Sunday, 30 June 2013


It's Nathan's birthday today, and the poor bloke was up with the lark in order to do a shift on the box office at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Perhaps more upsetting is that his job in said theatre ends today on account of the show ending its run earlier than expected. Becoming unemployed on your 39th birthday can't be much fun. Still, nothing can really beat what happened on my 30th birthday, when the first show I'd directed in my own right in the West End closed. I subsequently found out that the lead actress in the piece, who was a piece of work and turned up pissed to the first rehearsal, had encouraged the producer to have it pulled because she "didn't like the piece."  I'd arranged for all my friends to come and see it with me on the big day. I think we ended up in a Harvester on the A1 instead and I remember thinking that I was probably as likely to find another job as I had been at the age of 21 when I Ieft drama school. I vowed there and then to do everything in my power to stop such a calamitous event from happening on my 40th birthday. I never actually received payment for that job and the lead actress carved out a rather successful career for herself, proving that being a bitch in this industry often pays! 

I tidied the house a bit whilst listening to ABBA songs and then went for a jog in the baking heat. They were playing cricket in the pitch in the centre of Highgate Woods, a more charming location for a game of cricket it would be hard to find. 

I came into town to meet a bunch of friends at Amalfi on Old Compton Street, and immediately realised I was anything but well. Funny tummy, nausea, a spinning head and every smell in the street suddenly made me want to gag. I ate my food, doing my absolute best to seem perky, but I can categorically state that I've not felt this ill in a long, long time. Maybe it's my body finally saying "enough." I've had to leave every one in the restaurant and now I have to battle my way back home. 

I hate to think I've spoilt Nathan's day. I'm also worried about how I'm going to cope with the week ahead. Shit. I just vomited behind a dustbin. Awful how, when you're really ill, there's no privacy in this town! 

Saturday, 29 June 2013


Just when I thought I was on for the mother of all lie-ins, I was awoken by the bizarre sensation of someone pulling the duvet off me: first my shoulders were exposed, then my back, then my legs and then I was freezing cold and Nathan was laughing. I felt like I was being emptied out of a carrier bag! 

It seemed we were off to the seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare and within half an hour, I was sitting in the passenger seat of our car, feeling slightly confused and holding a weak tea which I'd hurriedly bought from a cafe in Muswell Hill. 

It turns out a trip to Weston-Super-Mare was actually just what the doctor ordered on what turned out to be an incredibly hot summer's day. First we went to see Nathan's father and step mother, Liz, who have recently returned from Spain and set up house in a village just north of the seaside town. 

We visited their new bungalow and sat in the garden playing with Barney, one of the most well-behaved dogs I've ever met. I suddenly had a burning desire to see the sea, so we jumped in cars and drove to Sandbay at the tip of the Severn Estuary, which it turns out is one of the windiest places in the country. 

We walked along the beach, buffeted and sand-blasted by a breeze which felt almost like a trade wind. We shared a cream tea in a little cafe run by two queens, where a dog was being wheeled around in a pram by a woman who was almost too fat to walk.

We left Sandbay and headed back to Weston-Super-Mare along the coastal road, which took us past the rather spooky Birnbeck Island. Linked to the mainland by a rickety pier, this three acre island was once a hotel and restaurant complex, but is now a derelict ghost town. The last people crossed the pier in the early 90s and the place is now crumbling into the sea. It's a terribly sad, almost eerie sight. I'm told the buildings, all of which are Victorian gothic masterpieces, are grade II listed, but that no one can work out what to do with them. If in doubt, let them go to rack and ruin! I think it would be a wonderful 1930s-inspired glamorous hotel.

We spent the afternoon and evening with the RAFTA crowd, in the honeysuckle-filled walled garden of Fran and Rob's stunning town house. There was a massive barbecue going and plates and plates of delicious food, salads, cheeses, and beautiful cakes, which we ate whilst the sun glared down on us. It was a hugely relaxing afternoon spent with a wonderful crowd. 

I particularly enjoyed chatting to Carrie's husband, Paul, whose wedding was actually the first proper date I went on with Nathan almost 11 years ago. It seems like yesterday. 

Friday, 28 June 2013


Every morning on my way to work, I buy myself a cup of tea from the little coffee stand at Highgate Station. It's my big treat. It only costs a quid, and the blokes who run the stall are the friendliest people in the borough. Tiny little routines like this become incredibly important for a man whose days are very rarely ever the same. 

I stand at the stall for a few moments, talking about the weather and watching the guys simultaneously juggling several different coffee orders. They play Classic FM, so every morning I'm treated to a little snippet of a popular classical music, which invarably takes me straight back to my childhood. I've written in the past about the impact of hearing The Swan, softly yearning out across the gushes of steam, but today's offering was a double whammy; two pieces of music I played in my teenage years. The ending of the slow movement from Borodin's string quartet followed by the Albinoni Adagio. Ah! Bliss!

I was instantly transported to the world of my sixth form; that heady mix of hormones, anxiety and unwavering optimism. In a flash, I saw it all. The car journeys to haunted woods, busking string trios with Fiona and Ted in Coventry Market, the early evening summer walks across recently harvested fields, the thick fogs rolling in from the fens, the crackle of open fires in the front room. Concerts in cold churches. My Grandmother cheering on the front row. 

Sometimes I mourn those simple, carefree times as I trundle across London typing on my iPhone whilst the woman next to me reads Charles Dickens on her Kindle. It's strange how just a few bars of music can trigger such reverie. 

Of course, emerging from the underground at Old Street immediately brought me crashing down to earth. The place was gridlocked on account of the unexpected rain we've had pretty solidly all day. Only yesterday, the BBC were running pieces about Glastonbury. Could this be a five-day festival where punters would be able to bask in uninterrupted sunshine? Apparently the answer to this question was an unequivocal yes. Cut to 24 hours later and torrential rain. I think we're better off either consulting psychics or frankly simply guessing the weather these days. It would seem the professionals haven't a clue. I mean, if I were that rubbish at my job I'd've long since been sacked for incompetence. Why do weathermen get to plead mitigating circumstances? I'd respect them more if they simply said; "um... About this week's weather... Bit embarrassing, really, but, excusing the pun, we haven't the foggiest..."

Still, rain or no rain, everyone should have a 15-minute walk as part of their journey into work. I've been loving the walk from the Old Street tube to Brick Lane over the past few days. The people watching, the graffiti spotting, the peering into buildings and wondering who works there...

Returning home on a Friday night is a somewhat edgier experience, however. Hoxton is a brutally heterosexual part of town at the weekends. The gays who work here clear off to Soho and Vauxhall, the bohemians head to Hackney and the pubs here become cattle markets for city slickers, Sloaney birds who are too cool to laugh, and men who look like parakeets. 

Skinny Bengali lads who spend their afternoons in boxing clubs, stalk the streets, wearing diamond ear-studs, looking for white girls to shag in that all-too-short period before they settle down with a village-girl virgin fresh off the plain from Sylhet. The  place vibrates with testosterone, sweaty, beskinny-jeaned crotches and styling moose. There are more pairs of geeky spectacles and full-sleeve tattoos in this corner of East London than anywhere in the world.

I find myself rushing to the relative gentility of my beloved Highgate. I'm going to buy myself a lovely halloumi kebab to congratulate myself for finishing a hugely gruelling week in the edit suite. 

Thursday, 27 June 2013


This morning I found myself reading about the extraordinary actions of Democratic Texan Senator, Wendy Davis, who took filibustering to a whole new level yesterday. For those who can't remember what filibustering means, it's a last-ditched process, where a politician, knowing that a bill can only be debated for a finite period in whatever house he or she belongs to, effectively wrecks the debate by talking and talking... Basically for as long as he or she can. This takes full advantage of the gentlemen's agreement which says it's poor form to interrupt a fellow politician mid-flow. 

In this instance, Senator Davis, who was a single mother at the age of 19, was trying to prevent an amendment to a bill which makes abortion in Texas illegal after 20 weeks. And she filibustered like a good-un; finally stepping down after delivering an 11-hour speech!

Quite why I should find this so moving, I'm not sure. I assume it's because this passionate woman single-handedly stood up against a male-dominated, right-wing group of Christian bigots... And won the battle. Such extraordinary bravery needs to be applauded. 

I went to King's Place this evening, that's the new(ish) concert venue on York Way. I didn't go for the music, of course. I very rarely attend classical concerts these days, having yawned my way through way too much Handel and Mozart and commissions by lucky 21-year old female music college graduates in my time whilst waiting for the good stuff. 

I went to the venue instead for a cup of tea with a charming writer called Di Sherlock. I was, however,  hugely impressed by the venue. When they've stopped fiddling with the area behind King's Cross, I'm sure it's going to end up quite an interesting little cultural quarter; that is, of course, if they can keep the rents low enough to enable people to enjoy the facilities in a place which is, let's face it, never going to be the South Bank! 

Di has recently written a pierce about the First World War, based on a soldier from Salford, so we had a great deal to discuss and, I think, a lot of things in common. I think I've finally reached a time in my life where the concept of collaboration is exciting, so I'm keeping an eye open for kindred spirits. 

The rest of the day has been spent in the edit suite and I'm very much enjoying being in Shoreditch again. When you get away from the silly hair and the stupidly skinny jeans of Old Street and Hoxton, things start to feel very laid back. There are little cafes opening up all over the place and the graffiti art daubed on every empty wall is becoming a tourist industry in its own right. I saw a group of school children on Rivington Street yesterday who were plainly on a special tour. An older, rather respectable looking chap, had them all gathered around a particularly bold work underneath a railway bridge and was telling them about the artist who'd painted it. 

We have beigels for lunch every day. I always have two coated with poppy seeds and filled with cucumber and cream cheese. I avoid the temptation of the jam doughnuts - the best in London - only 40p each, big and fat, and filled with jam which oozes out on the first bite and drips down your chin. Perhaps I'll treat myself to one tomorrow to celebrate the end of the week. Frankly, anything to wake myself up a bit. Over-tiredness, and long hours staring at a monitor are making me a bit light-headed and dizzy. Bring on Saturday when I can have a lie-in. 

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Locked out

Last night Nathan went to see our mate Alison, and some born again Texan dude, singing at the O2. I'm told it was a evening blessed with a few too many Christian worship songs, and much weeping and gnashing of teeth by the mainly black audience, but that the vocals being showcased were virtuosic. It would seem that Jesus has a penchant for soul-singing because I hear there was even a finger-waggling soul version of Nessun Dorma. 

Anyway, half way through the night, I got a bit bored and lonely and decided to break up the monotonous television I was watching with a trip to the corner shop for some penny chews... My tragic treat in the midst of this heavy-duty diet.

Imagine my joy, therefore, when I slammed the front door shut and realised immediately that I'd left my keys on the kitchen table! Even more horrifically, I was wearing pyjama bottoms and didn't have a coat or a pair of socks. 

Fortunately, the evening was not cold and I had my wallet, and a fully-charged phone with me, so I sat on the top step, like a tragic child waiting for Mummy to come home, eating Jaffa cakes (no space for dieting in times of crises) and trying to think of  things to occupy my mind. After my parents had kindly kept me talking on the phone for 45 minutes, I settled down to some serious internetting. I trawled through Facebook, googled myself obsessively and called Nathan at five minute intervals to see if the Christians had stopped screeching. It was gone midnight by the time he got home. The most tragic thing? I could hear the telly on, behind the closed door, blaring out programmes I'm sure I would have enjoyed!

Still, when I got back into the flat I was rewarded with an email which included all the mastered versions of the Four Colours, which sound rather beautiful. A great relief.

It took me a while to get to sleep. Silly  thoughts kept darting around my head, and as a result, when I woke up this morning I felt dizzy with exhaustion. It was like someone had thrown a vat of grit in my eye. I noticed that Julie Clare had sent a tweet saying she was similarly exhausted and that she'd woken up with "double bags." When I responded to say I was also struggling, she suggested a secret "busy-off" to see who was going to claim the crown of exhaustion. I suggested the competition would undoubtedly be hijacked by a new Mum because, let's face it, a mother will always try to suggest that she's written the book on tiredness. It's all relative. 

After a day of editing, I find myself on a train heading to Epsom where Nathan is doing a concert with the West Enders. Whenever I end up on a train heading into deepest Surrey, I wonder if people will regard me as the alien I'm constantly made to feel like. I'm surrounded by toffee-nosed posh people. One particularly obnoxious Indian woman, dripping in designer clothing, decided she wanted to sit next to me, removed the newspaper on the chair, and held it out in front of me, without acknowledging my presence, like it was a dirty pair of pants which belonged to me. I ignored her for several long seconds, and then spoke: "You can hold that there for as long as you like, my love. It's not mine and I'm not going to take it off you." It was plain that, because I was wearing a T-shirt, she felt as though I should be treated like staff. She spent the rest of the journey sighing loudly before she silenced herself with a deeply undignified burp!

There exists in me the capacity to be the most extraordinary inverted snob and the ability to find great delight in someone who thinks they're a cut above the rest being brought down to earth! 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


I rehearsed the Fleet singers again last night and we had a lot of fun. Songs About the Weather, the oratorio I wrote for the choir, was written and orchestrated in less than two months, which is undoubtedly my fastest outpouring of creativity. It's the first time in my life that the ideas have come more quickly than I could write them down. I was genuinely orchestrating at the speed of thought! 

As a direct result of this, the piece ought to be a little bit patchy in in places, yet every time the choir rehearse a new section of the piece, I feel a sense of immense pride in the piece. It's good music, and I get a strong sense that the choir have taken genuine ownership of it. I was hugely touched yesterday when a choir member ambled over to tell me that one particular sequence always filled her with absolute joy; "whenever I'm feeling a bit gloomy" she said,  "I sing it to the heavens, and it always cheers me up." And that, right there, in its purest form, is the reason why being a composer is worth the days of gloom. 

I've been at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green all day, starting the process of editing Tales of the White City. Under normal circumstances I'd have had a couple of days to do what's known as a "paper edit", where I look through all the rushes, shot by shot, and decide which ones I want to use. This process speeds up expensive time spent in an edit suite. On this project, we've gone for a slightly protracted edit period, which means we're going through the rushes in the order that we shot them, selecting the takes we want to use and putting them into a giant thirty-minute timeline. It's a painstaking and somewhat bewildering process. We have over 1000 individual shots to sift through and have so far only managed to deal with about 120 of them. I suspect it's a process which will speed up, but we really need to have selected every shot by the end of this week if we're to be on target to finish by the end of next.

I spoke to someone earlier who asked how I had the patience to spend so long working in such detail on the same piece of art. It felt like a strange question because I've genuinely always considered myself to be quite the opposite of patient, hard-grafting, yes, but I suppose anyone who sits down in front of a blank manuscript knowing he's going to be drawing 10,000 little dots all over it, could be defined as patient; optimistic at the very least! 

Editing is far less monotonous in any case, as every shot is entirely different. I find myself regularly transported into the world I was shooting, which isn't necessarily a good thing. There's a curious phenomenon that directors suffer from in the edit where they begin to feel, all over again, every emotion they were experiencing as the individual sequences were being filmed; the panics, the frustrations, the laughter, the relief. It's particularly odd, because we instinctively know that everything went okay in the end, which is why we moved on and shot something else, but there's always that fear that we might have missed something; a little glance towards the camera, or a small child in the background sticking a finger up his nose. 

Speaking of which, in one of the sequences with the school children, the camera seems to keep resting on a little girl with the biggest lump of bogey between her nose and mouth that I've ever seen! For some time I was trying to work out if it was actually a pea! It's genuinely quite remarkable that a child would be able to generate something quite so grotesque; so hideous, in fact, that a grown man would actually gag every time he saw it, prompting the question: is it better to be in a film looking stomach-churningly grim or not be seen at all? What would she prefer? What would her mother prefer?! What if it's some kind of skin tag which she's completely okay with?

To cut or not to cut? 

And for those who like a mystery, why don't you take a look at this story;

It seems that Manchester Museum has an Egyptian statue, an offering to the god Osiris, which is spinning around in its display case of its own accord, by all accounts by 360 degrees over the course of about a week. It's been caught on camera an everything. So what's going on? Gosh, I don't care. Scientists seem to  think it's being caused by vibrations but I think life is enriched hugely by unexplained phenomena; demystify at your peril!  

Monday, 24 June 2013


I am, quite frankly, astonished and appalled to read that teacher, Jeremy Forrest, has been jailed for five and a half years for "abducting" a fifteen year old girl (now 16) and eloping with her to France. I read today that the girl, still besotted with Forrest,  is planning to stay by him, visit him in jail, and furthermore that the girl's father would be "proud" to welcome him into their family and thanks the teacher for looking after their little girl. In a world where someone can go to jail for less time for actually killing someone, I'm left wondering quite how bad a crime this actually was and whether we shouldn't focus on chasing actual criminals. Yes, Forrest was a teacher and therefore had responsibilities which he should have taken far more seriously. Yes, the girl was marginally underage and by eloping to France, they worried many people and wasted police time, but when the age of consent varies so wildly from country to country from 12 to 21, do we really want to waste our time sending people to jail whose crimes fit into that "grey" area where there's actually no victim. A rapist would go to jail for less time. 

I'm afraid I refuse to view Forrest as a paedophile or a child abductor. A silly man? Yes. A weirdo? Perhaps. An unfit teacher who should be banned from teaching forever? Probably. A criminal? No. This is surely an example of a judge allowing himself to be pulled into the witch hunt which is destroying men's careers on an almost daily basis. Let's get things in perspective. 

Drastically changing the subject, my dear friend Sam sent an hysterical curio through to me today. It seems that, in the 1980s, Northampton County Council commissioned a song, which they, no doubt, hoped would do for the town what Lorraine Chase had done for Luton Airport. 

Sadly, the only concept the writers could come up with was that if aliens, fleeing a broken world, were forced to crash land on earth, they'd probably chose to land in Northampton. Why? Well, because of its "energy" of course. I am not joking! As a man who regularly turns towns into tunes, I'm telling you that this one needs to be heard. So drop everything. Get yourself a cup of tea and listen to this...

Sunday, 23 June 2013


Nathan and I have come to see Llio this evening to do a rough demo of our new song which we're planning to send to a producer. It's a sort of demo of a demo to whet his appetite, but we instantly fell into the rabbit hole of technology, trying to plug various microphones into various computers, with none of them seeming to want to talk to one another. Nathan and Lli did all the problem-solving, whilst Lli's Mum, Silvia and I sat on the sofa looking concerned whilst feeling utterly useless. I felt like I always feel when a car breaks down and I'm in the passenger seat. I wanted to help, I honestly did, but I know absolutely nothing about technology so just stood there worrying, like a little old Nana wondering if there was anyone I could call for help! 

Still, we got everything done, and Lli sung like the goddess she is. The next thing we have to hope for is that the producer likes what we've done and can hear beyond the nasty synth orchestra sounds and the fact that we ended up having to record the entire song on the in-built microphone at the back of the computer we were working on! 

We've decided to stay at Lli's to watch her on S4C in a Welsh language drama called Tair Chwaer which she filmed many years ago, but is being repeated on the telly this evening. Whilst Nathan tarts up what we've recorded, I might go out to get some pop corn so the four of us can batten down the hatches and enjoy the show on what's turned into a nasty, windy, summer's night! 

Ball breakingly expensive

I have been with Julie Clare all day today. We went to the knitting shop in Crouch End where we met Tina and looked at yarn, needles, buttons and all sorts of craft-related trinkets and bits and bobs. 

We went shopping at Budgens opposite the old town hall. It's a bewildering supermarket. Everything it stocks seems to be in the wrong place. All the fruit and vegetables are laid out in fancy baskets and nothing looks like an ordinary shop. It's also ball-breakingly expensive. I spent £50 on a single bag of shopping, which shocked me profoundly. Yes, there was some Hagen Dazs ice cream in there, and a couple of packets of Parmesan, but still...

I don't know when Budgens went all "high end." It was our local big supermarket in Rushden when I was growing up and I don't ever remember it being fancy or prohibitively expensive. If anything, quite the opposite. Kids used to hang out in the  car park with their bags of chips, boom boxes and stolen cars, before spending the evening joy-riding the country lanes out towards Cambridgeshire. 

We came home and made home-made pesto whilst watching the final of The Voice with Abbie. For the record, the blind girl should never have won, and it was really weird how the 2nd and 3rd placed contestants were whisked away without being congratulated for doing so well. We all know the person who comes second in a reality show is likely to have the most interesting career! 

There was a brilliant "show and tell" towards the end of our evening when Nathan revealed an assortment of recently-knitted creations, Julie played us all a film she'd been editing, Tina gave us a fashion show demonstrating dresses she'd bought to show off her new slimline figure and we played everyone our new song. Sadly, in the process, we realised that we'd written something with far too great a range. After the girls had gone, Nathan and I tried to work out how best to remedy this situation. It very speedily became incredibly stressful with both of us coming up with solutions which the other one hated, and we ended up having a terrible argument as a result. I suspect the stress of the last few months is finally beginning to work its way to the surface and I worry I'm not dealing with it quite as well as I might. 

So, a rather lovely day has gone slightly sour, all because of a silly song. I guess Nathan and I are rather aware of how good the song is and simply want to get it right, which is why we're both getting so sodding passionate about things! Ah! The creative temperament.  

It's raining. I can see it thundering down under the lamp post outside. The BBC weather suggests it ought to be dry. I know this because Tina asked just before we left. I assume she was wondering if she could leave some washing out on the line over night. I am astonished at how awful the BBC's weather forecasting is. Our shoot was seriously compromised by their inability, not just to forecast the weather, but seemingly to work out what was going on outside at the very moment they published their reports!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Role models

That's that then! 5 days of shooting for Tales from the White City in the can. I'm travelling home on the tube, having dropped Michelle off at Oxford Circus, and I reckon I'm gonna sleep for the next 24 hours, if not forever! 

Our crew has worked so so hard and I'm proud of each of them. Things got really tricky at one stage today. I went low blood sugar and turned into an absolute gorgon, at one point yelling at Michelle when she used the phrase "my bad", "never say that to me again. That phrase isn't even English!" She's got my number, however, and responded with brutal sarcasm, "yes, sir." Funny how some people instinctively know how to deal with a bloke like me. I huff and puff and stamp my little feet, but then it's gone and I feel ashamed! 

The most stressful moment today was when we realised we didn't have a final shot for Danny's sequence. I'd not been able to prepare anything because we had no idea which locations we were shooting in until we woke up this morning and I'd sort of backed us into a rather shiny cul-de-sac where everything we'd done had been such high quality that there was sort of nowhere to go other than epic. 

There was a big argument. I had a little tantrum, everyone looked at their shoes, and after much health and safety chatter from producer Penny, we decided to go for another shot, filmed from the boot of a car, in one of the peculiar little winding lanes which snake their way towards the gypsy encampment under the West Way. It was irresistible, really. A lorry load of hay was being dropped off at the concrete horse paddock down there and the scene was reminiscent of something from the early 1970s. 

Danny had been somewhat slow on his cues all day and we'd had about 8 false starts. I was literally tearing my hair out, but then, as if by magic, everything slotted into place... And there it was... Five seconds, ten seconds, twenty seconds into the shot, and still no mistake, still no slip-up on words, no small child waving in the background, no car beeping its horn and refusing to get out of the way. And as we pulled around the corner, leaving Danny, mournful and wistfully looking into the middle distance, I realised we'd got our final shot, and no one had died in the process. 

The end of the day was like a glorious Egyptian dream. Mostafa had made his cafe look absolutely beautiful with flags and flowers everywhere, and fish and bamya grilling on a barbecue. Hundreds of people were inside playing backgammon and smoking sheesha and to cap it all, he'd practised and practised his lines so that he could do them anywhere we placed him. We were given delicious food; for me an Egyptian vegetarian speciality called cousherie and a massive vat of hot chocolate, and everyone made us so unbelievably welcome. 

I would be surprised if the material we shot there isn't amongst the most colourful and exciting in the film. 

We ended the night in a pool of tranquility with the building's resident Imam praying quietly on a Persian rug whilst the hurly-burly mayhem of the cafe continued in the background. I was particularly moved to hear that he was expressing his prayer through gentle song. It felt so appropriate after everything we'd being doing and he'd danced and clapped and supported us from the side lines all night. He's such a warm and kind-hearted young man. When asked if he would provide us with a piece of advice for the younger generation, he said, very simply, "Islam is peace and not war..."   
Now there's a role model. 

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Beetles and sunsets

Today started very early indeed with a rehearsal at old Frank's house in lieu of the one I missed on Tuesday. The poor bloke hadn't heard himself singing his own song on account of his CD player being so old that it had point-blank refused to play anything that had been burned on iTunes. He nevertheless picked up things fairly speedily and by the time I'd left his house, he seemed to be fairly on top of things. 

Our filming proper started an hour later at Queen's Park Rangers. The grass had been removed and the pitch was covered in a thick layer of sand, which was being bulldozed by all sorts of bright yellow trucks. Maybe this is what happens when you get relegated! The place looked like some kind of rodeo! 

QPR have some wonderful community initiatives and we were filming members of their "extra time" club for the elderly doing Callanetics in the stands. 

There was a considerable ruckus at one point, generated by an enormous stag beetle, almost two inches long, which was making its way along one of the rows of chairs. I have only ever seen such a big insect dead and in a frame! I can't imagine how it got there. 

The circus moved from QPR to various schools in the neighbourhood where we were interviewing head teachers and one or two children with special needs. 

Before lunch, we filmed Frank, with his girlfriend of 40 years, Mona, at her house on Loftus Road. The shoot was tough, both emotionally and physically, but we got there in the end so hot and sweaty that we could have rung ourselves out as we left Mona's house. 

But there's no rest for the wicked, and before long we were filming a second sequence with Frank, this time at his local pub on the Uxbridge Road. It was another hot and sweaty affair, which saw Frank having to repeat certain takes up to 40 times. I feel so awful when I'm forced to crack a whip so hard, but there's no point in delivering rubbish for the sake of an easy ride.

From Frank's pub we went to Norma's house, whose sequence involves baking a cake. More heat. More takes. At one point, I told Norma to take out the frustration she was plainly feeling with me, on her mixing bowl, and she literally threw the poor thing down on the top of the cooker! She'll be thrilled, though, when she sees the film... And will definitely sleep well tonight! 

We left Norma's house, about two hours later than we should have done,  stepped onto her balcony and found the most beautiful sunset glowing in the Western sky. The clouds looked like jewel-covered tiaras hovering above the buildings. 

Wednesday, 19 June 2013


I have been writing a song called Thunder all day. I thought it was about time I did something for myself and it's ages since I've written a song which stands on its own two feet and doesn't need to be listened to in the context of something else. Obviously my eye is on Eurovision, but until the BBC changes its policy on selecting songs, I'll have to think about which other Eurovision countries might accept a song by a Brit. I've recently met a record producer who says he's always on the look out for decent pop songs, so you never know do you? I think Thunder is a fairly catchy title, don't you? 

The process of orchestrating the song, so that it feels like a big old bluesy Bond film, has basically occupied me from 10am this morning to 11pm. Part of me thinks I should have done some more prep for tomorrow's White City shoot, but the other part thinks it will make me a lot less stressed if I deal with problems tomorrow as they come rather than worrying about them before they happen.

It's very therapeutic to write a song in 24 hours and I should do it more often. I started it yesterday evening, and when Nathan came home, we worked on it together. I woke up this morning to find that Nathan had written a complete set of lyrics for it, which was very exiting. They're good lyrics as well! He's such a clever man! 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Stress head

This morning, I’m afraid, I was meant to have an off-camera rehearsal with one of our contributors from the White City film. Sadly, I didn’t sleep at all last night. I spent the entire night panicking about the filming. We’re not the most brilliantly organised team and an email I sent last night, with a list of things I felt we needed to achieve before the second round of filming commenced, was met with a kind of “I’ll try my hardest to do what I can, but I’m not a conjurer,” which meant I then spent the night trying to work out what we’d need to do in a broad range of situations. Sometimes I get the impression that everything I request is either met with a “we can’t achieve this on the budget we have” or the impression that people are doing me a favour by doing anything I ask for. I kept waking up with adrenaline bolts surging through my body, all of which came at the moment I dropped off to sleep. It’s the second night this has happened, and it’s terrifying.

Confronted with the thought that (at the last minute) no one was able to accompany me to the rehearsal this afternoon, I’m afraid, for the first time in my life, I bailed out. The idea of having to deal with all of Frank’s concerns and explain to him the practicalities and timings of the shoot was just too much for a man who hadn’t slept a wink. Frankly, it wouldn’t have been fair on Frank. He deserves only encouragement for the amazing work he’s done on this film.

So I took myself across London to Philippa’s house and spent the afternoon playing in the park with Deia and Silver, and a group of about 10 4 ½-year olds who seemed to want to use me as a climbing frame. It’s funny how trusting children are. The moment Deia jumped on my back to ride me like a donkey, all her friends appeared and hopped on as well. You could see rather concerned mothers, who hadn’t been introduced to me, either feeling embarrassed that their children were potentially bothering a man they didn’t know, or more likely terrified that a 38 year-old stranger was playing with their children. I hope it was the former. I would be very sad if what I was doing had aroused suspicion. That’s the world we live in, however.

Still, spending an afternoon playing on the swings, and creating magical structures out of glittery beads, was exactly the tonic I was looking for. Life as seen through the eyes of a little girl is a much more relaxing and simplistic place. Deia worries if the cat makes a mess of the craft work she’s doing, or if another little girl won’t share a biscuit with her. It is hugely refreshing to realise that a problem is just a problem. What is a disaster for Deia is but a drop in the ocean for me and actually the crippling stress which I’m experiencing on White City is nothing compared to the pain my friend Sally went through when she lost her husband to cancer. Sally’s problems are nothing when we consider what going on in Syria, and so it goes on. But it’s all relative to what we know. I guess, if I put my logical hat on, I’m lucky that all I have to be stressed about is a film musical, but on the flip side, because I’ve never suffered the loss of a close relative or friend, it’s the most stressed I can imagine anyone ever being. If I were to lose a loved one, I’d be stressed about that, and all my other worries would probably somehow fade away. Perhaps. I have no idea, really. I suppose it’s all about how we manage stress to make sure that, instead of preparing ourselves for every possible doom-laden eventuality, we do what we can, when we can, and greet problems as and when they arise... because in all honesty, we have no idea what lies around the corner. Much more important is that we try not to let our own stress effect those we love, and seeing a mother like Philippa selflessly pushing her own problems aside to keep her child as free as possible from sadness and worry is a deeply humbling thing.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Day off

I've just finished a rehearsal with the lovely Fleet Singers in Gospel Oak, who are, once again, singing my oratorio, "Songs About the Weather." For anyone interested, the concert is on July 20th.

One of the choir members, a glorious lady from Nuneaton called Beverley, actually remembers my father from when they were both young. She describes him as a "handsome, tall, curly-haired young man." Today she brought in a newspaper clipping, from the 1940s, from the local paper that my Grandfather edited, reporting the wedding of her parents. "The bride" we're told, "wore a leaf-brown suit with nigger accessories." Wow! I sincerely hope that my grandfather himself was not responsible for that choice phrase! 

I had a day off today, which was just wonderful. I slept in, pottered about the house and then took myself to Finchley and Muswell Hill to do various errands. 

I went into central London to meet Nathan for a late lunch at Stock Pot, before braving Oxford Street where I went clothes shopping. Yes, you heard me. I actually spent money on clothes. A linen suit, a pair of trousers and a couple of T-shirts. There comes a time in every man's life where he can no longer live in bohemian rags, and I'm ashamed to say that I'm actually down to one pair of trousers these days which don't have holes in them. 

Going shopping when you're larger than you'd like to be is disheartening. I used to be an absolute off-the-peg suit man. 34s waist, 42 chest. Everything fitted me like a glove. Now I'm bigger all over, but when I put clothes on, particularly those with the modern slim-line fit, I just resemble a giant barrel-chested caveman! Because I'm now losing weight, there's very little point in trying to buy nice things because in a month they'll all be falling off me and everyone will think I have cancer! You see, this is precisely why I don't buy clothes for myself! 

3/5ths there

...And so ends two hugely intense and exhausting days of filming Tales of the White City. There have been tantrums and arguments, terrible faux pas, rainstorms and random encounters, but we're slowly getting there...

It is hugely surreal. At one moment yesterday, I was filming 8 Zumba dancers dancing on a balcony with an Indo-Caribbean 76-year old lunatic, whilst people on higher walkways waved down at us and banged rugs in time to the calypso music.

When I thought things couldn't get any more bizarre, scores of planes, which had, we discovered, featured in the Queen's birthday celebrations, suddenly flew over, very low in the sky, in increasingly intricate formations. It was rather unnerving. A woman on the balcony opposite was laughing manically and rubbing her hands together. Because, for a time, we hadn't got a clue what was going on, she appeared like some kind of doom-monger. The woman who laughs as the world collapses!

The weather has thrown almost everything at us, which has led to some astonishing shots; the combination of sun and rain being one of the most beautiful sights in nature. 

Today was the turn of our vicar, Bob, who was astonishingly unnerving in a quite brilliant way, and poet, Imhotep, who delivered his epic poem in ever-higher locations which culminated on the roof of BBC television centre. 

The only disappointing part of the day was our big dance sequence, which we'd offered up as an opportunity for anyone on the estate to have a free dance lesson and be part of the film. Sadly, probably because of the weather, only 8 people turned up. Still, those who came, danced with conviction. Well, mostly! I don't think one little girl knew who she was or why she was there! 

It was such a treat to finish the day on the roof of the BBC building as the sun set and the lights of London started to twinkle. We will almost certainly be the last people to film from the roof of that particular building within the complex; it has been condemned, and will be knocked down very shortly. 

I can't write anything else. My eyes are closing and my feet hurt. Night, night...

Saturday, 15 June 2013


With bleary, itchy-eyes, on the tube to White City this morning, I sat opposite a weasely young man with a beard, dark glasses and a beeny hat. He had two prominent badges on his grungy coat lapel: one had the symbol for anarchy on it, the other was a yellow badge with a smile; the "secret" code for Aciiiid in the very early 90s. His head lolled about to the rhythm of the tube and after a while, my blood started to boil.

Quite why he annoyed me so much, I've no idea. He was plainly off his face on something, which is neither here nor there, although too much cannabis will invariably lead to some form of psychosis, which will, very rapidly, effect those around you. Maybe I simply find the whole concept of anarchy a little bit tedious. Maybe it's because I know this man will also bore his friends to death with endless conspiracy theories about why we're all f***ed in this world, whilst simultaneously making no effort to work out what he could do to help the struggling planet. I'm sure, when he's not too far gone, he also plays the guitar. Badly. 

I suppose I feel we all need to take a bit of responsibility in life and it's all too easy to get stoned, find philosophical arguments for full-scale anarchy, and allow life to simply pass us by. I've talked before about the cul-de-sac of atheism. An atheist doesn't have the option of thinking he's in the departure lounge for the real thing. He believes firmly that this is it and strives to make this life count. My heaven is my legacy; what I leave behind to enrich the lives of the next set of people who are lucky enough to live on this beautiful planet. 

Looking at people on the tube - young people in relative good health, who seem intent on drifting their way through life - makes me cross... Particularly when they try to justify this with too-cool-for-school half-baked philosophy. 

And the moral of this post? Burn your anarchy flags and keep a lid on the pot!

Friday, 14 June 2013

First day of filming

I feel like I've been run over by 1200 little tiny feet! Tales from the White City officially features 600 school children. 600! Count them! And we filmed them all today. 

What I found genuinely uplifting and touching was that all of them had bothered to learn my song. They knew it off by heart, every last one, and they sang it with an unparalleled sense of joy. I confess to being more than a little proud... And grateful. 

I was also rather grateful to the weather for staying at least dry, although sometimes bright sunlight can be fairly disastrous when filming because it makes everything irritatingly contrasty. We were forced to rush through a shot today at the height of the afternoon sunshine and I'm really concerned that the person we were filming might look a little like a panda; her face half in shade and half in sunlight. 

Everyone worked really hard. We have a really good team on this shoot. Cameraman Vic (who shot my first ever film) and I are the only blokes, and we have a bevy of wonderful women doing everything else. We flew a little by the seats of our pants at Shepherd's Bush Market, however. Stall holders, as I've discovered to my cost on way too many occasions in the past, can be money-grabbing, shirty, arse holes. The place was almost empty, and yet a number of them wanted to complain that our filming outside their pitches was ruining their trade, forgetting, of course, that filming generates crowds, and if your stall's any good at all, said crowds will take a peak afterwards. That said, the place was empty, so we're talking relative crowds; two homeless people and a woman with Tourette's.

There was an edgy atmosphere, specifically because we were shooting a sequence about female genital mutilation (don't tell me a musical film can't be politically hard-hitting!) One of the areas of the market where we were trying to film is frequented by Somalians, and our presence, filming two Muslim women, caused quite a stir. Fortunately neither of the women was speaking (it's all done in voice over) but when one of them touched her belly to indicate the pain caused by FGM, a group of women ran up to one of my producers and said "why is she holding her belly? Is she pregnant? Is she ill?" It is, in my view, this mutual suspicion which causes most of the race-related issues in this country. I felt deeply privileged to be filming two strong, independent Muslim women whose choice it is to wear the hijab.

We travelled from Shepherd's Bush Market to Charring Cross Hospital; more specifically the sexual health clinic at said hospital. This is where one of the women we were filming does a lot of her work, encouraging members of the Somalian community, who have gone through the hell of FGM, to get help. 

I suggested she put some of the leaflets about FGM up on a notice board, and we looked around the clinic for a few. We looked and looked. Nothing. Eventually we found a doctor and asked why there weren't any on display; "it frightens people," he said, and I thought, "so does syphilis, but there are leaflets everywhere for that." FGM genuinely is one of those things that we in the West are happy to look down on in principle, but very uncomfortable to either discuss in detail, or 100% condemn. Meanwhile up to 600 British children a year are sent off to African countries to be butchered in the name of religion. This must stop. 

Whilst we were filming in a quiet corner of the hospital, a mental health patient started to stalk us. He stood and stared. Firstly at the young Muslim girl we were filming and then at me. It was hugely unnerving, because he didn't say anything, he just stared. He followed us around the hospital, staring. We, of course, were too polite/ scared to tell him to sling his hook, but I found myself desperately trying to avoid turning my back on him. The alpha male in me was very much present however, because I did find myself hyper-aware of the fact that I was responsible for a group of women. I've never felt that protective over a bunch of people before. 

We got most of the shots we needed... Just... I think we might be slightly pushed for shots in some areas of the sequences we were shooting, but I felt quite relieved as I drove home along the North Circular, listening to a satirical show hosted by Punt and Dennis. 

I was amused by the contrast between that, and the show that followed. The announcer's spiel of introduction said it all really;

"Now on radio 4; Emma's flowers are floppy on The Archers..."

Floppy flowers, eh? Painful! Does anyone actually listen to The Archers, or is it just 20 minutes on Radio 4 designed for people to snooze or eat through? 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Short not sweet

I apologise. This blog needs to be short tonight. It's 11pm and I'm still ankle deep in preparations for tomorrow's shoot. I've a list of ten things to get through before bed time. I've been solidly at this since 10am.

Nathan has come back from work and is helping me. If we're super lucky, we'll be done by the wee smalls! Otherwise, no sleep for Benjy! 

Still, it's worth it. The shoot will go so much more smoothly if I'm on top of my game. Which I might not be if I'm knackered. Quandary! 

My tummy aches and I have a sore throat.  Not the time to come down with something!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013


There's very little to say about today, really. It's been a horrible, rainy, windy day and I've been holed-up in the sitting room, planning shots for the White City project. I would dearly love longer to get my head around things, and in many cases there's little I can plan because we've no idea whether we're allowed to film in the locations we've requested. 

Some people, specifically the people who own the ground underneath the West Way, are trying to fleece us out of wild sums of money. They seem to want to charge us for the locations on top of a generic "filming fee" which is an hourly rate. If they don't recognise the low budget nature of our film, we'll simply not be able to film there. If we do end up paying their extortionate filming fee, I shall make sure whichever "official" person who comes to the shoot with the intent of holding a clip board and looking bored in a corner somewhere, is given a little task; cable-basing or dolly-gripping. That sort of thing. It's all hands on deck on my shoots, and if this person is costing us £87 per hour, they're surely a film expert with all sorts of knowledge, right?

I should say that Queen's Park Rangers FC are allowing us to film in their grounds free of charge... So by no means is everyone being unreasonable. 

I think there's a tendency for some people to hear the word BBC and go "kerching!" It's a very distasteful response, particularly if your organisation also receives public funding.

That said, the BBC is rather well known for its ability to fleece itself. Different branches of the BBC happily charge each other huge sums of money for services rendered. On more than one occasion, I've been forced to bring a freelance cameraman or editor onto a BBC project because I can't afford an in-house one! This often works in my favour; the in-house editors in particular are highly unionised and clock off with absolute precision, so one tends to get more work and, more crucially, better grace from people who haven't spent a life-time whinging, getting bored, and doing just enough work to get by. 

That said, my two favourite camera men in the world, both called Keith as it happens, are BBC staff.

It's 9pm and I'm breaking the monotony of the day by coming to Sainsburys in Muswell Hill. I'm finding the harsh halogen lights in here rather disturbing however, so might find myself making a run for it. A supermarket is no place to blog. I keep tripping over. 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Egypt house

I had a rather narrow escape at Highgate this morning. An almost never-ending snake of children was being briefed on what to expect from their tube journey into central London up in the ticket hall. "Don't worry," said the LU staff member, "the tube will not depart until everyone is on board and I raise my hand at the driver..." The children were over-excited, there were hundreds of them, and I imagined the near hell of sitting on the tube as 300 screaming terrors bundled themselves into my carriage. I literally ran down the escalators onto the platform. There was no way on earth I was going to get involved in that crap!

We've had another day of "off-camera" rehearsals on the White City Estate today with Michelle and various people who'll be featuring in our film. 

We started with Danny, who was bleary-eyed and barely awake, before moving on to Mostafa in his Egyptian cafe, which was undoubtedly the highlight of the day. He seemed to love the music, and was incredibly proud of the way he'd performed on the recording. We blocked out a fairly intricate set of moves which will take viewers on a tour of his bizarre and wondrous cafe. He is so infectiously young at heart. He says he left Egypt as a young man and has never grown up as a result! 

From Egypt House we went to John's house. John talked about black magic, people planting pumpkins in his feet and various dreams he'd had about the dark arts. It was quite some conversation, which culminated in him doing a full-scale healing on me to sort out the shoulder pain which seemed to come on as I entered his flat! It did the trick. Don't knock the dark arts, particularly when they are practised by a Indo-Trinidadian! 

The evening ended in something of a mix-up, with Penny and I looking at locations in the wrong blinkin' hospital! It was undoubtedly a bit of a bummer, but at least we got the opportunity to catch up and talk through the filming days in as much detail as possible. It's vital to be on the same page with all these things. 

I was thrilled to read in the Standard tonight that a six-year study in America has revealed that the mortality rate amongst vegetarians is 12% lower than it is in omnivores and that veggies are a whopping 30% less likely to develop heart disease. It could be that my 7 year-old self made at least one good decision! Come to think of it, the same 7 year-old also decided it would be a good idea to learn the 'cello! Wise lad, that young Benjamin Till!

I'm currently listening to the final mixes of Four Colours. I have much fresher ears and can reveal Blue, at least, to be one of my best ever compositions! Jodie Prenger, the Rebel Chorus and all musicians sound extraordinary. What a relief! 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Off-camera rehearsals

My day started unravelling almost as soon as I'd woken up this morning. I believe there's some kind of phenomenon in the early part of any day which means the last quarter of an hour in every hour merely evaporates. Take this morning, for example. I gave myself an hour to get to Shepherd's Bush. I needed to be there at 9.45, was ready at 8.40, so thought I'd send a quick email before I left. Next time I looked at the clock it was 9.09 and I swear only ten minutes had past...

My continuing tube journey was less than enhanced by the decision I made to sit next to a toddler who promptly shat herself. A silent, warm, fruity smell drifted up from my left hand side, and everyone in the vicinity looked at their shoes.

I read that author Iain Banks has died. I've never read one of his books, but I was rather touched to read that, upon being given the news that he had but months to live, he got down on one knee and proposed to his wife asking if she'd "be his widow." There's something profoundly romantic about that, I think.

At the moment, to save crippling pains in my shoulders, I'm walking around with a wheelie suitcase instead of a bag. I feel a little like a camp trolly dolly, but it's improved the shoulder situation no end. The unfortunate part is that one of my computers now only works with a slave keyboard, which is so large it doesn't fit into the suitcase itself. It therefore gets stuffed into a side pocket where it peaks out in a "come and get me" sort of way. Unfortunately, because most people are genuinely nice (obviously excluding the tedious people who stole Nathan's phone yesterday) I'm regularly stopped by people who take one look at the slave keyboard and think a kindle or something is about to fall out of my bag. Cars beep their horns. People come rushing over, shouting things. It's very sweet, but blinking annoying!

I spent the day with the other Michelle on the White City Estate, doing "off-camera" rehearsals for our film. I've never done these sort of rehearsals on a film like this before, but I suspect it will save us a lot of time because it gives people a chance to practice lip-synching to their songs and standing and moving in the locations where we'll eventually be filming them.

Today was the turn of brave vicar Bob, our incredible poet, Imhotep and the beautiful Norma. If Bob can get his head around every subtle nuance of his highly complicated song, I think we might have something rather extraordinary on our hands. He defines the phrase "gung ho" and seems to be willing to try almost anything. Michelle and I dashed out to Westfield during lunch to get him a pair of knee pads... That's all I'm willing to divulge at this stage!

At about 3pm today, probably as many people on the estate were out and about picking up their kids from school, Michelle and I stood for a few moments and watched local residents, in the bright sunshine, making their way up and down a street. I have seldom seen a more diverse set of people; from Rastafarians to white-haired Poles and women in hijabs to men in turbans... All were waving at each other as they passed by. It was both striking and touching. I'm glad I noticed it with enough time to take a mental photograph. 

Sunday, 9 June 2013


What a surreal day I've had today! Heaven knows how we've managed this particular feather in our collective cap, but we've been given permission to film views of the White City Estate from the roof of one of the condemned buildings in BBC's erstwhile Television Centre. 

This afternoon I went up there to check you could actually see the sights we needed to film and I have to say the view is perfect! You can see for miles and miles: East as far as the city and beyond and West all the way out of London. The White City estate looked like a series of doll's houses and the tube trains snaking through the buildings were like Tonka toys.

I felt extremely privileged to be there. A lone security man with a slight fear of heights took me up, and as we ambled through the building, we saw scores of closed offices, all once buzzing with the daily grind of C-Beebies, or so I'm told. The building is now entirely vacant. It felt like a ghost town. 

As we walked out, the security guard, whom I liked enormously, gave me a mini-tour of the deserted TVC site. We wondered through the dock door area, peering through windows and opening whichever doors took our fancy. It felt wrong to be the only two people in a place which had once vibrated with such extraordinary energy. I have yet to find someone who thinks the BBC's decision to sell  TVC was anything other than a travesty. My impromptu tour became both heartbreaking and nostalgic.

Everything had been left just as it was. We stumbled upon a room where the Blue Peter sets were still up. The totalizer was falling apart; some of the Perspex numbers had been taken away, no doubt when the building was looted by revellers towards the end of its existence. The flats were covered in dust. It was all so peculiar. 

I asked the security guard if the Blue Peter garden still existed. A cheeky grin flashed across his face and he said "follow me..."

...And suddenly I was standing in an iconic childhood location. They're still mowing the lawns but everything else is sort of crumbling. The pond is now bricks. The infamous Italian Sunken Garden is now just a few broken paving slabs. The place is confusingly tiny, but I suspect it always was. They obviously used every inch of space when filming.

On my way back to the car, I walked past the astro-turf football pitches on South Africa Road. Two young Somalian lads were standing side-by-side with their backs to the entrance. Initially I assumed they were peeing and was about to go all middle class and appalled on them until I realised they were actually praying. Their heads were bowed. They were facing the East. They knelt and then stood up again in unison. It was like an intricate dance. 

It was a curios sight, but part of me was hugely impressed. You don't expect to see teenaged lads praying and part of me thinks that if they're this dedicated to the cause, they're more likely to work harder at school and less likely to find themselves getting involved in gang culture. But then again, any form of religion powerful enough to have a hold over two kids playing football, needs to be examined very carefully so that it isn't at loggerheads with people who opt for different or less religious lifestyles. Do these lads respect women and gay men? Do they respect the arts? Is it terrible of me to even ask this question? We have a lot to learn about one another. 

This evening we went to the Southbank to Giraffe to celebrate Ian's birthday. I had key lime pie for the first time. I always knew I'd love it!


I've been drinking tea and eating cake pretty solidly all day. Looks like I might need to fast all day tomorrow to keep the weight loss going in the right direction! 

Still, it's my day off, I've been working really hard, I've been with friends, and when confronted by  a beautiful banana loaf, it's rude to turn one's nose up!

The day started in a greasy spoon with the lovely Michelle, who stopped off in Highgate for a cup of tea and a gossip on her way to her singing lesson with Jem up the road.

We went to the greasy spoon for breakfast. Poached eggs. Lovely. 

Nathan's sister, Sam, arrived just after we'd started rushing around the house, trying to tidy up because we were so embarrassed at the mess it was in when we woke up. There were heaps of clothes in every corner and massive piles of crockery waiting to be washed up. It looked like an episode from a documentary about hoarders. Mortifying. 

We whisked Sam off to Julie and other Sam's house in Catford where craft and cake was being held, and sat in the garden whilst the sun baked our foreheads and hundreds of bees and butterflies buzzed and fluttered around the flowers. I adore bees, but the most exciting sight of the day was almost certainly the Peacock butterfly which seemed to be having a lovely time on the raspberry bush. Peacock butterflies were a fairly regular sight during my childhood but I haven't seen one for years. I felt rather privileged.

When the heat had evaporated from the day, we went upstairs and watched the final of Britain's Got Talent. I was thrilled to see the act from Hungary winning; another finger in the eye to dreadful xenophobic campaigns run by trashy newspapers about Britain (and Britain's Got Talent) belonging to the British. Highlight of the evening, however, was undoubtedly the arrival of a violinist from the onstage "orchestra" throwing eggs at Simon Cowell whilst laughing like a loon. No doubt some kind of protest against the quality of music in these talent shows. I know quite a lot of those string players and they get treated pretty badly by big labels and these large talent shows. I've heard stories of viola players being taken out of ensembles cus "their violins look too big" or because they're not pretty enough and heard shocking tales of players going unpaid because concerts have gone bust and record labels haven't honoured payments.

We've just seen a trailer for the film about Liberace starring Michael Douglas. It looks particularly entertaining and I'm told Douglas is astonishing. I just asked my friend Tina, who's sitting next to me, if she'd like to come to see it with me. "I don't really do cinemas," she said, "they make me fall asleep." I started laughing. "No" she said, "it's terrible. I'm not lying when I say I saw Groundhog Day five times!" I laughed like a drain. 

Friday, 7 June 2013

Finished (sorta)

I woke up this morning to discover that the Archway Road had been closed. Someone had jumped from the infamous "Suicide Bridge" and one assumes the emergency services were attempting to deal with the gruesome clean-up. Archway Bridge, which crosses the A1 at a great height, used to be renowned for attracting jumpers. If the fall onto asphalt didn't kill you, one of the cars speeding up the road below would usually oblige. It become such a hot spot for suicides that the council were forced to raise the walls and then build a metal fence above it, tipped with angry-looking wrought iron barbed spikes to deter those who might get drunk and find themselves doing something they'd have regretted in the morning in the unlikely event that they'd survived the drop.

These days, only the strongest and most determined are able to scale the fence and throw themselves off, which means the death toll has dropped significantly. Inevitably someone periodically drops through the net.

I looked at my twitter feed, which was filled with concerned North Londoners describing the road as like a scene from 28 Weeks Later and wondering how they were going to get their children to exams, or get themselves into work. 

It strikes me what a deeply selfish act suicide is; not just for those who love you, but for the strangers whose lives are wrecked by discovering your body blue and pasty and hanging from a tree, or twisted and mangled on a tube track. It's so often an act designed to punish those who are left behind and I have very little sympathy for those who take the coward's way out. 

Yes, yes, you're all going to besiege me with comments about mental health, and those young lads in the US who kill themselves because they can't deal with the pain of being bullied. There will always be exceptions which prove the rule, but by in large I'll always find myself reserving my sympathy for those left behind, and those battling illnesses who are desperate to stay alive. 

On that cheery note, I can announce that today saw me finishing the mix on the White City film. It will be mastered on Monday, and that will be that for the sonic side of things. It's strange to say that I don't feel a particular sense of relief. I guess the whole experience has been so exhausting and so much of a roller-coaster ride, that I don't have the energy to feel a sense of anything. Relief would come if I could guarantee what I've delivered was any good and at the moment I have no objectivity left to make this claim seem genuine! I think a day off tomorrow will do me the world of good. And then the circus begins all over again with the filming and editing! 

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Bleeding ears

Another day of mixing in the studio, and I've officially lost all sense of what we're doing, why we're doing it, whether it's any good, and more crucially who I am! It's par for the course at this stage in any album mix: the ears get tired, and all objectivity flies out of the window. I start to listen to a track, but find myself simply hearing the noise of a perpetual yawn, peppered with the terrifying screams generated by one's ear honing in on the tiniest mistake, which becomes an epic sonic disaster. "Cut the strings", I shout, "cut all synths", "cut the guitar..." At this stage, of course, I realise that everything's been cut, and that we have to start the process afresh. 

Of course I'll soon fall in love with the music again, no doubt when I hear everything mastered, or when my ears have stopped bleeding and vibrating to the endless mush of the suspensions flying through my compositions! I remember this stage on the requiem all too well. At one point I wouldn't have cared if I never heard another bar of my own music again.

The problem with being a writer is that we spend our lives striving for perfection, but perfection always eludes us. There's always one note more out of tune than the rest, one note which is played too fast, another which is too loud... A song's energy dips in the middle; its melody doesn't reach the most sonically rewarding place and so it goes on. We strive. We fail.

My biggest worry is my tendency to over-score. Every time I record something I realise I've not quite taken into account the inconsistencies and eccentricities of real musicians and players, and as a result, haven't quite left the space for my melodies to breathe. I perpetually try to limit my orchestrations - reduce and reduce - but I find there's still always a little too much going on! I tell myself it will be different with the next project, but something always crops up; the BBC doesn't want dark music, they want joyodfanfares, the choir won't be able to sustain such long chords, you have one week to write 30 minutes' music and are therefore simply throwing anything at the manuscript that will stick...

I can, however, well see why genius artists like Picasso had their "periods", why some extraordinarily talented creatives are always too scared to finish their magnum opus and why the most wonderful of all rip up the rule book before starting each new work. Note to self; be braver! Scale and ambition sometimes play second fiddle to profound simplicity. 

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


The health and fitness regime is now two days old and I already find myself feeling a little better. I have run (or rather hauled myself) around Highgate Woods both today and yesterday, and zero high calorie food is passing my lips. I'm such a fat banger. Everything's a massive effort and when I'm waddling around the woods, it seems like I'm running at half speed. It struck me today, however, that I'm carrying at least two stones more than normal, and wondered how the old slim me would have coped with going jogging armed with about 8 bags of sugar. A tiny part of me therefore feels proud for even getting out of bed! Looking on the bright side.

I've been in meetings at the MU all day. I'm a member of the writers' committee and was trying to encourage everyone to be more proactive about the rights of composers. It's a complicated issue. It's relatively easy to protect performing musicians with various rules and guidelines regarding what they're paid and for what sort of work. With composers it's very different. There are no set rates. Some composers do their own orchestrations as part of their fee whilst others are expected to pay musicians out of their salary. A few will even pay musicians out of their own pocket simply because they can't bring themselves to put their names to music which sounds like it's been played by computers. We looked at the results of a recent survey of film composers and their wages and discovered that they vary wildly from people being paid £2.33 for a writing a minute's music right up to £20,000 and more. How much do composers earn? How long is a piece of string?

Amongst other things we discussed the lack of women on the committee (we have three in total, none of whom were there today); which begs a pair of age-old questions. 1) Are women that fussed about joining committees? And 2) Do that many women work as composers and writers?

I posed the last question and was immediately shot down in a sea of politically correct flames. I maintain it's a valid question. The only female composer I know is Fiona, and she's on the committee too! 

Actually, there are countless female singer songwriters out there, aren't there? Why aren't they joining us? Surely there's nothing particularly macho about being on a committee? We certainly don't actively dissuade women from joining. Now I'm confused. It's too late.

I'd personally argue that there was also a distinct dearth of gay people on the committee, judging by the fact that I seem to be the only one who has an opinion on matters Musical Theatre! That said, when I cheekily ventured this particular opinion, an older bloke pursed his lips and said "ooh there are..."