Friday, 30 September 2011

I have a dream, a song to sing...

It’s been another ridiculously hot day. Last night was almost unbearably sticky. I slept lightly - in a semi-hallucinatory state. At one point I think I must have brushed past Nathan’s fingers because I dreamt/imagined there were worms in the palm of my hand. I woke up at about 4am. It’s something I’ve been doing ever since the court case. Lots of thoughts roll around my head at that time in the morning. Lots of plans start to form, and then I’m suddenly wide awake. I got up and watched some telly whilst listening to the rats scratching about in their cage.

 Believe it or not, I’m still coughing. But certainly not as often. I maybe have 10 or so attacks each day – often when I’m at the gym. Aside from the coughing, however, I guess I’m almost better, but it’s very strange to think that I was ill for the whole of September. I can’t remember the last time an illness wiped me out of for a whole month. As a result, I’m extremely worried about my voice. It’s in tatters from the uncontrollable coughing. The hoarseness feels almost identical to how it felt before my operation and I’m terrified the polyp has returned. Talk about one thing after another...

On the bright side, we now have our top sop for the choir. Hurrah! She’s an actress in Phantom. I can’t tell you how excited I’m getting about this concert, and the choir we’re forming for it. I really want them to go on to great things and have big plans. Because it’s a relatively small choir of 16-18 voices and we’re all music readers, we can market ourselves for all sorts of session work. My dream is to build a reputation for doing concerts and recordings in strange locations. I want the choir to feel the music they perform and really draw people in; really challenge the perceptions people have of live performance. I don’t want anyone who sees us to feel that crippling sensation that classical music fans can experience, when they feel glued to their chairs, holding their breath for fear of breaking the concert-going etiquette. In my experience, people should be able to show their appreciation at any stage in a performance, but particularly at the end of a movement, unless, of course, a conductor very specifically holds the moment because there’s a tangible sense that one movement needs to segue into the next. I want to lose that ghastly thing when you walk into a concert hall and the orchestra are all sitting on the stage practicing. It’s arrogant, it looks amateur and it wrecks the magic of the moment.

Anyway – because I’m fired up I worked solidly from 9.30am to 11pm, stopping only to watch Pointless (which I try to watch, because I know my parents also enjoy it and like to think we’re all doing the same thing at the same time) and Strictly Come Dancing. I didn’t enjoy any of the dancers tonight, and have taken against the blond-haired footie player on account of his having a head like a bucket!

And what of Pepys? Well his entry from September 30th, 1661, is possibly the longest ever!
There was a ruckus in the City of London. The French ambassador had been rowing with his Spanish counterpart; something to do with the Swedes. The King got involved (telling no English man to get involved), but it did little good, and as a result, there were soldiers and various people rushing through the streets all day. At one stage there were even barricades outside both embassies. Pepys went to Chelsea to do some business with the Privy Seal, and looked at some beautiful paintings at Danvers House that he’d previously only seen at night. They looked astonishing in daylight.

He returned to the City to hear that the Spanish had taken arms against the French and killed several people (including an Englishman who'd been caught in the cross-fire). London was in a state of jubilation at the prospect of a Spanish mini-victory. As Pepys put it; “we do naturally all love the Spanish, and hate the French.” How little things change!

Pepys recounted the story to his (French) wife, who was understandably none too happy with his summing up of the situation. A little tactless, I feel, Mr Pepys.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The sun is still in the sky

I've melted. It's official. I'm sitting on a sofa feeling like an old dish cloth. It’s incredibly hot outside, and I’ve been working very hard. There’s an astonishing amount of arranging to do for this concert on November 27th and also a huge amount of organising. We seem to have a full choir but for 2 tenors and a top sop. I'm not so worried about the soprano, but I'd love to find some tenors. They don’t grow on trees, and those that exist get very finely spread!

I worked all morning in the cafe, and then went for a lunchtime walk with Fiona around the edge of Highgate Woods. Beautiful sunshine and glorious green-dappled shade. I’ve been sitting on a sofa all afternoon and evening doing more arrangements, wary of the fact that I start a job in Manchester at the start of November, so have to be done, dusted and fully organised by then.

It’s now 9 o’clock and I realise that if I don’t move, or eat something in the next half an hour I’m going to turn into a pumpkin or a troll.

The 29th September was a Sunday and Pepys went to church in the morning. He hosted a lunch for a large number of people, and everyone was very merry. They went back to church in the afternoon, and then to Sir William Penn’s house, where Pepys met Sir William’s brother, Captain George Penn, who was an explorer and seemed incredibly glamorous. There was even more merriment and a huge amount of wine. Pepys became so pissed he couldn’t say his evening prayers for fear the servants would realise how drunk he was!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Treat him well, he is your brother

London has been basking in an unseasonable heat-wave today. Temperatures have been in the late 20s, the trees are still green and vibrant, and it feels like summer all over again. I found myself writing music on Hampstead Heath in the late afternoon. It felt good to be back there. I’ve been neglecting the place of late.

Fiona is back in town, and we had coffee at my favourite cafe, whilst I sent hundreds of emails to hundreds of people. There’s much organising to be done. For those who read this blog who tell me off for not pre-warning them about interesting events, I have two dates for your diary.

Firstly, October 13th, when my partner, Nathan, is premiering his “singing monk” cabaret at The Pheasantry on the King’s Road. The cabaret is called Brother Act and The Pheasantry is a Pizza Express. You pay £12, and then sit and watch various acts whilst stuffing your face with carbs – if you’re feeling hungry. The food costs extra, obviously, but it’s well worth a visit, because over the course of the night you’ll see four contrasting cabaret acts, some of which are incredible, whilst others will make you howl with laughter for all the wrong reasons! It’s the latter acts that I love the most...

The second date for your diary is November 27th. I cordially invite you all to celebrate my 15th anniversary of being a professional composer with a retrospective concert of my work at St Mary at Hill Church in the City of London. The work will feature a string quartet and a16-voice choir, and will culminate in a premier of two of the movements from my Requiem. We will also be performing the controversial work I wrote for the choir in Lincolnshire, so you can see for yourselves what a work “lacking in soul” actually sounds like. For the members of the choir who are still reading this blog - a big hello - I do hope you’ll also come along. It was, after all, written especially for you and I’d love you to finally hear the work...

We collected our car from the garage this afternoon, having struck the deal that we’d pay for the broken parts if they did the labour for free. It felt like an honourable compromise, although it cost me over £200 and the steering wheel still makes a proper racket when it’s on full lock. Ironically this was the problem that we initially thought would fail the MOT. £1500 of work on other parts of the car and the original problem’s still not fixed!

We’ve just returned from the Landour theatre in Clapham where we saw Ragtime. It was an astonishing experience. The Landour is a tiny little fringe space which can only seat 60 or so, and yet there were 21 people on the stage - a tiny little stage - singing and acting their absolute socks off. It was an extraordinary visceral experience, which had me in tears within minutes.

With the exception of one actor, who was doing "telly acting" and was completely inaudible throughout, the cast was magnificent. Particular hats off to Jonny Barr, Judith Parrish and Kurt Kamsley. For those who don’t know Ragtime, it’s a remarkable score, which I realised for the first time tonight, is one of the greatest musicals of the last 30 years. Strangely, I remember seeing it in the West End 8 or so years ago, and not being hugely impressed. This year has been very interesting for me. Twice in the last two months, I’ve found myself needing to reappraise a musical. Furthermore, I find myself almost constantly reappraising the concept of the London Fringe. One of the reasons why the show left me so cold in the West End was that it was in a barn of a space where the intimacy of the writing vanished into a puff of proscenium arch. If there’s a good side to this recession, it’s that it’s forcing people to re-examine creativity. People can’t expect to get rich any more – but that doesn’t mean we have to be rubbish... far from it. We simply have to be inventive and give younger people and harder workers opportunities to shine, because from invention, exciting things grow.

Saturday September 28th, 1661, and Pepys, like me, went to the theatre. He saw a play called Father’s Own Son at the King’s Theatre and enjoyed it thoroughly. He spent the evening drinking... unlike me, although as I write this, Nathan is preparing a hot chocolate! Yummmmmmm

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Croissants

We're returning from Southwark where we've been watching The Baker's Wife at the glorious Union Theatre. Sadly, it's a train wreck of a show, which was unsuccessful in the 1970s for good reason. The show is peopled by the most grotesque individuals, all of whom seem to have no other function than to hate each other and the world around them. 

This particular production brought nothing new to the piece. The cast spent the entire show shouting at one another. Being able to shout is not an indication of someone's ability to act - a fact I often want to tell the RSC. The director had obvious decided that atmosphere could only be created by smoke, and every 3 minutes a great gust of the stuff would completely envelop the audience, leaving us all feeling sore-eyed and utterly claustrophobic. 

The plastic row of chairs I was sitting on had broken and sort of bounced up and down when anyone moved, which made everyone try to sit as still as possible and this could only be achieved by tensing every muscle in our bodies! You could have played me like a xylophone at the interval! I was sitting behind a man with the biggest head in the world, who was himself sitting in front of a pillar, so the viewing experience was greatly impaired, even before the smoke obliterated what little of the show we could see. 

They missed a trick. There were many songs about the glorious smell of bread and surely it wouldn't have been hard to fill the theatre with that particular smell. A toaster backstage would have done the trick. Theatrical smoke stinks; a cloying, weirdly perfumey all-pervading aroma, which ruined any sense of the place being set in a bakery! 

The experience angered me greatly, because I have so much respect for what they're doing in that space at the moment. Still, all the talk of bakery sent me rushing home to watch my favourite programme The Great British Bake Off. Today's show... Croissants.

No theatre for Pepys 350 years ago. He was too busy eating grapes and gawping at melons. Real melons, which had been sent from Lisbon by Sandwich, and the first Pepys had ever seen! How excited he must have been. I hope he didn't prove to be mildly allergic to them like I am!

Elizabeth went to Whitehall to call in on Mrs Pearce who had been "churched" on that day. This religious tradition, which I'm told lasted well into the 21st Century, involved women, exactly a month after giving birth, being integrated back into society after the mayhem they'd endured. In many cases women would go to church to give blessings for surviving the ordeal (often against the odds), but in some cases they went to be "purified", which seems a great deal more sinister. How ghastly religious men can be! 

Monday, 26 September 2011

He has what you might call a trivial occupation!

It's hot, it’s wet and it’s incredibly sticky. I'm sitting on the tube during a rush hour. As we make our way progressively further north, the carriages are becoming more and more crowded. The windows have steamed over. Sweat is gushing from every pore.

I'm knackered. It’s a good form of knackered. I’ve been in Trafalgar Square all day today playing Samuel Pepys in a curious art installation-cum-peep show called "the Samuel Pepys show." Do you see what they did there? It's subtitle was "sneak a peek," but unfortunately someone wrote "peak" all over the branding, so midway through the day someone else arrived with a load of e's to paste over the offending a's!

Anyway, my task was to flounce about in 17th Century garb attempting to get passers by to look through a series of little windows which revealed a set of model boxes which represented what's being planned for London in 2012 for those of us who are all Olympic’d out. These corporate events can be excruciating, but the artist who'd made the model boxes had done such an incredible job that you couldn't halt the swathes of people who wanted to look through the windows. They fired everyone up, and it was a privilege to guide people over. The highlight was definitely the window which demonstrated the Globe Theatre’s “37 Shakespeare plays in 37 different languages” festival, which featured a real person sitting in a tiny cardboard theatre. He was dressed as a 16th century fool, and as the day went on, we switched roles so that I could have a go at sitting in the theatre. It was great fun. The weather held out until five minutes before we packed up and I think the majority of people who saw the installation went away enriched by the experience.

I felt rather pathetically proud to be playing Pepys. I was also pleased that so many Pepys fans came over to talk to me. There’s always a sort of stand-off between Pepys aficionados where the two parties sort of size one another’s knowledge up. One man spoke at me for about 4 minutes assuming I knew nothing about the man, and it was strangely satisfying to floor him with a nugget of knowledge as soon as I’d managed to get a word in edgeways.  I met a charming naval historian and had long chats with two people who claim to have ancestors who were part of the Pepys clan. I was also astonished by how many primary school children seemed to know who I was. One little girl came rushing over and said; “have you found your parmesan cheese yet?” It seems Pepys burying his cheese in the garden during the great fire has become the story that most children remember. Like when you learn about the Egyptians and only remember that they used to get the brains out by shoving sticks up the nostrils!!

Who's this little girl?

Sadly my feet hurt like hell on account of my having been given shoes that can only be described as having Cuban heels. Heaven knows how women manage to walk around in stilettos. I was also slightly disappointed by the wig I was given. I think it was a less Pepys and little more Jill Gascoine.


The fascinating part of the day was definitely arriving in Trafalgar Square at 8.30am to find two kestrels flying around. They had owners, who were wearing those leather gloves, but it was a very peculiar sight. I suddenly remembered hearing stories that the "troublesome" pigeons in Trafalgar Square had been scared away by kestrels and felt rather special to be up early enough to witness it happening for real. And it very much did the trick. The hawks flew about for half an hour or so, but by the end of the day I'd only seen about six pigeons in total. Not much fun for the family who came up to say "where have the pigeons gone? I brought my children to Trafalgar Square to see the pigeons!" And part of me felt very sad indeed.

350 years ago was a nasty rainy day and Pepys went to the theatre with his wife. Keen readers of this blog will remember that trips to the theatre were considered okay if Elizabeth was present. Pepys had a rather peculiar set of moral boundaries! They saw King or No King at the King’s Theatre and it was “very well done.” Because of the rain, they took a coach home. I wonder what they'd have made of the tube...

Sunday, 25 September 2011

We can face it together

We're at Julie's watching the X Factor. She had decided not to "do" it this year, but in one session we've managed to get her royally addicted, which stitches up her Saturday nights until Christmas. All in a day's work...

Julie has just got back from South Africa and is knackered, so we brought the food with us... Pre-cooked. Glorious baked potatoes and a massive bowl of salad. Sometimes I think that nothing can beat a well-cooked baked potato in the autumn.

It was equally lovely to see dear Sam - who lives with Julie - but fled the moment the X Factor started. Frankly he has more sense... And, let's face it, class.

We're now listening to a very extravagant song from 1974 called Beach Baby, by a band called The First Class. It's an utterly exuberant piece, with all sorts of weird passages, which has got us dancing round the living room like Pan's People. Am I the only person who's not heard of them or this song before? Listen to it immediately if you're like me!

350 years ago, Pepys spent the day out and about in Westminster. At one stage he found himself in St Martin's Lane, wanting to go south to Whitehall. Unfortunately there were road works at Charing Cross, which meant all coaches were being diverted via the Mews, which was, one assumes, either a single back-lane, or a system of mewses behind the main (blocked off) roads.

There was talk of Sandwich, who had been involved in some unsuccessful military action in Algiers, and Catherine de Braganza, who, though still merely the Portuguese wife-in-waiting for Charles II, was already being called the Queen of England. Rumour had it that she was a proper little Madame...

Pepys, who had been attempting to cut back on his pleasure-seeking exploits, was tempted by the devil to the theatre, where he saw a pretty rubbish performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Funny to think of these Shakespeare plays being only 50 or 60 years old, which I suppose is the equivalent of an Osbourne play for us. How mad is that?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

But come the night they will be dancing in the neon light

I'm returning from Central London, where I've just deposited Nathan's cousin at the Charing Cross Theatre. She's come to see him in Naked Boys Singing. I'm never sure what to make of Nathan's relatives coming to watch the spectacle of his removing every last stitch of clothing on stage. Call me repressed, or a man with a body that resembles Captain Caveman, but it's not something I'd be entirely comfortable for my family to watch. But, I suppose, Nathan is an actor with very little time for fake propriety, and the show is done with great taste and utmost comic value, so who am I to assume embarrassment? I think both his parents had a lovely time when they saw it. I suppose when your family's seen you playing Frank'n'furter, there's little left to shock them with. Apart from your naked penis, that is! Poor Celia must sometimes wonder what's coming next!

Nathan's cousin, Jane, is just delightful. I'd go as far as to describe her as somewhat alluring. She's the daughter of Nathan's beloved Auntie Joyce, who is sadly no longer with us, and she ran away at the age of 16 to marry an Italian. 32 years later, they're still married, and she's still very happily living in Italy. They were obviously destined to find each other at such a young age.

We had tea in a Japanese restaurant, cakes at Pat Val on Old Compton Street, and then walked to the theatre via China Town, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. London was buzzing with tourists, buskers, street artists and revellers, and I felt more than a little proud of it. It's a place we all love to hate, and God know's it can be excruciating at times, but catch it on a warm, barmy night, when you don't have to be anywhere in a hurry, and it beats most of the world's other cities hands down.

I feel a little better this evening, perhaps because I got off my harris and ventured out. Maybe the policy from now on needs to be about pretending this cold doesn't exist, after all, there's nothing like inertia to breed inertia! Perhaps I should have joined Nathan at the gym, and forced myself to jump up and down a bit, but I was so exhausted this afternoon that I thought the only option was full-scale hibernation!

Oh yes... Following yesterday's list of ten amazing theme tunes, I feel obliged to add three more. You can decide for yourself which ones they replace in the list, but I'd suggest Good Morning Britain and Ulysses should go in favour of...

Number One (the absolute classic)
Number Two (the quintessential British Sunday evening drama - and the greatest use of a high-hat in a theme tune)
and Number Three (oh, the glamour...)

And what of Pepys and Elizabeth 350 years ago? Well, they were returning to London from Stevenage. It had rained pretty solidly through the night, so all the roads had become mud baths, but they made good progress, and only stopped once, in the village of Holloway, where they had a drink at an inn with the "sign of a woman with cakes in one hand and a pot of ale in the other, which did give [us] good occasion of mirth, resembling her to the maid that served us."

Friday, 23 September 2011

All I do is eat and sleep and sing

I still feel like rubbish. I think I’m going to have to start simply living with this illness, like my friend Ellen does with her bad back. I’m permanently exhausted, permanently coughing, and my voice now reaches down to a bottom A. On the bright side, I always wanted to be able to sing a bottom a!

It’s been a beautiful early autumn day today, and the sun’s been very warm. I did a morning’s work and then went into town to meet Nathan for a very late lunch. We bought baked potatoes from the take away cafe at the end of West Street, and sat and ate them in the middle of Seven Dials whilst the sun warmed our faces.

The manager of the garage telephoned Nathan this morning and they immediately locked horns, although by the end of the conversation a compromise was reached. We will pay for the part, and they will pay for the labour required to have it fitted. It seems just about fair enough, although I'm still not convinced that the cord simply "snapped." The very fact that they're offering to fit it free of charge surely indicates an acceptance of guilt, I don't think people make "good will gestures" any more.

I genuinely don’t have a great deal else to say. I haven’t even seen the news to be able to make any comment on that. I could talk about Gardener’s World, but that seems really tragic...

Because this blog entry is so dull, and because I'm in the mood for nostalgia, I have compiled a list of the ten greatest television theme tunes of all time...

Here they are... If you're my age, you'll be pleasantly surprised by every one. You may even cry before the first one ends...

Number One
Number Two
Number Three
Number Four
Number Five
Number Six - stick with this one, it goes fabulously weird and hippy in the middle
Number Seven 
Number Eight
Number Nine
Number Ten

Pepys woke up 350 years ago to the sound of his father and mother rowing “as they used to in London.” He was very disappointed. Part of the reason for their coming to the country was to resurrect their relationship. He told them both off, suggesting it would be preferable if they tried to live what little time they had left on earth in “love and quiet.” It was home time for Pepys, and he decided to take Elizabeth back to London via Baldock in Hertfordshire, where there was a fair. He probably wished he’d not bothered, as he was immediately fleeced out of 14 pence for a “mouthful of pork.” They must have seen the upwardly mobile Londoner coming. From Baldock they travelled to Stevenage, where they dodged a rain storm, and from Stevenage they rode easily to Welwyn, where they stayed the night. There were two beds in the room and the couple slept very well...

“of all the nights that ever I slept in my life I never did pass a night with more epicurism of sleep; there being now and then a noise of people stirring that waked me, and then it was a very rainy night, and then I was a little weary, that what between waking and then sleeping again, one after another, I never had so much content in all my life, and so my wife says it was with her.”

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Waiting for a call

Day 97 of my cold, and things seems to be turning nasty again. Plainly the antibiotics aren’t working. Today I started to wonder if I have pneumonia, or TB, or some new air-born disease that there’s no name for yet. Or perhaps it’s simply my body saying; “don’t ever put me through that level of stress again.” I tend to think that bodies are very good at letting a brain know when enough is enough! I’m cooking a big plate of chips for Nathan, ‘cus God knows we deserve something nice for tea. After eating, we shall curl up like little prunes and another night will pass...

I picked up the car from the MOT place today. No work has been done on it, and we’ve taken the decision that it’s better for the car to be with us whilst we enter the process of trying to get the garage to accept responsibility for the problem. From my perspective they're very clearly in the wrong, but then again, I thought doing 4 months’ work on a music commission would guarantee my being paid. I’m obviously slightly out of touch! Anyway, I walked down to the garage, the cold making me sweat profusely with every step. I spoke to the mechanic, who is a slightly peculiar chap with little sense of social etiquette. What seems particularly weird is that he refuses to “bother” his boss with the problem, because his boss is “a very busy man.” So we’re in a bit of a stand-off. How does one get in contact with a boss who is protected so carefully by his staff? We've sent an email and are waiting for his call...

The rest of the day has found me revisiting old scores, most notably those from Someone Whistled, which was the disastrous opera/ vanity project that cost me a fortune in 1997. Philippa, who produced the piece, sent me a text after I’d written about it in the blog a few days ago to say, “Aw, Someone Whistled! A learning curve... Anyway, it looked and sounded fantastic even if no one saw it!” And this got me thinking. Perhaps it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d always believed. I think when you’re hit with a commercial and critical catastrophe, it begins to take on a sort of mythical status as the years roll by. Every time I thought about the work, it tended to take another step away from being the piece I was so proud of creating on its opening night. It would be impossible for the work to be as appalling as I’d remembered it, so, I got the scores out a few days ago and started to work my way through them. Arnold Wesker always used to describe the show as being “filled with the promise and naiveté of a young, gifted composer.” I don’t know about the gifted bit, the work is certainly naive, but it also had some rather lovely musical moments. I recorded two of the tracks a few years ago, to sort of save them from obscurity (hear them on my website here), but I believe there are at least two other songs from the piece which also deserve not to be forgotten... So I’m dusting them off, and re-orchestrating them.

Sunday September 22nd, and Pepys went to church in Brampton with his father. They heard a "dull" sermon by one Mr Case, who redeemed himself slightly by singing well. There’s little else to say. Things are quiet out in the sticks.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Crackin' Up!

Sometimes I can’t believe how life has the capacity to so ruthlessly and continually kick you in the balls!  As we took our car away from the garage (after paying £1,000 to have a fist full of “necessary” repairs, which weren’t necessary 2 months previously when the car was serviced) a warning light started flashing on the dash-board. A little bit of research revealed that it was something to do with the power steering, so we took it back to the garage and asked what was wrong. A day later (today) they called Nathan to say that some kind of cord had snapped in the steering system and that the fault was going to be “expensive to remedy.” Worse than this, they don’t seem to want to take responsibility for the problem, despite the fact that they’d done work on the steering mechanism as part of the MOT. Surely, we’re not a million miles off the mark by suggesting that the fault was caused by something that the garage did? After all, we’d never seen this warning light before...

Nathan has finally snapped and was inconsolable on the phone. I simply don’t know what to do. We don’t have any more financial reserves to pay the garage for this new problem and absolutely can’t afford to get involved in a second court case - not just because the experience almost killed us, but because I simply do not trust the legal system any more. It is very rare for Nathan to disintegrate, and a part of me dies every time this happens.

We will get through this period. We absolutely will, because we have to. One day I’ll find a carrot or potato growing through the cracks in our patio and scream, “as God is my witness, I shall never go hungry again...” Sometimes it helps to imagine myself as Scarlet O’Hara!

I had a meeting with a really lovely woman at the MU today. We’re looking into the contractual side of composing to see if we can create a set of guidelines that might better protect creative people in the future; danger -words to look out for, phrases that might need explaining within the contract itself, formalisation of deadlines and timescales, removal of woolly phrases. They’ve spoken to me about joining the writers’ committee, which I’d be honoured to do. I’m now convinced that something positive will come from this period. We just need to keep trudging forward... It’s the first day of autumn today. I love autumn. It fills me with optimism.

As I write this, a poor woman on Deal or No Deal is going through the ringer, slowly moving closer and closer to leaving the game with just ten pence in her pocket. Somehow, I know how she feels. I think there are people all over this country who know how she feels.

 September 21st, 1661, and Pepys had a pleasurable morning with Elizabeth and his father walking around the garden of their country house in Brampton. They talked about the alterations they wanted. It seems that 17th Century folk spent their lives altering houses! I guess there were countless innovations concerning lighting and chimneys and windows, of which the upwardly mobile needed to keep abreast. As if to prove my point, Pepys spent the afternoon at Hinchinbrook House – Lord Sandwich’s impressive country estate – to see for himself the alterations that were happening whilst the big cheese was in Spain, and the rest of his clan were staying at the Wardrobe in London. The house was still in a bit of a mess – and Pepys was worried that the cloistered area (which sounds terribly grand) was going to be too dark...

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Nobody wants you around here and that's for sure

I went to bed with a fever last night. I was shaking and sweating, first hot and then cold. Oddly, I took this to be a positive sign. The good guys in my immune system had obviously realised there was a problem and had finally started attacking the bad guys. I slept like a log, and sure enough, woke in the morning feeling a tiny bit better. I’m still not well. I’m still coughing like a tubercular child. I probably won’t be as right as rain for some days yet, but I feel a very small corner has been turned.

Today I’ve been revisiting the music I wrote for The Busker Symphony, specifically the third movement, which I’ve been arranging for a choir. I think when the shit hits the fan, the only option you have is to work harder. This thought occurs every time I have a set-back in my life. Of course, a career in the arts is more to do with luck than anything else, but the one thing we, as creative people, can do to help ourselves is learn to do stuff better. I’ve never seen myself as a man with a great deal of natural talent. My musical skills were never prodigious, and I’ve always considered myself to be more of a grafter. “Must work harder” has therefore been my mantra for many years now.

This evening we went to see a Fringe production of Honk! The Ugly Duckling, at the Hidden Theatre. A friend of Nathan’s has sunk his life savings into the piece, and we went to give him moral support. I’m therefore hugely relieved to report that the show is both charming, and beautifully staged. It’s well worth a visit, if you want to smile for a couple of hours on a rainy September night. The little boy on the end of our row was watching with a look of wonder plastered across his face. Kids like him make the very concept of live theatre worthwhile.

I was horrified, however, to hear quite how much money the show seems to be losing Nathan’s friend. It’s just not fair. It’s not getting large enough audiences, which is really upsetting because it should. Perhaps it’s because the theatre is tucked away in the back end of beyond. I can’t imagine why anyone would chose to journey to the fringes of Wandsworth to check out a musical. Surely you go to Wandsworth to riot and steal trainers.

Nathan’s friend’s experience instantly took me back to 1997, when I haemorrhaged my Grandmother’s will on a production of an opera I’d written called Someone Whistled. The £10,000 I spent – and lost – on the show, was probably money that should have gone towards a deposit for a house. The experience of staging a show, that on some evenings, NO ONE saw, was an incredibly demoralising experience. The piece actually did even worse than our worse-case scenario predictions! I think the pasting we got in Time Out even put off some of our friends who otherwise might have come. I was relatively new to London, which meant I was still suffering from that invisible sensation that the Big Smoke offers to all of its recent inmates.

I remember Fiona and Philippa sitting me down in the bar of the theatre and letting me have it gently, but firmly; “if we pull this show a week early, we won’t have to pay the musicians, or the theatre, and we could save ourselves a thousand pounds which we simply can’t afford to lose.” It was that dreadful sinking feeling. It was like losing all of my Christmas presents in a terrible fire caused by a faulty fairy light that I’d bought on the cheap. Of course I’d convinced myself that the world and his wife were biding their time and would turn up en masse to see the show during the last week, and was hoping against hope that all our problems would be miraculously cured by a glorious review. But deep down I knew that no such review was on the cards, and that the girls were right. So, with a quivering bottom lip, I pulled the show, and limped back home to lick my wounds.

Friday 20th September 1661, and Pepys, very strangely, spent the day in a provincial East Midlands court surrounded by “country rogues” who “betrayed him.” Pepys lost the case – no doubt because he was seen as a hot-shot city type by these simple country folk; who included a smattering of faux intellectual types, no doubt the "bottom of the barrel" graduates from Cambridge University whose life could only be legitimised by lording it over a few villagers. The case itself was to do with a row over one of the finer points of Pepys’ Uncle’s Will – and Pepys lost property as a result. Life and art and all that... Or in this case life and life.

"Get out.. get out... get out of town!"

Monday, 19 September 2011

Couldn't sleep so I thought I'd take a walk

Instead of getting better, my cold took a turn for the worse last night, and I ended up being completely unable to sleep. The desire to cough became more and more intense, and yet, every time I coughed, I felt a sharp pain behind my right eye, which lasted for five minutes – almost as though I’d pulled some kind of muscle in my brain. Just as the pain eased, I'd find myself desperate to cough again, and so the cycle continued with me freaking out that I was having some kind of haemorrhage. I went into the sitting room and watched telly for long periods of time, before getting into bed, having another coughing fit, and finding mysef drifting back to the telly again. I saw an early morning episode of Countdown, and was struck, in my half-slumber, by just how annoying that 30-second piece of music is, with its weird, untuned timpani drum roll which doesn't change key with the rest of the music. It also struck me quite how often they play it during the programme and I wondered if they'd get away with that much repetition in a show commissioned in the 21st Century.

At another stage in the evening I was watching the Signing Zone. A strange man was floating around in the right hand corner of the screen, interpreting Holby City for deaf viewers. It was a curiously disorientating experience. The man remains the same size regardless of what's going on in the TV programme. Sometimes, it's like he's standing in the room with the actors. On other occasions he begins to resemble a poisoned dwarf. In any case, the experience became almost balletic, and a great deal more interesting than anything the actors were coming up with. I wonder if he directly translates all the medical jargon, or just signs "blah blah, meaningless medical stuff that I can't even spell... If you could hear this, you'd most likely try to block it out..." It must be the mother of all poisoned chalices!

I took myself to the emergency doctor this morning; a charming young woman, who thinks that Nathan and I have both had a virus. Unfortunately there’s little anyone can do about a virus, other than sit it out. She prescribed me some penicillin “just so you have it”, which felt like a rather peculiar gesture. On Nathan’s advice, I’ve started taking it. Afterall, what harm can it do?

Because of the cold, and the utterly surreal sensation of existing on 2 hours’ sleep, today’s been something of a wash out. I’ve been working on an arrangement of Mr Blue Sky for a choir I’ve decided to form, and was going through it with a fine-tooth comb today to make sure that none of the individual parts had any awkward passages.

I long to feel better, however. How can an exciting new period begin whilst I’m feeling lousy?

Those two Siamese twins that have been successfully separated today? Is it true that one of them is called Retard? Surely not?

Thursday 19th September, 1661, and Pepys, Elizabeth and various family members went by horseback into Cambridge. They rode to Sturbridge to see the famous fair, which I’m reliably informed was the largest fair in Europe at its height – and the inspiration for Bunyan’s Vanity Fair. Sadly, the fair was almost over, so there was nothing much to see.

The day ended in the family home in Brampton, which was filled with Pepys’ immediate family members. His parents were both there, as were his brother, John, and sister-cum-servant, Pall.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

And they had nothing to say

I'm still nursing a blinkin' cold. I think it might be time to go to the doctors. That said, Nathan is still spluttering, and he's on anti-biotics! Every time I cough, I get a shooting pain in my head, which can't be good for me. 

We're trying to watch The X-Factor on ITV player, and it's proving to be one of the most frustrating experiences in the world. The computer keeps stopping to buffer, before encountering a glitch mid-way through the bit when Tulisa bursts into tears because one of the contestants reminds her of her mother. The glitch sends the whole thing back to the start of the programme. When we try to spool through to where we were before the glitch, we're forced to watch adverts. I've seen eight in a row, now. We watch the adverts, get to the bit when Tulisa bursts into tears, and then, like a perfect ground-hog day, we return to the start of the show. I think ITV might want to try and sort out their system because this is no way to relax! We've now given up, and are watching Outnumbered instead. 

Other than this, there's little else to report. We've spent the day cleaning. In fact, there's not a single corner in the house which hasn't been washed, polished, sprayed or hoovered. My hands are red raw. This must be how those poor Victorian chamber maids felt after doing the weekly wash!

350 years ago, Pepys and Elizabeth's journey to Huntingdonshire continued. The roads were incredibly muddy, and poor Elizabeth took a second nose-dive from her horse, somewhere near Puckerage. By the time they'd arrived in Cambridge in the early afternoon, she was exhausted, and had started to irritate the hell out of her husband. 

They spent the rest of the day in Cambridge, before continuing their journey to the village of Impington where they spent the night with Pepys' elderly Uncle Talbot. 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Coming through a cloud you're looking at me from above

I'm on the 17th floor of a very swanky apartment block in Canary Wharf. It's like a terraced house in the clouds, and the views across London are extraordinary. The flat belongs to my friends Alex and Wiezek, and they're having a moving- in party. I am jealous. It's a very fancy flat, although not a single one of their neighbours is British, which I find somehow worrying, because it implies the natives in this country aren't rich enough to afford swanky pads! Or perhaps they simply think the flats don't represent value for money. Unfortunately, the lift is proving almost impossible to operate, which makes me realise that there are inherent problems involved in living in the sky!

Here's a question... How do you spell jush? Zhush?You know the phrase, "to jzush something up." It's a word used almost exclusively by rancid homosexuals and interior designers, but it's a word that I've never seen written down. Answers on a postcard please, because it's been bugging me for most of my life!!

350 years ago, Pepys informed his wife that he was planning to go to Huntingdonshire to sort out his Uncle's will once and for all. Elizabeth said that she wanted to join him on the journey, so a second horse was hired, along with a very pretty side saddle. Is riding side saddle not a great deal less comfortable? Surely it requires an astonishing level of balance? 

In any case, the married couple packed their things, said their goodbyes to the capital, and set off into the sticks. Elizabeth apparently rode well, although we're told she had a fall, which was not serious. They over-nighted in Ware. Where?!

Friday, 16 September 2011

And on all weekends when I meet my friends...

I'm waiting for a bus in Islington. Typical Upper Street. The bus stop comes complete with a rather fetching, bright red bench! It's the only place in London where you can sit in complete comfort whilst waiting for your bus.

I've been coughing and spluttering all day and am beginning to truly sympathise with Nathan, who went through this hell for five solid weeks.

I had lunch with my friend, Penny today. She treated me to a meal at Les Trois Garcons, which is one of the poshest restaurants in East London. I'm not usually a fan of fancy food, but the mushroom gnocchi was something else. It was fabulous to be there with her. Our table was in a great big pool of sunlight, and crystals in the window were filling the space with tiny dancing rainbows. We put the world to rights and planned all sorts of exciting schemes for the future. I adore Penny.

I'm a great deal happier today. Sure, yesterday we discovered that our MOT bill was actually over £1000, which is simply money we don't have, but, we have each other and I have fabulous supporters and brilliant friends. It's early days, but it may even end up being that the Choir Invisible did me a massive favour by royally shafting me in court! There's a huge amount of sympathy coming at me from people who think the verdict was "disappointing to say the least," and the Musicians' Union have even offered to pay my court costs. It's a mere drop in the ocean in terms of the ridiculous amount I still need to find, but it's a massive morale boost. Right from the start of this sorry business, the MU have been extraordinary. I would urge any musician reading this blog to sign up immediately, not just because I believe everyone should be the member of a union, but because they're one of the strongest unions out there. You even get to vote on Labour leadership elections!

In terms of finding the rest of the money, I think plans are afoot to have some kind of concert where the work, which caused the choir so many problems, would get its long-awaited premier. We may need to change the lyrics, which, of course, were written so specifically for the choir that they wouldn't work for any other group. It would, however, be lovely to think that the piece could have a future. I think it would be very popular with good amateur choirs.

Anyway, I digress. It's brother Edward's birthday today, so I went from Hoxton, via the new East London line, to his house in Canary Wharf, where my parents were hanging out. We watched our favourite show, Pointless, but the most interesting-looking couple went out in the first round. (I say it's my favourite show, but nothing in the world competes with The Great British Bake Off.) We went from Canary Wharf to Islington for dinner in a Turkish restaurant and it was here that my cold started to bother me again.

Still, I can't complain. My friend Matt is currently in hospital on morphine because he's had some kind of dreadful bug. The morphine's making him feel like the Pilsbury Dough Man, and he had an email from his agent earlier in the week suggesting he refrain from tweeting whilst under its influence! Too much information, one assumes, for his fans!

350 years ago, and Pepys took delivery of a winter's worth of coals, which for the record was 10 chaldron - which I assume is one of those random old-school measurements that my brother despises so intensely. For ages, I was reading the word as children, which I think would have been a great deal more entertaining. I love the idea of Pepys taking delivery of ten children.

Half way through the day, he was ordered by his father to go back to Huntingdon. That blinking will was still causing problems...

Thursday, 15 September 2011

It's a rich man's world!

I woke up in a hot sweat this morning, having had one of the most transparent dreams of my life. I was in a supermarket with Nathan and we wanted to buy ourselves a little treat – a bar of chocolate as I recall. As Nathan took the money out of his wallet, a gust of wind took it from his hand, across the supermarket and out into the street. We ran after it, but it had disappeared. All our money is literally flying away!

This morning I solved an interesting conundrum. We have a man who walks around Highgate looking into dustbins. He’s not homeless; at least he doesn’t look homeless. I’ve always thought he was just a bit thrifty; or quite a lot thrifty. My Grandmother’s generation kept everything. On Christmas morning there’d always be the scream of “save the wrapping paper” and her drawers were filled to the brim with things that she’d kept; bits of string, buttons, brown paper, bottle tops. Christmas cards were always recycled as gift tags, cut into bizarre shapes with a pair of pinking shears, but I digress. This particular gentleman is maybe in his early 60s. He walks around with his trousers tucked into his socks, like he’s been on some kind of hiking tour. He carries a little bag with him, and periodically reaches into a dustbin and carefully takes something from it, which carry away.

This morning, however, I found him at the end of our alleyway poking and prodding the bin liners which were waiting for the bin men. We had previously assumed the little holes we often see in our bin bags were down to foxes. On one occasion, a load of sawdust and rat poo had escaped and found its way all over the pavement. We were, of course, mortified, but I think it’s now fair to assume that this gentleman was responsible. Poor bloke must have got the shock of his life when he dug a little hole and sawdust started flowing.

It is a strange thought, however. I suppose I’ve always tended to assume that anything I throw away will be somehow anonymous. Yesterday I was binning all sorts of items of clothing and bits of paper that I’m not sure I’d want someone to be rifling through. Most of me says “good on you” to the ueber thrifty man – but the hypocrite in me says; “could you, perhaps, leave my rubbish alone.”

On my way to the cafe this morning, I came upon a South African man who was having a door fitted at the southern end of the alleyway that goes behind our house. I was a bit miffed, really, as it means we’re no longer able to access our house from that end. He tells me that the alleyway belongs to everyone whose house backs onto it, but that we only own the bit of the alleyway that corresponds to our property. It’s therefore his right, or my right, to follow the logic through, to fit a door that prevents drunks from going down there to pee. I have sympathy for him, but if we decided to erect a doorway at OUR end of the alleyway, then no one would be able to access their houses! I thought the least he could do was offer us a key, but he didn't, and I didn’t make a fuss, partially, because the journey down the alleyway in that direction involves negotiating a series of dangerous pavements which become swampy in the winter, but also because I’ve recently decided I need to pick my arguments more carefully. From henceforth, I shall never complain about something, unless I'm simultaneously complimenting someone on something else. The yin and the yang.

350 years ago, Pepys attended the funeral of his Aunt Kite, writing, “besides us and my uncle Fenner’s family, there was none of any quality, but poor rascally people.” It feels very bizarre to judge the worth of someone purely based on the people who attend their funeral! I'd much rather he blamed everything on the fact that his aunt's actual name was Julian!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Oh, all the things I would do...

I really have nothing interesting to write about. I've done nothing today but purge; four bin liners-worth of purging, in fact, from my bedroom alone. We woke up this morning to find a letter which said we didn't have enough money in our joint account to pay the rent; no doubt a knock-on effect from our having to shell out £600 to have the car released by bailiffs. I’ve only just received the compensation cheque from Haringey Council, so with any luck, that should take us back into the black.

My cold is a little better today. Nathan’s been to the doctor’s to get some antibiotics to help him out of his fifth week of chest infection and I sincerely hope mine doesn’t drag on that long. My voice has gone all squeaky as a result of all the coughing. I sound like I'm going through puberty all over again.

We’re still waiting to collect our car from the MOT place, so don’t yet know the sheer horror of exactly how much it’s going to cost us to get it roadworthy again. Without the car, we’ve been unable to return the lady rats to their owners. We keep peering into their cage to check that the poor elderly rat is still alive. It would be horrible to have to give her back dead, just because we didn’t have a car to transport her in! Fortunately, she was still alive when we last checked.

Nathan showed me a picture today that he’d been sent on Twitter. It was taken by a man who was doing work on the antennae at the top of the Empire State Building, and it's of two workers who were doing work on the building below him. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most vertigo-inducing picture I have EVER seen, but wonderful nevertheless. I’d have dropped my camera, trying to take it, without question. In fact, interestingly, at the top of the Empire State building, all sorts of weird things happen to cameras... something to do with electro-magnetics. I think... Or maybe I've just chosen that word because it sounds plausible to a luddite like me.



Saturday 14th September 1661, and Pepys was meant to spend the day sorting out his dead Aunt Kite’s papers... but got a better offer. Colonel Robert Slingsby and his wife were in town, and Pepys, ever one to climb social ladders, hired a boat and took them all onto the Thames to look at the King’s collection of four pleasure yachts.  

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

So should I laugh or cry?

It’s been a very up and down sort of day. Nathan put the car in to be MOT’d earlier on, and got a phone call mid-afternoon informing him that we’d need to spend about £800 making it road-worthy again. I think the phrase is that it never rains but it pours. I almost feel like laughing. This period has done a great deal to make me question the nature of life. If I thought before that there was a great big sentient, beautiful being, keeping a watchful eye over things, the notion has been completely shattered, by a display of absolute randomness. No one will ever be able to convince me that there is a purpose to anything that’s going on at the moment, or moreover that the good guys always win in the end. Most of the people around me have been smacked repeatedly in the chops recently until they can hardly stand. None of this is character building stuff. It’s gone way beyond that. It’s just pointless nonsense now. Surely this can’t be what getting old is all about?

Still, I had another (almost) confirmation of a job this afternoon; this one for a massive choral commission in York next year, which will be very exciting, if it happens (and obviously if I’m paid for doing it!) You gotta love the good folk of Yorkshire; they’ve been incredibly kind to me over the years.
I spent a considerable amount of time this morning sending various emails to various people about various projects, and am thrilled to report that I finished the first draft of my Requiem last night, which feels like a rather momentous achievement. I think I might have been tempted to pour myself a little glass of whiskey had my cold not been doing its best to make me feel like a weeble!

This afternoon – and I suspect much of the week to come was/ will be spent doing a rather large amount of life laundry. Basically, if it doesn’t move, I’m going to contemplate throwing it away, and I won’t be happy until at least 4 bin liners have been filled with the bits of paper and the bad energy that’s been weighing me down all these months. Purging. That’s what I’m doing. Ruthless purging.
The little ill rat that we’ve been looking after continues to worsen. She’s now started to hide herself away in darkened corners of her cage, which surely means the end can’t be far away. She’s still periodically bleeding as well, and today her eyes looked glazed and sad. Nathan had her out for some time earlier and fed her a piece of chocolate, which she seemed to enjoy. I suppose the warmth of his hand perked her up a bit as well. It’s so desperately sad to see a creature with such little understanding of her predicament. “A breath of wind passes over and we’re gone.”

350 years ago, and Pepys’ Aunt Kite died. Aunt Kite was actually called Julian; I guess a bit like Julian of Norwich, that other famous girl called Julian. But it’s a strange name all the same. Imagine calling your daughter Julian these days? You might as well call her Roger, or Frank. Pepys spent the afternoon on the Thames with his wife, “in pleasure” before mooring up at the Sun in King’s Street which was his favourite bar. He called it Old George’s after one of the bar tenders. It was there that they ate “as much as they would of a hot shoulder of mutton,” which sounds horrible.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Is it only a storm approaching?

I went back to Costa Coffee in Highgate today to spend the morning writing. It felt like I was visiting an old friend. Much was made in the court case about the fact that I write music on a computer in cafes, which apparently precludes me from writing music that is suitable for the human voice. So it was with great a great sense of triumph that I entered this morning. I poured my anger onto the page with relentless bars of drumming and dissonance! It’s not much fun to lose a court case, but at least it's creatively inspiring!

My cold is now in full throttle. I feel like I’m perpetually swimming under water, and find myself particularly effected by low vibrations like lorries, which rattle around my head like small earthquakes.  My voice has dropped an octave, and I woke up this morning coughing like a maniac; a horrible dry, tickle, which threatens to give me some form of brain injury.

I sat opposite a woman today who was moaning prolifically about the fact that she had to go on a speed awareness course. Apparently, the people who run these things are right “fascists” because they don’t allow you to miss them if you have young children who it’s inconvenient to leave with someone else. I think she might have been guilty of misusung the word "fascist," but I gave her the benefit of the doubt, and continued to eavesdrop. As she whinged away in her Sloanney tones, I began to despise her. She was plainly a wealthy woman, with little to do in life, but sit in cafes and drive too quickly. She obviously believes the world should treat her with the respect she was born expecting. In my view, you do the crime, and then the time, although my recent "double whammy" experience of the English justice system partially throws that argument to touch. Anyway, she was holding a baby, and absolutely repulsed me at one stage by suggested it have “a quick slurp,” before lopping her breast out and allowing said kid to get slurping. I've never heard such a repugnant term used to describe breast feeding and hope I never shall.

I came home after just one cup of tea. I normally have two – but I spun this one out, allowing it to go cold and horrible for the sake of saving another £2 to put in the pot. Life is good. I'm now 100th of the way there! In any case, I was drinking way too much tea, and regularly coming back from the cafe at lunchtime all jittery and needing constant loo breaks.

It would appear that my next job has come through, oddly in the form of an email which arrived whilst I was in court. All being well, I shall be working for the BBC in Manchester, making a short musical film about the troubled Hattersley Estate. I’ve been asked to write something dark and intelligent, which will be a lovely change from the celebratory films I'm normally asked to make.

During a journey along the Thames 350 years ago, Pepys saw for the first time King Charles II’s new pleasure boat, which was called The Bezaan. It had been built in Holland. It was sailing down the river, rather proudly, flanked by a pair of gondolas which were, apparently, very rich and fine.

Pepys called in on Lady Sandwich and found her out of her “child bed”, which he was pleased to see. Childbirth in those days was a hugely dangerous hobby!

He spent the afternoon, yet again, trying to sort the finer details of his Uncle’s Will, and at one stage was forced to meet relatives in a pub on Shoe Lane called the Gridiron; a place that he was ashamed to be seen going into.

He returned home by link and called in on Sir William Batten to be told that all the jolly japes involving Sir William Penn’s beloved tankard had gone down as well as a pot of sick at a party! I'm not surprised. Since when was it amusing to kidnap a silver cup?

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Thank you for the music

I woke up this morning with a full-on cold. I'm coughing all the time and can't hear out of one of my ears! Raily and Tanya were with us last night, and we must have stayed up pretty late 'cus I woke up at 10am, feeling like I'd been run over by a brick-filled wheel barrow. There was a mini crisis in the night involving one of the female rats who's been staying with us. I think she's had some kind of major haemorrhage because her cage looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. There was blood everywhere and the poor thing was limping around trying to wash herself clean. I think her plight brought out the maternal instincts in Raily and Tanya, because they immediately leaped to action stations and started helping with the clean-up operation. Poor McCann Rat is definitely not long for this world, but she seemed a great deal chirpier this morning, which makes me think we might be able to give her back to her owners in a cage rather than a freezer bag!

I went to see Philippa, Kate, Gob and Deia today. The adults were all utterly exhausted and took every opportunity we could manufacture to sit down with a nice cup of tea. Deia, however, had different plans, and we played a rather large amount of hide and seek. There were baked potatoes for lunch on a kitchen table covered with jigsaw puzzles and early autumn leaves which were being collected for a collage.

I went through some of my photographs with Phil, and discovered this stunning detail on one of them. It's her and Deia at the Uffington White Horse last weekend, and for some reason I hadn't noticed it before. I think it's one of my best, so enjoy...


I went from Columbia Road to Northern Essex to see the parents. They took us for a lovely meal in Saffron Walden and we retired to Thaxted afterwards for tea and scones and a chat with an apiarist called Stuart who made Nathan and me realise  how lovely it must be to keep bees.

It's almost impossible to comprehend that it's now 10 years since 9/11. It really does feel like yesterday. We were rehearsing Taboo at the time and I remember the sense of sadness and disbelief as though it were yesterday.

September 11th, 1661, and Pepys spent the day wandering around London, talking to various lawyers and learned men about his Uncle's will, which was still not entirely sorted.

He called in on one Dr Williams, who took him into a garden where, we're told, there was an abundance of grapes. There was also a dog which had been trained to kill the cats who regularly appeared in search of the pigeons Dr Williams kept. The doctor was obviously an eccentric individual who  carefully buried every cat that had been killed in this manner. Apparently the tally stood at around 100. One assumes there were rather a lot of cats in London in those days!

In the afternoon, Pepys went to the theatre, despite having recently promised his wife he'd only ever attend in the future when she was with him. One assumes he confessed that his perpetual search for pleasure was stopping him from doing his job properly and, like a loyal wife, she told him she'd keep an eye on him. He didn't like the deception and, as a result, hated every minute of the play!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Crazy world

At 4am this morning a text message arrived with a photograph attached. The same photograph was sent again at noon today. It's come from a number my phone doesn't seem to recognise, and it's a very peculiar picture...


Can anyone tell me what this is all about? Is there some message I need to be reading into this? Who are the strange people on the photograph? Who's the polar bear? And more importantly, what on earth does it all mean? I think it looks like a still from a Christopher Guest film...

Today, like most of last night, was spent at the Queen's Theatre taking photographs of Matt's last few performances playing Thernadier in Les Miserables. I had been given carte blanche to roam wherever I wanted in the building, and at one stage even crawled into the orchestra pit so that Matt could demonstrate his entrance through the trap door in "One Day More." It was terribly exciting.


I was behind the curtain just before the show went up, and was allowed to stand in the wings and photograph the action on stage. I don't think you can really claim to have lived until you've stood within 5 metres of Caroline Sheen singing I Dreamed A Dream. I got a little flutter every time the revolve stage deposited someone else on the wings next to me. It feels so wrong to be standing on the edge of a stage where a live performance is taking place. One trip, one loud sneeze, and the experience is ruined for the audience.

Everyone was, nevertheless, incredibly gracious, even when I found myself standing on their dresses during the stage-side quick changes! There weren't stage managers rushing about to tell me to watch my back every five minutes. I was trusted simply to get on with what I was doing.


I'm now heading back to Highgate to start cooking. Tanya and Raily have been staying with me this weekend and we're going to have a lovely night in. I'm cooking tagliatelle.

The savings continue, but sometimes it's hard to make judgements about how much money I would have spent under normal circumstances. Matt bought me lunch, today, for example, probably because he knew I was poor, but does this count as money saved? Would he have bought me lunch anyway?

September 10th, 1661 was a rainy day, and Elizabeth and Pepys spent the day dodging showers and walking through sticky, muddy, often impassable streets. They wanted to buy a chest, so went to Wood Street near Cheapside.

It was dark by the time that Pepys started to head home, and in the absence of any link boys - young lads who carried lanterns through the streets for pennies - he was forced to buy his own (lantern that is, rather than link boy.) Part way home he found a boy to do the job for him, and rewarded him with the lantern when they arrived home

Friday, 9 September 2011

To be alive and feel the sun that follows every rain

The tonic for the misery of yesterday was definitely going to see Julie in cabaret on the King's Road. She was wonderful; incredibly focussed and very charming. I was particularly thrilled when she performed one of my songs, dedicating it to me by saying "he might need reminding what a great composer he is, 'cus he's had a really shit day!" I wept profusely. 

We got home very late, utterly exhausted, and probably still a little drunk, and I fell asleep on Nathan's shoulder whilst watching an episode of Scrubs. 

Today begins the process of finding the £2,500 I now owe The Choir Invisible. I have borrowed some money from my father, and will pay him back by making a giant piggy bank which I hope to slowly fill with money. 

The aim is to make small, regular cut-backs. Today, for example, I am taking the bus into town instead of using the tube. This will save me £2. I didn't buy a cup of tea in Costa before my meeting, and waited instead until the meeting itself, thereby saving myself another £1.70. I will put £4 in the pot tonight which will soon become £8... And, perhaps within the next 12 months, the target will be reached; considerably sooner if I find myself back in work in the meantime. I'm excited, and have decided to create another totalizer to show my progress! 

The process of moving on is a fascinating one. Obviously I'm up and down today. I've cried a few times, laughed a bit, been angry, been stunned.  I have, however, been besieged by positive messages from friends and family members, which makes me feel very blessed. At the end of the day, in fact, at the end of every day, I return home to Nathan. It is amazing how good it feels to be part of a team. All sorts of things can be thrown around a courtroom, the truth can be massaged, what happened can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but the  indisputable fact is that I am loved, and that's good enough for me...

It was announced yesterday that the government have taken a tentative step towards equality in the field of gay men giving blood. An imminent change in the law will mean that a gay man can now give blood - wait for it - if he hasn't had sex in the past year! In the past YEAR?!! And that includes oral sex! No gay man would leave it for a year without having sex! Imagine if they made a blanket ban on ANYONE who's had sex within a year giving blood.

And yet a heterosexual man who regularly sleeps with multiple partners without using a condom is still allowed to give blood as often as he chooses! In my view the blood screening process is either effective or it's not. And more importantly, a gay man is either equal or he's not. These baby steps towards equality make me feel very angry! 

Matt is leaving Les Mis tomorrow and has asked me to come and take pictures of him warming up and getting ready backstage, which is exciting. These kinds of environments are brilliant for photography. Actors like having their pictures taken, and there are always atmospheric pools of light, crazy props and shabby brick walls hanging about which give the images a timeless quality! 

350 years and one day ago was a Sunday, and Pepys, as usual, went to church. When he returned, he found his new maid, the wonderfully named Doll, so fast asleep that she couldn't hear him knocking on the door. In the end, Pepys' boy, Wayneman, was send through a window to let him in. 

Pepys retired to his study and got busy with his accounts, discovering, to his great pleasure, that he was worth a massive £600. He was, however, worried about the large amount of time he'd recently spent pleasuring himself with trips to the theatre and drinking binges. Once a puritan...

Worried he might have been, but the very next day he was up to his usual tricks, drinking so heavily that he couldn't do his business and had to go for a long walk to sober himself up, which became, you guessed it, a trip to the theatre. He saw Tis Pity She's a Whore "ill-acted" but was thrilled to find himself sitting next to a "most pretty and most ingenious woman." 

He went back home, and then immediately out to a pub with the two Sir Williams, one of whom drank himself into a coma, as a band of very fine fiddlers played on. 

Like a roller in the ocean, life is motion, move on...
Like the wind that's always blowing, life is flowing, move on
Like the sunrise in the morning, life is dawning, move on
How I treasure every minute, being part of, being in it, with the urge to move on

Thursday, 8 September 2011

So at last you're free!

Very drunk! Lost the court case. Very surreal experience. Now I have to find £2,500, which I don't really have. Hugged Sally at the end 'cus God knows it's been hell for her as well. 

I'd love people to have a listen to Ubuntu, which is one of the songs I wrote for the project. 

Www.benjamintill.com/ubuntu

Enjoy!!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The urge to move on

A day spent preparing for my court case tomorrow. 18 months since the process started and it looks like the end might finally be in sight. Famous last words, of course. The last time I said this, the blooming thing got adjourned! We're off to Leicester tonight to stay in an hotel because I'm terrified we'll get stuck in traffic tomorrow morning.

I am, however, feeling lousy. I'm exhausted and have been coming down with something for the last few days. No doubt stress-related! I can't wait until tomorrow night when all this business will be over, one way or the other. 

I'm currently trying to get to Julie's house, where I'm picking Nathan up. It's raining miserably and the traffic is hideous. The Blackwall Tunnel has been closed and I can't seem to get south of the river.

I'm stuck in traffic in the other tunnel, choking on fumes with back ache.

There are people from Pakistan on Radio 4. Their voices are grating and irritating. I'm trying to work out if this is a racist remark. 

And what of Pepys? Not a lot. He went to the theatre to see a play acted with puppets. He enjoyed the experience but didn't see much of the play as he was ogling his pin-up girl, Lady Castlemayne, who was sitting near him in the audience, one assumes not entirely by chance!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A is for Agnetha

I've just been to see Mahler 5 performed at the Albert Hall, and I feel incredibly privileged to have been in the audience. I went as the guest of Ellie, and we had superb seats. The orchestra was American, which means loud, bright, hard-core, deeply exciting brass playing. Mahler 5 features the Death In Venice sequence, which is possibly one of the most beautiful symphonic movements of all time, ending with one of the longest suspensions!  The famous section is performed by just  strings and by the end, as the tears were dripping down my cheeks, I began to wonder whether there was ANY point in woodwind instruments at all! All those blonde, vapid women had to sit there holding their flutes, looking a bit bored, wishing they were anywhere else in the orchestra. Ha! 

The joy about the Albert Hall is that you can spend hours looking at the scenery; those fantastic golden organ pipes stretching into the heavens, the funny little mushrooms hanging from the ceiling, the statue of Henry Wood proudly watching, silently conducting... 

Ellie announced, to my great surprise, that she is the owner of a very important archive of photographs taken by her Uncle Chris during prom concerts in the 1960s and 70s. Amongst them is an astonishing photograph of Jacqueline du Pre, which I've told her she must have copied for her sitting room wall. Obviously if you're having one done, you might as well get two, and I've told her about a very worthy Highgate-based du Pre-loving charity. I could hang it  next to my photograph of Lorca!

I'm in a bit of a haze today. Last night ended up being a late one. Fiona's party featured the best cupcakes in London, probably the best wedges of camembert coated in breadcrumbs in the capital, and a grand total of six former pupils of the Northamptonshire music school, who it was just fabulous to hang out with.

We went back to Highgate with John Grant and listened to ABBA for three whole hours before watching the ABBA in Japan special that Matt Lucas lent me last year. It was pure heaven.

350 years, and one day ago, Pepys waved goodbye to his mother and sister-cum-servant, Pall, both of whom were being banished to the country, by all accounts for being stupid... and women.

In the afternoon, Elizabeth and Pepys went to his Uncle Fenner's house and en route they bumped into a French footman "with feathers" who'd apparently been searching for Elizabeth and wanted to meet her the following day. Pepys was, understandably, suspicious. You marry a French woman, and get France thrown in! 

Uncle Fenner's house was filled to the rafters with Pepys' relatives, and, unsurprisingly, the mother of all family rows broke out, which saw Pepys seething his way back to Seething Lane!

A day later, Elizabeth went to visit the French footman. Pepys still had no idea why, and he became increasingly jealous throughout the day.

He went to see his Aunt Kite, who was on her death bed, and wanted Pepys to act as executor for her will. He used his diary to make a note of her wishes, so that he could whip it out if challenged! 

When Pepys finally got home, having dodged rain showers in various theatres and pubs, he decided to ignore his wife to punish her for meeting the French footman! We're still not told why she went. He was too busy ignoring her to ask!

Monday, 5 September 2011

I do I do I do I do I do

I'm at Fiona and Paul's wedding party. She got married in America at the start of the year, and tonight is the first opportunity she's had to get everyone together in the UK. 

It's been a fabulous evening, filled with countless wonderful people, and we've spent hours talking about Abba. In fact, we're off now to Highgate with our new friend, John, to listen to some! More later...

 

Sunday, 4 September 2011

We will face it together the way old friends do

We're in East Sussex, on the outskirts of a village called Lindfield. It's been another incredibly social day which found us down in Lewes celebrating Uncle Bill and Rupert's son's christening... Or baptism... Or whatever they call these sinister things in a Catholic church. We missed the ceremony itself, on account of its being at 9am in East Sussex, but arrived in time for the post-procedure party. Little Jago had, we're told, looked a picture in his little white frock, and been as good as gold throughout the experience, even when the vicar/priest/Antichrist had poured water all over the little tyke's forehead!


Uncle Bill is a friend from university days and there were lots of people crammed into her sitting room who I hadn't seen for far too long. It was lovely to find out what everyone was up to, and oddly comforting to discover that I'm not the only one who's finding the financial climate a bit of a struggle at the moment.

All the little squabbles and dramas of university days had melted into a beautiful warm glow and it struck me what astonishingly successful grown-ups we'd become. Not just in terms of the jobs we do - although there were screen writers, therapists, university academics, composers, actors, entrepreneurs and singers all sitting in the room - but also because we're loyal people, who have all managed to create and maintain loving, successful relationships, and, as friends, have seen each other through good and bad times. I was also thrilled to be in the presence of both of my god-children, and the lovely Meriel, who has recently started to emit an indefinable but nevertheless magnificent light.

We went to a local pub. Hilary and Rupert had laid on a lovely buffet of cheeses and sandwiches, and after the majority of guests had left, and the rain had cleared, we went for a stroll around Lewes. It's a charming town, and the view from the castle is delightful.


We left Lewes, immediately took a wrong turning and started heading north via a series of country lanes, through a number of picturesque villages, many of which had cute little train stations.

On the outskirts of Haywards Heath, I was suddenly overcome by a desire to call in on another university friend, Ellie. I knew she lived in a village nearby, and a quick look at a map confirmed that it was Lindfield, and we were about 2 miles away.

Ellie's mobile doesn't have reception in her house, and as no-one was answering the home phone, I was forced to dive into my memory and try and retrace the steps of a visit I'd made to the village about five years earlier. I found her road and the terrace that she lived in, but couldn't remember the number of her actual house. A quick phone call to her sister, Izzy, provided us with the information we needed, and we were able to go ahead with the surprise visit.

Ellie seemed thrilled to see us, and was in the process of putting her five-year-old daughter to bed, which meant we were enlisted to "do" the bed time story, which was about friendly monsters living under a little girl's bed. It was a story that would have given me nightmares as a child, but she loved it!

We had a nice chat over a cup of tea, whilst Ellie's daughter hid on the stairs, not permitted to come and join us, but desperate not to be left out, and obviously hugely excited by the glamour of late-night visitors.

Life is good. Time spent with close friends and family is hugely enriching. I have a very tiring week approaching and feel emotionally ready to take on the world.


350 years ago, Pepys ate oysters for the first time that season. They say one should never eat oysters in months without an r in them - i.e. the summer months, when waters were warm and diseases were rife.

Pepys and Elizabeth went walking in St James' Park, which had recently been re-landscaped, and looked, we're told, "brave." I love the word brave used in this context.


Saturday, 3 September 2011

How I treasure every minute

It's twilight and we're winding our way through beautiful Oxfordshire country lanes. Philippa is in the back of the car reading a book to Deia. Her voice is soothing. Deia is laughing like a maniac.

This is the last day of summer. Tomorrow, a cold front will move across the country, symbolically signifying the start of autumn.

Today was the day I chose to officially celebrate my birthday. I opted to take all my friends to Avebury, the mystical stone circle in Wiltshire. We were rewarded with the most magical weather. The sun burst out from behind rather ominous clouds at about 3pm and never left us.


We had a glorious picnic, sat under a wishing tree, hugged the pre-historic stones, picked wild flowers and took photographs in the long shadows. It was all rather hippy-like, and strangely reminiscent of those long summers of my childhood. We were accompanied by several children, including Deia, and at one point I suggested that she should try and take a mental picture of the scene so that she could remember the moment for the rest of her life.

We travelled from Avebury to the Uffington White Horse in the late afternoon. I went in Julie's car, and she took the roof down, which felt like the most spectacular way to travel. Bombing along the M4 with the wind whistling through my hair was a life-affirming experience!

There was something extraordinary happening when we arrived at the White Horse. The sun was casting long shadows across the straw-like grass, and banks of brown and white clouds were bubbling up in the west.

We sat at the top of the ridge, eating the  remnants of our picnic whilst looking across the Oxfordshire plain. We wondered how many miles we could see stretching out in front of us. Ted thought maybe 15. I reckon it was more. Trains with scores of wagons sailed between the patchwork fields, combine harvesters trundled up and down, disappearing from time to time into clouds of corn dust. Timeless. Nostalgic. Utterly magical.

The sun descended into a sky which was spattered in little specks of black, as though someone had got a paintbrush and put giant dots at regular intervals across a sea of blue.

We dawdled back to the car; Moira, Philippa, India-Rose, Deia and I   trailing behind the rest. Our fecklessness was rewarded by  a sunset of biblical proportions. A giant red column of cloud stretched from one side of the sky to the other. It was as though the clouds were burning. It was everything I'd dreamt of for the day and I felt utterly blessed.

Look at the light!

350 years ago Pepys attended the christening of Lady Sandwich's daughter. They named her Katherine, after the Queen elect, and the banquet which followed was the best Pepys had ever attended. Sadly he doesn't describe it in any depth, so we don't know why it was quite so spectacular, but good to know that the Sandwiches were proper toads!!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Summer Night City

It's been incredibly hot in London today. I'm on a tube train heading to the National Theatre. It's boiling hot and it smells like cheese and vinegar, which is deeply unpleasant. I'm trying to work out if the bitter smell comes from the tube itself, or from the man sitting next to me, who seems undesirable. Every time I get on a tube in hot weather, I ask myself why Londoners routinely put up with this nonsense. 

Julie and I are going to the National to see The Kitchen, which is a play by my mentor, Arnold Wesker. I don't often refer to him as a mentor, but as the years flicker past, I realise that this is the role he's always played in my life. He's a wonderfully uncompromising bloke, who showed me that a man could tread an honest path in this industry without the need to stab anyone in the back. And he regularly tells me I'm his favourite living composer, which should never be under-estimated! I'm pleased to say he's having something of a revival at the moment. They're also performing Chicken Soup with Barley at the Royal Court. Sir Arnold himself is 80 next year. He was in his 60s when we first worked together, getting on for half my life ago! 

I've exited the tube and am now crossing Hungerford Bridge. The Eastern sky is a picture; a smudgy blend of pastel pinks and blues. Just as I was admiring the view, I was aware that someone had switched on the halogen lights along the length of the bridge. For a moment or two, I wondered why this would have happened in broad daylight, until I realised it wasn't actually the street lights, it was simply that the setting sun had dropped beneath the cloud, and was glowing like a huge orange bonfire. Glorious...

11.20pm, and I'm walking back across Hungerford bridge, having seen the play, which was lovely. There are at least 30 in the cast, playing waitresses, chefs and cleaners, all of whom move around the kitchen set like dancers in a ballet. It's wonderfully atmospheric. It's a true coup de theatre, and must have had the most astonishing impact when it was first performed in the 1950s. I also found myself inexplicably moved by some of the speeches, perhaps because I know so well the man who wrote them. Maybe it's because he wrote them when he was younger than I am now. They came from the pen of a man who wanted to change the world.

After the play, Julie and I went to the fairground which has sprung up beside the London Eye, and dared ourselves to go on the weird spinning ride, which saw us sitting on rickerty metal chairs 40 feet above the Thames. It was a deeply surreal, and dizzying experience, which made me feel very light-headed. The lights of London became circular luminous streaks in every colour of the rainbow! I posted my blog mid-ride, but it didn't go!

350 years ago, Pepys wrote one of his longest ever diary entries. There were many words, but none of any great interest. He went drinking. There was intrigue. It seemed that there were people in high places who wanted to take Sandwich down a peg or two.

Elizabeth decided to make a pie, went shopping for ingredients and bumped into the son of the Duke of Somerset, who presented her with a necklace. Pepys was obviously slightly concerned, but decided to play things cool. At least for the time being...

Thursday, 1 September 2011

We're following the piper!

We're in Hackney, where we've just taken delivery of three lady rats who are coming for a holiday in Highgate.

It's nothing sinister; we're not trying to breed them or anything, we're simply looking after them for three friends who are going on holiday in Slovakia. The guest rats are the mother, sister and the aunt of our Tyndarids, and they're absolutely tiny, which makes me wonder if we've been feeding our two rather too much "Reggie Rat." One of the lady rats is very old and frail. She's called McCann - named after Maddie - and she's not expected to last the two weeks she's with us. If she dies we're under strict instructions to put her in the freezer, so that they can bury her somewhere nicer than Hampstead Heath, or Highgate Woods, though quite why they think this is going to be possible in Hackney, I'm not sure.

It's very important that our rats are kept away from the girls... They may be related, but that won't stop them from doing naughty things, and having seen the way that Pol is with the back of my hand, I wouldn't wish that on anyone or anything.
 
It rained heavily in the night 350 years ago, Pepys' guttering became blocked, and he woke up to find all of his ceilings completely ruined. 

He spent the day with Captain Holmes, walking around London and generally putting the world to rights. Pepys liked Holmes. He was loyal to Sandwich, and cunning, which was a compliment. "Two-faced" (which feels like a very modern phrase) was also used as a term of endearment. I think Holmes simply knew how to keep his enemies close, and Pepys didn't want to get on the wrong side of him.