Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Unsufferably foolish and simple

We had a lie-in this morning, which felt marvellous, as I've been getting up rather too early of late. During breakfast, we sat and watched last night’s episode of Britain’s Got Talent. I love talent shows, but am aware that by watching them I’m feeding the devil. I'm only too aware there are always far more talented individuals (many of whom are friends) plugging away and trying to make ends meet by simply working hard, and slowly honing their skills. Take the young (probably autistic) pianist who made it through to the final last night. Everyone liked his story, and liked the fact that he was black; but by any standard, he wasn’t a particularly good pianist. The panel heaped praise on him, referring to him as a virtuoso, but frankly, I studied with countless pianists who would have knocked the socks off him at a similar age. There are five year olds in China who are better than him - and work much harder.


It took me rather a long time to get motivated. I sent countless emails begging for non-existent arts-related jobs, and had a look into the idea of a career in the police force. I probably need to sit down with someone to find out if it’s even possible for a man in his late 30s to realistically start a new career in this area.

At about 6pm, I went for a wonderful run. It had been raining all morning, the first rain I’ve seen in months, but the sun came out in the late afternoon, and everything looked beautiful. The air was clean and the shadows were long. I ran around the circumference of Hampstead Heath. It’s probably an 8 km round trip, which ends with the steepest hill in London snaking up to Highgate Village. My legs still ache. I thought I was going to pass out half way up.

I sat in my bedroom tonight, and composed music for my Requiem by candlelight. I suppose I’m just splurging at the moment; getting lots of ideas down on paper that I can develop at a later point. I’m trying to write a commercial and highly tonal work, which has the capacity to tap into the Classic FM-type audience. I want to record the work properly. It’s quite an experience to sit in a darkened room at a piano setting words about death. It's all very atmospheric, and, I suppose, more than a little spooky.

350 years ago and Pepys called in on his father, hoping to meet up with his cousin John Holcroft, who simply didn't turn up. He was very upset to find his mother and father at loggerheads with one another yet again. He described his mother as having become “so pettish” and “so unsufferably foolish and simple” of late, that he wondered how his father coped. Perhaps she was suffering from some form of dementia. She certainly wasn't long for this world.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Gloria Bee RIP

I am in Lewes, or more correctly in a little village outside Lewes called Kingston. It seems strange to be in this corner of the world for a second day running. Better diary management and I probably could have saved a great deal of petrol money. I've been visiting Uncle Bill, Meriel, Rupert and Roy. We've eaten some fabulous food, wandered around the shops and taken a walk beside the River Ouse. I knew there was an Ouse in Bedfordshire and another in Yorkshire, but had no idea there was one down here as well. A quick check online reveals that the name comes from the Celtic word for water. So no surprises there.


Uncle Bill, Mez and Roy in Lewes

The sad news of the day is that Gloria Bee is dead. She actually died a few days ago but I was too upset to write about it. We found her early in the morning, curled up underneath the kitchen table. We buried her in the pot plant next to her beloved television. I feel she would have wanted it that way! I would like to thank you, in advance, for your messages of condolance, but I would ask now to be left alone so that I can grieve in peace.

350 years ago, Pepys went with Sandwich to look at a fancy new leisure boat he'd had built.

The day continued with various meetings. At one stage, Pepys and his friend Ralph Greatorex disappeared into a darkened cellar to drink a bottle of gin. Later on, he got caught short and was forced to poo behind a door by a mooring next to the Thames! I don't know how to write that sentence in a less graphic way. The day ended in a coffee house where Pepys and a group of fellow renaissance men chatted the night away.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Fish, chips and Captain Hook

I’ve been in East Sussex for much of the day. I'm told its the only county in England with no motorways but I find this statistic hard to believe. Where are the motorways in Norfolk, for example? My brother remembers learning that at one time the nearest motorway to Norwich was in Holland. That surely can’t be correct... but it does imply that Norfolk isn't exactly teaming with motorways either.
Anyway, it was my second cousin’s wedding today. Well, actually, he got married yesterday, but Brother Edward and I were invited to a fish, chip and champagne lunch in the garden today, which I guess was the sort of family party where all the extras show up. I was quite touched to be invited, really, as I’d never actually met the lad; nor had most of my cousins who were also there. Poor bloke... You get married and don’t know half the people who show up to your party!

Aside from your normal line up of elderly aunts and peculiar 3 year olds with fat faces, there was also a large contingent of 20-somethings. I wondered if they were some of the kids from the village who'd grown up with my second cousin. Many of them were incredibly posh... I mean Incredibly posh. Ya ya ya. I’ve never seen so many young people wandering about with canes and flat caps. They were definitely the hunting, fishing, shooting brigade. This must be what gangs of young men look like in well-to-do parts of the country. I’m surprised many of them even knew what fish and chips were. One of them did look frighteningly like a cod, however. I’ve genuinely never seen a man resemble a fish so greatly. I suspect there may well have been a bit of aquatic inbreeding going on at some point in his family’s past! Still, you can’t judge a man by his friends, and although I still haven’t met my second cousin, he looked like a very friendly, well-brought-up young man from across the marquee!

Some of my family

The house that his family lives in is just remarkable. I actually think it’s one of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever seen. It’s set in acres of land – in a misty valley lined with the tallest, greenest trees. I’m not often lost for words, but it’s just divine. It has its own bothy and a 14th Century dovecote, a beautiful walled vegetable garden and a swimming pool. The ideal place for adventures for children of all ages. The entire property is set within ancient flint walls which are at least 12 feet tall. My second cousin’s mother is a wonderful and dignified woman whom I like enormously.

All good.

We drove back to London to see Nathan in a workshop of a new musical about Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. It’s set in the First World War and features the boys as young adults. Nathan was playing Captain Hook of all people, and he was brilliantly scary. The show itself needs work, but there’s definitely a seed of something there.
350 years ago Pepys went to the christening of Sir William Batten’s sister’s child. Pepys was to be godfather. It all took place in Walthamstow and Pepys was incredibly nervous lest he should do something inappropriate. He went armed with all manner of spoons and caudles, not knowing what he’d be expected to give as a present.

The weather was awful, but they managed a walk in the fine gardens of Sir William’s country estate. A country estate is something I hate... There seems to have been some kind of ceremony in an upstairs bedroom where the baby was named John. Pepys felt everything went well, but was distracted by a woman who seemed to be feeding wafers to her lap dog!

After the ceremony, everyone retired to Mrs Shipman’s house, who was one of the child’s other godparents. She must have run some kind of dairy for it was there that they all “filled their bellies” with cream. What fun!

On the way home they had a race. Sir William’s coach versus the other Sir William’s chariot. The coach won and Pepys clothes got caked in mud. He went to sleep with his breeches drying by the open fire.

Cousin Matt

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Cheese and spring onion sandwiches

I’ve been doing more work on my Requiem today; toying with a few early ideas about the In Paradisum sequence and the all important Libera Me. When I was young, the Northamptonshire Youth Choir sung Faure’s Requiem, and I was asked to do the Libera Me solo, which felt like a very exciting honour at the time. I used to get so nervous that my voice sounded like a sheep. Probably not the best advertisement for a choir, if the best vocalist you can find is actually livestock! We performed the piece in a church in Cherry Hinton, near Cambridge. One of the 'cellists gave me a cheese and spring onion sandwich, which I thought was extraordinary... and very tasty. Quite why I should remember that, I've no idea.

Apart from writing, I've been rather inert all day. Once again I’m disappearing into a me-shaped dent in the sofa. Earlier on I was attacked by our rat, Pol. He bit my finger, which is strange behaviour indeed. I have a horrible feeling that he might need to be castrated, which feels like such an unpleasant thing to do to a creature who doesn’t understand what he’s doing wrong. Dilemmas, dilemmas.

There’s very little else to say. We went to the gym. The whole place is now so unbelievably downtrodden. LA Fitness genuinely don’t seem to care any more. All the soap dispensers have fallen off the walls in the showers, they’ve removed all the scales, so now if you want to weigh yourself you have to do it in front of everyone in the gym room – and pay 50p for the privilege. The place is filthy. I made enquiries today about freezing my membership for a period, but discovered that you even have to pay for the privilege of NOT going to the gym. Pathetic.

Pepys was all over London 350 years ago on this date. First at the Wardrobe, then at the Exchange, where he observed the “hangman” burning old acts of Parliament. I can’t really find any reference to the practice of physically or symbolically burning documents when they had been replaced by new laws, but from this entry, it really does seem to have been a practice that happened.

In the afternoon, Pepys went to Cheapside to buy some silver to give to Mrs Brown’s child, whom he was about to become Godfather to. He ended the day in the company of Sir William Penn who talked to him about fascinating figures from history whom Pepys had never heard of.

Friday, 27 May 2011

God God God

I’ve finally made a start on my Requiem. I don’t know whether it’s bizarre to start on the Agnus Dei sequence, but I had some notes for a setting of that particular Latin text, which I'd made about five years ago, and they seem to have stood up quite well. It’s difficult to start the process of inserting gravestone texts until all the votes from my friends are in, but I selected two that have proved fairly popular so far and ones which seemed to fit the feeling of the music and the message of the Latin text, which basically never moves that very far away from "God, God, God," so it's nice to be able to stick something in that has some proper meaning! "Be kind" says the first text, "for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” The quote seems to be attributed to Plato, but it feels incredibly relevant in the 21st Century. Just at the moment, I don’t know many people who are living lives that don't feel like hard battles. I certainly feel that way right now.

The other text I’ve been looking at is “our life is like grass, a breath of wind passes over and we are gone and not seen again.” I think the origins of this quote are biblical, but I like the way it is written out of context on the gravestone, which I found in a Jewish Cemetery. It is a very true statement. We are all insignificant. In the blink of an eye, we’re gone forever... but to attach this to the natural cycle of life seems somehow comforting. I think I like being a blade of grass. It takes the pressure off!


Because I’ve had so many enquiries, I should point out that the court case in Leicester was adjourned yesterday. We had loads to talk about and we basically ran out of time, which wasn't ideal for any of us. We’re now looking for another date that everyone can make to finish things off, but it could take months. Boo! That’s about all I can say at this stage.

Monday 27th May, 1661, and Pepys spent the day pottering around Westminster, dealing with various bits of business. He went to the Legg on King’s Street where he met the two Mr Pierces. Whilst they were drinking, Captain Ferrers appeared, the first day he’d ventured out since his leap from the balcony a week before. He was obviously a very lucky man.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

NCP

We're steaming down the M1. We stayed in Leicester last night and I saw some lovely buskers standing on some steps. I swear one or two of them looked familiar but I couldn't place them.
 
It was a last minute decision to stay in the city over night, and we lucked out with a lovely hotel. I had poached eggs and mushrooms for breakfast, which I think is my favourite meal... Particularly when they're made by my mother-in-law, who seems to find these bright orange double-yolkers which are about the tastiest things on the planet! 

As we tried to leave Leicester, we noticed a major problem in the multi-storey car park. Cars were backed up from the exit, all the way to the fourth floor, and everyone was pipping their horns and shouting frustratedly. 

We had a look around, and discovered that the exit barrier was broken. Every time a car tried to feed their ticket into the machine, it just spat it out again. Each driver was then forced to press the emergency help button and wait for a woman in cyber space to respond. After a 2 minute conversation, the barrier would be raised, one car would pass through and then exactly the same thing would happen again. It was taking forever. Meanwhile about 70 cars were stuck in the car park and tensions were rising.

I called NCP and they assured me someone would be down fairly soon to monitor the situation. We went up to our car, which was right at the top of the car park and therefore right at the end of the queue. We sat for a while. The beeping continued. Nothing moved. 

"Leave this with me" I said to Nathan and triumphantly sashayed my way down to the ground floor again. I went straight to the barrier, heaved it up with all my might, and stood there with it on my shoulder whilst beckoning car after car through. 

It was a very special moment. I felt like Santa Claus. All the drivers waved and applauded me as they drove through. Some winked.  Some opened their windows and said "you're not from the NCP are you!? Top man!!" And within five minutes the traffic jam was clear, and everyone was happy again. Small things...

Sunday May 26th, 1661, and Pepys, as usual, went to church... twice. He had lunch with Elizabeth at home, and enjoyed sitting in a house which was almost back in order after being comprehensively renovated. After a second bout  of God stuff, Pepys called in on his neighbour, Sir William Batten. He'd made himself a stranger of late - very deliberately, in fact, because he thought it would improve his standing with him. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that. It obviously did the trick, for he was immediately asked to be godfather to the child of Sir William's sister. Pepys agreed reluctantly, and then spent the night worrying about the decision.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The edge of a cliff

I’m feeling a bit light-headed. This is almost certainly because it’s 6pm and I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast. It’s been a fairly unpleasant day. It’s my court case tomorrow, and I’ve been preparing a never-ending list of documents. I had a letter through the post this morning to tell me that the defendant in the case has opted, last minute, for representation by a solicitor, which is an interesting development. I’m rather pleased, as it happens, and look forward to meeting him across the table.

Less good news came from Alison today, who called to say that there just isn’t any money in the BBC Regions at the moment. So all the work I've done on BBC Regional pitches over the last few weeks counts for absolutely nothing. Even if the will were there, the money wouldn't be. I now need to do some serious thinking about my future. It is obviously untenable for me to be approaching 40 with absolutely no stability in my career, picking up little scraps of work wherever I can, so I need to look into alternatives. I refuse to be one of those failed creatives who turns to academia - that’s a sure fire way of ending your days feeling jaded and bitter - so I’m left with the idea of looking at areas that are not attached to the industry; perhaps the charity sector or even the police.

I long for something with stability; something which allows me to climb through the rungs of an organisation, whilst remaining safe within that organisation. In short, I want to be able to take the gas off, and not have to juggle hundreds of ideas at once. I had an email from Arnold Wesker earlier on - it was his 79th birthday yesterday - and I shared my thoughts about a possible change in career with him. He immediately sent an email back which started “that’s one of the most depressing letters I’ve ever received.” He went on to say that “creative artists don’t stop being creative, it’s not something they can do. Niagra can’t possibly stop cascading. Don’t even articulate such thoughts; articulated words can become self-fulfilling. Compose your Requiem as though it were a commission for the proms. You’ll feel different after you’ve completed it. Remember St Julian of Norwich; “all shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Kind, wise words indeed. I’m sure he won’t mind me quoting him. I don't really know what to think. I think a great deal will rest on the outcome of tomorrow.

Saturday 25th May, 1661, and Pepys went to the Temple at noon, to do a bit of shopping for books at Playford’s, a renowned publisher of the day. He went to the theatre to watch The Silent Woman by Ben Jonson. It pleased him, apparently. On the way home he bought more books in St Paul’s Churchyard.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Those dreadful clipboards

Earlier on I had a pointless run-in with one of those dreadful people who stand in packs holding clipboards whilst attempting to get you to sign your life away to charity. They annoy me intensely. Why on earth should I have to feel the need to cross the road to avoid, not just one of them, but one after the other of them, with their stupid fake smiles, sidling over to me, 'cus giving to charity is “so much fun?” As I walked past a particularly cheery looking one of them, who had the demeanour of a born again Christian, I over-heard the bloke in front of me saying; “I’ve already been accosted by one of your colleagues.” I felt an appropriate response would have been for her to apologise for troubling him further, but the little clipboard emblazened with the words Amnesty International obviously lent her an over-inflated sense of her own saintliness. She responded in a grotesque fake-cutsey voice "so why didn’t you give him a donation? Come on, it's a very worthy cause, you need to do your bit for charity.” The man walked away tutting. I immediately saw red. I stormed over to her. “Why do you do this?” I said, “why can’t you just shake a bucket? Why do you run up to people and get in their faces and cause them to have to change the route they’re taking down the street?” “Because we’d only get pennies" she said "if we shook a bucket.” “But it’s not fair on people." I responded, "that bloke was complaining to you because he’d already been hassled by one of your colleagues, and instead of apologising, you hassled him more. You're like Born again Christians” I said, rather out of the blue and she didn’t like that one bit. Her eyes flashed with the indignence of a wounded evangelical. I felt I’d made my point and withdrew saying; “look, you’ve got a lovely face, and you’re very tenacious. Why don’t you just do something else for a living?” And with that, I became nothing but a horrible memory for her...

I sat in a cafe on the corner of Old Compton Street eating a goat's cheese sandwich, whilst a big purple weimarana lazed in the sun on the pavement at my feet. It was a great spot for people watching. I met up with an old friend, the singer Brian Kennedy, who was with Mark Nevin from Fairground Attraction. Obviously when I was introduced I told him I loved Fairport Covention. Oh how we all laughed uncomfortably. During our conversation, Brian suddenly said; "ooh - it's that amazing singer", and he stopped someone walking down Wardour Street to tell him what a fan of his voice he was. The singer in question was Alfie Boe, so I was able to introduce them formally. Of course the perfect end to the story would be that Alf was also a great fan of Brian's, but sadly he didn't seem to know him from Adam.


I was interviewed on the BBC London news tonight. Slightly tragically, I did set my recorder, but it’s an hour out, so missed it. I was interviewed on Old Compton Street and have no idea what section of the chat they’ll use. I have very little memory even of what I even said, so I sort of hope I at least made sense. I had an email from a Parliamentary Chaplain, so wonder if I was spouting on about the link between religion and homophobia. Perhaps I’ll never know, as it doesn’t seem to be available on iplayer.

I’ve been with Philippa and Deia in Shoreditch this afternoon. I felt like giving myself an afternoon off, so went there armed with doughnuts. We sat in the garden. Deia put hundreds of stones in a little bucket whilst Philippa used what looked like an instrument of torture to remove almost every branch from an aphid-ridden elderberry bush. It was, as ever, delightful to see them both.

Friday 24th May, 1661, and Pepys spent the morning making up his private accounts. He found himself to be worth 500l, a grand sum, which no doubt made him rather happy. Afterwards, he went to the Wardrobe to have his accounts signed off by Sandwich. He went down into the kitchens to eat a bit of bread and butter “and there I took one of the maids by the chin, thinking her to be Susan, but it proved to be her sister, who is very like her.” One assumes little Susan was a maid Pepys regularly fooled around with. Perhaps she was also the Susan who found her way into Pepys’ employment a few years later.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Solo 'cello

I'm sitting outside a cafe opposite Liberty on Carnaby Street. The sun is shining, I'm eating a chocolate cookie, and I’m listening to a ‘cellist busking Bach unaccompanied suites. He’s really very good. I suspect he’s playing on his second instrument, however, as it sounds a bit boxy and he's sitting in direct sunlight, but the experience is very relaxing and more than a little moving. Much of the repertoire he’s playing is stuff that I used to play in my youth, and memories are flooding back of times spent with Fiona and Ted busking in various Midlands towns. Those were some of the happiest days of my life. Endless summer days. Coventry was always the best. We went there as often as we could. We had a pitch outside a cafe in the precinct where it was dry and the acoustics were brilliant. We played Pachelbel's Canon endlessly, but no one seemed to mind. The cafe staff used to bring us free soup for our lunches, because they reckoned our playing encouraged their customers. Come to think of it, I think my Grannie also knew the owners, so there might have been an element of nepotism going on. If they saw us hovering around because another busker had got there early and pinched our pitch, they’d send the imposter away and welcome us back with open arms.


I've had two meetings today; both about this potential film about homophobia for BBC London. The first meeting was at the BBC. We discussed the format that the film might take, and had a good natter about university days. We're college contemporaries; he was Cambridge, I was York, but we both did a lot of theatre stuff, so had a number of people in common.

I milled around Soho for an hour or so, and then went to Charing Cross police station, where we were also discussing the film. I have to say, I've been incredibly impressed by the Met and the way that they’ve gone about trying to find the person who attacked Philip. I suspect we’ll never find the bastard who did it, but if we don't, it certainly won’t be because the police haven’t done their absolute best.

There was a time when I flirted with the idea of going into the police. I still do, from time to time, when the film work dries up. I love doing what I do, specifically because I get a tangible sense throughout that I'm improving people’s lives by opening their minds to new possibilities. I'm sure being a policeman must be greatly frustrating, particularly when you just can't crack the nut, but the idea of periodically solving a crime, and making a real difference to the world, has a great deal of appeal.

I have sent emails to various friends, asking for their thoughts on my long list of gravestone quotes. I've asked everyone to mark each one out of ten, and when all the scores are in, I'll hopefully get a sense of which ones are most moving or stirring. If anyone reading this blog would like to do some scoring, please get in touch, and I'll send you the list (ben@benjamintill.com).
Thursday 23rd May, 1661, and Pepys went to the Rhenish winehouse with Henry Moore and his friend, John Bowles. There, they met Jonas Moore, the mathematician, who “did by discourse” make Pepys and his friends “fully believe that England and France were once the same continent.” That this was not an already established fact, feels strange to me. In fact I found the sentence so intriguing when I first read it that I set it to music in the second movement of the Pepys Motet.

Pepys went home and changed into his black silk suit - the first time he’d worn it that year. He went to the Lord Mayor’s by coach, where he rubbed shoulders with a “great deal of honourable company” and witnessed some “great entertainment.” Pepys sat with Elias Ashmole. It was a day of science, for Ashmole seemed to want to assure Pepys that “frogs and many insects do often fall from the sky, ready formed.” One assumes he was talking about a whirlwinds and the like, rather than trying to convince Pepys that insects weren’t born. Or maybe he believed that they were falling from heaven. Pepys had a lovely time and went to bed so late that it was already light outside. His final sentence reminds us that it was Holy Thursday, and that various age-old (and often now long forgotten) rituals were being observed up and down London; “it pleased me to see the little boys walk up and down in procession with their broom-staffs in their hands, as I had myself long ago gone.”

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Odd-looking bird

I spent much of the day sitting at the kitchen table, formatting a document about homophobia for a meeting with BBC London tomorrow. At some point yesterday, I suspect just after I’d eaten a big bag of chips, I started to feel a lot better, and I woke up this morning with a very strong sense that my cold was gone. Perhaps acknowledging that I was stressed out did me the world of good.


I went to the gym earlier on. Running about like a mad thing to a series of Eurovision Songs seemed to do me the world of good. I feel refreshed.

They’re playing Back to the Future 3 on the television, which remains, to this day, the only film that has caused me to actually walk out of a cinema. I’ve slept through plenty of films in my time, but never been so bored that I’ve needed to walk out. Watching it now, I’m not really surprised. It’s pretty bloody rubbish.

I literally have nothing else to say. Help me out, Samuel...

Wednesday 22nd May, 1661, and Pepys went to the Wardrobe, Sandwich’s official London residence, seemingly to watch his patron sharing a venison pasty with a selection of upwardly mobile Londoners. I can only assume that it was an enormous pasty, or that when Pepys writes that they'd dined “at a venison pasty” he meant a series of smaller ones. Before dinner, Sandwich’s daughter, Lady Jem, sang songs at the harpison. Lady Jem was an odd-looking bird with a funny-looking neck, so I'm sure everyone applauded very politely, even if she sounded like a honking goose. Pepys returned home, where his barber came to trim and wash him. I assume he merely washed his hair but you can never be too sure. This was, afterall, the 17th Century!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Craft and cake

It's become incredibly clear to me that I'm suffering from stress. We're in a traffic jam at the moment in Central London and it's literally making my heart pound. Unnatural levels of adrenaline are cursing through my body. Still, there are only four days now until the court case, and just two weeks until my operation. With any luck, at this stage, I'll become a relatively normal person again! I have to be careful what I write in this blog, however, because wide swathes of it are currently being used in an attempt to somehow prove what a nasty bloke I am. I guess it's nice to know someone's reading...


We've spent the afternoon in Catford at Julie and Sam's craft and cake party. It happens once a month. A group of friends gather together to knit and sew and crochet whilst putting the world to rights. I was banned from the first five meetings after making rather disparaging remarks about the concept of craft. In my defence, I was never rude about cake! Anyway, I slipped in through the back door last month by framing pictures, and only a few eyebrows were raised today when I simply sat on a hammock gluing photos into an album, so I reckon I've been forgiven. Frankly, if I'm allowed another crack at winding wool on the special machine that was set up in the dining room, I'll be a happy man. It's one of the most therapeutic things I've ever done. Hypnotised by spinning wool!

Readers will be thrilled to know that Nathan has now finished the crocheting stage of his 1970s doily. I can't wait to show you all the photographs...

350 years ago, Pepys made his first visit to the victualling office in Smithfields. He went with Colonel Robert Slingsby and his mate, Major Waters, who we're told was deaf. I hope he was a good lip-reader, cus I'm pretty sure sign language hadn't been invented by then. (Cue hundreds of messages from people to tell me that it had!) The group then went to Woolwich and Deptford by water to do some Navy business, and on their way back were overtaken by the King, who'd been looking at his brand new yacht. They were also troubled by a massive downpour, "one of the greatest showers of rain that I ever saw" in fact! Not much fun, I guess, being in a boat on a river during one of the biggest downpours ever recorded. I remember almost sinking in a punt in Cambridge...

Friday, 20 May 2011

Somewhere posh

You know when you live somewhere posh, when someone smashes your wing mirror to smithereens and then leaves a lovely note on the windscreen offering to pay for the damage. I don’t think Nathan and I will feel too guilty about taking the nice lady up on her kind offer. She lives in Pond Square, which must be one of the most desirable addresses in London! Whilst she's at it, perhaps she'd like to sponsor my Requiem!


I spent the afternoon with an extraordinary teacher in Stoke Newington, who has almost single-handedly managed to create a school which in my view fully embraces LBGT issues. She's created an environment where being gay, or trans, simply isn’t an issue. No one cares. 10 members of staff and 6 pupils are openly gay, and everyone is incredibly tolerant and supportive. I think she’s achieved this almost utopian state by simply tackling the issue head-on. She doesn’t sweep anything under the carpet. She simply says it like it is. She has the same approach to race, religion and drugs. Once a year, the school celebrates LBGT history month by parading through Clissold Park carrying banners and shouting messages of support. I refuse to be told that this isn’t the way forward and don’t care if that makes some people feel uncomfortable. Many people felt uncomfortable when black people stopped compromising.

The rest of the day became about creating a pitch for yet another project in the North of England. 5-times RTS award nominated film makers shouldn’t be unemployed and I’m throwing out pitches left, right and centre!
Monday 20th May 1661, and Pepys brought us no fresh news about Captain Ferrers’ wellbeing. Instead, he spent most of the day hiding from the weather. It rained, apparently “very much.” He did some work with the two Sir Williams in the afternoon, but Penn was in a bad mood, which Pepys found irritating.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A leap of faith

It’s been a somewhat lethargic day. I’ve sat in my little space on the sofa for hours on end, looking at my computer screen, developing ideas for future projects, transcribing gravestones and researching homophobia. There's now a me-shaped dent on the seat. At one point I started to feel a little dizzy; I suspect a combination of this blessed cold and my staring at the screen for too long without looking up.

I had some very good news this morning. A Symphony for Yorkshire has been nominated for 5... count them... 5 Regional RTS Awards, including best drama/ entertainment; a category which pits against This Is England '86 and South Riding! Hysterical...

There’s very little else to say. Gloria Bee seems to have vanished, but an enormous bumble bee keeps popping in to visit us instead. I’m very supportive of bumble bees – particularly ones that look like they’re wearing a coat of beautiful black and orange velvet. I nevertheless have to keep helping the majestic creature back out of the kitchen, as I feel a television is no place for one so regal!

Fortunately, Pepys was a busier man than I on this date 350 years ago. It was a Sunday, and he walked into Westminster, stopping en route at York House, where he observed two catholic masses which were being held on behalf of the Spanish ambassadors. Pepys went for a turn in the garden, but decided York House was less charming on the inside than it seemed from the outside.

He spent the afternoon hanging out with Sandwich, his colleague Mr Howe, and the eccentric Captain Ferrers, who was obviously off his tits on the 17th Century equivalent of acid, because his behaviour was both erratic and bizarre.

The group talked about an imminent trip to sea. Ferrers was trying to decide whether or not to go, but said, rather oddly, that he would definitely go, if he were sure “never to come back again.” We’re not told why. Ferrers was a rake; perhaps he had debts, perhaps he’d been scorned, perhaps he was tripping, because he suddenly went bonkers; “he grew so mad with joy that he fell a-dancing and leaping like a madman.” Bi-polar anyone?

He rushed to the balcony and asked how much anyone would bet him to jump over. Pepys, probably in an attempt to steer the situation away from imminent danger, told Ferrers he’d give him 40l if he didn’t go to sea. But Ferrers was manic, “and, with a vault, leaps down into the garden:—the greatest and most desperate frolic that ever I saw in my life. I run to see what was become of him, and we found him crawled upon his knees, but could not rise; so we went down into the garden and dragged him to the bench, where he looked like a dead man, but could not stir; and, though he had broke nothing, yet his pain in his back was such as he could not endure. With this, my Lord (who was in the little new room) come to us in amaze, and bid us carry him up, which, by our strength, we did, and so laid him in East’s bed, by the door; where he lay in great pain. We sent for a doctor and chyrurgeon, but none to be found, till by-and-by by chance comes in Dr. Clerke, who is afeard of him.” (afeard in this case meaning desperately worried on his behalf.)

I'm pleased to announce that Ferrers recovered, fairly speedily from his injuries, but continued to behave strangely... No doubt for the rest of his eccentic life.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Gloria Bee

My cold continues and I feel wiped out. I’ve spent the day doing more research for the London film; chatting to all sorts of interesting people and learning some astonishing facts. In between the bits of research, I've been going through all my photographs of gravestones to create a word document which features the best inscriptions. The plan is to send this out to various friends to see what they think. I did something similar on the Lincolnshire project. A straw poll of close friends gives a strong sense of what works and what doesn’t. We all know that there’s a very fine line between something that is genuinely touching and something that would better suit a Clinton greetings card - or an episode of Countdown. I think I must have photographed close to 500 gravestones, so this is going to be a very slow process!


I'm about to take myself out for a little run. I'm worried that my cold-infused legs could give up half way round, so I think I’ll run repeatedly around the block until I either get bored or collapse.

I wish I could say that there was something more interesting to write about. Nathan and I find ourselves endlessly amused by the trials and tribulations of our little mason bee, who we’ve christened Gloria Bee. She's been sniffing around the telly again, and this morning I found her sitting on a towel on my washing basket. The kitchen window was closed, so she’d obviously been inside the house for some time. She looked exhausted; half dead. We put her on the window ledge, and Nathan suggested dripping a few little blobs of honey near her, which he assures me is something that bees eat. It seemed to do the trick. Gloria Bee immediately wandered towards the honey, and started to eat it, or drink it, or whatever bees do with a delicate little tube-like thing. She ate for a while and then vanished... I hope she’s flown off – regenerated... Go pollinate our flowers, Gloria Bee!

350 years ago, Pepys went to Westminster via a boat which he took from the Tower of London. The boat had enormous problems “shooting the bridge;” riding the dangerous rapids that formed underneath it. Pepys was forced to get out and wait whilst another boat was called in to help. A popular proverb at the time went, “London Bridge was made for wise men to go over and fools to go under.” Nearer Westminster, the Thames was full of boats. A race was being held – probably a rowing race to Chelsea – but as soon as it began, the boats “fell foul one of another,” there was a tussle and a row, one of the boats went off in a huff and the race, and fun was called off. Boo! Gloria Boo!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

My last cemetery

I woke up this morning with a terribly sore throat. It felt like I'd swallowed a hedgehog! As the day wore on, I felt less and less healthy. It's time to face facts. I officially have a cold, which officially irritates me, because it doesn't seem like long enough since my last official cold. All I've wanted to do today is sit under a duvet.

Nevertheless, I was up early pulling together data for this potential BBC film. The story that needs to be told seems very clear. Homo/trans-phobia still exists in the UK, and there are things that can be done to stop it. 

I went to a series of lectures this evening on this very subject. One focussed on education within schools. By all accounts there are serious issues developing within the  faith schools in Britain, which need to be explored.

Another lecture focussed on situations further afield. The newly "liberated" Iraq, for example, has seen a rapid rise in homophobic crime. 700 murders and counting, since the change of regime, and many gay Iraqis are now fleeing to the relative safety of Syria (where homosexuality is merely a prisonable offence). Of course, the worry is that a change of regime in Syria will lead to further problems. A life on the run. Horrible. Just horrible.

I visited my last two cemeteries this afternoon. I'm officially bored of wandering through rows and rows of gravestones. Nathan came with me. It's always more fun laughing at death when you're with someone. It's also wise to have someone with you if your tendency is to fall into graves! At one stage I twisted my ankle very badly. It still feels a little bruised. 

350 years ago, Pepys went to the Royal Exchange with Lieutenant Lambert. They went for dinner in an ordinary, where a bagpiper was playing. The clever musician could also whistle like a bird "exceeding well" and Pepys offered him an angell (an antiquated measure of currency) to teach him how to do it. Having got the music bug, Pepys returned home and spent the night singing with Elizabeth. Aww! 

My last cemetery

I woke up this morning with a terribly sore throat. It felt like I'd swallowed a hedgehog! As the day wore on, I felt less and less healthy. It's time to face facts. I officially have a cold, which officially irritates me, because it doesn't seem like long enough since my last official cold. All I've wanted to do today is sit under a duvet.

Nevertheless, I was up early pulling together data for this potential BBC film. The story that needs to be told seems very clear. Homo/trans-phobia still exists in the UK, and there are things that can be done to stop it. 

I went to a series of lectures this evening on this very subject. One focussed on education within schools. By all accounts there are serious issues developing within the  faith schools in Britain, which need to be explored.

Another lecture focussed on situations further afield. The newly "liberated" Iraq, for example, has seen a rapid rise in homophobic crime. 700 murders and counting, since the change of regime, and many gay Iraqis are now fleeing to the relative safety of Syria (where homosexuality is merely a prisonable offence). Of course, the worry is that a change of regime in Syria will lead to further problems. A life on the run. Horrible. Just horrible.

I visited my last two cemeteries this afternoon. I'm officially bored of wandering through rows and rows of gravestones. Nathan came with me. It's always more fun laughing at death when you're with someone. It's also wise to have someone with you if your tendency is to fall into graves! At one stage I twisted my ankle very badly. It still feels a little bruised. 

350 years ago, Pepys went to the Royal Exchange with Lieutenant Lambert. They went for dinner in an ordinary, where a bagpiper was playing. The clever musician could also whistle like a bird "exceeding well" and Pepys offered him an angell (an antiquated measure of currency) to teach him how to do it. Having got the music bug, Pepys returned home and spent the night singing with Elizabeth. Aww! 

Monday, 16 May 2011

Some kind of child molestor

Hideously, it feels like I have another cold coming on. My face feels flushed and it hurts when I swallow. I'm stressed. I must be. My stomach is in knots. Perhaps I’m dying. We’re all dying... Get over it!


I got up early today to start the week as I mean to go on. I went for a run, all the way to Finsbury Park, and back via Holloway to the job centre in Archway. It may be a complete shit hole in there, but remind me not to sign on again whilst dripping with sweat. It’s a mortifying experience. No one assumes you've been running because everyone in there is in some form of sports gear. Everyone stares at you, like you’re some kind of rancid child molestor who naturally sweats that profusely. I couldn't understand a word the bloke who signed me on was saying. In the end I just nodded like an imbecile. I knew he was asking me questions, but there's a limit to how many times you can ask a man to repeat himself. In the end I fathomed that he was asking me what sort of work I was looking for. I told him I was a composer, and he immediately shut down his screen and told me they wouldn't have any work in that field. Honest, I thought, and at least he didn't ask me to widen my search. Still, I am hoping very soon to be able to sign off for a period to make the film for BBC London.

I've spent the day doing research in the hope that I’ll gather enough of a story to be commissioned to do it properly. I’ve written to countless gay and transgender groups, and am going to a major event tomorrow night to meet lots of trans-folk. I always get excited about meeting trans-people. I genuinely think they’re the bravest and most extraordinary people in the world.

Every time I turned the television on today, that rather strange little chap called Dominic was on. He does consumer shows, and speaks in a big gruff voice for such a tiny person. He talks in cliched soundbites, and says things like; "don't get done, get Dom." He was on twice this morning, and once this evening. Surely there are other presenters out there? Perhaps he’s just cheap. Anyway, he annoys me, because his head seems too big for his body. I’m not normally that quick to judge...

It’s been fairly overcast today, but as the sun set, it went below the cloud. The trees opposite were glowing a sort of magical lime green colour, so much that I managed to convince myself they were covered in tiny yellow flowers. For ten minutes the leaves shone like delicate emeralds in the sun light. What a marvellous thing nature is.

Glowing like precious stones: How many Londoners are lucky enough to have a view like this out of their sitting room window?

As so often happens, I’ve been a day out with Pepys for the last couple of entries. I missed out May 14th, 1661, which was a day of bitching and eating bacon. Pepys spent the evening drinking and ended the entry; “Finding my head grow weak now-a-days if I come to drink wine, and therefore hope that I shall leave it off of myself, which I pray God I could do...” One of the earliest examples of Pepys promising to give something up in the eyes of the Lord... Women, wine, theatre, meat... he was always abstaining from something that he considered to be bad for him...

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Those weirdos

It's 10pm, and we're heading back from Baron's Court, where we've had a lovely drink with our friend, Gene. Gene is the artistic director of the Jermyn Street Theatre, and is an extremely impressive young man. We talked about "angels", not the sort with wings, but the sort who present creative types with sums of money when they need a bit of help; the sort of people who have paintings in their downstairs loos that are worth more than the average London flat. It struck me that there are very few angels floating around me and that this might be a situation that needs to change!


Speaking of the other sort of angels, I started the day, unsurprisingly, in two cemeteries. I found the first one, which belongs to the City of London, totally overwhelming. It's absolutely enormous and after an hour or so trawling along lines and lines of graves, I began to get a bit cross-eyed, and more than a little cynical. Some of the graves were ghastly. One, particularly, to a 9 year-old boy, was the largest, gaudiest, most unpleasantly showy thing that I've ever witnessed.

Mind you, watching a little old man in a mobility vehicle struggling with a watering can in an attempt to tend to his wife's grave, brought everything back to earth with a bang. It's a sight that I think might take me a while to forget.


I can feel myself ready to start writing the Requiem now. There's something sort of tingling in the pit of my stomach. It's funny how that happens. Without wishing to sound too pretentious, cause God knows, I loathe musicians who talk about music like it's some kind of magical gift, there is a moment when creativity starts to bubble to the surface. The longer you leave it, the riper it becomes. I can feel it in my finger tips. It's a sort of excitement; a sort of nostalgic feeling. Sometimes I worry what would happen if I left it for too long. Maybe that's when the writer's block happens...

After the cemeteries and before our trip to see Gene, Nathan and I met up with my dear friend Tash in Camden. She looked very well, and we sat and gossiped in a particularly nice cafe on Parkway. It suddenly struck me that I've known Tash for way over 20 years, which is way over half of my life. She still lives (and now teaches) in Northamptonshire and runs a community choir in a little village just beyond my home town. She said how strange it is to regularly drive through Higham Ferrers past the house we'd spent so many hours roaming around as teenagers. It's amazing to think how many shared memories we have.

350 years ago, Pepys finally decided that the work on his house was done. I'm sure his neighbours would have been greatly relieved. Sadly, there was no time to hang about and enjoy his newly refurbished environs. He had a very important meeting to attend with a group of Lords. He took a river taxi to The Savoy, and wore his best velvet coat, so obviously meant business. The meeting went well and he took himself off to the theatre to catch the end of a play called The Maid's Tragedy, which he'd never seen before. He found it all a bit melancholy. Umm, the clue's in the title, Sam! Also, what's all this with tipping up to a theatre to see the end of a play that you've not seen before? That's like those weirdos who insist on reading the last page of a novel first!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Eurotastic

It’s Eurovision night, and we've just hosted our annual party, which was fantastic fun. There were, I guess, about 14 of us. We spent much of the evening killing ourselves laughing, but the highlight of the night was undoubtedly Jim’s giant scoreboard. Each country was represented by a cartoon runner, dressed in a patriotic costume. Every time one of us awarded a song with a mark, its corresponding runner would take another step forward. It was very ingenious because we knew at every stage which song was in the lead.

Everyone at the party had a vote, and we also took phone votes from Wales (brother Tim) Brighton (Ellie and Izzy’s Mum) Clapham (Jim’s friend) Ellen (wherever she was in the world) and most excitingly, Brother Edward, who was watching the show live in Dusseldorf! He was texting all the way through to ask how various acts, who'd "gone big in the hall," had come across on the telly. He 'phoned afterwards to say he was standing in front of the winners, and we all felt incredibly jealous. I don't think Azerbaijan necesserily deserved to win, neither do I think that Blue did themselves a great many favours with the way they performed their song.

Our mini-competition was won comprehensively by Hungary, who were represented on Jim's giant scoreboard by the cartoon of a lady in a wheelchair! Italy and Sweden came second and third respectively, and Azerbaijan came fifth from last.

In the actual competition, Hungary came nowhere, but Italy and Sweden did actually come second and third, so we weren't that far off-trend with our scoring.

The cartoon runners progressing along the giant scoreboard

We ate an enormous amount of food. I prepared various bakes, lasagnes and salads. I wasn’t hugely happy with the way that things tasted, but the food was eaten and it seemed to be enjoyed, so I guess it must have been okay.

350 years ago, Pepys spent the day with his workmen, and seemed very happy with the progress they'd made, but went to bed in something of a panic, worrying that the wood shavings his joiners had been liberally scattering all over the house had become a massive fire risk... I'm sure he was probably correct.

The assembled guests in front of the scoreboard

Friday, 13 May 2011

A tuba that blows fire...

I’ve spent the day in meetings, which started at Brock House at 10am this morning. I’d not heard of Brock House before, but it seems to belong to the empire of the BBC, and is tucked behind the fancy new Broadcasting House somewhere north of Oxford Circus. I was meeting Dippy, who is the editor of BBC London’s Inside Out. We talked about the possibility of my making a film exploring homophobia and transphobia on the streets of London. This might finally be an opportunity for me to make a hard-hitting, journalistic film, with no singing and not a 'cello in sight! All very exciting.


I now have a date for the operation on my vocal chords. June 6th. It couldn’t come at a better moment as my singing voice is now entirely shot-through. I sound like an old croaking vicar. It's incredibly distressing. Fortunately, the operation date doesn’t clash with the date that I'm in court, which bizarrely I’m now beginning to look forward to. Whether I win or lose, it’s going to be wonderful not to have it hanging over my head any more.

This afternoon I returned to Soho, met Nathan for some cheap food, and then pottered off to Brewer Street where LGBT members of the Met police had set up a stall. It was a lovely atmosphere. Andy Ricketts was there, as were members of GALOP; a charity which encourages the victims of hate crime to come forward. We talked a great deal about the trans-community, which is one of the last frontiers when it comes to the battle for universal equality. Trans-people are currently where gay people were 20 years ago, when gay bashing was simply one of those things. It wasn’t taken seriously by police, it was just viewed as something which was part and parcel of being gay. Trans-people are incredibly unlikely to report crimes against them – and there are all sorts of added issues which come from the fact that a notable percentage are immigrants or sex workers. I spoke to a bloke today who said one of his clients repeatedly has people trying to take photos up her skirt. It's humiliating and deeply unacceptable behaviour, which she doesn’t think she has the right to report.

I’m heading back to Highgate now to spend an evening doing nothing. This week has really taken it out of me, and we have a Eurovision Party to prepare for tomorrow. We need to tidy the house, find the ingredients for two massive lasagnes and buy reams of wall paper to make our giant scoreboard.

On the way home tonight, I saw the most amazing busker. He was sitting on a 1950s wireless, playing a tuba, which in itself was a fairly interesting sight, but every time he played a note, a massive cloud of fire came out of the bell of his instrument. I have no idea how he managed to do it – or why he wasn’t burning himself, but it was fabulous to watch.

Here he is... Note how the man behind looks like he's going up in smoke

Monday 13th May, 1661, was a quiet day for Pepys. He spent the morning with his workmen, as usual, and then went to an ordinary behind the Royal Exchange, which he didn’t like too much. He went back to the office after dinner, where he examined his accounts... and that's about it.

Thursday 12th May

There seems to have been some kind of major mess up with blogger.com. This is yesterday's blog entry, which I was unable to publish last night. I DID publish something on Wednesday as well, but this seem to have gone walkies in the dark recesses of cyber space...

I can't write too much about today. We've all been sworn to secrecy. I've been doing a favour for my friend Matt, which might get me some work as an autocue operator on a new comedy show, so fingers crossed! I haven't run autocue for absolutely years and I was extremely rusty to begin with. It's a steep learning curve, however, and I soon found my rhythm. It was a fun day, and a very useful bit of work experience, although I'm knackered, having not seen any natural light for hours...

Sunday 12th May, 1661, and Elizabeth Pepys was extremely ill with cysts on her private parts. Eek. I'll leave you with Pepys' words on the matter. Too much detail alert...

"My wife had a troublesome night and was in great pain but in the morning her swelling broke, and she was in great ease... So I put in a vent (which Dr Williams sent me yesterday) into the hole to keep it open till all the matter be come out, so I question not that she will soon be well again." That's alright then!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

My 500th post

I got up fairly early this morning, went for a run (to Muswell Hill, Crouch End and back) and then took myself off to two cemeteries. The first, Islington and St Pancras, sits rather curiously in East Finchley. Another indication of how perilously overcrowded the 19th Century central London graveyards were. The St Pancras and Islington cemetery is absolutely enormous. It's set in a green sea of gently rolling hills which are covered in dark trees. It doesn't have the wow factor of places like Highgate, but you'd never know you were in London. It's probably the most peaceful and restful cemetery I've visited on my travels. 

It's very moving to see people carefully attending to their loved-one's graves. I walked past a man with a watering can who was planting flowers on a fresh mound of earth. The poor bloke looked utterly distraught. 

Another woman was carefully arranging a display of carnations in a little pot. To see her there on her own almost broke my heart. It was plainly her husband's grave that she was tending.

My search for interesting inscriptions almost made me go cross eyed but I did discover one or two gems within the countless "called homes" and saccharine love poems. One of the ones that stood out was an inscription that simply read "a man after his own heart," which surely could almost be taken for an insult?

There was also an incredibly angry headstone which talked about the negligence of doctors. I personally would have refused to cut it if my business was gravestone chiselling. Surely a statement so bitter and aggressive etched into forever makes the prospect of moving on a great deal less likely?

The other thing I found shocking was the sheer amount of bad grammar carved into headstones. This begs the question; who proof-reads gravestones? 

In the afternoon, I went to the Jewish Cemetery in Kensall Green. The Jews tend to side with caution when it comes to their gravestone, so nothing particularly jumped out, other than one, belonging to a well-respected, OBE-winning,  political caricaturist, whose epitaph simply read, "the truth and nothing but the truth." After a few seconds I realised I was looking at the grave of Philip Sallon's father. In the light of recent events, this felt like a very bizarre co-incidence.

Nathan and I have just been to see Betty Blue Eyes, which is a new musical by Stiles and Drewe. It's a good show; great fun. It's old-fashioned and there are one or two too many songs, but the ensemble singing and Bill Brohn's orchestrations are absolutely remarkable.

350 years ago and Pepys, as usual, was wheeling and dealing, doing favours for his favourite waterman and cozying up to Lord Sandwich. He went to have his hair cut at a barber in the City and marvelled at how much his barnet suited him at the length he was currently wearing it. There's self assurance for you! 

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Let Eurovision commence...

I’ve spent the day in meetings, the first of which was at the Musician Union’s head quarters in Oval. We had a good chat about the nasty court case which is fast approaching, but within two weeks the whole sorry business will have been sorted once and for all – and I can’t wait. Throughout this entire process the MU has been absolutely brilliant. I have been supported and guided through every stage of the journey. Thank God for unions, I say. Everyone should be a member of a union.


The afternoon was spent in meetings at Marylebone Police Station talking about Philip’s attack. The police have been taking us incredibly seriously since we took to the streets, and this is the second time that they’ve called me in to talk me through their investigation. I’m now satisfied that they’re working as hard as they can, although it’s like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. They showed me some of the CCTV footage that they’ve been trawling through. It’s very grainy, and irritatingly, on almost every occasion, the attack either happens when the camera is looking in another direction – or in the case of the fixed cameras – just out of shot. It was horribly eerie to see the ambulance pulling up on Coventry Street and watching the smudgy image of Philip in a stretcher being loaded into the back.

Unfortunately, as I reached the police station, I found the Inspector standing on the steps waiting to greet me. I climbed the steps, immediately tripped and landed at his feet in a sort of ungainly face-plant. In an instant, the image I’d been working on as a sort of fearless freedom fighter had been destroyed forever.

Tonight is the night that the Eurovision wagon rolls into Dusseldorf, and I’m heading to my brother’s to watch the first semi-final. He’s going to be in Germany for the second semi and the actual final and I am more than a little envious. Still, with any luck we should have ten or so people at our house on Saturday to watch it on the telly. Jim is already preparing a giant scoreboard...

Friday 10th May 1661, was a pretty ordinary day for Pepys; it involved drinking, schmoozing, scheming and money-making, but nothing that stands out as being particularly interesting or out of the ordinary.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Necropolis Express

We went back to Woking today to visit the cemetery at Brookwood. It’s a peculiar place. It's in the deepest planes of Surrey, yet its residents are exclusively the dead of London. In the 1850s, various laws were put into place to ban people from burying their dead in the over-crowded, and un-hygienic churchyards in the City. New cemeteries were opened on the fringes of London, in places like Highgate and Stoke Newington, but the biggest of all was set up on a 2,000-acre plot, 30 miles to the West of the city. The Victorians, rather sensibly, built a trainline which went there from Waterloo station. This enabled coffins and relatives of the dead to take a train direct to the cemetery. It arrived at 10am, and left again in the mid-afternoon after the relatives had been served refreshments in the cafe, which even had a licensed bar, complete with a sign which read; “we have spirits”!


Rather poetically/ hauntingly/ bizarrely/ Victorian-like (delete as appropriate) the trainline was called the Necropolis Express or the Black Line. It was bombed in the second world war, and never rebuilt, but the dead of various London City wards continue to be buried alongside their forefathers. Brookwood was the biggest cemetery in the world, but is now simply the largest in Europe. We’re told that since 1854, over 235,000 people have been buried there.

Rather oddly, Brookwood also became the resting place of the bones of King Edward the Martyr, who was King of England until his murder in about 979AD; a ridiculously long time ago. Many consider him to be the least important King of England, but he is a Saint, and a group of four Eastern Orthodox monks still live in a quiet little corner of the cemetery, saying prayers to his memory, making candles and keeping a beautiful garden, which includes the former platform of the Necropolis Express. They were extremely friendly, and welcomed us into their monastery with open arms, showing us a little DVD about their lives and the Necropolis Express and going some way towards renewing my faith in religion.

Unlike most cemeteries, however, you’re not really encouraged to simply wander around. We had to be given permits for our visit, and were asked a great many questions in the site office. It is a working graveyard, and I don’t suppose many tourists find themselves simply passing by, so they weren't really equipped to deal with three Londoners who'd turned up with a picnic and a mean-looking camera.

There were, however, many wonderful inscriptions on the stones, three of which really stood out:

“...and we laughed, and laughed and laughed”

“To our one and only mother, who worked too hard, loved too much and died too soon”

And a tribute to a Navy man, who was photographed on the gravestone standing proudly in his uniform, which simply red:

“You weathered the storm, reached harbour safely. Horizon is peaceful. Ahoy!”

I was joined on today’s trip by Marinella and Nathan, who were perfect companions, and the weather, once again, was glorious.

Nathan and Marinella picnic in a glade

Pepys spent the morning 350 years ago with his wife and the workmen in his house. Elizabeth was in agony – no doubt as a result of the tooth she’d just had ripped out, but also from her “old pain.” She had the most terrible trouble down below which reoccurred sporadically. Pepys was worried that she'd never be able to convalesce in a house filled with dust and dirt. Nevertheless, he left her to it, and went to Whitehall to meet Lord Sandwich, and do some business, which went incredibly well. He was so pleased with his handiwork that he called in on his friend, the composer William Child, whom he took to the Swan Tavern on King Street, and treated to a tankard of white wine and sugar! Euwghh! On his way home, he called in at The Wardrobe; the house where the Sandwiches were now officially residing. He found Lady Jemima all by herself and stayed for an unofficial tour of the newly refurbished house. He was impressed. He continued home, describing the final leg of his journey as “a dirty and dark walk...” No drought in 1661, then?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Weird hillocks

We're in the car heading back from Woking, where we've been to a barbecue with some of Nathan's friends. They have to be amongst the campest straight men I've ever met, referring to each other repeatedly as "she", which I thought was strange to say the least. It’s amazing what a life in theatre will do to you! The plan was to eat in the late afternoon, but I got over-hungry and subsequently gorged myself on table snacks. I now have that horrid feeling you get when you've eaten too many crisps; a sore tongue and a funny tummy. Every time I eat crisps, I’m reminded how bad they are for us.

The weather's turned. It's much colder now, and I think it must have rained a fair amount in the night. That said, on its way down, the sun suddenly dropped below the clouds, and a brilliant orange light made everything look very magical for a brief half hour period.


We stopped at those weird hillocks by the side of the M40 at Greenford. I’d never thought to visit them before, but they looked so wonderful against the bruised sky, that we doubled back on ourselves, dumped the car, and climbed to the top to look at the amazing views across London. I was very pleased we’d made the decision to stop. The hills are part of a beautifully landscaped park, which you can't see from the motorway but I would recommend anyone to visit. The hills are the perfect spot from which to view the sun setting.


350 years ago, Pepys' brother, John called in on his way to Cambridge. I assume he was heading back to the university for the summer term. Pepys gave him 20s.

He sat with his workmen all day, watching the work progressing with great excitement. Elizabeth appeared unexpectedly. She'd had a foretooth removed. Not a fun operation by any stretch, and Pepys was furious with her for coming in such a state to such a dirty house. No doubt she was simply after a bit of sympathy and compassion.

Pepys received a letter from his Uncle Robert, asking if he could spare one of his old fiddles. It seemed Pepys' cousin, Frank, a miller-cum-violinist, had recently lost his mill in high winds. As a result he’d been reduced to scraping a living as a violinist, but didn't seem to have a violin, and needed one to accompany the country girls in a Witsun parade.

Pepys was incensed that his (wealthy) uncle would ask him to help when he was more than capable himself of buying a brand new violin for Frank. Pepys nevertheless decided to send one the following day.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Visistors

Today’s been a particularly surreal day. We had to wake up at 1.45am this morning British time to make it to the airport on time, and I’ve been drifting in and out of sleep ever since. Revellers were still singing in the hotel reception when we got in the taxi. I vaguely remember sitting and listening to a group of people singing A Day In the Life whilst wondering what my name was!

I don’t remember a great deal about the plane journey. Unfortunately, as my dear friend Fiona has experienced several times, whenever I fall asleep on an aeroplane, I tend to wake up again almost immediately in a slight panic; a process which often involves an involuntary hand movement. Today, poor Alison got smacked across the chest at least three times, which must have been just hell for her, because she was also trying to sleep.

I travelled back to London from Luton airport in a haze, and arrived back in Highgate at about 9am. Nathan was still asleep, and it was lovely to get into bed with him for a cuddle. We subsequently slept until 1pm. Nathan is still jet-lagged from his trip to the US, so we’ve done very little all day. The hot weather has sort of broken. It’s muggy, and slightly rainy, so I feel like a wet dog.

I’m watching telly and suffering slightly from a jippy tummy, which I think has been caused by a combination of awful food and brown hotel water. I now long to get back into a regime of early starts and plenty of exercise. It is tempting to immediately start writing the Requiem for London, but I think there’s still a great deal of research to be done before I can get on with that.

I forget to mention yesterday that one of the women on the conference yesterday suddenly announced that her father had photographed ABBA back in the early 1980s! She threw it in rather casually; almost as though she were slightly embarrassed by the fact. I obviously immediately swamped her with questions and discovered that, not only had her father photographed ABBA, but he’d actually taken the album covers for Super Trouper and The Vistors; that dark, brooding, epic and haunting photograph that I’d lost myself in so many times as a child. I know every corner of that photograph. I have studied every picture on the wall behind the band. I still remember the slightly gluey smell of the inside sleeve, the sofas that I used to sit on whilst listening to it, and the sense of sadness I felt when I peered into the faces. ABBA knew the album was the end of the road, and it showed.

She revealed that the lamps in the photograph had actually come from her house, and that her brother currently owned the one which lights Agnetha on the left-hand side of the picture.


They’d apparently done another photo shoot for the album cover, which featured the band coming out of a car onto a darkened street. This was rejected. To my knowledge I’ve never seen any of these alternative photos, and wonder how much they’d be worth now. Unfortunately, after her father had died, she sold and threw away many of the photos that he’d taken. ABBA, to her, were just a slightly embarrassing pop group, of whom most Swedes felt greatly ashamed. She seemed genuinely surprised that I was so interested in her stories.

350 years ago, and Pepys went to visit Lord Sandwich. He was stopped on many occasions during his journey across London by trainebands from the City of London; groups of Militia, who wanted to make sure that people were seen to be mourning for the Duke of York’s son’s death. Many of the shops were shut. Pepys went to an ordinary; a tavern where they could eat and drink as much as they liked for a fixed fee, which in this instance was 18d. Pepys said they had “very good cheer.” The place, in his view, was very good value for money. He got very drunk with Mr Creed and his wife, who we’re told sung absolutely beautifully.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Prix de Circom

I am now the proud recipient of a Prix de Circom, following what has to be one of the most surreal award ceremonies ever staged. The whole thing was being broadcast live on Romanian TV, and an entire symphony orchestra had been crammed into a white marquee, which was also lined with rather chi-chi-looking tables. The place looked lovely, but the organisation of the evening left a great deal to be desired. Everything was wonderfully good-natured and a huge amount of fun, but the event was somewhat shambolic.


I don’t really know where to start. Perhaps with the presenter, who was attempting to do simultaneous translations from Romanian into English, which at one point made such little sense that everyone was forced to look at their shoes with a placid smile carved onto their faces, lest they should catch someone else’s eye and burst into uncontrollable laughter!

The first award went to a Bulgarian film-maker, a wonderful bloke, who interviews people in the back of a taxi. They played part of his show on a giant screen, but there was no sound, other than the whistling winds of shame. He went up onto the stage to collect his award, accompanied by the symphony orchestra playing the utterly portentous, Also Sprach Zarathustra, which didn’t exactly feel like the sort of celebratory music you’d expect to accompany such a joyous occasion. His award, for best newcomer, was named after one of the leading supporters of Circom, a wonderful journalist who’d very tragically died on her way to the conference a few years ago. As he collected his award, the presenter called for hush and said how marvellously poignant it was that his films were shot in a taxi. And why was this poignant? That's right, because the woman who’d given her name to the award had DIED in a taxi!

As he left the stage, the orchestra played Also Sprach Zarathustra again, as they would a further ten times that night, in fact every time someone got up to collect an award. Sadly, the section they were playing took at least 3 minutes to complete, by which point the winner of the award had triumphantly returned to his or her seat and the rest of us had been forced to sit and twiddle our thumbs.

On the table next to us, an interloper in the shape of a rather rotund Romanian lady with hair the colour of her bright red cardigan, had come in off the street and sat down to watch the awards. She kept turning to the people on her table and asking with incredulity if they’d all won awards. As the food arrived, security people carried her away. As it turned out, I’m sure everyone would have gladly donated what they were about to eat to her.

The food was hysterically awful. There were plates and plates of meat coupled with little soggy piles of indecipherable vegetables which had been boiled into mulch. Someone described the carrots as “little cubes of colourful water.” Rather hysterically, I was sitting on a table with a group of Parisian snobs, who were simply looking at the food and shaking their heads. I overheard one of them whispering; “c’est un haricot vert, non?” Or words to that effect.

Unfortunately there was a lack of a vegetarian alternative. A woman waitress tried to put a plate of meat in front of me and I said; “oh, sorry, no, I’m a vegetarian.” She responded by shrugging her shoulders, throwing the food down in front of me and walking away. According to some accounts around the table, she also let out a little grunt, as though I’d said out loud what I was thinking, which was that she looked like a fat, ugly version of 1980s singer Hazell Dean. A moment later I took the offending plate, handed it to her, and said; “now take this away... without attitude!” A few minutes later, the plate arrived again, simply with everything but the soggy vegetables taken away. I wouldn’t have minded other than that I’d been given exactly the same thing for lunch!

By this point the orchestra had gone home and been replaced by a panpipe and saxophone version of Take My Breath Away, which was going round in circles. But imagine our combined surprise when they started to de-rig the venue as we ate. First all the lights came down, and then they started to dismantle the marquee. A truck got driven into the side of the space and filled everything with the stench of exhaust smoke. By the time we’d been given our desserts, they’d removed all the flowers from the tables and left us sitting in nothing but the house lights.

With each new problem, I became increasingly hysterical. I had a very very lovely evening! Thank you Circom, but more importantly, thank you, Romania. But please don’t ever win the Eurovision Song Contest! I don't think my nerves would cope.

Benjamin and his award

... By the way, why do you suppose all the water in the hotel is brown?

Today we did a workshop, where we played the making of the Symphony for Yorkshire to a group of conference attendees. It went down very well. I think sometimes that people don’t realise quite how much time, energy and love goes into these projects, and think this particular documentary shows this aspect very well.

After lunch we went for a stroll around Timisoara, which remains a deeply bizarre place. The weather was stunning, however, and after visiting a department store which had obviously not changed since the days of Ceausescu, we found a stunning spot by the river, and simply basked in the sun’s glow all day. It was wonderfully relaxing. Alison and Keith got utterly rat-arsed, which was fairly infectious and made me feel a little giddy and naughty.


We ended the day on Keith’s balcony, pouring water onto the street below in an attempt to confuse and surprise passers by.

Look at the light!

May 6th 1661, and Pepys was up and out of his lodgings in Guildford by 4am, which is the time I have to be up tomorrow. One assumes the trip back to London was uneventful, for Pepys only talks about eating cake.

On arriving home, he was very disappointed to discover that his workmen hadn’t done a great deal more on the house. Elizabeth was dispatched to Pepys’ father’s, and Pepys went and sat with Lady Batten. Both Sir Williams were in Deptford. Pepys heard that the Duke of York’s son had died and was less than charitable. “I believe [the news] will please every body; and I hear that the Duke and his Lady themselves are not much troubled at it.” Quite why he was so unpleasant is unclear. It's maybe because it was known that The Duke, who would go on to become the next King, was a practising Catholic. His son, therefore, would very much be in line for the throne, particularly if Charles himself didn't get his act together. There was also some question as to the child’s legitimacy. I’m sure, however, the parents were not “untroubled” by the news. That would be just weird.



Thursday, 5 May 2011

Hello London. This is Timisoara.

Hello London, this is Timisoara calling. Are you receiving me?


I am in Romania, in a very strange city near the country’s western border with Hungary. The flight here seemed to take no time at all. We went up and down so quickly that I barely had time to work myself up into a tizzy. Furthermore, I don't think I have ever been ushered through a passport control and a baggage handling system so speedily. One gets the impression that not many planes land here.

The taxi from the airport took us through dusty fields, delineated by tall pampas grasses, which reminded me of parts of the deep south of America. There were peculiar adverts on strange billboards, unfamiliar road signs, boarded-over cafes, strange shops selling weed killer and grand houses which seemed to be very slowly turning into dust. The grass by the side of the roads was already turning slightly yellow.

The outskirts of Timisoara looked very run down. This isn’t a wealthy European city. Perhaps it wants to be, but I suspect its people will always look slightly down-trodden and careworn. Men sit on benches on street corners smoking cigars, young girls walk around in the fashion of twenty years ago, huge chunks of plaster are missing from old buildings. It’s very other-worldly; almost as though the town were living in some kind of cine-film.

Keith and Alison in the city centre

The hotel we’re staying in is situated right in the middle of the town. It's very swanky and posh. We’re sandwiched in an area between two incredibly impressive squares where the architecture is like nothing I’ve seen before; very definitely European, but laced with something else; something indefinable. Slightly gothic; very dark. Transylvanian, perhaps. 

We’ve already been exploring, and we sat for some time in a cafe in the larger of the two squares. I mistakenly asked for a hot chocolate, which arrived in the form of an almost solid brown piping hot custard, which I didn’t enjoy in the slightest. What I DID enjoy, however, was that the square was filled with hundreds of little towels and sheets hanging out like someone had just done the mother of all wash-days. I assume it was some kind of art installation, but it was very beautiful to watch them flapping around in the breeze. I have also enjoyed finding little book sellers on the streets. I was amused to see the story of Oliver Cromwell translated into Romanian.


The Prix de Circom is awarded as part of the Circom Conference. It's wonderful to go to an award ceremony knowing that you’ve won. I don’t have to polish up my fake smile or mouth the words “thank God” when the worthy film about people with mental disability wins instead of mine! I suppose it’s also a good opportunity to network. It’s one of the only positives about being a freelancer. I genuinely could up sticks and go and do a project for a European broadcaster if there was some interest. That said, my recent issues with the England project and the Lincolnshire Poachers has meant that I've become incredibly wary of those who promise too much.


May 5th, 1661, and Pepys remained in Guildford. There was a visit to a church, followed by a lengthy discussion about religion, which lasted so long that they forgot to go to church again in the afternoon. Pepys spent some time larking about in the garden of his lodgings with Mr Creed, seeing which of the two men could jump the furthest from an old fountain. Pepys won; his prize, a quart of sack.

Pepys and Elizabeth had a terrible row over supper, bizarrely about the relative beauty of one of their acquaintances, Mrs Pierce. I can just imagine the conversation. Pepys goes overboard talking about her beauty (which in fairness, was legendary; we’re told that by her 19th child in 1678, she still only looked about 20 years old!) Elizabeth feels offended and jealous and tells Pepys that Mrs Pierce really isn’t all that. Instead of backing down, Pepys labours the point, which makes Elizabeth angry, which causes a row, which means they have to go for a walk across the fields just to calm down. I wonder if he ever learnt!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Chavtastic

May the Fourth be with each and every one of you! I’ve always wanted to crack that joke legitimately.

I’m on my way to Romania. Or rather, I’m on my way to Luton, where I’ll be staying tonight on my way to Romania. I have that very strong suspicion that I've left something vitally important at home. Passport? Check. Wallet? Check. £7 worth of Romanian currency that my brother dug out of a drawer? Check. All present and correct, Sir, but I guarantee that there'll be something missing.

I feel all sun-kissed and warm. I've been in Kensal Green Cemetery, and, for the umpteenth day on the trot, it's been beautifully sunny. Farmers are now panicking. Their fields are dying. There's a real threat of drought, which I refuse to believe. Do they have hosepipe bans in Texas? Of course they don’t! We just don’t know how to manage rain water in this country... or snow... or sunshine for that matter...

My companion today was the lovely Rebecca, an actress who performed in the Pepys Motet. When she's not acting, she does historical research, so she was the perfect person to have at my side. She's also great fun to be around, and looked like something from Elvira Madigan with all her ABBA-blonde locks glowing like white straw in the sunlight.

We realised today that there is a great deal of humour to be found in Graveyards. It is utterly astounding what people think it’s appropriate to write on graves. There was a lengthy "apology" from one dead person, which rambled on for about ten rhyming couplets-worth of nonsense, which went something along the lines of... “I’m sorry I left so suddenly. You see, I'd been called by God, and he said there wasn't time for me to say goodbye..." As if you'd assume that this was going through your loved-one's head!

But I think it was the naff four-line poems that got me most of all. So many dreadful rhymes, with the verbs contorted and twisted at the end of lines. "For to do" poems, with terrible scantion; the sorts of things you find on Countdown, or on the inside of Clinton Cards. The same poem was often written on countless graves. In one instance, the very same thing was on two graves next to each other. Imagine the horror of choosing a verse in a funeral parlour and finding it on the grave next door. An eternity of the sort of shame I'm told women feel when they turn up to a party in the same dress as someone else!

One corner of the cemetery was Chav-tastic. Now, obviously Barry and Garry were their mother's pride and joy until both were ripped from her in an untimely chavvy accident... But why chose the shot of Gary in a Puma track suit and Barry in a Burberry baseball cap and a gold chain to have etched into their gravestone?

We were also astonished to see one particular gravestone, marking the spot where the father of a well-known character from a well-known English pop group is buried. For the sake of this blog I’ll refer to said “pop star” to as Naffy from M-subz. Now, surely it’s not necessary to sign your father's grave "your son, Dappy... Sorry... Naffy from M-subz?” Like your father would think it was from someone else! How about using your actual name? Or is this just an attempt to show your fans what a caring man you are?

On the tube home from the cemetery, I finally solved a mystery which has been bugging me for some time. A few months ago, I was in Soho, when a man walked past me and into a Sushi cafe. He was startlingly handsome, he had a proud gait, and he was wearing a chalk striped suit, but instead of hair, had a sort of swimmer’s cap made of sparkly sequins. I was incredibly impressed. He’d managed to get away with the look without seeming camp or strange. He reminded me of a modern-day Leigh Bowery. I think about him every time I walk past the Sushi place and often wonder who he was and why he was dressed so arrestingly. Today, I saw a poster which featured a cartoon image of the same man. I discover that his name is Philip Levine, and that’s he’s the self-proclaimed world's first "head artist". He displays art on his head. It's nothing that Philip, George or Leigh Bowery weren't doing in the 1980s, but it IS impressive!

Look, here he is now...


Saturday May 4th, 1661, and Pepys and co. took a coach from Petersfield to Guildford, where they stayed at the Red Lyon, the best Inn in the town, and the place where the King had stayed recently. They did a bit of sightseeing; a hospital and a free school, where they were treated very well by the headmaster, John Graile. Pepys chatted into the night with the waiters and bar staff at his lodgings who were mercilessly taking the mickey out of a local dignitary, which Pepys thought was great fun.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Belligerence

There's a sort of arsey belligerence filtering through the air today. I was awoken at about 9am by the home phone ringing. For some reason I decided to answer, a decision I immediately regretted. It's always the same. You say hello, and then there's that little 2 second pause; just enough to make you realise that the person you're about to speak to is 'phoning from a call centre in New Delhi. "Hello, may I speak to Mr David Teel?" The script never changes. This is always the moment I realise for certain I'm talking to a cold-caller. No one calls me by my real name, David, unless I'm at the doctors, the dentist, the job centre or pass port control. "Brace yourself for questions about broadband", I thought


I usually ask if I can put them on hold. I then sit down at the piano and play something weird until they get bored and hang up. Sometimes they're still there 3 minutes later, so I'm forced to put them back on "hold" again. I enjoy playing these little games, it's so much more entertaining than saying no politely.

Today's caller caught me in bed, however, so I decided simply to repeat everything she said to me. It's the perfect outlet for my echolalia!

"Hello, may I speak to Mr. David Teel?"
"Hello, may I speak to Mr. David Teel?" I responded.

There was a stunned pause

"Is that Mr. David Teel?" she asked
"Is that Mr. David Teel?" I replied

Now, I've done this before, and I tell you it can go on for some time. Today's caller, however, was obviously already having a bit of a bad day, and wasn't interested in my hysterical goading. "Maybe that's Mr F*#k You!" she said, before hanging up. Belligerence, I tell you...

I then went to Highgate Tube. No one was at the ticket office and two out of the three ticket machines were broken. A huge queue of people was standing behind a poor woman who couldn't get her ten pound note to go into the machine properly. A gaggle of LU staff stood watching. No sense of urgency. No one rushed over to help her. It was obviously not their job's worth.

After buying my ticket, I went up to the gaggle, and asked why the ticket office was closed, why two out of three machines were broken, and why a cluster of LU staff were merely watching the mayhem. "It's the cuts" the woman said, belligerently, "the ticket office at Highgate now closes at 11am. We don't have the staff." "I'm sorry to hear that," I said "I used to like the staff." She smiled like a mother whose child has just loudly shat its pants, so I continued, "surely this places the emphasis on your trying to keep the machines in good nick?" "I'm sure someone will come and fix them at some point" came the belligerent response. I smiled like a mother whose child had just loudly shat its pants.

As I walked down the escalators, I wondered if this really is the way we want the cuts to affect us? Instead of taking it out on the government, we're punishing each other. Not a single person in that queue today wants Highgate station to be understaffed. No one wants LU staff to go without work, but if our discomfort is met by arsey belligerence, then a vicious cycle begins. We start to notice the little clusters of LU staff deliberately refusing to help. We get frustrated with the people who we feel are being jobsworths. We lash out. We shout. We get people sacked. I see it everywhere. I'm guilty of it myself. In the gym, phoning councils, in the queue for the job centre, even with my dealings with the London Pride charity. The first absolute casualty of this recession is politeness.

Having given up with people for today, I turned my attention to our little bee. Tash sent me a text last night, which correctly identified the creature as a Mason Bee. These fairly rare, solitary creatures apparently make perfect "garden pets" for children because they only sting when actually squeezed. A little more research, plus a 'phone call to a lovely beekeeper indicated that I had something of a problem, which put me in something of a quandary. It seems my little friend is actually a young queen, who has, by all accounts, already laid about 15 eggs in my television set.

The bee keeper was laughing hysterically when I started to explain what had happened. He'd never heard of a bee nesting in a telly before. I'd shut the window and the poor creature was getting rather frantic on the other side of the glass. It was breaking my heart.

He said he was pleased that I cared about the creature's well-being and reminded that bees are a protected species, and that my only option was to try and get the nest out of the telly and onto my window ledge. The bee's ferociously accurate sense of smell would guide her to the new location, where her family-rearing would hopefully continue.

I tried to ease the muddy, mulchy mess out of the two holes in the telly, but it immediately started to crumble. First dusty mud, then wax, then piles of perfect Easter yellow honeycomb. I felt like a murderer and 'phoned my Mum, who suggested I pour all the detritus into the clean canister of a large felt tip pen, which I did. I then put the pen onto the window ledge under a brick, and I hope to God the bee will return, tidy up the proper mess I've made, and get on with raising her children on the other side of the kitchen window!

How much mess can come from one bee?!

The rest of my day was spent in the City of London. I went to Postman's Park to read and photograph the peculiar inscriptions there. Pure Victorian sentimentality; ceramic odes to people who'd died during acts of bravery, which make hysterical reading for 21st Century cynics.

"Sarah Smith, Pantomime artiste at Prince's Theatre, died of terrible injuries received when attempting, in her inflammable dress, to extinguish the flames which had engulfed her companion, January 24th, 1863."


Someone had scrawled something in felt tip pen on the bench below, which felt rather more heartfelt;

"Eddie was here. Gone but not forgotten. Died trying to save a woman trapped in the Thames. Couldn't swim himself."

Or was it a joke? Remember that I don't tend to understand jokes!

I went from Postman's Park to St Olave's, Pepys' Church, to see if there were any plaques or gravestones worth setting to music there, before heading, via Bunhill Burial Ground in Old Street, to my friend, Nicky's house, where I met her delightful son, Oscar for the first time. We had tea and biscuits, and she seemed embarrassed that he was crying a little bit, but babies cry! I suppose it's the mother's prerogative to want their's to be the well-behaved angel.

On the way home, I found out that the Pride London people no longer think I have the time to make a film for them. Interesting that my own opinion on this matter seems so irrelevant! Slightly angry, I went for a run, and didn't stop until I'd run around the circumference of the entire Heath. A first for me... about 6 miles.

Friday 3rd March, 1661, and Pepys was still in Portsmouth. He started the day with an early morning walk around the town. The toads that he took with him decided it would be a great idea to attempt to get him the freedom of the town, but the Mayor, Richard Lardner, was unsurprisingly, having none of it.

Pepys then oversaw the payment of various sailors, before taking a coach to Petersfield. The day, from Pepys’ perspective was rather spoilt by the arsey belligerence of Mr Creed, who’d accompanied him on the journey. Pepys’ insult is worthy of Shakespeare referring to; “the exceeding unmannerly and most epicure-like palate of Mr Creed.” Ouch!