back of my mind as possible things to write about.

I leave you with astonishing footage of a multi-instrumentalist virtuoso, which was sent to me today. What on earth is this woman on?! And can I have some, please?

Pepys wasn’t having a particularly interesting day, 350 years ago, either. He met an artist called Mr Salisbury who specialised in painting miniature portraits, which Pepys described as “perfect.” And took delivery of a pair of cages for some canaries, which had been sent to him by one Captain Rooth. Pepys’ house, no doubt, was beginning to resemble a menagerie. Cats, monkeys, song birds, canaries, a mouse infestation, an incontinent dog... whatever next?

Monday, 24 January 2011

Hampstead Heath, the what?

Today was our first day in the recording studio for the Metro project. I found myself feeling pretty nervous about it for some reason. I'm sure this had a fair amount to do with the lone magpie which as good as landed on my shoulder as we were walking towards Highgate Tube this morning. Ridiculous, I know, for a man to be a card carrying atheist, whilst being as superstitious as a Norfolk farmer!.

I needn't have worried. We were recording drums and bass, and it was a fantastically relaxed session with two extraordinary musicians, namely drummer Jack Pollitt and bassist, Phil Murford, who I’d not worked with before. Jack was just wonderful when it came to 1980s-style "splashy" fills. It’s not often that a drummer makes you laugh, just by being spot on! Phil is a veteran of West End orchestras, which is perfect for my writing, which is nothing if not theatrical.

Joy of joys, and because I’ve referenced five – count them – five ABBA songs in the music, we were able to sit around for half an hour, listening to tracks by the Super-Swedes, trying to get a feel for their style of playing, and the extraordinarily way they recorded their musicians. We also listened to some Bucks Fizz – curiously renowned on the session circuit for having some of the most bizarre and complicated drumming patterns in pop. Take a listen to this if you don’t believe me.  And if you can't bear the song and just want to hear the crazy drumming, listen from about 2’40” to the end and imagine the horror of being asked to re-create the sound of dustbins rolling down a hill for a live gig!

I’m also told that the bass line to Making Your Mind Up is nigh on impossible to sight read! A bizarre and truly unnecessary factoid.

Keen readers of this blog will remember that I drove to Hampstead two nights ago to deliver a copy of Hampstead Heath: The Musical to a bloke who wanted to play it as part of a lecture series. I had an email from him today to say that he’d received the DVD safely, but that – having watched it – he no longer thought it would work for his talk. His reasoning - get this - was because he didn’t realise the film was a musical! Now, I don’t want to get too sarcastic here, but why on earth did he not assume that a film called Hampstead Heath: The Musical... would be a musical? What is wrong with this man? What kind of ironic, post-modern haze is he living in? Apparently, he was told it was a documentary! I can just hear that conversation now; “you’ve really got to see this film by Benjamin Till. It’s a documentary about Hampstead Heath. It would be perfect for your lecture series. It’s called Hampstead Heath: The Musical, but don’t worry, it’s not a musical, it’s a hard-hitting documentary which looks at the sleazier side of the heath! Tap-dancers on crack, that sort of thing. Don’t bother to watch it on you tube before you ask him to send it to you. He’s got nothing better to do than drive across London in the middle of the night with a tumble drier sticking out the back of his car...”

I conclude the first part of this blog with a call to arms. Those of you who enjoyed A Symphony for Yorkshire, will remember the wonderful band who performed in the back of a pick up truck in that beautiful early morning light at Spurn Point. The band are called Circus Envy, and their superb new single, Regret, is out today. Go buy it now! You certainly won't regret it!

January 24th 1661, and Pepys’ grand party wasn’t nearly as grand as I’d assumed it was going to be. It was more of a dinner party with the two Sir Williams and their families rattling around in Pepys’ newly refurbished house. The diary doesn't give any mention of what was served up on the menu, or what they did to entertain themselves. We're merely informed that the do had cost him a whopping 5l, that it was very merry, and that it was only slightly marred by his chimney, which smoked. It couldn’t have spoilt things too much, however, for in the evening, all the guests returned for supper, and talked late into the night.

Sunday, 23 January 2011


Nathan and I have spent the last two days with a broken tumble drier stuffed into the back of our car. The people who sold us the new one promised to recycle the old one, so we stuck it in the car because we didn’t want it cluttering the kitchen up any more.

Unfortunately, last night on our way back from Hampstead, Nathan realised he'd need the back seat of the car to take some people to a showcase he's doing in Hertfordshire this afternoon, so we had no other option than to haul the tumble drier out of the car, and stick it with the rubbish bins on Southwood Lane. We're both well-behaved, community-minded individuals, so promised we'd either put it back in the car tonight or call the council to have it removed first thing tomorrow morning. It nevertheless felt incredibly naughty to be dumping something so cumbersome on the street. I kept imagining we were being watched on close-circuit television and that we'd be arrested for fly-tipping, or worse still, visited by a deputation of Highgate supremacists.

Anyway, to cut what is turning into an incredibly dull story short, when I walked past our tumble drier earlier today... It had turned into a fridge! Genuinely! I have no idea how this happened. We left a tumble drier on the street last night, and, in the night, someone has taken it away and replaced it with a fridge! A big tall fridge. Just as white, just as broken and just as ungainly, but definitely not a device for drying clothes. How can this be? This isn’t the place in Highgate where people dump their white goods. Who on earth wanted our tumble drier? And whose chuffin' fridge is this?

I'm currently braving London’s defunct Sunday public transport system. I'm returning from Canary Wharf, where I’ve been watching Dancing On Ice with Sascha and brother Edward. We had wraps and listened to the wonderful sound of waves lapping onto the beach, which apparently appears under their balcony at low tide. I’ve either never noticed it before, or never been in their flat at an appropriate moment. It’s such a romantic sound; so astonishingly rare for London, and it gets really intense when a boat passes on the Thames outside. I rushed out onto the balcony to enjoy the moment a little more. The eerie green meridian line laser looked particularly bright tonight against the black winter sky. It’s one of my favourite things about London. I love what it represents and I adore the way it shoots through the heavens.

I sincerely wish this photo was one of mine, but it shows the laser beautifully

Am I the only person who feels that there’s a whiff of optimism in the air? I always feel very acutely at this time of year. There’s freshness in the wind. The birds have started singing again and it surely won’t be long before we see the first signs of spring. The long, hard slog is almost over and we can all start a much needed new chapter.

January 23rd, 1661, and Pepys' house was a veritable hive of activity; his wife and servants rushing around like worker bees, preparing for a party they’d be hosting the following day.

Pepys ducked out of the mayhem and spent the afternoon with the inventor, Ralph Greatorex; my favourite character in the diaries. They visited Gresham College, a modern centre of learning and a precursor of the Royal Society. Greatorex talked about his desire to visit Tenerife to do some scientific experiments at high altitude. At the time, the mountain on the island, at just over 12,000 feet, was considered to be the highest place in the world! My initial response was to scoff at the lack of knowledge that existed in the 17th Century, but then it struck me that 350 years later, I didn’t even know there was a mountain on Tenerife! I’m actually fairly surprised to learn that Tenerife is even big enough to have a mountain that high. Where do all the beaches and holiday resorts fit in?

PS - for those of you who like a titter... Please listen to this

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Don't take me out

I’m watching an incredibly silly programme on the television at the moment called Take Me out, which sets women’s lib back roughly 20 years. There seem to be about 30 women in the studio; all of them horned-up and screaming their heads off like a load of fish wives. Periodically a man arrives from a lift, dancing to some inane music, and the women throw themselves at him like girls in a single-sex public school seeing a male teacher for first time. The man parades around for a bit, reveals what an innocuous waste of space he is, and then the women decide if they’re still interested. Each of them has a light, and a switch, and they turn their lights off when they can stand things no longer, which is usually at the very last moment because these women are all tragic attention seekers, and the concept of disappearing into darkness is tantamount to their having the use of their sunbeds revoked. The catch-phrase of the show is the supremely inane “no likey, no lighty.”

The presenter then rushes up to the women who’ve turned their lights off and asks them why they’re no longer interested. The reasons they give are fairly astonishing. “Because he has a nose ring” “because he’s too old” “Because I don’t like his shoes” “because he has a weird accent” “because he still lives with his Mum.” Fortunately, the tables are turned right at the end of each sequence, and the dull bloke gets to decide which of the tragic women who still have their lights on he’s most attracted to. The audience starts screaming, and the women with their lights still on begin to plead for him to take them on a date, as though they were pleading for their lives. It’s a deeply undignified display. The woman he eventually picks gets to go on a date with him, and they spend 12 hours sitting in silence on some Mediterranean island, before announcing how much they hate each other. It’s a load of smutty nonsense, yet it’s utterly compelling. I’m also pleased to announce that they played “Fantasy Island” by Tight Fit as one couple left the studio, which added a rather camp glow to the proceedings. If things weren't already camp enough.

Shocking attention-seeking slappers on the set of Take Me Out

I spent the rest of today working. Saturdays in my world are no different from any other day and I was hugely keen to get the revamped version of Alice Through the Looking Glass off to the group who are performing it. I managed to do this at about 7pm, which means I can tick another thing off the giant list of things I wrote for myself to do at the start of the week. I keep adding things, and it seems to be never ending at the moment. I’ll get there. In any case, when I have nothing to do, I only end up panicking!

I now have to take myself off to Hampstead to deliver a copy of one of my films to someone who wants to play it at a lecture. Very bizarre.

January 22nd 1660, and Pepys spent the day in important meetings with important people feeling incredibly important. He had a “little dinner” with his wife, before heading into Whitehall to buy some 17th century spectacles, which were bound to be pretty rubbish. Pepys then went for a drink with the historian, Thomas Fuller, who regaled him with tails of his latest publication, which was a history of all the families in England, which seems like a pretty major undertaking. Pepys was astonished to discover that Fuller knew more about the Pepyses than Pepys himself. They also talked about Fuller’s extraordinary memory. He was apparently considered to have the most remarkable memory of his generation. He could repeat 500 random words after just one hearing. Not that it did him much good. He caught a fever and died on August 15th of that very year. Poor bloke.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Try everything at least twice

Another relatively sedentary day spent working on my sofa. Today was all about cranking myself into gear in time for my first day of studio recording for the Metro project, which happens on Monday.

I went to the gym after lunch, and spent 45 minutes jumping, running, skipping and generally feeling like a tit. At the end of my session, I dared to weigh myself, and discovered quite how much I'd gained during the evil Christmas period. The crisis point has now arrived. I'm officially standing at the cross-roads between happiness and needing to be lifted out of my bed by some kind of winch. I seem to have spent my life wildly oscillating between two weights, which are about 14 kilos apart. This really can't be a particularly healthy way to live. I’m like the white, male, hairy, English, gay version of Oprah, which makes me feel very strange indeed.

Nathan has started a new job, which involves selling tickets for a circus in a giant tent behind the National Theatre. He’s left me with a shed load of jobs to do in his absence, which includes making a nice healthy soup and installing our new tumble drier in the kitchen. I’ve no idea why he trusts me to be the first person to use it. I only have to look at technology for it to break down. I thought I'd fare slightly better with the soup, but I seem to have created something which tastes and looks like river silt. I blame the carrots; a flavourless bunch...

I continue to overhaul Alice Through the Looking-Glass. This adaptation has now been performed 8 times, and I’m wondering whether I should try and get it published – or at least wafted under the snooty nose of a publisher, so that I can at least say I tried. That’s very much my attitude in life. I have to give something a go. I think I learnt this from my Mum who used to say I could only stop doing something if I'd done it twice. I have so little time for people who tell me how they could have done something, if they’d had had the time or resources to do it. How many people do we all know are in the perpetual process of writing a novel, or a screenplay or a musical? People tell me about these wonderful ideas they've been having, but nothing ever materialises. I have so much respect for people who actually finish what they’re doing and try to get it out there, even if it means the world accuses them of being deluded as a result. Finishing something – and then daring to put it into the public domain is one of the bravest things you can do in life. You can make all the excuses in the world, but it usually comes down to lack of guts.
The 21st January 1660, revealed something very interesting about the climate at the start of the 1660s. Far from being the romantic era of the second ice-age with the Thames freezing over and Nell Gwyn selling oranges on skates, Pepys writes:

It is strange what weather we have had all this winter; no cold at all; but the ways are dusty, and the flyes fly up and down, and the rose-bushes are full of leaves, such a time of the year as was never known in this world before here.

Apart from being a fabulously poetic passage, it tells us quite how much the warm winter was freaking everyone out; quite justifiably, as warm winters led to diseases. The 1665 plague, in fact, had been expected for some years.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Still agent-less

Last night, just before bed, I emailed the agent I’d been to see that morning, to say that I didn't think it was going to work out with them. It felt very strange to be turning down a top agent, but I know it was for the best. I got a phone call from them earlier today to say they fully understood why I'd made the decision, and that they still thought I was a top-notch composer. So we’re all still friends and no noses have been put out of joint. I now have the time to sit down and think about whether an agent is genuinely the right thing for me to have at this stage of my career.

But for a brief sojourn to the gym immediately after lunch, I’ve had a pretty sedentary day, much of which has been spent on the sofa. I've been approached by an amateur group who want to perform my adaptation of Alice Through the Looking-Glass, yet the script and score are in such disarray that I feel ashamed to hand them over without a proper over-haul. So for the last few days, that's what I've spent much of my time doing.

My voice still feels a bit silky and weird, and I’m not sure these proton pump inhibitors are doing much good. Nathan thinks I also need to seriously change my diet. He probably has a point. I was forced to eat my evening meal at the theatre last night and, in the absence of any real food, ended up with two packets of Monster Munch and a bowl of nuts. That certainly wasn’t going to do my stomach a great deal of good!

I received an email from Nathan’s mother today, who has transferred money into Nathan’s account for us to buy a brand new tumble drier, which is such exciting news, and so unbelievably generous of her. Nathan has said we’re going to go shopping for one tomorrow, and I cannot wait. Having a tumble drier for the first time in 6 months will make our lives so much more enjoyable – and I won’t smell like a dirty mop whenever it rains!

Sunday 20th January, 1660, and Pepys, unsurprisingly, went to church... twice. There was a brief visit to his aunt and uncle and a trip to see Sir William Penn, who was still ill, but other than this, it was a day of quiet contemplation and journal writing.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A razor to my eyebrows

Today started rather badly. As I walked down Southwood Lane towards the tube, I got hit in the face by a careless street cleaner's broom. When I stopped to ask him what the hell he thought he was doing, he got all aggressive on me! A 'sorry' would have done...

I arrived at the tube to find it closed due to some kind of fire scare and what seemed like an never-ending list of other shoddy LU excuses.

I took the bus into town to meet a possible agent. The appointment didn't go as well as I'd hoped, primarily because the lady said it was almost impossible for an agent to find a composer a job, which made me question why I might want to sign with one! It was all a bit depressing, really, so I had my hair cut. Without consulting me, the barber took a razor to my eyebrows, which felt both masterful and strange, but probably just as well, as they were starting to look like a bag of wool. 

I came home and had to wait around for a strange little man to come and fix our tumble drier. Sadly, it took him about an hour to find our house, despite my repeatedly giving him directions over the phone. During many of our conversations, he was literally just around the corner but, despite my telling him to stay on the phone, so that I could talk him in, he repeatedly told me he didn't need my help and hung up. Five minutes later we'd be back to square one. I'd call him, ask where he was, and he'd be in the vicinity, yet somewhere even more obscure. At one point he went into the pet shop and asked them where their tumble drier was!  The upshot of his finally arriving was my being charged a £25 call-out charge and our tumble drier being condemned beyond all hope. Finally!

I'm now at the Landor Theatre in  Clapham watching two Americans performing a cabaret. They are highly talented, but both seem to have enormous yet perfect teeth. Typical yanks! 

January 19th, 1660, and Pepys was buying mousetraps. His house had been infested by little critters. He consoled himself with another trip to the theatre and sat, incognito, in the cheap seats. He was horrified, therefore, to be spotted by a group of lowly clerks from his office, lording it in more expensive seats. 

On his way to Westminster, he saw a sledge-load of fifth monarchists on their way to the scaffold. These were some of the troublemakers who'd run riot in the City at the start of the month. They were convinced that Jesus was about to make another cameo appearance on earth. I'm sure they were very excited at the prospect of seeing him in his natural environment, or maybe they were panicking they'd miss him. After all, their paths might not have been destined to cross as they descended to heaven and the big JC took the cloud elevator back down to the ground floor. 

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

A machete to my memories

I've just got back from Rushden in Northamptonshire, where my mother and I attended Bob Whitworth's funeral. My Dad wanted to come as well, but had to wait in Thaxted for some workmen who've been threatening to arrive for days!

Mr Whitworth was my junior school headteacher, and it was clear from the enormous turnout that his warmth and wisdom had touched many people. Even the local MP!

It's been a beautiful wintry sunny day; the kind of light that makes everything look like it's swimming in a mixture of butter and golden syrup. We stopped briefly in Higham Ferrers to look at the house I grew up in. It's a pilgimage I periodically make. It was so dark inside that I had to press my head right up to the window, to see how much it had changed since the last time. It seemed grander. More formal and less alive somehow. I was mortified to discover, after much peering, that someone was sitting on the sofa staring right back at me, phone in hand, no doubt ready to call the police!

Rushden looks incredibly down-trodden these days. All the old shops, those stalwarts of the town, had closed down, and the High Street looked like something from the Wild West, with countless premises boarded up. Everything was familiar, but it was as though its very soul had evaporated. Many of the shops I used to visit were still displaying their  former signs, yet in the window, there was nothing but empty mannequins, or broken shelves, or signs which promised something else. The coffee tavern had gone, the little junk shop where I bought all my ABBA records had gone, the Italian restaurant where we celebrated exam successes, the independant department stores where people bought rose-pink lipstick and pointless note-books covered in glitter... all evaporated. Nothing but the odd kebab shop, a few nail bars and shops that said they'd purchase second-hand gold. It makes me weep to think about it. It was like someone had taken a machete to my memories.

We walked around for a bit, searching in vain for somewhere nice to eat lunch. We ended up in a chinzy place, lined with teapots, and cheap Welsh dressers splitting under the weight of hundreds of pointless nicknacks. It was situated in a shop that I remember being built, which nowadays is sandwiched between Iceland and Wilkinson; the only shops that survive recession.

We were forced to share a table with an elderly couple with alzheimer's. The woman kept dropping her knife on the floor and either couldn't hear or understand a word that anyone was saying to her. My mother went to the loo and was horrified to discover her sitting on the men's toilet, with her skirt around her ankles and the door wide open for the world to see. How terribly sad to lose one's dignity in this manner. And yet, she and her husband were dressed up to the nines like the trip to this terrible cafe was the highlight of their week.

The funeral was lovely, if that's a word you can use to describe such things. I was lucky enough to sit next to my old music teacher, Chris. Not only was it lovely to see her - I've always said she has to take a large amount of responsibility for the way I turned out - but she also acted as our information bank, reminding us who everyone was, and pointing out teachers and parents I'd not seen for decades. She also sang the hymns beautifully, and because I knew none of them, she gave me something to copy!

After the funeral I bumped into someone who'd been at senior school with me. She was one of those people who doesn't seem to come with an off-switch! Perhaps she was just trying to catch-up at hyper-speed, but within the space of about 3 minutes, I found out all sorts of things about her, including the fact that her son is entirely incontinent!

January 18th 1661, and Pepys was up with the lark and riding like the wind through the rain and sleet from Dartmouth back to The City. All was well within his house, apart from his pet monkey, which had been left out of its cage and was hopping about and no doubt weeing all over the house. Pepys beat the poor creature "until it was almost dead", which strikes me as a fairly bizarre over-reaction. One wonders whether he'd have taken his anger out on Elizabeth had she been present. Fortunately she wasn't.

After putting the half-dead creature back into its cage, Pepys went a-drinking with his father. A pleasant evening was somewhat destroyed by the arrival of his troublesome cousin, who was so rat-arsed that Pepys ceased to be able to get a word in edgeways. This became a great deal more irritating when they were joined by a doctor, who Pepys was trying to collar for medical advice. In the end, he left his cousin with his father, and whisked the doctor away to another pub. His problems included pain passing water after a night out on the tiles and short-term memory loss. The doctor's advice? Unsurprisingly, to lay off the alcohol!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Proton pump inhibitors

More obsessive tidying. Today I found myself knee deep in a pile of paper and photographs that I'd pulled out of a cupboard by our bedroom window. Opening the cupboard door was like watching a dumper truck depositing rubbish in a tip. I feel purged now that I've thrown much of it away.

We went to the gym and I complained bitterly to the manager about the state of floor in there, which was a health and safety disaster. All the floor tiles were broken and bubbling up as though they were sitting on the San Andreas fault, or a geyser was about to burst forth!

I came back from the gym and went to the doctors. I felt a bit guilty as I'd had to book myself in for an emergency appointment because it was the only way I could be seen before January 27th, which felt utterly bonkers. 

I wanted to talk to the doctor about my voice, which keeps cutting out on me. I assume it's just a form of acid reflux but I won't be happy until I've ruled out various sinister possibilities. The doctor seems to think that reflux is most likely, and she prescribed me some proton pump inhibitors to sort my stomach out. With any luck, they'll do the trick, but I also need to be careful about eating too much acidic food, particularly late at night. 

I'm now in the Woodman Pub. We were going to go for a walk, but it's raining miserably. We met Fiona at the newsagents between our houses, which had just been robbed by thugs. Fiona was calling the police as we arrived. The shopkeepers didn't think there was any point. It apparently happens all the time, and the police tend not to take it very seriously, which I thought was sad. 

January 17th 1660, and Pepys took Lady Jemima on a tour of the ships of the navy fleet. There were amazing breakfasts, beautiful boats and impressive 13-gun salutes. Pepys was in his element as he showed her around, all the time trying to avoid his colleague, Sir William Batten and his wife, who were also in town. Pepys was developing a hatred of the man, and all things associated with him.

They took a coach back to London, but it grew dark and was raining so hard that the horses started kicking up, so they pulled up in Dartford and stayed the night in an Inn, by all accounts the worst that the town had to offer!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Veggie roast

Today is the first proper day off I’ve had in ages. I don’t actually have a great deal of work to do for the next week, so have created a list of things I’d like to do for me. Most of them involve tidying things. My mind is a bit of a mess at the moment and I think that this has a great deal to do with the piles of physical rubbish that have steadily built up in our house and on my computer over the last year or so. There are piles of old clothes in the bedroom and boxes filled to the brim with folders rammed full of bits of paper, which at various points I’ve felt the need to keep hold of. There are thousands of emails in my inbox; 400 or so are still unread! All these things can be quite engulfing, and I can’t wait to deal with them.

I have a wooden box which sits on the right hand side of our sofa. It's always full and I often can’t open it, because there are so many piles of papers sitting on top. Nathan calls it my squirrely area. Today, I went through the entire box like a whirlwind, and filled a bin bag with copious sheets of manuscript paper, hundreds of ancient household bills and screwed-up receipts. The feeling is amazing, though I'm worried I might suddenly have my identity stolen by someone going through our bins.

Fiona came over this afternoon, and we made an amazing roast dinner for ourselves. It was entirely vegetarian. I was shocked by Nathan, who announced in Sainsbury’s that he didn’t actually know how to cook meat. That said, I genuinely feel a roast meal for most people is only made exciting by the trimmings, which are, of course, entirely vegetarian, unless you insist on cooking your spuds in goose fat. We had leek cheese, broccoli, carrots, peas, sweet corn, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and red-wine gravy to pour over our chicken-style nut roast. It was divine.

Whilst Fiona and Nathan tried to find the Antiques Roadshow on television, I tidied our Blue Peter shelves in the sitting room, which have become a platform for the various object d’art we’ve accumulated over the years. I’ve always felt they look like a bit like the shelves they used to have in the Blue Peter studio, but before I tidied them they looked more like a Blue Peter Bring and Buy sale!

...You can't really see the shelves, but it's always nice to see a retro picture of Blue Peter

When I was a teenager, the Northamptonshire Youth Orchestra played The Sorcerer’s Apprentice on Blue Peter. It was in the run-up to Christmas, so the Blue Peter totaliser was in the studio. We were all bitterly disappointed to see how rubbish it looked close-up, and how it was being propped up by bits of gaffer tape and a system of very cumbersome-looking weights.

...Another retro shot

January 16th 1661, and Pepys went to wait on Lady Jemima. When he arrived at her London home, he discovered she’d left the capital, thinking for some reason she’d find Pepys in Chatham. It was the mother of all misunderstandings, and Pepys immediately went into a panic, which was made considerably worse when he bumped into one Mr Child, who’d accompanied Lady Jemima on part of her journey to Kent, but turned back because his horse was rubbish. Pepys immediately jumped on a (better) horse and rode at high speed to Kent. He caught up with Lady Jemima, and her weird-freak daughter, Jem at Rochester. They’d apparently been at a proper loss when they couldn’t find Pepys and were overjoyed when he arrived. It’s not made clear quite why they’d gone all the way to Kent specifically to be waited on by Pepys, but these were strange times and Lady Jemima’s daughter, particularly, was very odd.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

A horrifying vision in pink

Rant alert...

I’m now on a train which is happily winging its way back down to London. It’s relatively crowded, and as I boarded my carriage, I realised to my abject horror that a 2-year old girl dressed in lurid fuchsia pink was sitting in my seat. Her mother asked if I was meant to be sitting there, and when I said I was, she audibly sighed. “Have you not reserved a seat?” I asked her, “for me, yes” she replied, “but not for my daughter. She'll have to sit with me.” She sighed again.

I squeezed myself into the seat, and the girl was winched onto her mother’s lap. She started screaming like a cow in labour because she wanted to sit on a proper seat and a little piece of me died. I was squashed against a window with a towering two-year-old thrashing around in the seat next to me. When she eventually calmed down, she decided to stare at me. I tried to look elsewhere but she prodded me with grubby fingers. The experience was deeply claustrophobic.

It was, however, the running commentary which nearly sent me to an early grave. "Mummy" was finding lots of interesting ways to entertain the mini-pops horror, mostly to prevent her from chanting the new word she'd obviously just learnt. That word, joy of joys, was “actually” and she said it again and again and again until I wanted to grind her face into the banana that she'd just smeared all over the table... and my scarf.

Opening my lap top was a red rag to a bull. “That man’s busy,” became the next phrase du jour. “Am I busy?” She then asked. “No” said Mummy “Is Mummy busy?” she enquired. “No, Mummy's reading a book." And we went round the circuit several times. Conversations with my Grandmother in the latter stages of Alzheimer's were more entertaining. I suppose the only positive aspect was that the devil’s spawn had learnt her personal pronouns.

I love kids. Genuinely. I'm no Grinch, but I do think we need to acknowledge that a child travelling free because she’s sitting on her mother’s lap, can cause some serious discomfort for other passengers. It’s bad enough being herded onto the cattle trucks that they call the East Coast trains, but when you’ve also got to deal with someone else’s child, who hasn’t got their own seat, the experience becomes almost unbearable...

Pepys woke up in Deptford and spent the morning observing the Navy boys doing exercises in the yard. There followed a tour of various workshops, tar houses and wet docks. Pepys, in true Pepys style, took “very great notice” of what was going on, and, no doubt, made copious notes in one of his journals.

He went home to the City and discovered his wife and sister Pall away. As the day went on, he grew more concerned that they hadn’t come home. Sometime after 10pm, however, his boy, appeared with the welcome news that all was well. Elizabeth and Pall would be staying with Mrs Hunt, a former neighbour from their days in Whitehall, who was apparently not very well.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Bursting with pride

We're sitting in the most expensive Indian restaurant in Newcastle. The only thing that's worse than Indian food is expensive Indian food, so this is my idea of hell!! 

Today has lasted an eternity. I was forced out of bed at 7am to do an interview for BBC Newcastle's breakfast show. I've no idea what I said. I did that crazy thing mid-interview where I suddenly realised I was live on radio and completely lost my thread, so started talking about my bushy eyebrows. In fairness, they had just done a piece on the early signs of ageing, so I wasn't going out on an entire limb! 

There followed all sorts of meetings with all kinds of people. Nexus, the people who own the Metro, are going out of their way to help us with the filming, which is very exciting. I'm now very much feeling the pressure!

We spent the evening rehearsing one of the choirs we've formed for the project and they were astonishing. It's obviously early days, and the sound at the moment is more rugby crowd than choir of angels, but the music seemed to be going in and staying in, and they all came alive when the gospel section kicked in. It's a proper community choir, featuring people aged from about 11 to about 90. Hearing them all singing together made me burst with pride. 

Pepys spent the day 350 years ago, handing out the weapons which had arrived from the Tower of London to the Navy troops. It seems that the shock of being called to arms in the middle of the night and an army of men only able to find sticks with which to arm themselves, had understandably caused a great deal of embarrassment! 

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Double disabled

BBC Newcastle is a wonderfully friendly place. We had lunch today in Jimmy’s Cafe on the top floor of the building. I ate a jacket potato whilst sitting at a lovely plastic table. A woman with a very peculiar accent talked to me. I couldn’t understand much of what she was saying, but smiled a lot because I knew she was saying something nice. An incredibly tall woman kept walking past me. I wondered if she was a transsexual, but didn’t want to stare.

My stay at the Newcastle Travelodge was once again marred by a lack of hot water. I was forced to move to a room two doors along the corridor, where the water was merely tepid, which apparently was all I could expect. I didn’t complain. I was more than a little relieved to be out of the first room. It smelt of Dettol and illness. I later discovered that it was a “double disabled” room. Do you think a double disabled room is for people who are doubly disabled?

We spent this morning at the Sage in Gateshead, meeting the lovely chap who’ll be conducting our choir for the project. He seems incredibly sparky, and I’m sure he’ll do us proud.

We went from Gateshead to Newcastle to meet another live-wire; a charming dance teacher, who’s going to provide the film with some cracking choreography, courtesy of a group of street dancers.

Later on, we met the Newcastle Kingsmen, who tap dance like virtuosos holding swords, and then our Northumbrian piper, who played the first 8 bars of the piece, and sent shivers down my spine. Things are slowly coming together, although I wish I could find some decent food in this city!

We visited the brass band in Morpeth last night, and I was able to talk about the music with its conductor. The vague plan had been for us to stick around and hear the band whizzing through what I’d written, but I sensed that this was going to cause embarrassment; “I think you might sack us if you hear our sight reading!” said the conductor, and I fully understood. Rehearsals should never be public occasions, and the presence of a composer at such times can be utterly mortifying. We slipped away quietly. The good news is that the conductor feels the music is playable, with the possible exception of a couple of runs on the baritone horn, which I’ve said can go down the octave or be simplified if needs be.

Sunday 13th January 1661, and Pepys went to church and sat in the Navy Office pew, where he heard a “cold” sermon, delivered by a young man who’d never preached before. Still, our hero wasn’t complaining. Commissioner Pett had brought his wife and daughters to St Olave’s, and the eldest was a “very comely black woman”. Black, in this instance referring to the colour of her hair, and comely being a compliment! Pepys was increasingly using church as an excuse for ogling the ladies, and in the afternoon, a trip to Greenwich gave him further opportunity to practice his misogynist pastime.

Pepys stayed the night, once again, at Mr Davis’ in Deptford, but almost as soon as he’d got into bed, was woken by an alarm. Everyone, including hoards of Navy men from a fleet of nearby boats, got out of bed and armed themselves with various spikes and weapons. It was, however, a false alarm; an over-reaction to six men riding through a checkpoint without stopping. The Navy men were sent back to their boats and Pepys returned to Mr Davis’ house, where he found lots of very interesting song books to keep him from sleeping.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011


I’m en route to Newcastle; hurtling up the country at an unfeasible rate of knots. We don’t seem to have stopped anywhere, and are about to arrive in York. The last time I passed through this station, the whole place was under two feet of snow, and I was at the beginning of an adventure in an unknown city where everyone wanted to call me “pet”. The purpose of today’s trip is to hand over the music I’ve written to the people who are going to be performing it. I shall be over-seeing their first rehearsals and for some reason I’m fairly nervous. Maybe it’s because we’re going to hit the ground running. As soon as I’m off this train, I’ll be whisked to Alnwick to work with a brass band. It may be that my ill-mannered subconscious is trying to tell me that the music I’ve written for the band could be too challenging for them. My music software is warmed-up and ready to make serious simplifications should this prove to be the case.

I had a meeting this morning at the BBC to discuss a wonderful project. It’s so exciting, and we all came out admitting we’d passed the point of pretending to be cool, and were open about how gutted we’d be if everything suddenly fell apart. I don’t want to go into too many details for fear of randomly jinxing everything, but it’s one of those projects that would be a real turning point in my life if it were to come off. Sadly, I’ve now done everything I can to pitch the idea, and from now on we’re in the lap of the BBC Gods, who have to weigh things up and see if enough money can be found to make things happen. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Having said we’re speeding through the countryside on this north-bound train, we’ve just ground to a relative standstill, and been informed that there’s a “points problem in the Northallerton area.” The woman who did the announcement has a lovely clear voice, but seems to want to use it rather too often. She’s called Tracey. The Lovely Tracey. We’ve had all sorts of announcements, including a couple which were referring to something going on in the vestibules at the end of the carriages. Sadly, I don’t think The Lovely Tracey has any idea what a vestibule is. She’s already read the word out as “vestibullez” and “vestibulls”. Maybe next time, she’ll get it right!

Tiny soap box moment. It used to be that internet access was free on East Coast train lines. It didn’t always work, but it was one of those nice gestures that sugar-coated the extortionate prices and crowded carriages. It’s no surprise, however, to discover that wi-fi is now only free for 10 minutes. After ten minutes you have to pay. Yet another step back into the dark ages! Yet another reason to quadruple your carbon footprint and drive everywhere; even if the cost of petrol is at a ridiculous all-time high.

Can someone please lobby the government? I'm afraid I can’t do it anymore, because I’ve stopped communicating with my (Lib Dem) MP. Sadly, she decided to side with the Tories on the issue of student fees. Lynne Featherstone certainly was for turning and I was appalled.

I heard today that my junior school head teacher, Bob Whitworth, had suddenly died at Kettering General Hospital and the news has made me feel rather sad. He was quite a character; a Rushden nationalist who wondered why anyone would want to move away from the hallowed turf of Northamptonshire, but also a great lover of music. My junior school buzzed with music and a great deal of that must have been due to his influence. Good night, Mr Whitworth, and thank you for the music. Albert and the Lion will never be the same without you!

Saturday 12th January 1660, and Pepys took a trip to Rotherhithe and then Deptford to deal with a variety of Navy issues. He was thrilled to discover quite how well-respected he’d suddenly become, writing, “never till now did I see the great authority of my place, all the captains of the fleet coming cap in hand to us”

He stayed the night with Mr Davis, the store-keeper, whose wife was so ill that she couldn’t get out of bed to meet her guest for the night. Despite her illness, Pepys was made to feel incredibly welcome; “Prince-like” in fact, so much so, that he was “at a loss how to behave.”

I leave you with Pepys’ description of one Major Waters, with whom our hero was forced to spend much of his day: “a deaf and most amorous melancholy gentleman, who is under a despayr in love, as the Colonel told me, which makes him bad company, though a most good- natured man.” Poor Major Waters.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


I'm in the Flask pub in Highgate village. Alison from Yorkshire is staying with us tonight and we're having a late night drink whilst putting the world to rights. As I get older, I realise how reactionary I'm becoming. Tonight, for example, I heard myself saying that I was pleased the benefits system in this country are being overhauled. I'm surprised I didn't use the word scrounger! 

It's fabulous to see Alison, though, who's just got over an horrific incident involving peroxide and her hair turning blue. Apparently she looked like Phyllis from Coronation Street! Or a smurf.

I sent the music for Metro up to Newcastle today and true to form, received a bewildering number of notes about my lyrics right at the last moment! Most of the problems have now been resolved, but I still have a few battles left to win! 

Nathan filled the car up with petrol today. £70! 

January 11th, 1660, and Pepys learnt that Princess Henrietta, Charles II's sister, had fallen ill with the measles en route to France. Unfortunately this meant that the ship she was sailing in was forced to return to Portsmouth harbour, where its useless pilot ran it aground! After the death of Charles' other sister just before Christmas, it was decided that the Royals were having a pretty rough time of it! 

Pepys dined at home "discontented that my wife do not go neater now she has two maids." Poor Elizabeth. She was probably just having a bad hair day! 

Monday, 10 January 2011


I’m currently sitting alone in my kitchen. My house is full of people, many of whom I’ve never met! Nathan’s niece, Jen, and her fella are up in the loft. He is serenading her with lounge music on the piano, and the sounds are tinkling down like little pieces of stardust. Meanwhile, Nathan’s friend, Jason, is in the sitting room with four giggling women, who are apparently set to be the next big thing in the easy listening pop market. Think a female version of The Soldiers and you won’t be far off, although if I tell you anything else I'll have to kill you. They’re meant to be rehearsing for their inaugural gig, but I haven’t heard any singing; just a lot of cheering, various trips to the loo, and an Irish lady talking in an implausibly low voice. One of them has brought an enormous sponge cake, which I’m sort of hoping they won’t finish...

Anyway, I don’t really know what to do with myself in the kitchen. This must be how my Mum used to feel on her birthday, when I had my mates over in one room and my brother and Dad were watching James Bond in another. She used to go and sit in her bedroom, and no doubt cry! Fortunately, I’m off out soon, to listen to the Crouch End Festival Chorus rehearsing their next concert. On this most surreal of days, it feels like a relatively normal thing to be going out to do at 9pm.

For those of you reading who don’t know how you get through life without regular updates regarding my levels of fatness, I can officially reveal that instead of blood, cheese is now coursing through my veins. Today is the day that this situation changes. I’ve been to the gym, I’ve eaten sensible food at sensible times and have vowed NOT to resemble Captain Caveman when the Metro Musical receives its premier in March. I long to be excitingly lithe but am prepared to settle for a waistline. The trip to the gym has made me feel extremely zingy, and even after I’d completed half an hour of carb-caning exercise, I still found myself with enough energy to secretly perform 1970s-style drag runs across the main studio whilst Classical Gas blared in my ears. Joy!

10th January 1660 presented Pepys with another opportunity to drink himself silly. Together with his friend, Mr Hawley, he managed to polish off two pints of wormwood and sack. Mr Hawley, probably tripping off his nuts, admitted that he was attempting to woo Mrs Lane, the draper from Westminster Hall, which must have entertained Pepys, who was having an illicit affair with her

Later in the day, Pepys called in on Mrs Hunt and found his wife there with a Frenchman, a lodger. As Pepys entered the room he found the Frenchman (innocently) kissing his wife “which I did not like, though there could not be any hurt in it.”

Later still, Elizabeth and Samuel called in on Sir William Penn for a second time. The first time they'd found him ill. He was still ill but Pepys decided he was milking it and hung around for hours talking about the Fanatics, who were believed to be hanging out in Highgate. I wonder if they’re still here? I’ll check the churches on my way out later. Apparently there were only about 500 nutty Christian trouble-makers; “a thing that was never heard of, that so few men should dare and do so much mischief.” Some had already been captured, and were no doubt being tortured gruesomely, something they'd probably have enjoyed, because part of the pull of born-again Christianity is the joy of persecuted like the big JC. Pepys tells us the men would talk of nothing but their leader's imminent arrival back on earth. If I see them on my travels, I'll ask if they're still waiting.

Ps. It is now about 9.45pm and I am sitting at a desk in a school hall. To my right is the actor, Paul McGann. He played The Monocled Mutineer, which I loved as a child, so I am too intimidated to talk to him! We are watching the Crouch End Festival Chorus rehearsing. He's playing the part of Doctor Rieux in Robert Gerhard's The Plague. I am here to see if I can convince them to let me write something for them. 

It's a deeply surreal experience. I have never sat in front of such a large choir. Walls of sound are blasting my eardrums. I am astonished that the choir is tackling something so complex and extraordinary and thrilled to be sitting in the middle of it all!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Just Go!

I'm sitting, once again, in the Tabard pub. It's the last night of Nathan's Just So, and the cast are drunk beyond words and singing show songs at the tops of their voices. Fiona and I are watching them in awe, talking about the days when we used to feel invincible.

We spent the afternoon in Spitalfields; my second visit to that particular market this week. Fiona managed to lose her iPhone on New Year's Eve, and rather randomly someone texted her this morning to say that their girlfriend had found it in her bag and wanted to hand it back! It all sounded a little bit weird, so I went along for moral support.

When we met the woman in question, it transpired she'd been nowhere near Fiona on New Year's Eve, and had no memory of putting the phone in her bag. We decided that Fiona must have left it in a taxi, and that the lady in question had been the taxi's next ride, and in a drunken stupor, had decided to look after it and promptly forgotten about it. She'd then found it four days later, felt extremely confused and set about trying to track down the owner. It was all very bizarre, but it's great to know that there are people in the world who go out of their way to be good citizens!

We ate pies for lunch with gravy, peas and lashings of ketchup, and then strolled back to Liverpool Street in the glorious winter sunshine, which made the City of London resemble somewhere in lower Manhattan. Thank God for the sunshine. It topped up my levels of vitamin E for at least a few days...

Fiona in that revitalising sunlight

Pepys woke up at 6am on January 9th 1660, and was greeted with the disturbing news that the fanatics had been running riot in the City again. A dozen had been killed, people were arming themselves with whatever they could find and all the shops were shut. Pepys found a sword and a pistol but couldn't find any powder to charge it.

Later in the day, he went to call in on his Uncle Wight where he had been "so long absent that" he was "ashamed to go." I think we've all been there. Pepys felt sure that he was met with some iciness, but by the time he'd left, felt all had been forgotten and that they were friends again.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Derren Brown

Today’s been one of those days when I’ve not spoken to anyone. I’ve simply sat on the sofa all day and quietly tidied up the Metro musical. I allowed myself a lie-in this morning, which is very dangerous, because I can almost guarantee I won’t be tired when it comes to bed time.

I genuinely wish I could think of something more interesting to write! There’s been a shooting in the US, the murder of the white, middle-class girl in Bristol remains unsolved, and Derren Brown is on the telly in a documentary which I’m told includes a photograph that I took of him. I watched the programme from start to finish and missed it, but am told by Siobhan that it was there, hanging on Derren’s wall. She recognised the photo from my website, which is astonishingly eagle-eyed! It's nice to think Derren likes the picture enough to display.

Matt was being interviewed in the documentary. It seems that you can’t turn the telly on this week without seeing him somewhere. He was very entertaining. When asked to sum Derren up in 3 words, he said; “man... with... beard.”

And here's my photograph of Man with Beard. Taken in the days when I used to work with proper film!

350 years ago, and Pepys had a lie-in with Elizabeth. He got out of bed and went to see yet another play. This one, “The Widdow” [sic], was “indifferent good.” There was lunch with Lady Jemima and Pepys was “forced” to drink wine from Florence. He went shopping and ordered some fancy fruit platters for a party he was planning the following week.

Meanwhile, London was still buzzing with the news of the civil unrest, caused by the fanatics two nights earlier. Some of them had apparently been spotted in Barnet, but Pepys didn’t believe the rumours.

Friday, 7 January 2011

An English Restaurant

Is it just me who wishes this horribly grey and rainy weather would just go away? I am sick to death of smelling like a wet dog every time I get on a tube!

I'm currently on my way back from the City. We're crammed in like cattle and everyone is sweating profusely. I've seldom felt so uncomfortable on the underground.

My parents are off to see the National Youth Orchestra playing at the Barbican tonight. They've been given VIP tickets by Jim and are hugely excited. I met them at Liverpool Street Station, essentially to show them the way from there to the concert hall, but we had hours to kill, so I took them on a tour of Spitalfields and Brick Lane.

We ate in an "English restaurant", which stood out, rather ironically as being unusual. The food was wonderful, but the servings were 1980s minimal, so much that I had to whisk my father off to a beigel shop for a little something extra afterwards! The detour meant I could take the parents down Fournier Street, which has always been my favourite road in the whole of London. It has such a peculiar atmosphere; heavy and ghostly. It can't have changed at all since Victorian Times. It almost smells of those old Jewish streets. For some reason, I find the area deeply compelling, quite possibly because a whole branch of my family were silk weavers in the area.

Bizarrely, I've just noticed the woman opposite me on the tube is reading a magazine, which has a photograph on the front page of artists Gilbert and George standing on the corner of that very street! It's funny how things like that happen.

January 7th 1661, and Pepys woke up to the news that religious fanatics had been running riot through the streets during the night and had killed 6 or 7 people. London immediately went into a state of emergency; 40,000 troops were deployed, and check-points were set up at every corner. Exciting biting, as my Dad would say! Oddly, coming back to the present momentarily, I've just read that the powers that be now expect a terrorist attack to be imminent. 350 years on, and nothing has changed!

Pepys went to the theatre with his wife and brother. They saw a Ben Johnson play and marvelled at a boy actor who was playing an old crone before metamorphosing into "the most handsome woman in the theatre".

Today was the chosen celebration of Twelfth night. There was a lavish party and the "King Cake" was cut. Hidden within the cake, as was the tradition of the times, were a pair of tiny figurines dressed as a king and a queen and those lucky enough to find them in their portion, would have various duties for the duration of the party. Perhaps unsurprisingly it was Elizabeth who found herself with the Queen, for, I believe, the second year running!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The mystery of the white towels

The mystery of the white towels has finally been solved! Keen readers of this blog will remember that a strange package from John Lewis appeared on our doorstep at the start of December. I didn’t know if it was an early Christmas present, or a gift for someone else, because there was no message attached. I called all my friends and family, but no one had any idea what I was talking about!

Fortunately, I received an email this morning from Jane, who sung in the Pepys Motet, asking if I’d received the slightly eccentric gift she’d sent to say thank you for the experience. And at that moment, the penny dropped! She must have thought I was so rude for not saying thank you, but all’s well that ends well and I can finally take the lovely fluffy towels down from the top of my wardrobe and dry myself in style! Hurrah!

I went to the gym today, and had to sit in the car park for 40 minutes whilst waiting for a space. I know the concept of driving to a gym smacks of all things American, so I really only have myself to blame. When I finally got in, I found myself instantly regretting my decision to go. A group of middle-aged men were shouting at each other across the changing room, in those forced Mockney voices that make insecure men feel oh so masculine. The conversation went something along the lines of; “why you wearing that top, mate? It’s gay. You look gay. You shouldn’t wear that top.” There was a brief blast of homophobic banter, before the rancid chatter moved onto joke telling, which culminated in some kind of discussion about lesbians and tins of tuna, which was so desperately tragic, I felt the need to escape before I’d put my shoes and socks on! I don’t know why these Neanderthals still exist in the world, but I don’t think anyone would miss them if they sunk to the bottom of the swimming pool.

I worked until 8pm tonight, and for the last hour had the television on in the background. Michael Portillo was doing yet another sodding documentary about train journeys. I don’t know why the BBC seems so keen to flog a dead format. The licence fee surely means they should be taking more risks. It’s not even like Portillo is particularly compelling as a presenter, speaking as he does, in that silly low voice and walking around in fuddy-duddy, “I used to wear a suit to work” clothes.

And speaking of celebrity-endorsed documentaries, which are the scourge of television programming at the moment, I just watched Martin Clunes doing a piece about manta rays. At the end of the programme, I was left with just one question...Why? Clunes doesn’t know anything about Manta Rays, and spent the entire documentary saying he was too scared to dive into the sea to look at them, so the girl with him, obviously the proper manta ray enthusiast, was forced to do it instead. It’s so ridiculous that no documentaries are being shown on telly without the suffix; “with Joanna Lumley” or whatever. “Gardens of the world - with Monty Don” “’cellos I have loved - with Yoyo Marr.” It’s a proper nonsense, and smacks of cynical production companies making a fast buck.

Twelfth Night, 1661, and, disappointingly, there were no parties for Pepys, who went with his wife to church, and heard a setting of a psalm which lasted a whole hour whilst a sexton went around with a collection plate. Surely this would have been a form of punishment close to wearing a hair shirt? And as if he hadn’t suffered enough already, Pepys went home to eat a broiled leg of mutton. Surely that can’t have been much fun?!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A womb-like corner

I’ve just returned from a particularly long walk with Fiona. We went up to Muswell Hill and then back to Highgate via Crouch End. Just as well we returned when we did, however, as I think I’m coming down with the Norovirus which is doing the rounds in London. My tummy feels strange to say the least. It's also started raining, which is wildly depressing. I woke up this morning and the sky was cornflower blue. I was keeping my fingers crossed that the morose weather we've had of late was on the turn.

It’s Twelfth Night tomorrow, which means we have to take down all our Christmas decorations. Nathan is putting all sorts of beautiful shiny things into terribly dull cardboard boxes. Another year done and dusted.

I spent the morning writing in Cafe Nero, but was forced away by the rancid cooking smells, which have now become quite an obsession. We had more mushrooms for lunch but Fiona ate soup because blue cheese makes her ill. In the afternoon, I managed to find a rather lovely womb-like corner in the cafe at Jackson’s Lane, and sat there writing very contentedly. I must find something other than tea to drink whilst I'm writing. I got the proper shakes today, which I'm assuming is to do with the caffeine rather than the norovirus.
The lyrics were sent out for approval today, so fingers crossed they’re loved – or at least endured - by all.

Saturday 5th January was a relatively quiet day for Pepys. He was visited at the Navy Office in the morning by a string of people who were looking to do business, which generally meant they wanted him to use his influence to do them favours. Pepys, however, lapped up every aspect of his new-found importance. He spent the afternoon with Lady Jemima, visiting St Paul’s churchyard on his way home to buy himself a copy of Ogilby’s Aesop’s Fables.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Take ME out of the WE

Another long day. I was in Cafe Nero by 9.30am this morning, and have now finished the first draft of Metro The Musical. The one problem with Nero is that it smells. I come home every day absolutely stinking of chip fat, which makes me feel extremely uncomfortable and embarrassed. It’s particularly odd, as Nero is not exactly renowned for selling chips. I can only assume the rancid smell is due to those weird toasted sandwiches that they sell in there, which are obviously so loaded with fat, they’d be banned by the WHO if they weren’t masquerading as something innocent! The prices have all gone up, as well. No doubt, like everyone else, Costa will be using the VAT rise as an excuse. I’m not sure what to make of any of this business. I passionately hate the concept that we’re all paying back a debt. I didn't benefit in the golden years when everyone was borrowing and spending like mad. I've never owned a house. I’ve never borrowed money, never been in debt and never bought anything on a credit card! So take the me out of that we, please, Mr Osbourne. And whilst we're talking politics, doesn’t Ed Milliband have a silly voice?! He needs to have his adenoids removed!

I came home for a late lunch. We had some glorious mushrooms in a white wine and stilton sauce on toasted beigels. A little piece of heaven momentarily arrived in our sitting room, which was only destroyed when we turned the television on. Day time television becomes utterly inane when you’re working. When you’re not it’s the elixir of life!

Nathan left for his show at about 6pm and I seem to have sat in the same place on the sofa ever since. I missed the laundrette and am trying to dry all my clothes on various radiators around the house. I don't feel guilty for not doing very much tonight although I realised at one point that I’d been half-watching the world darts championship, which surely has to be an all-time low.

Pepys took his mate Henry Moore to see The Scornful Lady. It was a relief to Pepys that it was “acted very well” for it was the first time Moore had ever been to the theatre. Bizarre.

My first trip to the theatre was to see a production of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Northampton Royal Theatre. I was 7 years old. As Jesus was hanging on the cross, and the cast were emoting, a special needs person jumped up from the audience, stood on the stage and started applauding wildly. He then dropped his trousers and was promptly removed by an embarrassed helper. I couldn't tell you how well the show was performed, but the lunatic was excellent!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Pretty witty

It’s fairly amazing how full and rich a day can seem when you get up early and immediately leave the house. This morning I set my alarm for 8.30am and was in Shoreditch by 10. The plan was to do some writing in a cafe before going to my Goddaughter’s second birthday party. Unfortunately, on a Bank Holiday, Shoreditch is like a ghost town. Everything was closed and the entire area was completely empty but for a few slightly over-dressed people who I assume were still partying from the night before. Shoreditch is a silly area of town at the best of times. Old Street heaves with people who are too cool for school. On a normal day, you’re likely to see any number of ridiculous asymmetrical hair-dos perched on top of retro leather jackets and unfeasibly skinny jeans.

I was completely unable to find a cafe, so instead of working, I went straight to Philippa’s house and helped to prepare for the party. It was so much fun. Philippa’s mother and parents-in-law were there, and then Gaby and finally, Nick, Philippa’s father arrived. We helped to tidy the house, and cooked cup cakes. Deia was delightful, and hugely excited at the prospect of being two. I gave her a stuffed rabbit, which she immediately christened “The bouncing song rabbit”, which felt almost too brilliantly surreal for comment! Philippa’s mother-in-law had created the most astonishing cake in the shape of Noah’s Arc, complete with the most brilliant selection of animals crafted from marzipan.

Deia and her Oma

I headed back to Highgate Village and did 4 hours’ work on the Metro Musical, which feels like it’s finally coming together. I even had a miniature rush of excitement at one point! The cafe was filled to the rafters today and I had to share a table with two teenaged girls, who seemed to want to do nothing but hug one another. When I asked if I could sit with them, I could tell their hearts were sinking. I've been wearing pyjama trousers all day today, so assume they merely regarded me as some kind of eccentric old man who just wanted their company.

Nathan arrived to say hello just as the cafe was closing and we immediately had to drive back to Philippa’s, because I realised I’d left my camera there. We had a cup of tea with the stragglers and ate some of the leftover food from the party; mostly olives, pieces of cheese and low-sugar biscuits, which, for the record, are utterly repulsive.

Thursday 3rd January 1661, and Pepys went to the theatre to watch the “Beggar’s Bush” being performed. He wrote that it was “very well done” but more importantly, noted that it was the first time he’d ever seen women actresses on a stage. What an intriguing milestone! I’m told that the first female professional actress was actually Mrs Coleman, who acted Ianthe in Davenant’s Siege of Rhodes in 1656 – so these were incredibly early days in this respect, particularly if we take into account that theatre itself had been banned until the previous year. Within a few years, however, bawdy actresses were all the rage and there would be countless professional female performers in London, including Pepys’ lover, Mrs Knipp, and "pretty witty" Nell Gwyn.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

The Charlie Says cat

Sunday January 2nd, and to prove just how conscientious I am, I did 5 hours’ work on the Metro musical today. I had set my alarm for 9am, but for some inexplicable reason it didn’t go off. A shame really, because the extra time I had in bed allowed me to dream the most dreadful dream about nuclear war with Pakistan. It was very much an “every man for himself” situation. I remember telling Philippa and her Mum that if we lost touch because the world was about to enter a nuclear winter, we’d all meet, if we could, on August the eighth at the top of Parliament Hill. Brother Edward was predicting, in his wisdom, that Pakistan were most likely to fire the missiles that evening, and Nathan and I discussed the possibility of driving North out of London and seeing where we could get to. It was all a bit too realistic for my liking. I haven’t had such a lucid dream for years.

Nathan and I spent a good half hour trying to work out why my i-phone alarm hadn’t gone off and ended up drawing a complete blank. We later discovered, via the news, that this was a world-wide phenomenon and that people in Australia even, had been late for work because their i-phone alarms hadn’t gone off. Apparently it’s a glitch, and by tomorrow all phones will be back to working order. Quite how they can be so sure, I've no idea. Some wise-guy emailed the news station to suggest that if people went to the shops and brought a £10 alarm clock, none of this would have happened, to which I respond, “why bother to buy an alarm if your 'phone will do the job?” In my experience, alarm clocks are just as likely to go wrong! Silly Luddite.

The cafe was hugely busy today with people who'd obviously been walking on the Heath. There was a veritable cavalcade of wellies and wax jackets; not that the good folk of Highgate need much of an excuse to dust off the country casuals!

The woman sitting opposite me had had THE most dreadful plastic surgery. To quote Frankie Boyle, she looked like a haunted shoe. I don’t know what possesses women to do it to themselves. Her lips looked like they’d been stung by a thousand bees and her eyes looked like pieces of melted plastic. I wondered how sophisticated and beautiful she might have looked had she allowed nature to take its course, but worry that this kind of surgery is becoming so prevalent that its results are becoming acceptable, rather than freaky. Of course, the moment she decided to open her mouth, she revealed everything I needed to know about her. It was like listening to the “Charlie Says” cat. She was obviously some kind of Eastern European with a husband with more money than sense. I'm sure he thinks she looks stunning, when he's not buying diamonds for his 30 year-old secretary, that is.

Wednesday 2nd January 1661, and Pepys spent the morning with Sandwich, who was off to Portsmouth with the Queen Mother, who was heading to France. Pepys returned home to find his sister, Pall, had arrived, and in a display of absolute callousness, refused to allow her to sit down at the table with him “which I do at first that she may not expect it hereafter from me.” We must remember, of course, that she was coming to live with Pepys, not as a sister, but as a servant. Rules is rules.