Saturday, 30 April 2011

The little bee

Over breakfast this morning I watched a honey bee attempting to pollinate my television! It seemed perfectly happy to disappear every few minutes, find a flower, and return through the open window with more specks of yellow pollen, which it deposited in a little hole on the back of the telly, which I think might have been designed to wall mount the thing. It was a very curious sight and I'm at a loss as to what to do about it. Should I cover the hole and break his little bee heart, knowing it will be better for him in the long run? No wonder bees are dying out, if they try to make honey in plastic moulding!

I've been in Cambridge all day with Helen. It's been a wonderful day, although my hay fever season has now started. We drove up from London, but due to a terrible accident on the M11, were diverted via Thaxted, which is where we had lunch.

The weather was stunning; not too hot, but a beautiful treacly orange sunlight all day. We walked around the centre of town and Helen showed me the room where she practices as a therapist in one of the colleges. It was a lovely room; very peaceful and comfortable. You could see an ornate sandstone clock tower out of the window.

As the sun set, we hired a punt, and drifted along the backs for an hour or so, periodically having to steer around massive pile-ups of tourists blocking the river. No one fell in. I was bitterly disappointed. Helen surprised me with her punting skills.

As we walked around the town, a series of childhood memories were triggered, and it struck me how, now my links to Warwickshire have been severed, Cambridge is now the town in Britain which holds the most continuity for me. On many occasions I was able to tell Helen what certain buildings used to house, and what others had been before they were rebuilt. Perhaps I'll end my days there. Who knows...

Helen in her college

April 30th, 1661, and Pepys took a carriage with Elizabeth, Creed and his clerk, Thomas Hater who also brought his wife. Pepys found Mrs Hater slightly amusing. She was wearing some kind of mask, one assumes to protect her skin during the journey to Portsmouth, but it was so peculiar, that Pepys originally mistook her for an old lady. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that she was instead an attractive "black" woman. Very dark haired, rather than of African descent.

After a full day travelling, they'd only made it as far as Godalming. Pepys ended the day feeling somewhat grumpy, his hat having blown off his head and fallen into a river. He was also upset to be missing the annual May 1st coach parade in Hyde Park, where the great and the good rode up and down to show how wealthy and wonderful they were!

My favourite flower...

Friday, 29 April 2011

Very merry we were

It rather pains me to admit that I’ve had a pretty splendid day, which is a direct consequence of the Royal Wedding. London has been a magical, magical place.

I went to Philippa’s at about 9.30 in the morning, and we sat and watched the footage on the big screen in her sitting room. I think we all made the decision to sort of throw caution to the wind, and simply enjoy and even invest in the spectacle. We found ourselves looking forward to seeing the dress, and then discussing how beautiful it looked. At one point Moira started taking pictures of the screen in an attempt to catch an image of Catherine in the coach making her way to Westminster Abbey. After about the ninth shot, she turned to me and said; “I don’t recognise the person I’ve become...”

I think the most charming aspect of the day was going out onto Columbia Road and seeing a street party in full swing. Love or hate the royal family, it’s a very beautiful thing to see an entire community meeting one another, sharing food, smiling, dancing and singing. It was actually really very moving. There were trestle tables and strips of bunting. People had dressed up. Everyone was taking photographs. Everything looked utterly timeless; even the way people were dressed. We could have been in the 1950s. The sun was shining, there were silly dogs dressed in little suits, people sitting on cushions on the pavements and everyone seemed relaxed and happy. The cynic in me stayed very firmly inside...
We walked from Columbia Road to Broadway Market, to attend Sophie’s Bridal Olympics, which seemed to involve a lot of women in wedding dresses doing egg and spoon races. I took some time out to visit London Fields with little Deia; the first extended period of time I’ve spent with her on my own... I felt very privileged that she trusted me enough to hang out with me, and she was wonderful company. We went on the swings and down a slide together. I very much enjoyed the fact that everyone assumed she was my daughter – but what a responsibility it is to have children! Every time she ran off to another corner of the playground, my heart skipped a beat.

I ended the day back at Philippa and Dylan’s with a delicious pasta dinner made from a fridge full of odds and ends. Nathan called a few times from New York to say hello. He’s been hanging out with Mike McShane and Sharon is taking a new set of head shots for him down in the West Village, probably as I'm writing this. Thank God today’s been so perfect, else I’d feel incredibly envious!

April 29th, 1661, and Pepys found out that he was going to be sent to Portsmouth, which meant he needed to spend the day organising things for his imminent departure, which included giving his workmen detailed instructions about what to do in the house whilst he was away. In the evening, he was invited to a “collacion” at Mrs. Turner’s house, which went on until midnight. Pepys was thrilled to announce that there was a gentlewoman there who played the harpsicon and sang beautifully, “very merry we were.” As we were...

Thursday, 28 April 2011

We will never forget you

Another day of nonsense. I woke up and went for a 6 mile run, which involved Muswell Hill, Crouch End, Highgate Village and hundreds of ridiculous hills. My legs now feel like planks of wood.

In the early afternoon I had to go to Wood Green to sort out my housing benefit. Haringey Council, in their wisdom, have closed their Crouch End office, which means the residents of Highgate have to schlep their way across North London to the biggest hell hole on the planet. There’s neither a direct bus, or a tube that goes to Wood Green from where I live, so I decided to drive, which was a mistake, because it costs £4 to park outside the council offices for an hour. Little did I know that the council’s official line is that “it’s free to park in Somerfield for two hours,” which struck me as fairly shocking.
The housing benefits office is a horrible place. It smells of sweat and cheese. It’s dark, and there were people queuing everywhere. Periodically, a computerised voice calls out “could ticket 225 go to counter 15 etc” When the lady behind the first counter asked for my postcode, she raised her eyebrow when I said N6. I couldn’t work out if it was a raised eyebrow because N6 seems like miles away to someone in N22, or whether it was because N6 is posh, and people from posh postcodes don’t sign on.

The second bloke who dealt with me was shaking because his girlfriend kept phoning. She’d overslept and then fainted because she couldn’t get her medication for high blood pressure. He asked me to pray for her and I didn’t quite know where to put myself. He didn’t seem to want to take any of the documents I’d brought with me. I sincerely hope I won’t be called in again because he was so distracted.

As I walked out of the office, I was very nearly flattened by a 6 year-old lad riding one of those ubiquitous scooters. Now, I’m all for my god-daughter in her sweet little crash helmet going along the pavement on a scooter, but razzing down the pavement faster than a BMX is surely something that needs to be addressed?

I went home via the cemetery in Hampstead Garden Suburb. It’s a very calm and peaceful spot; the place where Julie’s father was cremated. It’s also the resting place of Marc Bolan and Ronnie Scott. Some of the inscriptions on the plaques in there almost broke my heart. It’s amazing the way that death levels people. I was far less impressed by the countless gaudy plaques put in place for the various anniversaries of Marc Bolan’s death, than I was with some of the more heartfelt inscriptions from ordinary people; “My darling, I miss you so much. I love you. Without you there is no life for me. I hope we will be together again very soon. Yours forever.” There was also a little wedding anniversary card attached to a bouquet of roses which read; “from your loving wife, Dolly.”

Sunday 28th April, 1661, and Pepys went to St Bride’s Church, which I think I’m right is saying was the church he was baptised in. He was joined by various relatives. They all went back to Pepys’ father’s, where an impromptu party took place. Pepys' father took him on one side and confessed to another altercation with his wife; "she would not let him come to bed to her out of jealousy of him and an ugly wench that lived there lately, the most ill-favoured slut that ever I saw in my life, which I was ashamed to hear that my mother should be become such a fool, and my father bid me to take notice of it to my mother, and to make peace between him and her. All which do trouble me very much."

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The awkward turtle

I feel a bit strange. Nathan is in a cloud somewhere over the Northern Atlantic on a giant metal bird, and I'm on Old Compton Street eating a soggy Linzer biscuit whilst contemplating the meaning of life. It's funny how things work out. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a little sad that Nathan is on his way to New York without me. I suppose the reality of my current employment status is finally hitting home. I drove him to Heathrow and we talked about all the wonderful things he was going to do with his time over there. As I drove away, I got a bit tearful whilst watching him disappearing in the wing mirror.

The oil light immediately started flashing on the dashboard of the car, and I had to pull over. I called my parents to have a little whinge and my Dad very sagely summed up the situation; “you're problem" he said "is that you have nothing on the horizon other than things that you're dreading...” And he was right. There's the court case, the operation on my vocal chords, another hospital appointment to examine a lump on my gum, various visits to the job centre, which will no doubt soon become attempts to get me selling curtains and doing all sorts of menial jobs that I don't have the qualifications to do...
Still, you gotta sink pretty low to realise you’re on the climb again. That's the best way to look at these things. I'm not the only one who's been wiped out by the economic climate and no one forced me to be a composer. I’ve therefore factored in a couple of days to mooch about before cranking the wheels back into motion in a big way, starting with a massive push to raise the £3,000 neccessary to make the film for Gay Pride. They want a disco anthem - and that's what they'll get; a celebration of all things LGBT, filmed on the streets of Soho. I think I’ve said before that it could well end up being the campest 5 minute film ever made. Camper than Disney. Camper than Christmas. Camper than my straight friend Alistair.

I’ve offered to write the song and make the film for nothing, but obviously can’t be so generous with other peoples' time! The money is needed to pay for a recording studio and session musicians for the track, and I suspect we’ll also need to have some help on the filming/ editing side of things. I basically have about a week to raise enough money for me to think it’s worth starting on the project, and only have two months to turn it around... So if any of you know anyone with a little bit of spare money in their back pockets, please let me know, or send them in my direction. Every penny counts. I feel almost sick approaching people for money yet again, but art aint gonna make itself in this climate, and Gay Pride are losing their official sponsors hand over fist right now.

I wondered about turning my quest for funds into one of those "Just Giving" things. How many times do I get requests to donate money, just so that a friend can take himself off to climb Kilimanjaro? I often suspect the idea of the enterprise is simply for said friend to have an adventurous holiday that he doesn't have to pay for, the pennies that are raised for charity after the costs of flights and accommodation have been met, barely featuring as an incentive.

Perhaps my being in a bit of a blue today has had something of a knock-on effect on everything around me. Despite checking Nathan’s travel agenda twice in the car today, I managed to take him to the wrong terminal at Heathrow. I was half way back to the motorway before he called to tell me he was in the wrong place. I went back to pick him up, and it was just as well. Terminal 4, where I dropped him, is about 5 miles from any of the other terminals. Dreadful.

The bizarreness continued in the gym. Whilst running, my iPod fell out of my pocket, hit the treadmill, and was propelled to the other side of the room within a second. I didn’t see where it landed so was forced to spend the next 20 minutes with a personal trainer called Daniel, lifting up all the treadmills one by one to look underneath them. 2 minutes after I’d got back on the treadmill, exactly the same thing happened to my bloomin’ keys! Fortunately, I found them a great deal more easily, but managed to lose them on two more occasions as I made my way around different machines in the gym.

Even more humiliatingly, I left them on the floor of my shower. By the time I’d returned, someone else was in there, and I had to go through the embarrassing ritual of knocking on the glass door, and asking a naked stranger to hand me back a set of keys that he’d managed to entirely cover in soapy bubbles. He didn't seem to want to help and it was ages before he responded. As he opened the door to hand me the keys, it became immediately clear that he was sporting a rather full-blooded erection! I was so shocked that I managed to knock his towel off its peg and in an attempt to pick it up again, my face came within about an inch of the very thing that I was trying to avoid. Mortifying! Ground, please swallow me up.

On a brighter note, Philippa says that she saw Philip Sallon today on a bus. I spoke to him yesterday, and knew he was out and about again, and I’m thrilled to have this independently verified. He told her he was feeling about 50% normal, and described it a bit like living underneath a cloud. I didn’t realise that this was the first time Philippa had met him. Bless her for coming on the march.

April 27th, 1661 was a Saturday, and Pepys dined with Lady Jemima of Sandwich. I appreciate that this was the family that gave its name to the food stuff, but imagine how cool it would be to be called Jemima Sandwich? After lunch, Pepys went with Captain Ferrers and John Creed to the theatre to see The Chances by John Fletcher, before heading off to the pub, where they were entertained by a harpist and a violinist. At the end of the day, Pepys called in on Sir William Batten, who asked rather too many times when Pepys expected the work on his house to be complete. I assume Lady Batten was bored of all the dust and banging. A moment for the awkward turtle to swim past, me thinks.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Gateway to hell

A most disagreeable and terrifying thing happened to me in the early afternoon today. I was taken to Primark on Oxford Street. I’m not even sure why we went there. I think Nathan wanted to buy some ridiculously cheap, gay vests for his show...

It took hours to get there. Primark is situated in the horrible part of Oxford Street; the bit that’s full of shuffling tourists, nowhere near Soho, or anywhere else you'd want to visit unless you're heading to Hyde Park. By the time we got there, I’d committed several gruesome murders in my head. How slowly do people in that awful part of town want to move?

Primark on Oxford Street is huge; so huge, in fact, that once you go inside you immediately lose your bearings and can’t find the door again! The men’s floor – as always in these shops – is found in the most inaccessible part of the building. The escalators that take you up there are hidden somewhere in the middle. The up escallator is nowhere near the down. Escape is almost impossible. The only route back down to the ground floor takes you on a tour of every bleeding aisle. Rail after rail of cheap fabric. Just think how many chemicals died to make those leatherette jackets!

The place smells like a Chinese sweat shop. I know this, because all the “clothes” on sale in the place were made in one, by thousands of pairs of underpaid, underage hands.

It’s like a jumble sale. The sort of jumble sale you imagine in your worst nightmares. Clothes are strewn all over the floor; thrown there by hundreds of over-excited, fat bargain-hunting fingers. The search for the right size is obviously like some kind of war. Things get ripped and pulled into different shapes. It's impossible to know what the clothes were meant to look like before they were mauled, stained and abused by hundreds of people smelling of chip fat, biscuits and wee wee.

You can’t move for people. The queues for the tills are miles long, and snake around the aisles. Fat, slow people block the remaining space, hauling hideous baskets around with them, that look more like the sorts of things you store children’s toys inside. Periodically, you trip over someone who's simply given up; the heat and unbearable claustrophobia and lack of anything nice to buy, coupled with an inability to escape, proving far too much to bear. I saw at least 4 people who were just sitting on the floor, propped up against a clothing rail, melting into a pool of their own sweat and helpless tears.

Surely shopping, at least for women, has to be an enjoyable experience? But Primark on Oxford Street, is plainly the gateway to hell. Avoid it like the plague...

Speaking of which, 350 years ago, Pepys ordered a takeaway dinner in the shape of a piece of meat from a cookshop, which he ate in his house, surrounded by workmen. A little bit of work in the afternoon concluded a very quiet day. Obviously the excitement of the Coronation had proven too much for him, and he’d gone into hibernation.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Suspended reality

London has notched-up yet another day bathed in beautiful sunshine. It feels surreal. It's hotter here than it is in LA, Rome, New York and Athens. We never get prolonged periods of sunny weather like this. We certainly don't get them in April. Reality for most Londoners is now officially in a state of suspension. No one is working; we've had countless Easter bank holidays, and this coming week we have the extra bank holidays associated with the Royal Wedding. As a result, most people have taken the next 4 days off work. The parks and river banks are full of people basking under a glorious sun and London has ground to a halt. We'll be taking siestas next!

I went for dinner with Uncle Bill and Rupert today. I sent Hilary a text last night asking if we were going down to their house in Lewes or heading for the boat in Chelsea, and was told that we’d be going to Philippa’s house in Hackney instead. Slightly bizarre.
It was a charming afternoon. We made delicious pesto, ate huge quantities of food and played with my god-daughter, Deia, who was particularly good company this afternoon. Her current favourite toy seems to be a mini Vileda mop, so we cleaned the kitchen floor together. Train ‘em up nice and young, I say!

Uncle Bill, at six months pregnant, is beginning to get a bit scared about things. I don't think she has enough women around her who've been through a pregnancy, and hasn't yet started the ante-natal classes, which will introduce her to scores of women, who will, no doubt, be similarly terrified - and indeed excited. Philippa gave advice. "Having a child," she said, "is the most difficult, yet most rewarding thing I've ever done." I’m not altogether convinced that women talk to each other enough about the experience. Maybe everyone feels ashamed to ask questions that they feel might be too obvious. Maybe it’s simply that there are no rules. The experience is totally different for everyone. I sometimes feel it’s like a big secret that only those who have been through childbirth can access. You catch mothers looking at one another occasionally... knowingly.

350 years ago, Pepys spent the morning with his workmen, thrilled to note that they’d almost finished the job which seemed to have taken them forever. Pepys’ went with Mr Moore to an ordinary on King’s Street, which was a sort of tavern where simple meals were provided at a fixed price. Intriguingly, Pepys described the food he ate as a “dirty dinner”, which I can only assume was a bad thing. I've heard of dirty old men, dirty dogs and even dirty bombs... but never dirty dinners. Any thoughts, anyone?

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Bright Eyes

Easter Sunday, and we've been in Shropshire with Nathan's family. I was deposited at my mother-in-law's just outside Market Drayton at lunchtime, whilst Nathan went to do a singing gig, which, totally by chance, was in a castle about fifteen miles away.

Celia (who calls me her sin-in-law) said she didn't mind baby-sitting me for a few hours, and fed me delicious poached eggs and Easter biscuits, which were amongst the finest that I've ever tasted. Her partner, Ron, disappeared into the loft and came back down with a lovely Shaker-style cabinet for our bathroom. Now I finally have somewhere to store my pots of Brylcreem! 

We drove over the border into Wales to Nathan's sister's house, which was filled to the brim with people. 

Ten of us sat down to a roast dinner. Sam's partner, Andy has two delightful daughters, whom I very much enjoyed chatting to. Sam's own children, all fabulous, continue to grow by the second. Her youngest, Lewis, is now taller than me, and is swiftly following his two sisters into young adulthood. 

Nathan arrived, and we had a massive Easter egg hunt around the house, which generated much laughter, although I would find it most intimidating to have scores of people opening cupboards and looking under the beds in search of chocolate in our flat!

We had a little sing-song around Sam's appalling piano, which has sticky keys and is so ridiculously out of tune that it's impossible to tell what's being played at any given moment!

We're now driving home through the dark country roads of Shropshire, where countless rabbits seem to be popping up on the grass verges, their bright eyes burning like fire in our headlights.  I just know that any time soon, one of them is going to jump under our wheels, get squashed, cause an accident and make a complete mockery of Nathan screaming "Easter Bunnies" in a childish voice!

April 24th, 1661, and Pepys woke up in a strange bed in Westminster, feeling incredibly sorry for himself, by all accounts in a pool of his own vomit. He was taken to a local tavern and given a glass of hot chocolate to revive his spirits.

He found his way back to Seething Lane, and spent the night surrounded by his workmen, who were doing marvellous things to his house. He drifted off to sleep to the sounds of fireworks and chamber music coming from the Thames; more coronation celebrations in the presence of the King. Pepys wished he was there, but I guess he was simply feeling too lousy! 

Malcolm Was Here

Another boiling hot day. Just when will this heat wave end? I’ve been with Nic, ambling around Stoke Newington and Abney Cemetery. We had tea on Church Street, before heading for Highgate, where Nathan joined us for sandwiches on Pond Square. It was far less genteel and British than it sounds. I sat in on ants' nest and Nic had to perch on a tiny wall. Furthermore, there is no longer a pond in Pond Square. It's a sort of pointless tarmacadam open space surrounded by posh houses and a public convenience. Quite why we chose the spot for lunch, I've no idea...

We went to Highgate Cemetery. More death. As usual, I was multitasking, and checking out the gravestones to see if there were any with words that might prove interesting to set alongside the traditional Requiem text in my next composition. Highgate is definitely the cemetery to find witty, interesting inscriptions. To begin with the place is interdenominational, so there are far less bog-standard passages from the bible and other slightly unfortunate double entendres like “died in Jesus." Frankly, I'd come back as a ghost if someone put that on my gravestone.

Some, however, are absolute genius. One wooden grave simply reads “Malcolm Was Here” and another is ornately carved with the single, rather appropriate word; “dead”! Surely it's better to go with comedy, rather than teddybears and rainbows and smiles? I’ve made it very clear to friends and family that aside from a bench on Hampstead Heath, all I require is a headstone which reads Benjamin Till: The Musical.

That said, we found some terribly moving inscriptions. There were odes to people who'd drowned in the Amazon, three children from one family who'd recently died as infants, two brothers killed in action in the first world war, one simply named “Dear Old Bert”. Other gravestones read; “incomparable friend, teacher and lover of life,” “we’d walk a million miles for one of Mum’s smiles,” “to a great man, the essence of our lives, the polestar of my existence. The love of my life,” and then the curiously ambiguous; “I shall never believe that God plays dice with the world.” Either an absolute affirmation of love and trust in God, or a complete denial of his existence. The fact that he was buried in the communist section of graveyard, probably tells you the answer to this particular conundrum... The moral of this blog? Select the wording of your gravestone before you shuffle off, because otherwise a grieving relative could really screw you over!

April 23rd 1661 has gone down in history as the day Charles II was crowned. The first three words of this paragraph are also the first three words of the second movement of my motet, which quotes countless passages from today's entry, which is surely one of our hero's all time longest.

Pepys went to Westminster Abbey at 4am. He sat, high up in one of the tall scaffolds until 11, when the King finally arrived, “and a great pleasure it was to see the Abbey... all covered with red, and a throne... and footstool on the top of it; and all the officers of all kinds... The King in his robes, bare-headed, which was very fine. And after all had placed themselves, there was a sermon and the service; and then in the Quire at the high altar, the King passed through all the ceremonies of the Coronacon [sic], which to my great grief I and most in the Abbey could not see. The crown being put upon his head, a great shout begun, and he came forth to the throne, and there passed more ceremonies: as taking the oath... And three times the King at Arms went to the three open places on the scaffold, and proclaimed, that if any one could show any reason why Charles Stewart should not be King of England, that now he should come and speak.” Pepys left the ceremony early. He was desperate to pee. Hardly surprising. His waterworks didn't work properly at the best of times, and he'd been sitting on a wooden scaffold for 7 hours! When he got outside, he was astonished to find 10,000 people in the grounds of the Abbey, which must have been quite a sight – no doubt a sight we shall be seeing again next Friday, when Wils and that common girl get married.

Pepys went into Westminster Hall where Elizabeth was waiting. The hall was covered in beautiful hangings, and filled to the brim with "brave" ladies many of whom were seated in more scaffolding blocks. “And the King came in with his crown on, and his sceptre in his hand, under a canopy borne up by six silver staves, carried by Barons of the Cinque Ports, and little bells at every end.”

It was in Westminster Hall that the King ate his dinner, surrounded by people, including Pepys, who simply watched the proceedings, hoping to be thrown little bits of food like dogs. Some were even present on horseback in full armour. “I took a great deal of pleasure to go up and down, and look upon the ladies, and to hear the musique of all sorts, but above all, the 24 violins: About six at night they had dined, and I went up to my wife, and there met with a pretty lady (Mrs. Frankleyn, a Doctor’s wife, a friend of Mr. Bowyer’s), and kissed them both..." As soon as the King left the hall, the weather, which had stayed find for the past two days, took a massive turn for the worse. "Then it fell a-raining and thundering and lightening as I have not seen it do for some years: which people did take great notice of; God’s blessing of the work of these two days, which is a foolery to take too much notice of such things.” You tell 'em, Pepys.

He wondered out around Westminster, observing bonfires on the streets. The entire City of London looked like one enormous crescent of light. Pepys sent Elizabeth home and carried on partying at a nearby house. “Some gallant sparks that were there, we drank the King’s health, and nothing else, till one of the gentlemen fell down stark drunk, and there lay spewing.” Charming. Pepys eventually turned in, sharing a bed with Mr Shepley, "but my head began to hum, and I to vomit... Only when I waked I found myself wet with my spewing. Thus did the day end with joy every where...” I'll say. Nothing like chunder in the hair to realise how much fun you've had! It wasn't fun for everyone, however. Pepys' final sentence deals with a poor woman on King's Street who lost an eye after a boy threw a firebrand into her carriage. How many more times? Fireworks are not toys. I bet he didn't put his dog indoors either. Did he not watch Blue Peter or see those public information films with the girl in mittens and the terrible high-pitched scream?

Say what you see...

Friday, 22 April 2011

35 years on

Another utterly sun-kissed and magical day. I've been with Nathan, brother Edward and Sascha. We did a sort of pilgrimage to ancient haunts, starting with a town in Bedfordshire called Potton, where my family lived in the late 1970s.

It was a proper nostalgia fest. I suspect the beautiful sunshine helped us to retrieve memories of those drought-ridden years; picking blackberries on the other side of a dried-up brook, rounders matches, birthdays, ABBA records, firework displays, chiffon scarves, CND rallies, flared trousers, tape cassettes and kiln parties in communes. Sadly, our old house looked a bit run-down and unloved. Someone had slapped a cheap-looking conservatory on the side of it, right over the bit we used to call our secret garden. The next-door neighbours had added an extension to the front of their house, which took their front door round the corner, as though their house were turning away from ours in shame.

35 years later...

The year of the drought...

Potton itself has hardly changed, but for the field filled with beautiful, tall horse chestnut trees that we used to look at from the upstairs windows of our house, which had become a swanky new housing estate. Even the causeways looked the same, lined with the same old hawthorn bushes, dock leaves and sticky grass plants.

From Bedfordshire we travelled cross-country to Northamptonshire, via towns like Kimbolton, along those roads that always seemed to be obscured by blankets of mystical swirling fog in my teenaged years.

We parked up in Higham Ferrers, which is where we lived in the 1980s. It looks very different these days. There was a great deal of expansion in the town in the naughties and I felt a bit like the central character in Orwell's Coming Up for Air, who visits his old town and doesn't recognise it.

It's cleaner again, which is great. The last time I visited, great piles of rubbish filled the little pond where I used to catch newts and sticklebacks. Fortunately the rubbish has now gone, and the town feels like it's taking care of itself a little bit better these days. There's a lovely little cafe in the market place, with a court yard out the back. It used to be a shoe shop in my day, which tells you all you need to know about the collapse of the local industry.

We looked at our old school, The Ferrers School, through tall iron railings. It has become a performing arts specialist comprehensive. Plastered all over the walls are all sorts of motivational comments; "aspire, achieve..." all very well, but have they ever asked me back to inspire and motivate the kids? No! I get asked to speak to posh kids in Scarborough!

We went home via Bedford and a little spot we always called "the magic place" which, since the health and safety brigade have got involved to divert the river and put up all sorts of pathetic little plastic picnic tables, has lost a great deal of its magic. There's nothing as grotesque as a place suddenly recognising its potential, and trying hard to become the thing that it was doing naturally so perfectly. Furthermore, Edward had brought two smoothies from Asda, which had gone all fizzy and wrong, so the moment was well and truly spoilt!

Ceci N'est Pas Une Glas!

We went instead to the beautiful Dunstable Downs and watched a family with the longest kite in the world. Back to London, and we're off to see Nathan remove all his clothes in Naked Boys Singing tonight!

April 22nd 1661 was the day before the Coronation, and the day that the King made his glorious procession from the Tower of London to Whitehall. Pepys got up, and dressed himself "as finely as he could" in a velvet coat that he'd had made six months hence. He went with both Sir Williams and their families to Mr Young, the flagmaker's in Cornhill, where they had an upstairs room to themselves from which to watch the parade. They had good cake and wine, and a brilliant view of the street below. I'll let Pepys take over, for his words are rich and detailed.

It is impossible to relate the glory of this day, expressed in the clothes of them that rid, and their horses and horses clothes, among others, my Lord Sandwiches. Embroidery and diamonds were ordinary among them. My Lord Monke rode bare after the King, and led in his hand a spare horse, as being Master of the Horse.The King, in a most rich embroidered suit and cloak, looked most noble. The streets all gravelled, and the houses hung with carpets before them, made brave show, and the ladies out of the windows, one of which over against us I took much notice of, and spoke of her, which made good sport among us. So glorious was the show with gold and silver, that we were not able to look at it, our eyes at last being so much overcome with it. Both the King and the Duke of York took notice of us, as he saw us at the window

Later in the day, Pepys chatted to Lord Sandwich, and discovered that his fine suit had cost a whopping £200! That's Elton John profligate!

Thursday, 21 April 2011


What a day! It’s 11pm, and I’ve only just got back home. We phoned Philip today, and were told that he was being discharged. He didn’t seem to have anyone to take him home, so Nathan and I offered to do the honours.

It must have been so unbelievably disorientating for him. When we arrived, I’m not sure he wanted to leave the hospital. I guess it must feel like a very safe place, when the outside world has been so cruel of late. I also feel it must be very hard when you can’t remember your attack; you don’t know if it was someone you knew; premeditated, or a random act of violence.

It took forever to pack the hospital room up. Philip had a proper little tuck shop going, made up of the bewildering amount of treats and food that people had brought for him in the weeks that he'd been in hospital. We filled an entire suitcase with biscuits and chocolate and gefilter fish, and then threw as much away. It then took forever to leave the hospital. The suitcases were heavier than cars, and the lifts at St Thomas’ took forever to arrive and then even longer to snake their way down to the ground floor. They were crowded and incredibly hot. Hell on earth.

We drove to Matt’s house to pick up Philip’s computer. En route, we were given a tour of central London, Philip telling us about the Great Exhibition in the 1850s, and the fact that whilst it was on, there were apparently countless sightings of unidentified silver flying objects shooting around in the sky above Hyde Park - long before the concept of UFOs. Philip continually talked about how beautiful London looked, and how wonderful the weather was. I got the strong impression that he was happy and grateful to be alive.  We arrived at Matt's and Nathan went off to see a friend in Streatham Common. Just after he’d left, we decided it was time to move on to Philip’s house and I realised with horror that I couldn’t find my keys. I assumed I’d locked them in the car.

We had to wait until Nathan arrived wherever he was going and then I had to get on a tube, all the way down to Balham in the very south of London and then take an over ground train to Streatham Common to collect his set.

The round trip took me two hours. In the meantime, Philip had to sit on Matt’s sofa twiddling his thumbs because all his suitcases were locked in the car. It was only when I arrived back in Baker Street that I realised Nathan had given me my keys and that he must have taken both sets by mistake.

By the time I’d got back to Matt’s, a group of Philip’s mates had assembled, including Boy George and we all had to cram into our little car to get back to Philip’s house. It was hugely surreal to look in my wing mirror and see George crammed between a suitcase and a girl whose name I’ve temporarily forgotten.

We took the suitcases up to Philip’s attic flat. He seemed distressed and asked us all to leave. He wanted to be on his own. I think he just wanted to hide away, really. We felt awful, not knowing whether to insist on staying. I think we all got the impression that he was going to have a good old cry. Poor bloke.

April 21st 1661 was a Sunday. It was the day before the Coronation and it did nothing but rain, which troubled everyone greatly. There was no weather forecasting, of course, in those days – and the roads were already knee deep in mud. Pepys went to see his parents and discovered the maid that they’d rowed so much about had been sacked, and replaced, unsurprisingly by one the father didn’t like. Pepys knew trouble was just around the corner!

On his way home, the streets were absolutely filled with people who were looking at the triumphant arches, those 100 foot high Coronation parade structures, which must have been so impressive for the day.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Handsome without being gaudy

It’s been another baking hot day in the capital. I went running at 9am, all the way across Hampstead Heath, which looked verdant green and fabulous. Any more weather like this, however, and I’m sure it won’t be long before the whole place looks like it’s been covered in weed killer. Summer has officially arrived early. I don't really remember Spring, but the wisteria is out, two weeks earlier than expected - and wisteria, according to the papers, heralds the arrival of summer. The air smells of flowers... and those awful trees that stink of sperm.

I spent the day in Soho badgering the police. It's all I seem to do these days. I was called into a meeting at Marylebone police station, essentially so that someone very senior in the Met police could assure me that, following their more than shaky start, everything was on track, and that they were now doing all they could to find Philip’s attackers. They talked things through with me and very much put my mind at ease.

I then went with Andy Ricketts, the Met police's gay liaison officer, into Soho to meet a member of the Gay Pride committee; a hugely impressive bloke called Patrick. We talked about various things. At the moment the Gay Pride movement is focussing on two areas; trying to make it legal for gay men to give blood (yes, it is still illegal for us to do this) and trying to tackle the hugely complicated issue of asylum seekers and foreign nationals coming to live in Britain, seeking freedom of speech and all the other wonderful things that this country offers, without neccessarily signing up to British values, which should be totally un-negotiable. You can’t expect to live in Britain and treat a woman like a second class citizen, or go out in gangs on the streets attacking gay people. If they don’t like our values, then they can always clear off home! It sounds seriously hard-line, but I suspect too many successive liberal governments have put us in a position where we feel embarrassed, and xenophobic to even discuss such issues.

Anyway, there’s talk of my writing a Pride anthem, a glorious disco song which would be accompanied by the campest film ever made. Bring it on, I say...

In two weeks' time, I'm going to Romania to a little town called Timisoara. A Symphony for Yorkshire has won a major European Prize, called the Prix Circom. I’ve always wanted to win a Prix, I'd obviously prefer it to be Eurovision, but this will do for now! Four of us are going out there to collect it in a couple of weeks’ time. Very exciting, and it will wildly make up for the fact that Nathan is going to New York without me next week. Sadly, I can’t afford to go!

Saturday April 20th, 1661 and the Duke of York sent for all of his Navy Officers. They went to the Duke’s chamber, and watched him dress himself, Pepys noting that in his “night habit he is a very plain man.” The Duke’s closet was full of very fine objects including chests covered with gold and Indian varnish. He told his officers that the fleet they’d been preparing for the last few weeks was due to sail for Algiers. I wonder if he smelt odd.

Pepys called in on Lord Sandwich, and looked at the new liveries that he was having made for his pages and footmen; “handsome” Pepys wrote “without being gaudy”. That's alright then.
Pepys then went to the theatre, to watch the “the Humersome Lieutenant.” The King and most of the royal family were in the audience. Their party included the Duke of York’s new Duchess, Ann Hyde (who died relatively young, but gave birth to two British queens, Anne, and Mary II) The play, according to Pepys, was “not very well done" but her loved watching the royal party. Anne Hyde was “plain, like her mother” but Mrs Palmer, the Countess of Castlemaine, and favourite of the King, was “a great beauty.” Over the next few years, Pepys would develop a raging crush on the woman.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Blue Ladies

We're with Mig and Lady V at their lovely flat in Bounds Green. One of their walls is covered in vintage, slightly scary, 1960s Tretchikoff Blue Lady prints; those creepy images of exotic women who look like they've been covered in silty clay, baked in an oven and then stuck in the deep freeze! I think there was a whole set of them including an Indian lady and a Chinese one. My Grannie had the African lady on the wall in her blue room. She was a scary blue-faced Nubian creature and she used to stare down at me in my bed. Her black eyes stalked me around the room then watched me whilst I slept.

Look at her! What a nasty, yet deeply mystical piece of work... And what is that behind her? Some kind of Biblical sea scape? Or a dark, menacing cloud of voodoo?

It wasn't just the blue lady who freaked me out. The room itself terrified me. It had a stillness to it, a heaviness, a dark energy and a crazy indigo carpet. I was once found hanging from a cot in that room. I'd apparently turned my blanket into a noose and fallen over the edge. It's amazing what a baby will do to escape a pair of evil eyes. Those blue ladies have much to answer for.

Not my hat!

I spent the day in Greenwich Park with Philippa, Moira and their respective families. It was baking hot. Sitting in the sand pit was like sitting on a Mediterranean beach. Philippa spent the day looking for shade whilst I basked like a gloriously happy gecko.

Let's all boycott LA Fitness! They have now removed all the weighing scales from the changing rooms and replaced them with digital super-dooper things in the main gym room. The new scales cost 50p a pop, and you're not allowed take your clothes off to weigh yourself. Surely removing the weighing machines from a gym is like removing all the tread mills. People who go to gyms have a right to weigh themselves obsessively. You go to a gym to lose weight, right? Talk about a blatent money-making scheme. I've already written to Watchdog about it. Nathan is now calling me "DOH" Disgruntled of Highgate.
350 years ago, and the weather was so ghastly that Pepys was forced to stay in the City, prevented from getting to Whitehall to see a group of people being knighted by the King.

Monday, 18 April 2011

George's balloons

Today has been very hard. I've never been to a baby's funeral before, and at times it was more than I could bear. At the front of the church, a tiny white coffin with three single white roses on top of it. Nothing could have prepared me for that sight.

The service was wonderful. Nathan sang movingly. I accompanied him on a broken keyboard. Lisa read A Poem for George, her own poem. It was honest and deeply dignified. She spoke of many things that hadn't occurred to me; the pain of taking a pram back to the shop, the things she and Mark had longed to do with their son, how perfect he'd looked as she cradled him in her arms. It finished me off and I wept bitter tears.

The funeral ended with the most beautiful thing. At the back of the church were 100 white, helium-filled balloons, and on every seat, a luggage label had been left for each member of the congregation to write a short message to George. Mine said simply "George, mate, I hope this reaches you in heaven." We tied our messages to ribbons on the balloons and went into the church yard to release them simultaneously.

I shall never ever forget that moment. The Brahms Lullaby was playing on a stereo and the sun was glinting in our eyes as we watched the balloons sailing into the distance, across the dark fields. We stood there for some minutes as the balloons sailed higher and further away. Up and up towards heaven, until they were tiny black freckles in a cornflower blue sky. It was a moment that will live with me until the day I die. I love the thought that someone, miles away in a little Midlands town, might find one of the balloons, read one of our messages, and wonder who little George was, and why he was so loved by so many.

George's balloons

350 years ago, Pepys went with the two Sir Williams to Walthamstow, where they met Lady Batten and her daughters. Sadly, Mademoiselle Batton was in a terrible mood, and wanted the world to know, which Pepys considered to be terribly ungallant and a sign of very bad breeding.

It was nevertheless a very pleasant day and the assembled group sat on a church stile and ate a picnic... until it started raining rather badly and everyone was forced home.

On the way back to London, Pepys and Sir William Penn came across two "country folk" on the back of a single horse. Both groups refused to give way to one another; a stand off which rapidly turned into a 17th Century example of road rage. There was a collision and aggressive words were exchanged before both parties went on their way. Sir William, however, refused to let things go and rode back down the lane, angrily knocking both men off their horse. Charming!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Orchard

We slept in til gone 11 today. I think we're both still exhausted after Friday night, and the manic week that preceded it.

Saturday was a bit of a blur. We went to see Philip and sat with Boy George for a few hours looking at photos of the parade and trying to convince Philip to be more careful about the places he visits when he's on his own in the future. 

Philip was genuinely touched and thrilled that so many people had been out on the streets supporting him. The new evidence that we uncovered hasn't triggered any new memories for him, however, so we have to hope that the police will do their bit and start searching through CCTV footage. I sent an email to the gay liaison officer at the Met explaining that some of us were prepared to club together and purchase the footage, and he said he was ashamed that members of the public were even contemplating doing something that was plainly a job for the police. He has been brilliant, but I've been appalled at quite how useless the rest of the police have been when it comes to this case. There seem to be two officers working on the case who don't even know each other, so none of the information is being shared! It shouldn't be my job to get officers talking to one another...

We've been in Cambridge today, consuming cream teas with my parents in the Orchard at Grantchester. The place was absolutely bedecked in blossom; pink and white clouds in every direction. But at £21 for 4 cream teas, we paid through the nose for the privilege of sitting in such a splendid setting... And the queues went out into the car park. Whoever owns that place is sitting on a proper cash cow, and should probably think about replacing some of the broken deck chairs! 

350 years ago, Pepys went into the City to look at the preparations for the coronation, which included 4 100 foot high wooden arches painted with different historical scenes, which must have been almost ridiculously impressive. 

Later in the day, Pepys met his new friend, Mr Allen from Chatham (the one with the fit daughter!) He gave Pepys the dots to one of the songs they'd so enjoyed singing on Pepys recent visit to his home. The song, we're told, had the most astonishingly scatological title "Of Shitten comes Shite the beginning of love." Crumbs! Who can say what that was about?

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Midnight Parade

It is 3.30 in the morning and we are on a night bus heading home and feeling triumphant!

The evening started with a tube journey to Leicester Square. A man was busking at the bottom of the escalators; playing a guitar and activating a little muppet puppet with his foot, which was playing a tiny drum. He was singing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and for some strange reason I decided it was a sign that things were going to go well... And they did.

I suspect there were about 100 people milling around at Eros waiting  for us when we arrived. Everyone looked absolutely fabulous; just as I imagine those clubs like Taboo must have been.

At midnight on the dot, I stood on the steps of the fountain and delivered a rally-cry-cum-speech to everyone. I hope I spoke with emotion. People responded incredibly well.

We sang through the songs that Philip had asked us to sing and then set off, like a glorious, colourful train through the streets of Soho. We chanted "what do we want? Witnesses! When do we want them? Now!" We sang Yesterday, Donna Donna, Yesterday, Pack Up Your Troubles... We created a wonderful spectacle. Julie Clare was there, Meriel, Ellen, Gabs, Philippa, Carmen, Justin...

We stopped underneath the marquee in front of Priscilla and sang and chanted and had our photographs taken.

Later on, we split up into smaller groups and went leafleting in different parts of town where we thought Philip might have been. Nathan, Carmen and I drew the short straw and ended up in the seemingly lawless, gang-filled streets of China Town, where the atmosphere was very edgy.

Carmen was a very good pair of eyes and soon noticed that one particular gang were circling us like vultures. We made a speedy exit!

All the groups reconvened outside Madam Jojos. The atmosphere was electric. Extraordinary drag queens were chatting to druggies. A strange Spanish woman was walking about with flowers. There were paparazzi on motorbikes, drunk homeless people, camp old queens in red leather suits, women in basques with the most enormous breasts...

We headed to Piccadilly to do a little vigil. There were about 17 of us still standing by this stage. We'd heard lots of rumours, but nothing seemed concrete.

At the top end of Shaftesbury Avenue we stopped for a while and I spotted a club the other side of the road. "What do you think?" I asked Carmen. "Come on" she said "one more..." and off we went with Meriel to talk to the doormen.

It was at that moment that our evening changed and we spoke to someone who'd witnessed the attack. I can't obviously write anything more about it. The police have been told and we have a description.

We sat in a circle at the spot where Philip was found, held hands and thought for two minutes about those who were less fortunate than Philip... Victims of street violence and homophobic attacks, children in schools across the world being bullied. We wished Philip a speedy recovery, knowing that our little mission had achieved perhaps more than we could ever have hoped. And I walked away feeling prouder than I've ever felt before!

And if anyone's interested in the speech I made... here it is:

Thank you for coming today. Philip, who has been trying to plan this event from his hospital bed, would be absolutely thrilled to see you all here.

The most important thing, from his perspective, is that we all have fun. That’s why we’re calling it a Midnight Parade – a show of support for Philip in a way in which he will approve. And what a relief it is that we can stand here today and celebrate the fact that Philip survived his brutal attack.

But before any one becomes complacent and talks about what happened to Philip simply in terms of “a bit of a roughing up”, be in no doubt that this was an attempted murder. Philip suffered a fractured skull and was repeatedly kicked and punched by the cowards who attacked him. One more kick – or a kick a centimetre in another direction – and Philip could well be dead.

The police have been slow to respond to this crime. CCTV footage has not yet been examined – in fact, we were originally told that none existed. The few leads that have been established have not yet been adequately followed up and Colin Creighton of Marylebone Police tried to justify this to me on the phone by saying that the officer in charge of the investigation was busy solving lots of other crimes. Meanwhile, the clock ticks – and people’s memories of the night that Philip was attacked become increasingly hazy – whilst rumours start to take over from fact.

A mini-victory has come in the shape of the Gap - which is of course the shop outside which Philip was discovered - FINALLY agreeing to display a poster appealing for witnesses to the attack to come forward. It’s amazing what a threatening little phone call to a press office of a multinational company will achieve!

So what is the purpose of today’s parade? Firstly, to send out a message that street violence of any kind is wholly unacceptable. With that message, we stand side by side with the relatives and friends of Agnes Seena Inne-koju who was murdered in a pizza restaurant in Hackney, Negus McClean, stabbed to death in Edmonton, and all the other victims of gun and knife crime on the streets this country. We also send out the message that homophobia, of ANY kind should not be tolerated – whether it surfaces as a foul-mouthed landlord throwing two men out of a pub for kissing, or by a school who refuses to display positive images of gay and trans-gender lifestyles and stands by whilst its pupils are bullied. Homophobia is unacceptable yet homophobic attacks in Westminster are officially on the rise.

Our second task is to find out, gather and share information. Despite Philip having been attacked in front of one of London’s most iconic backdrops, there are NO witnesses to the attack. Sadly Philip can’t remember what happened to him, so we need to piece it together. We have fliers to hand out – and we can talk to people – and once we’ve paraded through Soho, we are going to split into 9 groups, and talk to people. Please please be careful with rumours. Many people will tell you this attack was carried out by a group of 4 Somali lads, but we need proof. We need to know where Philip was between the hours of 1 am two weeks ago and just after 3am, when he was attacked. It is not enough to be told a story; we’re looking for evidence. Get people’s names and contact details if they tell you anything important, if they’re happy to talk to the police, bring them over. Surely SOMEONE saw Philip lying on the ground outside Gap. But was he attacked there? Or did he stagger there from somewhere else? People actually filmed Ian Baynham’s attack on their mobile phones – but it was only when an appeal of this nature took place that people realised the seriousness of what had happened and the importance of the evidence that they were carrying around in their pockets.

The third thing we need to do – right at the end of the evening – is to gather back together, and head for the place where Philip was found. If you’re still awake, come and sit outside the Gap, and have a moment of private contemplation; wish Philip a speedy recovery, hope that his memory returns, but also spare a few thoughts for some of the people who have been affected by street crime; Agnes and Negus – Negus’ brother Elijah, who survived his attack, Ian Baynham, Michael Causer and James Parkes in Liverpool, the many trans-people who live every day of their lives in fear, and the countless people who don’t even bother to report crimes to the police because they’re either too frightened, or because they think there’s very little point because nothing ever gets done. Well something IS getting done today – and you are responsible.

The most important thing, is that we celebrate being alive and that we realise that, god willing, if we’re the next ones to be attacked, that people will show their support and help to find out what happened. I want to thank you all for not burying your heads in the sand, for not assuming that someone else would come here instead of you and above all, for daring to care!

Before I stop talking, I was to thank Alice, Tamera, Michael, Nathan, Anett, Daniel and The Guardian Angels for going out of their way to help the cause... A big cheer for them, please.

All that now remains is for me to teach you the three songs that Philip has requested that we sing. Don’t worry if you think you can’t sing – have a go, just clap your hands, smile a lot and make a proper racket out there.

350 years ago, Pepys took a barge to Deptford to view the Catherine; a pleasure boat that was being built for King Charles. Pepys was impressed, "it will be a most pretty thing." They spent the afternoon doing Navy work and then returned by boat to London, where Pepys was asked to sing. Or perhaps he just offered. That night he went to his father's house, and spent the night with Elizabeth.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Cruise Ship

I’m taking an hour to sit down in front of the television, trying to relax after a highly stressful day. I'm exhausted, but in 5 hours' time, of course, will be heading off to Central London to lead our Midnight Parade. We went to the local greasy spoon for lunch and I suddenly realised that I was shaking; a true sign that things are getting a bit too stressful at the moment.

After sitting down for a bit, I'm going to try and work out what I’m going to say to everyone tonight. Someone needs to explain what’s going on and the sorts of questions people need to be asking on the streets. I would love to think that 100 people might turn up. Nathan thinks it’s more likely to be around 25.

Nathan’s gig last night was a triumph. The Phesantry on The King’s Road is such an ideal place for cabaret. It’s essentially a glamorous Pizza Express, but the performing area is large, well-lit and equipped with a good sound system. Three acts performed, starting with a young girl, who was fresh out of drama school. She rather hid behind an American accent when she sang. As a result, everything came across as slightly generic, although I’m sure she’s got a very impressive set of pipes. The other strangers were a popera duo, which was painful in the extreme. The words "cruise ship" pop into my mind. They took themselves rather too seriously, and there was a lot of uncontrollable giggling in the audience as a result. Sadly, they were performing last, so everyone was pissed!

Nathan performed with his friend Matt. They’ve known each other for hundreds of years and had a brilliant on-stage rapport. Matt’s dead-pan delivery complimented Nathan’s energy brilliantly. Nathan looked incredibly handsome, and sang beautifully and with wonderful control.

Lots of our friends and family were there. I sat on a table with Philippa, Moira, Julie, Alex and Tony, but Celia and Ron were also there, as was Kate, who had a table of five, and Philip and Daryl with Karrie and co. Nathan felt very supported.

By the way... The Gap has now relented and decided to display a police poster in their window. Amazing what a little call to a press office will achieve!

350 years ago, the weather was foul, and Pepys went to the office but found nothing to do. There were a few meetings, a spot of lunch... the usual, really. In the evening, Pepys returned home and sent for the Barber. Sometimes there's nothing else to do when it's raining.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Gut wrenching hatred!

I'm heading home from Soho clutching a rose, which I'm going to give to Nathan. He's doing a cabaret on the King's Road tonight, and I feel like I've been a little unsupportive of late; not that I feel a single flower is enough to assuage my guilt in any way!

My mind has been utterly occupied by this midnight parade tomorrow. This morning we were putting up posters in the windows of shops in Soho to advertise the event, and to appeal for witnesses to come forward. Two weeks on from the attack and nothing - absolutely nothing - is known about what happened. It shouldn't be that easy to get away with attempted murder. 

Some shopkeepers were incredibly helpful; particularly those in Clone Zone and some of the shops and bars on Compton Street. They took our posters, displayed them prominently, and wished us well with our mission.  Cafe Nero, however, needs to be singled out as having been entirely useless in this respect. When it comes to something this serious, the company policies about "advertising" in cafe windows were surely made to be over ruled?

My absolute gut-wrenching hatred, however, is reserved for The Gap. Philip was beaten up outside the shop, and they have refused to put up any posters appealing for witnesses to the attack. I spoke to a woman in head office who was patronising and rude. I have subsequently been ear-bashing various people in the press office of the company, and suspect their hardline policies might be about to change.

I suppose this whole business has made me a little hard-line. I can't really understand why anyone given an opportunity to help, would, not just refuse, but go out of their way to be rude as part of the useless package!

A beigel shop owner on Piccadilly Circus told us we could put a poster in the window - which we did - but when we returned three minutes later, we discovered that he'd taken it down and put it in the bin! We fished it out shouting "shame on you!" 

One pub landlord refused to come out from behind a wall to speak to me in person. He kept sending his barmaid out to do his dirty work. I could hear him telling her to get rid of me, which struck me as either terribly grand or incredibly cowardly. What a turd. 

April 14th 1661, was Easter Sunday, and Pepys ducked into a church in Ludgate to hear a "lazy" sermon, delivered "like a Presbyterian." I assume that this is some kind of insult, but don't have a good enough knowledge of the various branches of Christianity to know, or care, why this would be.

Mr Barnwell, Lord Sandwich's steward, had arrived in town to see the coronation with "some of Sandwich's little children." Lady Jemima was something of a baby factory, but quite how many little children she had is not made clear! In any case, Pepys took them all for a drink and found them in good spirits. 

He went to his father's house, where Elizabeth was still living due to all the work being carried out at Seething Lane. There was obviously some kind of row. Perhaps Pepys said he'd stay the night with her before changing his mind. Maybe they argued and she sent him packing. In any case, Pepys stormed off in a huff, but, "she, poor wretch, followed me as far in the rain and dark as Fleet Bridge to fetch me back again, so I did, and lay with her tonight, which I have not done these eight or ten days before." Poor Elizabeth. Sounds like she was simply lonely.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Singing Like Lunatics

Today must rank as one of the most tiring days I’ve ever had. I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. I was up with the lark, running through Highgate Woods, up to Muswell Hill and then down through Queen’s Wood. The weather was just glorious. I was listening to an Icelandic Eurovision entry, which somehow seemed to make all the blossom on the trees take on this great, joyous significance. I felt like I was floating instead of running. Ah, the power of Eurovision!

Unfortunately, the dark shadows are never far from my mind. I often stop and realise that my stomach is churning and in knots. Even though Philip is improving, I still worry about him, and of course this dreadful court business continues. The most ghastly things are being said about me. Horrid, horrid, personal attacks, but for the time being they shall remain for the judge’s ears only.

I was in Soho for lunch, meeting various people about the Midnight Parade on Friday. We sent off various press releases, and blagged some very cheap copies of a poster to advertise the event. Unfortunately my computer suddenly stopped playing ball, so we were forced to walk up to the PC World at Warren Street to see if anyone could fix it. The queue for the tech guys was enormous, and because I’d run out of battery, I decided to plug my computer in to one of the power sockets underneath the display units, and stood with Tamara for a good half an hour, sending emails whilst the staff members walked around wondering why two people had set up a work station within the display computers. At the time it felt like a rather natural thing to be doing, but in retrospect, we must have looked fairly eccentric. I’m surprised we weren’t thrown out!

We went to visit Philip in hospital. He was very ratty when we arrived, having just been told he’s likely to be in there for another couple of weeks. Cabin fever is obviously beginning to set in, poor bloke. He soon cheered up, however, and we sang like lunatics for about 20 minutes; Donna Donna, Pack Up Your Troubles and then Oom Pah Pah from Oliver. The nurses came running in to see what the noise was all about.

Philip is thrilled that we’re doing the Midnight Parade, and immediately started to organise things from his hospital bed, decreeing that the event should feel like a street party. He then phoned all his close friends to tell them they had to turn up. I had a 20-minute chat with Boy George, which felt somewhat surreal. We discussed the police, and how frustratingly slowly they’d been moving with this particular case; an issue which was further enhanced by a letter which had been sent by the police to Philip’s home address, saying they were "sorry he’d been the victim of crime", and that he could expect, at some point, to be questioned by an officer about what had happened; like he’d had his car stolen or something, rather than been nearly killed. Why send a letter to someone’s home when they’ve been in hospital for weeks?

350 years ago, Pepys went by boat to Whitehall, but could not go “the ordinary way because they were mending of the great stone steps against the Coronation.” Pepys went to the Banqueting House in Whitehall to watch the King healing people. In those days, healing was still a practice that took place; the King was meant to be able to cure pretty much any disease, simply by laying his hands on a person. I bet he didn’t do much healing during the plague! Pepys noted that he touched people with “great gravity”, but thought the whole business was pretty damned silly.

On his way back home, he stopped off to attend the funeral of his friend Captain Robert Blake, but it was too muddy in the churchyard, so he went home!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Death takes all sorts

I spent the morning answering a bewildering number of emails about our rally-cum-event-cum-midnight parade on the streets of Soho this coming Friday. I was mainly talking to the police about Philip’s attack, and I have to confess to being rather unimpressed. Far from there being no CCTV footage available, as previously claimed, I discovered today that the officer in charge of the investigation simply hasn’t looked through it. I suspect all of this may well begin to change. I had a meeting with a Met Police LGBT liaison officer today; a highly impressive individual, who took things incredibly seriously and says that our whatever we’re calling it, is exactly the sort of thing we should be doing, not just to raise awareness, but to give certain members of the Met a much needed kick up the arse. It’s astonishing how much faith I realise I put in police to do the right thing – but a week and a half on from the attack, I seem to know more about

the case than the officer in charge!
Soho was looking pretty lovely today. The temperatures have dropped noticeably, but it was still sunny, and the air felt fresh and clear. I had a meeting with a man about a potential project for Channel 4 – at least we hope it’s going to be something that Channel 4 will be interested in; a fusion of fugue and documentary. It sounds utterly mad, but I think we might just pull it off!

The rest of the emails I’ve been ploughing through have come from various people saying that they either can, or more usually cannot come to the event on Friday. I do think if you’re a member of the LGBT community and live in London, you'd need to have a fairly water-tight excuse for not coming along. I’m sure we’d all like to think that if we were attacked on the streets, and the police weren’t being as effective as they perhaps ought to be, that someone would bother to go out and demonstrate on our behalves - regardless of gender or sexuality.

There are various arguments that suggest we shouldn’t be calling the event a vigil; vigil apparently has religious connotations. It’s not really a vigil anyway. A vigil implies death, and remembrance and lots of candles and sitting down. I want us to be singing – and moving through the streets like one living, breathing joyous celebration of equality and togetherness. We also have a purpose... to hand out fliers to anyone who will take them – in the hope of gaining more information about what happened to Philip.
Philip, of course wants to come... Part of me hopes the hospital allows him to get into a taxi and at least drive past us... but only, of course, if he’s considered well enough.

Friday 12th April, 1661 was Good Friday and Pepys ate a fish dinner with Sir William Batten. After lunch he went for a walk in the City to see how the preparations were going for the Coronation parade. Whilst Pepys was writing his journal in the afternoon, a bloke arrived with an invitation (I guess that’s what you’d call it) to Captain Robert Blake’s burial. Pepys was very sorry, and somewhat surprised to hear of his death, describing Blake as a man as “likely to live as any I knew.” Death takes all sorts.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Donna Donna

We've just been to see The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and I don't mind admitting that it damned-well nearly broke my heart. Sure, there were some lumpy moments, and some dreadful performances by a couple of the featured male ensemble members, but it was a magical, magical show. It snowed onto the audience at the end, an image that will live with me forever, the sound of that wonderful song I Will Wait For You drifting through the blizzard.

Joanna Riding gave a lovely performance as the mother, but the stand out performance definitely belonged to the oddly named cabaret performer, Meow Meow. I'd previously thought she was simply an illegal substance but now I realise she's a deeply gifted and highly charismatic performer.

The first half of the piece was strangely spoilt by a woman behind us who seemed to want to laugh like someone on the special bus at deeply inappropriate moments. In the end Nathan span round and gave her a right mouthful, which was almost met with a standing ovation from the weary audience sitting around her. Fortunately, she didn't come back for the second half. I should point out that she wasn't special needs in any way; just a moronic teenager.

...So, it seems to have fallen upon me to organise a sort of vigil-cum-rally on the streets of Soho on Friday night. I have no real idea of what to expect; how many people might show up and what we're going to do when, and if they turn up. All I know is that we're going to sing Donna Donna, which is one of Philip's favourite songs, and has an extraordinary message. You can hear the goddess Joan Baez singing it here.

I think, if you're an opinionated bastard like me, there are going to be one or two moments in life when you're expected to step up to the proverbial mic; put your money where your mouth is, and other cliches. I keep looking over my shoulder to see if there's someone more qualified who can lead the troops into battle, but it would seem that everyone else is looking right back at me... So lead I must. Now I hope at least twenty people show their solidarity, else I'm gonna be a bit of a tragic figure this coming Friday!

Pepys woke up in his lodgings at 7am, and spent the morning singing songs with Captain Allen, the father of the young girl Pepys had been sleazing after on the previous evening. Pepys’ favourite song of the session was “Goe and bee hanged, that’s good-bye” which sounds like a typically up-beat 17th Century ditty. They left Rochester just after lunch, Pepys feeling guilty about how sad he was to be leaving the object of his brief affections. The journey back to London, however, was described as the merriest ever, Pepys being in “a strange mood for mirth”

Pepys’ journey back to London is worth recounting in full, as it seems to somehow burst off the page;

I met two little schoolboys going with pitchers of ale to their schoolmaster to break up against Easter, and I did drink of some of one of them and give him two pence. By and by we come to two little girls keeping cows, and I saw one of them very pretty, so I had a mind to make her ask my blessing, and telling her that I was her godfather, she asked me innocently whether I was not Ned Wooding, and I said that I was, so she kneeled down and very simply called, “Pray, godfather, pray to God to bless me,” which made us very merry, and I gave her twopence. In several places, I asked women whether they would sell me their children, but they denied me all, but said they would give me one to keep for them, if I would. Mrs. Anne and I rode under the man that hangs upon Shooter’s Hill, and a filthy sight it was to see how his flesh is shrunk to his bones

Sunday, 10 April 2011

More cemeteries

We went to see Philip in hospital again today. He seems a lot cheerier, although has various head injuries which need to be monitored very carefully by the medical staff. He has been moved to a different ward, right at the top of St Thomas', which has the most astonishing views over the Thames. 

He seemed very pleased to see us, and I told him how much support there was for him on the streets of Soho, recounting the story of the tranny who burst into tears when she was told what had happened. Ever the great wit, Philip responded "she was probably only crying 'cus I wasn't dead!"

We brought ourselves a little picnic at the M and S in the hospital, and drove through the beautiful sunny London streets to Brompton Cemetery. 

All these trips to cemeteries aren't the product of my suddenly developing a morbid fascination. I am developing the idea of performing a Requiem in a grave yard. The traditional Latin Requiem text would be bolstered by passages inscribed on some of the gravestones within the cemetery where the work will be performed. It's an exciting thought.

Brompton Cemetery is a lovely place; very much at peace with itself and utterly beautiful when bathed in sunshine. Blossom on the trees as far as the eye could see. Stunning.

April 10th, 1661, and Pepys remained in Kent, inspecting dockhouses and various ships. Mr Pett, the builder, offered Lady Batten a parrot - the best Pepys had ever seen. It spoke. It sung. Apparently it recognised the Negro slave Mingo, having been bred in a house where Mingo had once lived. 

In the afternoon the Navy contingent travelled to Rochester, to visit the Cathedral and look at the huge organ, which had just been fitted and was in the process of being tuned. They studied the great doors of the church, which were rumoured once to have been covered in the skin of a Danish pirate; one assumes a rather fat one!

Later still, in what seems to have been an everlasting day, there was a trip to a house on the outskirts of the town, where Pepys was subjected to the worst music he'd ever heard, played on a sorry selection of stringed instruments. There was a lovely collation of food, but Pepys didn't enjoy any of it because his ears were being so offended!

He was also rather busy persuing a pretty thing called Rebecca Allen, almost obsessively! He eventually followed her back to her family house where there was more decadent partying and copius amounts of drinking. He stole many kisses from the poor girl. Quite how complicit she was in the business, we'll probably never know...

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The power of three

Last night was an extraordinary experience. We met at Macdonald’s on The Strand, “we” being a Guardian Angel called Tamara, Nathan and me. I was initially very disappointed. The police had promised to look after us, but simply didn’t turn up and several other people who'd promised to come were similarly absent. The woman behind the counter of the Charing Cross police station was very rude to us when we went to pick up the official fliers, and when she handed them over, we’d only been allocated a very small pile. We all decided that Philip, a famous miser, would have loved this particular fact, and walked around, handing them out saying; “one between three.”

It did make me realise something, however... So many people had clicked various buttons on our Facebook appeals saying they “liked” what we’d written. A few kind people even sent messages of support, but it’s always dangerous to assume that someone else will bother to get out there on the streets and do what’s physically needed to be done. All our publicity and all the messages of support for Philip across the Internet and we only managed to muster 3 people in person. Clicking buttons of support is all very lovely, but it doesn't stop the nasty people! “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist...”

Anyway, we targeted all the places where we thought Philip might have been exactly a week before. The poor bloke still can’t remember. We found a number of people who had seen him and pieced together a fairly good, if slightly predictable, picture of what he was up to. We know he walked along the queue outside Heaven and talked to a group of young lads at the top end, we also know he walked past Madam Jo-Jo’s, where he spoke to an Asian lad who was about his height. Not exactly evidence that would change the course of the investigation.

There are some rancidly bitter old queens out there, however. One suggested that Philip might be pretending he couldn't remember the attack. "And why would he do that?" we said, "well you know Philip" he croaked through his tight, lemon-like lips. The most horrifying encounter, however, was with two little twinks on Old Compton Street, who came mincing over for a bit of goss and immediately lost interest when I told them Philip wasn’t dead. They asked if he was famous. I said he was well-known in these parts, which plainly wasn't famous enough. They turned their queeny noses up and sashayed away, lisping; “he does look a bit like Pam Anne though, doesn't he?” The ability of a gay man to cut through the profound and locate the inane is legendary!

There is, however, so much love for Philip out there on the streets of Soho. I'd printed pictures of him, which we held proudly with the fliers which said "Meteropolitan police call for witnesses." Countless people came running up. “What’s happened to Philip?” Terrible fear in their voices. They were so upset to hear what had happened. It’s clear quite how many people he regularly touches with his eccentric ways; the extraordinary community of tough nut trannies and sex workers around Brewer Street were particularly devastated by the news. Some went running off into the shadows because they didn't want the world to see their make-up smeared by tears. Dustmen, taxi and rickshaw drivers, paparazzi, buskers and homeless people all knew him and all wanted us to send him their very best. Philip talks to – and befriends – anyone. A modern day Samuel Pepys.

It was very upsetting to be on Piccadilly a week on from the very moment he was attacked. It was also slightly confusing. The place was heaving with people, almost to the extent that we started to wonder if he’d actually staggered there after being attacked in one of the darker side streets. Had the attack happened in the location where he was found, then scores and scores of people are guilty of not intervening; a fact that makes me incredibly angry.

We wrapped up at about 3.30am, I guess, and walked back with a bag of chips.

Several text messages woke me up this morning to say that we’d been mentioned many times on the BBC London news and that the woman who put Philip into recovery position has now come forward. I very much hope this is the result of something we've done...

You see, even three people can make a difference.

350 years ago, Pepys woke up in the night, and by the light of the moon, thought he saw a ghost - or more specifically, the pillow that he'd flug away from him earlier on, stand upright. He was scared, but eventually fell back to sleep.
Sir William Batten and Pepys did a tour of the docks in Chatham, and visited several warehouses filled with "old" goods that were about to be sold off. Pepys enjoyed the experience, as he enjoyed any experience which showed how important and respectable he'd become in recent times. A candle auction took place, and all sorts of things were sold and purchased. Sir William Batten bought some regalia from Cromwell's time, which he planned to stick in the garden and then burn on Coronation Night.
Pepys took a barge with an enormous group of rather fancy men and women, and they sang their way down the river, whilst eating neats' tongue and rinking bottles of wine. That does, indeed, sound like an incredibly pleasant way to spend a few hours. (Apart from the tongue thing... that sounds horrible!)

Friday, 8 April 2011

A big grey clump

Today is going to be a very long day. I'm off to Soho in an hour or so to hand out fliers which might help us to discover what happened to Philip exactly a week ago. He still can't remember, and I'm told the police are not exactly falling over themselves to help. 

I don't know what to expect, really. I think there will be a small group of us; a mixture of fag hags, Guardian Angels, queens, community support officers and rent boys. I assume we'll be targeting Soho regulars; its clubbers, druggies, sex workers, taxi drivers and bouncers. The sorts of people who might be hanging out exactly where they were at the same time last week. Perhaps someone will have seen Philip doing his rounds, and might know if he was with someone. Perhaps someone saw him being attacked, but have felt too intimidated to talk to the police about it...

It's been another blisteringly hot day. Fair-haired Londoners are now beginning to look a bit like they've been boiled in a bag. My friend Helen, who hates the sun, must be hiding in a shadow somewhere. 

I did a morning's work and then sat in Waterlow Park with Nathan and a couple of sandwiches, watching two magpies plucking worms out of the grass. I drifted off to sleep for five minutes whilst Nathan listened to a song he's learning for a cabaret. He was singing along in a very soft voice and I felt warm and safe.

After the gym, I went to the BBC for leaving drinks with my new friend, Ernestina. What a great name, eh? I met some very interesting people and managed to convince myself that I'm not as painfully shy as I sometimes feel. 

A particularly inane girl on the tube holding a rose has just caught my eye and dissolved into peels of drunken laughter. I'm not quite sure what is so inherently hysterical about my face, but am assuming my big brown cloth cap has something to do with it! I hope she's not just looking at me because she thinks I'm some kind of weird old man. I have never felt as old as I'm feeling right now. Perhaps I'm just over tired - wrung out from the business with the BBC - but when I look in the mirror I see a very drawn person staring back. There's now a clump of grey hair in my fringe and the lines around my eyes are finally beginning to portray a man whose boarded the bus towards the forties! 

Nathan says I need to enjoy the ageing process with a sense of awe. I say I need a job, some money and a wardrobe full of well-tailored suits to enjoy getting old. He says "why bother to panic about the things you can't control?" I think about the polyps on my vocal chords, the lump on my gum and my pallid complexion, and wonder if I'm falling apart. 

Still, what's a clump of grey hair when one of your friends is lying in a hospital bed and another is trying to get over the death of her son? 

350 years ago, Pepys was awoken very early in the morning by his neighbour, Lady Batten. A day trip to Kent had been planned. They took a barge from the Tower of London and spent much of the day in Gravesend, by all accounts eating cheese! 

The evening was spent in a fine house in Chatham, with good displays of arms on the walls. Pepys was given a room to sleep in where the previous owner of the house had actually died. There were tales of it being haunted, which scared Pepys witless... But he claimed to have pretended to be more frightened than he actually was so that those telling the ghost stories felt better!