Tuesday, 24 January 2012


I've got what Nathan calls "homework tummy". I'm off to Worthing or Woking or somewhere beginning with W tomorrow to work with Paul Kendall, who's producing the musical tracks for Hattersley. Before I arrive, I need to format all sorts of midi files to give to him, but have been so busy over the last few days that this has not yet happened.  The problem is that I don't know how long the process will take, so I could potentially be up all night. 

At the moment I'm trying hard to compartmentalise my existence. I'm juggling a number of projects and the only way I feel I can give them all an appropriate amount of attention is to dedicate whole days to them. Yesterday was the turn of the Requiem, today I worked on the Fleet Singers commission, tomorrow and Thursday are earmarked for Hattersley, Friday's all about the Requiem again, and so on... 

Today I sat in the Colindale Newspaper library all day. It's a fabulous building filled with grand reading rooms and intriguing darkened annexes where people dive into the archives of every known newspaper on giant wooden poles or microfiche. 

The Fleet Singers project, in true British style is all about the weather, or more appropriately, it continually returns to the subject of the weather. Alongside the very personal memories that the choir have provided, I'll be setting newspaper stories to music which focus on six key weather events that have affected Londoners in the 60 years since Queen Elizabeth came to the throne. Pea-soupers, big freezes, hurricanes, deluges, massive heat-waves and an almost total eclipse. 

I've been through countless local and national newspapers and my eyes are spinning from the constant sideways action of the clunky, whizzing, whirring microfiche machine, skimming from page to page.

It's astonishing, not just to read how these almost legendary events were reported at the time, but also to get a sense of the  other news stories that were doing the rounds. Celebrities I'd forgotten about. World events that I never knew about. One light-hearted story from 1963 attempted to show readers how to do a new dance craze which was a bit like a cross between the twist and something Bob Fosse might have enjoyed. 

Above all else, it was amazing to see how little the editorial style of many of the publications had changed over the years... Except the Evening Standard, which used to be dry as toast; filled with emotionless, un-embroidered facts and half-sentences which almost resembled bullet points.

Pepys was always a bit of a fly-by-night. 350 years ago, he went to pick up his portraits from Mr Savill, commenting on how thrilled he was with the way they both looked. He took them proudly to show to Lady Sandwich, who liked his, but claimed to be "offended" by the image of his wife. Pepys suddenly changed his mind, decided she was right, and vowed to have the picture altered for the umpteenth time. Poor Mr Savill. I suppose at least Pepys had already paid him for his time. That's what decent people do after all.

I'd be interested to know what it was about the picture which offended Lady Jemima. We know of the existence of a portrait of Elizabeth Pepys which history tells us was slashed into pieces by a prudish, and very religious, Victorian housemaid, who found the painting in a loft and was scandalised by the sheer amount of  skin  and plunging neckline on display. Perhaps this shocking image was once even more sensuous. 

On the way home, Pepys went to Pope's Head Alley and bought a set square and a pair of scissors. Decoupage anyone? 

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