Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Proud to be a Highgater.

It’s Hallowe’en and the streets of Highgate village are full of little ghouls, mini-witches and tiny besheeted ghosts. At about 6pm tonight, we drove along the High Street which was a kaleidoscope of carved pumpkins, twinkling lights and excited children on sugar-highs trick or treating with the yummy mummies of North London. I've never been one for the commercialisation of pagan festivals, but I found the sight incredibly heart-warming. There was something rather old-worldy about it. All the shops had stayed open late, specifically to hand out sweets, and the kids were obviously having an absolute blast in a very safe environment. I felt proud to be a Highgater.

In the 1980s, Hallowe’en parties were fairly rare, but we always had one. Hallowe’en to me was the best of all the festivals; the one that truly fuelled my fertile imagination. I was a brilliant teller of ghost stories, and was known to bring panic and terror to huge groups of my friends. I can still hear the screams of little girls running up and down flights of stairs during one school trip to Whitby because I’d convinced everyone that the hotel we were staying in was haunted.

Fiona stayed the night with us last night, and we spent the late afternoon carving out pumpkins. Fiona’s was a cubist masterpiece, Nathan’s looked like a terrifying kabuki doll, and mine has a whiff of the art nouveaus about it, although the poor fella looked like he’d had a stroke!
This evening we went to the launch of my friend Marc’s Horrorgami exhibition which is being held at the 1 ½ Gallery in Islington. If you get a chance, you must go. Marc is a genius, and painstakingly cuts three-dimensional buildings out of single pieces of A4 paper. The buildings are all models of iconic buildings from Horror Films; the house in The Exorcist, The Adams Family’s mansion and, my personal favourite, the fire station from Ghostbusters. The pieces are displayed in light boxes of different colours and the whole exhibition takes place in a pair of eerie darkened rooms. Marc’s attention to detail is bordering on autistic. I was very proud of him.

Who you gonna call?

350 years ago, Pepys spent the day with his workmen, who were laying the floorboards in the upstairs extension of his house. They managed to lay all but one, and Pepys was thrilled, feeling that, if he'd left them on their own, they'd have taken twice the amount of time. Workmen, eh? Never change.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Hidden treasure

It’s been another day of relentless admin, which involved several trips into Muswell Hill and a great amount of waiting around in post offices. So much waiting in fact, that I nearly got a parking ticket. When you pop to the post office, you don’t expect the queue to be out on the street, and to still be standing in it 30 minutes later.

I went to the gym feeling sluggish. I’ve been in a strange space all day. In fact, I was sort of hallucinating in the night. I kept thinking I was floating in water in New York. It was all rather strange. Nathan puts the funny turn down to the full moon last night. He might have a point. It was a beast of a moon!

Friends in New York are obviously all without electricity because none have been on Facebook today. I trust they’re all doing okay and that they put enough candles aside. It’s strange; once the electricity goes down, computers and mobile phones have an incredibly short shelf life these days. Heaven knows what people even do without phones and computers. I’d be stumped after a few parlour games, and in a blind panic after a day or so. They’ll probably have a whale of a time. They’ll pull together and support one another. Community spirit is often hugely enhanced by an outside threat like this.

Pepys found himself embroiled in a genuine treasure hunt 350 years ago. The treasure was supposed to have been buried by one John Barkstead, a goldsmith of The Strand, who'd been Lieutenant of the Tower of London. The poor man had buried his treasure towards the end of the interregnum, and then escaped to Holland, where he was arrested and executed. There was rumoured to be something like 7000l’s worth of gold, which was to be divided between those who discovered it, the King, and, for some reason, Lord Sandwich. Pepys was given the task of going to the Tower with a group of men with pick-axes and digging in various places where the treasure was meant to have been buried. The clues were sketchy and talked of cellars, archways and columns, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, they were ultimately unsuccessful. Pepys left the Tower feeling upbeat, but one assumes his crew never found the treasure, because people were still searching for it in 1958!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Days of rain

I think I’m going slightly mad today. It might be something to do with the weather. Day after day of rain can get so miserable. I woke up this morning and the day seemed to be promising so much; a powder blue sky, a watery sun. I walked into Muswell Hill and the trees in the woods looked like they were dripping with gold. And then, the rain... And now I smell like a wet dog again.

Today has been about admin. So much admin. I had to print out all the orchestral parts for the 100 Faces project, then take the score to the printers to be bound. Nathan and I sat for hours putting various Requiem films up on Facebook and then had to go through the ridiculously complicated process of putting the CD up for sale on Amazon. By the time we'd finally got the thing up and running, I felt like I'd been run over by the admin truck. I tell you something, this promotion game is lonely and upsetting, and it doesn’t suit me at all. It’s so easy to take things really personally, get really offended at friends who still haven’t bought a copy, or angry at people who promised to buy one... probably just to get me off their backs. The best way is always honesty. I wish people would simply say they weren't interested, or that they simply can't afford a copy. 

It’s made me incredibly aware of how often I’ve ignored other people getting in touch to promote themselves or sell their wares.  You have this precious thing which has been with you for months, sometimes years, which has obsessed every fibre of your being, and it becomes almost inconceivable that anyone would simply ignore you. The only equivalent I can think of is a bride getting married. You plan something for a year. You look forward to the big day; the day you get to show yourself to everyone, show how beautiful and happy you are... and then people either don’t respond to your wedding invitation, or say they’re going to come and then not turn up. The only difference is that it only costs £8 on iTunes to come to my wedding, and you don’t have to travel to Scotland on New Year’s Eve to attend! A friend of mine suggested, on this note, that friends might only understand the personal significance of my Requiem if I added a gift list from John Lewis to all my Facebook posts!

I am seriously worried about Hurricane Sandy in New York. A number of my friends over there say they’re really very frightened. I don't know if it's media hype, but Cindy says the streets are empty and all the shops and restaurants are closed. She sent me a photograph of Bleecker Street, which was deserted but for a couple of cars and a fallen tree. And this was a few hours ago. The storm will only officially start in the middle of our night tonight. We might wake up tomorrow morning to find New York under several feet of water. I sincerely hope not.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

A message to those who love coriander from those who don't...

I sat, once again, for hours today, sorting out the orchestral parts for the 100 Faces project.

I had the telly on in the background. Jamie Oliver’s 15 Minute Meal seemed to be on a continual loop at one point. In every episode, he used the term “clank it off” at least twice. I’ve not heard this term before, and it sounds vaguely rude out of context, but I think it refers to chopping food in a sort of willy-nilly, “rustic” way.

Sadly, he spent quite some time in one episode clanking off a load of coriander, which freaked me out. I have a serious problem with coriander. There are other food stuffs, like rocket, for example, which I don’t like very much, but coriander actually makes me ill...

...And I’m not the only one. My friends Julie and Tash hate it, as does my mother. And Stephen Fry. I discovered a wonderful website today called where people, encouraged to talk about the minging taste of the herb, have even taken to writing haikus:

I hate cilantro
but my girlfriend loves that shit
so unfortunate.

devastating herb,
my spicy tuna maki
did not deserve this

Hated, vile, foul herb;
One mere leaf destroys the meal.
Oh, to be tongueless!

Why ruin salsa?
Mexican food was once great.
Today, not so much.

I hate cilantro;
It tastes like a slum sewer
And smells like one, too.

Other people, asked to describe the taste, have used words like, “wet hair with cheap shampoo lathered in” “grass flavoured snow cone with rusted iron sprinkles” “pungent foul weeds” “soapy pennies” and “blood.” To me, it genuinely tastes like blood.

And apparently there are toxins in it which only some people can taste. And this is therefore a call to coriander lovers across the planet. No matter how much you adore the stuff and want to share it's wonderful properties with the world, if you knew how horrible it tastes to some people, and how  terribly ill it makes people feel, you’d ask guests before serving it up at dinner parties and restaurants!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

"Victory over cold callers"

It’s been a long hard week and I’m freezing cold. The heating is on, the door is bolted shut, I’m wearing a jumper and it’s still freezing cold! There’s some kind of crazy gale going on still outside, and still the autumn leaves are flying past the window, lit up like golden tickets by one of the street lamps on Archway Road.

I went into Soho this morning, essentially for a change of scenery and to sit in the Costa Coffee on Old Compton Street writing music.

I chatted for some time to a charming lady from Calgary in Canada; a very well-seasoned traveller who’d been to almost every place in the UK that I suggested she visit whilst here. She was off to see Jersey Boys, but thrilled and surprised me when she announced that her favourite film was Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. I immediately pointed at a poster for Taboo and said, “if you’re unshockable, you might like that...”

On the way back to Highgate, before going for a jog in air which felt like it was freezing around me, I read The Daily Mail. It was a deeply painful experience. The further inside you delve, the more the tawdry rag shows its true fascist colours; campaigns against porn on the internet, curiously biased journalism from Bel Mooney. The one story which did jump out, however, was that of a man who managed to take a cold calling company to court for wasting his time! “Victory over cold callers,” read the headline, and it was about the only thing I cheered in the newspaper. Apparently this chap had recorded the long conversations he’d had with a company offering PPI compensation and then sent them an invoice for £195 for 19 minutes of his wasted time, plus electricity. When they refused to pay, he took them to a small claims court... and won.

Now what’s important to say about this case is that a small claims court cannot set a legal precedent, and also, that the judges at small claims courts often have a very peculiar agenda, as I discovered to my great cost last year... But the news can only be good. If these companies, who annoy the living daylights out of us all, are forced to close, then the world, in my view, will be a much nicer place.

Mind you, having, for two weeks, once worked as a cold caller, I can tell you it’s not a very nice job. I was given the task of asking a questionnaire on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. It was, in my view, a huge waste of government money because the questions we asked all yielded deeply predictable answers. I was forced to ask things like, “how important is presentation within your work force?” Like someone was going to say, “not at all important”, and if they did, what would this tell the government? That anyone who walks into a job centre looking minging should be sent to see if they can find a job at that very specific (and anonymous) company? There was no place to write any of the genuinely interesting things that people said to me on the phone. There were about 200 questions. We were asked to specifically contact businesses and it took the poor buggers an hour to answer everything. You could hear people the other end of the line dying a little inside, every time I opened my mouth to ask something else. Nothing compared to what I was going through, however, it was  a profoundly soul destroying experience.

Post midnight rant

I was already in bed and half way to dreamland when I realised I hadn’t written a blog today. I’ve left the warm confines of the duvet and am now sitting on the sofa, my anti-teeth-grinding gum guard still in my mouth and Castor, in a cage to my left, building himself a nest for the night. A proper gale is blowing outside. The wind is rustling a fistload of newspaper stuffed up the chimney. Autumn leaves keep dancing past the window. It’s been freezing cold all day. It’s rare for me to feel the cold. Perhaps I should have put the heating on and worn more than a T-shirt, but it’s October, not January.

I spent the day painstakingly putting the individual quotes from our 100 contributors into a manuscript. Participants have all been asked to say, in no more than 12 words, why 2012 was important for them. The answers are diverse and unique and imbued with powerful emotions, from people who have experienced the absolute joy of giving birth to those who have had to endure unimaginable pain.

The saddest quote of all comes from our 87-year-old, who says, very simply, “this year I came to terms with the fact that I shall not see my beloved Dorothy again until she comes to call for me.”

I spent a good 10 minutes this morning weeping at the kitchen table over that particular quote. The idea that you can live with someone for an entire lifetime and then have them ripped away tells me that life is inherently cruel.

We had a message from iTunes today informing us that The London Requiem cannot be classed as a classical composition, and must instead be categorised as “alternative.” We’ve not been given a reason as to why. I would love to know who makes these kinds of decisions and what on earth they’re based on. Is The London Requiem not a classical work because it uses synths? If so, tell that to Steve Reich! Is it because it features Tanita Tikaram? Or Barbara Windsor? Surely if the composer says that The London Requiem is a classical work, then it’s a classical work? The Beatles probably have more in common with Bach than Webern, but Webern opted to call himself a classical composer...

It strikes me that people in charge like to put everything into neat little boxes. Politicians do it. Record execs do it. TV commissioners do it. There are rules. Playlists. Those who think, or live out of the box pose problems. They remind the execs that they’re not quite in control. Opening their minds to something new would require a huge dollop of bravery, a PR firm, a trendy logo and thousands of pounds... Surely there are simply two types of music; music we like and music we don’t? People listen to classical music alongside pop, folk, New Jack Swing, adult contemporary, new lover’s rock, boogaloo, acid jazz, trance, hip-hop, schmazz and “alternative” without stopping to think about the genre. When they get bored of Radio 3, they switch to Capital, and back again. An iPod is usually on shuffle, so Elgar is followed by Eminem!  I think I may have written myself into some kind of conceptual cul-de-sac. It’s too late for logic. We categorise too much. That's what I'm saying. But in a world of over-categorisation, it's difficult when someone puts you in the wrong place!

I do sometimes feel that every possible door is being shut in The London Requiem’s face. First Classic FM decide that it occupies the wrong sound world for their playlist and then every magazine and newspaper I approach to review it opt not to return my calls. Believe me, there is nothing more insulting than silence particularly when it’s levied at a creative person by someone who makes their money out of other people’s creativity! Boo!

Perhaps this recession is merely sending us all running for cover... running back to our own little boxes, where we can seek protection from what should be, rather than what could be.

I think we could all do with broadening our horizons.  

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Neats feet

I had no idea that the process of choosing which face would appear where, and say what within my 100 Faces score would take quite this long. I’ve been at it all day and am only half way through my task. The difficulty is that there are markers I have to reach at various stages along the journey. A certain person of a certain age must appear in a certain bar of music which has been specifically written for him or her, so the rest of the faces must appear, in age order, around these set-in-stone markers. It’s a very complicated jigsaw puzzle and it’s making my eyes bleed.

I wish there was something more interesting to write about today. I’ve had about 6 cups of tea. I’ve been to the gym. I had leftover casserole for lunch. I’ve had day time telly on almost constantly in the background, simply to keep me company. I was horrified, as ever, by the quality of acting in Doctors, and by the chap on Pointless who thought that Seb Coe was an Olympic hurdler who won a gold medal in 1992. I’ve washed up a few pots. I’ve dropped an entire mug of Ribena on the kitchen floor and all down my shirt, which now feels horribly sticky. I've a load of washing, but it doesn’t smell that clean, so I might have to put it back through...

I went to the doctors yesterday to have my ears syringed. I’d gone a bit mutton over the weekend, probably as a result of the post-Requiem virus that my body has been bravely fighting off. The nurse refused to syringe both ears. There wasn’t time, apparently. It’s “inoculation season” and she’s had her work cut out dealing with ‘flu jabs and MMR injections. Having one’s ears syringed – even if it’s just a single ear – is a deeply satisfying experience. There’s a clicking, a gush of warm water and a little paper cup which ends up being filled with deep brown chunks of joyous nastiness, which resemble semi-sucked Fruit Pastilles. The water clears from the ear, a suddenly there’s a rush of trebly sound, and for the next hour or so, you’re suddenly aware of distant clicks and taps and high pitched whistles.

Pepys and Mr Coventry were the only two men working in the Navy office on this date 350 years ago. Both Sir Williams, and all the clerks were ill with various terrible conditions including gout. Pepys had Neats Feet and mustard for lunch. Dreadful.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Me shaped holes

I’ve basically spent the day making a me-shaped hole in the sofa. I have until the end of the week to finish the orchestral arrangements of the music I’ve written for the 100 Faces project, so am having to work fairly long hours. I’m pretty pleased with what I've done so far. It’s a cross between the last movement of Sibelius 5 and Like An Angel Passing Through My Room by ABBA. Try if you can to imagine that!

We had a rather worrying letter from our next door neighbour who tells us that their house was burgled last week. It happened on Friday evening at about tea time, just as we were battling our way across South London. They bashed the main door of the house down and then several of the doors to the flats within. Quite how the burglars knew that no one in any of the flats was going to be in, I’ve no idea... Or how they got away with it so early in the evening without being seen. Worrying though, because it implies that someone's been watching us.

One of the issues with our house is that the only entrance to it is down an alleyway which is always dark. Two days ago I stopped a man who was pissing, by deliberately bumping into him so that he weed all over his shoes. He seemed fairly apologetic after I’d torn a strip off him. “I’ll cut your cock off if I find you here doing this again,” I told him, in an uncharacteristic display of crudeness and boldness. One of my neighbours was coming down the alleyway as I reprimanded him and as he staggered away, with wet trousers, she murmured “well said” under her breath, and gave me a big smile.

Pepys ate tripe coated in mustard for lunch, washed down with a glass of wine. Ghastly, but he thought it tasted lovely. I’ve baked another casserole. Mary Berry is on telly at the moment. Isn’t she fabulous?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Who pays for art?

As I walked to Rich Mix today from Old Street tube, I came upon a man, obviously homeless, who was sitting on the pavement with his boxer dog (wrapped in a blanket) and a portfolio of art work, mostly line drawings. All the pictures were of his dog, probably the very centre of his world, and the buildings in and around Shoreditch.

I emptied my wallet into the pot in front of the dog and asked if the drawings were his. He explained that he was trying to get his life back together by selling art, and that he put the pot out in case he didn't sell anything. He was hopeful that someone was going to make a website for him. He was hopeful that his art would be picked up for an exhibition. He was hopeful that the people passing in “the art capital of the world” would buy his work. I liked the fact that he wasn't giving up, but couldn’t help but feel bitterly sad. The guy had obviously not always been homeless. The case that he was carrying his art around in looked respectable enough. It suddenly struck me that I was witnessing the human cost of the recession and that it was happening to one of my own.

Yes, the “good” news, we’re told, is that we’re heading out of recession. We may well be. But I’m not altogether sure that this will have an immediate impact on creative industries, which are already going through a period of unprecedented flux, with new media entirely reshaping the way we operate and creative people increasingly being forced to become entrepreneurs.

The sad fact is that people don’t want to pay for art any more. It’s a luxury at the best of times but people have started taking great delight in being clever enough to beat the system and get something for nothing. Everyone wants to download a track for free, use photographs for nothing that they've found on the Internet and film live gigs on mobile phones. Young people these days will put up with the most astonishingly awful quality, just to brag that they saw it first, or got something exclusive, or more frighteningly for free. But who pays for the original art? Record companies are going under. Production companies are going under. The Arts Council is being starved of funds. Actors, musicians and artists are being forced to perform or create for nothing simply so they can say they’ve done it. People bulk at the idea of paying £40 to see a piece of live theatre, even though they’ll happily pay the same price for a couple of bottles of wine in a restaurant.

To make matters worse, the system used for the collection of PRS royalties for composers is based entirely on download charts. In other words, the system makes rich composers richer and the poor poorer. If my songs are performed in cabarets at The Pheasantry, which they often are, I don't end up seeing a penny of the money that the venue pays each year for the right to perform live music. It's the same in pubs and clubs across the country. Even if your pub has a very specific vibe and plays very specific music, and the manager offers to provide PRS with a very specific play list, it will be refused. The money instead is split between the writers of the most popular songs in a given year. The money I should earn goes to Adele or the writers of bubble gum pop.

I did a bit of banking today and realised with horror that, if I'm going to pay my tax at the end of January, I can't be without work for more than about a month after finishing the 100 Faces project. It's a terrifying thought, which makes me realise how fragile my position actually is. A bad year in this climate is genuinely all that separates me from the homeless artist I met this afternoon. A very chilling thought.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Nasty Preston

I’m on the West Coast Line tearing through the ink black fields of Lancashire. We’re south of the lakes, somewhere near Preston, which seems to be a place where a fair few inadequate people either live, visit or pass through. On the way up to Carlisle there was a distinct mood change on the train after we’d picked up the hordes of people standing on the platform at Preston Station. A family of lard-buckets got on. I see this particular family in every Northern city I visit. The woman are universally enormous, like great big jam roly-polys wrapped in flabby marzipan, and the men are weasely; half the size of their women, with wisps of facial hair poking out over fields of late-onset acne. The family got on and tried to make their way down the carriage but had to give up because it was impossible to roll the fattest of their number that far down the aisle. Eventually they asked a few people to vacate one of the tables next to the exit and the four of them folded themselves into various contortions which seemed to involve the train table cutting into rolls of flab in several places, including, rather strangely, their elbows. Upon sitting down, the late-teenaged son immediately had an anxiety attack, and spent about 20 minutes huffing and twitching. With every new gasp, I spun around, thinking I was going to have to rush over and with a paper bag and a soothing demeanour. His family didn’t seem to be at all worried about what was going on, however, and continued to eat crisps nonchalantly whilst the shaking, weeping lad covered his face with a wet one and tried to control his breathing. It was a peculiar display which made me determined to lose at least a stone before Christmas.

I’ve been in Carlisle all day with the lovely Nell, trying to work out who our final 100 Faces are going to be for the BBC project we’re working on at the moment. Each of the 100 people chosen is born in a unique year between 1912 and 2012. We’re still about 12 people short, mostly individuals in their 90s, but it’s just fabulous to see everything coming together. We put all the faces on a table top at Nell’s Mum’s house, out in the wilds between Carlisle and Silloth, and for the first time got a sense of what a remarkable project this is going to be. We have such a wonderful mix of faces. Black people, white people, Asian people, gay people, trans-people, disabled people, able-bodied people, red heads, blondes, those with swarthy skin, gold medal winning Olympiads, famous people, unemployed people, retired people, fat, thin, rich, poor, ordinary, extraordinary, hippies, Goths, punks, yummy mummies, freaks and poshos... and, of course, one representative from every age from 1 to 100...

I love train journeys; particularly long train journeys when there’s a power socket and a table in front of me for my computer and paper bag filled with a cup of tea in scalding-hot water, those horrible milk cartons and the wooden stirrers which give you splinters. It’s possible to get so much work done in this kind of situation, yet everything achieved feels like a bit of a Brucie Bonus. I get the same feeling when I work on a bank holiday, or through a weekend.  Today I reckon I’ll have done six hours’ composing on the project on top of all the useful stuff we did in Carlisle. Two days’ work for the price of one! Bingo.

October 22nd, 1662, and it did nothing but rain all day. It’s done nothing but rain all day 350 years later, despite our being promised an Indian summer with gloriously warm weather. Pepys spent the day trying to sort out the business of his brother’s marriage. The mother of the bride, Mrs Butler, was offering 400l per year for her daughter, which was less than Pepys’ family wanted, but Mrs Butler was not impressed by Tom Pepys’ house, nor for that matter, his weird speech impediment. I’ve never really understood why the family of a 17th Century woman were expected to cough up an annual sum simply to see their daughters married. Surely the expectation was that the man would provide for the woman he chose?

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Dolphin Derby

We're traveling back from East Sussex, stuck in another traffic jam somewhere on the M25.

We've been in Brighton all day, attending the final instalment of Meriel's 40th birthday celebrations. 

We hit the pier with Raily, Uncle Bill, godson Will, Nathan and Meriel, and were joined briefly by Fiona and Paul, who's back over from the States. 

We went on the merry-go-round, the Crazy Mouse and a bizarre flight simulator which took us on a roller coaster ride to the centre of an alien earth. Will, who has a wonderfully active imagination, loved this particular ride, but was scared stiff by Crazy Mouse. I wasn't entirely surprised; it looks innocuous enough, but the tracks are covered in brown rust and I'm sure, one of these days one of the little carriages is going to hurtle off the end of the pier into the English  Channel. As we zipped up and down and round and round, and I laughed hysterically, I thought what a crazy way it would be to die! Raily told me that she'd once had exactly the same thoughts on the very same ride. 

We played the Dolphin Derby, which involves 15 people sitting in a line, throwing balls into a series of coloured holes, which trigger a set of giant plastic dolphins, who race over a series of 2 dimensional waves. I'm sure I've made it sound absolutely pointless, but it's a Brighton familiar and I've played the game every time I've visited Brighton Pier since 1994. It's always open. Daytime, night time. Rain or shine. In all these years, I've never ever won, but am proud to say that Paul and Raily won the races we played today. I managed to come last. That's right. Last. Twice. I'm hugely competitive, but am forced to take great comfort from the fact that gays simply can't throw. 

We went from the pier to Fiona's flat in Hove, where there was tea and apple cake. Whilst Fiona and I looked through books of old photographs, Paul, and then Nathan fell asleep. It's a perfect thing to do on a Sunday afternoon and as we journey home, and the motorway lights flash with the rhythmic bounce of tar-macadam, I feel my eyes beginning to close...

350 years ago, and London was somewhat restless. The City gates were  locked and guarded every evening. Pepys wasn't sure why the extra security measures had been brought in, but they made him feel uneasy. 

Dunkirk  had been sold to the French. I write this a pro pros nothing .

Pepys went to see The Villain by Thomas Porter, breaking all vows not to drink, watch plays or do anything which kept him from his business. The play had been cried up enormously across the capital in recent days, and Pepys felt powerless to do anything but go and see what the fuss was all about. Probably because his expectations were so high, he didn't end up enjoying the experience a great deal. There was some good dancing. A few good songs. But that was about it. On his way back to the office after the play, he put money in a poor box. That'll do it. 

Saturday, 20 October 2012


We've been in Rye all day, a large group of us, celebrating Meriel's 40th birthday. 

A curious water-coloured impressionist light has accompanied us all day. Standing on the beach at Rye Harbour, it was impossible to see where the sea stopped and the sky took over. The only thing which cut into the pastel blur were the dark silhouettes of boats out to see and the foreboding outline of Dungeness Power Station. 

It's a curiously lonely and empty place; strangely industrial and completely flat.   There are mud flats, and salt marshes stretching as far as the eye can see with dilapidated boats and rows of rusty trucks scattered all over the place. 

We sat on the beach grinding up little shells and pieces of brick to create war paint which turned us all into warriors. 

We've eaten almost without stopping, starting with a picnic on the beach before moving on to bonbons from the traditional sweetie shop on the High Street and finishing with a greasy plate of chips.  There's tea and cake to come. All very exciting but terrible news for the diet! 

Friday, 19 October 2012

Nuclear family

Nathan and I have been driving in South London for the last 2 1/2 hours. We're at Croydon now and our car's computer informs us that our average speed has been a paltry 8 miles per hour; a shocking indication of quite how broken the London transport infrastructure is! 

I did a morning's work in my favourite cafe before heading East to meet, for the first time, Philippa's daughter, Silver. She's an adorable little creature with wise eyes, and dark, features. She's quite a long baby as well and it was hard to image how, just 4 days ago, she was curled up in Philippa's stomach.

My first thought, oddly, was quite a profound one; here's a little dot that I'm going to watch growing and maturing throughout the rest of my life. I instantly felt deeply protective towards her. 

Philippa, Dylan, Deia, Silver and Dandelion the cat sat around the table with me, eating home made cakes and I thought what a wonderful, beautiful and eccentric nuclear family they were. I'm proud to have them in my life. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Body snatchers

Today's adventure started at the fabulous Museum of London at the Barbican, where Penny and I had been invited to the press launch of the new Body Snatcher's exhibition. Penny was greeted like royalty by the staff there, and they seemed genuinely interested to hear about the requiem, which is now being sold in their gift shop. I adore Penny. She's so genuine and calm and loyal and good to me. And it seems I'm not the only one who feels this way.

The body snatchers exhibition was suitably gory with terrifying wax models of various disemboweled body parts, and people with terrible skin conditions. I could go on. I won't. You're probably eating... Nice wall paper...

From the Barbican, we went back to Penny's in Hackney to edit together three promotional films for the London Requiem. We're pushing the Agnus Dei, the Pie Jesu and the In Paradisum. It was genuinely quite difficult to decide which movements to choose, particularly as many people of late have been telling me that their favourite movement is the Kyrie. It's nice to have an embarrassment of riches, of course, but it's also good to have a lead single... I'm told. The further I get into this whole promotional business, the more I realise it's about who you know rather than the quality of what you're selling. I need to learn to schmooze, but it embarrasses me. 

Still, I had my sixth repeat order of a CD today. If strangers are buying it, listening to it and then buying a second copy for a friend, then something's going right. Someone in Australia emailed today to say it was an "important work." Isn't that a kind thing to say? 

From Hackney I headed to Tower Hill to teach more people how to sing Shine by Take That. There was a period in my 20s when I made a lot of money out of Puccini. Now I'm in my 30s I've moved on to Gary Barlow. Let's hope Benjamin Till earns me good money in my 40s! 

En route to the venue, I found myself walking down Pepys Street and turning left onto Seething Lane, the site of the old Navy Office Complex where dear old Samuel Pepys 350 years ago had just moved into his newly renovated, and terribly fancy house.

The singing went well.  I made a bit of a pratt of myself by jumping up and down a lot and dancing like a loon, but it seemed to whip them into a suitable frenzy. I swore at one point. It slipped out. It was only a little "f**k it" and everyone laughed, but it's not appropriate for the corporate world is it?  I guess that's what happens when two worlds collide. I was brought on board because of my work at the BBC, but at the BBC I'm somewhat renowned for my potty mouth. I'm sure everyone was too drunk to remember, and looking on the bright side, I stopped myself from saying something much more crude to congratulate them for singing one section really well. 

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


I had a slightly funny turn in Sainbury's last night, which isn't an ideal place to find yourself when you just want the world to stop turning for a few minutes. A woman with a monotone voice kept making tannoy announcements, getting distracted and then starting again. I wanted to throttle her. Actually, take that back... The last time I wrote something flippant like that in this blog, it was used against me in a court of law as an example of my erratic behaviour!

I guess I'm still on a bit of a requiem come down, and next year has started weighing heavy on my mind. There's nothing in the diary as of December and every time I contact a branch of the BBC or another production company, I'm told the same story. Cuts, cuts, cuts. Downsizing. More cuts. No one is in a position to take a risk and no one's interested in a documentary which isn't some kind of celebrity vehicle. I don't know what's happening to the world. 

What I need, of course, is a wealthy patron, who wants more music like the Requiem, and is interested in taking me on for the sake of glorious creativity! Problem is, I have no idea where these people are. 

I suspect if I lived in New York, I'd know. Maybe there's an old boy network which I'll never be able to penetrate. 

Anyway, I calmed myself down in Sainsbury's, came home and made myself a pear and lime jelly before watching the Bake Off and several rounds of Only Connect on iPlayer... If you haven't watched the latter, I suggest you do so immediately. It is, without question, the weirdest, most charming, most complicated quiz I've ever seen.  

I went to bed last night and allowed my dreams to analyse where my head  had been all day. 

The dreams replied. Classic anxiety with a twist of surrealism. In one I'd been selected as part of the Olympic triathlon team and went back to my old school to see if my former games teacher would let me run on the school field as a kind of tragic practice. 

I knew in the dream that a triathlon involved running and cycling, but couldn't remember what the first discipline was meant to be. My German teacher said she thought it was horse riding, but I'd never been on an horse, so couldn't work out why I'd been selected for the team! Suddenly a horse was riding towards me and I didn't have a clue how to get on...

Before I knew it, I was watching some kind of play on a traverse stage, holding my pet rat, who suddenly got spooked and darted off across the stage, causing a load of silly women in the audience to scream and stand on their chairs. 

I was forced to stop the play and make an announcement. "I'm so sorry. My pet rat has escaped," I said. A woman in the audience started yelling; "it's a wild rat and it's carrying the plague!" "Don't be stupid," I replied, "his name is Cas, and he's grey and white and pretty. He's very old and doesn't run fast."

At that moment, the farce-like quality of the dream reached its climax, and a whole variety of increasingly bizarre-looking rodents ran across the stage. Long tall rats which ran on their hind legs, a tiny mouse which bit me, a ferret, a rabbit, a badger and to cap it all a possum. 

What the...!?

Pepys wrote a scandalous and gossipy entry in his diary 350 years ago. He'd spent the day in the company of Captain Ferrers, who seemed to have a fairly strong interest in royal court-inspired tittle-tattle, and recounted with gleeful abandon, the tale of Mrs Haslerigge, the great beauty, who'd just given birth to a child she claimed belonged either to the King or his brother, the Duke of York. What a slag! 

As it turns out, neither brother took responsibility. This may come as no surprise as both were married men. In those days, however, it was considered appropriate to at least give a title to a bastard child, if all the evidence suggested it had come from royal loins. Nell Gwynn got very adept at getting titles out of Charles II! Her technique  usually involved the threat of violence against the child! 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Don't tell me who won!

A day spent composing and gyming and searching for nice-looking food that will assist my diet. A few bits of mangy fruit basically. I'm hungry all the time. 

I did a 6km run at the gym whilst staring miserably at people with beautiful thin torsos who didn't seem to be doing very much at all. One bloke was pulling a little lever up and down with less effort than I put into eating jelly. Some guys are just lucky I guess. 

Now, no one's to tell me who won the Great British Bake Off until I've seen it on catch up. Nathan works til 8, so I feel rather aggrieved that I can't see it live. I'm obviously famous for my love of the show however because an almost bewildering number of people are texting me to ask me if I'm enjoying it. I'm posting this and then switching my phone off!!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Strawberry Switchblade

Today I inched a little further forward with the 100 Faces project. I’m slightly concerned that the music I’m writing is beginning to sound like Sibelius 5 (the symphony, not the music software programme) but I guess if it was good enough for Strawberry Switchblade, it’s good enough for me! That said, Sibelius is actually responsible for my failing a tenth of my degree at York University. I didn’t get on with my Sibelius tutor. I didn’t understand him. I didn’t see his point and was completely out of my depth when it came to analysis. I didn’t know why we were pulling the wonderful music of Sibelius to pieces in a quest to find out which mathematical formula he was using to write. I once put my hand up and asked, “do you think Sibelius may actually have just written this because it simply sounded good to his ears?” It went down like a mug of sick at a party. In my final essay, I compared the trilogy of symphonies from 4-6 with a “lettuce sandwich” an analogy which seemed to cause the tutor to almost explode.

Speaking of explosions, I went to the gym for the first time in 6 months this afternoon and had the mother of all realisations. I have become a fat chocolate froosler! You can spend way too long in denial thinking it’s just the photograph which makes you look bloated, or an ill-fitting T-shirt which gives you the double chins but when you stand on the scales and realise you are 4 kilos heavier than you’ve been in your entire life, the penny finally drops.

I am now 11 kilos heavier than my target weight. It’s almost hysterical. I am a beached whale. A roly poly. A duvet stuffed with pillows. All this will change, of course. It’s how my life works. A project takes everything out of me. I stop looking after myself. I stop caring. I look in the mirror. I get the wake up call. I lose the weight. I’m like Oprah. Except a man. And white. And poor. This particular cycle is not exactly healthy and beyond the age of 40 it’s not something I ought to be inflicting on myself. So, once again, I make the vow to remember what it feels like to be the size of a house, and promise never to eat myself into oblivion again.

Problem is, pasta tastes so nice. As does cheese and chocolate and sometimes, when everything is complicated or troubling, food is a lovely thing to contemplate.

350 years ago, Pepys was in Cambridge preparing for his journey back to London. He was staying in an inn where Cromwell had apparently done much of his pre-interregnum plotting. The journey home was troubled. They set off from Cambridge at 9am, but got lost on the Royston Road, and Pepys’ brother (who was riding along) had a lame horse. They ditched the brother and the lame horse somewhere near Ware, and made relatively fast progress along the terrible roads. They contemplated stopping the night near Cheshunt, but “finding our horses in good case and the night being pretty light, though by reason of clouds the moon did not shine out, we even made shift from one place to another to reach London, though both of us very weary.” Pepys was thrilled to have done the journey from Cambridge to London in a day, and felt that his good fortune in this respect was down to God, who was looking kindly on his diligence in matters of business.  

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Felix Baumgartner

Fiona, Nathan and I have just watched Felix Baumgartner throwing himself out of a tiny balloon capsule drifting above the earth at 128,000 feet. It was, without question, one of the most uncomfortable 20 minutes of my life. We’d been told almost anything could have happened from his blood boiling on the way down to his neck breaking as he tumbled out of the balloon. Fortunately he landed on his feet, looking as though the countless records he'd just broken were all in a day's work. What a man!

We went for a roast dinner in Highgate village this afternoon before taking a little spin around Waterlow Park. We’ve come back home for tea, cake and telly. It’s difficult to imagine how a day could have been any less productive. I did try to do some writing this morning, but I’m still trying to shake off some kind of post-Requiem malaise. That's what Sundays are for, right?

I genuinely wish I could think of something more interesting to say today, but Downton Abbey is about to start and I’d like to offer it my unwavering attention!

350 years ago, Pepys spent the day in court, discussing some of the repercussions of his Uncle’s will, who’d basically been dead forever. Pepys must have started to wonder why he was bothering.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

On point

We're at Sam and Julie's watching  the X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing. The judges keep talking about vocals being "on point"; a bastardised ballet reference which feels remarkably out of place on a show like this. I also wish Gary Barlow would learn that the word is performance instead of "preformance," which he regularly says.

I woke up this morning and brushed my teeth with Savlon by mistake; a curious wake-up call. 

I found myself in the post office yesterday with the most passive aggressive old woman I've ever encountered. She arrived whilst I was being served at the counter. "Oh dear, oh dear," she said. "There's no chair. How am I going to be able to stand whilst that man's being served?" I realised she was talking about me... And talking to no one. "He's sending all those packages. I'm so unlucky to have arrived when I did. I only wanted a book of stamps." 

I wondered why she considered herself to be so unlucky. The post office is usually completely full of people, and under normal circumstances she would have needed to queue for much longer. 

I then realised this was the old lady whom I'd last seen sitting on a pile of cardboard boxes in the corner of the post office,  unable to stand up without being assistant by a group of customers. I would have thought if there was ever a day to feel unlucky it was that one.

My dear friends Philippa and Dylan brought a little baby into the world at 9am this morning. They've called her Silver and I'm excited to meet her.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Tea dances

I started the process today of really getting inside the 100 Faces composition. I’m slightly grasping at straws because I've no idea who our 100 faces actually are, and therefore how much space to leave for each story, but it’s important that I get at least something down. It is, afterall, scored for a full orchestra, and that doesn’t exactly write itself!

I went to Newcastle yesterday to hang out at a tea dance with 12 wonderful over-80s in a community centre in Byker. I love tea dances and I adored the community centre we were in, which dates back to 1928, with glorious wooden floorboards and art deco trimmings. The dancers seemed to know the most astonishing number of steps. Shuffle, shuffle, step, step, little kick, step, step, shuffle, shuffle, slide, slide, turn around... Every type of song has a different variation of steps, all of which all twelve dancers seemed to know. I loved watching them gliding around the hall. They were properly dignified, and terribly graceful.

There were cups of tea and wagon wheels at break time. I was sad to leave.

I took a taxi across Newcastle to Shiremoor, very much the back of beyond, where I’d been engaged to teach the song Shine to a group of corporate types. They were a fun bunch, as you’d expect from a group of Mackems and Geordies who’ve had a bit of alcohol inside them and they sounded pretty good by the time we’d waved our magic wands.

We drove home through sheeting rain, in a big white van, and arrived in London at 3am.

Sunday October 12th, 1662, and Pepys had made his way to his father’s house in Brampton, near Huntingdon. It was a Sunday, and he went to church with all the local fancy people, but his heart wasn’t in it. He wanted to be back in London taking care of his business.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Posh twat

So Cameron wants to "spread privilege, not defend it?" This old Etonian, this Oxford graduate and member of the Bullington club, wants people to have the same opportunities he had? By even saying this he is demonstrating just how of touch he is. 

Firstly, unless you abolish private schools, there will always be places where the wealthiest children study. At an early age they learn to rub each others' backs. It's human nature. People defend and support their own. These schools seem to have unlimited funds to indulge and develop their pupil's skills and interests in sport and the arts. They offer astonishing work experience placements and incredible foreign travel. 

Michael Gove is trying to take music out of the curriculum in state schools and yet the quality of musicians they can afford to bus into Highgate School up the road from me never ceases to amaze me...

The children in these schools tend to continue their journeys in specific Oxbridge colleges and the cycle continues. My friends who directed plays at Oxbridge were working with actors who went straight into the business without needing to go to drama school and being produced by heirs to huge fortunes, who had money to burn. So when the rest of us were working as ushers in theatres, wondering how on earth we were going to get our heads above the parapet, the Oxbridge grads were being funded by trust fund kids who were looking for jolly japes and had daddies who were looking for tax write offs. Money breeds money.

...And the cycle continues in business. A Cambridge graduate is more likely to hire a Cambridge graduate. It's completely understandable. I personally feel I have more in common with York grads. 3 years of duck shit can be a bonding experience! 

There will always be an old boy network which will always be fuelled by birth privilege. These people will always be the ruling elite and they will always be hopelessly out of touch. Cameron knows that. Without privilege he'd be no-one. And until he fills his cabinet exclusively with comprehensive school kids who studied at Stoke University, his promises are empty. 

As a slightly upsetting follow up to my blog from yesterday, I understand Jimmy Savile's grave - his actual grave - has been removed, broken up and placed in a skip at the "request of his family." Savile's Hall, a venue in Scarborough, is to be renamed "out of respect for public opinion," and a tribute wall at Leeds Civic Hall recognising his charity work has also been removed. And yet the man has still not been found guilty of a crime. Can we not see what's happening here? This is a witch hunt. 

June Thornton - a former nurse - has come forward today to say that she saw Savile in a hospital "abusing" a girl with brain damage. "He started kissing her neck and running his hand up and down her her arms and then started to molest her." Quite what the catch-all word "molest" means in this context I've no idea. She says there was nothing she could do to stop it, because she was "flat on her back" at the time. Was she unable to shout? Was she unable to go to police once she was able to stand up again?  If June Thornton really did just stand by and watch these crimes being committed, then she can consider herself to be an accessory and should face punishment herself. This is a nonsense and it must be s

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Jim'll Fix It

Why do Americans always live in ridiculously numbered houses? I’ve just sent a Requiem CD off to someone who lives at number 8337! Why do the Yanks never live at number 11? Do streets start at one thousand in most American towns? Is it a status thing, I wonder?

I find myself deeply troubled by the allegations floating around about Jimmy Saville, as I always am when someone posthumously goes through the mangle. Quite why none of these whistle blowers emerged whilst he was alive, I've no idea. It's interesting to note that Saville's "victims" are still entitled to compensation. Surely this news will bring one or two people out of the woodwork with suspicious motives? I'm also not sure why the first people who came forward took their beef to a TV documentary maker instead of the police, which begs one question. Were they subtly primed? This all feels like a case of trial by media.

Look, I think it's clear that Jim'll was a little unsavoury, as many men of that period were. An ever-shifting code of appropriate conduct has been forming over the years, and as it stands in 2012, anyone behaving like Jim'll did (and that includes his slightly weird on-camera demeanour) would instantly be reprimanded and taken off the air. Let us not forget, however, that in the 1960s, all bosses slapped their secretaries arses, all uncles were creepy and all gay sex was illegal. Our standards and morals have changed.

Pop music attracts teenage girls who are impressed by celebrity and excited by the prospect of attention from a famous person. A man who finds himself surrounded by younger people will often start to identify himself as one of the gang. We all descend to the level of those we find ourselves working with. I’ve always felt, for example, that Michael Jackson felt like a child, so his inappropriate behaviour with children needed to be viewed through that particular lens. Saville, without question, took advantage of his position, but the TV exposé last week showed girls who had repeatedly chosen to visit a man that they’re subsequently claiming to have been systematically abused by. Others are coming forward saying they knew abuse was happening at the time, but didn't act because "Saville was an amateur boxer." Surely the truth is that they didn't come forward because his behaviour wasn't considered to be a big deal in those days? A bit weird, maybe, a little unpleasant, perhaps, but not necessarily illegal. The world has changed much in the last 50 years.

The other thing we must all remember is that Jimmy Saville raised millions and millions of pounds for charities and was an iconic presenter who meant a great deal to many of us as children. So perhaps instead of stirring up hatred and vitriol, the British press should let Scotland Yard investigate the matter with a lack of bias, and allow us to maintain an open mind.

350 years ago, Pepys awoke in Puckeridge and rode to Cambridge. The poor man was forced to buy a pair of old shoes from the landlord of his guest house because his feet had swollen on account of their being stuffed into a pair of new riding boots that were too tight. Fortunately the Great North Road to Cambridge was in a good state, so the journey was relatively smooth, but for a little rain.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


I drove to Northampton today, up the M1, through early morning mists which made Bedfordshire look like a glorious Turner painting. The sun burnt through just as the new anthemic single by Mumford and Sons came on the radio. I felt like I was flying.

I was in Northampton to speak to the local BBC Radio station about the Requiem. I was interviewed by the lovely Bernie, who was one of the big supporters of the Watford Gap musical I made for BBC Radio Northampton in 2008. We had a lovely chat, and by the end of the interview, I felt as though I’d said everything I needed to say. Bernie played all of the Agnus Dei and part of the Pie Jesu. He said he’d listened to the album on enormous speakers the night before and been blown away by the experience. Someone brought a copy in Wootton Village, obviously as a direct response to listening in.

I went from the BBC to my old music school and chatted to the women in the office there about its new status as a charitable trust. It lost its public funding at the beginning of the year. Fortunately, as part of the divorce process, the county council very generously donated the building and all its contents to the Music School. Obviously the place still needs to be kept in good order, but it’s certainly a very good start. The women told me that they’re still finding their feet, but that early signs are good. I am relieved, and of course offered to do anything that I could to help. If that place goes down the pan, I shall rush through the streets of Northampton weeping. I wish, with every fibre of my being, that I had some spare money to donate to the place.  The Northamptonshire music school is responsible for perhaps my happiest ever memories, and without it, I would never have become a composer. It’s as simple as that. As a teenager, because of the music school’s outreach work, I got to meet and learn from luminaries like James MacMillan and Malcolm Arnold. Arnold was brought into my school to listen to my (dreadful) ‘cello concerto. He sat, very patiently, listening to every last bar on a terrible tape machine, and incredibly generously said afterwards, “my dear boy, one day you will be a great deal more well-respected than I am...” Or words to that affect.

Nathan went to the funeral of his friend Matt today, which was apparently an incredibly moving occasion. Matt was a performer and his coffin was applauded out of the church; a sort of final curtain call. He came home and we watched the Great British Bake Off , a plate of chips on our laps, wondering if a pair of days could have been more turbulent.

350 years ago Pepys and his clerk Will Hewer took a pair of horses and rode the Great North Road to Puckeridge in East Hertfordshire. The roads and lanes were muddy and dark. In those days, travelling was a deeply sociable experience. A traveller would meet fellow travellers at various inns along the route, swap gossip and decide to travel the next leg together. On this particular journey, Pepys and Hewer made a new friend called Mr Brian; “with whom I supped, and was very good company, and a scholar. He tells me, that it is believed the Queen is with child, for that the coaches are ordered to ride very easily through the streets...”

Monday, 8 October 2012


A horrible day, filled with rain, terrible rows, heaps of ill-feeling, broken hearts and mud-slinging, which I can't really get into. Suffice to say, Nathan rode in on a white horse and saved the day. 

I have been reminded, almost constantly today, of the Requiem gravestone quote, "be kind for everyone you meet  is fighting a hard battle."

We returned from central London on the tube and encountered a pissed Irish bloke; a hopeless man who smelt overwhelmingly of booze and fags. His smell made me retch and as he spoke - to anyone who'd basically listen - the carriage filled with hideous alcohol fumes. 

A little girl, travelling on her own from school, caught his eye, and inevitably, the pissed Irish man started to talk to her. She was obviously very well brought up, and smiled sweetly at him, but at the next stop, got off the train, and ran, terrified into the next carriage. It was all very sad. The Irish man was obviously just being friendly, Irish and pissed, but he was weird, and she was truly frightened. I have never seen a child being frightened before, and I never want to again. 

I returned home and went to the post office, and there found a little old lady, who instead of queuing, had decided to sit, undignified, on a pile of delivery cardboard boxes in the corner. The poor woman couldn't get up. She struggled for a while, before announcing to the room, "I can't get up. I'm really sorry, I can't get up. Can someone help me?"As we rushed to her aid, my heart broke rather perfectly in two. 

Sunday, 7 October 2012


I went to see a film at the IMAX today. There’s a first time for everything and I was impressed. The screen, which is the biggest in the UK, is vast; so vast it almost seems to curve. We saw a documentary film called Samsara, which is quite an astonishing piece, shot in countries all over the world. It’s a documentary with no speaking; just music and extraordinary images of far-off places. Places I never even knew existed. There was a green, green world, filled with ancient temples, which must have been in the Far East somewhere. I’ve no idea where. After 20 minutes of the most stunning, wild landscapes, the film starts to show images of people. The first are from African and South American tribes, but then we see Buddhists in isolated temples, creating astonishingly detailed sand paintings. We see Jewish people rocking at the Wailing Wall, and hundreds upon thousands of people preying in great circles at Mecca.

Then it’s the turn of commercialism; the world’s latest religion. We see factory production lines. Chickens being swept onto conveyor belts at a battery farm. Huge circular moving platforms with cows standing in endless rows being milked by machines. Cars at night time driving down endless boulevards in LA. Prisoners line-dancing in a Korean jail. It became a film about conformity; the need, I guess, that we all have deep down, to somehow fit in and have the nicest things for the cheapest prices. And then, once again, we return to people at the other end of the spectrum, the simple cultures, who have next to nothing. Their lives were shown in close-up. Sadly no one in the film was allowed to smile (apart from a group of lady boys in Thailand), so it was difficult to know if there was anything that the director felt we could feel proud of in the world, apart from its beautiful scenery. I walked away feeling that he didn’t like people very much. There was no love or joy in the film, but it was epic and extraordinary.

We emerged from the IMAX and walked along the South Bank. There was a real bread festival going on, and Philip stopped to talk to people at almost every stall. Every few paces someone would come and ask for Matt’s photo. Sometimes one photo would generate another, and then he’d be surrounded by a sea of people holding iPhones. He deals with it so wonderfully well. I can’t imagine how intrusive it must feel, and can well imagine why some people talk about their persona when they’re out on the streets; always on guard, always on show. We walked slowly towards Parliament, past buskers and street artists, and a group of hugely impressive acrobats.

City Hall has become a curiously tacky amusement arcade, filled to the rafters with penny drop machines, flight simulators, mini bowling alleys and room after room of flashing lights, beeps, whirls, sirens and neon. Matt thrust £2 into a weird box, told Philip and me to get inside, and filmed us enduring a blast of 100 mph hurricane force winds. Philip cowered and screamed, his hair billowing into the air. I laughed like an imbecile.

Tuesday 7th October, 1662, and Pepys went shopping with his wife. Correction. Elizabeth went shopping, and Pepys “walked up and down” with Dr Williams, talking about business and law. Pepys did, however, purchase two “bands;” fashion items for the neck which succeeded the ruff. I believe that lawyers still wear them today.

Ban Christian marriage?

So the Tory government is finally beginning to show its repugnant true colours. Michael Gove’s education policies are taking every ounce of music out of schools. He wants to abolish the BBC and he wants to make the rich richer. This year he supplied every child in the UK with a copy of the King James Bible, which he describes as “the most important book in the English language.” He looks like a trout. Another one of that sorry lot Jeremy Hunt, who’s now the health secretary, wants to reduce, by half, the window in which a woman can opt to have a termination. Abortions, in his opinion, should take place within a 12 week period. Some people don’t even realise they’re pregnant by 12 weeks, and it certainly takes a lot longer to work out if a child has a terminal or life-threatening disease or disability. A woman called Barbara wrote the following post in response to Theresa May, who seems to be of a similar belief.

So back to the backstreet abortionists then Theresa? If I was asked if I had known that my son would be born disabled would I have asked for an abortion? Yes, I would! He has suffered so much however hard I have worked. All my friends and relatives are dead and we live in a part of town that has become a student area, so there are no' friendly neighbours'. I worry so much now that I am 86 as to how what will happen to my disabled son, who also is autistic with learning difficulties. He would not want to leave our home, but how will he cope now that services are being cut to the bone?

Before I move on to cheerier issues, it’s important to note that Theresa May, like Michael Gove lists God amongst her hobbies. In my view it is vital that politicians understand that religion cannot and must not shape politics. I have nothing against the Christians. Some of my best friends are Christian. But Christians need to remember that Christianity is a life-style choice, one which is best kept behind closed doors. Now where have I heard that before?

I’m being facetious. We must learn to be tolerant. The next thing we know, they’ll be trying to prevent Christians from getting married...

We’ve just returned from a music quiz in Bishop’s Stortford, which I’m proud to announce we won. 8 bottles of wine between 7. Thank you very much. We won by four points; the sum total of freakishly lucky guesses that we made in various rounds. We had a fair amount of knowledge between us on the team, but we were on fire when it came to guessing!

I’ve returned rather late, and very much need to go to bed.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Wiped out

I woke up feeling exhausted and wiped out, and sat on the sofa in my living room all day trying to raise some interest in the Requiem. It’s proving to be a great deal harder than I’d thought. Those who hear it seem to be hugely impressed. I’ve had two letters through the post in as many days; one from a sociology lecturer at Sheffield University. Both say how impressed they are by the work. There have been scores of emails and text messages, all saying the same thing. I’ve never had this kind of response to one of my works before.

Trouble is, it doesn’t have a massive team of people behind it. I don’t have a plugger to convince Classic FM that the sound-world the work occupies isn’t too unusual or dark for the station. Simultaneously, it would be nice to convince a publisher to take me or the work on. I’ve already had two requests from amateur choirs to look at the music for example. It strikes me it’s a no brainer – there’s money to be made - but all roads in the publishing world seem to lead back to one of two women, who don’t seem to be at all interested in my work!

This is going to be a long, hard slog, and today the enormity of the problem hit me. I’ve sold about 150 CDs. I need to sell 2000 to break even! I've done two interviews about it on the BBC in Newcastle and Carlisle and not sold a single unit up there. Does anyone have any ideas? I’m kind of stumped right now and the sad truth is that if the piece makes a catastrophic loss, I’m never going to be able to make another album!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

100 years old Drag Queens

I’m returning to London from Newcastle through the flooded fields of Yorkshire. The North East of England has taken an absolute pounding in recent days; the rivers are swollen to bursting point, and the cows are horses are huddled miserably in the corners of water-logged fields. Still, the sun is presently shining, casting long shadows across the countryside and a clean, green light onto the tree tops. I stare towards the distant grey hills of the Yorkshire Moors wondering how many of the roads in the Vale of York I’ve travelled along.

The woman sitting opposite me is collapsing under the weight of her victimhood. Five seconds ago, my foot brushed past the tip of her enormous ogg boots and she started writhing like a woman in labour whilst staring at me. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “You kicked me!” She said, her face contorted in the agony of a footballer trying to get a penalty. To give her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps the skin of her feet was recently taken off in a freak accident involving a bottle of vinegar. Perhaps I have carbolic acid on the toes of my shoes. I’ve never known such an over-reaction to a tiny little tap. I apologised, but the tone of my voice told her she was a silly little thing. She immediately fell asleep and I exchanged glances with the nice woman opposite.

I’ve been in Newcastle for the last two days doing publicity for, and having various meetings about the 100 Faces project. We were sorting through the entrants today; individuals of all ages with tales of happiness and tragedy from as far south as York and Barrow-in-Furness, all the way up both coats to Berwick-Upon-Tweed and Carlisle. We’ve now found people to represent 80 of the 100 years since 1912. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the ages which are missing are in the 80 plus category, although we have found two 100 year-olds! Two! It’s almost inconceivable that we have to say no to one of them. Couldn’t one of them pretend to be 99, or something? Sometimes I wish I weren’t such a purist! We also seem to have an absolute glut of interesting people who were born in 1962. Perhaps becoming 50 makes people reappraise their lives, and suddenly decide to start the process of living.

The BBC put me up in a lovely hotel. My bedroom overlooked the Tyne somewhere between the Metro Bridge and the swing bridge. I went to bed with the curtains open so that I could see the watery river lights reflecting onto the ceiling of my room. I felt very grand indeed.

Last night we went out to the Pink Triangle, an area of gay bars and clubs to the West of the train station. We were searching for a drag queen. The people who feature in the 100 Faces project need to reflect the diversity of communities across the North East and Cumbria, and the vicious drag queens of Newcastle are legendary! One stood rather superciliously behind the DJ desk in one of the bars wearing a Lady Di wig and giving withering looks to the punters. Periodically she’d use her rich baritonal voice to utter something vile or acerbic into a microphone. She simply didn’t give a shit. Death would have been too good for her audience.

The Pink Triangle was almost empty and seemed to have quite strange atmosphere about it. George Michael was playing at the arena and the Lady Boys of Bangkok were shrieking out Cher songs in a tent in the middle of the Life Centre so perhaps the gays were elsewhere. One of the bars was filled to the brim with straight women in high-heeled shoes, slutty mini-skirts and lurid satin shirts dancing to a Steps Medley. In front of them, a bloke wearing high-wasted jeans, and looking every bit the train-spotter, was half-heartedly doing every single Steps step. He obviously felt too cool to give it large... but he was wearing stone-washed jeans and dancing to Tragedy. The name of the song said it all.

350 years ago, Pepys was blaming his wife for a spate of lie-ins. He worked until 9 at night, examining the particulars of the sinking of one of the Navy fleet off the coast of Holland. The weirdly named Satisfaction had apparently gone down as the result of pilot error.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Still no clout!

I was forced onto a crowded commuter train this morning for the first time in an age. I’d forgotten quite how hideous the experience can be. The trains were so crowded that I found myself for at least 20 minutes in an ever-growing scrum of people at Highgate waiting patiently as train after train pulled into the station and left again without anyone being able to get on board. These cattle trucks seem to go more slowly the more people there are on board, obviously just to add to the general hell of the situation. The sweat starts to pour from your forehead and then trickles down your back. You lose your balance as the train inexplicably lists to one side. You fall against someone, who loses their patience and gives you a dirty look. You arrive at your destination, starting the day feeling angry and uptight and smelling of wet dog and someone else’s breakfast...

I had a rather unpleasant email exchange yesterday with a theatre director. A friend of mine has written a pretty decent play, which I’ve promised to help him to promote. The director I contacted on his behalf is a good friend and a highly-respected director and I thought they might both benefit from an introduction. My writer friend had already written to the director (on my advice) a few weeks ago but heard nothing, so I thought I’d give him a nudge. The ensuing exchange was a little upsetting, and I ended up feeling rather worthless.
Thing is, we all know that there are two lists in this world; the list of people who are recommended by trusted colleagues and the list of people who are, well, unsolicited. Whenever I feature on the second list, the horrible truth is that people are very unlikely to bother to reply to me. It’s the nature of our industry. There are thousands of wannabes, all talking the talk and chancing their luck. When I worked in casting, for example, we’d get 20 or 30 letters a day from actors, which immediately went in the bin unless they really stood out! If an agent, however, or fellow industry professional went to the effort of contacting us to say we ought to meet someone, we’d go out of our way to see them, if for no other reason, just to let them know that we valued their judgement and their status in the industry. It’s the same in every profession. I guess it’s why head hunters exist.

Problem is, when you put your neck on the line and make a recommendation, it can be really humiliating if it’s rebuffed. Maybe my friend’s theatre has a socialist policy where everyone goes to the back of the queue regardless of status or quality? Perhaps all plays are read blind so that no favouritism takes place? Maybe he’s snowed under at the moment, and sick to the back teeth of industry professionals getting in touch and asking him to read plays? But if Lord Lloyd-Webber contacted my director friend suggesting he read a play, would he be told to submit the piece as per instructions on the theatre’s website...?

Seventeen years in the business, and still no friggin’ clout!

October 3rd, 1662, and Pepys and Elizabeth ate herrings for lunch, the first of the season. Pepys spent the afternoon with Captain Ferrers, a man who seemed to draw trouble and mayhem towards him like a magnet. I suspect these days he’d probably be diagnosed with some form of mania, because, in the heat of the moment, he was apt to throw himself out of first floor windows for dares of his own making. On this occasion he was nursing a cut hand from a sword fight he’d picked with one of Lord Sandwich’s footmen. Ferrers, who had been in the Huntingdonshire delivered a letter from Pepys’ father, naming October 13th as a day for the family to go to court to settle some outstanding financial business. Pepys decided that Ferrers must have been walking about with the letter in his pocket for some days, writing; “it is great folly to send letters of business by any friend that require haste.” He’s not wrong. I once gave a card to a friend who said he was going to a post box. The card never arrived!