Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Cagney and Lacy

We're on our way into town to watch Cagney and Lacy playing Maria Callas. I've no idea what to expect, but my old mate Diane is in the cast, so it ought to be good! I hope Cagney and Lacy arrive on stage wearing bat wing jumpers and knee-high boots!

I was up with the lark this morning to get to the South Bank for a meeting about The Space. It was quite a fancy do with all sorts of BBC and Arts Council types rubbing shoulders with representatives from the various exciting projects which have been selected for The Space. It's incredibly exciting. We're all taking a massive dive into uncharted waters. There were a few whingers in the crowd; obviously being awarded a large sum of money to create an unique piece of art isn't enough for some people. Penny and I just felt grateful to be there and proud that the London Requiem already seems to be one of the projects which has piqued people's interest. 

I bloomin' love the Arts Council. They have funded my projects more than any other institution aside from the BBC and I sometimes wonder if anything decent would ever happen in our industry without them. 

We had sandwiches for lunch. A waiter stood behind a giant platter serving them out and I was nearly hugely impressed. He said "all the meat sandwiches are on the right hand side of the table." "So everything else is vegetarian?" I asked. "Yes," he said, "unless you count tuna as meat." Umm?! There's this weird believe which seems to be filtering through society at the moment that you can call yourself vegetarian if you eat fish. Does a tuna have a face? Yes! Do tuna fish have mothers? Yes! Then tuna does not feature in a vegetarian diet. There's even a word for vegetarians who eat fish. Pescetarians. Though quite how one spells the word I've no idea! 

No news from Pepys 350 years ago. 1662 wasn't a leap year. February 29th is a funny old concept isn't it? Happy birthday to all the 10 year olds who are secretly 40 today!! 

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

BOO to PRS

I did a morning’s work on the Fleet Singer’s composition, before being engulfed by the London Requiem... Hundreds of emails came dancing into my inbox; all manner of stuff pertaining to arts-based projects in graveyards, and other projects which have nothing to do with graveyards, but everything to do with death. If I wasn’t depressed before reading them, I was afterwards. Sadly, we still have a small amount of fundraising to do to make sure the live performance of the Requiem in September goes smoothly, and I don’t know if I have the head-space to deal with two separate quests for money. Obviously my absolute priority has to be the recording; it has the potential to dramatically change the direction of my career, and it’s the thing that has the power to leave a legacy that will never be deleted. That said, we have to fund the live performance or we’ll end up looking very silly indeed. Somewhere within the murk and gloom of fundraising bids and too many emails are the two commissions that I have to complete by the end of April... If only I were superman!
There’s really not a great deal else to say. I spent the day today applying to the Arts Council for some help with the requiem, because, for the umpteenth time in my career, the man from PRS, he say no! I don’t know what you need to do to get money out of the PRS foundation. I can only assume that their entire system is either based on a series of backhanders awarded to “favourites” or a misleading set of guidelines about what they actually want to fund. Perhaps they’re more interested in avant garde music. Maybe they don’t like community projects, or perhaps they claim to have larger sums of money than are actually available. They turned down Oranges and Lemons, The Pepys Motet, The York 800 project, Metro: The Musical, and now the London Requiem. All of these projects were picked up and funded elsewhere, so it’s not like they were invalid or just a bit crap. PRS always refuses to give feedback about the application process, so everything feels a little murky in complete contrast to the Arts Council which is always very open and honest about what it funds. Hurrah for the Arts Council... Boo to PRS!
I went to the gym and now I feel sick. But look at the Requiometer...

350 years ago, and Pepys’ boy, Wayneman, forgot to wake his master up as early as he’d requested. Pepys decided to whip the lad as punishment, which seems a tad unjust.

He needed to be up early to visit the Duke of York and present him with a “fine” map of Tangiers which had been drawn by a Swedish companion of Lord Sanwich’s. The Duke seemed much taken with his gift, and spent ages, in Pepys’ company, staring at it. Pepys returned from Westminster to find his clerk, Thomas Hater, had taken delivery of half a year’s salary. Pepys, flushed with wealth, and good to his word, asked for a cane, and took his boy into one of the upper rooms of the Comptroller’s House “towards the garden” and “there I reckoned all his faults, and whipped him soundly, but the rods were so small that I fear they did not much hurt to him, but only to my arm, which I am already, within a quarter of an hour, not able to stir almost.” Well, I’m tempted to say it serves him right for being so genuinely horrible.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Ten thousand

I made a start on the music side of my commission for the fleet singers today. It's always a bit weird when you sit down at a piano and realise you're starting from scratch. There are always a number of false starts; myriad things you can do to put off the inevitable. The room looks messy, so you tidy up a bit, make the bed, make a cup of tea... You stare at the piano for a few moments, run your finger through some dust and then play a chord or two. You realise with horror that they're from the last piece you wrote and that muscle memory has taken your fingers there. You play a few more chords. They're too avant garde. You're writing for amateur singers, not computers. More chords. Too cheesy. Didn't you use that progression before? More still. These ones are hackneyed, but surely the beating heart of a popular song is often the use of a recognisable chord progression. Perhaps this one's been done to death, you think... Mostly by you! And so the thoughts continue. A splurge of activity. An ostinato. A rush of adrenaline as you scribble things down before forgetting what it was that sounded so good. It won't do, but it's a start. The key is to make a start... 

There are now marks on a piece of manuscript paper. Until I start the next composition, I will never have to sit in front of an empty manuscript again!

I received an email this morning which informed me that the fundraising for the requiem has now reached £10,000, which feels like a very important milestone. Another five and we can begin the process of recording. 

I went into Shoreditch today to meet the good folk at Rich Mix, who are the partners for our live Requiem project. All sorts of exciting things are going to be happening throughout the ten-week period leading up to the live performance: from debates to dance events inspired by the music. It's almost bewildering to think how much creativity the work will generate. 

En route to Rich Mix, I went to see Philippa and Deia at the Childhood Museum in Bethnal Green. What a fabulous place! The first display cabinet I looked at was filled with Fisher Price toys; a hospital, a farm and the Fisher Price High Street, which made me want to scream with excitement. There were Weebles too, in their original boxes and all manner of exciting toys that I'd longed for as a child, including Mr Potato Head and a Girl's World! How I longed for a Girl's World! How the writing was on the wall!

The visit ended at the craft tables, which are covered with pots of pens and scissors and glue and vats of ripped up pieces of crepe paper. It was like being at junior school again, when Helen Dent and I used to closely guard the one unusual-coloured pencil in the class room. It was a shade of maroon, and no one else was to learn of its existence. At the end of each day we'd take it out of the pencil tray and hide it behind the radiator! 

350 years ago, Pepys had the mother of all rows with his composition tutor, which ended with Birchensha storming out of Pepys' chamber... It's so much better in Pepys' own words;

"I, finding that he cries up his rules for most perfect (though I do grant them to be very good, and the best I believe that ever yet were made), and that I could not persuade him to grant wherein they were somewhat lame, we fell to angry words, so that in a pet he flung out of my chamber and I never stopped him, having intended to put him off today, whether this had happened or no, because I think I have all the rules that he hath to give."

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Wood smoke

We've come to Thaxted for the day. It's been a wonderful tonic, filled with great food, lovely sunny walks across the fields, and hours of doing nothing but sitting on a comfy chair by the fire with a glorious mug of tea in my hand. Sadly no one thought to actually light the fire, but I'm sure if we had, the blissfulness of the moment would have sent us into a coma.

I stuck my head out of the front door earlier on and the whole town smelt of wood smoke, which has to be one of the greatest aromas known to man.  The air was incredibly still and the moon was glowing magically in the sky; the merest silvery crescent flanked by Venus and Saturn.

My great friend, Tash came to stay last night, and we talked late into the night whilst eating silly biscuits. We were both students at the Northamptonshire music school and she's now a teacher there, which is a hugely comforting thought. The good work continues. We talked for hours about old times and what an important role the school had played in our lives. The council have now pulled funding from the music service (who cares, as long as the rich remain rich), so, as of September, it's becoming a charitable trust. I sincerely hope its work will be able to continue long into the future. 

350 years ago, Pepys spent the morning with his music tutor, Mr Birchensha, working on a setting of Davenant's poem, "This Cursed Jealousy. What is it?" After dinner, Pepys took himself on a trip to various establishments in the City to settle a number of debts. He had decided to get his accounts in order within a few days, fearing he'd over-spent in recent weeks. I know how he feels! 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Coffee houses

I’m on the train home from Manchester, feeling utterly wiped out but very content. A rather haunted-looking girl is sitting opposite me. She’s actually in my seat, but seemed so terrified when I told her, that I plonked myself in a different chair to avoid making her panic any more. She asked, rather pathetically, if the seats were “A class”. I’m not quite sure what she meant, but suspect she’s running the risk of losing her grip on the world, and trying hard to maintain a facade of ordinariness. She keeps staring at me like an animal in a snare.

A woman is sitting at the other end of the carriage with the most amazing hairdo. She must be about 50, and has a face which looks like a well-worn teak table. Her hair, all platinum-blonde and looking like a sea of man-made fibres, is piled up on her head in a cross between a beehive and a giant chignon with a brilliant platted bun at the back. She’s very cool in a hard-faced sort of way. I tried to give her an approving smile, but think she might have mistaken it as a come-on.

A good sleep last night did me the world of good. If the alarm hadn’t gone off, I suspect I’d have slept all day. I had a final breakfast at the hotel; 2 hash browns and a spoonful of mushrooms on toast. I’ve had it every morning since I arrived and it kept me going a treat.

My suitcase has broken, so I spent the tram ride from Media City to Manchester Centre wrapping a shed load of selotape around the handle, which has given it a short respite.

I met Paul for tea and scones in a charming little cafe somewhere in the Northern quarter, an area of Manchester I like very much. It was lovely to see him with the stresses of yesterday well and truly over, and we were finally able to have the necessary natter where we patted each other on the backs and said; “good job, friend...”  As we left, I popped to the loo, and was hit in the face by the smell of my Grandmother’s house. I picked up almost anything I could find - the bar of soap, the towel – to see if I could trace where the smell was coming from, but concluded it was a combination of things. For a minute or two, I stood, remembering the comedy drawings of cows that my Grannie had framed in her loo, and the little crocheted pillow cases she made for the toilet rolls. I thought about her for a long while and then I thought about the Midlands and then I felt tears pricking in my eyes, so made a hasty exit.

As the fields streak past the window of the train, I feel an extraordinary sense of pride, a huge amount of excitement and little bit of fear about what’s to come in the rest of the year. 2012 is shaping up quite nicely, and I suspect, if I work hard and everything falls into place, it could be a very good year. To celebrate, I’m listening to some of my previous compositions, and thinking about the people who have drifted through my life via my music. Miners in Yorkshire, fishermen in Scotland, brass bands in Northumbria, market stall holders in Coventry, roadside cafe owners along the length of the A1, the 40 extraordinary people who sang on the Pepys Motet. Every song brings its own set of memories, which take me to bizarre corners of the UK. Tantrums, tiaras and tears of absolute hysteria, but above anything else, pride. One day soon I might even be able to visit Lincolnshire without having a panic attack.

Someone has farted on the train. There’s nothing like the stench of rotten eggs to pull you out of a romantic stupor!
One of the many joys of filming in HD is the better class of still you get when you do a screen grab from the film. Take a look at these...



350 years ago, Pepys went with Mr Moore to a coffee house, where, as ever, a great debate was raging. This one concerned the recent hurricane, or, as Pepys put it more romantically, “the late, great wind.” He went on to recount some of the stories being told; “I heard one say that he had five great trees standing together blown down; and, beginning to lop them, one of them, as soon as the lops were cut off it, did, by the weight of the root, rise again and fasten.” News was coming in from outside London as well. In the Forest of Dean, over 2000 oaks and beeches were blown down in one single walk there, and Pepys’ father reported 20l damage to their Brampton house.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Gah!

I've seldom felt so frustrated! The film is now finished. It looks stunning and the powers that be seem chuffed enough, but in an entire building, filled to the brim with modern technology and people with incredible minds could not find a single way to burn a copy of the film for me to take home. Not onto blue ray. Not onto DVD. Not even as a MOV file on my computer. This is the most high-spec TV building in Europe! Poor Keith spent hours fiddling with various metal boxes and computers which seemed to refuse to do the very thing they were built to do. Why do machines seem to refuse to speak to one another the moment I appear?! 

The one thing I wanted to be able to do was show Nathan what I've been up to for the time we've been apart. I suppose I'm  just tired and twitching from too many cups of tea. Delayed gratification can often be a great deal sweeter! 

I'm not particularly proud of my behaviour today. The tiredness and general stress of the situation meant that I got a little shirty on a few occasions and that's not really something I enjoy - particularly when it makes people upset. I'm quite a fiery Leo, who likes to huff and blow. I forget that some people can take the bluster to heart. I'm sure several people in the building will be glad to see the back of me! 

Did I mention that my computer has also broken down? It was working this morning, but when I returned from lunch, the screen had completely frozen. I wonder if someone knocked it off the desk whilst we were away. I can't think of any other reason why it would have stopped working so suddenly and spectacularly...

Life can be quite frustrating can't it? You go up, you go down... 

350 years ago, Pepys spent the morning at a very expensive music lesson, where he was proud to put the finishing touches to a two-part setting of "Gaze Not On Swans." Pepys was pleased with his work, but uncomfortable handing over 5l for a month of lessons. 

He went with his teacher, Birchensha, to a house in Southwark, where they examined some of the teaching pamphlets the former had written to guide potential students through the rules of composition. Pepys was somewhat underwhelmed. 

He was also unimpressed with his clerk, Will Hewer, who had refused to go to church with the other servants and wasn't doffing his cap enough towards Elizabeth. Hewer had grand plans for life and would become a very wealthy man.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The terrifying grade

Things all went incredibly smoothly until about 4pm today. We worked our way through the film making sure we were happy with all the shots, the lip-synching and the sound levels, and then turned our attention to grading the film. The grade is the final process in film making. It’s the equivalent of photo-shopping a photograph. A good grade makes the images kind of zing. It means you can colour-correct shots which have been turned orange by halogen lamps, or bring light to a gloomy shot. Anyway, because the BBC up here is very much geared towards news packages, grading is something which doesn’t happen very often; frankly, there’s no time when you’re working towards a fast deadline, and the computer systems up here aren’t set up to deal with more filmic projects like ours. So, in short, we’re slightly struggling – and really up against it in terms of time. We are showing the film to all the big wigs up here tomorrow at 4pm, so if it’s not ready by then, we’re going to feel a little silly.

The start time tomorrow is therefore 7.30am, so matchsticks at the ready. By tomorrow evening, I’ll no doubt be buzzing on a combination of caffeine and adrenaline, and just as I thought we’d entered the home straight.
This seems to be a regular feature of my films. It was as we were grading A Symphony for Yorkshire that a rather large problem emerged, so I suppose I'm always a little sensitive at this time.
I woke up in the night to find my phone lighting up the room. It was a text message from Sacsha, Brother Edward’s partner, who said; “you may see in the press that our flight to Jo'burg had to turn back to Heathrow after one of the engines failed on takeoff. We’re fine, albeit pissed off and tired. Just so you know we’re okay.” The news immediately made me shudder. A similar thing happened to me when I was 18 and returning from an orchestra tour to Canada. I can still remember the thud, and the pilot’s voice saying “some of you may have heard the explosion, but we no longer have the use of one of our engines...” and then the terrible silence as all the passengers tried to comprehend the nature of what was happening. I remember the plane landing on foam, and a flotilla of fire engines whizzing down the runway behind us. I also remember feeling rather annoyed that we didn't get to take our stilettos off and have a razz on one of those inflatable chutes.  I lay awake for an hour or so, wondering how Edward and Sascha must have been feeling.

Fortunately, I managed to speak to Edward this morning. The engine on his plane also blew up – and there were flames, which I don't remember from our experience. Edward wasn’t  sitting on the side of the plane where the problem was, but describes a tidal wave of people pressing the buttons for the stewardesses as they saw the flames coming from the engine. Bing bing bing... He said it was like some kind of crazy sound sculpture. He was unimpressed by the way that the plane staff dealt with the problem. There were all sorts of announcements like; “we’re just trying to assess our options...” I don’t think they were helped by the fact that there was a 2 hour wait on the tarmac before the plane took off whilst a set of engineering issues were being dealt with. So, the frightening thing is that it seems airline staff knew there was a problem with the plane before it took off. Thank God, for the airline’s sake that something more awful didn’t happen. I’m just relieved that Edward and Sascha and all on board landed safely.
Sunday 23rd February, 1662, was Pepys’ 29th birthday. I tend to think of Pepys as being about my age but he was considerably younger. I think many more would think of him as quite an old man. Birthdays weren’t big occasions in those days. Pepys had a nasty cold, so skipped church, and stayed inside admiring his dining room “graced with pictures” and reading books. Apart from the cold, Pepys felt in good health, concluding; “if I have a heart to be contented, I think I may reckon myself as happy a man as any is in the world...” Oddly, I know how he feels...

Hands up if you think Tom Daley the diver is turning into a rather stroppy, arrogant young man?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Harvesters

This afternoon, at 6pm, we watched the Hattersley films for the first time back to back, to get a sense of how they work as a unit. Brother Tim and his partner John came to Media City to watch them with us. It was very important to have them there in the edit suite, as when I watch one of my films for the first time with someone who hasn't worked on the project, I'm forced to view the piece objectively. I often sit and squirm and feel the need to apologise constantly. Sometimes I see problems for the first time, but on this occasion I merely sat back and enjoyed what we’d created, and actually felt very moved. The films work well as a suite.
I have to say, having whinged about feeling a little neglected up here, I’m beginning to realise that I’m actually simply being trusted, for the first time in my career, to get on with things in my own way. Perversely, if the Manchester folk hadn’t taken this approach with me, these films would never have been made the way that I wanted to make them. I realise it’s been a shrewd and deliberate choice on their part, so instead of being shirty, I should actually be feeling a huge amount of gratitude towards them (and possibly a tiny bit of guilt!)
I’m enjoying the edit. It’s not at all stressful, and the time flies by with Keith and Phill (who is a brilliant editor). The three of us seem to have entered a competition to see who can make the most shocking remark. This is a competition I expect to win hands down!

Tim, John and I went to a Harvester for our tea. Our Grannie, Girl, was a big fan of the Harvester just off the A45 in Coventry. It was where we were taken for a fancy meal; the salad cart was considered to be the height of luxury. It was at the Harvester that my Grannie uttered her most embarrassing ever remark (unless you count the day she accosted Carol Vorderman in the Countdown studio). Looking at a black man, who was sitting no less than five meters away, she shouted (because she was deaf) “I say, he’s been out in the sun a bit too long, hasn’t he?!” We were devastated.

Media City, I realised tonight, looks very beautiful in the rain. I think all plazas in Manchester are designed with this in mind. It does nothing but rain, after all, up here.

Pretty...

Pepys went shopping 350 years ago to buy his wife a pair of stands and a “hanging shelf” for her chamber. Mr Savill, the painter, arrived with the framed portraits he’d made of Pepys and his wife. They excitedly hung both pictures in the dining room, Pepys adding that “it comes now to appear very handsome with all my pictures.”

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Broken hearts and requiems

I found out today that the water that emerges from the taps in Salford Quays comes from a bore hole rather than a reservoir. It is known up here as minging water; much poorer than the water in the rest of Manchester, which I’m told is extremely fresh. So my taste buds haven't been deceiving me!

The edit really took off today as we worked our way through the third sequence from our film, which is the more experimental one featuring young Charlie, the photographer. The head of region popped his head round the door and we played him a few excerpts. Thankfully he's a very nice chap and he seemed very impressed with what we'd done. He was particularly complimentary about the work of cameraman Keith, which is just as well, as he recently poached him from Yorkshire.
I’m now beginning to get the sense that this is the best film I’ve ever made. It’s difficult to describe exactly why. I suppose it simply feels very real; like it has a heartbeat. It's incredibly bleak and sad, but there's a sun shining somewhere on the distant horizon and this makes it feel very special. I’m sure I have these feelings at this stage during every one of my projects, but on this one, I’ve been given the space to make a film without boundaries, so I'm leaving a little piece of me inside. It's very difficult to describe the attachment I've formed with the people of Hattersley and it genuinely breaks my heart to think that the community centre, which features in every one of these films, is being knocked down.
I found out today that the London Requiem has been selected for The Space, which is an Arts Council/ BBC initiative. This means the work will be performed live in Abney Cemetery graveyard at the end of September this year. The live performance will be the climax of a ten week run of online films and media packages about the project, which is almost too exciting to comprehend. I am absolutely thrilled, and only wish that the celebratory muffin I brought myself from Booth’s didn’t taste like chamois leather!

Pepys spent the morning 350 years ago packing up glass to send to his father in the country, and books for his brother, John, who was studying at Cambridge. There’s really not a lot else to say.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Water like chalk

It struck me this morning that one of the problems with Manchester is the quality of its drinking water! I don’t think I’ve visited anywhere in the world which has such horrible tasting water. The liquid which comes out of the tap in my hotel room tastes like a pile of damp dishcloths and the water everywhere else is really bitter. It must be really high in some kind of mineral. I'm sure it's really good for me and I’m equally sure it’s a taste I’ll get used to. I’ve noticed it more acutely since being up on Salford Quays, so I’m wondering if this area gets its water from a different reservoir to the rest of the city. Whatever the case, it's desperately minging and I'm off to buy some Evian! I was talking to someone today who said that water in London tastes like chalk, so I suppose we all get used to what we know.

We’ve been editing all day, concentrating on the first two films. It’s slow progress, but we’re getting there. As always with these projects there are things I wish I’d done differently. Certain shots start to show weaknesses when placed against others, and there are never enough “cutaways”, which are the transition shots, which hide all manner of continuity errors and jump cuts. In rubbish documentaries these usually consist of pictures of hands, clocks, clouds and extreme close-ups on eyes so you can’t tell what’s actually being said. Unless you have a continuity expert watching like a hawk, cutaways are necessary evils. The trick is to make sure they’re part of the story you’re telling.

I’m reliably informed by a number of my English region moles, that the staff at BBC Manchester are famously rude. Some, including my editor, Phill, are absolutely wonderful. There was, however, a steady flow of people sticking their heads into our edit suite today to rather brusquely make it clear that they didn't approve of our presence there. One woman, whose face was painted a bright shade of passive aggression, said; “I’m sure you’re fine to be in here, I just wasn’t told and I have over a million viewers expecting to see a television programme tonight which can’t now be edited.” I smiled very sweetly; “I’m sorry to hear about that.” My inner voice was wondering why a programme due to be screened tonight had not yet been edited. I smiled sweetly nonetheless. There was a note on our door which said the room had been booked all week for the Hattersley project, but still the heads kept popping round the door. The usual response from those who looked inside was; “oh.” I can walk though the newsroom here and not recognise a single face or engender a single smile. I had a nice chat with someone in the kitchen area but I had to force her to engage in a dialogue with me! Manchester is like London!

All this makes me miss Nathan rather a lot – and my friends and family for that matter. I feel a little bit like I’m in exile up here and now that the warmth of visits to Hattersley has gone, I'm going to bury myself in my hotel room and do nothing but watch rubbish telly. Hands up if you're bored of hearing Whitney Houston?

Thursday 20th February, 1662, and Pepys’ day began with a visit from composer William Child, who “set” Pepys something for his Theorbo, a sort of lute. I’m not sure if this means he gave Pepys some music to learn, or added something to the instrument which made it easier to play.

Pepys received a letter from Lord Sandwich, still in Portugal, which brought news of bloody battles against the moors. Pepys immediately took it to the House of Lords to spread the news. On his way home, he called in on Mr Savill, the painter, who was working on a miniature version of the portrait of Pepys he’d just finished painting.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Paper Edit

It is almost midnight, and I have sat since 10 o’clock this morning working my way steadily through the rushes from our shoot. I’m doing what’s known as a paper edit; deciding which shots we’re going to use, and where. It’s a necessary evil, and we do it so that expensive edit time isn’t wasted spooling blindly through hours and hours of footage. Unfortunately, I should have factored in a rest day between the shoot and the edit because what I’ve been doing for the past 14 hours is no way to spend a day. I didn’t stop for lunch; I ate a bowl of soup whilst staring at my computer. I haven’t had an evening meal. I’m shaking from the caffeine in the hundreds of cups of tea I’ve consumed today. My eyes are square and throbbing. My ears ache from the sounds of wind that accompanies most of the shots. I just want to lie down.

I asked the hotel reception if they were able to do laundry, because I’m running out of socks and pants. They told me with great pride that it was a service they offered. Unfortunately, the cost of having your washing done by the Holiday Inn, is almost prohibitively expensive; £3 for a single pair of socks. I worked out that to have the things washed that I need for the rest of the week, I’d be looking at a bill of close to £50 which is ludicrous, particularly as the BBC would no doubt claim it's not a neccessary expense. So, I went out and bought a bottle of hand-washing  liquid, and my clothes will have to try and dry of their own accord on the back of my complimentary armchair.

350 years ago, Pepys went to Trinity House in Greenwich, before heading to The Wardrobe for dinner with Lady Jemima. I’d love to say there was something more interesting  to write... but there’s not. Even if there was, I wouldn’t write it. My eyes won’t stay open.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Brick Battes and Tyles

I am exhausted but utterly upbeat. We really found our rhythm today and shot, what I hope were blindingly good pictures. We had time to finesse the shots and I've come away feeling utterly elated.

The day started on the eastern edge of Hattersley at Jean Taylor's house. Jean is the lady who's been sharing her memories about the estate when it was first built in the 1960s. She invited us into her house, made me a beautiful egg bap with a double yolk and performed her song brilliantly.


After lunch we worked with June. June is an extraordinary woman; a true bohemian, I suppose, in a part of the world which doesn't tend to generate bohemians.

She was well prepared, and seemed to be up for anything, even when we asked her to walk down the middle of a busy road behind an unmarked van singing into a hidden camera. She literally took it all in her stride.



I'm utterly proud of both women and terribly grateful that they came with us on this extraordinary journey. I hope they've both had a lot of fun.

As the night rolled in, we found ourselves, once again, in the hills above Hattersley with June's son Charlie, putting the finishing touches to his film. A freak snow storm blew in from the north west and for a short period I was colder than I've ever been in my life. It got so cold that I lost the ability to form words with my mouth. Everything went numb and I coudn't seem to do anything but laugh hysterically. It was a rather fitting end to perhaps the most rewarding shoot of my entire career.

The snow rolls in...


I got back to the hotel to find that Metro the Musical had won the outstanding production award at the RTS awards in the North East. A massive round of applause must go out to the producer, Alistair Miskin. You deserve every last inch of that award, Alistair, and I'm only sorry neither of us were there to celebrate in person.

In the early morning of the 18th February, 1662, a terrible gale whipped through the City of London. It was, apparently the worst winds that the capital had experienced since the night Oliver Cromwell died. Pepys took himself for a walk through the storm-damaged streets, which were covered in "brick-battes and tyles." He declared that it was dangerous to go out of doors. Several people has been killed by falling masonary, the pageant on Fleet Street had been entirely destroyed, and one Lady Sanderson "a person of quality in Covent Garden," had been killed in her bed, when her house collapsed.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Aiming for perfection

We finished about two hours earlier than expected today, which was both scary and a bonus. It transpired that we needed to be out of the community centre earlier than we'd thought, so, because it was raining, we called it a day. I realised a very valuable thing this morning. When you’re working with “real” people, you don't get to call the shots, they do. You can aim for perfection, of course, but at the end of the day, if someone needs to pick their child up from school, or go to a hospital appointment, or even if they simply feel tired, or get bored of the repetition of the shoot – that’s your lot! I guess this realisation made me relax a little. You get what you get with these projects. If you’re lucky, you’ll capture a mood which will capture people’s imaginations. But there's no point in beating yourself up if things don't go to plan. Perfection is for high-end movie makers, who work with actors and massive crews...

Today we filmed our blind and deaf man, who has also recently just had a heart bypass. I worried the entire time that he was getting stressed, which I’m sure he was, a little. Some bloke from London had turned up in his living room, and was shouting “look towards the light... Look upwards... smile... tell me the story in your own words...” Poor bloke. I think he coped admirably, however. I also kept forgetting that his companion, Jean, is a very religious woman. I have quite a reputation for using rather colourful language, and I kept swearing without realising. Paul said a few eyebrows were raised. Oh dear.

It was an emotional day. We were dealing with the final song in the suite, which is about the community centre, and its imminent closure. The centre has been a large part of many people’s lives since it opened in the 1960s, and I for one feel very angry that the council are knocking it down and seemingly washing their hands of the consequences of their actions.

I've returned to the hotel and am determined to spend the next few hours relaxing. I even bought bubble bath so that I could have a long soak.
Monday 17th February, 1662, and Pepys went with the two Sir Williams to examine a ship called the Convertine, which was being prepared for a journey to the East Indies. They ate on the boat, but, it being Lent, both Sir Williams refused to eat meat, an age-old custom. Pepys, however, tucked into a nice plate of veal. He'd obviously decided to give up wine for lent but “drank wine upon necessity,” having managed to convince himself that giving up alcohol so suddenly had “contracted many evils” upon himself. He played his new favourite card game in the evening, Gleeke, and won 9s, 6d, the most “he ever won in his life.” Adding that he hoped God would not tempt him to play again.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Tea dance

Christ, I must be tired. A friend of mine just sent me a Youtube link which has pretty much destroyed me for the night. Take a look. It’s self-explanatory. I don’t need to add anything, except to say that the L project was formed to combat bullying within the gay community, which is still a major problem, even in this country. The video which accompanies the song makes me feel very proud to be gay, and I’d urge you all to go out and spend 99p buying it on iTunes. There. I say no more.

Our first day of filming started at the top of a craggy hill in the middle of a thick white cloud. We’d gone up there to film the wonderful views of Hattersley and came away with shots of the lovely Jean looking like she’d worn her coat to the local steam rooms! I suspect we might just get away with calling them atmospheric, but it wasn’t till about 11am that we were able to return to the hill and film the views we’d gone up there to collect. By this stage, of course, a force 9 gale was blowing, so heaven knows what to expect from the rushes.
It’s been a day of high adrenaline brought about by the need to constantly rip up my carefully composed shot list, and grab inspiration from thin air. Almost everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. We were missing a piece from our jib, many of the people who’d come for the tea dance at the community centre didn’t know we were going to be there, the rain rained, the wind winded and at about 4pm I went into a bit of a huff. The bottom line is that we are trying to pull hundreds of rabbits out of thousands of hats without the support mechanism we usually get when making these projects. There are four of us filming. Keith the cameraman, Kaleigh the camera assistant (a student from Huddersfield University), Paul and me, and all four of us have had to work our arses off. The last time I used a jib, a special man was hired just to set it up and operate it. Today Keith built it and operated it himself, whilst Paul, who’s never run a choir in his life, taught 30 non singers how to sing one of my songs! Still, the good news is that we did it. It almost annoys me to think that we did, especially when I consider the dreadful woman I met at the BBC yesterday, who basically told me to get stuffed when I asked for help!

We shot some very unusual material for Charlie’s sequence. His “song” is based entirely on the natural sounds Paul and I recorded on our visits to Hattersley, and producer PK has done some extraordinary work to turn them into a really interesting sound-scape. We have been experimenting with all sorts of unusual effects today, mostly involving flashes of light. This film is an epileptic's nightmare!

Oh yes! I forgot, whilst filming one of the street signs on the estate today, we got google earthed! Yay! My face is going to be smudged out!
Producer Paul took this photo of us beavering away at the top of the hill. Apparently the big black vignette is a "stylised representation of our brains at 7pm." I thought as much...

Drum roll... The Requiometer has gone up again... by a considerable amount this time. I reckon another 5 thousand pounds will mean we’re able to go ahead; maybe in a slightly reduced form, but go ahead nevertheless. I hardly dare hope...


February 16th, 1662 was a Sunday, and Pepys, as ever, went to church, this time to St Bride's, which was where, I think, he was christened. The church would burn to a crisp in four years' time, and be replaced by a camp little creation which resembles a wedding cake. Pepys went there with his cousin, Jane Turner, who embarrassed him greatly by fawning all over the priest. Embarrassed him, or maybe she just made him feel envious? Hmm...

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A very rogue

It's the day before the first day of our shoot and I feel like I'm sitting on the edge of a precipice. Keith, Paul and I have been running around like blue-arsed flies all day. To be honest, I'm a little nervous. I suppose my mind is attempting to balance the miniscule size of our crew against the many things we need to achieve. At some point tomorrow about 100 elderly people will arrive at the Hattersley community centre for a tea dance, and four of us will have to herd them around.

I continue to be amused and bemused by Media City here in Manchester. Today I discovered that there’s not a single post box on Salford Quays, which feels almost painfully futuristic. In the end I had to give a card I was trying to send to the lady behind the counter in the gift shop at the Lowry theatre. She took pity on me and offered to add my card to the Lowry's official mail.

I'm beginning to get a little frustrated that so few people at the BBC in Manchester seem aware of the films we’re making. I normally have such warm experiences working with staff in the English regions, but feel that we’re really out to pasture on this one. I spent the day working in the cafe at the Lowry because I couldn’t actually access the BBC offices opposite! When I finally got in, a woman became incredibly snippy when I asked if I could have a chat with her boss about the shoot tomorrow. I was stunned into silence when she said, “I’m not sure this is something he’s going to want to be bothered by.” I’m used to walking into BBC buildings and being treated like a long lost friend, often by people I’ve never met before, and yet this woman actually looked down her nose at me and said; “sorry, can I ask who you are?” It was humbling and quite humiliating. I suppose the films themselves are my ultimate trump card, and because no one knows anything about them, I can't feel too insulted that my profile here is presently so low. With any luck, when they finally see the films, they'll know how much work and love has gone into making them and hopefully decide to speak to me with a little more kindness.

Keith, the other cameraman, the wonderful chap who filmed the Metro musical, called me up tonight to wish me luck for the filming tomorrow. He tells me he's very jealous that it's not him filming this one. I must learn to alternate my Keiths in the future! I was very pleased to hear that the Metro film has been nominated in several categories at the RTS Awards in the North East, including as part of Keith’s folio as best cameraman. If he doesn’t get the award, I shall be very angry.
Saturday 15th February, 1662, and Pepys went with the two Sir Williams to Trinity House where he was sworn in as a Younger Brother, whatever that means. He got to shake the hands of all the Older Brothers, whoever they were, as was, apparently, the custom. Pepys seemed rather thrilled that all the Sir Williams and their various wives had snubbed Robert Waith’s son’s christening. Waith, paymaster to the Navy Treasurer, was, apparently, a “very rogue.” The sins of the father, eh?

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

In remembrance

It’s my favourite part of the week. The moment I sit down with a cup of tea and a Tunnock’s Tea Cake to watch The Biggest Loser. For some reason I find myself addicted to this show. I love watching fat people getting thinner. It’s one of the great cycles of life. It’s also a very emotional episode tonight. All the fatties have had makeovers and are meeting up with the loved ones they haven’t seen for weeks.

Today’s been quite full on. The headline is that I’ve now changed hotels. I woke up this morning in the Holiday Inn Express on Oxford Street, and am now in the Holiday Inn in Media City, opposite the BBC. It may not sound like much of an upgrade, but the two hotels couldn't be more different. The new one is very swanky. The lobby and bar are laden with really cool art installations and there’s even a mini-gym. The internet is free and I have a lovely bath. One assumes they’re trying to attract a funkier TV crowd here.
I went to the new-look post office in the City Centre today. It’s like a blood donor waiting room. You have to take a ticket as you enter and then a computerised voice says; “ticket number 506, please go to counter F.” What on earth is wrong with simply queuing? Counter A was surrounded by a curtain. It looked like something in an airport, and it confused me greatly until I was told it was the place to head if you're looking for a photo-pass. You pull the curtain around you, and instantly have yourself a photo booth. It was all a bit too cool for school for my liking.

Post office or airport? And check out the curtain!

After checking in to my new hotel, I took myself off to the Imperial War Museum on Salford Quays. It’s a curious metal building, probably designed by someone like Daniel Lieberskind, which feels a little bit like entering a bomb shelter. You go in through a tiny door and then snake your way through a series of aluminium corridors lined with various relics from 20th Century wars.

At a certain point – probably once an hour – the main viewing hall turns into a three-dimensional cinema, with enormous images projected onto all the walls and ceilings. They showed a little film about remembrance, which was terribly moving. At one stage they read a letter sent to the family of a soldier killed in action in the First World War. It was factual – almost to the point of heartlessness; “shot through the head whilst serving his country.” It obviously arrived with a parcel, because the letter drew reference to a few personal effects “that you might like as a keep sake.” A few personal effects to represent a life. The concept of letters like this going out to the relatives of the million plus men who died in the Great War pretty much broke my heart.

The thing that upset me most, however, was the Cold War display, where they were running the government’s 1976 Protect and Survive film; “what to do in the event of a nuclear attack.” The film is filled with cartoon images representing the sirens and warnings associated with nuclear war; three bangs, gongs or whistles to represent the dreaded arrival of fall out. I remember the time; the terrible fear of nuclear attack, the nights spent worrying about what we’d do in a fall out shelter and what would happen to my toys. The whole film is so profoundly bleak – scratch the surface and you realise that anyone sheltering within 100 miles of a nuclear strike would basically have been doomed. For a 36-mile radius, no one would survive for more than 14 days. I can’t believe I live in a world where someone would think to invent a bomb which could cause that much damage. Is life so unimportant? We think of 1976 as the year of the drought and the year of ABBA, but forget that rolling around in the background was this horrific possibility. Perhaps life in 2012 isn't so awful afterall...

During the afternoon, Nathan texted me a number of times. He’s presently having a rather major tattoo carved into his arm. I think the little film he sent me was the real bollock-clencher. There was blood, there was bruising and there was a noise which sounded a like a dental drill. I’m not sure I needed to see that, but am excited to see the tattoo.

It's weird to think that it’s Valentine’s Day. Brother Tim and his partner, John, came to see me at the hotel tonight, which was nice, and a surprise, because I thought they'd be doing coupley things. They literally live a five minute walk from the hotel and it’s lovely to be in a position where we can hook up for a quick drink and then go our separate ways without feeling like we’re not going to see each other again for months...

Valentine’s Day was a big deal in 1662. Pepys shunned an invitation to his neighbour, Sir William Batten’s house, whose daughter had been his Valentine the previous year. The tradition back then was that the first person of the opposite sex you saw on the day (unless, I suppose they’d already been claimed) would become your Valentine. A man would buy his Valentine gifts; gloves and lengths of fabric. It was perfectly reasonable – if not encouraged – for a man to have a Valentine who was not his wife, and people went to great lengths to make sure the right person was the first person of the opposite sex to be seen.

Pepys didn’t want Martha Batten. They hadn’t become great friends throughout the previous year, and he'd started to despise her father! Elizabeth ended up with one of Pepys’ mates, William Boyer, after spending the best part of the morning trying to avoid the workmen in the house. Pepys, however, didn’t seem to find himself a Valentine, which I’m sure was very disappointing for him, until he realised he wouldn’t have to shell out for a series of little gifts this year.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Two Phil Smiths

It’s been an exhausting day, mostly because the funny little air conditioning unit above the door in my hotel room kept waking me up with the weirdest knocking and gushing noises. Fortunately, the lovely Paul has now transferred me to the Holiday Inn next to the BBC’s base at Salford Quays, which I’m told, is a much nicer establishment.

I was at the Beeb today. We sat at a variety of funny little seating areas in various lime green and shiny red atriums. It’s all very modern and "right on" up here. It genuinely feels like a very happy working environment. There are "informal" photos of all the staff pinned up everywhere. The tram pulls up to the brand new Media City stop, and you walk out into a rather impressive square which is always filled with people doing urban sports; tag rugby, that sort of thing. Today, a whole load of people were doing kick boxing. These Mancunian media types have too much time on their hands if you ask me! The only problem is that you're not allowed to pay for anything with a card, and there's not a cash machine in the building, or, in fact, anywhere within a half mile radius. Not very well thought through.
There were six of us in our meeting, two of whom were called Phil Smith, which I thought was hysterical. I had to ask a lot of questions. Our project seems to have slightly slipped under the radar at BBC Manchester. At one point Phil said that he’d never been aware of a programme being made before without a transmission date! At the moment we don’t even know what slot the films are going to have. Will they be broadcast on the local evening news or will someone commandeer an entire episode of Inside Out? I suppose it’s sort of exciting that we don’t know. At least this way we get to make the films we want to make, and then they get to decide how best to present them. I just hope they don’t disappear without trace into a building where a bewildering amount of other stuff is going on at the moment.

Still, everyone at the meeting was more than helpful, and they seem very excited about the project. We played some of the songs on one of the BBC’s huge systems. They sounded fabulous and people said very lovely things. I felt proud. Like a mother hen.
I received the mastered tracks this evening and am listening to them as I write this diary entry. I am so thrilled. PK, the producer, is an actual genius.

February 13th, 1662, and Pepys wrote a rather dull diary entry, mostly about money, and (yet again) his uncle’s will, which still wasn’t entirely sorted. Bet his uncle wished he’d never died! Speaking of death, Pepys also wrote that the Queen of Bohemia (or Winter Queen) had died the night before. Good news travels fast!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Poor Jack

I woke up this morning to the news that Witney Houston was dead. No one wants to make any statements about what might have killed her, but I think we can assume that drugs were to blame. What a terrible waste of a god-given talent. It's astonishing how an alluring performer with the best voice in pop could spiral so far downwards that they became nothing but a laughing stock. My brother went to see her at the O2 recently, and she was apparently so awful that most of the audience had left the arena by the time she'd finished her set. I Will Always Love You, was, tragically, the biggest disaster of all.

Breakfast in the hotel was a fairly surreal experience as the news of Houston's death swept through a room filled with people still hung over from the night before. We gathered around the television for a few minutes and made appropriate noises. One Japanese girl seemed genuinely distressed.

The surrealism of the occasion was enhanced hugely by the mystery of the disappearing toast. The hotel has one of those machines that sucks bread into a sort of conveyor belt oven which eventually flicks toast into a tray below. A group of us were loading our bread in, waiting for a bit, then peering into the machine to discover it had vanished. An ever-increasing cluster of people was standing around scratching its head until someone realised that the toast was dropping out of the back of the machine which was level with a tiny gap in the cloth on the table top. We pulled the table out and found 100 pieces of toast in a pile underneath! One woman laughed so much that she dropped a glass of orange juice which shattered all over the breakfast room floor.

Sunday's a lonely old day, isn't it, when you're on your own? I don't know what should make it worse than any other day in this respect. There's probably just as much to do in terms of shops and cinemas being open, but the streets are empty and the world seems to be hiding, no doubt doing their washing, tidying their houses and worrying about the week ahead. It doesn’t help that I know that Nathan’s with his family less than 100 miles away in Wrecsam and my own family have gathered in Thaxted.

I’m therefore drifting like a ghost through the streets of Manchester, pretending to shop and trying to busy myself. Periodically I'm listening to the Hattersley songs. I now have to re-programme myself from being a composer to being director. My mind must shift from an audio world to visual one, and start to find solutions to the whole new set of technical challenges which lay ahead.

I’m a great fan of Moleskine notebooks, particularly after discovering their A5-sized manuscript books. I was therefore hugely excited to find a storyboard notebook in Waterstones today, which provides me with a series of small empty rectangles which I can fill with rubbish drawings representing the individual shots in the films we're about to make. It's a useful way to focus the mind on the job in hand, and with any luck, make sure the films have a decent flow to them.


Because there’s nothing else to do, I’m going to dance in my hotel room...
There. That was lovely.

350 years ago, Pepys spent the day with lawyers, ticking enough boxes to describe himself “highly contented” with the work he’d achieved. He got home, did some composing, and then took delivery of 100 Poor Jacks (a kind of dried and salted hake) sent to him by fishmonger, John Addis.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Holiday Sin

I’m back in Manchester and we had a wonderful day today looking at locations for our shoot which begins on Thursday. The hills around Hattersley are stunningly beautiful, particularly when dusted with a light coating of snow. The heavy sky was a myriad colours ranging from powder blue, right down to a curious milky orange which seemed to cling to the tops of the hills.



Paul and I were joined for the day by cameraman, Keith, who filmed A Symphony for Yorkshire, and has recently transferred to Salford Quays. It was so good to see him again. The last time I was with him, we were sitting on an hotel balcony in Romania, terrorising the locals by pouring water from a great height onto the street below. It was incredibly childish, but it made us laugh like hyperactive children.

We made our way around Hattersley Estate, meeting all of our contributors and playing them the newly mixed tracks. After they’d got over the shock of hearing themselves on their stereos, I think they were all rather thrilled. Keith seems excited about the project as well. I think the Estate reminds him of the place he grew up, and many of the people we’re working with were apparently just like his own family. I hope many people who see the films will feel this way, but if a cameraman inherently understands a project, he’ll shoot wonderful pictures.  

I’m in a less than desirable hotel, which is shame because all of the hotels I’ve stayed in so far in Manchester have been very reasonable. Paul, who booked it, was expressly told by the receptionist that the room had a bath, which is one of the few things I absolutely need when I’m in the same place for an extended stay. Unfortunately, I can only think the woman misheard him and thought he said bathroom, because there’s nothing but a shower here – and a really bad one at that! The other issue – and this is inexcusable – is that the internet is not free, and costs £5 per night. There are no reductions for a long stay, so if I want internet it’s going to set me back £70, as I’m reliably informed it’s not considered to be a BBC vital expense. Holiday Inn Express should feel incredibly embarrassed at this blatant money-spinning scheme. Probably worse than any of this – and no doubt because it’s a Saturday night in the middle of Manchester - the place is heaving with pissed up dick heads.

Perhaps the most curious aspect of the hotel design is that you can’t exit the place via its stairs, which simply lead to an emergency door, which is, apparently alarmed. It only has 2 lifts, and it’s ten storeys high, so the lifts take hours to arrive. I shouldn’t complain too much, but when you’re working really hard, it’s vital to have a home from home and plainly this isn’t a hotel set up to function for working professionals. It’s a knocking shop for people on stag dos!

Pepys spent the night 350 years ago composing a song entitled “Gaze Not On Swans.” This is a sentiment that my dear friend Fiona would absolutely agree with. She is terrified of the creatures – and not without reason. She seems to attract them. I remember on one occasion helplessly watching her climbing out of a punt into an overhanging tree because a swan was trying to eat her!
yesterday in Sussex...

Friday, 10 February 2012

Hattersley Loop

I’m doing exactly the thing I promised not to do; namely listening to the Hattersley songs on a loop! We went down to a country estate outside a little village near Horesham to mix them this morning and I’m thrilled with the results. PK, the producer, is a man with an eye for detail, and an extraordinary sense of the space that music needs to breathe. I couldn’t believe how much work he’d done on the tracks before we arrived. It was a pleasure to work with him.

There was a massive flurry of snow last night. In fact, because of the weather, I drove into town to pick Nathan up from work. As I passed through Camden, a blizzard started, which became more and more intense. It got incredibly confusing at one point and I found myself driving the wrong way down Endell Street because I couldn't see through the snow. I reached Nathan’s work to be told that, because of the weather, he’d been sent home early. I tried to call him, but he was already on the tube. I’d gone all the way into town and driven the wrong way down a one way street for nothing! By the time I’d turned around, negotiated a ridiculous set of road works, and started to head north again, the roads were gridlocked. It took me an hour to get back home.

The recording studio where we mixed the tracks today was in a sort of stable block in the grounds of a massive country house which belongs to one of the former members of Depeche Mode. It’s a stunning house, which looked even more beautiful in the snow, particularly as the sun set. We worked incredibly hard, but the studio didn’t have heating. It was so cold, in fact, that at one stage Nathan and I were both sitting underneath blankets. As we pulled away in our car, the temperature gage suggested it was -4.5 outside.

350 years ago, Pepys went to the bookshops in St Paul’s churchyard, where he found a volume called “England’s Worthys”, by Dr Fuller, one of his favourite authors. The book was a sort of Who’s Who of notable English families and Pepys sat and read it keenly. He got so engrossed, in fact, that he completely lost track of the time and was very late home for lunch. He was, however, very unhappy to discover that his own family weren’t included in the list, summing things up, rather sadly; “indeed, our family were never considerable.”

Well, they are now, dear Mr Pepys, they are now...

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Shoe polish and surf boards

I have discovered shoe polish! I had no idea that the experience of shining a shoe could be so therapeutic and gratifying. Last week, a pair of my shoes (with me inside) fell through an icy puddle, and ended up in a hideous pile of yellow-brown mud. I washed the shoes in a bucket of water, left them on a radiator, and thought they were entirely ruined. They were covered in water marks and scuffed to buggery. Three coats of polish and a bit of elbow grease later and they’re gleaming like the most expensive pair of shoes ever made. I’m now going to polish every pair of shoes I own. I only own three pairs, so it won’t take very long. The rest have fallen apart, because all my shoes fall apart... That said, now that I polish them, maybe they won’t... Hmmm

I am thrilled to report that my cousin, Matt, and his wonderful wife, Boo have decided to invest in the requiem. I was incredibly touched, and the news means we’re now we’re at the £3,000 mark – an eighth of the way towards our target.
Ooh, ooh - five minutes after writing this, I received an email to say that we've had another £1,000 pledge. So the requiometer now looks like this...

I was in the post office today, sending more letters to potential investors. The man in the queue in front of me was posting an enormous parcel to Cornwall. Now, sometimes I don’t actually know why I open my mouth. I’m usually incredibly shy, but occasionally it occurs to me to say something to a stranger, and before I’ve thought about it, the words are tumbling out of my mouth. Now, bearing in mind that the package the man was sending was probably less than a 40 centimetres long, can anyone tell me why I asked; “what’s that? A surf board?” The man with the package simply stared at me, astonished. I suppose it didn’t occur to him that I associate Cornwall with surfing. Why would it? The package looked nothing like a surf board and it was none of my business what it was anyway. I felt my face redden as the man with the package laughed in a mixture of confusion and politeness and the person behind the counter simply looked the other way. It was mortifying. I will never address a stranger again! I must learn from these hideous experiences.

A short entry from Pepys on this date, 350 years ago. He spent the day in bed, taking “phsysique” and doing a bit of composition. At one point he promised his wife 20l to spend on clothes for Easter. He would no doubt live to regret the decision. Pepys didn’t like spending money. Not one bit.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Monopoly money

I've spent the day trying to think of people who might want to invest in the requiem. At the moment I'm focussing on corporate sponsors, hoping that a big company might want to give us some money in return for some serious branding on the CDs. I make no apologies. If a multinational company is good enough to bank-roll a piece of art, then the artist is obliged to find a way to give the company something big in return. There are too many people in creative industries who feel they're owed an existence.

It terrifies me when I consider the amount I still need to raise. I suppose it's a bit like buying a house; you stop looking at the zeros, because everything's started to feel like a game of Monopoly. I felt like that in the courtroom last September when the judge kept adding hundreds of pounds to the amount I was going to need to pay. I went into shut down, into denial;  the figures had gone beyond anything that I had in my bank account, so they ceased to have meaning. I think people get like that with debt. What's another thousand pounds when you already owe 20? I guess it's the same process which makes someone go from slightly over-weight to morbidly obese and needing a winch to get out of bed in the morning. I'm already fat... what's another kilo?

I met my friend Marinella for tea and a much needed catch up this evening. We went to the wonderful Rustique cafe in Tufnell Park which is just up the road from where I used to live. I remember it opening, which I'm horrified to discover was 13 years ago. It was so exciting to have a cafe on my street where I could sit and write, and I went there every day for a year.


Marinella was well. She, like most of the successful creative people I know, spent long periods of time out of the country last year, first in Greece and then in Budapest working as script supervisor on an HBO series. It worries me that more and more people in my industry are being forced to work outside the UK. It proves, what I've long suspected; that we just don't really know how to "do" the arts over here. The whole system is messed up. There's no government investment, no tax incentives, no support for young writers, and private benefactors are much more likely to invest in political parties because it gives them a shot at a peerage. What little money there is usually get shared out between "worthy" causes and as a result, written off. People don't see the money-making potential of the arts. I'm presently trying to work out whether this particular rant makes a mockery of my statement about creative people needing to know that the world doesn't owe them a living, but I don't think it does.

I got the tube back from Tufnell Park because it was too cold to wait for a bus. It's bitter out there.


350 years ago, Pepys spent much of the day in his cellar overseeing the shifting of coal from one place to another as part of his refurbishments. He was thrilled with the results: “it do please me exceedingly, as much as anything that was ever yet done to my house.”

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Hurtling down the hill

On the way back from Euston station last night, Nathan and I went tobogganing on Parliament Hill. It’s become something of a tradition for the two of us ever since we were introduced to the joys of midnight sledging by Philip Sallon about two years ago.  I’m always intrigued by quite how much light from the night sky the snow reflects. It’s as though the whole heath is lit by a massive halogen light. I guess it's a fairly worrying indication of how much pollution there is in the sky around us. Nathan’s sister gave us a pair of sledges for Christmas and it was a delight to christen them. They are so much more aerodynamic than tea trays or the lids from council recycling boxes! A fair amount of the snow had already gone, so we had to choose routes very carefully to avoid running aground on patches of exposed grass and mud.  It’s such an adrenaline rush, however; hurtling down a hillside at an impossible speed, the wind rushing through your hair, the fear of death by tree or grassy knoll... I only wished we’d been able to go when the snow was fresh.

When we returned home at about midnight, I found a letter waiting for me on our stairs. The back of the envelope simply read “make it happen” and there was a cheque inside from lovely Roy.  Obviously I was hugely touched, and terribly excited, but I also thought; “Roy knows a shrewd investment when he sees one.” I need to programme my mind to think a great deal more like this in the future. Why wouldn’t someone want to invest in the requiem? It’s the best thing I’ve ever written.
So - and this is the really exciting bit - I now get to unveil the new Requiometer. We’re slowly creeping up the ivy!

The temperatures continue to stay at really low levels in London. It's much colder here than it was in Manchester. It was bitter as I ran around Highgate this afternoon, and more than a little challenging. I was trying to avoid the snow and ice, but some roads obviously took a proper pounding, because they’re still entirely covered. There were piles of snow by the side of the road on The Bishop’s Avenue about 5 feet tall.

I spent the day in Colindale Newspaper Library; my final day of research for the Fleet Singers project. I was just looking for a few choice headlines to contextualise one or two of the memories. I’m excited. There’s now a seed of something which could be really wonderful. Quite when I’m going to be able to take a day off between now and never, I’ve no idea. Tomorrow has been earmarked for Requiem funding. I have to be able to think of some wealthy people. The trouble with being a creative person is that one’s friends tend to be similarly struggling!
February 7th, 1662, and Pepys went for dinner with Lady Sandwich, where they met Captain Hill, fresh from Portugal, who brought news of Lord Sandwich and the most astonishing number of gifts from him including a civitt cat, a parrot, various apes and “many other things.” I dread to think.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Slugs and vegetarians

Being on the road for days at a time can start to play havoc with a person’s food regime. I’m actually in something of a panic today because it’s becoming almost impossible to find decent vegetarian food in Manchester. I’m presently at the train station where I’ve just queued for some time at the Balcony Bar to be told the vegetarian lasagnes had sold out. I asked what other vegetarian food was on the menu and was informed that the only thing I could eat was a cheese and tomato pizza. There were scores of meat and fish dishes available. As I walked out I urged the bar woman to get her bosses to either serve more veggie options, or to keep tabs on the one veggie dish available to make sure it didn’t sell out. She smiled at me like I'd just farted, and thanked me for the feedback.

For some reason, BBC policy seems no longer to include the price of breakfast for a work-related stay in an hotel, so the first thing I have to do each morning is wander around in search of something to eat. This morning I ended up in a little cafe somewhere near the hideous Arndale Centre where there was precisely nothing available for veggies. It surely doesn’t take much to offer a couple of poached eggs or a plate of beans on toast? I asked the man behind the counter if he could suggest somewhere that might sell me a breakfast without meat. He thought for a while before saying, “it’s a bit early, but perhaps you could try the Buddhist Centre...” Surely vegetarianism in Manchester is not so unusual that it needs to be lumped in with an Eastern Religion?

The Co-op on Hattersley is, of course, totally nuts when it comes to meat-free options. I had two rolls and a pot of hummus for lunch yesterday before chowing down on half a tonne of chocolate. The only vegetarian option in the hotel was a thai curry (coriander city) so I ended up with a bowl of soup and Jaffa cakes for my evening meal. Today I had a cheese ploughman’s roll for lunch and a cheese ploughman’s sandwich for tea! My stomach hurts...

That said, I’m also buzzing like a rat in a garden, following an incredibly successful day in the recording studio. I’ve felt like a proud mother hen pretty consistently from about ten o’clock this morning. One by one, our wonderful Hattersley residents came into the studio, brilliantly upbeat, and fully prepared. They sang my songs with vigour and, in some cases, deep emotion. I was so chuffed with them all – and hugely grateful. Yet another major milestone in our project has now been passed. Even Bill, both blind and deaf, did his bit.
Proud as punch with some of the Hattersley folk

I’m now on the train, heading back to London. A lump of a woman with a fat arse and a deeply irritating Nigerian accent is droning away on the phone. She seems to be alternating the words "God" and "Jesus" with frightening alacrity – and certainly isn’t using the words in vain! She has already come out with a veritable stream of homophobic abuse regarding the “sins” of gay marriage, and prostitution. How wonderful it must be to be so profoundly smug - and so fucking fat. I feel very sorry for the man sitting next to her, who's been squashed into the window by her enormous intolerant folds of lard. She’s a slug in a red blouse. I’m sure Jesus will be thrilled to have her back in the fold. I wonder if she’ll move with more speed in heaven, 'cus following her down the train carriage was like waiting for bleedin’ Godot!

February 6th, 1662, and Pepys spent the morning practising music before heading down into his cellar to see how the alterations were going. Amongst other things, he was having a new door fitted, and was very pleased with its progress. He worked all afternoon at the Navy Office (after being trimmed by a barber) and went home to examine his testicles, which he was relieved to see were less swollen than the day before.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Werneth Low


I returned to my hotel room about 10 minutes ago to find it being cleaned. 5pm on a Sunday night feels like a funny time to be cleaning a room, and when you’ve been working all day, it’s more than a little irritating to get back, desperate for a bath, and have to sit like a lemon in the foyer. I also find the whole thing quite embarrassing. It's bad enough to think the cleaners might judge me based on the clothes I’ve left on my bed and strewn across the top of my suitcase, but it's even worse to think that they now have a mental image of me. I’d much rather those things happened entirely anonymously!

We’ve been on the Hattersley Estate all day working with Jean, Jean and Bill who all have solos which they're going to be recording in the studio tomorrow. They all did really well, although we struggled a little with Bill. The poor bloke is 80 years-old and both blind and almost deaf. I’m not quite sure why I thought he’d find learning a brand new song so easy, but I’m having to hastily organise a few plan Bs if various sections of the piece prove too much for him. We’ll get there.

The snow had largely melted in Manchester this morning, so we decided to brave going up onto Werneth Low, a hill which is said to have extraordinary views of the Hattersley Estate. Hysterically, when we started to climb the hillside, we found ourselves disappearing into a cloud, and from the top all we could see was mist, plus the odd child with a toboggan! It reminded me of a similar experience whilst working on A Symphony for Yorkshire when Alison and I left Leeds on a beautiful sunny day to explore a location on the Yorkshire Moors, and found ourselves in such thick fog that all we could see of its world famous view was the bench which looked out over it!  Producer Paul has been driving the BBC van like a trooper all weekend. He's a hardy Derbyshire lad, who's been on snow-driving courses, so I've felt very safe.
beautiful views over the estate...

Yet again, I have tea pouring out of my ears. Whenever you enter a house in Hattersley, it’s the first thing you’re offered, followed by whatever food they have to spare in the house. My love affair with the place continues. Today we went to visit a gentleman with an amazing collection of cine films from the estate when it was being built, including images of a pair of children running towards one of the mobile shops that used to serve the place, and coming back with handfuls of sweets. The images were grainy, a little fuzzy and a sort of browny-orange colour. He kept apologising, but the quality of the pictures simply added to their inherent wistfulness. they could have been shot specifically for the song I’ve written, which I hope has a similar sort of romantic and nostalgic quality. I was thrilled.

I was less thrilled to see, in the centre of Manchester this morning, a Japanese lad with a surgical mask strapped over his face. Am I the only person who finds this behaviour slightly rude? I’m sure he’s simply trying to protect himself from pollution, and would, no doubt, do the same thing in Tokyo, but sadly it comes across as though he’s trying to avoid British germs and this makes me feel uncomfortable. It looks sinister. Perhaps it’s just another symptom of my latent xenophobia, but I wouldn't go to Dubai and take my top off, because I know, by doing so, I'd offend the locals.

February 5th, 1662, and Pepys went with Sir William Penn and his wife to the theatre to see a misogynistic play called Rule a Wife and Have a Wife, which was apparently acted very well. They arrived at the theatre early, so went to a nearby pub for some Rhenish wine and sugar. Pepys seemed more interested in ogling women than watching the actual play. He was particularly enthralled by Lady Castlemaine, lover of the King, and renowned beauty, who'd recently got over some kind of sickness (one assumes small pox, because she became a great fan of black patches.) In Pepys' words; “notwithstanding her late sickness, [she] continues a great beauty.”
One assumes that Pepys' private parts caused him a little bother before bed. The diary translation I’ve been forced to read today is based on a Victorian translation which tends to edit out any mention of anything remotely sexual; “so home and to bed, putting some cataplasm to my . . . . which begins to swell again.” A few months before this date, Pepys was suffering from a swollen testicle. There. I’ve said it.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Glorious Mud

Greetings from Manchester, which is presently sitting underneath about an inch of snow.
 
Today started a little too early for my liking. It was still dark and I couldn’t wake myself up. I was due to catch the 8.20am train from Euston, but some kind of derailment near Bletchley yesterday meant it had been cancelled. I went to speak to the bloke at the information desk, who helpfully told me that I’d need to catch the 8.40 instead. “If you’d arrived with enough time, you could have caught the 8am.” “But I was booked onto the 8.20 train, why would I have turned up to the station with enough time to catch the 8 o’clock?” “I’m just saying for the next time.” “But I didn’t know the train was cancelled. I hope there won’t be a next time.” “But if you'd turned up early you'd have had a choice!” “Perhaps you might refrain from saying that to the next person" I said "It’s really not helpful, and it's actually quite irritating.” His lips went to lemon and his eyes went to half. A homosexual will usually out himself if crossed...

The train steamed north through frost-bitten countryside. Lonely horses in fields seemed to be wondering why the grass had suddenly gone all cold and crispy. Somewhere in the Midlands the train ran parallel with a canal for some time. For mile after mile it was frozen solid. It was such a romantic English view; barges with smoking chimneys, ducks and moorhens skating on the ice. I was instantly taken back to my childhood.

The bloke opposite me smelt of aftershave and stale beer. He told his mate he’d been out on a bender the night before, and was terribly hung-over. I think the motion of the train was making matters worse, because at about 9.30am, he cracked open three cans of beer and polished them off in half an hour. As he opened the third, he said “last one... until six tonight” rather proudly. And I wondered what his life expectancy was...

The woman opposite was screaming at her embarrassed children, who eventually had to tell her to be quiet. Her response was somewhat draconian; “don’t tell me to shut up, Caitlin unless you want pepper in your mouth.” I don't know why I found the threat quite so shocking - probably because it's a punishment that actually happens. Whatever next? Vinegar in the eyes?

We spent the late morning and early afternoon on the Hattersley estate with June and her son Charlie. I was very proud of June who’d obviously worked really hard on her song. Charlie took us on a tour of Hattersley as the snow began to swirl. We visited underpasses covered in graffiti, strange demolished buildings nestling under enormous pylons and Baptist churches in prefabricated buildings. Hattersley never ceases to amaze me, not least because for much of our journey we were accompanied by the sound of a ice cream van! Only the Mancunians would buy ice cream in a blizzard! Charlie also brought our attention to a weird box in the eaves of the local Co-op which emits a crazy irritating sound at a frequency that apparently only younger ears can hear. It’s designed to prevent groups of young people gathering en masse. Charlie said the sound used to really irritate him, but now, at the age of 20, he can only just hear it. I could hear it incredibly faintly, but it was the kind of sound that would probably really get under the skin. It’s probably also the reason why all the dogs I’ve seen tied up outside the shop do nothing but bark!

At one stage we visited a building site, and I stood on a raised pile of earth to take a photograph. It immediately gave way, and my feet sank knee deep into a pile of incredibly soggy mud which left my shoes looking like they’d been shat on by an elephant. We went back to June’s house, and I sat on the step with a dish cloth and a bowl of water trying to clean them up. June gave me a couple of freezer bags to put over my socks and I left looking a little eccentric, but feeling dry!

350 years ago, Pepys went to his friend Lord Crew’s house, where he met a Northamptonshire vicar called Benjamin Templar, who he described as an ingenious man and a person of honour. Templar was a man of the world, and talked about dim and distant lands (probably Italy) where fiddlers were hired by farm hands during the harvest season to play for those with the, probably mythical disease, Tarantism, where those who had been bitten by the wolf spider were said to need to dance frenetically to avoid death by the spider’s venom. Hence the tarantella.