Monday, 18 June 2012

Road sweepers and gardeners

I left the house at 8pm this evening and was pleased to see one of Highgate's regular road sweepers sitting on his favourite bench on Southwood Lane. He's often there at about this time, watching the world passing by, soaking up the last rays of sunshine. He always looks so at peace. Sometimes I almost feel jealous. I'd love to do a project where I got to talk to people sitting alone on benches; on the Heath, in markets, at the side of the road. It would be great to somehow tune into their thoughts. 

My Grannie was a great one for people-watching from benches. We'd often station her on a nice-looking one, and go off for a stroll somewhere. Invariably, we'd return to be told the life stories of the strangers who'd shared her space for a minute or so. "She wasn't wearing a wedding ring, but he was. They were definitely having an affair..."

I spent the morning in Hampstead Garden Suburb with Nathan, walking around the cemetery there, searching for some of the gravestones whose inscriptions feature in my Requiem which we're planning to film on Wednesday. It was very much needle in the haystack time. In the end I had to head for the cemetery office to ask them to search through their records. Fortunately, they are a hugely organised and very polite bunch, and one of the gardeners was able to take me straight to where I needed to be. 

Tonight was the last rehearsal of the Fleet Singers this term and I went along for cake and post-performance chatter. I arrived late and walked into the room to a stirring round of applause from the choir, which was unexpected and incredibly touching. I didn't know where to put myself. The evening got even more moving when, at the end of the night, they decided to sing a sequence from Songs About the Weather and took a vote on which bit they most wanted to sing. In the end it was a straight tie between an elegiac sequence about a coot's nest on Hampstead Heath, and a rousing chorus about Greenham Common, so the choir sang both... With great joy. My heart burst.

During the break, whilst I stuffed my face with delicious lemon drizzle cake, a group came up to me and asked if I had recovered from my car crash. I had no idea what they were talking about. "But you wrote about it in your blog," they said. I looked perplexed. And then it dawned on someone. "When he said he got in the car and crashed, he was writing metaphorically," she said  "he had an emotional, rather than a physical crash." I was so grateful to her for clearing things up as I was beginning to think I was losing my mind! Of course the misunderstanding caused much hilarity. 

350 years ago and Pepys wrote that the courage displayed by regicide, Sir Henry Vane, as he stood at the block waiting for his head to be chopped off, was being talked up around London as something of a miracle. 

Pepys went to the studios of two painters in the afternoon and was shown portraits of the King, the Duchess of York, Anne Hyde, and various other figures of the day. Of course he was most keen to see a portrait of his pin-up girl, the controversial Lady Castlemayne, lover of Charles II, who seemed to have little interest in standing aside to make way for the new Queen. Pepys was unlucky. The portraits of Lady C were considered so incendiary, that they'd been locked away! 

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