Sunday, 30 September 2012


Wow! It's about 2am, I'm a bit pissed and I've just eaten a lovely beigel from my favourite cake shop on Brick Lane. 

This evening was a proper triumph and I had an extraordinary time. I don't really know where to start. We were blessed by the weather. Truly blessed. The one day of unbroken sunshine we've had all week and a full moon which shone like an enormous spotlight in the sky. 

Everyone did their bit. Rob did the lighting, John did sound, Penny's John built scaffolding rigs. We had a satellite truck, 4 cameramen, a mini bar...

My task today, apart from delivering a speech at the start of proceedings, was to vision mix the cameras. I'd never done it before and the rehearsal was a disaster with no sound and at one point all the cameras working from the wrong shot lists. Thank God for our mentor, Jonathan Haswell, who kept geeing me up and telling me everything would work out.

When it came to the show itself, I was able to really immerse myself in the task and was pretty proud of myself for managing to vision mix an entire classical music concert with no training whatsoever! Sure, I made a few mistakes along the way, but not so many that you'd think the vision mixing was being done by someone who was about to be awarded a Jim'll Fix it badge! 

The choir were remarkable. They looked stunning and performed with great emotion. Conductor Sam was awesome; "visual gold," said Jonathan, "if in doubt cut to Sam." Apparently someone watched the broadcast in New Zealand. Someone else in Texas. People in Scotland and Yorkshire...

The audience was filled with friends and family members. Brother Tim and John came down from Manchester as a surprise. I was so so touched. Cousins Matt, Boo and Bridgit were there. My parents. My outlaws. Brother Edward and Sascha. A very pregnant Philippa. Fiona. Cindy. Nicky and Jo. Members of the Fleet Singers. Singers from Oranges and Lemons. PK. Janie and Nathan's lot. Mez. Lisa and Mark, whose son the work is dedicated to. I felt so lucky. 

I think I may remember the event as a series of perfect vignettes. Nigel's face singing his solo in the Gradual. The sunset as the audience arrived. Cindy's vintage dress in the front row of the audience. Jonathan throwing his arms around me at the end of the broadcast and saying "seriously well done." The perfection of the Agnus Dei. The church in the middle of the cemetery lit up against an electric blue sky.  Ian singing the Pie Jesu. The sight of Tina being swamped by people trying to buy CDs afterwards. Yasi's family arriving. The avenue of balloons with luggage labels attached in memory of the friends and family of audience members. Watching a girl releasing her balloon at the end of the night and shining a torch on it as it disappeared into the night sky. "Who was the luggage label dedicated to?" I asked her. "My first husband," she said. "He died in a plane crash." 

The choir gave me the most wonderful present; a plaque, like a tiny gravestone, engraved to say,"The London Requiem 29.09.12." I felt proud, loved and radiantly happy. 

The most special moment of all came as I walked with Nathan's sister, Sam to the main gate at Abney Park cemetery. As we walked through the avenue of helium balloons, I stopped and unhooked one at random from its mooring. Nathan had done the same when he arrived at the gate a few minutes later. He read the luggage label on his ,"Bob Birchnall." He released the balloon, repeating Bob's name. We both wondered who Bob was. 

I looked down at the luggage label on my balloon for the first time, and my heart skipped a beat; "for Betty Brice and Frances Bland - you are gone yet you are often still here x x" Fiona's grandmothers. Big Nana and Little Nana. I'd known them both and spent many a happy hour in their company in my teenage years. And here they were, on a luggage label, on a balloon I'd selected at random from a row of hundreds of balloons. It's these kinds of stories which have made the London Requiem a remarkable experience, and I can think of no better end to the journey. 

I've just retired to the bedroom to have a little cry. Tears of nostalgia. Tears of happiness. Tears of great relief. We did it. We really did it. 

Friday, 28 September 2012

The edge of the precipice

I’ve not really been able to get a handle on today. I'm aware that this big event is looming on the horizon and that there's probably all sorts of things I should be doing, but everything feels like it’s going in slow motion whilst the time ticks away at an alarming speed.

I spent the morning with a BBC London crew in Hoop Lane cemetery being interviewed about the Requiem. The adorable Wendy, who asked the questions, seemed genuinely excited and moved by the project. In fact, there’s a real sense of something rather unique happening and I sincerely hope that this manifests itself in sales. My target is to sell 2000 copies, which will safely pay all investors back. I've sold about 30 so far, which is lovely and everything, but ABBA had over a million pre-sales when they released The Album!

This afternoon I sat on the sofa packaging up a whole load of CDs to send to the people who’ve pre-ordered copies of the work. I sent one CD as far as the USA. The rest, unsurprisingly, have gone to Londoners and people in the parts of the UK where I have a small following; Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Newcastle, Manchester.

It's been another rainy day today; slightly concerning because the BBC were predicting "light cloud" until this morning. Still, there’s been no let-up in the BBC’s belief that the sun will shine throughout tomorrow. Let’s hope it dries the ground and means I don’t get 30,000 phone calls from people tomorrow asking if the event is “still on...”

I’ve had my hair cut and bought a shirt, and now I need to eat something and write a speech before I go to bed. One day left...

Never judge a book by its cover version

I've sat in a darkened corner of a dining hall in Rich Mix all day today. We've been rehearsing the live version of The London Requiem all afternoon. It was a wonderful day. The choir know the work really well, and, more crucially, have started to blend really well as a group, which means we can work in proper detail. I genuinely think we're like a big family these days. All sorts of curious friendships seem to have developed within the group. When someone's struggling with a sequence, someone else assists. All the singers excel in different ways. What unites them, however, is their commitment to the emotion and the drama of the music, and this is really special in a choir. They're electrifying to watch. I feel so proud to have brought them all together. 

Our conductor, Sam Becker, did a particularly fine job today, not just when it came to the music side of things (although the man's plainly a genius), but also by taking the reins, rather manfully, when I went into melt-down whilst discussing the technical side of Saturday's gig. 

Sometimes I feel as though people assume everything I do will  work out because I have a history of being at the helm of relatively successful projects. It's a lovely position to be in, but what people sometimes forget is that, in order to maintain the reputation, I spend every hour of every day working, which can mean that even more work ends up being dumped on my shoulders because people realise I'll find a way of coping. That's my perception anyway. We can't ask the person who's being paid ridiculous sums of money already to do something above and beyond for fear that they'll charge overtime, so let's see if Benjamin will make another compromise! 

It sounds like I'm whinging. I'm not. I was hugely proud today and sometimes can't believe my luck that, on a daily basis, I get to do what I do. 

Probably the most exciting aspect of this evening was when two East End ghetto boys came up to me as I was taking a break outside and said, "who's da choir?" I put my fasty face on and puffed myself up like a peacock thinking they were gonna tell me we were making too much noise, or take the p*** out of our sound. 

"Man!" he said, "we was passing and we heard the singing. We produce music. Dance tracks, but vibey, you know. We wanna work with you!"

I invited them to sit in on the rest of the run and they sat through every number, applauding wildly. They then bought CDs afterwards. 

Two things struck me about the encounter. Firstly, that you should never judge a book by its cover, and secondly, that good music is good music regardless of its genre. I've spent ages, unsuccessfully so far, trying to get our piece into someone's hands at Classic FM, when perhaps I should be targeting a whole different market. 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Radio Three

Another day where I’ve barely had time to think, draw breath or even wee! I stayed up until 5am this morning doing my shot list, and then got up at 9 to continue where I left off. I was still transferring shots from one "show bible" to another on the tube on my way to the BBC at 4pm, and somewhere near Oxford Street, I simply slung one of the bastards into a jiffy bag and sent it recorded delivery to the lady in Bournemouth who will be calling the live event. I hope it's not too messy for her. I can genuinely say I did my best in the time I had, but it's no work of art!

I ran from the post office to Broadcasting House to discover that I’d got the time of my interview with Radio Three wrong by an hour, so finally got a little sit down with a cup of tea. I spent the time proudly texting people to say that my music was about to be played on Radio 3. A friend texted back about ten minutes later to say that she'd  obviously missed the broadcast of my song but contacted In Tune to say how much she'd enjoyed it so that they'd play it again... (a full hour before it was actually broadcast!)

The interview went well. They kicked things off by playing one of Barbara Windsor’s solos in the Kyrie and asking listeners if anyone recognised the voice. We had a chat in the studio about the piece. The combination of no sleep and too much tea had given me a funny turn just before we went in, and I explained to the presenter that I had arrived with no personality. Still, he rinsed a few choice remarks out of me, and friends who tuned in said I came across as being quite relaxed, so I guess that’s good.

It was wonderful to hear the Kyrie being played out in full on the huge studio speakers, knowing that people in homes and cars across the UK were listening in. I even had a few sales of the CD on my website!

From the BBC I literally ran – aided by a short bus journey – to the King’s Road where Julie was doing her cabaret. She sang a song I wrote with Arnold Wesker about 15 years ago, which I’d foolishly agreed to sing backing vocals for. Frankly, I have no idea what I was singing. All I know is that it was horribly wrong. I was exhausted, totally unprepared and basically just stood on the stage shuffling like an imbecile whilst Nathan and the lovely Llio Millward covered for me by singing beautifully. Julie didn't help matters by saying as we shuffled onto the stage that she had her very own gospel choir joining her. I looked down at a sea of black people in the audience, and immediately felt like a ghastly albino!
Julie did a flawless set of tunes, however, and the room was full of friendly faces including 5 members of my choir and my brother and Sascha. I had a lovely time and a delicious pizza. Glad to be back home, though!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Another all nighter

For the first time in my two-and-a-half year blogging history, I find myself without the time to write an entry this evening. I’m actually preparing myself for an all-nighter. I spent the day amending the shot-list that Jonathan and I went over with a fine-tooth comb yesterday and tonight’s task is inputting them into two full scores. I started this process at 7.30pm this evening and I’m presently at shot 83 out of 400, which by my calculations means I’ve another 12 hours of work to do! The score needs to be sent out tomorrow morning in order to reach the lovely lady, Gemma, who’ll be calling the live event. As the Americans would say... you do the math!

Right, I’m gonna dash. I reckon I’ve two hours in me, I reckon, before I start making stupid mistakes. Wish me luck... And feel free to email in the night. I’m not going to bed in a hurry!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The rain. The ghastly rain

It rained all day yesterday and it rained all day today, until about 6pm, that is, when the sky melted into a glorious sunset of blues, golds and browns. 

The rain worries me for two reasons: Firstly, I have a requiem being premiered in a cemetery at dusk at the end of this week.  The idea that the whole thing might need to be transferred to a soulless inside venue is too horrendous for words. 

Secondly, apart from a fancy pair which I keep for indoor use, I only have one pair of shoes, which have a hole in the bottom so large that the process of just stepping onto a wet pavement immediately runs the risk of my developing trench foot. I walked around the centre of London this morning feeling incredibly sorry for myself. At one stage I was forced to take a shoe off and rinse out a sock. 

The other issue (the third of two) is that the rain is making London smell of poo. I've walked through some right minging stenches of late! 

Today has been manic. After picking up a load of printing in central London, I struggled down to to Catford to rehearse Julie's cabaret with a lovely bunch of people who included some of the musicians I brought together to perform, Letter to a Daughter, a musical I wrote with Arnold Wesker back in 1998. It was so lovely to see them again. Our pianist, Nikhil, introduced me to his daughter; a statuesque 17 year-old who was 3 when I last saw her! Julie's cabaret is a really interesting blend of music; a lot of new material, including one of my songs, and some really beautiful Piaf and Kurt Weill classics. 

My mentor, Jonathan, from the BBC, came down to meet me in Catford, and we sat in a cafe going through the shot list for the Requiem's live performance. An hour became two, and then three, and before we knew it, the cafe was closing. 

We caught the train to Waterloo and continued our meeting at the Royal Festival Hall and sat on the top level at a little circular table. 7pm8pm9pm10pm... And then the hall closed, and once again we were homeless.

From the RFH, we trudged to Waterloo for last orders in a pub and finally finished what we were doing at 11.30pm, having examined, in minute detail, a full 400 camera shots. Cabin fever set in at about 9pm. I think we're now both delirious.

It's horrible to think that, should mother nature decide to piss on our bonfire, all this careful planning will have been for nothing. I don't often pray, but if I didn't think I'd be wasting one of my tokens for a time when it was really necessary, I might have a quick word with the universe! 

Sunday, 23 September 2012


I'm an old-timer! Nathan, Cindy and I have just gone to see the 10th anniversary production of Taboo. The bloke playing Philip Sallon, the brilliant Paul Baker, is reviving the Olivier award-winning role he created all those years ago, and midway through the show, drifted through the audience, put his arms around me, and said "ladies and gentlemen, it's Benjamin Till, the Resident Director of the London show..." He then introduced Nathan to the audience as an original cast member, reminding us both in the process that Taboo was the show that brought us together. 

This revival is wonderful. There are some brilliant performances, particularly Sam Butterworth, who I'd never have cast in the role, out of principal, really, on account of his being a reality TV star, but he's genuinely excellent. 

The scene when Philip Sallon gets beaten up was a very different prospect seen through the lens of last year's events when Philip was nearly killed in a homophobic attack.

Both Nathan and I were slightly reticent about going to see the show, worrying that it might have been slightly unnerving, or bring up some of the more turbulent memories from the time. I did, after all, walk out of the show a week before it got its notice. But it was deeply charming, hugely nostalgic, and I hope lots of people will go to see it. 

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Great Aunts

I went with Cindy to East London this afternoon to visit Philippa and Dylan and my goddaughter, Deia. I felt immediately guilty upon seeing the aforementioned, as it’s the first time I’ve clapped eyes on her in probably 5 months, and she looked a great deal more grown up. I now know exactly what my Great Aunts meant when they used to say “my, how you’ve grown,” before sucking their lipstick-covered false teeth back into their mouths.

Philippa is pretty much 9 months pregnant. She's enormous and the baby is due at any moment. A new pram, in a flat pack, sat in her hallway. Apparently, she’d got Deia’s one down from the loft, forgetting that we used to call it ghetto pram because it looked like something that they’d have used to transport leaflets during the miners’ strike in 1985. Philippa took one look at the sorry-looking thing and said “never again.” She deliberately left it on the street outside her house last Sunday morning. She lives just off Columbia Road and when the flower market’s on, pretty much anything that gets left there finds a good home. She went out for the morning, and when she returned, a group of tourists were standing by the pram having their photographs taken! #retro

We walked to Broadway Market and bought food from some of the street sellers there. I’ve never had an enormous vegetarian scotch egg before, and it tasted wonderful. We sat in the shady London Fields gorging ourselves, chatting about theatre and playing with Deia, who was on very good form; giggly, intrepid and getting rather good at using her pleases and thank yous!

The sky was very misty and weird at around 4pm today. There were coronas everywhere; curious little soft focus rainbows. The sun looked like it was sitting behind loo paper, but with no trace of a cloud in front of it.

The atmosphere on Broadway Market, however, was electric. We went down to the Regent’s Canal and looked at a set of barges which had been turned into book and retro clothing shops. A guitarist sat on the roof of the book barge playing classical music. It was truly magical. Cindy bought a print by a local artist to remember the moment.

350 years ago, Pepys, who could be a desperate hypochondriac, demonstrated the woeful lack of 17th Century medical knowledge by writing:

I stood in great pain, having a great fit of the colic, having catched cold yesterday by putting off my stockings to wipe my toes, but at last it lessened, and then I was pretty well again, but in pain all day more or less

Friday, 21 September 2012

Goldfish in a bowl

I spent the day in my favourite cafe starting the process of creating a detailed camera shot list for the Requiem performance. It’s an exhausting task; one which is only going to get more exhausting I suspect. Every shot – and there will probably be about 600 – has to be considered. Which instrument or singer do we want to see at which point in the music? How will the shot develop? How will it look in context? Brrr. It makes me shiver.

Meanwhile I’m trying to get news out there about the CDs of the London Requiem, which are now printed and looking very beautiful. I have 1000 of them in my hallway at the moment, all needing to be sold! So if anyone reading this would like to buy a copy, please go to my website and purchase away! All you need to do is click on the paypal button, wherever you are in the world, and I’ll send them out.

My friend Cindy arrived from New York late this afternoon. She’s staying with us this week. She’s a very spiritual person, so I took her to the heath in a gentle autumn rainstorm and we wondered around the stunning pergola on the West Heath before visiting the tree with the hole in it. The place was almost empty. A few joggers and sturdy-looking dog walkers were milling about. Cindy couldn’t get over the emptiness and we talked for some time about the madness of New York and the fact that, on Manhattan, you’re never alone. Not even when you’re desperate to be.

350 years ago, Pepys spent the day spotting royals, most notably the new Queen, Catherine de Breganza, who spent the day in Whitehall Palace, being watched liked a goldfish in a bowl.

“I crowded after her, and I got up to the room where her closet is; and there stood and saw the fine altar, ornaments, and the fryers in their habits, and the priests come in with their fine copes and many other very fine things. I heard their musique too; which may be good, but it did not appear so to me, neither as to their manner of singing, nor was it good concord to my ears, whatever the matter was. The Queene very devout: but what pleased me best was to see my dear Lady Castlemaine, who, tho’ a Protestant, did wait upon the Queen to chappell...”

Thursday, 20 September 2012


The cold continues to ravage and I’m tired and emotional as a result. I got a little prickle behind my eyes whilst watching a second-hand book stall being set up in Soho this morning. It felt noble, yet somehow futile in the midst of all the shiny sexual made-in-China frippery of the district.

I was horrified to discover on my travels that the public loos in Leicester Square now cost 50p to frequent. In fairness, I’ve not been there for years, but I’m pretty sure the last time I visited they were free. Far be it for me to incite civil disobedience, but surely Westminster Council have just given us all yet another reason to pee in the street?

Yesterday, whilst flicking through a copy of Metro, I was appalled to discover a message, in the section where people are encouraged to text in with their thoughts and grievances, which went something along the lines of, “why would people without babies use the baby changing loos and stay there for fifteen minutes? From Miya (10 months).”

Here’s what’s wrong with that statement. 1) People without babies – particularly men with prostate problems - need the loo as well, sometimes very desperately, and if the baby changing loo (whatever this is) is the only free cubical – just as when the disabled loo is the only one which is free – you use that. 2) I would suggest the name Miya is better spelt Maya. 3) Why did the ten month-old Miya not have a go at the person who used her loo instead of passive-aggressively sending a text to a newspaper?

But MOST importantly, why the chuffin’ heck would ANYONE think it’s cute to sign a text message from a ten-month-old child?! It’s desperately tragic. I realise that Miya’s Mummy thinks that Miya is the centre of everyone’s existence, and that she won’t have had a decent adult conversation since Miya was born, but this sort of behaviour ranks with that of losers who obsessively photograph cats, freaks who collect snow globes, people who talk about themselves in the third person, Morris dancers and women who try on wedding dresses “just for fun.” If Miya could really text, she’d be contacting social services... or deed poll.

September 20th, 1662, and Pepys spent the day continuing the business of searching for a wife for his brother, Tom. It was complicated. Tom had some kind of learning difficulty; possibly autism. He had a speech impediment and struggled to socialise with anyone but servants. He died a few years later, unmarried (but with an illegitimate child from his maid) probably of a sexually transmitted disease!

The last paragraph of Pepys’ entry is intriguing:

To-night my barber sent me his man to trim me, who did live in King Street in Westminster lately, and tells me that three or four that I knew in that street, tradesmen, are lately fallen mad, and some of them dead, and the others continue mad. They live all within a door or two one of another.

Could these workmen perhaps have been suffering from lead poisoning?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Lauristen Village

I’m afraid there’s very little left of me tonight, and I may actually fall asleep before finishing this blog. The plane home from Ibiza last night was ever so slightly late, which meant we missed our connecting train from Luton Airport to Kentish Town and got home at 5am.

I spent much of the day yesterday coming down with a cold, which has launched a full-scale attack on me today.

I had to get up at 8am to edit the last film for The Space. We work from Penny’s house in an area of Hackney they’ve started to call Lauriston Village. It’s a charming enough area, sandwiched between Victoria Park and Well Street Common, with lots of rambling Victorian properties. It’s actually the first place I lived in in London, long before the gentrification took place. It used to have a bit of life in those days; a bit of edge.

Sadly now the place teams with yummy mummies. The shops are almost exclusively delicatessens, boutiques selling designer children’s clothes and posh book shops. There’s not a greasy spoon in sight. A loaf of bread from the organic bakers costs £3. The chips from the chippie are served in retro boxes. A whole industry generated by people with more money than sense. The middle class residents push out the chains, forgetting that the few working class families on the fringes of the community would LOVE a shop which sold cheap food, or a little cafe where they could buy a proper cuppa for a quid.

I have just come back from a wonderful massage and now I feel like I’m floating. So so tired, yet kind of content.

My thoughts go out to the good folk of Hattersley today, which is where two police women were murdered yesterday. Dave Pragnell, the special constable who features in the films I made about the estate at the start of the year, obviously knew the two women really well. It's a terrible business, and will plainly give the rest of the world an excuse to bash the estate and its residents again.

350 years ago Pepys walked from Deptford to Rotherhithe;
I walked by brave moonshine, with three or four armed men to guard me, it being a joy to my heart to think of the condition that I am now in, that people should of themselves provide this for me, unspoke to. I hear this walk is dangerous to walk alone by night, and much robbery committed here.”
Thank the Lord for armed guards!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Farewell to Ibiza

We went to Ibiza town last night, which is beautiful after dark, particularly the area within the impressive city walls, where gorgeous ramshackle streets snake their way in upward spirals. Palm trees and bougainvillea plants poke over walls. Freshly washed linen hangs over the street from Juliet balconies. The whole area is like a beautifully lit film set. Hundreds of little tables with neat white tablecloths spill onto the cobbled pavements from cavernous tavernas and tapas bars. Street musicians play the Gypsy Kings. Children, still awake at midnight, chase giant soap bubbles created by hippies wearing tie-dyed tunics.

We were back there tonight, exploring the gay part of town; a long ancient cobbled causeway lined with bars, cafes and shops selling sparkly speedos, which stretches from the old town to a little vantage point above the harbour, where gentlemen go to "chat" to other gentlemen. 

It's a beautiful, buzzing part of town, filled with all sorts of intriguing people wearing all sorts of bizarre items of clothing.

We sat outside a fabulous restaurant called La Gatto e la Volpe, which serves a mixture of Italian and Spanish food. The atmosphere was electric and the food was stunning.

We're now back at the airport in a queue of people waiting for the Easy Jet flight to Luton. It is boiling hot. Everyone seems subdued. They're all nursing hangovers from their last nights in the world of clubbing. "I wonder how much chlamydia there is in this queue?" asks Nathan. Probably a great deal more than there was on the flight over...

Monday, 17 September 2012

Feeding frenzy

It's been a particularly relaxing day. I should have done some work on the Requiem, but recorded a set of composer's notes at Cafe del Mar last night, so felt a day off in the sunshine was in order. 

We went to the beach where a school of about 20 fish decided to nibble my toes, which was a decidedly bizarre experience. I guess you pay loads of money for this kind of experience in those new age health spa places, but I kept wondering if there'd suddenly be a feeding frenzy, which resulted in my crawling out of the water with nothing but stumps for legs, whilst everyone else ran out of the water screaming. 

I allowed myself the luxury of listening to the Gradual and Tract  from my requiem as I paddled in the shallows. I felt proud and excited. 

This afternoon I lay on a lilo in the swimming pool, the low sun warming my face, my eyes closed, whilst ABBA played on a portable iplayer. I suspect I've never felt quite that relaxed. 

This evening we're going back to Ibiza town; a charming place with a very beautiful old town, which towers above the island majestically. I'm trying to convince my mother to buy a top that she fell in love with when we were last there.  She's not sure she can afford it...

Sunday, 16 September 2012


It's brother Edward's 40th birthday and on the stroke of midnight last night all of his guests threw themselves into the swimming pool in unison. There followed a series of relay races on lilos, which were amongst the funniest things I've ever experienced. 

We came to St Antonio today, which is the hedonistic part of Ibiza. You can't move for clubs. Paradis. Eden. Fabulush. Perhaps unsurprisingly there are Brits everywhere. All the little street vendors sell red top newspapers, all signs are in English, and the streets are full of lads from Sheffield and Hertfordshire. I saw a young girl in a bikini earlier with full evening make-up on, right down to a pair of false eye-lashes. There was something vaguely tragic about the sight. 

St Antonio is not a world that I feel particularly comfortable in. At midnight tonight, this place will turn into hell on earth. Guaranteed! 

We went on a sensational boat trip to Es Vedra, an uninhibited rock off the coast of Ibiza, which is meant to have mystical magnetic properties, famed in legend as the home of sirens. It is stunningly beautiful, although I was deeply disappointed that no one's watch went bonkers. 

The rock surges dramatically out of the water and the boat played music as it floated in a circle around it. For most of the time we were treated to excerpts from Nyman's The Piano. It fitted the occasion perfectly, particularly the moment we hit an acoustic pocket, where the sound of birds calling from a ledge on the cliff face was amplified ten fold. 

As we drifted away from the rock, they played Dancing Queen and everyone on the boat joined in, singing and dancing. 

A few minutes later, the boat dropped its anchor so that anyone who wanted to could dive into the sea. The adrenaline buzz I got from leaping off the top of a boat into the Med was astonishing. Nathan got stung by a jelly fish in three places, but was a brave soldier. 

We've finished the day in the famous Cafe del Mar at sunset, which is apparently THE place to be in Ibiza. It's a charming spot overlooking the sea, although not the most relaxing vibe in the world. From where I'm sitting I can hear three different musical tracks, which are clashing horribly!

Saturday, 15 September 2012


We're on the ferry, heading back to Ibiza from the neighbouring smaller island of Formentera. Truth be told, I've been a little bit over-cooked by the sun, so it's quite a relief to be in the shade. The ferry is bouncing on the water rather disconcertingly. It's like being on a Stannah chair lift.

Formentera is stunningly beautiful in a sort of vision-of-paradise kind of a way. The beaches are as white as snow and the sea surrounding the island is every shade of blue. Towards the horizon, the water is a dark shade of indigo, darker than any sea I've seen, but as it gets closer to the shoreline it gets lighter and lighter, azure and then the palest shade of turquoise. It's like looking at a Dulex colour chart. I've seldom been to a place more beautiful. 

We sat on a beach, on a spit of land so thin that we could see the sea in every direction. The water was so clear that, when I opened my eyes whilst swimming under water, I could see, in minute detail, the tiny fish who were swimming next to me. We opted for the beach where the freaky jelly fish weren't. You could see them, slightly pink in colour, bouncing around in every wave. And hundreds of the critters were being washed up on the shoreline. It was like a scene from The Day of the Triffids. 

We walked from the town's port for a couple of miles along marshy fields which were being used to harvest sea salt, which glinted in the sunshine. The path was long and straight and covered in fine sand, which billowed up in clouds of dusty smoke every time a bus or car passed by. 

The sand  dunes were filled with enormous spiders in giant webs. 

The place, however, has left us with a very bad taste in our mouths. Literally. 

After sitting on the beach for a while, we took ourselves off to the Restaurante El Ministre; an inviting-looking spot at the end of a wooden walkway over the dunes. We walked in and the first thing I noticed was someone tucking in to a rather nice looking portion of chips with their pound of flesh. 

We sat down and ordered drinks whilst surveying the menu. What became instantly clear was that vegetarians were not catered for. Still, a salad with a bowl of chips can be just what the doctor ordered when you're starving hungry, and I couldn't wait to tuck in. "A Caprese salad", I said "and some of your delicious-looking chips..." there was a pause... "patatas fritas..." I said. The waiter shook his head. "You can only have chips as part of a meal with something else." "Yes," I said, "I'm having them with a salad. You don't have a vegetarian option for me to have it with..." 

There was a great deal of shrugging. Our friend Alex waded in and spike in perfect Spanish. Nothing. The waiter point blank refused to allow me to have a plate of chips. "In all my 5 years waiting here", he said,"I've never been asked for such a strange request..." 

There followed a rather horrible scene, where we asked if he could talk to the chef. I should point out that it was one of the most expensive restaurants I've been in. My Caprese salad, which was a starter portion, was going to cost me the best part of twenty pounds, and when you're paying through the nose, and there's nothing you can eat on the menu, you expect to at least be able to be able to cobble together something nice from what they DO serve.

The chef refused to help, so the manager, Juan, was called, who was amongst the rudest men I've ever met. He said that they couldn't give me a plate of chips because they didn't have the right sized plate. He said if I was vegetarian I could make do with a plate of vegetables or a salad, before walking away shaking his head whilst we were still talking to him. Nathan ran after him and told him how rude he was, but it was no use. 

We had one option, to vote with our feet, so we left Alex and Wiesek in the restaurant and promptly left the island. I'm still shaking from the experience; not just because I hate to be made to feel like a leper for being vegetarian, but because I'm in a place where there's nothing I can do to complain about the bad service we received. People will carry on going to El Ministre, vegetarians will continue to be treated badly, and Alex and Wiesek probably had their food spat in. Our little altercation will have taught nobody anything, just as my regular arguments with foreign call centres achieve nothing. If a society doesn't value the importance of good customer service, there's no point in trying to inflict your standards on it. 

So Formentera is sadly Formentainted. Much as it's a proper heaven on earth, I can guarantee I'll never go back. 

Friday, 14 September 2012

We're going to Ibiza... No wait, we're here

We're sitting in Ibiza old town underneath an enormous umbrella which has little glowing watering cans hanging from its spokes. Darkness is descending in a dusty haze, and the square we're in is coming to life. Jewellery and pottery sellers are setting up stalls and the fruit market is being dismantled. This is definitely a town which lives for its night life. 

The air is reverberating with the sound of sparrows roosting and cicadas singing; a noise which is sometimes difficult to distinguish from the sound of electricity.

It is my brother's 40th birthday and he has hired a fabulous villa on the island which feels like one of the judges houses on the X Factor. The bay beneath the villa is a tremendous shade of turquoise; the water is as clear as a mountain stream and the surface magnifies the seaweed beneath one's feet in an almost disconcerting manner. It was like swimming through diamonds. 

The plane journey over here with Easy Jet was a surprisingly pleasant experience. I was expecting to be herded about in the style of Ryan Air, but the experience proved comprehensively that a budget airline doesn't need to a) fleece you at every turn and b) employ rude and dangerously incompetent staff. Bravo Easy Jet! 

The people who get on the Easy Jet flights to Ibiza are the stuff of legend, however. I've never seen such a long queue for a plane loo peopled by so many inappropriately dressed young women. It became clear that these women, made up to the nines and wearing slaggy high heels, were literally expecting to get off the plane and go straight to a club.

Fortunately, we're nowhere near any of the infamous clubs, which I'm told cost fifty quid to enter and will charge twenty quid every time you want a drink. 

Ibiza, I'm relieved to report, is not all about lads and slags on tour. It's a genuinely beautiful and intriguing place and I'm excited about exploring it some more. 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Bitch slap that Kelvin Mackenzie

We found out in the middle of the night that one of the performers from Naked Boys Singing died in his sleep on Monday night. They think it was an aneurism. It's almost impossible to comprehend, and Nathan has taken the news very badly. The cast of the show were his "boys", his family, and Matt's light shone incredibly brightly.

Maybe it's because of the requiem, or because we're just getting older, but death feels like its circling ever closer. One of our choir members played the Requiem masters to his partner yesterday, who collapsed in tears and said; "I don't want anyone to go, but they have to don't they?" A truer word was never spoken. 

I see that the Hillsborough tragedy report is now in, revealing gross negligence and a massive cover-up on the part of police, politicians, football stadium managers and the media. What a surprise. 

Apparently if the emergency services had got their acts together more swiftly, some 40 of the 90 who died in the crush, may well have survived. Frankly,  I'm not quite sure how a football match could even have been started whilst thousands of fans were still streaming into the stands. 

What I didn't realise was that the ghastly Sun newspaper, ran a front page exclusive four days after the tragedy, under a headline which simply said "the truth." This article tried to blame the Liverpool fans for what happened, claiming they were pickpocketing victims and urinating on policemen who were trying to help. 

Meanwhile, the authorities were running police checks and testing alcohol levels in blood of all those who were killed - including the children - so they could claim they were all drunken criminals. 

The man in charge of The Sun during this time was that odious, fat, grotesquely oily turd, Kelvin MacKenzie. Am I alone in thinking it's time for these power-hungry, right-wing, self-proclaimed saviours of the nations morality to face criminal charges? Throw the bastard in jail for inciting hatred. It's not enough to claim you were fed incorrect information. If you're a journalist, don't go to print until you're certain! I loathe him every time he appears on daytime television spouting his old-fashioned, fat-faced drivel, and would cheerfully bitch slap him with a pair of old lady knickers shouting "drink my rancid panty soup, you oleaginous twat!" 

There. I've said it now. I can go to Ibiza in peace. Did I mention I'm going to Ibiza? I'm going to Ibiza! 

Wednesday, 12 September 2012


Last night, Nathan and I sat up til late, listening to the mastered versions of the Requiem. That's it. The creativity on this project is over. There's nothing more to do. In all honesty, I was scared to listen. I've been slowly falling out of love with the music of late, on account of it coming out of my blessed ears. I'd furthermore convinced myself that the process of mastering wouldn't change the listening experience a great deal. I was wrong. Before the end of the second movement, I was hooked, and was weeping copiously by the time Maddy Prior's solo was over in the third. So many emotions started buzzing around my body; great relief, sadness, joy, gratitude to PK and Norscq for doing such an extraordinary job.  I went to bed a happy man and woke up, for the first time in ages, with a spring in my step. 

Today's been another one of those days which is crammed to the rafters with things needing to be done. 

I was up and on the road before 9, heading down to Gospel Oak to pick up the car from Kwik Fit where it was serviced and MOT'd - very reasonably as it happens.  

I then took myself to Angel to buy, for the first time ever, an expensive item of clothing; a black waistcoat with glorious lapels, which I saw in the window of a boutique on Camden Passage. I decided to treat myself to it for the Requiem premier, and went in expecting to need one to be made specially in my size, which I worried wouldn't be ready in time. 

I asked the woman in the shop about it and she looked at me for a few moments before saying; "you should try the one on in the window." I did so.  It fitted like a glove. 

"It's a one off," she said, "and the man who made it very sadly died last Monday. This was his shop, and his great love. When he arrived with the black waistcoat, I thought he was mad. All of our waistcoats are made from colourful Nigerian fabrics, but he told me to put it in the window. 'Someone will want this', he said." 

And that someone was me. 

I explained that I was buying it for the premier of a requiem and told her about the project as her eyes filled with tears. 

This afternoon I went to a meeting of the Musician Union's writers' committee, of which I'm a member. Fiona is as well. We were elected simultaneously. It was great fun to have her there, and we sat in a corner with a film music composer called Tim, lobbying for the MU to pull itself into the 21st Century! 

Home to Highgate to format more scores for the live premier, send emails and tick off more points on a seemingly endless list of things to do. 

No rest for the wicked... But this wicked man is growing more content by the second. 

By contrast, 350 years ago, Pepys was feeling rather melancholy. His workmen were being lazy. His house was in a mess. His neighbours were complaining. He was missing his wife and to cap it all, he was trying to teach himself how to do the accounts... Something he found rather difficult. 

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Blair Witch style

It's been another extremely busy day – and my evening session has only just started!

Today we filmed the Libera Me film: our ninth for the Space and I was lucky enough to have Abbie from the choir as our presenter. She was brilliant; seemingly up for trying anything, which included delivering one piece whilst actually holding the camera, Blair Witch style.

We filmed at St Pancras Old church, which has to be one of the most interesting in London. Once a parish church by the river Fleet on the marshy swampland north of London, Percy Bysshe Shelley and the future Mary Shelley planned their scandalous elopement sitting on one of the graves. In the mid 19th century it suddenly found itself surrounded on all sides by railway lines as London expanded tenfold, and the area established itself as the perfect terminus for trains arriving in the capital from the expanding North.

A young architect called Thomas Hardy (who would later become a very famous writer), was given the task of excavating an area of the graveyard which had been sold to Midland Railways. His men took all the graves that they were forced to remove and placed them in a meticulous circle around the foot of a tree. The tree spent the next 150 years weaving its roots around the graves, creating an astonishing piece of art; man and nature working hand in hand.
The louchifixion: Abbie reclines on the cross

The graveyard is also the location of the tomb of the famous architect Sir John Soane; that’s the guy who collected all sorts of Roman and Egyptian ephemera which are displayed in his former house at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Soane designed his own mausoleum, and it remains (along with Karl Marx’ grave) one of only two grade one listed graves in London. Why is the grave so important? Because it provided Sir Giles Gilbert Scott with the inspiration for the design of the iconic red phone box!

From King’s Cross we went to Upper Street (to film an actual red phone box) where we met Jem from the choir, wiped out after taking the red eye from New York this morning. Our final destination was Stoke Newington, more specifically Abney Park cemetery to film the charming, quirky and hugely gifted poet, Isabel White, who has written a set of poems about the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries in London. The book they're in is called Death and Remebrance. Go buy a copy and support an entrepreneureal creative mind!

All in all, a very good day... and the sun shone almost constantly.

Pepys had a lie-in this morning – and justified this by working late into the evening. He travelled to Deptford, did a bit of Navy business, had dinner with Sir William Penn, stuck his nose into the business of finding his brother a suitable marital match, working for hours by candle light, and went to bed, late, after playing the lute. All in a day’s work, really.

Monday, 10 September 2012


I started work at 9am this morning and have only just finished for the day. My eyes are blurred and my head is spinning. I feel slightly sick, but am getting a bit chirpier at the prospect at finishing for the day (at 11.30pm!) Today I have scored the string music and percussion for the live gig, formatted all their individual parts and sent them off to all the musicians. I have also written a script for the filming tomorrow, and sent 54 individual emails about the Requiem and the 100 Faces project. Meanwhile, PK and Norscq are in Paris mastering the Requiem, which is very exciting. Just after lunch i was sent a few last bars to sign off... and that's that! There's nothing more I can do now!

I genuinely don’t have anything else of any interest to say, other than that I don’t think I’ve ever worked this hard in a single day. I didn’t even stop for food...

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The last day of summer?

I’ve had what amounts to a day off, which has been delightful, especially as the sun has been shining throughout. We had a lie-in and then went to Brent Cross via a garden centre. I hadn’t been in a garden centre for years, probably since my childhood, when we used to go to one in a place (I think) called Willington, which smelt of creosote and was always a chore, until we got to the area where they sold goldfish in giant vats. I could have stared at those fish for decades.
Brent Cross continues to delight and amuse. It seems to be the preferred shopping location for all of London’s orthodox Jews and a great number of its Asian families. Here’s a question... Is there any reason why all orthodox male Jews wear glasses? Can it really be that the gene pool has got so small that myopia now simply comes with the territory, along with pale skin and a slightly ginger tint to all facial hair? Myopia is often the first symptom of in-breeding; that and asthma, which is why the people who live on Tristan Da Cunha (who all share one of eight surnames) have bad eyesight and breathing troubles. I’ve seldom seen so many lustrous wigs on a set of women.
I treated myself to a muffin from a Jewish bakery. I was really excited about it, but it tasted of cardboard.
The rest of London, it appears, were on Hampstead Heath, trying to enjoy, no doubt, what they consider could well be the last day of summer.
As I write this, I’m listening to the final mixes of The London Requiem. Tomorrow morning they go off to a chap called Norscq, in Paris, to be mastered. Every time I listen to a new mix, my heart starts beating (to quote Shakin’ Stevens) “like a train on a track,” in case I suddenly pick up something for the first time which I should have picked up long since. I shall certainly be more than happy to get to a stage where I’m not able to make any more changes, because the pressure is almost crippling. I need some time away from the music to fall in love with it all over again. Carrying something around on your shoulders for this long is no good for anyone!

350 years ago, Pepys got himself into a proper little paddy after being shown how the upward extension on his house was affecting his neighbours in the Navy complex:

He showed us how I have blinded all his lights, and stopped up his garden door, and other things he takes notice of that he resolves to abridge me of, which do vex me so much that for all this evening and all night in my bed, so great a fool I am, and little master of my passion, that I could not sleep.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Boy George, boxes and Bucharest

Fiona and Paul arrived this morning in an enormous white van which Fiona had hired to take her stuff out of storage in Northampton. She’s also been storing a few boxes in our attic so decided to pick them up in the process. She was given strict instructions, however, to leave some things behind so she always has a reason to come back! She arrived with a little box of delicious Thornton’s shortcakes which her Mum had sent for me. I instantly made a cup of tea, and they lasted about five minutes.

After Fiona and Paul had gone, I threw myself into writing orchestrations for the live premier of the Requiem at the end of the month but was, thankfully, rescued from working by Danny Boy Carter who suggested I might like to come for a walk on the heath. He had a friend with him from America who was doing a 12 hour stop-over in London en route to, I think, Bucharest. They’d already “done” central London, hiring Boris bikes to cycle from Covent Garden down to Westminster and all the way along the South Bank.
We drove up to Jack Straw’s Castle, and I took them to the mile-long pergola on the West Heath, which was covered in autumn roses, and down through the Vale of Health to the tree with the hole in it where we sat and chatted for a bit. I always feel so proud of Hampstead Heath; particularly when I’m introducing someone to it for the first time.

We ate soup and paninis in Hampstead village before making our way back to the car.

On the way up Heath Street, we bumped into Boy George, and had a nice chat with him about the new production of Taboo, which is being staged in Brixton, with Paul Baker reprising his Olivier-award-winning role as Philip Sallon. George looked well, and seemed genuinely thrilled to see us both. He’s had a lot of tattoos done on his head since I last saw him, and he’d literally just had one of Siouxsie Sioux done on his left forearm arm to match the one of Bowie on his right. It was still wrapped in cling film. It seems the world at the moment is being tattood.
I came home and continued to work, and I've now been sitting in the same spot on my sofa for about 5 hours.
350 years ago, Pepys, the two Sir Williams and Sir John Mennes, comptroller of the Navy, went to see the Duke of York to give him an account of what the Navy office had been up to recently. Pepys was, understandably, thrilled to be the one selected to sum things up, and he went about his task with great zeal.
He spent the afternoon criss-crossing the river to Southwark, then to the City, then to Rotherhithe and eventually to Deptford, where he found out that Sir John Mennes, who also lived in the Navy Office complex, had been complaining about the loo that Pepys had put on the roof of his house and the natural light which his new extension was blocking out.

Friday, 7 September 2012

The Albert Hall

I spent the morning at the Albert Hall today watching a BBC outside broadcast team rehearsing cameras and things for this evening's Prom, which, for the record is Haitink conducting the Vienna Phil. Aside from the fact that they were playing Strauss and Hayden, which is about as hideous as any Proms programme could be, the experience was absolutely fascinating.

The reason I'd been invited to observe the team, was that, on September 29th, I shall be directing the live streaming of the London Requiem performance. It's a massive undertaking, and it's something I've never done before. When telly is live, all the editing is effectively done by a vision mixer (which could well be me!) and everything is powered by meticulous planning and sheer adrenaline!

My mentor throughout the Requiem project has been a wonderful director at the BBC called Jonathan Haswell, who, tomorrow, will be directing the Last Night of the Proms in 3D! Jonathan has an almost Buddhist-like inner calm and I suspect that this is a pre-requisite of being a successful director of Live TV. To do live classical music, you also have to be a pretty decent score reader, have an insanely logical mind and a great understanding of visuals and musical timings. On paper, I have all the skills in abundance I'll need to do a good job... Except maybe the calmness. My default is to get sarcastic when I'm under pressure and this will not go down too well with a team of cameramen who have seen and heard it all before! They don't take crap. A cameraman will always find a way to make a dick head feel very stupid. A cameraman friend of mine once stapled a crisp packet full of dog poo to the back of the desk draw of an editor who'd crossed him once too often!

This afternoon has been about beginning the process of creating a score for the live performance, which is differently scored to the recording. I'm very tired, and am beginning to will away the month so that I can give my mind a little break.

A very busy day for Pepys, 350 years ago, which saw him calling in on Lord Sandwich and finding no one in, but a woman who let him in, and a girl called Sarah in an upstairs room, whom Pepys had a little fondle with... In fact, he did a little more than that:

I went up to her and played and talked with her and, God forgive me, did feel her; which I am much ashamed of, but I did no more, though I had so much a mind to it that I spent in my breeches

Pepys then went to Whitehall Palace, and was taken to the Queen Mother's "presence-chamber" to observe the royals, almost as though they were animals in a zoo. The new Queen, Catherine de Breganza was there...

though she be not very charming, yet she hath a good, modest, and innocent look, which is pleasing
Curiously, the king's lover, Lady Castlemayne also rocked up, and then the King and the Duke of York with the King's bastard 15-year old son, the pretty spark, James Scott (Mr Crofts). Pepys was thrilled to see them all together in one room, and even more thrilled to hear the queen say a few words of English; "you lie!" were the words she spoke. I bet she got rather used to saying that to him!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Almost cloyed

I am unbelievably tired. Nathan and I sat up until 4am last night, slowly and steadily signing off movements from the Requiem. Seven down, three to go. It was a highly nerve-wracking prospect but it became quite an exciting experience, chiefly because PK was turning out aural gold. He was in Paris. We were in London. That felt pretty cool as well. We watched the X factor, and then every so often a new mix would pop into my inbox for us to approve. We’d listen carefully, fire off a couple of notes back, and return to the X Factor. I kept trying to imagine the studio PK was in, and how he was getting on without the aid of cigarettes or McVittie’s half-covereds.

I woke up this morning, and after dealing with a dustbin which had putrefied in our kitchen and buying the rattie some sawdust to sleep on, I met Rob the cameraman, jumped in a car, and drove up the M1 to Nuneaton. The cemetery in Nuneaton is where my paternal grandparents are buried and the location in which we’d chosen to interview the fascinating Keith Lindsay, author of “And In the End”, a disturbingly amusing book about death. He sat between the graves, regaling us with amusing anecdotes. The ultimate witty gravestone inscription, in my view, belongs to a New Yorker, whose grave reads, “here lies the body of Jonathan Blake, stepped on the gas instead of the brake. I'm told the following also comes from over the pond... “Here lies Ezekiel Aikle, aged 102. The Good Die Young.”

We interviewed Keith with the grave of my Uncle Ben Till poking up in the distance, keeping a watchful eye over proceedings. Before leaving the cemetery, I disappeared to my grandparents’ grave to say hello and tell them about the Requiem. They maintained a respectful silence as I spoke!

From Nuneaton we drove south through Coventry, via the Foleshill Road, which brought back memories of childhood car journeys with Grannie Garner in search of chip shops with queues outside. She would only ever go to a chip shop with a queue because it meant they were frying the fish fresh.

We negotiated the nonsensical ring road in Coventry and travelled further south to Stoneleigh, the little Warwickshire village where my maternal grandparents lived and are buried. The place looked beautiful and green. The sun has been shining all day, and thistledown and dandelion clocks were dancing like will-o’- the wisps around the graveyard. I had been asked to introduce the last film for The Space, and decided to “sign out” beside my grandparent’s grave. It reminded me how much I still miss my Grannie Garner, six full years since she died.

Pepys had a lie-in on this date 350 years ago. The lazy bastard only got up at 6am; deciding to stay in bed to “sweat off” any cold he may have caught on the river the day before. Pepys ate his fifth venison pasty in three days, describing himself as “almost cloyed.”

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


I am on a train returning from Newcastle. The light bouncing off the fields is remarkable. It’s chrome-like; pure and clean, and highly unusual for this time of year. September fields are often shrouded in a dusty, misty light. Maybe that’s what a rubbish summer does to light! I wonder if autumn will come late this year? I get the feeling that the trees are rather enjoying the first sunshine they’ve seen and are in no hurry to start shedding leaves.

We’ve been looking at early entries for the BBC 100 Faces project today. People have been asked to write in and say – in no more than 12 words – what made 2012 significant for them, and we’ve had some wonderful stories, ranging from the 7-year old who learned to ride her bike without stabilizers this year, to the man in his 30s whose family was destroyed by the closure of a mine. Each person selected will represent the year of their birth from 1912 all the way up to 2012, so the oldest person featured will be 100, which is very cool... if we can find someone that age who wants to take part! The oldest entry we’ve had so far comes from an 86 year-old... so we might have to visit a few retirement homes in the coming weeks!

It was, as ever, wonderful to be back in Newcastle; a city which holds so many special memories for me. I lived there for a number of weeks whilst making the Metro films and I think it’s one of Britain’s greatest and most beautiful cities. I still get a genuine sense of excitement as the train pulls into the station just after crossing the Tyne. The view of those extraordinary bridges never gets old.

It was great to see the gang up there again. The set-up at BBC Newcastle is second to none. The talent base they have there in terms of film makers is extraordinary. Curiously, this has a lot to do with children’s television. They made Byker Grove and Tracy Beaker in the region for many years, so there are gaffers, best boys and dolly ops scattered all over the city and its surrounds. It was particularly great to see cameraman Keith again. He arrived brandishing a special Moleskine notebook especially for storyboarding, which he presented to me as a gift.  He’s gone the colour of David Dickenson following a holiday somewhere fancy. His tan made me look like an orthodox jew! I’m really excited about getting cracking on this project. It’ll be nice to have something to move onto when I finally close the doors on the Requiem after two obsessive years!

On my way up to Newcastle, I was forced to change trains at Doncaster Station. I stood for a while in the queue at the Costa Coffee shop, and as it got to my turn, I took out my wallet and was horrified to see a cascade of coins dropping out onto the floor. The woman behind me in the queue; a sprightly Yorkshire lady, made a joke: “oh dear, someone’s chucking his money away,” she said, smiling endearingly, “must have plenty.” There was no attempt to help me – and when I’d finally picked up the last 2 pence, I realised, she’d used the moment to push in front of me! That’s Yorkshire grit for you!

350 years ago, Pepys spent the morning in various Navy stores in Woolwich, Deptford and Rotherhithe (or Redriffe as it was then known), stopping at one point to watch a rather grand boat race which tested the speed of various vessels. He walked for miles and got himself in a sweat so treated himself to a river taxi. The boat journey scared him, however. It was a very cold and windy morning and the Thames was, no doubt, choppy. Pepys returned to his lodgings to “rub himself clean.” This was in the era of the great unwashed. Believe it or not, Pepys was actually frightened of getting himself wet; fearing water brought illness. As a result, he never washed wit water. Totally gipping.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The asylum beckons

It's been a deeply frustrating day which culminated in my laptop breaking down. Two of the keys have now stopped working, so I can’t write the letter n or the letter a without the help of a slave keyboard, which I had to go and buy in PC World in Camden. It’s astonishing how many words have a's and n's in them. My name for starters! One of each.

The good news is that our internet is now working again after just 3 weeks of being non-existent. I phoned Talk Talk again today, and ended up, again, in Manila, talking to a guy with one of those faux American accents they tend to speak with over there, who said; “I am looking at your notes. Can you tell me if you’re calling from your landline?” I hit the roof. “If you’re looking at your notes, you’ll see that I don’t have an effin’ landline. I haven’t had an effin’ landline for 3 effin' weeks... Put me through to your boss NOW!” I was so angry that the moment his boss came on the line (some 6 minutes of simmering-time later) I immediately demanded to speak to his boss. “He’s in a meeting” said the first boss. “Then drag him out (by his hair), or let me speak to someone in the UK who understands what’s going on here.” And then it started to pour out, like ectoplasm; “do not say another word to me until one of these two things is happening.” He started to say something; “not another word!” 5 minutes later I was talking to a lovely lady in Warrington. He’d put me through to completely the wrong office, but she seemed so genuinely horrified about what was happening to me, that she escalated the complaint herself, gave me her personal number, and sorted everything. I’m gonna name her, because she’s worth her weight in gold to Talk Talk. Cheryl Griffiths. She works in Retail and Support. She’s an effin’ angel.

I wish I could say the same for my computer, which I now realise has started to work again, having been completely unusable for most of the day. I have said, many times, whilst working on this project, that I’m just one computer crash away from an asylum. There was a moment of stress at about 4pm today, when I was trying to communicate to the phone engineer from BT, when I thought it was all over. I couldn’t speak. I simply couldn’t get words out. In my defence, I was not helped through the experience by the phone engineer repeatedly calling me David. Those who know me well will know that David is my actual christian name. Benjamin is my middle name, but no one's ever called me anything else... Unless I'm doing something official., that is. I'm David on bills, and on passports, and I was David in his notes... which was horrifically shortened to Dave, again and again and again. He was one of those people who likes to say a name repeatedly, like a form of polite tourettes. But my name isn't Dave. It's not even David. Another day like this and I’ll qualify for some kind of 100 meters dash at the Paralympics!

Pepys went to Trinity House 350 years ago and listened to some good music whilst discussing the difference between the navy fleet at the time and the fleet during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, which was as close to Pepys’ day as World War Two is to us. The defeat of the Armada was already a legend of magnificent proportions, however... As was the queen herself. Muchly deserved, I feel. What tickled Pepys’ fancy rather less, was having to hang out with the two Sir Williams, who he'd come to loathe. Special venom was reserved for the wife of Sir William Batten:

Lady Batten and her crew, at least half a score, come into the room, and I believe we shall pay size for it; but ‘tis very pleasant to see her in her hair under her hood, and how by little and little she would fain be a gallant; but, Lord! the company she keeps about her are like herself, that she may be known by them what she is.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Sad cat

There's a little cat in the next door neighbours' yard who wears a cone of  shame around his neck, and one of those little blouson jackets designed to stop him scratching himself. I've never seen an animal look more sorry for itself. I called to see if I could get him to come closer. I wanted a picture of his sad little face for this blog. I made the "puss, puss, puss" sound that all cats seem to respond to, and he eventually ambled over, albeit suspiciously. Unfortunately the gate to the yard was closed, and when he tried to stick his head through the bars to join me, the cone around his neck prevented him and he got stuck for a bit. I felt dreadful! 

I'm at The Slaughtered Lamb in Clerkenwell, watching Eric Pulido from Midlake doing a set with a number of special guest slots provided by mates of mine including John Grant, Fiona and her husband, Paul. Beautiful music, sublime singing, great musicianship... But the hottest venue I've ever been inside! As Nathan said; "I'm chafing just standing still."

I spent the entire day doing admin for the requiem release. Who'd have thought releasing an album was such a mine field? I've spent much of the day close to tears, taking one step forward and three back. I even had to buy a friggin' bar code today! There are licensing forms galore and I have strings of letters coming out of my ears. And all the time, I'm sitting in a cafe because we have no Internet at home. I wish I had someone with me who understood this crap, because there's a massive learning curve cropping up with every new email! Meanwhile I'm proofing the art work and trying to get final musical notes to PK before the album gets mastered... My shoulders hurt like hell. Is this stress? 

On September 3rd, 1662, Pepys noticed the days shortening for the first time. The 1660s were still an era when people's lives were dictated by sunlight hours. For much of the high summer, Pepys was up at 4am, which had dropped to 5am by this particular date. 

He went to an auction in the afternoon to watch old Navy stock being sold off. Auctions in those days were controlled by a candle; people would keep bidding until the flame went out by itself, and the person with the bid at that moment would be the winner. Pepys met a man who reckoned he could tell the moment that the flame was about to go out because it always flared up a bit. He must have been on to something because Pepys watched him winning bid after bid! 


This morning, during my jog around Highgate, I found myself, for a while, behind a bloke who was also running. He was holding something big and black, and as I crossed the road and looked back, I realised it was a cardboard coffin! I have no idea where he was heading, or why he was running. Rather disturbingly, he seemed to be making for Queen’s Woods! As I ran away, it occurred to me that we were on Cranley Gardens; once home to serial killer, Dennis Nilsen, who murdered 3 of his 15 victims in a house on the street. He apparently flushed as much as he could of their remains down the toilet and stored what wouldn’t flush in a wardrobe in his house. Astonishingly creepy.

I jogged into Queen’s Wood and was rather surprised to find a rather lengthy trail of piles of white sawdust leading from the main path to a very small clearing in the trees. Glinting in the dappled sunlight was a large carpet of white sawdust with a box resting on top. As I ran towards it, I thought I might be about to stumble upon some kind of freshly dug grave, and my heart leapt into my mouth having witnessed what I’d just seen on Cranley Gardens. What I found in the clearing, however, was slightly more surprising; a picnic basket, a blanket, cutlery and wine glasses set out for a romantic picnic... But no one around! It was like the Marie Celeste. I can only assume some very lucky young lady was about to be given the romantic afternoon of her life, and that I’d emerged just after the young man, who’d set things up, had vanished behind a tree, waiting for his beau to appear...

As I ran back to the house, I passed a young lad, who’d set up a little trestle table on Southwood Lane to sell his old books for £1 each. He looked sad yet hopeful, and the sight broke my heart. I dashed into the house, grabbed a quid, and handed it to him. “There”, I said... “that’s to celebrate your first step towards becoming an entrepreneur!” His face lit up. By this stage, another middle class Highgate-type had made her way to his stall, and I reckon the lad was quids in for another sale!

I went to Abney Park cemetery this afternoon to take a photograph of Katina, our alto soloist, for the Requiem album booklet. We had a riot taking photographs of her holding a little lacy handkerchief that had belonged to her Grannie (also called Katina.) She is such a funny girl; almost incapable of taking anything seriously, although she put the fear of God in me by telling me a list of things I needed to sort out for the recording of the requiem before I’d be able to release it in any format. Who’d’ve thought you needed to buy a bar code? I feel like such a hick from the sticks in this regard. I wish I had someone to take care of all of this on my behalf.

On the way to the cemetery I listened to radio reports about the Paralympics. I’m becoming increasingly fascinated by these games and the sheer number of different races that have to take place to ensure parity amongst competitors. There are, I think, 17 different 100 metre races, which, I’m told includes one for stupid people, or in less un-PC terms, people with lower levels of intelligence. I’m sure there’s an even more PC version of the phrase, but I prefer stupid. Now, here’s my issue: Surely, being stupid doesn’t mean you run any less quickly than someone of above average IQ? Frankly if you’re so dumb that the concept of running fast, in a forwards direction, and in a straight line eludes you, then you’re not fit to be on a running track? Are some people so stupid that they run backwards? Is this a genuine risk?  I think when mental disability enters the frame; you get into all sorts of grey areas, which ultimately lead to the question of whether these people actually want to be there or not!

On the way home, I listened to a report about the youth orchestra of Iraq; a group of young people who must surely be amongst the greatest ambassadors for music in the world. These kids are almost all self-taught. When the situation in Iraq became unstable, most of the music teachers fled the country. Most of the kids in the orchestra downloaded sheet music from the internet and watched music tutorials to teach them fingering for their chosen instrument. Western instruments, in Arabic countries, are regarded with suspicion, and one young girl was forced to disguise her ‘cello in a large box on her way to school every day. It warms me to the bone to think that music has the ability to live on, whatever silly regime or destructive religion tries to prevent it, and because of this, I believe now even more than ever, that if there is a God, he lives through music.

September 2nd, 1662, and Pepys had a rather perfunctory day, which involved a bit of office work, a bit of personal business (involving his brother’s recent betrothal) and an obligatory stint watching – and probably goading – the workmen who were building the extension on his house.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Captain Caveman

Not a great deal happened today. I went into town to meet Nathan and Jim for lunch. They ate burgers. I had something which involved a mushroom and a fair amount of garlic.

I spent the rest of the day doing admin; trying to come up with loads of ways of marketing the Requiem, and sorting out a final set of notes to give to PK before the Requiem goes off to be mastered and there's nothing else I can do to change it! I’m feeling the pressure, obviously. I’m about to hand my baby over for the rest of the world to rip apart... or worse still, ignore.

I went running for the first time in a while, and my body responded well. I’ve been looking like Captain Caveman for way too long. I think it knows that and wants to help.

I ate soup for tea.  I felt slightly disappointed as I looked at it sitting there in the bowl, though it was good to get some plain food inside me after a week and a half of stuffing food down my throat like my mate Philip whenever there’s a free buffet.

Did anyone see Richard Whitehead in the 200 meters Paralympics final today? He was nowhere in the race, and then, in the last 50 meters, looked like someone had put a motor onto his blades. The joy about watching these games is that people can end up winning by massive margins. Oscar Pistorius, for example, seemed to win the 200 meters by about 200 meters!

350 years ago, Pepys found himself at The Wardrobe, with a junior colleague, playing music by Matthew Locke. Pepys loved music, and this was the first he’d heard “in a great while.” Imagine that? These days we’re surrounded by music; it’s almost inescapable.

Pepys spent the evening with two workmen removing all of his goods from William Penn’s house and putting them into a tiny rented room to be “quit of any further obligation to him.” Pepys got into a tizzy in the evening after losing his keys, and receiving a letter from his wife in the country which said their “boy” Wayneman was playing a rogue. A troublesome lad; probably somewhere between 10 and 12 years old, Wayneman was shipped off to the Bahamas in late 1663. Pepys refused to step in and help, fearing that “to keep him in England would eventually take him to the gallows...”