Thursday, 31 March 2011

The worst thing since Thatcher

It’s 3.30am. I’m in a prison of a Travelodge in the wrong part of Leeds, and I’ve hit a bit of a brick wall. I keep thinking about Lisa, holding her little baby in hospital, not wanting to fall asleep because she knew he’d be gone when she woke up again. Nathan saw her this evening. She showed him a little box of belongings; a few pictures of her holding her son, some ink imprints of his little hands and feet, and a few knitted things that a charity makes for mothers in these situations. I’m sitting in bed weeping and weeping and trying to make sense of everything.


I’ve been talking at some kind of BBC event this evening. I’m not entirely sure what it was all about, but it went very smoothly. It seemed to be a celebration of the marvellous outreach work they did in Yorkshire last year and it was a delight to see all those old familiar, friendly faces, particularly cameraman, Keith. (That's Scouser Keith the camerman from Leeds, not Geordie Keith the cameraman from Newcastle.) I feel very much at home up here.

I’m convinced that BBC Yorkshire didn’t organise the event. At the end of the evening it became clear that all the visiting BBC staff were staying at the palacial Queen’s Hotel, right next to the train station. I, on the other hand, am in the Travelodge, which is the other side of town, opposite a sex shop! By Travelodge standards it’s pretty ghastly. My telly doesn’t work and the heating is broken. I had to go down to reception three times just to get into my room because the key cards weren’t working. Breakfast isn’t included. I can’t expense it because I’m not BBC staff, so I will leave Leeds slightly out of pocket.

In fact, I feel rather raw and jaded about everything right now. The more I work for the Beeb, the more I realise its sheer size. No one really talks to anyone else. It’s like a series of little satellites revolving around a non-existent moon. It's difficult to work out what's going on from the outside. This evening, rather worryingly, I was told that the funding promised for the Manchester project couldn’t be given in the next tax year, which might explain why I haven’t heard anything from them for the last two weeks. It could well be that the last glimmer of hope for me in terms of work this year has now gone out. I suppose the best place to start an ascent is from the very bottom of the mountain, and lying in a freezing cold Travelodge weeping like a child could well be seen as the end of a chapter!

Fortunately, the one thing that’s keeping me going is the amusement I’m drawing from the comments about the Metro film on You Tube. They feel like those two men on the Muppet show; “I loved it, it was okay, it was worse than okay, I hated it, call the police!” except with swear words. It’s an online riot! There’s now officially an exact 50/50 split between those who liked it and those who loathed it. I have never written something so seemingly controversial – or a piece with so many hits on You Tube (15,000 in 4 days!). I agree with many of the comments, good and bad. It was never meant to appeal to everyone, and it certainly wasn’t designed to be entered for a Turner Prize. That said, some insults are pure genius! "If these people are really from Newcastle, how comes they're wearing coats?" But my favourite comes from the person who wrote; “This is the worst thing to happen to the North East since Margaret Thatcher!” That, people, is how to cuss with intelligence!

Well, it seems that writing has cheered me up somewhat. It’s 4.30am, and I should try and get some sleep.

Sunday 31st March, 1661, and a stranger preached “like a fool” at St Olave’s Church. Pepys had dinner with Elizabeth, who seemed to be throwing a bit of a tanty, refusing to dress herself because the house was too dirty. Pepys went to see his parents and then visited Mrs Turner’s house, where he became very angry because he couldn’t “woo” the precocious daughter of the family to give him a lesson on the harpsicon. Hmm...

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The wood pigeon

I'm on a train heading up to Leeds. Is it just me, or are the spaces between the seats getting smaller and smaller?

I was awoken this morning by the sound of fluttering. A beautiful wood pigeon had flown into the bedroom. It gave me the shock of my life, particularly when it started panicking and throwing itself against the bedroom window. My immediate response was to hide under the bed clothes but it struck me that it was far more important for me to stay calm. I started talking to the bird, soothing words, and he immediately stopped throwing himself at the window and stood on the carpet watching me curiously. The romantic in me assumed he was  listening to me and understanding every word. I'm sure I managed to convey the fact that I wasn't going to hurt him. I told him I was going to help him by opening the window, but that it was important for him to stay calm and not to be frightened. He sat perfectly still as I walked across to him and opened the window. I then held out my hand, and was shocked when he actually stepped on, and allowed me to lift him to the window. He flew out onto the roof and sat staring at me for some time. I could swear he was saying thank you.

I took the tube to the train station and was astonished to see a young lady, holding a new born child in a little sling, standing up and offering her seat to an elderly gentleman. It's moments like this that I realise just what goodness there is in the world. What was it that Desmond Tutu said? Small things overwhelm the world. 

I had a little cry this morning when I read an article about heaps of funding cuts in the arts. I do hope we don't need to lose the arts in this country to realise they are one of our most important  exports.

That said, I do subscribe to the argument that a lot of art in its broadest sense, gets funded cynically. I worry that the cuts will not affect on this particular tendency, and if anything will make it more obvious.  I worry that we're not tackling the right forms of inequality. Even the BBC's equal opportunities monitoring is unfairly balanced towards racial background. I think it's far more valid to ask what sort of school someone went to. Is it more important to employ a black ex-public school boy than a white lad who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and had to haul his way through the education system? 

The sad truth is -  and what I write WILL be controversial - the two most incompetent people I've worked with, I suspect were employed by the BBC as a box-ticking exercise. Both did things that badly affected my work, and both got away without being disciplined. It is impossible, however, to have this debate without feeling like a crypto-fascist. It's an established fact that the two worst performances in Frankenstein at the National come curtesy of the process of "colour-blind casting." This form of tokenism is surely insulting to all the highly gifted black actors out there who can't get lead roles in this country for love nor money. Sticking two black actors in the chorus does not address the problem in the same way that employing two rubbish Asians at the BBC won't help us to get a Bengali director general in 30 years.

We need to look at other forms of prejudice. How many offices do we walk into to be confronted by vapidly beautiful posh young girls sitting at computer screens talking about doing lunch? Surely we should be looking at the fact that an attractive person is FAR more likely to be employed than an ugly one. How about we start to address the little-known fact that something like 90% of company directors are above average height? Why does no one insist that every football team should feature an openly gay player, when so much is made about racism in the game? The double standards astonish me...

350 years ago, Pepys didn't offer us any particular little gems. He was a busy man; pottering as usual around London running various errands for Sandwich, and sorting out the finer detail regarding the fleet of ships that was being sent to the East Indies. 

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Sad

I woke up this morning feeling sad. I continue to think about Lisa and Mark; wondering how long it's going to take them to get over the pain of losing a child. I feel angry that it has happened to them. Lisa is, without question, one of the best Mums I know. Her daughter deserves a brother and she deserves a son. Sometime I find life very difficult to fathom.

Nathan is in Scotland today. He's banging drums somewhere near Loch Lomond. He's driven all the way up today, and will come back down tomorrow. I'd have been tempted to hang around a bit; maybe visit the Lake District on the way back down, but Nathan is someone who likes to put his foot down and get somewhere as quickly as he can.

I'm suffering somewhat from post-show blues. It's a tough gig to stand on a stage whilst 250 people give you a standing ovation, knowing that you're unemployed from the moment you get back to London. With any luck something will crop up before I'm forced to apply for a job at Starbucks, but despite my having about 400 pokers in as many fires, there doesn't seem to be anything definite to move onto. The Scots have now officially said no to the symphony idea, which isn't at all surprising. They're citing all sorts of reasons, but I think it's pretty clear they just don't like the idea of doing anything with the English, hence their well-documented desire to treat the London Olympics as a dress rehearsal for their precious Commonwealth Games. I can almost guarantee that a Symphony for Scotland will miraculously appear in 2014!

I am becoming worried by the cuts. A whole set of them are currently being implemented in the BBC Regions and I can't think that television musicals are going to be top of the agenda of things to save, when countless jobs are on the line!

It's very interesting to be part of my generation. We're the generation behind the people who made a killing out of the property Market in the early 90s and a generation ahead of the people who are entering the job Market with realistic expectations. We're becoming experts in our fields just at the point where no one can afford experts any more! I think about this very often for some reason.

I spent the afternoon with Philippa and Deia. We coloured in pictures of Alice in Wonderland. Philippa has just got back from a spiritual retreat with her friend, Moira. They returned to London feeling spiritually renewed; a status which was absolutely destroyed by Moira's daughter pointing at a statue of Buddah and asking; "is that Lady Gaga?!"

Nice hat... Deia wriggled out of this picture...

350 years ago, and Pepys was rushing round like a blue-arsed fly sorting out the paperwork which allowed various boats to be decked out and sent off the the East Indies for "some design against the Dutch." At the end of a busy day, Pepys returned home, but the house was so dirty, he didn't have any other choice than to go to bed!

Deia and Philippa at Rupert and Hilary's Bar in Broadway Market

Monday, 28 March 2011

Stillness

This evening we learnt the dreadful news that our dear friend, Lisa, lost her baby during childbirth last night. We’re not yet certain whether Lisa had to give birth to little George knowing he’d died, or whether they discovered his heart wasn’t beating after he'd been born. All we know is that when Nathan spoke to her two days ago, she was incredibly excited about giving birth. There are no words to express how sad I feel for Lisa and her husband, Mark. Nathan immediately went into shock when he was told. I wandered around Sainsbury’s in something of a daze. I kept getting unexpected items in my bagging tray, and managed to leave my card in the self service machine. Fortunately, as I shuffled down the street towards the car, a very nice man from the shop came running after me and returned it.

In the midst of all the sadness, there was a brief chink of comedy. Nathan was on the phone, so I was carrying all the bags of shopping. As we were walking up the outside steps towards our flat, my trousers fell down... all the way to my ankles! I’ve obviously lost more weight than I thought. Fortunately it was only Nathan who saw. Imagine that little scene unravelling in Sainbury’s, or worse still, as the kind man returned my card in the street!

But my thoughts return to Lisa. I suppose they’ll need to do a funeral and all sorts. It’s just so very sad.

Thursday 28th March, 1661, and Pepys was up early and with his workmen. He spent the day running errands for Sandwich. The day ended, as it so often did, at the theatre. Pepys and Mr Shepley were watching a play called Rollo (badly acted). They drank a cup of ale after the show before heading home. The workmen had been busy. Pepys was pleased. He also found he’d been paid 70l by the Treasurer, so went to bed feeling content.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Silly cow

Congratulations to Sam Atwood, who just won the final of Dancing on Ice with a heartfelt rendition of Torvill and Dean's Bolero.

We've been with brother Edward and Sascha eating wraps and playing with the Tyndarids, who have just come back from ratty boot camp! 

There have been a phenomenal number of hits for the Metro film on You Tube, which is brilliant, although we've also had a fair number of grotty comments accompanying them from those who feel the film is nothing but a glorified freak show! We're doing what all great art does and dividing people! 

It's very interesting to see the sheer number of people who seem to find the concept of a musical somewhat challenging! A Symphony for Yorkshire was almost universally praised on You Tube, I suspect because it was riding under a different banner. Call it a symphony and a different type of person decides to watch it; possibly a type of person who is more likely to enjoy the films I make, which rarely appeal to young people, or cynics!  No one dares to admit that they hate classical music, they just give it a wide berth!

Am I breaking the law by not filling in my census form today? And is it me, or did the clocks go forward today?! 

March 27th 1661, and Pepys' workmen had buggered the staircase to the extent that he could only get up and down by using a ladder. Elizabeth wasn't feeling well, so stayed in bed all day, probably attempting to avoid a potentially humiliating incident involving a vertical drop into her front room!

Pepys' brother, Tom, came round and Pepys went through his old clothes, giving him a black suit and a hat. It's unclear whether this was a form of hand-me-down, or whether Tom, as an apprentice tailor, was being expected to recondition them. These were still impoverished times. Make do and mend, and all that...

Pepys went to the dolphin pub in the evening for food, drink and general merriment with both Sir Williams and their families. There was singing, and a "noise" of violins, which has to be about the best collective noun I've ever heard! 

Pepys admitted to dancing... For the first time in his life! These former puritans, eh? Imagine getting to 27 before dancing for the first time? Everyone was upstaged, however, by the razor sharp moves of the Negro servants, Mingo and Jack, who belonged to the two Sir Williams. The former, particularly, surprised everyone with his astonishing sense of rhythm. Go Mingo!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Family parties

It's been a very lovely day. We went to a family party in the deepest wilds of Dorset. Our journey involved travelling through the New Forest, which looked rather spectacular in the misty sunlight. It's a unique landscape which seems to glow a muddy red colour at this time of year. Perhaps it's the shade of the earth, or the bracken. The trees are tall and straight, and the woods are dense and full of eerie shadows. It's an ancient and mystical part of the world.
The family party was really pleasant, and more than a little emotional. It belonged to my aunt and uncle, who were celebrating their golden wedding, which is an astonishing achievement by anyone's standards. There was a cini-film playing on a screen in the corner of the room with images of their wedding back in 1961; lots of people wearing strange hats and dark rimmed glasses, many of whom were my long-dead relatives. It was moving to see my Grannie again, wearing deep purple, as usual, and holding court like the queen. It was strange to see my mother as a teenaged bridesmaid.

It strikes me that I don't see my extended family enough. I suppose Brother Edward and I were always the wrong generation to truly bond with the others. It struck me today that we were the only people there in our 20s or 30s, which meant, I suppose, we were always likely to feel a little isolated from everyone around us. As you get older, however, the gaps in age become increasingly less important whilst the blood ties grow in strength.

All cut from the same cloth...

On our way home, we stopped at a ruined church, which was sitting rather proudly in the middle of a misty Neolithic burial site. It was a very atmospheric place; highly charged with an inexplicable energy, which rather threw me off my guard. As we wandered around, I wondered why the church was in ruins, and what possessed those Saxons to build a place of Christian worship in the centre of an area that obviously had such a strong pagan significance.

The lonely church

Tuesday March 26th, 1661 was the 3rd anniversary of Pepys’ operation to have his bladder stone removed; "and, blessed be God, I do yet find myself very free from pain again." Pepys vowed to have a party to honour the event every year, and this year, probably because his own house was full of workmen, the party took place at his parents’. It was great fun and Pepys found it highly amusing to goad his guests, "because Mrs. Turner and her company eat no flesh at all this Lent... I had a great deal of good flesh which made their mouths water." That's not very nice. Mind you, I've sat in front of a fair few meat eaters who have found it entertaining to rub some kind of flesh around their mouths like a Neanderthal whilst repeatedly saying; "mmm, lovely meat..." I genuinely think that some of them think I might find this tempting in some way!

A happy moment

Friday, 25 March 2011

A man of the people

It’s 5.45pm and I'm back in the old smoke after a wonderful week up north. A deep red sun is setting over the A1, and there’s a sort of balminess in the air. There are buds on the trees opposite. Spring is most definitely here.

Yesterday’s premier was hugely enjoyable. It happened at the Sage in Gateshead, and all the cast and crew were there. I hope everyone feels as proud of the film as I do. There was certainly a wonderful buzz in the space; a real sense that everyone had shared something very special, which had united people and changed one or two lives forever.

I went out with some of the cast afterwards. We did karaoke in a gay bar. I drank gin and tonic and sang ABBA. The Head of the BBC Northern Region was seen singing Don't Go Breaking My Heart with a female news presenter. Nathan did a catwheel in the street and pulled a muscle before singing River Deep Mountain High in Tina Turner's vocal register! Someone was crying into a bottle of wine. Some of the girls who came out with us were too young to drink alcohol. Just a usual night out on the streets of Newcastle, really...

The mayhem of karaoke

I went into the BBC this morning and they were playing the song on the radio, which felt rather peculiar. It was even stranger to hear people whistling along! It was Alistair’s last day today. He’s been in Newcastle for the last 18 months, and they gave him a wonderful send-off, which involved cup cakes, banners, and the most brilliantly put together spoof radio documentary, which had been lovingly made by all his friends at the station.

We drove through central Newcastle on our way home. Just as we hit the banks of the Tyne, the sun came out from behind a cloud, and lit all the beautiful bridges, which I've jogged and walked over so many times. I now fully understand why the North-Eastern folk see them and realise they've come home. I felt incredibly sad to be heading south.

The film we made is now up on You Tube. You can see it here. Do say nice things!

We all kid ourselves that reviews don’t matter, but I don’t know many creative people who don’t avidly read what people are saying. Sadly, the first few comments that have been made are fairly negative, including one rather bizarre comment which says; “this isn’t a true representation of a journey on the Metro.” No love, it’s a musical! These types of films have to be taken with a pinch of salt. No one’s trying to change the world with them. They’re simply a tongue-in-cheek celebration of a community on a particular date. I would have expected the Geordies to understand that; humour being such a major part of the lifestyle up there.

March 25th, 1661, and Pepys, yet again, had the builders in; this time rustling up a set of stairs leading out of his parlour, no doubt for grand entrances. More mess. Poor Elizabeth.

Pepys was visited by the painter, Mr Salisbury, after dinner, who came to show him some miniatures he’d been working on. Pepys was impressed, “indeed I perceive that he will be a great master.” He took him to Whitehall after their meeting. They went by river, but Salisbury was too scared to go through the rapids under London Bridge, so the pair were forced to disembark, and get on again once the boat had been steered through. Pepys was obviously a little more gung ho than his painter friend.

There was a visit to his (socially acceptable) cousin, Jane Turner, whose husband was in a “chafe” (what a great word) because he’d been let down by someone who’d promised him a room he could hire to stand in and watch the Coronation Parade.

It was late by the time Pepys returned home. He met a young boy with a lantern who was picking up rags and Pepys asked him to guide him through the darkened streets. They chatted merrily as they walked home. Pepys discovered that the lad could sometimes get three or four bushels of rags in a day, which could make up to 10d. They discussed how many ways there were for poor children to make an honest living. One thing I’ll say for Pepys; he may have been developing something of a hoity toity disposition, but he was still, deep down, a man of the people.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

I went shopping for a pair of boots...

My alarm clock went off at 7am this morning, and before I’d properly woken up, I was on my way to the BBC for a series of interviews, the first of which was with the lovely Alfie and Charlie, who present the Radio Newcastle breakfast show. It's always a pleasure to chat to them...

I shared the interview with a lady called Carol, who is one of the performers in the film. She did a fantastic job and seemed incredibly relaxed behind the microphone. The sound-bite of the day was definitely when she blurted out; “Well, one moment I was shopping for a pair of boots, and the next I was in a film!”

It’s wonderful to see how much this project seems to have affected those who are taking part. Alistair and I headed over to the Sage, where all the daytime BBC radio programmes are being broadcast and the first people we met told us they’d been too excited to sleep. There was a real buzz in the air; people discussing what they were going to wear to the premier, and wondering what the film was going to be like.

During the day, more and more people turned up at the Sage; many to be interviewed by the BBC. What was amazing was the sense of how they’d all bonded as a group and how thrilled they were to have taken part.

I’m now back in my hotel room, about to change into my glad rags. So more later...

9pm - Premier over. It went brilliantly! I got a standing ovation from the cast. Felt proud as punch. Was more proud of the performers. We're trending on twitter but some horrible comments, as you'd expect from the yoof! Hurrah for us trending though!

The team: Alistair, Helan and Benjamin
March 24th, 1661, was a Sunday, and Pepys and Elizabeth went to church... twice. Mr Mills made a good sermon, apparently. The Pepyses lunched with the Battens, and then had a lovely walk in the garden. Not a very interesting day, by all accounts!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Bring back the riots

It’s been a magical, yet incredibly hectic and tiring day. I was up with the lark, running to and fro across the bridges in the early morning mist. By the time I’d returned to the hotel and woken Nathan up, the sun had broken through, and it stayed with us all day.

We went first to Tyne Mouth via the Metro, which sadly wasn’t running properly, so we had to go the long way round, which involved passing through most of the stations on the coastal loop. Tyne Mouth is such a beautiful little place and I was very excited to show it to my family. We ambled through the town and ended up at the sea front. The abbey was closed, so we walked out onto the pier, right the way to the end, where the little lighthouse sits. All this time, the sun was beating down, turning the waves into little strips of tin foil floating on a magestic blue carpet. It was truly magical.


The day became about walking. We trekked along the side of the Tyne to the passenger ferry in North Shields. At one stage, we passed the most incredible row of shops and cafes; an old-fashioned grocers, which seemed to sell almost everything, sat proudly in the middle. We went inside. Everything was laid out so neatly. Penny sweets, a little fish counter, all sorts of things on shelves that stretched from the floor to ceiling. More things were hanging from the roof. A group of locals were sitting at a table outside, watching the world go by.

It felt like such a unique part of town. There were little Italian restaurants, and pubs with giant wooden dollies sitting outside. There were light houses, and towers and warehouses. Everything seemed so utterly steeped in history. It was like stepping back in time.

The ferry ride was charming and we ate chips in South Shields, before paddling in the sea, which was colder than we could ever have imagined. We introduced ourselves to some incredible little statues on the sea front, nestling in a sand dune, like giant weebles in huge skirts.


Then it was back to the BBC, where I was interviewed live on Look North. Yet again, I did that ridiculous thing, half way through the chat, of forgetting where I was, and then immediately realising I was live on television. I went blank for about a second, but apparently got away with it. After the broadcast, about 40 people from the BBC up here watched the film for the first time. We ate pizzas, and it all seemed to go down incredibly well. I felt proud.

March 23rd 1661, and Pepys went to the theatre, this time the Red Bull, which he hadn’t visited since the theatres reopened. This particular theatre had the reputation for being a bit of a rowdy place. Pepys arrived too early, and was forced to walk around Charterhouse Yard until it opened. When he was finally let in, he was recognised by one of the ushers (formally a seaman) who took him on a tour of the tireing-room (dressing room) “where strange the confusion and disorder that there is among them in fitting themselves, especially here, where the clothes are very poor, and the actors but common fellows.”

Pepys eventually found his way to the pit, where there were only a handful of people “and not one hundred in the whole house.” The play, All’s Lost by Lust, was done very badly indeed “and with so much disorder, among others, that in the musique room the boy that was to sing a song, not singing it right, his master fell about his ears and beat him so, that it put the whole house in an uprore.” Wow! Bring back theatre riots!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Robin Hood's Bay

We woke up this morning with bright sunlight pouring through the hotel windows. Scarborough Bay looked rather incredible in the early morning light. We ate breakfast in a street cafe before heading north on the coast road.


We made a detour at Robin Hood’s Bay. What a stunning place. Little stone houses and shops cling to a steep hillside which meanders down to the sea. We were there early enough to miss the tourist hordes, and had the glorious beach almost to ourselves. We did a bit of rock-pooling. Nathan was desperate to find a crab, but had to settle for a little block of fudge – which we found in a shop rather than a rock pool!
The highlight of the day has to be watching a poor woman trying to push a pram up the steep cobbled street as we made our way down. She was killing herself laughing and had gone bright red with exertion.

We reached Newcastle just after lunch, and met my parents in my favourite vegetarian pub, The Bob Trollop. We walked up to Monument Station, and had a look around the shops. My Mum’s new favourite singer is a folk artist called Kate Rusby, and she found her latest CD in a shop in a brilliant old-fashioned arcade.

My Dad bought me an IPOD! I was so excited. I think this whole business with the symphony has made him feel pretty frustrated. All Dads want to help their children, and I guess watching me, spinning like a corkscrew into the floor couldn’t have been particularly enjoyable. He can’t save me from the car crash, but he can treat me to something I couldn’t afford to buy for myself. I am so lucky to have such incredibly supportive parents. I think I’d have gone mad a long time ago if it wasn’t for their generosity.

We got back to the hotel and I immediately went for a run with m new IPOD plugged into my ears. I went across four of the bridges for old time’s sake. What a difference a month makes. When I was last here, the wind would often batter me off course, but tonight there was a stillness in the air; a sort of summer-like, dusty warmth, which made the whole experience profoundly enjoyable.

350 years ago, Pepys and Elizabeth went with Lady Batten and her two daughters and Sir William Penn to Dartford. The day was apparently very pleasant, though the journey was hard, no doubt because of the bad weather of recent days. They met Sir William Batten in Dartford, who had just been elected at Rochester, and there was much merriment. Pepys went to bed “my head akeing mightily through the wine that I drank today.”

Monday, 21 March 2011

The joys of electrocution

The first day of Spring...

I couldn't sleep for toffee last night. All sorts of stupid thoughts were gurgling around in my mind. I got out of bed - twice - and sat in front of the telly watching an eccentric  young man talking about medieval sculptures whilst a strange-shaped creature did sign language in the bottom right -hand corner of the screen.

I entered a coma at 5am, and was awoken by Nathan at 7. I have seldom felt so lousy. I peered at myself in our bathroom mirror and wondered why Thora Hird was staring back.

We were away by 8.15, but within half an hour of hitting the  M1, were stuck in the most dreadful traffic. It took us the best part of two hours to get from junction 12 to junction 13; a purgatory which will, from now on, become associated with the shrill chatter of Ferne Cotton on Radio One.

After the traffic jam, Nathan his planted his foot on the accelerator pedal and we literally flew into Scarborough, which was bathed in glorious spring sunshine. The coats came off and the smiles came out!

Our task was to speak to the children of Scarborough College about A Symphony for Yorkshire; and to enthuse them about the joys of creativity. Nathan, was whisked off to talk to drama students, whilst, what seemed like the rest of the school sat in an auditorium and watched our film. I felt proud, as I always do when I see that piece, and once again was reminded about how wonderful it is to share the film with true Yorkshire people. Periodically, a location would appear which the kids all recognised, and a murmur of excitement would float through the room.

Afterwards, they asked lots of sensible questions and I was able to share with them my tales of being electrocuted and such. I brought matters to a close by telling them all to continue with their musical studies, because - and I said this without a word of a lie - music has brought almost everything that is dear to me in life.

It was interesting to note that this was a public school; sad in a way that children with a head start in life, would get to be inspired like this. On this note, I find it interesting to reveal that the comprehensive school where I was educated, the Ferrers School, has never thought to invite me back to try and enthuse the kids.

We met Alison at the train station and walked along the sea front, eating ice creams in the glorious orange sunlight. It was important for the two of us to talk through the hell of the last few weeks, and support each other over a pint of beer.


Alison headed back to Leeds resolving not to allow the bastards to get her down, and Nathan and I went for a glorious Indian meal with Dan, the head teacher of the school we'd been in earlier. He's lovely man; genuinely passionate about the children he teaches, and I'd say, about life in general.


As we strode towards our Travelodge, the enormous, almost full moon was glowing like a giant straw-coloured beach ball in the ink black sky, creating an intense path of glittery light on the sea below. Glorious.


March 21st 1661 brought foul weather to London. Pepys went to watch a fancy ambassador from Florence "gallantly" flouncing around the City despite the driving rain.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Tyndarids go to Hackney

It’s been another slightly depressing day. I spent much of the morning mooching around, feeling a little bit sorry for myself. Thank God we're getting out of London tomorrow. The northern air is bound to cheer me up. I think I’m allowed the odd maudlin weekend, but any more than this would be utterly indulgent.

Nathan and I spent the day together; the first proper time we’ve had together for weeks. We pottered around the house, did some housework, ate poached eggs in a greasy spoon, and went to the gym.

At 5pm, we put the Tyndarids into their cage and drove to Hackney, where they're going to have a lovely holiday in a house with 3 cats and 3 other rats, two of whom happen to be their mother and sister. I love the idea that they might be able to spend some time with relatives, but sadly, the likelihood is that if we put them in a cage together, we'd end up with an incestuous litter of baby ratties, so it's probably best to keep them apart! Still, I held Pol for a while above his mother's cage, and rather wonderfully, they started licking each other through the wire meshing. The Romantic in me hoped that they'd somehow recognised each other, but the probability is that Pol was simply having inappropriate stirrings...

That said, my mother tells the tale of her dog, Bonnie, once seeing her own mother in a parked car, and the two dogs going mad in an attempt to try to reach one another. They had a special bond.
This evening Marinella came round to watch Dancing on Ice. Oddly, she’d never seen the programme before, which I thought was weird, bordering on freakish, but needless to say, she's now a convert.

I'm whitening my teeth with little strips that were given to me in the States the last time I visited. They are banned in England and I'm worried they're going to make my teeth fall out, despite their being made by Crest! Still, anything's better than the nasty ivory-coloured things that were staring back at me when I looked in the mirror last week.

March 20th, 1661, and Pepys spent much of the day doing Lord Sandwich’s accounts. Whilst he worked, Sir William Penn, sat down with a map to teach everyone about Jamaica; an island he’d taken from the Spaniards in 1655.

The gossip du jour was about the general election, and the peculiar choices of MP that were being made in the City of London.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Pedigree perigree

I woke up this morning feeling slightly blue. The prospect of a year stretching out in front of me with no work on the horizon, was weighing very heavy on my mind. It’s so frightening to think that my 37th year could begin with absolutely nothing in the coffers, or with me working in a cafe or front of house in a theatre. The major worry is that I've now missed out on those three crucial end-of-tax-year months, when all sorts of decisions are made about creative projects.


As I sat in that dreadful meeting room on Tuesday, it struck me that every single person I was talking to would still have a relatively well-paid job whether or not they decided to commission my project, and at that moment I learnt a very valuable lesson about life... I think it's possible that you can end up being valued less by an organisation if you're relentlessly loyal, than you might if you creep about in the shadows, setting up meetings with the opposition.

Anyway, after mooching around the house for a bit this morning, and eating a tin of tomato soup for lunch, I started to feel a bit lonely, and decided to walk to the gym via Waterlow Park, which was just delightful in the early spring sunshine. I very much wished that I had Fiona in tow. I associate that park with her, and wanted to sit on a rug and share a picnic with someone.

As I approached the park, I came upon a doddery old man creeping his way down the very steep lane in front of me. He was walking painstakingly slowly and by contrast, I was walking very quickly. Just as I was about to overtake him, someone coming up the hill passed him on the other side. The doddery old man did the most illogical thing, and instead of staying put, stepped straight in front of me, causing me to bump into him, and him to panic. I steadied him, and made sure he wasn’t going to fall over, and apologised profusely, and asked if he was alright. He shot me a look of wounded patheticness, and refused to answer, or apologise himself for being illogical. This instantly made me feel angry. “Well you did just step out in front of me...” I said. He simply looked at me, like a frightened rabbit. I walked away, feeling terribly guilty.

To compound my guilt, I then saw a little old man walking his dog down Dartmouth Park Hill. I've seldom seen two creatures walking so slowly. The dog was fat – probably through lack of exercise - and the old man was bent double like a beggar under a sack. He couldn’t lift his head and merely stared at the pavement as he walked along. 2 hours later, when I returned from the gym, they were on the same stretch of road. I’m sure – at least I hope - they’d been somewhere lovely in the meantime, but I very much feel they were sent to show me how old people struggle in this world, and re-inforce my feeling that I shouldn’t have barked at the old confused man, simply because he made me feel like an ogre.

Further up the hill, I walked past a set of dogs tethered to a lamp post who were barking like seagulls... which was very surreal. I write this a pro pos nothing!

A few seconds later, a reminder in my phone beeped to tell me that it was my old friend, Tara’s birthday  and that she was having drinks in the pub opposite our house. The thoughts of having someone to talk to put a spring in my step, which made me feel very pathetic indeed! It was, however, lovely to see Tara. She looked stunning, and her friends were very interesting. Midway through the drinks, we went to look at the enormous moon which was appearing in the South East. The perigee moon, as it’s called, is a once in a generation experience, and apparently, minutes before I saw it, was even larger, and bright orange. Nathan called me from Birmingham to tell me that he was watching it from a service station. My parents were watching it in Thaxted... I felt a bit left out.

March 19th, 1660, and Pepys went to the theatre to see The Bondman acted “most excellently.” Pepys was much taken with this, tragi-comedy, by Philip Massinger and saw it often; “and though I have seen it often, yet I am every time more and more pleased with [Thomas] Betterton’s action.” So there.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Naked boys

I'm heading into the West End to see the first night of Naked Boys Singing, at that little theatre under the arches at Charing Cross. Nathan is performing in the cast. He is also the show's Resident Director, and yes, he will be appearing totally naked... Although, soft porn it is most definitely not!

I am wearing a suit with a purple shirt and tie, and think I look pretty dapper, even if one of my socks is Easter yellow! I've opted to look as nice as possible to try and make Nathan feel proud. I don't often get an opportunity to dress up.

I was told to expect a call from the mediators in our court case this afternoon, so didn't go to the gym. Needless to say, they didn't call, and I sat twiddling my thumbs in front of the telly for nothing. When I spoke to them this morning, I was told that they hadn't yet received an official request for mediation from the court. I read the lady on the phone a letter I'd been sent, which seemed to contradict this view, and she asked if I'd mind giving her the Defendant's phone number, which seemed curious, but I was hugely grateful to her for attempting  to get the wheels in motion! The whole sorry business has been going on for close to a year.

Monday 18th March, 1661, and England was gripped by general election fever. Sir William Batten was up with the lark, and off to Rochester, where he expected to be chosen as a member of parliament, and Pepys read in a newes-book (plainly a precursor to a newspaper) that his cousin Thomas Pepys had been chosen to represent Cambridge, which seemed to be the first result in!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Electric Cinema

The news this morning was filled with more upsetting tales from Japan. In the midst of it all, the wonderful violinist, Taro Hakase, was talking about busking his across London to raise money for the people affected by the earthquake and tsunami. He’s been playing in train stations and all sorts of shops. He played a piece of music on BBC Breakfast as a tribute to his homeland. It came from a daily television programme in Japan that isn’t being shown because of the troubles. His playing broke my heart, and, I suspect, the hearts of the two presenters who went very quiet after he’d finished. Ah, the power of music... You can hear him here

I went into West London this morning to meet a production company about a pitch for a Channel 4 film. A very interesting, utterly unique blend of musical fugue and documentary. A fugomentary, if you like! Watch this space. We went to a schmanzy club above the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road, and drank cups of tea. I was surprised to find the place existed; proof positive that I’m not part of the world of fashionable London clubs. West London isn’t my favourite place in the world, but Portobello Road looked absolutely beautiful today. Blossom on all the trees, lovely terraced houses painted in pastel colours, and all sorts of curious little shops opening for the day. It was relatively empty, which is probably one of the things that made it so charming, and perhaps I was just in a good space, because I’ve declared spring... 4 days early!

The meeting went well, and I came home and went to the gym. I struggled somewhat, as my cold seems to have gone away and returned in the form of a chest infection, which I’m not enjoying very much. I was more pleased, however, when I weighed myself and discover I’ve lost an entire stone this year. Hurrah.

March 17th 1661 was a Sunday. Pepys went to church, where a “stranger preached a good honest and painful sermon.” A painful sermon? How can something be good, honest AND painful? Once a puritan, always a puritan...

Just at the point where I was beginning to think how well Pepys was doing with his Lenten vows, he went and ate a chine of beef for lunch. At the back of my mind, I’m wondering whether Sundays didn’t count in Lent, but have no idea if this is the case.

On that note, I read about a young lad today, who has given up talking for Lent! How impressive is that? I’m thrilled to report that he’s doing it to raise awareness of Crohn’s Disease, and not God.

Pepys and Elizabeth went to Sir William Batten’s for tea, but Elizabeth had a nasty fall, and hurt her knees “exceedingly”. Now that would be painful!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Polite note

I went to the gym this morning and noticed a little paper sign on the front door, which read, "polite note: please remember to close this door." Since when do we need to start prefacing a notice that includes the word "please" with the phrase "polite note"? Is the word "please" no longer enough to indicate politeness? Surely I can decide for myself whether or not a note is polite? Or indeed whether or not it's a note! This is management jargon at its very worst; the use of too many words because some poorly educated person in internal comms thinks it sounds posher! The same person will also  have a tendency to misuse the word "myself." Don't even get me started on that one...

I watched the news today, and ended up feeling incredibly sorry for the newsreader. First Japan, then Bahrain, then Libya, and then she has to tell us that unemployment here is at it's highest level since 1994. Is the world actually falling apart? 

But looking on the bright side, at least The Cutty Sark is almost renovated after that devastating fire (which I was surprised to hear was as many as four years ago.) What a pointless waste of public funds! It's hardly The Mary Rose. My 'cello is older than that boat! And spare me the diatribes about it being the fastest ship of its day. We unceremoniously dispatched Concorde, didn't we? Don't get me wrong, I love a nice cup of tea, but I genuinely think people go to see the Cutty Sark because they think it's more interesting than it actually is. Maybe they think it's something to do with Captain Cook, or the boat that Scott took to the Antarctic!

This is rapidly turning into the rantiest blog I've ever written! 

Fortunately, I've just been to the Finborough Theatre to watch Nic in a production of Carol Churchill's Fen, which was rather brilliantly done. Nic acted it beautifully and in fact there wasn't a weak link in the cast. The set, which was based around a potato field, worked wonderfully well, and though it pains me to say it, the incidental music was spot on! Well done to all concerned.

March 16th, 1661, and Pepys went to the theatre to see The Spanish Curate, as it happened, rather badly acted. He returned home, fairly late, and found that his live-in clerk, Will Hewer was not back home. This immediately made him angry, and he vowed not to let him in when he finally arrived. Fortunately he changed his mind, because Hewer had been working late at the Guildhall, specifically to help his boss! 

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

A piano on Snowdon

Today’s meeting at the BBC was pretty disastrous. We all sat around a table, some of us not really knowing what we were doing there, everyone listened to me politely, and then we all politely decided it wasn’t going to happen and everyone politely went home! So that’s that.

I got on the tube with Alison, feeling a bit sorry for myself. I’m sure I’ll feel similarly gutted for the rest of the evening, wake up feeling a bit blue, but then pull myself together. There isn't really an alternative. I’m rather grateful for yesterday’s meeting, however, because it prepared me for today. In any case, as we span further and further away from the purity of A Symphony for England, the project started to feel cumbersome. The sad truth is that the Nations already have all sorts of interesting programmes about music in their patches, so to them, our idea is simply another in a long list. I think the moment when I realised it was all over, was when the bloke from Wales said they’d already filmed someone playing a piano at the top of Mount Snowdon! How can you compete with that? The English Regions, however, throughout have continued to support the idea, and I am so grateful to them for their continued interest in my work.


And so we move on... I’ve already thought of an interesting project to take to Channel 4 - It's surely about time for me to make a triumphant return to the opposition! I've also spoken to Manchester to try and steer the project up there back on track. I’ve eaten some pasta, am watching Holby City, and am waiting for Nathan to come home from the theatre, wishing I had a bit more of a social life at the moment!

Friday 15th March, and Pepys went with the Sir Williams to the Dolphin, where they ate a “great fish dinner,” which had been provided by two nameless tax merchants. They stayed in the pub, eating and drinking until late at night before returning home.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Poisoned chalice

I’m not a particularly happy bunny today, if I’m honest. I went to White City first thing for a meeting about the symphonic project. I was quite excited because the idea had been for me to discuss my artistic vision, but instead the meeting rapidly shifted towards a discussion about British politics, which left me feeling that the idea we were proposing was almost dead in the water. There was a glimmer of hope in the form of another idea altogether, but we do appear to be back at square one; exactly where we were in about November last year. I always knew that the Olympics thing could prove to be something of a poisoned chalice, but had no idea quite how rocky things would get. How curiously the path towards happiness twists and turns...

I got home and sat down at the kitchen table to prepare a presentation for the meeting which still seems to be happening tomorrow. Unfortunately, after today’s news, I’m not sure I have anything constructive to talk about, so I went to the gym and ran around for a bit, cursing and stomping until I felt a little calmer. I’m hoping Emmerdale Farm will put me in a more cheerful place, but everyone's shouting at each other...

Still, it’s almost impossible to whinge about things with the terrible events in Japan blaring out on the television. I’m looking at people with absolutely nothing left in their lives; a family standing on a bridge because they’ve been told another Tsunami is on its way. A woman holding a tiny cardboard suitcase. There are television pictures of a little child screaming in terror as her village is washed away in a roar of brown water in the valley underneath her. It’s so horrifically sad. I also discovered via the oracle that is Facebook, that my mate Ash was in Tokyo when the earthquake happened. He’s subsequently found his way back to England, and seems quite chipper, but he must have been utterly terrified...

Thursday 14th March and Pepys went for a drink with John Creed, who told him the “long story” of his “amours” at Portsmouth with the daughter of one Mrs Boat. Pepys enjoyed the story greatly. He always enjoyed tales of love and lust. They went to the theatre together to see a play called King or No King, which sounds like a barrel of laughs, but Pepys reports that it was acted well. After the theatre, they went for a drink in the Temple, and Creed asked Pepys for his advice on matters romantic. Obviously the daughter of Mrs Boat was either not enough for him – or proving a trickier fish to catch than he’d first thought. Sadly, Pepys doesn't provide us with the intimate details...

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Thaxted studios

My parents' house in Thaxted became a mini television studio today, with big lights on stands, various expensive-looking cameras and a bloke holding a boom mic on a stick! The purpose of the day was to make a little taster tape for a documentary about songs people remember from their childhood days. It was also an excuse for my folks to meet Nathan's family, for only the second time in 8 1/2 years!


The combined clans had been assembled primarily as guinea pigs or interviewees for the taster tape. They were, without exception, hugely natural in front of the camera, and I was very grateful to them for turning up and being so utterly brilliant. Nathan and his sister Sam sang a particularly theatrical rendition of Phantom of the Opera, which I found incredibly touching, my Mum sang a very quirky song about washing, Nathan's mother, Celia sang Sweet Polly Oliver beautifully, and we came together en masse to do all sorts of rounds and folk songs. I think we made a pretty lovely sound and even Lewis, Nathan's 12 year-old nephew, joined in. I was thrilled to see that Nathan's niece, Becky, has also discovered music, and seems to have taken to the piano like a duck to water.

The highlight for me was probably my Dad recounting a curious story about a photograph of a public execution in the States, which he found in a drawer at his Grandmother's house, next to a bakelite record of a folk song, which recounted the story of the very man who was swinging from the scaffold. When he asked his Grandmother about it, the picture mysteriously vanished. He told the story particularly well. I was very proud.

The house looked marvellous when we arrived, and the parents lit an open fire; perhaps the last before the summer. My Mother did the most amazing spread. It was like a Roman banquet, with rows of cheeses and puddings and flans and pies and fruits begging to be eaten...

In the midst of the mayhem, Hilary and Ellie were being screen-tested as potential presenters for the documentary. I wouldn't like to have to pick between them, as I thought they were both surprisingly professional. I love the idea of setting off on this bizarre journey with one of them, although, as with all these things, it's worth reminding myself to keep saying yes and then to put everything to the back of my mind, because the likelihood of anything actually making its way onto the television is rather small. Even if everyone becomes utterly passionate about an idea, there are always politics to wade through, and an almost bewildering number of hurdles to avoid; something which is becoming all too apparent on our symphonic project!

A pregnant Hilary interviews Nathan and Sam in front of the cameras

350 years ago, Pepys spent the morning reading a dictionary of seafaring terms (as you do). It was probably worth it. By the time he'd died, his knowledge of all things Naval had become legendary. His fame isn't just based on his diaries!

The brilliantly candid Pepys made a welcome return in the second half of the entry. After noting that his parents, and various other family members had popped by in the evening, he felt obliged to mention that they'd stayed until he was 'weary of their company.' Do you think he told them they were boring?! Probably.

The Gaitch family with Ellie and Hilary at Thaxted windmill

Saturday, 12 March 2011

For god's sake

It's a beautiful spring-like day and Highgate village is bathed in beautiful sunlight. It feels a real shame to need to work, but on Tuesday, I have to deliver the presentation of my life in front of a room filled with terrifying BBC execs, so I need to feel utterly prepared. 

I saw one of the banned humanist posters today, the ones about the up-and-coming census, that scream "if you're not religious, for God's sake say so!" I think the posters carry a vital message. People tend to leave the religion box blank, or half- heartedly tick the Christian box because they want to counter-balance the growing number of people identifying themselves as Muslim. 

An unrealistic number of people registering themselves as religious means an unrealistic amount of public funds gets siphoned off and put towards pointless religious initiatives and activities. In my opinion, the sooner we grow up and accept that Britain is a secular society where a minority practice religion, the better. I firmly believe that Blair governed this country on a Christian doctrine, which is why he went to war without the backing of the electorate. 

I therefore find it particularly galling to think these posters have been banned, when I consider how often I've found myself horribly offended by adverts for churches with inexcusable anti-gay messages on the tube.

I bought myself a scone for lunch and had it with some raspberry jam, which was delicious. I'm now heading to Julie's to spend the evening in front of the gogglebox. Nathan's been there all afternoon attending an afternoon of craft and cake. They sit around, as you'd expect, knitting and sewing and eating nice things. I am envious, mostly about missing out on cake, but until I find myself a craft, I can't expect to be invited. Obviously I can't just tip up and work on my computer! 

Not the most interesting diary entry from Pepys on this date 350 years ago. He was a happy bunny after finally finding out that he was definitely due a salary for the time he'd spent at sea.

He celebrated by asking the Battens over for a collation; a sort of light supper, which went on til late.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Tsunami

I went into Soho first thing, and sat in a cafe on Old Compton Street, listening to music from Wales. I was leafing through the BBC website, searching for inspiration, when I came across this article, which has to be one of the saddest things I’ve ever read.


It hasn't been a very happy day for news. As soon as I turned the television on this morning, I saw pictures of the tsunami in Japan. Tsunamis and breakfast don’t go together very well and I was astonished by the pictures. Houses and cars, looking like little pieces of Lego in the bath were floating across fields. It was utterly surreal. In the ever-approaching distance, traffic was speeding along a road which was surely destined to be washed away by the eerie sheet of water.

I immediately started to worry about my brother, who’s in Hong Kong at the moment. Obviously Hong Kong is as far away from Japan as England is from Senegal, but the whole of the Pacific Ocean is on red alert for fear of copy cat tidal waves.

Pictures came in from Tokyo, where they’ve just had one of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded. I can’t imagine what it must be like to feel the earth rippling under your feet like that. There were shots of a woman in an office trying to pick up the computers that were flying off the tables. She was actually trying to tidy up – mid earthquake.

People were standing at stations trying to get home on invisible trains. Most of them were wearing masks. It’s a particularly odd custom, I feel. In fact, I get quite insulted when I see Japanese people sitting on the tubes in this country covering their faces as though they were all sitting in a nail bar. What germs do they think they’re going to get? Don't answer that question! It’s probably why they all live so long. Quite why, in the mayhem of earthquakes and tsunamis, I should notice the masks, I’m not sure...

I had another meeting about this presenting job today. This time, the producers wanted to meet my friends Ellie and Hilary. They’re interested in one of them co-presenting the series with me. It transpires I’ve known them both for almost 20 years, which I guess has to count for something in terms of on-screen chemistry. Both came across incredibly well, and both were liked enormously by the powers that be. I felt incredibly proud. We’re all heading up to Thaxted on Sunday to do some screen tests. It’ll be interesting to see if either of them “pops” on camera. It’ll be interesting to know if I do! Talk about diving into the unknown!
Afterward the meeting, I had lunch with Hilary in town. We ate in the Stock Pot, which is cheap and cheerful food at cheap and cheerful prices. I had some kind of pasta mush and she had a similar dish that they were calling risotto. There was jelly and ice cream for pudding, which felt like the most decadent thing I’ve ever eaten.

Monday 11th March 1661, and Elizabeth was out of the house all day. Believe it or not, she returned with a new set of teeth! Pepys wrote; “among other things she hath got her teeth new done by La Roche, and are indeed now pretty handsome, and I was much pleased with it.” Obviously, the English had not yet decided whether teeth were singular or plural, but you get the general gist.

It’s possible Elizabeth’s teeth were simply “whitened”, which meant the enamel on her teeth was scraped away by La Roche, who was one of only two high-class dentists practising in London at the time. She may have simply had her false teeth replaced. Dentures were usually made from elephant ivory, or ox bone, but they could be made from real teeth taken or stolen from a dead person. There was a glut, I’m told, of false teeth available after the plague! Would you really put the teeth of someone who’d died from the plague in your mouth?

Ice cream on tarmac

I’ve got a bit sloppy in relation to my blog of late. I don't think I'm writing words that I would particularly want to read, and I keep almost forgetting to write anything at all. It’s 11.30pm, for example, and I’ve only just realised that I’ve not yet written today's entry. This is probably as much to do with the fact that I've very little to say. It’s been one of those days where I’ve just, well, sort of existed.

I went up into the village first thing, and sat in Costa until lunchtime, watching and listening to countless recordings of various musicians from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. It’s very important for me to know exactly who’s out there, so that I can go to a meeting planned for Tuesday and make everyone feel secure that they're potentially backing the right project, and furthermore, that I’m the right man for the job. That said, I have folk music now coming out of my ears, to the extent that it's becoming impossible to tell one fiddle player from the next. At one stage today I was even wondering whether Only Men Aloud, that highly cheesy male voice choir from South Wales, would be a good addition to the project. I'm pleased to say that it was their singing Total Eclipse of the Heart that made me realise how wrong I was! I've never heard such a dreadful arrangement of that awesome song... and one of the tenors got way too close to a microphone. Here they are being represented by little lego men, which needs to be seen to be believed!

It was all slightly tragic in Costa today. A community police officer had set up a little surgery on one of the tables at the front of the cafe. She had her little hat on, and was displaying a little sign and lots of leaflets about car crime and anti social behaviour, which she proudly laid out in front of her, but in the hour that she sat there, not a single person went to talk to her. I wondered for a long time what I could go and say to her, but drew a complete blank. So, she sat there, looking a little bit sad and lonely, before packing her leaflets into a bag, and taking the little sign down...

I went to the gym after lunch and jumped around a lot, before returning home and I’ve sat on the sofa ever since; one eye on the telly, the other on my computer as I continue my in-depth research.

Nathan has gone to watch some cabaret tonight, so it’s just me and the rats, one of whom has just jumped onto my lap and badly scratched my thigh. I've been wanting to eat a Milk Tray strawberry centred chocolate all evening, but don't have any.

The 10th March, 1661 was a Sunday. Pepys went to St Olave’s and heard a "good" sermon read by Mr Mills. He returned home for a “poor Lenten dinner” of coleworts (cabbage, I’m told) and bacon. I’m not altogether sure that eating bacon counts as giving up meat, but I guess the will was still there. My Nana didn’t think bacon was meat either. She had a similar view about chicken. When we arrived at her house, we’d always have the same conversation. I’d tell her I was a veggie, and she’d say; “have some chicken then” to which I’d respond “but I don’t eat meat” and then she’d say; “but chicken’s not meat.” She also used to cook vegetables for hours, until they were soft like blobs of ice-cream on tarmac in the mid day sun.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

A tin train

It's freezing cold and I'm not wearing enough clothes. A quick look into the night sky reveals a set of stars shining particularly brightly by London standards. This means there are no clouds, and explains the sudden dip in temperature. And here was I thinking Spring was just around the corner...

I've been with my goddaughter, her parents and her grandmother this evening. Philippa cooked us all a delicious vegetarian meal, whilst we played with a miniature clockwork train from communist Russia. It was made from tin and was absolutely beautiful. I could have watched it going round in circles for hours. Deia had rather less patience!

...So we did a jigsaw, which had plainly been drawn and cut in the 1970s. It showed a dear little woodland scene with mice and things in frilly dresses poking their oversized heads out of a treehouse. A non-specific rodent postman was holding letters and wearing an enormous cap. I asked Deia which of the mice she  liked best, and she responded, "the beetle," which I thought was a particularly interesting answer. She went on to tell us that her Mummy had done the puzzle when she was a child. She then proceeded to repeat this fact eight times using different inflections. I wondered if we weren't responding with enough incredulity in our voices! 

This morning I went with Edward to Soho to meet some producers to talk about this documentary series that there's some talk of my presenting. At the moment the production company seem to be into the idea of my presenting it with an old and dear friend, and are interviewing three of them in the next few days. They're looking to see how we interact. Apparently there's some hope we'll turn out to be the next hairy bikers! 

I'm still fairly convinced it will all come to nothing, but I've officially decided to enjoy the ride! 

350 years ago, and Pepys went to Whitehall, where he walked for several hours in St James' Park. He said the park was very lovely of late, no doubt since they'd created some water features. It was here that he discussed the idea that he might receive 60l as payment for his "extraordinary" work at sea, almost a year previously. Strikes me he did very little but eat, sleep and play the lute, but nice work if you can get it! 

He called in on Sandwich, who was back from the country bearing the sad news that their mutual aunt wasn't expected to live a great deal longer. Pepys, as usual, took the news rather matter-of-factly! Different times...

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Upward trajectory

It’s Pancake Day, and I’m waiting very patiently for Nathan to come back from a rehearsal. I feel a little bit like Madam Butterfly. Very shortly, I’ll take myself on a little trip to the shops to buy ingredients for batter. It’s something to do... I’m a bit bored and lonely!

I went up into the village first thing, and sat in Costa Coffee. I saw my friend Philippa’s mother getting onto a bus and ran in slow motion to try and catch up with her. Sadly, the bus pulled away just as I reached it. It all felt rather filmic.

I've been researching Scottish music all day as part of this on-going mission to get the BBC Nations to come on board with our symphonic project. There are some utterly amazing musicians in Scotland; the most impressive of whom are surely a band called LAU. Take a look at this for virtuoso music making at its very finest.

Apart from searching for incredible musicians, I’ve also been looking at various Scottish folk songs, and crying like a baby during most of them. I don’t know why they affect me so badly. At one point, my research took me to the violinist, Nicola Benedetti playing The Lark Ascending, and that just about finished me off, to the extent that I started to worry about the neighbours. I know I’ve got a lot going on at the moment; the hell of this court case and the financial worries that have been generated by whole sorry story, but there is NO excuse for heaving like some kind of 18th Century love-sick teenager! I suppose it can only be a positive thing that music has such a visceral effect on me but sometimes it can be very embarrassing. A certain chord, or combination of chords and I’m a quivering wreck.

After a late lunch, I went to the gym and ran, hopped, skipped and rowed myself around the room for the best part of an hour. I felt very fit afterwards. I guess I AM very fit at the moment, although my workout was somewhat compromised by some poor woman on Deal or No Deal, who was having just about the worst game I’ve ever seen. In the end I had to stop looking at the TV screens, because her sad little face was making me feel like I needed to donate money to charity!

Friday 8th March, 1661, and Pepys went to the Tower of London for lunch with his friend Sir John Robinson, who was Lieutenant of the complex. The “high” company included the Duchess of Albemarle, Lady Anne Moncke, who Pepys described as “ever a plain homely dowdy.” Poor woman. The ladies retired in the evening, and the men got drunk, and there were various rows. Pepys returned to bed “almost overcome with drink” and wrote in conclusion, “I was much contented to ride in such state into the Tower, and be received among such high company, while Mr Mount, my Lady Duchess’s gentleman usher, stood waiting at table, whom I ever thought a man so much above me in all respects.” Pepys was still on an upward trajectory.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Wonderful wonderful Normanton

The sun has been shining all day, and I've been feeling very happy as a result. I spent much of my time in Leicestershire with my mother. We bumped into some old friends in Melton Mowbray. It was lovely to see them, and they looked very well. Melton Mowbray is a particularly dull place, although as we drove there, through the beautiful Leicestershire countryside, my Mother reminded me that the town was the original home of my Great Grandmother, who started a pork pie business there, after her husband had drunk them out of house and home!

I chatted to my brother, Tim on the phone, who'd just taken his driving test in Bangor of all places. That's Bangor in Wales, which is, I assume, the place where they had the lovely in the song. Sadly, Tim forgot to take the paperwork with him which proved he'd passed his practical test, so the whole thing was rendered null and void. More frustratingly, it seems the test was near perfect, and he would have passed with flying colours! Now he has to wait a full month until he can take another one! Poor bloke.

We went home via Rutland Water, which looked utterly serene underneath the cornflower blue sky. We walked to the strange little church at Normanton, which sits at the end of a causeway which juts out into the reservoir. The church used to belong to a village, which was flooded to make way for the lake. When there's a drought, I'm told you can sometimes see the roofs of scores of drowned houses. It's all a bit spooky, but it's one of the most magical places I've ever visited.


The sand stone they use in Rutland is almost white and it shimmers and glows when the sun shines. The reflection of the church on the water was utterly insane, and really quite moving. It looked like an Italianate version of the old Thames TV logo!


...But which is which?

There was a slight glitch in my blog yesterday. I wrote about Pepys' activities on March 7th, 1661, so today I will write about what he was doing on March 6th 1661, which wasn't much, as it happens! There had been a lot of rain, and a huge amount of flooding. Lady Sandwich had tried to follow her husband into the country, but been prevented by the waters, which were very high.

Pepys and Elizabeth ate a good “Lenten” dinner with Sir William Batten. In the evening, Pepys contemplated asking the Battens back to his house to share a “wigg” – a sort of early sandwich that was particularly popular in Lent, but Lady Jemima’s sudden return to the City put paid to the idea.

My Mummy

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Script reading

Rather surreally, we've just hosted the reading of a screenplay in our flat in Highgate! 20 actors crammed themselves into our front room, ate several tonnes of cake, and read through Mentalo by Terry Newman and my good mate, Marinella.

The screenplay was wonderful; incredibly atmospheric and highly original, although the occasion itself was all a bit Christopher-Guest-meets-Mike-Leigh. Actors can be very odd!

There's now a rather pretentious dissection of the piece taking place over cups of tea, glasses of port... And more cake! I think we could all be here until very late!

Marinella instructs the readers...

March 7th 1661, and Pepys went to Woolwich, once again, to watch some old Navy stock being sold off to the highest bidders. There was much drinking in the City, where Pepys went in search of a beautiful barmaid he'd been tipped off about by his mate Llewellyn.

Better late than never!

Crumbs! It's the first time I've ever failed to post a blog before midnight! I feel utterly ashamed. I wish I had an excuse for my tardiness, but the truth is that by the time I'd slept in, had lunch, gone to the gym, tidied the house and spent the evening watching rubbish telly with Julie, Nathan and Sam, midnight had come and gone. 

We're currently underneath the Thames, whizzing through the Blackwall Tunnel on our way back to Highgate.

It was lovely to see Julie and Sam; a fact which is rather bailed out by our having stayed there for five hours. We're obviously getting old, though. Sam spent the evening knitting socks, Julie was making some kind of wrap and Nathan was crocheting a rather intricate doily! Rock and roll! I am not a crafty type, but was very happy to simply watch hours of Victoria Wood sketches, whilst eating a cup of Julie's chocolate mouse; the densest and most delicious pudding I think I've ever eaten. Diet recommences tomorrow!

We talked a great deal about the recession. Both Julie and Sam have been directly affected. Sam, who works for various music services in the South of London, doesn't actually know whether he'll have a peripatetic teaching job to go to next year. Sure, he'll always be able to find private pupils; the wealthy will always be able to take their kids to music lessons, but gone are the days when all kids have the right to make music, which makes sick to the stomach. Without the astonishing Northamptonshire Music Service, which provided me with free cello lessons, and a plethora of orchestras, choirs and chamber ensembles to perform in, I have no idea what I would have become. People need to start fighting for the future of music in this country. 

Pepys had a very busy day 350 years ago, but did very little of any interest! He ate a barrel of oysters with a few friends, and called in on Lady Sandwich. When her husband was out of town, Pepys took it upon himself to act as her unofficial guardian. 

He went back to the Navy office and sat up until 10pm with the two Sir Williams, working out exactly how much every sailor in the Navy earned. No one could say he wasn't utterly meticulous! 

Friday, 4 March 2011

Season's Greetings

I’m on a tube train, winging my way through Central London towards Highgate. I’ve just been to watch Season’s Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn at the National Theatre. It strikes me that I don’t go to the theatre often enough these days. I suppose I’ve always felt that the art-form rather rejected me about ten years ago. The work simply dried up. I went from being Resident Director on Taboo, to being turned down for theatre in education jobs. It was a bit like being jilted by a lover who I’d sworn to spend the rest of my life with, and out of sheer sour grapes I suppose I managed to convince myself that I’d never really enjoyed the time we spent together. And theatre can be really ghastly; particularly when it’s Shakespeare and it’s being barked by a group of actors who seem to be in on a joke that they don’t want to share with the “uneducated” members of the audience... I'm horribly low brow, aren't I?


Perhaps for this very reason, I thought that tonight’s show was a real treat. The Olivier Theatre is brilliant both acoustically and in terms of sight lines, and the acting in the show, particularly Mark Gatiss, Katherine Parkinson and Catherine Tate, was second to none.

It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I watched the show with 7 others, including Matt Lucas, Barbara Windsor and her wonderful husband, Scott. (Imagine the looks we were getting all evening!) I think many felt the whole “slow-bubbling farce” thing was the stuff of yesteryear. I, however, was genuinely amused, and I don’t say that very often. I've always had a soft spot for Ayckbourn for two reasons. Firstly, because he wrote an incredibly encouraging letter to me when I’d only just started my career in the theatre and secondly, because his plays were the staple diet of the Royal Theatre in Northampton when I was growing up. More often than not, I’d watch his plays sitting on an uncomfortable wooden bench in the Gods with a big box of Malteesers on my lap, which I’d suck until the honeycomb made my tongue hurt. I remember opening a box once, and all the contents spewing all over the cheap seats and down onto the slightly more expensive seats below. Fortunately, everyone in the theatre seemed to find the episode amusing – and I remember watching one man as he ate the chocolate that had landed on his lap. Those were the days...

So, we finished editing the Metro film today. The last day of the edit is always a bit of a trial, because it has to be about the technical side of things. Everything has to be rendered, and then run through a bewildering number of tests to make sure that the film is legal and fit for broadcast. My favourite test is the Harding test. I say it’s my favourite test, but it’s actually the one that freaks me out most of all. Harding is there to stop people from having epileptic fits due to images flashing on screen. It tends not to like the following things:

1. Cars
2. Fires
3. Trains
4. Anything red

For some reason, these four things seem to feature rather prominently in my films, and predictably we failed the first test due to a flashing yellow and red Metro train rushing into a station at one stage. It’s easily enough fixed and we passed the second time with flying colours. My A1 film, by contrast, failed on about 93 counts. Every time a red car flashed through a shot, we went down, and it took forever to fix!

Monday 4th March 1661, and Sandwich left London for his country estate, where he was having some major alterations done. Before leaving, he gave Pepys some jewellery to look after; which Pepys later learnt had come from the King of Sweden. He was obviously thrilled to be put in charge of such important and valuable things, particularly as they were handed over to him with “the greatest expressions of love and confidence that I could imagine or hope for.” Bless...

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Theo

I'm heading back from Soho, where I had a meeting with a lovely lady from the BBC Olympic Committee. I had a gin and tonic. She had a wine. It's the first alcohol I've had this year, so I felt rather naughty. It went straight to my head, obviously... no doubt assisted by my cold, which has now turned into a hacking cough. Anyway, I liked the lady I was meeting very much. She seemed to understand me on a creative level, which is always nice. Sometimes I view the BBC as a sort of number-crunching, faceless robot. I'm often not at the meetings where important decisions are taken, so it feels rather nice to meet one of these decision makers, and know that she gets where I'm coming from. 

Very often, within institutions, displays of emotion can be greeted with suspicion and intolerance. This can start to get a bit tricky when you do the sort of thing that I do. Perhaps I'm just making excuses for my periodic, hot-headed, hirarchy-shunning theatrical displays, but I suspect my all-too easily accessible emotions add at least a certain something to the films that I make.
What am I trying to say, I wonder? I've no idea. I'm drunk and knackered. I suppose, in simple terms, I don't know how to think like an exec, or a journalist, or someone whose been on lots of courses in people management, so it's always a relief when someone winks at me and says "that's okay..."

I dropped my beloved iPod in the bath this morning - don't ask- and it's completely dead. Sadly, I can't actually afford to replace it at the moment, so until there's some good news, financially speaking, I'm gonna be running to the music in my head, which is incredibly dangerous. Doing all these fabulous films may be extraordinarily rewarding, but it will never make me rich. Radiantly happy, but poor as a church mouse. And too old to be poor!

I was watching the news earlier on and one story hit me like an iron bar. It's this business with L/Cpl Liam Tasker, killed in action with his sniffer dog, Theo. Initial reports suggested that they were both shot on the battle field, but it's transpired that the dog simply curled up and died the following day. I am normally extremely hard-line when it comes to soldiers dying in action. Part of me believes that if you live by the sword, you kind of need to be prepared to die by it. But the idea of man and dog having such a close bond is utterly moving to me. Like those old people who can't live without one another, and literally die of a broken heart.

Here they are... I'm sad again

I had a very similar response to an episode of Futurama, the end of which you can see here.

March 3rd 1661 was a Sunday, and Pepys went to church before lunching with Sandwich, who was planning to go to the country the following day. Pepys also reported that an Franco-Italian politician, Mazarin, had died. I can't begin to get too excited by the idea of finding out about the man. Pepys seemed to think it was an important death. Mazarin liked diamonds and succeeded Cardinal Richelieu. French politics..? Whatever, really.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The backwards shot

This tube journey is hell on earth. We're crammed into the carriage like tinned tomatoes. I'm surrounded by drama students practicing vocal exercises and every time we pull into a station, people seem to mistake me for a turnstile. I'm spinning around like a little cog in a giant wheel of sweaty nastiness. 

The drama students remind me of me at a similar age. I'm ashamed to say that I was one of those ghastly people who thought it was amusing to do performance art on the Underground network. Me and my friend Jo regularly pretended to have screaming rows, which always ended with the threat of divorce, and on one occasion, a group of us attempted to get an entire carriage to join us in a rendition of Kum Bye Ah. I'm surprised we weren't immediately defenestrated by a group of angry commuters. These days we'd be more likely to be mistaken for Muslim extremists!

The Metro film was sent up to Newcastle today for approval. We were forced to send a horrid little version that was low enough resolution to be emailed without blocking anyone's inbox. You could barely see mouths moving for the pixilations! It was a necessary evil, of course. All the decision makers are 250 miles away and need to have their say. They've paid for the film, afterall, but I'd so much rather it was seen for the first time in full-resolution, beautifully graded and shining like a little beacon! Joey Beacon.

Still, the powers that be seemed to enjoy the film very much, but failed to spot the shot we'd deliberately put in backwards! Sometimes, if you leave a clanging error in a roughly assembled film, the execs will spend so long fixating on it, they run out of time to focus on the piddley little notes, which are usually much more irritating to change. We were obviously too subtle with our deliberate mistake, but in absolute fairness were only given two notes, which in my view demonstrates a wonderful line in exec-producing! I once made a film where the exec was thrown out of the sound edit; more for her own safety. She got so wound up she started throwing things! 

The cold continues, you'll no doubt be thrilled to read. Today I've been attacked by a ridiculously tickly cough, which even Covonia fails to deal with. My ears itch for some inexplicable reason. 

350 years ago, Pepys went to The King's Theatre, and was greatly perturbed to find an uncharacteristically tiny audience milling around in the foyer. It didn't occur to him that the play might simply stink, and assumed something much more sinister was going on! He immediately left, and went to another theatre, where he found the house 'as full as could be'. I'd love to go back to an era where an empty theatre was considered somehow apocalyptic! 

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Animatronics

Despite my feeling like absolute crap, we’ve made very good progress in the edit suite today. Louise, the editor, is an incredibly hard worker, and it always feels like we’re on top of things when she’s around. She’s consistently in work before me, and I have to force her to leave at the end of a day. She’s brilliant company and fabulously gullible. I’ve already managed to convince her that our blind cast member, Christine, fell into the Tyne just after filming her sequence on the Shields Ferry, and been rescued by an 80 year-old woman. I’ve also told that the ferret that disco dances at Tyne Mouth station is actually animatronic! I’m not sure where these surreal flights of fancy come from in my head. I once convinced her that a building across the road was 2-dimensional, and that a 20 year-old girl in a film was really an 8 year-old boy who simply liked dressing up in his mother’s clothes. Gullibility issues aside, she’s an immensely talented editor with exceptional judgement. She keeps me in line (both online and offline) and we spend long periods of time literally doubled-over laughing.


Without wishing to sound too much like a stuck record, I feel horrid. At the moment I can feel the cold sitting rather heavily on my chest; a sensation I’m not particularly used to. On top of the heavy lungs, there’s a tickly cough, a sore throat and my voice has dropped an octave. I feel like I’ve been well and truly pinched and punched to celebrate the start of March! I’m hoping another night’s sleep will begin a process of recovery, although I’m certainly not looking forward to my journey into Old Street tomorrow morning.

Commuting in the direction of the City of London is hell on a stick in the early mornings. The tubes are rammed to the rafters with people feeling depressed and edgy. It’s obvious from their faces alone just how many of them hate the jobs they do. Add to all this misery the fact that there doesn’t seem to have been a day of sunshine this year, and it’s little wonder that everyone seems so blinkin’ depressed!

Friday 1st of March, 1661, and Pepys dined on fish. Was it tradition in those days to eat fish on a Friday, or was this simply another attempt to be a good Christian during Lent? After lunch he walked into London and saw Philip Massinger’s The Bondman acted in a theatre somewhere near the Temple. His last thoughts of the day were about the King’s impending coronation. People all over the City were setting up scaffolds to watch the associated parades and Pepys was wondering just how much money he’d have to lay out to join the pomp and ceremony of the society event of a generation. Royal wedding anyone?