Saturday, 31 March 2012

Lap of wine

I'm at a quiz in the village of Thaxted. It seems to be going on forever. We've stuffed our faces with table snacks - hundreds of bowls of crisps - and just as we all thought we were about to be sick, we were informed that round three was a crisp-tasting round! Just hideous. One of my team mates then dropped a glass of wine in my lap.

They're currently drawing the raffle, and one of the prizes is actually a sack of potatoes! At the last quiz they gave out a brace of pheasants. Country folk! 

We have done incredibly badly in the quiz... We were coming 7th at the half way point. No one cares who's won. We just want to go home and force ourselves to vomit with a toothbrush! 

I'm going to post this blog now, because I'm convinced I'm going to win the potatoes! Or vomit.

350 years ago, Pepys went to see The Little Thief by John Fletcher which had been revised by James Shirley. It was, we're told, a pretty play. 

Friday, 30 March 2012

Being a freelancer

Being a freelancer is not always a barrel of laughs. We’re often expected to negotiate the fragile egg shells which have been scattered liberally by large corporations riddled with codes of conducts, and ways of doing things, which we'll never begin to understand. The weight of a well-ordered chain of command will often drop rather squarely onto the head of the freelancer (or scapegoat) when he is perceived to have stepped out of line. He gets wrapped across the knuckles often before anyone thinks to listen to his or her side of the story. It’s only natural. He’s the outsider. But who listens to the freelancer when he wants to complain about the way he’s been treated? Who does he turn to? Who's meant to explain the rules? Freelancers need to be better protected by the people they work for.

Clashes of personality are funny things, aren’t they? The tiniest little quirk can make you decide you don’t like someone; the way they speak, the way they walk, the way they dress. Maybe they sound too southern. Maybe they’re too flamboyant. Maybe they're just from another world. Perhaps they made you feel undervalued in some way. Sometimes a clash of personalities is something that you just need to move on from. People should acknowledge that two people have simply wound each other up the wrong way, so the best option is for a go-between to step in and take control of the situation, thus allowing the two parties to continue to do the work they’re good at, and continue to be the people they are. Sometimes a little apology helps. Sometimes it adds fire to the flames. Sometimes it can be seen as an acknowledgement of guilt.

So the freelancer continues to swim against the tide, hoping the quality of his work earns him the right to talk with passion when he feels passionate and to hear someone saying “thank you” from time to time. Sometimes I get a very horrible taste in my mouth and it makes me feel sad and a little undervalued.
For Pepys’ Diary – see yesterday’s blog... I wrote after midnight, so skipped a rather boring entry!

Don't say pardon, say Surrey

Cold still ticking along nicely, I was up with the lark in order to go to Brookwood in Surrey. This particular away day had been planned for about a month. Its purpose was for Penny, Jan and I to get together and thrash out some ideas for the films we’re making about the London Requiem later in the year. Jan happens to live in Brookwood, near Woking, which is also home to the UK’s largest cemetery, so we thought we might kill a few birds with one stone. Brookwood Cemetery is known as a little piece of London in Surrey on account of its being the resting place of thousands of Londoners, who were buried here when cemeteries in the capital became too full. The place is a mass of little roads and hedges which create pockets of graves for different religions, army regiments and London parishes. There was even a special train, the eerily named Necropolis Express, which brought coffins and mourners direct from Waterloo station as late as 1941, when its terminus was destroyed by a bomb. A special package deal included all funeral costs, along with tea and cake in the cemetery's cafe after the burial.

I took Penny and Jan to look at the former Necropolis Express station, which is now in the garden of a monastery, where four long-bearded, kindly-faced monks look after the 11th Century remains of Edward the Martyr. There were five monks, but the fifth is currently in a rest home. I had a lovely chat with one chap, who seemed genuinely interested to hear about the Requiem. I asked him if he’d been bothered by the forest fire which ravaged a fair chunk of the cemetery’s outer wooded areas two days ago, but he said, apart from a bit of smoke, he hadn’t really noticed anything out of the ordinary.

We took a few minutes to make a pilgrimage to the enigmatically named Yasi’s grave, whose epitaph “and we laughed and laughed and laughed” has moved so many of the people who have read about the London Requiem.

This particular part of Surrey is very intriguing, and not altogether settling. As we left London, Penny explained that she’s always slightly freaked out by the trees in the area because “they hide so much.” I had no idea what she was talking about until I stepped off the train and was immediately confronted by said trees. Dark, menacing, whispering trees. It’s very curious. For mile after mile, whole winding streets of 1960s and 70s houses sit within enormous pine forests. The trees are so tall and so dense that there’s never a sense of what’s going on behind them, and the general sense is one of oppression and claustrophobia. There are no open spaces. It feels a little bit like Wisteria Lane in Desperate Housewives, and I’m sure very strange things go on within some of those houses perched within the trees...

Still, we did a good day’s work, and really started to build a sense of how the films might look. It's a hugely exciting project, really.
Tonight I went to see Nathan doing a cabaret. He sang one of my songs, which was a genuine honour because he sang it beautifully. He did a 7-song set which included a virtuoso display of yodelling, an extended period of scat and a song from Yentl. My boyfriend – totally versatile!

The end of the evening was marred by the news that my close friend Nat’s Dad had died. David Walter was a great father, a life long Liberal and a very decent bloke. We always got on very well. He was one of those very present friend's Dads and I stayed with him on a number of occasions. I took many photos of him and his family over the years and would like to end this blog with one of my favourites.
You were a good man, David Walter. You deserve a good rest.
The 30th March, 1662 was Easter Sunday, and Pepys went to church in his newly furbished black suit with his boy Wayneman in a newly trimmed uniform, which we’re told was very handsome. There was a good shoulder of veal for lunch, nicely dressed by Jane and handsomely served, which made Pepys very happy to have her back in the fold. Good weather? Check. Evidence of social climbing? Check. Lobster for supper? Check. Life was good. For Jesus too, who was making a comeback...

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

I drove to Heathrow in rush hour traffic to pick Nathan up. The 20 mile drive took longer than Nathan's flight from the south of France. 

The car is also almost completely out of petrol, which is not a good thing in the present climate. Those reading this from outside the UK will be thrilled to hear that the people who drive petrol tankers are threatening to go on strike, and, as a knee-jerk reaction, the government has told everyone to fill up. One minister went as far as to suggest filling up a few billy cans as well to store in a garage. This practice has been condemned by the fire brigade as potentially dangerous, and possibly even illegal. Apparently the tanker drivers need to give a week's notice before they strike, so I can only assume the government's scaremongering tactics are either an attempt to whip up a bit of hatred for the drivers so that they can be more hard-line when it comes to negotiations, or an attempt to line the coffers before a sudden drop in fuel prices which they know about but we don't. It now costs £82 to fill our car with petrol. 

I sat and wrote in Highgate Woods today, and the place was rammed. Heaven knows where all the people had come from, and why none of them were at work. 

There were braces of yummy mummies with ghastly middle class children running riot. One of them kept throwing a ball at me. It hit me three times, on my knee, my shoulder and then right in the balls.  Every time it happened, my smile became a little bit more forced as I threw it back. I kept looking over at his Mum in the hope she'd bring a halt to the game, but she merely smiled inanely, feeling that special rush of maternal adrenaline because he'd learnt to throw the friggin' ball. Clever Tarquin. You know he's brighter than any of the other children in the NTC? The health worker says he's a miracle. He's actually in the 112th percentile. They invented 12 extra points just for him. You can hear her words floating over the heads of all the other yummy mummies because they're so deeply engrossed in their own worlds, wondering if Mopsy and Froo are eating more than the recommended daily amount of sugar and hoping their breast milk tastes nicer than anyone else's. They try to talk about something else but their previously brilliant minds have turned to  mush. They've  wanted their babies for so long, and love them so much that they can't possibly comprehend that Tarquin might not be the centre of everyone else's existence. It's understandable, but what these obsessive mothers sometimes forget is that there are women out there, desperate for children of their own, some of whom have lost babies, others of whom have sacrificed having children for the sake of their careers, and they have friends who want to talk about their own achievements outside the field of child-rearing! I have the same issue with brides - but at least that's just for one day! 

What I don't understand is that many women manage perfectly well to exist both as fabulous mothers and fabulous human beings. Many of my friends seem to get the balance just right. I blame books. We can't all be super hero mothers as prescribed by American women who seem to find the time to make quilts and four course dinners for their fat moustachioed, red-faced husbands alongside rearing 5 children. I think the first step towards fabulousness is realising that no one's perfect and the second step is realising that no one actually cares! 

Friday 28th March, 1662, was good Friday, and Pepys stayed at home all day, singing and eating by all accounts. I wonder if the sun went behind a cloud at 11am? Or is it 2pm? Does anyone else know this particular old wive's tale? Something to do with Jesus, I think. The sun disappears to commemorate his death. Of course, the one time I thought to check, it vanished right on cue! 

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Being a tit

I woke up this morning with a full-on cold again, which I assume is some kind of continuation of the illness I had last week. I am relieved in a way, that something has manifested, as I didn’t like the random glandy thing that was going on before. I assume I've begun to resemble a hamster and daren’t look in the mirror.

Nathan is in the South of France, and I am wildly jealous – although he seems to be in Toulouse, which can’t be the nicest place in the world to visit at the moment, following those terrible shootings.

The weather is now ridiculously hot; completely insane for this time of year. They had the hottest ever March day in Scotland yesterday, which I’m surprised to hear reached well into the 20s. I took myself to Highgate Woods for an hour or so and sat on a bench writing music.

The blissful moment was rather spoilt by some argy bargy with someone at the BBC in Manchester. There were a few niggling issues hanging about (some of which appeared rather major on the face of things), and the conversation reached a speedy impasse, which tends to be the way of things when a freelancer talks to someone in an institution! There are ways, I'm told, of dealing with issues, which countless "away days" and courses can help you to understand. Unfortunately, I saw red and immediately shot from the hip, firing rounds of unnecessary sarcasm at the person I was talking to. It’s actually one of the aspects I hate most about myself, but I suppose I’ve learnt over the years that the nicely-nicely approach tends to get ignored. I’m sad to report that it was only after I’d had my little barny today that a perfectly polite email sent a week ago on the same subject was finally answered. I certainly don’t enjoy playing the Wickedest Witch of the West, but it's a role which seems to come rather easily when my face starts to get a little hot.

My touch papers often end up getting lit when the mouthpiece of an organisation refuses to take responsibility or apologise for something going wrong within the ranks. I’m afraid I went into meltdown when this particular person offered to “do me a favour” by sorting the problem. “You’re not doing me a favour” I spat, “you’re doing whoever caused this mess a favour....” And I probably should have added that by sorting the problem, they'd simply be doing their job! Obviously I wasn’t anything like as articulate as that. I spluttered like a broken oil can and, no doubt, made things a great deal worse.

Anyway, I sent an email apologising for being a tit. The person I was rude to, was thoroughly professional, and sorted the problem in a business-like manner, so with any luck we’re all square now.

March 27th 1662 was a Thursday, and Pepys went by coach in the wind and rain to Deptford with the two Sir Williams. They took a cod and some prawns purchased at Fish Street with them, no doubt, a little snack for the journey. They went to settle the debts of a ship called The Guernsey, which were long overdue. The situation had become so bad for the sailors on board, that many had been forced to borrow what was due to them, at incredibly high rates of interest to the extent that “many of them had very little to receive at the table, which grieved me to see it.”

Monday, 26 March 2012

The return of Jane

I’m not well at the moment. I have a pain in the back of my jaw, in my throat or somewhere in that general area. I can’t really put my finger on it. It’s plainly a gland of some sort, but I’m not used to glands being so painful. It’s been hurting for a few days now, and it’s possibly getting worse, so I’ll have to keep an eye on it. I woke myself up this morning by biting the back of my tongue with my enormous brontosaurus teeth, which are so large and flat that my dentist once laughed at me. I think I only have 24 teeth compared to, I think, the 32 which most people have. I hurt myself, but I digress...

It’s been a hugely frustrating day. I’ve spent hour after hour sorting out the brass band parts for the York anthem. Every time I write for this particular ensemble, I realise how woefully inadequate all music-writing software is when it comes to the eccentricities of brass band scoring. They're like like no other ensemble; the instruments that play within brass bands are scored differently when they feature in orchestras or other type of band. The surrealist quirk (without wanting to get too technical) is that brass band tubas (of which there are two sorts) play in the treble clef, so in some instances you end up having to transpose an instrument by more than two octaves. It’s all very confusing – and a little bit ridiculous if I'm honests - but it's made infinitely worse by the music software programmes which universally refuse to acknowledge these age-old traditions.

The Hattersley films are being broadcast this week in the North West, and it feels very strange not to be up in Manchester whilst all the interviews and publicity is taking place. Apparently Jean Taylor, whose film was aired tonight, had a whale of a time in the BBC studios and came across brilliantly well on the radio.

Despite feeling a bit ropey, I took myself out for a jog this evening. It was the first fresh air I’d had all day, and it was a much-needed tonic. I jogged across the heath, and managed to time it so that, as I burst out into the first open space, the blood-red sun sank beneath a row of trees. Suddenly, it looked like everything was on fire, and I imagined I was flying – aided hugely by the stirring Icelandic Eurovision song which happened to be playing on my iPod! I suspect because we tend to gulp in more air when we’re running, I'm often acutely aware of the smells I’m jogging through. On the heath at this time of year they are particularly potent; blossoms and dust, mud, and green shoots crashing into me like enormous waves of medicince.

A funny thing just happened at my local corner shop. I walked in to buy some Ribena, and the man behind the counter pointed at me and said; "you're in the Ham and High! Are you a writer?" He rushed over to the pile of newspapers and opened one up, and, sure enough, there I was, standing in front of the Fleet Singers, being described as "A BBC composer." It's quite a nice little piece - and I'm pleased it was in the Ham and High, because that's the newspaper I used to find all my information.
Wednesday 26th March, 1662 marked the 4th anniversary of Pepys’ operation to have a stone the size of a ping pong ball removed from his bladder. He genuinely was very lucky to have survived the experience (as are we, for he’d not started writing his diary when it happened.) As has become something of a tradition, Pepys threw a “pretty” dinner for a group of friends who included his favourite cousin, Jane Turner. There was a brace of stewed carps, six roasted chickens, a jowl of salmon, two neats’ tongues, cheese and a “tanzy” which I think is some kind of pudding, named after the flowering herb tanacetum. They spent the afternoon singing and playing the flageolette. They even brought a chef in to do the cooking. Jane Birch was drafted in to help out, and was rewarded with a full-time job at 3l per year - a pretty hefty amount for a servant in those days.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Re-gift Autist

We're traveling along the M25, on our way back from Lewes. The moon is the merest sliver in the sky. We've been with Meriel and Hilary all day, enjoying the sunshine in East Sussex.

I felt very guilty having to wake Nathan up this morning: he's been working ridiculous hours recently, and could've done with a longer lie in. I went out and bought croissants and orange juice, in the hope that the smell of freshly-baked pastries would wake him up with a smile on his face. It didn't seem to do the trick: he's been like the walking dead all day. He also seems to have lost all filters and become a little bit autistic. At one point today, he gleefully pointed out to Hilary, that I had re-gifted one of my Christmas presents and given it to her son, Jago.
He didn't seem to notice my frantic signalling to get him to shut up! Still, it does seem to have become one of Jago's favourite toys.

We arrived at Hilary's, and immediately sat down to a delicious lunch of gnocchi with spinach and broccoli, ricotta and Parmesan cheese. Recipes at the end of the programme.

Jago seems like a very happy chap, and it was a pleasure getting to know him. He's been brought up with a lot of music in his life, and every day, his mum plays the piano and sings to him. This can only be a good thing, and will ensure happiness for the rest of his life. Today, Hilary introduced us to a song by Samuel Barber, that none of us knew, but was absolutely delightful.

We drove in convoy to Tide Mills, which is a deserted village on the south coast, that we visited last summer. It's a curiously atmospheric place, with a shingle beach slipping down to the seafront. Rabbits run around in the ruins of what was probably quite a large village. To reach the beach, you have to cross over a railway line. It's completely unspoiled: there's not an ice cream van, or a bucket and spade shop in sight. We discovered the perils of paddling in the sea in March. When your feet are frozen solid, it's almost impossible to navigate a shingle beach, because every pebble feels like a needle in the sole of your foot. We ate Jaffa cakes and drank Ribena, as the sun began to set.

We went back to Meriel's house, for tea, and ate a communal meal of lentil and carrot soup, with crushed potatoes.

As this is being typed, we're driving along the section of the A40, where all the street lights become really really short, as we pass the end of the runway at RAF Halton. I've always found this to be a rather unusual sight, particularly at night, when driving through it becomes something of an optical illusion, which could induce epilepsy!

On the 25th of March, 1662, Pepys wrote such a short and boring entry in his diary, that several editions of the work omitted it all together. In simple terms, he sat in his chambers all day, writing letters, while the two Sir Williams discussed victualling.

Side burns, nuts and dildos

I'm on the Southbank sitting in the Royal Festival Hall foyer on a sofa with a lovely cup of tea and a chocolate brownie. Fiona is sitting next to me with a mound of nuts glued together with honey in a pastry casing. The doors are open and a light breeze is blowing in from the Thames.

It's been beautiful in London today. Everyone's out on the streets. Kids in Highgate were selling toys in their front gardens for extra pocket money. Someone was setting up an impromptu pergola and decorating it with beautiful purple ribbons. I jogged over the Heath after lunch and the sun almost burned the end of my nose.

Fiona and I had a wonderful walk along the South Bank. There are 200 beautifully-decorated eggs on plinths all over town and we've had a lot of fun trying to find them. One was even hanging from the roof of the Purcell Rooms! I love London when it does this sort of thing. They did it with pianos a few years ago and then giant cows.

Fiona has just told me the funniest story about a mutual friend of ours who was in the loo back stage at the Royal Festival Hall. She heard a clutter as the woman in the next door cubical dropped something. Out of the corner of her eye she saw something rolling underneath the cubical wall, and assumed it was a roll of loo paper. Imagine, therefore, her surprise, and horror, when she looked down to find a DILDO rolling up to her feet.

The story made me howl with laughter. Our friend spent twenty minutes outside the loo waiting to see who it was who'd  been doing unspeakable things in the loo. The likelihood was that it was someone she was working with. Sadly, she never appeared. She's probably still in there, trying to get over the shame!

Another one of Fiona's friends saw a dildo going round and round on a baggage carousel in an airport. Apparently no one commented. One assumes it was never claimed!

The clocks go back tonight, so we lose a precious hour of sleep. Apparently they went back last week in the US, so Fiona has lost two hours in as many weeks!!

350 years ago, Pepys wrote an incredibly entertaining diary entry, which is probably worth reading in full at some point.

Former servant girl, Jane Birch reappeared from the country and Pepys vowed to "have her again", which often meant he wanted a bit of how's your father, but in this particular instance it probably meant he wanted her back in his employ.

Elizabeth Pearce "La Belle Pearce" called in at Pepys Tower with a pair of "perouques", or artificial curly sideburns, which were becoming the fashion du jour. In later years it became fashionable to wear blonde curls even if the wearer was brunette; the cause of many arguments between Pepys, who thought his wife looked ridiculous when she started wearing them. Pepys wasn't a big fan of the look and only agreed to allow his wife to wear them because they'd been fashioned out of her own hair.

Pepys and both Elizabeths travelled into town via the river and got into an awful pickle in the rapids under London Bridge. There was an unexpected change in the tide just as their boat approached the famous land mark and the two women were traumatised by the experience.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Chocolate digestives

They've changed the lay out of King's Cross Station. You emerge from the tube, and all sorts of people wearing black, white and yellow, looking every bit like they work for charities, start ushering you to a brand new, and rather fancy entrance round the side. I'm sure it will be very attractive, but when you're running late for your train, and have planned - to the very last detail - how you're going to pick up your tickets and jump like an Olympiad onto the train, it all becomes a tad stressful. I ran around like Anneka Rice asking anyone who would listen where the ticket office was...

The newly refurbished East Coast trains now have a priority seat. A sign attached to the window reads, "please offer these seats to a disabled person." I was confused to note that the seat in question had been reserved from Peterborough. So here's the question. If you reserve yourself a ticket, and the powers that be decide to place you in a priority seat, are you meant to stand up if a disabled person hovers? Do they only reserve these particular seats for people with special needs? Answers on a post card...

Actually, I decided to ask the train guard, who told me if the seat is booked in your name, you don't have to stand up for anyone. Which raises an important question. Why have the seat in the first place?

I came to York today to do a media call for the Ebor Vox project, which involved a few photographs in a beautiful room overlooking St Helen's Square, better known as the home of Betty's Tea Shop. 

The photographer went a bit arty, and instead of looking at the camera, asked us to look out of the window, which I'm expecting will make us look like we're in some kind of 1960s film about zombies. On the bright side there were chocolate half-covered digestives!

I got to meet Gary today, whose words I've been setting to music for the past four weeks. He's actually from Durham, which rather proves my theory that an outsider will often shine a brighter light on a location. Like me, he came to York to study. His poem is sensual. My favourite line relates to the smell of chocolate on the breeze, which I remember experiencing for the first time just after I'd arrived in the city. It was a curiously romantic aroma. The smell of Easter Sunday. I think someone born in York wouldn't necessarily think to mention the phenomenon. It would just be something they simply grew up with, like the smell of beer in Biggleswade, or the cloying stench of offal trucks in my home town in Northamptonshire. 

We played Gary and his charming girlfriend the anthem on my computer. I sincerely hope they both enjoyed what they heard. 

It's been a day of playing the anthem to people. I have a splitter for headphones which means multiple people can gather around my computer whilst watching the manuscript floating past. It seemed to be very well-received, which was a massive relief, although not entirely unexpected as I'm very proud of the music I've written. 

York, as always at this time of year, looked beautiful in the sunshine. The city walls were a mass of daffodils and many of the trees in Museum Gardens were covered in pink and white blossom. 

350 years ago, Pepys went from church to Sir William Batten's house where he ate a number of "boiled great oysters." Eugh! Perhaps unsurprisingly they didn't agree with him and he was "forced to vomit" them up again before lunch. There are no words... 

That night the poor maid Sarah's ague continued with a period of fitting, which Sam and Elizabeth were forced to deal with before bed. 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Eating words

At certain times in life, we are forced to eat our words. Last night I listened to the Eurovision song by Engelburt Humperdinck, and feel forced to acknowledge that it’s probably one of the best entries for the competition the UK has had in recent years. The key change is a bit splashy, and there are a few unnecessary high notes at the end of the song, which are made the more grotesque by Humperdinck doing the 1970s thing of pulling the mic away from his mouth, but the song - and Humperdinck’s performance - has a dignity to it. It’s quite a sad, haunting song, a million miles away from the mid-tempo ballad I thought he’d be given. I predict a top ten placing; possibly about 8th, although Fiona pointed out today that he’s made the cardinal gaff of saying that the song is a “grower” which may not appeal to people on the first hearing. Does he not understand the concept of the competition? The UK doesn’t get to appear in a semi-final and benefit from the exposure that this event naturally gives a song.  People will hear it for the first - and only time - on the night itself. It doesn't have time to grow. It’s also quite a bummer that Humperdinck is performing first. Unless the song immediately jumps out, and everything else pales into insignificance by comparison, we're on a hiding to nowhere. As far as I’m concerned if you’re on before 8th, it’s all over.

I think this year Serbia have it in the bag. This is a country which knows how to play the Eurovision game.

1 - Artist who’s performed before and done well (aka "Eurovision Royalty") – tick.

2 -  A lilting folk vibe with a powerful instrumental break where a beautiful violinist gets to play a melody over heavy drums – tick.

3 - Unnecessary key change - tick.
4 - A curious folk instrument which looks like a cross between a flute and a bamboo stick – tick.

Sweden will also do well. They’ve got a curious Kate Bush-type performer, who sings through her hair, looks a bit Inuit and does all sorts of crazy Capoeira-type movements. If she genuinely sounds like she does on the recording when she’s singing live, and doing all the bizarre movements, she’s going to be very popular, because she has a very affecting voice, and a hypnotising look. As my brother says, “Sweden are owed  win...” The politics of Eurovision can be a little like the Oscars.

I also predict top ten placings for Ireland and Russia, for all the wrong reasons. Don't get me started on Russia. Six elderly, very silly, toothless crones, who sing out of tune and dress in some random region's National Dress. If they were singing a heartfelt lullaby, they might stand a chance of being quite moving. Sadly, they're singing some oompty poompty shite, which, frankly, I could have farted more successfully.

So there you have it,  early doors Eurovision Song Contest tips. It is by no means a strong field this year.

Saturday 22nd March, 1662, and Pepys worked at the office all morning. Saturday was obviously not a day for going shopping and getting slaughtered in those days. In the afternoon he took a barge down the Thames with both Sir Williams to examine some ships. There was a very fine meal on deck, and a multi-gun salute - for no reason, by all accounts. Everyone was, we’re told, exceedingly merry, and Pepys drank himself silly. He got back to the office to find that William Griffin, the housekeeper of the building had left the door unlocked. Pepys very nearly punished him by steeling the carpet, but called him up instead and told him off royally.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Compositional cul-de-sac

I’m shattered. I'm afraid this blog is not destined to make any sense whatsoever. Nathan has just got home from work and demanded that I take the evening off. I downed tools at 8pm, but had thought I might write till 10 tonight because the muse wasn’t exactly with me today. In fact, I’d go as far as to say she was taking the mick, pushing me down a variety of compositional cul-de-sacs, which always ended at the same boring semi-detached house with net curtains blocking the view inside. You can tell from the clumsy metaphors I’m choosing that things are not good!
I took a few hours off in the early afternoon to spend time with Fiona who got back from the States today. It was great, as ever, to see her. She watched the Hattersley films, we caught up on the last three months and then walked in the spring sunshine up to Highgate Village to pay in some cheques. Isn’t March 21st officially the first day of spring?

The trees outside our front windows are beginning to show signs of life. There’s a tiny little bud on the end of every twig on every branch. Within a week or so, they will be a riot of lime green, and our view of Alexandra Palace will vanish for another year. One of the deeply satisfying aspects of living in Highgate is the amount of green space up here. There are two woods, several parks and a heath within spitting distance. The trees I’ve just mentioned line the little cut that the tube is built into. They are tall, strong trees, filled with squirrels and bird’s nests. I merely need to glance out of the window to know what month we’re in. My view goes from vibrant green to deep evergreen, to red, orange and yellow before finally melting into dark brown. My own little seasonable rainbow. Deep down, I’m a bit of a rural lad, so it provides me with a necessary injection of nature!

Pepys spent much of the day in Whitehall 350 years ago, and drank wormwood ale in a tavern close to the house of Lords, “which doubtless was a bawdy house, the mistress of the house having the look and dress.” A bawdy look and dress? Wow!

Pepys went to his former master’s house to find his wife, but discovered that she, and Lady Sandwich, had already eaten their dinner. Pepys ate with the servants instead. Funny the difference a few years will make; three years ago, he’d have been lucky to do anything other than eat with servants. Pepys returned home to discover his serving boy, Wayneman, had fallen sick with the same ague that his maid had been suffering from. Getting dangerously close to plague-time...

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Are you a creative?

We were up with the lark in Manchester this morning and were speeding down the M6 towards London before 9am.

We stopped for beans on toast at Sandbach Services, which has to rank amongst the worst service stations in the world. It’s pokey and ludicrously expensive, although it looks as though its undergoing some kind of face lift at the moment. There were giant holes in the ceilings with dangerous-looking wires poking out all over the place and a giant sign very proudly announced that a McDonalds is on its way. What a relief. Proper food at last!

Nathan dropped me off at Hangar Lane from whence I skedaddled to White City, or Shite Shitty as I like to call it, for a meeting at the BBC. Penny and I were being introduced to our mentor for The Space, a lovely chap called Jonathan, who directs the television content for much of the Proms season each year. I liked him enormously and feel very excited to be working with him on the project. I think I might get to shadow him when he does his work, which could be a very interesting learning opportunity.

I got a little lost in the rabbit warren of buildings to the East of television centre and was forced to stop a friendly-faced lady to ask which of the buildings was the one the BBC staff called White City. She was very helpful, and after I’d thanked her, she started to gush, "ooh how lovely...” she said, “look at you! Are you a creative?" I was wearing a cloth cap, but wasn't aware that I was looking particularly arty. A few seconds earlier, for example, a chap had walked past with a violin strapped to his back, but she didn't feel the need to say anything to him! This was the BBC, a veritable hub of creativity. Surely she sees people in cloth caps all the time, even if most of them are actors in period dramas! Perhaps I've started to emit a sort of creative power, which hypnotises anyone who stares into my Bambi-like eyes. Or maybe she simply thought I was a Blue Peter Bring and Buy sale.

My mind keeps flitting back to the joy of last night, and I continue to feel immensely proud of what we all achieved. Nathan says he thinks I sailed quite close to the wind with the speech I made. Apparently encouraging a group of people to resort to civil disobedience if the local council continue to ignore them, is not necessarily what’s expected or appropriate at a film premier. Try telling that to Vanessa Redgrave!

Pepys worked hard all day 350 years ago and subsequently didn’t find much to write about. His closing remark reminds me that he’s a man after my own heart: “My mind in good ease when I mind business, which methinks should be a good argument to me never to do otherwise.” It always feels much better when you’ve done a good day’s work.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Rock on!

I'm sitting in an Alice in Wonderland inspired tea rooms on Richmond Street in Manchester. It feels like a rather surreal place to be drinking tea at 10pm, but then again it's been a very surreal day.

I woke up in North Wales and was on a hill over-looking Hattersley by lunchtime.

Today was the day the good folk of Hattersley got to view our film for the first time. Paul organised a mini-premier in the community centre and the place was absolutely rammed with excited people who couldn't wait to see themselves in the film.

It was such a moving experience for us to watch the film surrounded by Hattersley people in the very community centre where the films were made.

The response was great. I could feel waves of emotion coming from all directions, and was thrilled that the people in the films got to feel like proper stars for the night. There were whoops and cheers and plenty of tears.

I made a little speech, and urged everyone in the crowd to keep fighting for what they're owed when their beloved community centre gets knocked down in the summer.

They'd laid on a proper fancy buffet with cakes and crisps and little sandwiches, and we sat for a few hours after the screening feeling incredibly proud of what we'd all achieved. I spent some time talking to Sheila, who features prominently in Charlie's film singing "Just like the Ivy." She turns 79 on Tuesday but says she has no one to celebrate with. "Aren't you married?" I asked. "I was." "Did you not have children?" "I had four beautiful boys," she said "but they all died at birth. The last one lasted eighteen hours." She smiled wistfully, her eyes began to prickle and my heart broke.

And here we are, back in Manchester City Centre, in a curious coffee shop,  with big smiles on our faces, feeling chuffed to pieces and ready to move on to the next adventure. Nathan is knitting a pair of socks. Rock on!

Pepys' diary entry 350 years ago was all about his uncle's estate in Brampton. The whole issue of his Uncle's will had dragged on to the extent that I'm sure even Pepys himself was bored witless!!

PS - we've got a really cool hotel room, which only cost £40! Look! It's even got a spa bath.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

1960s heyday

I’m in North Wales. It’s Nathan’s niece’s 20th birthday, and Mother’s day, which I’m reliably told should always be known as Mothering Sunday to include those who are mothers in all but name.

The journey over here seemed to take forever, and not just because I was driving. There’s that section of the M1 which seems to have moved slightly further north every time I travel on the motorway which restricts cars to 50 miles per hour. It lasts forever, and no one ever seems to be doing any work on it. We stopped at Watford Gap; a soulless place. I like it less with every ridiculous face lift it gets. I wish I’d seen the place in its 1960s heyday. If you watch the classic film Charlie Bubbles, there are sequences shot at Newport Pagnell services, and it looks atmospheric, glamorous and intriguing. When the service stations on the M1 first opened, the restaurants had full waitress service. People from Northamptonshire used to drive there for a fancy meal, or a cup of tea in the middle of the night – unheard of in those days.

We had lunch in The Castle; a pub on the A41 outside Market Drayton which does fabulous home-cooked food. I had a vegetarian lasagne and the biggest pudding in the world. Celia’s Ron paid for the lot, which was hugely generous, as about 8 of us were eating. He’s a good man, that man. There was a table covered in little potted primroses by the door and any mother who passed through the pub was encouraged to take one home with them.
I found out today that the A41 goes all the way from Marble Arch to Birkenhead. That's a long way for a road very few people have heard of!
We went back to Nathan’s sister’s house in Penley where I ate a dry roasted peanut and pickled onion sandwich for the first time since I was about 13 years old. Don’t knock it till you try it. I’d forgotten quite how good they taste – although they’re almost impossible to eat daintily.

I got my dates muddled up last night because I posted my blog after midnight. Yesterday’s Pepys news was actually meant for today. Fortunately, the 17th March 1662 was not an epic day for Pepys. He worked, he went to The Exchange to see what was going on in the world, came home for his supper and read before bed. No wonder I forgot to read the entry!


Today started rather badly. Nathan was running late for a singing gig in Crewe and, just after leaving the house, called to ask where to car was. “Where I parked it” I replied, “on the single yellow lines at the end of the alleyway.” I think at that stage we both realised what had happened. The car had, once again, been towed away by Haringey Council. And why? Because they’d changed the parking regulations on one side of our road without sending out any information to local residents. A simple parking ticket would have done, but they get £250 when they tow a car away, and if the regulations have recently been changed, with nothing but a tiny sign to say as much, it’s rich pickings because hundreds of car owners will be unaware of the consequences of parking in their usual spots. It makes me sick. Councils will do anything to make a fast buck these days. £250 feels like a ridiculously large amount of money. We don't have it, but I’m not going to fight it. I nearly went mad fighting the council last time.

I worked all day, and sat at the kitchen table drinking cups of tea whilst my eyes spun in circles around the ever-changing, never-ending pages of manuscript. I’m sure I'm going slightly mad.

Fortunately, brother Edward arrived in the evening with Sascha, to take me out for an Italian meal in Highgate. We had such a lovely time, such wonderful conversations, although Zizzi, where we ate, is really bad when it comes to vegetarian options. They insist on using grana pedano cheese (made with rennet) in all the dishes that would be vegetarian in any other restaurant. I spoke to the waiter, who held his hands up and said the management were aware of the problem, and had already started looking into the idea of using a vegetarian hard cheese instead. Gret news for the future, but it didn't help me in the present, so I left my morals at the door and ate the cheese. Sometimes the only way forward is to lower your standards. I eat Polo mints and jelly. I wear leather shoes. I've watched a bull fight. I’m sure I’m regularly fed vegetable soup with meat stock in it. Sometimes I even eat my own nails...
Tuesday 18th March, 1662, and Pepys was worried about his father in Huntingdonshire who had an “ague”, which may or may not have been life threatening. It wasn’t. He lived for another 20 years. I love the concept of an ague. Everyone had agues in those days. I’m going to start having agues – once I’ve worked out how to pronounce the word... Aig, Aug, Arg?

Friday, 16 March 2012

Bad beer

Mary Byrne – or Tesco Mary from X-Factor fame – appeared on This Morning today singing what she described as “Shirley Bassey’s version of As Long As He Needs Me.” How astonishing to be so incapable of taking a song and making it your own, that you have to acknowledge another performer instead of being able to say, “I’m performing my own take on As Long As He Needs Me... from Oliver."  It’s bad enough that her album is nothing but covers, but doing a cover version of a cover version is like releasing something that was recorded in a karaoke booth at bowling alley.  It just goes to show how fast these pieces of shit are generated and thrown out to make a fast buck. Frankly, I would be ashamed to be Mary Byrne. A few hours in a rehearsal space with a decent MD and I'm sure they could have come up with something much more interesting. For the sake of a little bit more time, and a few extra pennies. It makes me sick. This is exactly the sort of nonsense that needs to stop being made.

I ache all over and need to stop working. I'm writing at a speed which is almost making my head explode. I need to stop and take stock but don’t have this luxury. Even if I manage to write as much as a minute of musical material on the Fleet Singers composition every day, I will still not have enough material to hand over in a month and a half’s time. It’s a sobering thought.

My friend Abby texted me this afternoon to tell me some very bad news. Sam Hiller, the young man who sang counter tenor in the early music choir on The Pepys Motet, died in the early hours of yesterday morning. No one yet knows what happened to him, but I’m told he was out with friends the night before, having a lovely time and making plans for the future. The man had a very beautiful voice and the world will miss him very badly.
March the 16th, 1662 was a Sunday, and Pepys spent the morning “going from one church to another and hearing a bit here and a bit there," which seems a very bizarre thing to have done. He spent the afternoon walking around St James’ Park, which he said was now “very pleasant.” The King and Duke of York were also present, having, apparently come to see their “fowl play.” One assumes they kept fancy geese and things on the lake there. The Duke was civil towards Pepys, which made him feel very good about himself.

Pepys and Elizabeth went to Sir William Penn’s house for supper. Pepys felt there was something wrong with Sir William and his family, who were obviously putting on a show, but looked “discontentedly.” Pepys knew “not what ail(ed) them”. He had a small cold beer, which made him ill, and he was forced to go outside to vomit. Perhaps the Penn household was being slowly poisoned by bad beer!?

Thursday, 15 March 2012


It’s been a beautiful spring-like day. Earlier on, I went into Highgate Woods and sat on a bench writing. The sun was watery in the sky and the large glade in the middle of the wood looked like a painting by Seurat. Someone was playing a ukulele, a group of girls was playing footie, the breeze was blowing gently, the birds were singing. It was a wonderful English scene.

We’ve been putting little suet fatballs out for the birds. I’ve seen all manner of little yellow and green things darting around the garden and wanted to attract some more. Sadly, wherever I put the suet balls, the squirrels find them, and within hours, the little things are gnawed to the floor, and whisked away to be ensconced in a nearby dray.

It feels like I’m slowly suffocating under the weight of what I need to write between now and the end of April. No one becomes a composer for speedy gratification, and all we’re ever able to do is chip away slowly at whichever manuscript we have in front of us, but every time I contemplate writing an hour’s material for the Fleet Singers, and think that I’ve only managed to write ten minutes so far, my heart starts to beat a little faster.

They’ve pulled up most of the road at the bottom of Jackson’s Lane. There are all sorts of men wondering around wearing hi-viz jackets which say “gas” on them. I was horrified to see one of them smoking! I rushed past him, expecting a massive explosion at any moment.

350 years ago, and Pepys’ maid, Sarah was ill, which seemed to be troubling him rather greatly. He went with the two Sir Williams to Whitehall, where the three men “waited” on the Duke of York in an attempt to get him to hand over some more money to the Navy. An early form of lobbying, I suppose...

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Fin de Siecle

I’ve just finished the first draft of my Ebor Vox Anthem. After writing my blog last night, whist Nathan snoozed, I had a bit of a brainwave, and whipped the piece into shape. All that now remains is for me to put it away for a few days, and come at it with a fresh pair of ears to make minor adjustments, check that all of the internal parts make musical sense and format it so that everything looks pretty. There’s still a lot more to be done on the rest of the composition; various break-out sections and the processional, which the choirs will sing as they wind through the streets of York, but it feels a great relief to have written something I’m pleased with, so early into the writing stage.

I took myself to my regular cafe this morning, and chatted to the girl behind the counter about the no plugs rule; “you’re a regular” she said, “you can do what you like.” I rather liked being called a regular. There is so little regularity and routine in my life that any sense of it makes me feel a little warm inside. My innate inner loyal Leo begins to purr.

This afternoon I went to meet producer PK in a cafe in Camden and we talked about the Requiem and many other things. I love talking to PK. He’s got a unique take on life and a heap of extraordinary tales to tell, many from his days at Mute records, where he regularly worked with Erasure and Depeche Mode, and luminaries like Miranda Sex Garden and the Balanescu String Quartet. I learnt today that, as a 14 year old boy, in 1969, he went to see The Stones playing in Hyde Park. He said there was an over-whelming sense of optimism floating in the air; almost as though everyone in the audience felt anything was possible.
It’ funny, I’m beginning to wonder if a similar sense of optimism isn’t floating into 2012. They say recession is really good for the arts. We’re all being forced to rip up the rule books and start all over again. The fat cats in the Arts Industry are dying out; their last hurrah will be the ridiculous Olympics. Their manufactured, expensive art is struggling to find a mass audience and they’re squabbling over an increasingly small piece of the pie. Very soon they’ll be forced into retirement. Everywhere, little pockets of resistance are forming; like the small, but increasingly robust clan of musical theatre writers, and the increasing number of film makers and recording artists who find themselves creating art for themselves rather than doffing their caps to the talentless execs (who are all losing their jobs). Maybe I’m mistaking my own sense of optimism for something greater, but I genuinely sense renaissance is on the way. Historically, this would be bang on. The Fin De Siecle wafts into memory with all its backward-looking derivative art – and like the Dadaists, and Futurists in the 1910s, a new school emerges. All we need now is the war... No, wait... Let’s not wish for war.... although war is also good for art.

But back we sail to the 1660s, the greatest period of political change, and possibly optimism in recorded history. March 14th 1662 was a Friday, and Pepys spent the day in the office.

In the afternoon came the German Dr. Kuffler to discourse with us about his engine to blow up ships. We doubted not the matter of fact, it being tried in Cromwell’s time, but the safety of carrying them in ships; but he do tell us, that when he comes to tell the King his secret (for none but the Kings, successively, and their heirs must know it), it will appear to be of no danger at all. We concluded nothing; but shall discourse with the Duke of York to-morrow about it

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Tepid baths

I’m freezing cold. I just ran myself a lovely hot bath, but sadly, the tank ran out of water so the bath was tepid. I dried myself with a wet towel, and now I’m colder than I was when I started. Colder, but cleaner, I guess. According to the decadent and expensive bubble bath I treated myself to, I now smell like violets. I think I smell more like plastercine.
Nathan is asleep on the sofa, having had a full day of directing a couple of new actors into Naked Boys Singing. Having been resident director on a number of shows in the past, I can confirm that it's difficult, tiring and ultimately thankless work. If you do a good job, everyone praises the show's original director, and if you do a bad job, you get the sack!

I was expecting to work until late tonight, until I realised that it’s the final of the fat people show on ITV, which surely means a celebratory pizza and a lovely salad in front of the telly.
I’ve been working all day, as usual at the moment, on the York commission. It’s very nearly there, but it's structurally unsound! The poem I’m working with has multiple stanzas, so it’s been quite hard to whip it into a musical shape. At the moment, I think it’s about a minute too long, but it’s difficult to work out where to cut  thematerial without destroying the shape and emotional journey of the original poem.

I went to my regular cafe for the first time in at least a month. Fortunately I hadn’t done what I often do, and plugged my computer into the wall, because a girl who came in with a laptop and asked if there was a plug was instantly told that people are no longer allowed to use the cafe’s plugs. I felt a rush of embarrassment, and then sadness. Obviously there’s only one thing that can be gleaned from a cafe policy which doesn’t allow people to plug computers in; writers, and those who sit for hours in corners doing work, should be discouraged. And this made me feel very unwelcome. I do understand that it must be quite irritating when someone spends a couple of quid on a cup of tea and then proceeds to soak up a load of energy which they’re not paying for. I also feel it must be very irritating when lots of people sit at separate tables, thereby preventing other customers from using the cafe, but I felt very sad nonetheless. My instinct was to leave as soon as I could and I didn’t go for a second cup of tea because I didn’t know that my computer battery would last for enough time!

A very short diary entry from Pepys 350 years ago. He did nothing but work all day; late into the evening in fact. He confessed to being rather proud of himself for his late alacrity when it came to all things business-like.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Father in absentia

I was up at shite o’clock this morning, feeling like death, hauling my sorry 'flu-filled ass to Borough to visit a recording studio which we might use for the Requiem. I’m not sure it’s big enough for our string sessions. It was one of those rather intriguing spaces with curious guitars and weird 1960s organs lining the walls and pushed into every corner. Without the clutter, the space would probably be big enough. Even with the clutter we might be okay, but clutter makes noise. Snare drums rattle and guitar strings vibrate. It’s certainly a strong contender for our choir sessions, but I'd hate to get there with the strings and discover it's just quite big enough.
The weather was beautiful this morning. I walked along a rancid dual carriageway on my way back to the tube, but it didn’t matter because the blossom trees lining the route had all burst into bloom, and the sun was shining. We’re told on the news that the sun has been shining rather too much of late, and that emergency measures are now in place to reverse the drought we’ve apparently had this winter. Drought? We live on an island. Surely a potential lack of drinking water is a direct result of water mismanagement rather than freak weather conditions? You don’t get hosepipe bans in the deep south of America, do you? Or maybe you do. Fiona, do they have hosepipe bans in Texas? Still, I’m sure if the water companies spent some of the money they extort from us mending pipes, we might find we’re in a different position.

My dear friend Marinella has asked me to be her father in absentia at her wedding in May. I have never walked someone down an aisle before (or in this case through a lemon grove, or something) and am touched, thrilled, honoured and excited to be asked. It’s on the afternoon of Eurovision, so once she’s married, we have to jump in the car and whip back to Highgate to host our annual party. I’ve been really worried about the clash, because it only occurred to me yesterday that the two events were due to happen on the same day... Over the last few weeks I’ve been blithely inviting people to Eurovision – so many now that I couldn’t possibly cancel the party, so I’ll just have to make sure all the food is cooked the night before, and all the score cards are printed out and ready for when people arrive. Oh, the tragic traumas of a homosexual cliche!

I went from Bermondsey to Central London, and pottered around Soho, before finding a cafe to work in. They were filming something in the dodgy alleyway next to the Raymond Review bar, and the whole place had been converted into sex shop seedy soho from the sixties. I stood and stared at the various distressed signs and posters that were being plastered over the newer neon signs and thought what an amazing and exciting district it must have been in those days.

350 years ago, and Pepys spent a rather dull day almost exclusively in his office, faffing around with bits of paper. The circular nature of his opening statement pretty much says it all.
At the office from morning till night putting of papers in order, that so I may have my office in an orderly condition. I took much pains in sorting and folding of papers.

As I write, Nathan is tidying the kitchen. I must help him.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Spring begins

It's the first day of Spring. I declare Spring. There's optimism in the air. 

Nathan and I went for brunch with Daniel and his delightful partner, Matthew. They live in a stunning house in Belsize Park with tall ceilings and light bursting through enormous windows. The food kept coming; croissants, fruit salads, curious egg and tomato bakes.

We went for a walk across Hampstead Heath with their floppy-haired, bumblingly bounding dog, Molly, who charmed every one she met, but had to be put on a lead every time she went anywhere near a muddy puddle!

We've been at Julie's all evening; another dose of craft and cake involving a cream-filled lemon drizzle cake, half a tonne of scone and seven people sitting in a room knitting and doing cross stitch. I stuck pictures in a photo album. I must get myself a craft, although I don't know where I'd find the time to do it.

The cold continues. I was quite relieved to come down with it, if I'm honest. My throat had been feeling a little scratchy all last week and I was terrified the polyp was making an unwelcome return.

It was wash day in the Pepys household 350 years ago. Perhaps unsurprisingly Elizabeth fell mysteriously ill and Sam hid in his chamber sorting out and throwing away papers. Washing was therefore left in the hands of the servants. Job's a good'un... 

Saturday, 10 March 2012


My God, this cold is a corker. My head feels like it’s inside a carrier bag and I can’t stop sneezing. My lips are dry, I’ve got spots everywhere, it feels like I've dived into a swimming pool and breathed in a tonne of water through my nose.

I went into Crouch End to do a series of errands and sat working in Costa for a few hours whilst the world passed by. On my way home, I shuffled straight past one of my exes, just after sneezing and wiping a soggy tissue over my face which stuck to my beard. I didn’t stop to say hello, and I hope for the life of me that he didn't recognise me and just thought I was some old, arthritic man in a hat, struggling his way down the street.

I couldn’t find any of the things I needed in Crouch End. I had a very specific list, which included mounting board card, CD cases and scouring pads. I kept walking into shops and not being able to think of the word of the thing I was looking for.  In the end I gave up and went to Muswell Hill where I know the shops a little better.

There’s nothing else to say. All I want to do is curl up on the sofa and eat huge amounts of food. What do they say? Feed a cold, starve a fever. Shame there's no food in the house.

350 years ago was not a special day for Pepys either. In fact, the most interesting thing he could think to write about was the fact that the following day was washing day.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Wiped out by lethargy

I switched on the television this evening to hear more ridiculous reporting on the case of the six soldiers killed in Afghanistan. This came from ITN, whose closing line in the early evening news reported that the child of one of the dead men had said, “Daddy is now a star,” like this was the most important news of the day.This is not news, it’s weird emotional propaganda. It's the sort of thing you'd expect from tabloid newspapers. Perhaps I’m being unpatriotic or really hard-line, but when you stop to actually listen to the news, you sometimes realise what you’re hearing is merely an opinion.

I woke up this morning and realised why I felt so uptight yesterday. I have the mother of all colds. I can’t stop sneezing or blowing my nose, my glands are up, and I’ve come out in three blind spots like a tragic, lumpy adolescent. The computer screen is spinning and every bone in my body aches. Boo!

I went to see Nathan singing in a cabaret last night; the songs of a new trans-Atlantic writing partnership, who show a great deal of promise. I was pleased to see a room full of people - no mean feat for show that started at 11pm - and there was much whooping and cheering. There are a growing number of new and young musical theatre writers cropping up in the UK at the moment, which can only be a good thing. They have a fan base, they support one another, they share cabaret slots and compete against each other. Before any of us can say “Wicked”, one of them will have a hit musical, which could well revitalise the industry.

When I was fresh on the scene in the late 90s, there didn’t seem to be any other musical theatre writers around. There was no one to talk to, no one to whinge with, and worse still, no one seemed to be interested in looking for new writers. Musicals were considered purely commercial enterprises, lacking in any form of creativity, and probably at the time, they were. I went to a meeting of musical theatre composers in the year 2000 and they were all sandal-wearing middle-aged married couples with wiry hair who’d written “rock” musicals with biblical themes. I think, when people look back on musical theatre in this country, there will be a complete dearth of writers born between about 1965 and 1985, which is a rather peculiar thought. A generation completely wiped out by lethargy.

Not a great deal to say about Pepys 350 years ago. It was a Sunday, so he did Sunday things. Church (twice), a brief constitutional in the garden, supper, prayers and bed.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Diggin' the Dancing Queen

I was saddened today to hear that six more of our soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. That said, I was also fairly angry with the BBC for the way that they reported the news. We’re told that the Taliban immediately took responsibility for the attack and that they were "very proud" of their work. We’re meant to think that this makes them animals for having a complete disregard for human life... But this is a war, and people get killed – and people try to kill people. People in New York danced in the streets when Osama Bin Laden died. The English army regularly kills Taliban soldiers and I’m sure they regularly get patted on the back for doing so. Frankly, if I were a Taliban soldier with nothing but an ancient gun to my name, and I'd managed to take out a massive armoured vehicle with a crude improvised bomb, I might be tempted to do a little dance if I considered the people inside to be my enemies. I don’t support the war in Afghanistan. I don’t think it’s achieving anything. I feel terribly sorry that soldiers have to go over there simply to be blown to pieces, but soldiers are trained to kill, and one of the bi-products of war is death.

I'm currently watching a documentary about David Walliams swimming the Thames. He was interviewed at the half-way point by Scott Mills and demanded Dancing Queen by ABBA be played on Radio One. There followed a shot of Walliams dancing like a lunatic around his hotel room whilst listening to the song. The image filled me with great joy!

You know those days when you have hundreds of emails, and just as you think you’ve answered them all, a hundred more come bounding like spaniels into your inbox? Well, today was one of those days, and it wasn’t until Fiona pulled me up on it, that I realised my short, pithy,  factual "I need this, this and this" responses were actually coming across as slightly shirty. It’s amazing how an email can be interpreted in so many ways. I must remember to watch the language I use in future.
The Hattersley films are being broadcast (or TX’d, as we say in telly) up in the North West during the week of 19th March. I've been asked to go up to Manchester to watch the films being screened in the community centre, and then oversee the first one being broadcast on the telly. It’s very exciting, but also a little worrying to think that they’re going to be split up on five successive nights, which was, in fairness, what I signed up for. I sincerely hope, however, that they’ll make sense out of context on the local evening news and that people won’t think the BBC has gone mad!

Pepys was all over London 350 years ago; first in Westminster, milling around the Parliament buildings and then in Deptford at Trinity House, where Sir William Batten had a terrible coughing fit, which forced him to return home.  Having just got over whooping cough, I know how he feels.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012


Today was all about the EBOR VOX composition, and I’ve written something already which feels very stirring and catchy. It’s slightly different to how I initially thought it might sound, but the words steered me in a particular direction. The sheer madness of 800 people singing in harmony will probably limit the speed that we can take the piece at, but what I’ve written needs to motor along, so I shall revisit it tomorrow with this in mind. If it still seems to work, it’ll be a real bonus, because the sooner I can get going with the arduous process of orchestrating, the better.

I’ve been longing to speak to someone all day. That sounds rather pathetic doesn’t it? It’s also a lie. I’m lonely, because Nathan is working, but when you ensconce yourself in a musical world for 12 hours, it can sometimes become quite difficult to speak when you finally see someone. On a few occasions, I’ve spent the day writing and then gone to a party or a social event. I usually just stand in the corner feeling invisible and slightly irritable. I think if I weren’t also a film-maker, I might have become a hermit by now.

Is it just me, or has Anne Robinson started looking like Velma from Scooby Doo? It’s amazing what a thick-rimmed pair of spectacles can do to a girl’s bonnie visage.

Well, there’s plainly nothing else to say. The requiem emails continue to pile in. I’m going to need to be supremely organised to get everything going smoothly. I’m also increasingly aware that I need to block out some time this year for a proper holiday, probably after the madness of The Space project. New York in October sounds like it might be fun.

I’ve just taken a pause in this blog to have a lovely chat with Fiona in the States. It’s always so lovely to touch base with her and it sounds like Texan life is suiting her well. When it’s 21 degrees every day, what is there to complain about? Tornadoes, I guess.

Friday 7th March, 1662, and Pepys went to the chapel at Whitehall Palace to hear and watch Robert Creeton, “the great Scotchman” preaching before the Duke and Duchess of York. He preached upon the subject “rule yourself in dust”, which plainly isn’t a subject at all, but he apparently made “a most learned sermon” which was both witty and informative.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Change the world

York is a stunningly beautiful city, isn't it? Maybe I was wandering around today with the eyes of a tourist, but almost every corner I turned seemed to provide me with another pleasing vista. Perhaps because I'd so recently spent time with university friends the whole place seemed to be almost buzzing with forgotten memories. As I walked along Retreat Lane, passing a roll call of floppy-haired students, I suddenly remembered the girl called Ann with teeth like a porcelain sink who used to laugh uncontrollably whilst saying "I'm so depressed." Then, for some reason, I found myself thinking about the thick set German cellist who had such terrible back pains that she was forced to wander around the campus til late at night until she was so physically exhausted all she could do was fall asleep. At one stage these images were running through me like a cine film in the back of my mind. I felt giddy...

It was a very early start. I woke up with my teeth clenched shut yet again and didn't feel quite awake until I
arrived at King's Cross. The man in the buffet car on the way up to York was ineffectual beyond words. I stood for ten minutes whilst he tried to deal with a woman whose only crime was wanting to pay with a card. She was embarrassed. I was embarrassed. He soldiered on. He actually left his post before serving me simply to unpack a box of muffins, which he positioned like a savant on a shelf. "Bear with me," he said, "this will only take five minutes." Five minutes? I only wanted a cup of tea! When he finally served me he asked if I could help him look for his glasses. 

I spent the afternoon at York City Council's offices judging the poems that have been entered into our competition to find a lyric for the Ebor Vox composition. I can't reveal who won but I am excited to set what they wrote to music. It is very clever, very personal and very touching in places.

There were some astonishingly awful entries: one or two of which wouldn't have been out of place on an episode of Countdown. I'm thrilled to announce that someone actually managed to rhyme York with Pork and another poem began "what is York? Is it a village? Is it a town? Is it a suburb?"Um... I kinda thought it was a city!

This evening's event took place at the university. It was a careers guidance do, with all sorts of alumni talking to current students. I felt like a bit of a spare part, although I hope I managed to inspire some kids afterwards. I genuinely think this generation have the potential to change the world - BECAUSE of the recession. They're entering the arts world with no preconceptions and crucially, no expectations. Not expecting to earn money places you in a very powerful position. We're entering an era where 40 people will cram themselves into a fringe venue and put on an astonishing piece of theatre for the hell of it. Feature films get shot on mobile phones and edited on mac books. It's an incredibly exciting time, and these kids need to rip up the rule books and start again. 

350 years ago, Pepys wrote a rather bitty diary entry which flitted from one theme to another. He worked hard in the office. He was troubled by news from his family's estate in Huntingdonshire, which had been badly damaged in the recent storm. His uncle's will was still not fully resolved, a year or more since the old man died. But, his new camelott riding coat had been delivered, so thank heavens for small mercies!

Monday, 5 March 2012

MU rates

What happened to the weather? I thought Spring was on its way, and yet I've been shivering like a lap dog all day. Shivering is about the most interesting thing I’ve done today, however. I had to get up fairly early, despite not having had any form of lie-in for what seems like weeks. I couldn’t sleep last night and got up in the middle of the night to write a load of emails that had been hanging over my head.

I’ve sat at the kitchen table from 9am this morning staring at my computer screen, working on the commission for the Fleet Singers. There’s so much to do and so little time. I’m working around the clock just to get enough of a chunk of it behind me so that I can stop panicking as soon as my head hits the pillow at night and my mind drifts onto the subject.

Every so often I receive an email from someone about the Requiem. Today I’ve been working my way through the business of Musician’s Union rates. It is an absolute mine field. For classical recordings you pay one rate. For pop recordings you pay another. There are bolt ons and add ons. You oay one rate for backing tracks. At one point today I thought I was going to need to pay an extra £4,000 simply because we're making a classical recording. It transpires that, should the work be branded as classical, we might actually SAVE a bit of money, but the amount I was quoted today seemed so low that I’m not sure I can believe it. On and on it goes. Every five minutes I’m pulled into another debate. I go up, I go down. Good news. Bad news. Trust nothing until you've heard it from a variety of sources...

My eyes are so tired that they've started itching. As soon as I’ve written this blog entry I’m going to shut this bleedin’ laptop and try and relax for a few hours before bed.

Wednesday 5th March, 1662, and Pepys went to a pewterers to buy a poor box to fill with money every time he broke his vows to save money. It’s a warped logic, which surely means you simply end up spending twice the amount, but it's one I fully understand. Pepys returned home to go through his papers, in particular those pertaining to the navy voyage in 1660 when Charles II was brought over from Holland. Pepys ripped up all the unimportant documents, and by the time he’d finished, had filled his closet as “high as his knees.”

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A Mancunian double bill

Apologies for the tardiness of this post. Believe it or not, I couldn’t find a single place with wireless technology in Manchester...
03.03.12 (4pm)

I’m on my way to Manchester. I’m officially sick and tired of train journeys. I need to spend a little time nesting at home again. I also need a lie-in. I need a day off. I need to lose weight. I need a massage. I need therapy.

A group of lads on a stag do are in the same carriage as me. They’re being deliberately noisy. They’re coming to Manchester to let their collective tightly-gelled hair down and they don’t care who knows it. They keep pressing some kind of alarm button and they’re doing laddy banter, talking about “fat birds” and “big norks” and all manner of tragic nonsense. When men go on the prowl in a pack they tend to turn into cavemen. One of them keeps shouting “word up”- every 30 seconds. If I was sitting any closer I’d defenestrate him. One is laughing like a little girl – a tiny little girl with special needs. The rest of the laughter sounds really false; like Claudia Winkleman on Film 2012.They’ve started on the cans of beer. I keep hearing the familiar “schhhtuzzz” as another one is opened. By the time they head out on the town tonight, they’ll be rat-arsed and too drunk to pull. They’ll stand outside a pub; one hand holding a pint of beer, one hand in the pocket of their neatly ironed jeans. They’ll feel increasingly angry with the word as their surroundings start to spin. Someone will make a drunken pass at a girl with too much makeup, and not enough clothing and there will be a fight in my hotel whilst I’m trying to sleep.

The girl opposite me is very pretty, but she sounds like Raquel, that used to be on Corrie. I wasn’t aware that people actually spoke like that. Does Sarah Lancashire do any acting these days? She was good.

I’ve been trying to do some work on the train, but the seats are really uncomfortable when you’re not at a table. There’s nowhere to put my legs and the heating is too hot. The carriage smells of cabbages.

The theme of Ellen’s 40th birthday is black and white. I guess if you’re going to theme a party, it’s good to do something generic like that. I’ve decided to wear shaving foam in my hair. It’s something I saw Philip Sallon doing once, and it looked quite cool, but I’ll probably make it look really stupid. I did joke with Ellen that I might come as my favourite black person. “Who’s your favourite black person?” she said, and I pulled the first comedy name I could think of out of my head, “Robert Mugabe,” I said. She laughed like a drain, “PLEASE come as Robert Mugabe. You’ll make my birthday if you come as Robert Mugabe, with the dodgy glasses and everything.” But I couldn’t bring myself to. He may look like a complete tit, but he’s one of the vilest creatures on this planet.

Very soon the train will pass quite close to Hattersley and I shall wonder how all the people up there are doing. I remembered last night a rather funny encounter with a chap called Maurice, who lives on the estate and is currently trying to write a book about its history. We talked about how unlucky Hattersley had been, and how the outside world tended to perceive it as quite a dangerous place. “Well,” he said, proudly, “here’s a fact. There have actually only been 6 murders on the estate in the 50 years since it was built.” Six murders sounded quite a lot to me, but then a thought occurred to me; “but surely the moors murderers count for most of those?” “Oh” he said, “I counted them as one.” “But what about Harold Shipman?” I said. He laughed. “No one knows how many people he killed, so I haven’t included that business at all!”

350 years ago, Pepys sat down and wrote a strict list of rules for his future spending which he bound himself to “in the presence of God.” Not quite sure how he managed that. In a church? Was God summonsed? I’m sure he was quite disheartened at the news of the day, which was that parliament had decided to tax every chimney in England. Two shillings per year. I wonder how many chimneys Pepys had...

Last night I went to Ellen’s 40th birthday, which was in a beautiful boutique hotel – a former school house - somewhere near Granada television in Manchester. A group of us met before the event to sing through a special song we’d prepared; a version of I Know Him So Well, with alternative words by Pete, Claire and Jim about Ellen’s colourful and often chequered past.

As promised, I wore shaving foam in my hair. I thought it looked quite cool, like something from Red Dwarf, but everyone at the rehearsal assumed I was part way through the process of dying my hair with some kind of mousse. They probably thought I was vainly trying to get rid of a few grey hairs before seeing a bunch of friends from university whom I hadn’t clapped eyes on in years.  When I appeared at the do with the shaving foam still there, I think people were more perplexed than impressed!

The party took place on the roof terrace of the building. You could see the cobbled streets on the set of Coronation Street from one side. Everyone was given a glass of champagne as we arrived, including a table of old ladies celebrating a 60th birthday, who’d stumbled up to the roof bar, and were nothing to do with us. I bet they couldn’t believe their luck.

Apart from the old lady imposters, everyone was dressed in black and white, and looked astonishingly glamorous. Some wore tuxes. Nic Harrison wore a beautiful retro dress. Helen’s lipstick looked like a delicate heart painted onto her face. There were mime artists, and silent movie actors, the tallest hats and the most beautifully-tailored suits. Ellen had her hair twisted into a chignon, like some kind of alluring 1960s film star. She looked a picture.

Because Ellen is a writer on Corrie, there were all sorts of actors and directors and telly people floating about. I had a lovely chat with a writer from Shameless who lives a stone’s throw away from Hattersley. His wife was planning to take their daughter to a trampoline class at the Ken Ward sports centre on the estate this morning.

I think I also met Jonathan Harvey, who’s the big cheese at Corrie. He’s the man responsible for writing the seminal film Beautiful Thing. I introduced myself to a Liverpudlian with a friendly face, who I thought was probably Harvey, but he made the classic error of not saying anything but “nice to meet you” when I held out my hand to introduce myself. I plainly couldn’t have asked him what he did for a job, because he assumed I already knew. I think it was him, because I once saw one of his plays at the Hampstead Theatre. The actor Andrew Lincoln told the audience in a Q and A afterwards that he’d based his rather extreme performance on the writer. The man I introduced myself to last night acted a bit like Andrew Lincoln’s character!

There were a few chilling blasts from the past including one girl who I hadn’t seen for 18 years. She stumbled around the party, getting more and more plastered, and every time I came within a few yards, I was forced to dart in the opposite direction because I couldn’t think of anything but really inappropriate things to say to her. When we were students she always seemed a bit edgy. We didn’t have anything to say to each other then, and she still had that same look of torment in her eye; the weird steely glare of a woman trying to control her demons.

But there were some lovely surprises as well. I had a long chat with Pete, a very dear friend from college days, and his beautiful wife, Rachel. The other Pete and the other Rachel both seemed very content as well. I think we can all feel rather proud of the people we became now that the chaotic ash clouds of youth have cleared.

Watching over the proceedings all evening was Ellen’s Dad, who died very suddenly about three weeks ago. His framed photograph sat at the bar all night and we raised a toast to him half way through the evening. His last words, apparently, were “give us another glass of wine” before he fell asleep on his wife’s shoulder and never woke up again.  I can think of no better way to go.

Star of the night was Ellen’s sister, Katie, who delivered an extraordinary speech which was brilliantly prepared, hysterically funny, and deeply touching. There’s plainly a serious stroke of genius running through the Taylor family.

350 years ago, Pepys, Elizabeth and Sir William Penn went walking in Moorfields. It was murky and cold, and they walked for quite some time. On the way home they went to The Pope’s Head to eat “cakes and other fine things.” It sounds like the perfect end to a wintry day. I ate a muffin to celebrate!