Sunday, 31 July 2011

Paste

It's extremely hot. I've been on the beach all day and am wondering if I have sunstroke. It's certainly time to find some shade!

We went to the farm behind Julie's house first thing to say hello to the neighbours. The experience was incredible. Firstly, the view. You can see for miles. Green and brown rolling hills lined with little cottages, vineyards and olive groves. Fields of sunflowers either proudly facing the sun, or drooping towards the floor, as though ashamed. Behind all this, watching over the world, the tall, dove-grey mountains of the Gran Sasso.

The neighbours were making enough tomato sauce for a winter of pasta dishes. They had a massive camp fire in the garden, with an industrial-sized pot on it, filled to the brim with tomatoes slowly reducing. It was an amazing, truly old-fashioned rural scene and I felt privileged to have seen it.

It's extremely hot. I've been on the beach all day and am wondering if I have sunstroke. It's certainly time to find some shade!

We went to the farm behind Julie's house first thing to say hello to the neighbours. The experience was incredible. Firstly, the view. You can see for miles. Green and brown rolling hills lined with little cottages, vineyards and olive groves. Fields of sunflowers either proudly facing the sun, or drooping towards the floor, as though ashamed. Behind all this, watching over the world, the tall, dove-grey mountains of the Gran Sasso.

The neighbours were making enough tomato sauce for a winter of pasta dishes. They had a massive camp fire in the garden, with an industrial-sized pot on it, filled to the brim with tomatoes slowly reducing. It was an amazing, truly old-fashioned rural scene and I felt privileged to have seen it.

The beach is filled with eccentric people. From time to time it felt more like a market place. There were people selling coconuts, people grinding down blocks of ice to make refreshing drinks. Periodically someone would come along with a clothes rail on wheels and try and interest people in his wares.

The Italian pop music scene is very different to ours. They don't listen to much British/American pop and tend to listen to home grown artists. I was amused to see a CD by a band called Pooh. "Super best collection 1971-1984." Thirteen years of shit, no doubt!

350 years ago, pepys' diary entry was really short. His singing master came to him first thing, then he spent the morning at his office. The afternoon saw our hero at the theatre, watching a play called "The Tamer Tamed.". It was, by all accounts, well done.

He spent the Evening preparing for his trip to Walthamstow the next day, and was that night forced to borrow £40 from Sir Willuam Batten. He makes no mention of why...

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Alpen

Sitting on steps leading up to a farm house in the mountains above Pieneto. The sun is setting. Woke up in Switzerland and travelled down through Italy during the day. Managed to lose wallet somewhere en route so have had to borrow cash from Julie.

31 degrees here. We stopped at a local beach where the sea is turquoise, the sand is White and everyone is incredibly friendly. There are no words to describe the beauty of the mountains but the journey to Julie's house includes a number of terrifying bends, each of which features its own shrine and a little bunch of flowers dedicated to a life lost, one assumes through careless driving.

I opened my suitcase today to discover that our tumble drier hasn't dried my clothes properly, so I will spend the rest of the holiday smelling like wet dog!

350 years ago, Sam had a very busy day, starting with his singing master. He then went to see the King at Parliament. There were all sorts if squabbles about the Lords not wanting anyone to have the right to search the House for seditious papers and the like. Seems like not much has changed over the years: they still like to think themselves above the rules that apply to other mere mortals!

He then travelled by water to the Wardrobe, dined with his lady, meeting the King en route, and met with one Thomas Pepys, by all accounts, a silly but good natured fellow. Then home to the office to fo more stuff with his uncle's will.

To Fleet Street with Mr Salusbury, then to Hercules Pillars to meet the fabulously named Mr Whore, an ingenious fellow!

Friday, 29 July 2011

I'm looking at the big sky

We’re in a really cool 1950s motel in a town called Lugano in Switzerland. It’s one of those proper American-style places with garages underneath the rooms. There's a great big concrete curve of rooms which screams Route 66! We’re on a terrace, about to eat a plate of pasta, which will be pretty much the first decent food we’ve had today. A table of pissed Germans are giggling inanely behind us, and for some reason they’re really beginning to annoy me! I’m probably just over-tired.


Our incredibly long car journey, started, in Catford, at 4am this morning. My travel companion is Julie, whose house in Italy we’re going to be staying in from tomorrow night. The journey down was gruelling but wonderful. For starters, I’d never been in the euro tunnel before, and the experience was utterly surreal. You just sit there in your car, which obviously remains static whilst the world flickers past through the train windows. It’s like being on an elaborate conveyer belt. I felt like a fancy prize in the Generation Game!

We were driving in Northern France by 6am, which felt particularly bizarre. The sun had only just risen, and the world was bathed in a beautiful yellow impressionist light. Misty cornfields becoming banks of smudgy clouds in pastel colours. Julie pointed out that this was the part of France which had been a mecca for impressionist painters in the 19th Century. Maybe they were simply painting what they regularly saw. We had an interesting discussion about how different areas can have very specific light; those wide skies in Canada, the murky grey light of the Norfolk fens...

The journey through France was extremely tiring and my back now aches. We took it in turns to drive through mile after mile of bland countryside, twisting around a long list of First World War battle sites. Vimy Ridge, Verdun. It was my first experience of driving on the right hand side of the road, and my first attempt at driving an automatic car. I kept going for the clutch and therefore ending up with my foot firmly on the break. We listened to music and various pod casts. Julie slept a bit. We stopped at a succession of ghastly service stations; some no more than a few dirty porta-loos sitting forlornly next to broken coffee machines. Many of the male loos were filled with women, which was somewhat off-putting.

Somewhere near the comically named town of Nancy, we took a wrong turning, and then had a tire burst on us. I was driving at the time. It wasn’t as frightening as it perhaps should have been. There was a convenient lay-by and we immediately set about trying to change the wheel. Unfortunately, the car came with what can only be described as a “Fisher Price” jack, which buckled under the weight of the vehicle. Our only option was to flag someone down, and within about 3 minutes of frantically waving our arms at passing motorists, an angel arrived, in the shape of a motorway maintenance man. He had a jack – a nice stainless steel thing – but it didn’t have a handle, which meant we were forced to crank it up with a pair of pliers. Our angel sat in the cab of his van, and looked rather amused at the antics of the funny English people.

It was a great relief to enter Switzerland, not only because it meant we were nearer to our destination, but also because neither of us are that fond of France. I’ve never been here before, and it feels like a very wealthy, clean, perhaps clinical sort of place. The service stations are like shiny airport departure lounges; Toblerones and camp cuckoo clocks everywhere. They’re certainly proud of the clich├ęs they’ve donated to the world. Entering the country was like opening an enormous box of posh chocolates. Within seconds, we were driving through the most spectacular countryside with mountains as tall as I’d ever seen, bathed in sunlight and reaching into the clouds. Waterfalls were hurtling down shingle cliffs. There were lime green pastures rolling into metallic blue lakes and wisps of smoky mist rising from dark forests. Tiny log cabins were clinging almost comically to hillsides. It’s everything you’d expect, but somehow neater!

Monday July 29th, 1661, and it seemed most of Pepys’ relatives were suddenly ill. His Aunt Fenner was properly poorly and his cousin Charles, though ill himself, had gone into the country to see his other cousin, John, who was “a-dying” there.

Pepys spent much of the day doing business before calling in on his mother to instruct her to go easy on the spending, particularly as Uncle Robert’s will seemed no closer to being sorted out.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

My face is all lit up

It's a beautiful evening, and once again we're in transit between East Sussex and London. It's been another wonderful day, which was mostly spent in a place called Tide Mills, which is a ruined village on the coast somewhere near Newhaven.

The beach there is totally unspoilt; not a tourist, or souvenir shop in sight. You can't even buy an ice cream or a cup of tea, which is curiously refreshing for that part of the world. A massive ridge of pebbles stretches as far as the eye can see, so when you're standing in the sea, you're aware of nothing but beach, water and endless sky.

We swam in the sea. I haven't swam in a sea for years. It was clean and refreshing and I stayed in the water so long that my fingers turned to raisins.

There were 7 adults and four children in total; all great companions for the day. Meriel made sandwiches, and the children ate apples and early blackberries from the bushes which lined the path down to the beach. It's impossible not to fall in love with Tanya's daughter, Lily, who is a tiny dot with the blondest hair, the cutest Scottish accent and the most wonderful smile.

A pebbly ridge

Last night the same group of us sat around a brazier in Meriel and Roy's garden, eating chocolate and gorging ourselves on the delicious cherry plums that were literally dropping off  an over-hanging tree.

Nathan had a very bad headache in the night, which caused something of a panicky drama as I went rifling through every cupboard in Meriel's kitchen in search of painkillers. Fortunately he woke up feeling chipper, and we were able to go to see Uncle Bill's baby as planned.

Little Jago is a handsome little tyke, and his mother, though tired, seems incredibly well. I think she's going to do her task incredibly well over the next 20 years. Funny to think that this is a chap we'll watch growing up, and know for the rest of our lives.

28th July, 1661 was a Sunday, and Pepys went to church twice, the first time with a neighbour from his former dwelling in Whitehall, the second time with Sir William Penn, whose unexpectedly plain daughter was visiting from Ireland.

Nathan on th beach

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Out on the wily windy moors

We're on our way to Lewes. I'm trying to rest my voice, so am taking the opportunity to write my blog because, as Nathan rightly points out, it's near impossible for me not to be moving something. If I try not to speak, I start to sing. If I try not to sing, I start to dance. I can't dance in the car, so I'm typing instead! Maybe I have ADHD?

Anyway, we're heading down to Lewes to see Uncle Bill and meet little Jago for the first time. I'm excited to see what he looks like, but expect it'll just be a generic baby. People will coo and say he looks just like his father, but in actual fact he'll simply look like every other new born baby in the world. Unless he's black, of course, which would be scandalous!   

Whilst in Lewes, I'll also be seeing a bunch of university friends. We meet as a group once a year to go camping, usually somewhere further afield, but Uncle Bill's new arrival means we're staying in Meriel's back garden! Because I'm off to Italy first thing on Friday, I can only spend one day with the troops, but that's better than nothing.

I spent the morning working on my ode to Jacqueline Du Pre, which is troubling me somewhat. I'm obviously putting rather a lot of pressure on myself to write something profound, and when I played it to Nathan last night, he confirmed my worst fears by saying he thought it was somewhat meandering. I think he was also quite surprised that I'd written something that sounded so Jewish. Du Pre converted to Judaism in the late 60s, and there is Hebrew on her headstone, so on that front I'm hoping she'd approve. The meandering thing, however, is something I'm keener to address, but I'm ploughing on with what I have, as ironically it's the most conventionally structured of all the movements I've written for the Requiem so far. I feel very strongly there's something in there that I simply need to coax out. 

350 years ago, and Pepys' day began in Westminster, listening to a Frenchman playing a guitar. The musician, we're told, played exceedingly well, but Pepys felt the guitar was not an instrument that could be taken particularly seriously!  Not quite on the money with his predictions, although I guess the guitar has always been viewed as the instrument of the common man. I wonder what Pepys would have made of Hendrix!  

Later in the day, Pepys found himself at The Wardrobe celebrating an absent Lord Sandwich's birthday, with a venison pasty and a group of friends including Sandwich's daughter, Jem. She was the one with the weird neck.

After the party, Pepys whisked her away to show her his own house. They went via the river and Pepys showed off his naval knowledge by talking about the various ships that were floating past. He took Mrs Jem back home, again by boat, and on both occasions they travelled under London Bridge. It must have been low tide, because  passing through the rapids that were usually present underneath the bridge was not a journey for the faint of heart, and certainly not one for the slightly disabled daughter of nobility.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A deal with God

I went to Brighton again today; this time with Nicola. We wanted an adventure to celebrate our 37th birthdays, neither of which either of us can make.

I picked her up at 10.30, and we were safely in Brighton by about 12.15pm. I say safely, because at one stage we tried to drive the wrong way damown a busy one-way street, which was fun in a terrifying kind of way.

Rather randomly, I received a call from BBC Leeds, who wanted me to do a live telephone interview with them about our national anthem. Lewis Hamilton has apparently claimed it’s too short, and as a result, doesn’t give an egotistical sportsman like him enough time to bask in the glory of a podium finish. I think if he won more F1 races, he’d think the anthem was plenty long enough. He certainly didn’t seem to be complaining the one year he did okay. I also think he’s slightly missing the point. If anyone had to listen to a second verse of that rancid dirge, a higher force would manufacture it so that our nation never won anything. Furthermore, if more verses of the grotesque song were sung, we’d immediately get into those uncomfortable passages where the lyrics start bashing the Scots. The presenter asked me what I thought about the anthem, and I said I hated it, not just because of its horrific tune, but also because it was about the two things I hated most in the world, God and royalty. I actually believe the anthem gets the rubbish tune that its subject matter deserves. No self-respecting composer would bother to put much thought into something with such a pointless message. I added that I felt the greatest national anthem was the Welsh one... but that if Jerusalem were ours, I’d stand proudly every time it was played.

I said all this whilst wandering along the lanes in Brighton. It was a surreal experience to think that I was chatting to someone all the way up in Yorkshire. When the interview was over, we turned our attention to more pressing needs. Nic was looking for a hat, and I had a shopping list of four items I needed for my holiday in Italy, all of which I managed to find. We basically did what you’d expect to do in Brighton; walked through the shops, sat down on the beach to throw pebbles at a coke can, promenaded along the pier and ate an ice cream. But with Nic it’s all about the chatting... and the laughing. She has the most infectious laugh I know. It bursts out of her like a joy-filled rocket. It’s the kind of laugh you want to activate, so I always try to think of as many funny things to tell her as I can.

I officially need a holiday, however. I’ve been knackered all day. Whatever I’ve been staving off over the last week or so, is still creeping around my system. Rather weirdly today, apart from the exhaustion, I’ve been nursing sensitive teeth, which is, frankly, just weird.

Here's one of Nicky on the beach which went wrong. Her hair looks like a pile of burning autumn leaves!

350 years ago, and we discover that Pepys made one of his famous deals with God at the start of the week, where he vowed not to drink wine; a substance which he felt had started to affect his ability to work properly. Earlier in the day, however, his resolution had come crashing down when a trip to Pope’s Head Alley – an area of town famous for selling pots and pans - had become a binge drinking session with one Mr Hill of Cambridge and a gaggle of women. He hoped God wouldn’t be too angry.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Hoop Lane

As we returned to our house last night, after a gloriously theatrical  dinner party in Streatham, we stumbled across an empty car, with its hazard lights flashing, abandoned  at the end of our street.

It was still there this morning, rather surprisingly with its emergency lights still flashing. I took a closer look. It was a fancy car; a Mercedes, and was obviously someone's pride and joy. It even had an upholstered tissue box on the back seat! It had a valid permit to park on our street, but had been dumped on double yellow lines, half-sticking out into the road. Its sun roof was open. Haringey Council had slapped a parking ticket on the windscreen.

I 'phoned the non-emergency police. It struck me that no-one who owned a Mercedes would have dumped his pride and joy with its lights flashing and sun roof broken on double yellow lines, half-blocking a road that he had permission to park on. To me it was obvious that someone had broken into the car, started to drive it, and then abandoned it when the alarm system started going off. In any case, something was definitely not right...

Furthermore, with a smashed sun roof, it won't be long before more people try and break in, or the rain destroys all the internal upholstery. Surely its vital that the owners are told that their car isn't safely parked where they left it?

This story isn't really going anywhere, and I suspect I'll never know who the car belongs to, and why it was left where it was. The reason I mention it in this blog is that, when I got in touch with them, the police had not yet been informed about the vehicle, and I suddenly felt incredibly angry that Haringey Council would slap a ticket on the car without contacting the police and reporting the crime which had obviously taken place. I'm sure tomorrow, if the car is still there, they'll simply slap another ticket on it, whilst rubbing their hands together at the thought of all the money they're going to make out of the unfortunate family whose car has plainly been stolen. 

This morning I went to Hoop Lane cemetery, sat beside Jacqueline du Pre's grave and did an hour's composing. It felt like a rather eccentric and silly thing to be doing, but I have come to the interlude movement in my Requiem, which is a solo 'cello piece, written in memory of Du Pre, and I wanted to be inspired. 

...And inspired I was. The music was pouring out of me. The experience was wonderful. The sun was beating down, there was a cooling breeze. I placed a stone on the grave to mark my visit, and then sat on a patch of grass beside a rose bush which has been planted at the spot. It was incredibly peaceful, but for the occasional sounds of someone mowing the grass elsewhere in the cemetery. Because it was so quiet, I became acutely aware of the sounds that normally go unnoticed in a city; the bees collecting pollen from the roses, the sound my pencil made on the manuscript paper, the tip-tapping of tiny insects launching themselves at my computer screen. 

There's a lovely little cafe at the cemetery, so I had a cup of tea by my side. It was a truly magical hour and I came away feeling enriched and very relaxed. 

This evening we drove to Thaxted. It's my father's birthday and he treated us to a lovely meal at The Swan pub in the village. I had halloumi cheese in batter, which is one of the greatest culinary inventions of the 21st Century so far. Nathan ate a lamb kofte, which looked far less appetising! 

We continued to discuss the practice of field burning and the word "kaling."  My parents (like Chris Twell who commented on this blog yesterday) were also unaware of the term, but I was fascinated to learn that, what I assumed was an age-old practice, was actually a short-lived phenomenon, which probably only lasted for about 20 years in this country. My Mother remembers seeing a field burning for the first time in about 1969, and her mother panicking and  insisting they drive to the side of the field to see what was going on. A massive crowd had gathered to gawp, and no doubt wonder how they could extinguish a burning field. Fascinating. And if anyone reading this has any similar stories, I'd love to hear them... 

350 years ago, and Pepys spent much of the day dealing with the fall out of his Uncle's will. Boxes of papers were delivered from Brampton in the morning, and in the afternoon, he was mortified by a meeting with his other Uncle, who had been overlooked...

He went to his father's house, where he found his wife, his mother, his aunt and a veritable gaggle of women gossiping; "a great store of  tattle" he wrote "there was between the old women..."

He left them to it and went to the theatre with more erudite company to see an "innocent" play, The Jovial Crew, being performed... Rather well, by all accounts. 

Sunday, 24 July 2011

They're setting fire to the cornfields

It's been a rather perfect summer day, which is melting into an equally perfect summer evening. The shadows are lengthening. The air is heavy with nostalgia. I associate this kind of weather with my childhood. Days like this always seemed to end with a car journey home where we'd see huge clouds of smoke billowing up from corn fields that had been set on fire. We used to try and convince my Dad to drive as near as he could to the source of the fire. The concept of seeing a field in flames was a hugely exciting one. Nathan says the practice was called kaling, but we can't find any reference to the term on line, which implies it's one of his cutesey West Country dialect words, like dimpsy (which means twilight.) Whatever the case, it's strange to think that countless generations below us will have no concept of what it was to drive in the country and see these huge black clouds on the horizon whilst the air smelt of wood smoke.  

We've been in Huntingdonshire all day, within a village of Brampton, where dear Mr Pepys had been exiled just over 350 years ago.

It was Nathan's god-daughter's 5 and a halfth birthday. Having half birthdays is a trend which seems to be sweeping through our friendship group at the moment. Nathan's sister is 39 and a half at the end of next week. Having a legitimate summer birthday, I've always appreciated the joys of being able to celebrate in the open air, although in England, nothing is ever certain, and sometimes I wonder if it's worse to plan a birthday picnic in August and be rained off, or know for certain that the weather will be horrible and plan accordingly.  That said, I can't imagine anything more hideous than sharing a birthday with Jesus...

The party was great fun. I've seldom seen so many people dressed in pink and lilac, and seldom eaten so much wonderful food. Someone from the village arrived carrying a trifle, which was one of the most exciting things I've ever eaten! 

Lying in bed on this date 350 years ago, Elizabeth Pepys told her husband that they'd been robbed whilst he was in Huntingdon. A thief had come in through an open door and stolen their prized silver tankard. Pepys was very angry at his "people" for being careless enough to leave doors open. Later in the day he also discovered that his live-in clerk, Will, had had his clock stolen in the same incident, which Pepys, rather cruelly, said he was "glad" about. One assumes he felt it was more likely to teach them all a lesson if it wasn't just his stuff that was being nicked!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Poor Amy

I was curiously distressed by the news today that Amy Winehouse has died. She was a hugely talented girl, and her death feels like such a terrible waste. I guess, at the end of the day, she couldn’t have wanted to live very much. She’d had plenty of scares, and plenty more opportunities to pull herself together, but it’s sad, and it makes me think of my friend Kevin, and what a short and wasted life he lived.


I’ve also been pretty perturbed by the terrible events in Oslo. It seems almost inconceivable that 80 people could have been murdered by one gunman. There’s a lot of pain and death out there at the moment.

I spent the day with my goddaughter and her mother in and around Columbia Road. We went to the park, which in Hackney is a sort of ghetto where homeless people go to drink meths, and addicts inject themselves in the bushes. Apparently one of Philippa’s friends had planted some pumpkins in one of the empty flower beds, which the council had removed with lightning speed, but when it comes to used syringes, it’s apparently a different matter! The play area was filled with Dads today, which seemed odd to us until we realised it was a Saturday, and therefore the day when scores of very relieved mummies get to hand their children to their husbands and disappear for a few magical hours to shop, swim, or simply try to feel like humans again.

Deia, as usual, was great company, and Philippa gave her permission to watch 20 minutes of her favourite film, which happens to be The Wizard of Oz. She absolutely loves it, and will, apparently, regularly sit and watch it from beginning to end. It’s astonishing how some things never change. I remember sitting and watching the film on various rainy bank holidays and being absoutely transfixed. You can fill a film with special effects and million dollar car chases, but magic is magic. It was astonishing to sit and watch Deia as she lived the film with a series of impulsive, excited hand gestures and a look of absolute joy and wonder on her face. I felt very jealous of Philippa that she gets to re-live her own childhood and re-explore and share all those incredible films and places and pieces of music that meant so much to her at various stages of her own life.

350 years ago, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Pepys celebrated his first day back in civilization by visiting the theatre. He watched Brenoralt by a playwright called Sir John Suckling. He thought it was a good play, but felt it was ill-acted. On the bright side, he got to sit in front of the Countess of Castlemaine, who, by this stage, was probably already the lover of the King, and had definitely become Pepys’ pin-up girl. He wrote that that he very much enjoyed “filling his eyes” with her, which makes me feel a bit funny.

When Pepys got back home, he heard, no doubt through a nagging Elizabeth, that his sister, Pall, who Pepys had taken on as a servant, had become “proud and idle” to the extent that Pepys wondered if he should “keep her” any more. I wonder if Pepys ever stopped to wonder how awful it must have been for his sister to become his servant purely because she was “too ugly” to find a husband. Still, her time would come. She eventually found a bloke and provided Pepys with a nephew and heir.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Whispering sweet nothings

So there I was, minding my own business on the tube this evening, trying to write a few bars of music, when I feel the woman next to me, a total stranger I should point out, beginning to invade my body space. I thought nothing of it to begin with, but then I started to feel a bit claustrophobic and uncomfortable. She was drifting in and out of sleep, her head lolling around somewhat. Before long, the inevitable happened, and she was using my shoulder as a pillow. It got worse as it became apparent that she was drunk. Poor woman then started muttering sweet nothings in my ear, calling me baby, using the f word, and then suddenly telling me off. She'd seem to wake up for a bit, stare at me, and then snuggle down and start mumbling again. She spoke at quite a low level, but it was loud enough for everyone in our bit of the carriage to hear her. It was utterly mortifying for us both, but mostly for her! One of my fellow passengers took a quick snap on my iphone... Enjoy...
After the ordeal, I popped into our local shop for a can of soup. It's not the shop we most regularly visit, on account of its usually smelling of poo. Today it smelt of very strong BO, but I haven't yet vetoed the place because I'm so fond of the guys that work there, smelly as they often are. Today one of them took me aside and said, sotto voce, like he was selling drugs, that he had something I might be interested in. He took a small pile of newspapers off the counter and revealed a plastic tub of fizzy strawberries! Now, up until about a year ago, I used to go in there and buy handfuls of fizzy dummies, but of late they've not been selling them. To my knowledge, I've never chatted to that particular bloke before and they must have thousands of customers passing through, so I think it's really quite remarkable for him to remember my penchant for fizzy sour sweets. I immediately bought three and thanked him profusely.

I was also very happy with the service I received at PC Third World today. I mean, sure, they've now admitted that they actually lost the computer I'd taken in for repair five weeks ago, but they gave me a voucher for a brand new one, and the bloke was chatty and knowledgable. Go PC Third World!

350 years ago, and Pepys was up by 3am to start his journey back to London. He was keen! Sadly, it was a cold day, and he felt so underdressed, that he had to buy a pair of course woolen stockings in Biggleswade - which was apparently called Bigglesworth in those days. He had lunch in Hatfield, and took some time out to make a tour of a vineyard.A visit to a local country house revealed the biggest gooseberries that Pepys had ever seen - as big as nutmegs, apparently, which doesn't seem that large...

He reached home in the evening, and found everything to his liking, so immediately went to bed!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

I am cool!

Something very exciting happened to me today: my life was validated by a teenage girl! I was sitting in Costa Coffee with a manuscript book in one hand, whilst transferring music to my computer with the other. A group of teenagers had been irritating the hell out of me at the back of the cafe. One of them kept screaming, and the others kept shushing her, which was somehow even more annoying. Fortunately, they decided to leave, en masse, after about ten minutes of white noise. As one of them walked past, she hovered behind me for some time, and then said; “that is SOOO cool.” Her friends were shushing her, again. “I don’t care" she wibbled, "it’s cool... he’s composing...” And with that, they vanished, and my heart skipped a beat.

I... am... cool.

I knew it!

Obviously, I now forgive them for screaming like foxes on heat. They can scream as much as they like if they're going to say stuff like that. Being validated by a 16 year-old is the most exciting thing that can happen to a fusty old bugger like me!


...And it couldn't have come at a better moment. I've just entered what I think is probably the first writers' block I’ve encountered during this Requiem project. I know it's got something to do with the weather - I can't concentrate whilst everything feels so damp and sticky - but it could also be to do with the fact that I’m working on one of the movements that other composers tend not to tackle. It’s known as the “tract,” and to be fair, its Latin text is not hugely inspiring. Same old, same old, really, going round and round in circles; “rest in peace, save our souls, everlasting light, God, God, Jesus, God,” the odd biblical reference. I’ve got a cracking tune, but I don’t know where to take it. I’m on the fourth version of a middle section and I keep having to throw things away; minutes of music biting the dust at the push of a button. I also have chafing from all the running I’ve been doing in the gym, which is obviously occupying my mind somewhat!

My cold doesn't seem to have amounted to anything, however. Famous last words, of course...

Sunday 21st July, 1661, and Pepys spent the day putting his papers in order. He was due to head back to London the following day. Various local dignitaries and legal men visited him in the afternoon, and there was a massive argument, which ended with a compromise. Pepys’ Aunt Anne would be given 10l to leave her house, so that it could be sold. No wonder she'd been behaving like a spoilt child. 10l strikes me as a shockingly small amount of money to compensate a recent widow, who's been thrown out of a house she's lived in all her married life. I'm not sure women counted for much in those days. Where would she have gone?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Jaspers

It’s official. I’m stressed. And ill. And majorly irritated by the non-stop rain outside. Nathan was poorly over the weekend, and I’m almost certain I now have what he had, which is currently manifesting itself in a sore throat, big glands, and an inability to do anything without feeling unbelievably ratty. Of course, the nonsense with Haringey council hasn’t helped matters, and it's possible that I managed to whip myself up into such a frenzy over the last few days that I've made myself ill. Obviously, it doesn’t help matters that I simply don’t know how to relax. Relaxing for me is sitting in front of the television whilst doing orchestrations, which is obviously a deeply unhealthy state of affairs! I’d love to be one of those people who can simply grind to a halt, put their feet up and disappear into a calm space, but the moment I stop, I start to think about all the other things I should be doing. The curse of being a freelancer, I assume. That, and officially not having any clothes without holes in them!


I had a meeting today in Old Street about another television project. If I could pay my rent by attending meetings alone, I’d never need to work again.

There’s little else to say. I got all the way into Highgate village this morning, and sat down with a lovely morning cuppa, before realising I needed to go back home to activate some software before I could do any work.

I met my new friend Keeley on the way back down the hill. She was with her 2 year-old daughter, who has just discovered the impact saying the word “no” firmly, loudly convincingly and very often can have. Ah, the joys of being taught to speak by a mother who's an actress. Dramarama.

One of my rats attacked me last night. It's not the first time he's done it, and it’s looking like we’re going to need to have him castrated. Nathan's been doing a lot of research about the psychology of rats, and it's a fascinating business. Pollux, who attacked me, is obviously the dominant rat and the risk is that, if he's castrated, the currently submissive, Castor, might start to show signs of aggression, and then need to be castrated himself. It's a dilemma. If we had them both done, they'd be Castrated Castor and Pollux no bollocks. Boom boom chink!

350 years ago, Pepys went to Huntingdon for the day, where he met some fancy country types including someone who went by the name of Jaspar Trice, who must have one of the coolest names in history. They discussed Uncle Robert’s will, and by all accounts the conversation was a fairly unsatisfactory one. In the afternoon, Pepys went into the town and drank with a whole gaggle of friends at a pub called The Crown til about 9pm. He walked home to Brampton - a half an hour's walking - and found his father in an ale house in the village, which was run by one Goody Gorum, which is another fabulous name. Pepys went to bed nursing his right hand, which had been stung, one assumes by a wasp.... a jasper... not Jaspar Trice. At least I hope Jaspar Trice wasn't a wasp. I think there are fewer wasps this year...

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Tombola

Another day of lengthy phone calls, which had started to effect my stress levels by the early evening. It’s one thing standing up for your rights, but quite another when the process of doing so makes your stomach feel like a raffle ticket being spun around in a tombola. We travelled back from Shropshire, and I think I was permanently on the phone for the 200 mile trip. I spoke to very nice journalists, to more imbeciles from Haringey Council, and various Met police officers, who think the behaviour of the meat-headed bailiff merits a slap on the wrist from the law. They also believe that the council itself probably needs a little tap as well for employing these kinds of people to do their dirty work. Everyone I’ve spoken to also thinks it’s a bit weird that Haringey would use Luton County Court to do its business. Our local MP, Lynne Featherstone, has now written to the council urging them to explain themselves swiftly, thereby earning herself a million brownie points, which probably cancel out the ones she lost when she sided with the government on the issue of tuition fees.


The journalist I spoke to today was interested enough in what we had to say to immediately send a photographer round to take pictures of us standing by our car looking angry. The photographer kept telling me off for smiling, and we had to start all over again when Nathan realised his flies were undone. To make matters worse, he wasn’t wearing underwear! We were standing underneath a tree in the pouring rain for most of the shoot on account of my refusing to be photographed holding an umbrella, because the only one Nathan could find had a leopard print all over it, and was probably the campest umbrella I've ever seen. We might as well have worn a leather harness and glitter ball earings! I hope we don’t come across like a tragic, helpless and bitter pair of old queens.

I went for lunch with an old university friend, who is now pregnant from a donor egg, fertilised by her husband. They had the procedure done in Barcelona, and it went swimmingly - literally, I guess. She regaled me with the horror stories about the NHS which had led them to up-sticks and head to Spain for the process. At one point she missed a crucial operation because the nurses had stuck her in a ward and forgotten she was there. After 4 hours of patiently waiting in a hospital bed in her little green gown, whilst becoming increasingly dehydrated, she went and found a nurse who said; “I’m terribly sorry, they were calling you for surgery about three hours ago, and no one knew where you were...” I wouldn't have believed this story until I had my own similarly negligent experience at the Ear, Throat and Nose Hospital. I actually ended up feeling rather sorry for the chap sitting on the table next door, as the pair of us did nothing but whinge about society! Still, she’s incredibly excited about being pregnant, and looking forward to finding out if it’s a boy or a girl.

I can’t wait for my life to take a step back towards normality. I’ve been away from my writing for too long now, and need to get back to it so that I can legitimately take a week’s holiday in two week’s time. I’m off to Italy and am very excited.

July 19th, 1661, and Pepys summed up the previous four days. He’d been a busy bee, putting his dead Uncle’s estate in order, and setting up a network of "go-to" men who would look after things in the region when he returned to the capital. He spent the days riding from local village to local village, and the evenings walking with his father across fields. His recently widowed aunt Anne continued to behave strangely and was, in Pepys’ words full of “hypocritical tricks.” In fairness, she was probably grieving and simply attempting to guarantee that her house wouldn’t be sold from under her feet after being left to someone else.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Bailiff

My stomach is in knots. I seem to have spent the entire day on the phone, more often than not feeling deeply frustrated. 

So, this morning started with telephones to various councils, courts and debt collection agencies which established that our car was actually clamped (by Northampton-based bayliffs) on the authority of Haringey Council. The misdemeanor goes back to September last year when we apparently failed to pay a ticket we were issued for parking on our own street. Because we had a valid permit at the time, which had slipped behind the tax disc, we appealed against the fine and heard nothing. 

...It turns out we heard nothing due to a clerical error on the part of the council, who somehow managed to replace our actual address with an address ten doors down. How could this happen?  We've paid council tax to Haringey Council from this address the best part of five years! Furthermore, we put our address at the top of our letter of appeal. 

The whole issue also raises a rather worrying question. Why do Haringey Council take their business to Luton County Court and why do they use a Northampton-based bailiff to do their dirty work?

It's all rather dull, but the short version of the tale is that the bailiff tipped up at 10am this morning and used threats to extort £600 from us to have the clamp released. Whilst Nathan dealt with him, I was dealing with the council, who finally capitulated, and decides to let us off the charge. Sadly, the meat-head bailiff refused to talk to the man from the council. In fact, he told me he'd "back hand" the phone out of my hand if I waved it in his face any more! He used threatening gestures. He told us the tow truck was just round the corner. He said if the car was towed away it would immediately be auctioned. It was terrifying, horrifying and totally unnecessary. 

The rest of the day was spent talking to all sorts of other people on the phone. Trying to sort the sorry mess out. Trying to ensure the payment we'd made came back to us. Insisting that Nathan didn't end up with a CCJ against his name. Haringey council decided to rather pathetically blame the DVLA for the error. We know the DVLA have our correct address. I know because I phoned them as well. I've spoken to more inept people at the council than I could ever imagine, culminating in a deeply patronising Canadian who just didn't seem to want to listen to anything I was saying. 

This evening, I sent an email to Haringey Council, taking them through the sorry tale in grim detail and explaining that I'd accept nothing short of a written apology from them, and that compensation was something they ought to consider. I am even contemplating going to the police about the bailiff. I copied in our local MP to the email, a journalist from the Evening  Standard and the press office at the DVLA. Take that and party, Haringey. Time you learned how to run a local authority. 

Between the various unpleasant phone calls and the threatening visits, I was baby sitting my delightful god-daughter, Deia, who proved a wonderful breath of fresh air. We went to Waterlow Park to feed the ducks, and in the process got besieged by hundreds of pigeons who, at one stage, were sitting in a line on my shoulder. I'm not sure Deia entirely approved of all the fluttering. I'm not sure I did either! Pigeons must look enormous to a two year-old! 

We had lunch in Cafe Rouge with Philippa, Lucy, Phil, Ivana and a shedload of tiny children, all with huge personalities. I was, however, utterly appalled at one stage when little Albert was told to "shut up" by a passing grumpy old man. I immediately went with Deia to play loudly at the next door table! Deia played the game brilliantly, and at one stage dropped some salt onto his foot! Go Deia!

We're now (finally) in Shropshire with Nathan's Mum, who looks remarkably well for someone who's just had a heart attack... Although she's covered in more colourful bruises than I've ever seen!

I also spoke to Uncle Bill, who's finally given birth to a beautiful baby boy. She's still in hospital, however, having had an emergency C-section due to an infection. Poor lamb is really suffering. She can't even pick her son up at the moment. It must be hell on earth. 

What a horribly aggressive time it's been. There's an unnatural amount of misery out there. Thank God for the babies! 

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Amoose Bouche

A most pleasant day spent in the company of my dear friend, Ted. I've known him for over 20 years. We've played in orchestras and string quartets together since before our voices broke. He's now a journalist and a top bloke.

We went to Whipsnade Zoo. Our car, of course, remains incarcerated on Southwood Lane, so we decided to go there by train. Sadly/frustratingly/typically, all the trains to Luton had been replaced by buses, which took forever, so we ended up taking a train to Bishop's Stortford, where we were met by my father, who lent us his car. The irony was that the car journey to the zoo took us within ten miles of Highgate, but when you live in a broken society, needs must.

We had a marvellous time at the zoo. It was one of those typical July days; strong winds and a mixture of sunshine and heavy showers, which fortunately kept the crowds away and meant we almost had the place to ourselves.

The highlight of the day was almost certainly our ride on the little steam train that goes around the perimeter of the site. The guide was very informative, and we saw all sorts of animals, including an elephant, standing right beside the tracks. I'm a secret sucker for a good steam train. More than anything else, I just love the smell which seems to transport me into a previous life.

Both of us fell in love with the otters, were amused by the giraffes and enjoyed coming face to face with the bizarre maras (giant guinea pigs) that freely roam around the grounds. My favourite animal, however, was almost certainly the unloved moose, who was hiding in the corner of a quiet field, constantly over-looked or ignored by visitors who wanted more glamourous or cutesy creatures for their entry fee. We spent some time chatting to Mr Moose, and in return were shown some cool moosey moves!

There's a moose loose
We went home via Thaxted, where my mother had prepared a delicious semi-cold collation, which we ate whilst watching footage of various people resigning and being arrested over this phone-hacking scandal. It's very interesting viewing, and begs a question; will the odious David Cameron survive?

In the absence of Pepys, I'll leave you with a few photographs from the previous week

Raily, Iain, Wils, Jeanie and Nathan
Nathan and Wils
Balloon taken from the window of a car in Sussex
My Mum in her lovely garden

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Clamp camp sulk

We had a rather nasty shock this afternoon when we left the house and tried to get into the car. The damned thing had been clamped! A great big red sticker was attached to the side window which read “do not attempt to move this car.” Were we parked illegally? No. Had we forgotten to pay our road tax? No. It transpires that our car is now the possession of a Northampton-based group of bailiffs, who will, at some point soon, tow it away, and put it up for auction on behalf of Luton County Court to reclaim a debt, which is apparently close to £700. Obviously, because it’s a weekend, no one can tell us what the debt is for. The note attached to the car simply refers to it as an unpaid “penalty charge.” The same note also lists our address as one ten doors further down the road, with an entirely different post code. We can only assume, therefore, that this is an unpaid speeding fine that we picked up on the M1 whilst driving through Bedfordshire, but were never told about, because all the communication from Bedfordshire Council was sent to the wrong address. How they ended up with the wrong address, I've no idea. It all sounds incredibly suspicious. The bayliff told us on the phone that he'd called in at our address but hadn't found us there, which is probably because we live ten doors further down the street. Quite how he then managed to find our car, and take possession of it, I've no idea... particularly as it might have been easier to find a telephone number to call us on instead. I'd also suggest that it might have been easier for Bedfordshire County Council to pick up a telephone than take us to court in absentia, but who am I to suggest hundreds of pounds of tax payers' money might be spent doing something logical or reasonable?

I can gaurantee that they didn't have to wait the best part of a year for their slot to come up in a small claims hearing...

So the question becomes, where do we stand? You’d hope that when they see they’ve had the wrong address for us all this time, they’ll understand the problem is a clerical error on their part, or on the DVLA's part, and immediately offer to remove the clamp, and the exorbitant costs, if we agree to pay the original fine. But it’s not as simple as that. Nathan will now have a county court judgement in his name, which could cause all sorts of issues for us both further down the line. And then, of course, there’s the issue of our not having a car, just at the time we need one most, with Nathan’s mother ill.

The whole issue is frighteningly similar to the problem I’m having with the NHS at the moment. I can guarantee that this mayhem will all be the fault of some office clerk, who was simply sloppy with the paperwork, and will, no doubt, spend a great deal more effort attempting to wheedle out of taking responsibility for the problem than he or she ever invested in doing his or her job properly. No doubt his or her union will back him or her to the hilt and there will be no repercussions and no little slapped wrists for the bother that they've caused us, and the money they will have wasted...

I have no doubt that the people ten doors down were putting the letters back into the post, and writing “not known at this address...” on the envelopes, and that these letters were going back to Bedfordshire County Council and being thrown away because they created too much red tape for some other person at the council who didn’t take enough pride in their work.

The bailiff tells us he can’t access any information about the charge until Monday, and when we tried to explain that we’d not received a single letter about the unpaid fine, simply said; “yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before, mate...” Well, rest assured, “mate”, you’ll be hearing a great deal more from me before this business is over...

I would love to have some sense of why things at the moment seem to be in such a state of perpetual flux. It seems I spend my life on the telephone trying to sort things out, which more often than not involves countless wasted hours listening to musak whilst being left on hold, or waiting for people to call back, who have no intention of calling back because they realise the “customer” wants something much more badly than they do and, will cave in more quickly. On that note, I’m still waiting for my computer to come back from PC World (after 30 days), for someone from the Royal Ear Throat and Nose hospital to return the 3 messages I left last Tuesday, and for someone from the organisation the BBC uses to book hotels to tell me why I spent 45 minutes on the phone to them trying to sort out an error that they had made with my Travelodge booking. Grrrr...
And so to the relative safety of the 17th Century, and Pepys’ Diary, which resumed, after it’s countrified hiatus on Sunday 14th July, when Pepys made a tour of Lord Sandwich’s country estate, Hinchingbrooke, which was on the outskirts of Brampton, where Pepys’ Uncle had lived. It’s worth remembering that Sandwich was Pepys’ cousin, and that Pepys had lived in Hinchingbrooke as a child when he was sent from London to study at a school in neighbouring Huntingdon. Anyway, the place was a mess because Sandwich was having masses of work done, which Pepys felt would make the house “magnificent.” I'm sure he was right...

On July 15th, 1661, Pepys rode to Cambridge, and had arrived by 7 in the morning “to be trimmed.” He went to see his brother, John, who'd recently started studying at Christ’s College, and was vexed to find him still in bed at 8 in the morning. He was a student! What did Pepys expect? He went to King’s College Chapel, and was stunned to see how much things had changed. People were wearing surplices. There was an organ. It was a complete contrast to how things had been at Cambridge when he himself was studying there during the height of the interregnum when things were "unadorned." The people at Cambridge university made incredibly convincing puritans.

Purely by chance, Pepys then bumped into one of his colleagues from the Navy office, who was in Cambridge to settle his son into the university.

He spent the afternoon in various towns and villages on the Huntingdonshire/ Cambridgeshire borders, visiting relatives, and talking about his uncle’s problematic will, which meant he was in a fairly bad mood by the time he’d returned to Brampton. And guess what? He stopped writing his diary for another couple of days... Nothing like a good sulk in the country!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Come on, Tim!

Em Brulee applying eye make-up at last night's gig!

Today's been one of those days that feels like it's lasted forever: one of those days when you think about what you were doing in the morning, and it feels like a lifetime ago.

My day started in York with breakfast in the Travelodge. Fortunately, it was a classy Travelodge, with an actual breakfast bar, rather than one of their ghastly "breakfast packs" which are crammed full of things no one would ever want to eat. I had beans on toast.

The journey home was pleasant enough. I inadvertently chose a nice modern train with a chess board drawn into the table that I was sitting at. Sadly, I didn't have any chess pieces, or I might have challenged myself to a game. The journey was only slightly spoilt by a faint aroma of drains which drifted through the carriage as we passed through the Grantham area.

In London I had a meeting at Shoreditch House with Ryan and Julian. We have a very interesting idea for a TV series, which got us all quite excited. I do loathe Shoreditch House, however. I loathe the concept and I loathe the pretentious wannabes and never-weres that seem to hang out there, and the way the ghastly staff look down their noses at you if you're not famous.

We ended up in a park off Brick Lane eating beigels, which was much more my cup of tea.

I drifted to Liverpool Street station via the Spitalfields district, and found myself walking alongside Gilbert from Gilbert and George for some time. I say Gilbert. It could have been George. They're like Ant and Dec. No one knows which is which. Doctors often say they get bored of people coming up to them to whinge about their many ailments, but spare a thought for Gilbert. In the 2 or so streets where the speed we were walking fell into sync, at least 3 people ran up to him, one to show him the colours on a leaf he'd just found!

Then I imagined how much "spontaneous" singing Simon Cowell must hear every time he walks down a street and remembered once being mobbed by a group of 16 year-old girls when I was with Matt, which has to be one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life.

This evening I was lucky enough to be taken to the first night of the proms by Ellie. I am not a regular prommer, and forget what an exciting experience it is to be in the glorious Albert Hall, when it's filled to the rafters with expectancy.

The concert was great, with full marks going to the timpani player in the Mass. He was extraordinary theatrical and obviously highly talented and I was very disappointed that he wasn't given his own bow at the end. He must have lost half a stone as he beat the living daylights out of those kettle drums!

I was also amused by the antics of the promenaders in the bear pit. Ellie, as a radio 3 producer and regular prommer, was wise to every trick they played. As the piano was wheeled onto the stage for the Liszt concerto she said, "oh God, they're going to do the heave ho." And sure enough, as the stage hands lifted the piano lid, everyone in the stalls shouted "heave" in unison, and then everyone in the gallery echoed "ho"! I love puerile British humour. I wonder if these are the same people who turn up to Andy Murray matches and shout "come on Tim!"

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Electrifying

I'm at the York Racecourse, midway through what must be the longest awards ceremony ever! 

We're celebrating Yorkshire. It's a diverse county, and the news it generates is, well, diverse. We've had people nominated for reporting stories about pigeon races, and people getting blocks of marzipan mixed up with Semtex explosives, alongside more conventional hard-hitting journalism. 

My musicians played brilliantly. I was so proud of them all. Everything slotted together perfectly, and everyone did their bit; the wonderful saxophones, the tender string players, the red-blooded vocalists, the remarkable Circus Envy, and, of course Ed, the best electric violinist north of Watford Gap! 

I ended up having to sing in the ensemble, rather high as it happens, as Olivia, the symphony's black siren, was indisposed. We don't know how or why. We just know she didn't show up, which was fairly poor form. I'm not sure I should have been singing so close to my operation, but needs must and all that. 

The Racecourse is an amazing venue, and as we waited for our slot, we watched the sun setting, whilst hot air balloons floated into the sky from the field behind the race track.  I'd love to go in a hot air balloon. I'm scared of flying, and scared of heights, but somehow I'm not sure that would matter! 

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Requiem Aeternam

I'm in a chip shop in York, waiting for a pizza al funghi, which I'm expecting to taste and look like a slab of plastic covered in ketchup. I was drawn into this stinking hell-hole by gnawing hunger pains, and Dolly Parton playing on the radio!

It's wonderful to be back in York.
I adore this city. It's rammed with extraordinary memories, which rush into my brain like a tidal wave, almost every time I turn a corner. There's a perpetual cini-film running in the back of my mind. I can see myself as an 18 year-old, rolling down the mound at Clifford's Tower on an icy November evening, and then as a ten year-old in The Shambles, searching for a broomstick for a Hallowe'en party. 25 years later, I'm weeping like an old queen whilst the carillon in the Minster plays the Adagio from A Symphony for Yorkshire.  

And it's the symphony which has brought me back here again. We've been rehearsing for the O2 Media awards. The symphony isn't actually up for anything; there aren't any categories that it could have been entered for, but we've been asked to play the third movement as the mid-awards entertainment, which is obviously an honour. I've scored the piece as a sort of unplugged version, and we've been rehearsing with about half the musicians in Hull tonight. It's such a privilege to be working with the lads from Circus Envy again. They're such fine musicians. I think tomorrow's performance could be electrifying. If the sound guys do their bit..

I've been working on the all-important Introit from my Requiem, which includes the first statement of that hugely familiar phrase "Requiem Aeternam, dona eis domine." (Try writing that with predictive text!) I've got a corking theme, which was surprisingly painful to write. Requiems are so sad! 

I'm aware that I'm putting an astonishing amount of pressure on myself to write this piece. Maybe it's because I keep wondering if it will be played at my own funeral, and used to sum up my life in music. I'm at a stage where nothing I'm writing feels quite good enough. I keep comparing it to other music and wondering if it will hold its ground. I guess a composer can only write what works for him, and simply hope that others will find it appealing. It comes out as it comes out. 

Earlier today I found myself in the Minster whilst its amazing choir sang something for the evensong service. I was alone in the back of the cathedral and could only hear them through an ornate wooden rude screen. It was as though the intricate carvings were actually singing to me. I was literally surrounded by heavenly music. 

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The saga conitnues

I’m currently heading back to Highgate from the centre of town, where I’ve just delivered a parcel, and met Nathan for lunch. We went to Stock Pot on Old Compton Street, which is one of the cheapest eateries in town. In short, you pay pennies, and get served sloppy school diners, which periodically hit the spot, and occasionally end up tasting like the piles of matter that road sweepers scrape off the pavements in city centres on Sunday mornings. Today, fortunately, was a good day. I had some kind of ravioli stuffed with mushrooms, which tasted suspiciously meaty, despite assurances that it was a vegetarian dish. If I’m honest, I don’t really know what meat tastes like, so if my food is sort of smoky, I start to feel a bit funny, because I can’t imagine what’s bringing that particular flavour to the table!


The saga of The Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital continues to niggle away. Yesterday, I received two rather worrying letters. Firstly, my repeat follow-up appointment has been booked for the one day I told the specialist I couldn’t do. He made a note of the date, and told me he’d avoid it, and yet, when I opened the letter, there it was. When I called the hospital to change the date, they told me I’d have to accept the next available appointment, which was... wait for it... November. Absolute nonsense. And even more ridiculous is that the only way you can change things, is by getting shirty. I stamped my little feet like a toddler, spoke to a manager, and low and behold, the appointment was moved to early August.

The more worrying of the two letters letter came from the “language therapy” department. It was, essentially, a letter to my consultant, which said “thank you for referring this 36 year-old gentleman, who you diagnosed as having a right vocal cyst. I had organised to see him on the 31st May 2011, however, I am writing to inform you that he failed to attend his appointment and therefore we have discharged him from the case load.” The letter was “dictated” by Gary Wood, principal, on June 30th and “typed out” on July 7th.

So much is wrong with this.

Firstly, I never received notification of my appointment. I assume they sent it through the post. If they did, it never arrived. Secondly, why on earth would this Gary Wood leave it 5 weeks before telling the surgeon that he hadn’t seen me - knowing that my operation was in early June? My consultant asked me at my last appointment if I’d heard from a voice therapist, and was concerned and confused when I said I hadn’t. If Wood’s letter had even been sent when it was dictated, it would have reached the consultant before I saw him, and something could have been sorted out. Fourthly, why on earth are letters being sent internally, within the hospital? Surely, an email would have been a much faster and more appropriate method of communication? And finally, why was I booked in for voice therapy before my operation.

I did a bit of phoning around, and discovered some horrifying facts. Apparently, a voice therapy appointment needs to happen before an operation, so that they can give you in depth information about how to protect your voice afterwards. It’s so important, in fact, that sometimes Mr Rubin, the surgeon will actually cancel an operation if he discovers a patient hasn’t been seen by the therapists. If seeing them is that important – why do they rely on the unreliable Royal Mail to inform patients of their appointments? Why don’t they use the telephone to double check? When I was initially given the wrong date for my operation, I found out simply because a nurse phoned to ask why I hadn’t confirmed that I was coming along. I hadn’t received that letter either. So, if it’s hospital procedure to sensibly call a patient who hasn’t confirmed their appointment, why wasn’t I called in this instance? And why did no one ask me if I’d had voice therapy when I came in for my operation? Of course, I’m now terrified that I’ve done something wrong, and potentially wrecked my voice, and frankly, if I have, a rather whopping negligence case might be heading their way! This is not good...

Whinge over! I'm off for a run!

By the way, I just really hurt my teeth getting a new toothbrush out of an impenetrable wrapper! That is an irony!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Service

We're on the M11, heading back from Saffron Walden, where the car's just been serviced. Thank God for local knowledge. My Dad's builder saw me getting out of our car in Thaxted, and said he knew a local mechanic, should we need one, who was very reasonable and particularly good with Volkswagens. He was correct. The guy's done a brilliant job, replaced various parts, including a smashed wing mirror, and fixed all sorts of problems, for about half what we paid in London for the service only. 

The garage was in the middle of absolutely nowhere, between two cornfields at the end of a poplar-lined lane, which looked like the South of France in the sunshine. With the idyllic setting came thousands of thunder bugs, which I haven't seen in plague-like proportions since my childhood in drought-ridden Bedfordshire! 

The car now goes like a dream. We're both thrilled 

The less thrilling news of the day is that Nathan's mother has had a minor heart attack. She's currently in a hospital in Stoke, apparently feeling rather poorly after an operation to have a variety of stents and things fitted into her arteries. We're obviously incredibly concerned, and wish her the very speediest of recoveries. 

We've been in Cambridge all day, and had a particularly lovely little picnic with the parents by the side of the Granta. Apparently some weird poisonous blue algae has found its way into the river, so the powers-that-be are discouraging swimming this year, which makes me feel a little sad. What is a summer without a dip in the Cam? What happens if I fall in when I next go punting? Will I melt? 

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Still no word from Pepys

A glorious, sunny day, and we're currently driving from Lewes to Thaxted. We're listening to Marina and the Diamonds, have just seen two magpies (good news) an enormous hot air balloon is drifting through the Eastern sky and a wonderful sunset is plainly on the cards. Life is good. 

Sadly, we've run out of windscreen wash in the car, and have just had a very entertaining episode, which involved my attempting to squirt a bottle of mineral water onto the windscreen through a side window as the car hurtled up the A23 at 70mph. I didn't realise that the wind would simply blow what I was squirting back into the car. I am now soaking wet!

The day started in Regent's Park, where we met Raily, Iain, Tiny Jeanie-Rae and my godson, Will, who is turning into an adorable young man. I felt extremely guilty to be handing him a Christmas present, and acknowledging that I was seeing him for the first time this year. There are people in my life that I don't see nearly enough, and one of my half-year resolutions is to put an end to this unsatisfactory state of affairs. 

We drove to Lewes through the centre of town and regretted our decision at every red traffic light. After an hour, we discovered to our horror that we'd only travelled ten miles. When you live at 12 o'clock in London, getting to six o'clock in anything other than real time is almost impossible! 

The trip to Lewes was to attend Meriel and Roy's housewarming party. They're currently living in a beautiful house in the rolling chalky hills on the outskirts of the town. It was a barbecue, so we all ate rather too much food. Meriel and Roy are both vegetarian and I noticed that a large  number of the other guests were making a beeline for the veggie options. I suggested to Meriel that there might be a rather high percentage of vegetarians at the party, to which she responded "not really. Only about 50%!" Umm... I'd call that a fairly high percentage! 

350 years ago, and there was still no news from Pepys, who was stranded in a rural black hole. What was his problem? No Internet connection? I like to imagine him pathetically wandering around the village of Brampton in search of pretty ladies, decent wine and intelligent conversation, whilst secretly wondering how long he'd need to stay before packing his bags and vanishing would be considered anything less than rude! 

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Bar mitzvah

Nathan and I have just done a gig at a bar mitzvah, teaching a group of people to sing Shine by Take That. Friends who know me as a wannabe/quasi/part Jewish person will be surprised to hear that this is the first bar mitzvah I've ever attended. What can I say? There were no Jews in Northamptonshire, and my Jewish friends these days are mostly gay.

I always thought that bar mitzvahs were these rather mystical occasions and as a result, I was actually expecting slightly more religious content during the afternoon, to the extent that I nearly wore the emergency skull cap that I used to carry around when I was dating the MP for Enfield Southgate! I was slightly disappointed, therefore, to discover that it was actually just a party with a higher than usual percentage of bad dresses! I've seldom seen so many 13-year old girls in grown up cocktail frocks and 4-inch heels!  

We did our thing in a noisy room as best we could, and I sincerely hope they enjoyed it as they seemed a genuinely lovely, caring bunch. Nathan was an inspiring voice coach. All I had to do was sit and play the piano and smile a lot. I felt like a mormon! Or a moron...

Other than this, the day's been pretty uneventful. We had a much needed lie-in, watched a cookery show on the telly, did a few hours' work, had lunch in a local caff and ironed a couple of shirts for the gig. My black shirt has gone that sort of green colour and Nathan's looked more purple. What is it with black clothes?

As for Pepys, we're not really sure. Whatever he was up to this week 350 years ago, was condensed into one whinge- tactic entry bemoaning the pain of rural living, and longing to return to London from Huntingdon, where he was somewhat trapped on account of the death and funeral of his uncle, whose will wasn't nearly as generous towards Pepys as had first been thought! Still the water meadows near Brampton at this time of year are absolutely beautiful! 

Friday, 8 July 2011

Tupperware

I’d like to say I woke up with a spring in my step this morning, but I literally had to haul my sorry arse up the hill into Highgate, cursing continually at the weather, which was inclement to say the least. Yet again, July is proving to be a rather rainy month. August, I predict, will be less rainy, but almost constantly overcast. That’s how it seems to work these days. Still, the spring was lovely.


The cafe was ridiculously noisy this morning. First, a coffee morning attended by a gaggle of screaming yummies, which made me wonder whether coffee mornings exist at people’s houses these days. My mother was forever going to coffee mornings – and Tupperware parties. I wonder if they have Tupperware parties at Costa as well?

After the coffee morning came two children, who literally ran up and down between the tables shouting at their Mummy to watch them for what seemed like an eternity. Kids are lovely, and these were very sweet, but on top of everything else, the constant noise they were generating just made me want to scream. One of the most irritating noises in the world has to be the sound of a mother shushing a child... “Mummy, mummy, look at this” “shh” “But Mummy” “Shhhhhhh” “Mummy mummy, I might have pood my pants” “shhhhhh” “and there’s something brown all over my fingers...” “shhhh...”

After the hyperactive children, came the trauma of the girl from the poshest school in the area, Channing, waving goodbye to her friends. She was obviously off abroad with the family for a year. No doubt Daddy had been offered some life-changing opportunity in the Middle East. There were tears and hugs. It was all rather ghastly. One girl was crying her little eyes out, whilst stuffing huge fistfuls of toastie into her mouth, which was like watching a dustcart in a rain storm.

And then there was the music... You know you’re a regular in a place when you know all the CDs they play almost backwards. You get the odd gem by Midlake, but most of the material they play is low-fi cover versions of classic pop tracks, scored for unplugged guitars and solo violins, and sung by women with breathy voices, who you just want to strangle until they sing with a bit more gusto.

Pepys wrote one single diary entry for the 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th July, 1661. He remained in Huntingdonshire for the week, sorting out his uncle's papers, whilst his father dealt with the dead man’s clothes. Pepys became highly irritated by his aunt’s “base, ugly humours.” There were several issues with the will, and people had started to climb out of the woodwork with various claims. The most vocal claim came from one Tom Trice; a local lawyer, whose mother felt she was owed something. Pepys was uncomfortable in rural surroundings and longed to return to London. He couldn't find any decent wine, or meat, for that matter, and he was constantly bitten by gnats at night. He pretended to be okay, however, because he didn’t want to worry his father.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A and E

We're back at the Whittington Hospital's A and E department. Nathan's ankle is still hurting, months after his Naked Boys injury, and at least 4 weeks since he was sent away by the triage nurse here and told there was nothing wrong with him. I suspect Nathan is going to get a bit hard line with them - demand an x-ray and threaten to sue them if they discover a problem.

Fortunately, it's not too busy in here. I've got myself a lovely hot chocolate from the vending machine and I feel all relaxed after going to the gym.

It was interesting this morning to watch Homes Under the Hammer for the first time in a while. That's the show where they film people buying houses at auctions and watch what they do with them. The last time I saw it, the recession was in full swing, but everything was rosy on the show because it’s shot a fair amount of time in advance. But it’s a very different beast these days. One poor woman couldn’t afford to do the restoration she was planning, and when the cameras went back to see how she'd got on, the house was up for sale again and she’d simply given up. The auctioneer at one point sold a flat in Walthamstowe for £110K and actually said “I can’t believe I’m selling it for this...”
I spent the day working on the Sanctus from my Requiem, worrying at every stage that I might have reconstituted someone else's composition, because it feels curiously familiar. I can't work out whether that's simply because I wrote the theme I'm using in a set of notes some years ago, which is plenty enough time for it to have entered my sub-conscious. I ended up going on You Tube in search of anything I could find with Sanctus in the title, sweating profusely at the thought that I might suddenly stumble upon something rather too familiar. Fortunately, I didn't, but I did come across Karl Jenkins' Requiem, specifically his Dies Irae, which is one of the most exciting pieces of writing I've heard in ages. It's proper funky! You have to listen to it. Because I'm so impressed by it, I've vowed to listen to nothing else by Jenkins until my Requiem is complete. I could lose heart, or end up being unduly influenced by his writing, which I suspect occupies a sound-scape not dissimilar to mine. When you do listen to it, watch out for the choir singing something which sounds rather marvellously like "big penis!"

350 years ago, Pepys' Uncle Robert was buried. The vicar talked about the dead man's honesty during the sermon and Pepys was impressed enough. Many people came, and it seems the wake was something of a shambles; Pepys using up the family's entire supply of wine.

Pepys and his father read the will whilst walking in the garden. The news was not great. There was no provision for Pepys in the will; at least not until his own father was dead, but as usual, our hero decided to look on the bright side, claiming to be pleased that Uncle Robert had properly looked after his nearest and dearest, even if Pepys himself weren't top of the list of beneficiaries.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Imbeciles

It’s been a day of admin, so feel free to skip this blog if you’re looking for something interesting to read. The day went something like this; wrote on the kitchen table, went to Finchley to copy music, had a row in post office, had row in the gym, came back home and did more work.

The two rows were triggered by imbeciles. The woman in the post office was particularly stupid and unhelpful. “I need to get this package to Leeds by Friday” I said, very clearly. “Do you want to send it first class?” she asked. "Yes, I think I do" I said, "how much would that cost?" “If you send it first class," she interrupted, "it might get there on Friday, or it might not arrive until Monday.” I did a cartoon double take. “But it’s Wednesday” I said, “and we’re not in the third world.” Of course, I immediately regretted the previous statement, because the woman was plainly of Indian origin. “Surely sending it first class means it will probably reach its destination tomorrow, or by Friday by the latest?" I said, "Surely, that's how the Royal Mail always used to work.” She sighed, a great big elephantine sigh. “If you want to guarantee it gets there on Friday, you’ll need to send it by guaranteed mail, and you’ll have to send it tomorrow, or it will get there before Friday.” “No!" I said "I said, I said it needed to arrive before Friday, not on Friday...” And with that, I gave up, and simply paid an extortionate £7 to make sure the package arrived on time.

I wondered if this was a new jolly on the part of post office staff; pushing up the profits by exploiting the fact that no one trusts the postage system any more. Now that first class only “guarantees” delivery within five days, I'm not sure that sending letters has any purpose at all. The system is broken. They've closed down half the post offices, you have to wait for hours to be served... There'll come a time when it's quicker, and cheaper, to deliver packages by hand, through a network of friends travelling up and down the country. I'm currently wondering if I know someone who might be going up to Leeds within the next couple of days who might stick the package in their bag. Or maybe I should just leave it in the loo of a Virgin Train...

The argument in the gym was triggered by the guy who stands on the reception and looks like Diana Ross. The showers at the gym were all broken. Well, the three cubicles I visited were. One didn’t have a soap dispenser, another didn’t have hot water, and the last had lost its shower head, so water was just pouring out of a hole like a tap.

As I left the gym, I asked Ms Ross when we might expect the showers to be repaired. “They was [sic] repaired yesterday,” he said. “But at least three of them are still broken” I replied. “It’s going to take a while for the heating system to sort itself out" came the response. “But two of my issues are nothing to do with the heating system.” By then, he’d lost interest, and started doodling something on a piece of paper. “I see you’ve finished talking to me.” I said. He slowly looked up from his pad and shrugged. I lost my temper “I was talking to you!” I said. “You haven't answered my question, you’ve completely lost interest and now you're painting a pretty picture on a pad.” “You’re being rude to me” he said “I don’t have to listen to that.” He’d have said the same thing if I’d have sworn.

I realised at that point that I was getting nowhere, so stormed out, gracefully... I regret now that I didn't say what was rolling around in my mind; “Look, Ms Ross, I realise it must be very hard for you to be working in a gym when you used to front The Supremes, but you have a job to do, and you’re not doing it very well.” There would, of course, have been no point in saying anything. He wouldn't have known who Diana Ross was, would have taken the comment as a racist slur and lethargy has very much set in at LA Fitness. None of them care anymore. It’s a classic example of "broken window" syndrome. The staff are bored of customers whinging, because their superiors never address any of the issues that get raised, which makes the customers rattier, and the staff less interested as a form of self-preservation. And unfortunately the same situation is happening in libraries, hospitals and schools across the country. If in doubt, blame the recession.

I read today of a former ballet dancer with crippled legs who was told that the local authority wouldn’t pay
for the night care needed to enable her to go to the loo. They suggested instead that she might like to wear incontinent pads. But the woman is not incontinent. She simply can’t reach the loo in the night unassisted. So, because of government cuts, she has to lie in her own urine. It's difficult enough to maintain one's dignity as one gets older, but this is surely wrong? It’s astonishing what we’re allowing ourselves to become. Under New Labour, we had ten years of making everyone aspire to middle class values; vast sums of money were wasted on putting hundreds of thick people through university. We all knew our rights. We all whinged about the health service, and waiting times, but now we can’t even look after a crippled former ballerina. It’s pathetic. And watch out, people, because this discontent will spread. People will start to blame some minority group or other, and a Hitler figure will be just around the corner waiting to pounce.

Saturday July 6th, 1661, and Pepys was awoken with the news that his Uncle Robert had finally died. His response was predictably frank; “Sorry in some respect, glad in my expectations in another respect.” Our hero was, of course, in line for his uncle’s estate. Pepys journeyed into the City to tell a number of relatives the sad news, and then bought a pair of riding boots, grabbed a couple of horses and a messenger, and rode with haste to Brampton, just up the A1 in Huntingdonshire. He was actually there by 9pm. Not bad, really, for a 70 mile or so journey.

Pepys’ father was well, and his uncle, as predicted, was dead and lying in a coffin “standing upon joynt-stools in the chimney in the hall.” The corpse had obviously started to putrefy in the hot weather, so Pepys demanded that it be taken out and stored in the garden, watched over by two men.

Pepys’ Aunt Anne had taken to bed, and was in a “nasty ugly pickle” which made Pepys “sick” to see. Pepys shared a bed with his father “greedy to see the will” but not so impatient that it wouldn't wait until the morning.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Opera North

So, Opera North has got itself into a nasty little pickle, with a community project in Bridlington. I’ve never really liked Opera North, not since players from its orchestra led an unnecessary walk-out during a session for A Symphony for Yorkshire. And judging by the latest scandal, its players aren’t the only ones with a total disregard for the creative process.


It seems Lee Hall, the writer of Billy Elliot, has refused to remove references to a character’s sexuality from his libretto for a community opera, because a school, who were chosen to perform as part of the piece, felt a homosexual character was not something its pupils were ready to embrace. The language was in no way graphic. The offending line was simply a character saying “I am queer. I prefer a lad to a lass.” Opera North, who organised the project, are trying to blame everyone other than themselves. In fact, a recent statement, attempts to flag the problem up as simply an unfortunate argument between Hall and the Local Education Authority that they were powerless to prevent. But this doesn’t ring true. Here’s why I feel that Opera North needs to fall very squarely on its own sword...

1) Homophobia is an issue. It wrecks lives and it causes huge amounts of unnecessary pain. Every piece of research that has been carried out on the subject suggests that the only way to deal with homophobia is by “normalising” or “usualising” it within schools. By pandering to a school with old-fashioned or inappropriate views on the subject, Opera North is guilty of homophobia. They should have sussed out the school right at the start of the process, told them the kinds of issues that the work would be exploring, and been prepared to walk away in favour of a more enlightened establishment, with a more intelligent head teacher. The bottom line is that the gay community has been offended, and Opera North needs to apologise.

2) Censorship. We do not live in communist East Germany. There is no place for the censorship of art in this country. Very young children are subjected to all sorts of inappropriate images on the television and on the Internet on a daily basis. Just as it’s the parents’ duty to turn the television off if something gets a bit racy, it’s a school’s duty to withdraw from a project if it’s not for them. It cannot expect to change the work of art itself, or hold a creative process to ransom until it gets its way. An organisation like Opera North should be backing its creative team. If you want a well-respected writer like Hall to work for you, then you have to accept what he writes. There was, after all, a gay character who wore frocks in Billy Elliot, so he was hardly exploring new terrain.

3) Mismanagement. However you look at this, Opera North needs to take responsibility for wasting tens of thousands of pounds of public funding. It also needs to take responsibility for the scores of people in Bridlington who no longer have a work to perform that they’ve spent months rehearsing. Part of organising a community project like this is identifying potential problems before they emerge. I cannot understand how a school would be allowed to rehearse for months on end without, one assumes, seeing a full script of the piece they’re performing. One also assumes that the written material was approved by Opera North before being handed to the school. Schools pull out of community projects all the time, generally because their teachers can’t be bothered to go the extra mile required to give their kids an opportunity of a lifetime. I can’t understand, therefore, why an entire community opera ground to a halt because a single school pulled out. Mismanagement.

We live in troubled times. There is so little money out there for community projects at the moment. The overall figure of this Bridlington opera has been put at £100K, which is a bewildering amount to go up in flames. To put things in context, I made A1: The Road Musical for £45K, and I think the Symphony for Yorkshire came in at about the same amount. Someone, somewhere along the line is seriously taking the mickey. Heads need to roll at Opera North, and their right to have public funding needs to be questioned. If a company in the private sector suddenly made a mistake to the tune of £100K, they could well go under, and I am sick and tired of living in a country that continually bails out its inept workers.

I received a text message today which read "due to new legislation, those struggling with debt can now apply to have it written off." Whatever happened to taking responsibility for your own actions?

Friday 5th July 1661, and Pepys had very little to say for himself. He worked at the office and then went to visit Sir William Batten, where there was much merriment... and a venison pasty.

Monday, 4 July 2011

A posh android

I’ve just returned from a run in glorious, glorious early evening sunshine. I ran around the circumference of Hampstead Heath again, and I’ve seldom seen it look so beautiful. I’ve had a nice, hot bubbly bath, and am sitting at the kitchen table with the window open. A cool breeze is making my skin tingle.


Our trip to Brighton yesterday has very much put a spring in my step, as did a nice, long catch-up on the phone with Fiona in Texas, where it’s apparently too hot to leave the house beyond 9am at the moment!

Philippa has been at the dentists today having surgery on her gums, and tells me she can’t eat solids for two weeks as a result. I pity her, and can’t think of anything more miserable than eating baby food, jelly, soup and porridge for a fortnight. Good way to lose weight though, thinking on...

I did a full day’s work today on my brass band reduction of the last movement of the Symphony for Yorkshire. I’m very much enjoying the process, and forcing myself to write in extraordinary detail, which is very good for me. Less good for me was the mother and baby group who met on the sofas at Costa this morning. The babies were all a little hot and tired and one of the Mum’s kept talking to her child in a voice which sounded like Michael Jackson, and was was going through me ever more than the constant wails and shrieks that her little monster was making. “What’s the matter, Bubba?” she said repeatedly, as though her one year-old was going to answer, “well actually, Mummy, I’m bored out of my tiny mind by the excessively dull conversations you’re having with your friends. You’re not giving me enough attention, I don't like the top you're wearing, which is why I keep throwing up on it - and please don’t call me Bubba!” Instead the mother said laughingly, “you really hate it here don’t you, Bubba?” And I wondered at that point why she continued to drag the poor little fella to the cafe...

Personally, I think he was freaked out by one of the other mummies who sounded like a posh android sucking a lemon sherbet whilst singing into a vocoder. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a woman with such a peculiar voice. Her child will grow up ashamed.

Thursday 4th July, 1661, and Pepys went to the King’s Theatre to see Killigrew’s Claracilla being performed. He described it as “well acted” but wrote how sad it was that the theatre was no longer “thronged.” The opening of the all-singing, all-dancing “Opera” in Lincoln’s Inn, had done for it. In fact, it would close within two years. "That's entertainment!" (As Simon Cowell has taken to saying in the most irritating voice every time someone accuses him of being a power-crazy tw*t.)

Pepys heard more news from his father in Huntingdonshire; his Uncle Robert was still ill and still having fits of “stupefaction” which is a word I adore and may well start to use.

In the evening, Pepys went to the Exchange, and then out drinking with his Uncle Wright to the Mitre pub. They were very merry, but Wight was annoyed that Pepys’ father had gone to Huntingdon without telling him..

Pepys also met Mr Batersby, the apothecary at the pub, and the two men got into a chat about “emerods” – or haemorrhoids – Batersby claiming that the best cure for the condition was allowing leeches to suck blood where the sun tends not to shine. Gross.