Saturday, 31 August 2013

A fleeting glimpse

It's the last day of August and I can sense the summer beginning to pack her belongings and start her journey to the Southern hemesphere. 

We're in Warwickshire, the greenest, leafiest county in the UK and the one with the reddest soil. Our friend Ruth got married today, in a stately home in a village somewhere near Stratford Upon Avon. She looked stunningly beautiful, utterly radiant, and chose the prefect day for the occasion. The sun shone constantly, casting the long dark shadows that only emerge as summer ends. 

Today was the day that most Warwickshire farmers had obviously chosen to bring in the harvest. The roads were covered in little straws of corn, and as the purple dusk descended, the fields, as far as the eye could see, were shrouded in dusty clouds, as the harvesters and tractors went about their important business.

This is the ground in which my ancestors lie and we spent the day visiting familial graves, the first of which belongs to my Auntie Gill. Those who know me well will know that I'm never without a little silver elephant, who hangs on a length of leather from my neck. We call him Little Great Alne, and he's a replica of a wooden elephant which my Auntie Gill pressed into my mother, her sister's hand when she died. 

Sadly the original wooden elephant broke in half. My mother was utterly devastated, but someone in her village suggested the broken halves could be glued back together and used to create a silver mould. So Gill's wooden elephant gave birth to a series of silver babies which my brothers and my mother all cherish. I use mine as a good luck talisman, and if I'm feeling particularly spiritual, a sort of energy diviner for things I'm happy to not fully understand. Periodically, one, or more of the elephants finds its way back to Gill's grave to be "charged", and mine sat quite happily on the top of the gravestone for a good half an hour whilst we ate our sandwiches on a nearby bench. 

From Wilmcote we went to Stoneleigh to see my Grannie and Grampa lying in the idyllic churchyard there. After tending the grave - I always forget flowers - we took ourselves up onto the steep hill above the village. It was a walk we regularly did as children. We'd go past the bluebell wood and then snake along the top of the hill where the village houses looked like matchbox toys. You can see for miles up there. I'm always half tempted to throw a coin with all my might to see if I can get it to drop down someone's chimney! Peeking above the trees on the other side of the valley are the tower blocks and black spires of Coventry. I was surprised they were visible. I'm sure I don't remember seeing them from there as a child. Coventry was always such a mystical place. The place my Grandfather watched burning down. The place where a new world rose from the ashes. The place I still feel so desperately proud to have in my blood.

I looked down into my Grandmother's old garden, and just for a second, one glorious second, I thought I caught a fleeting glimpse of purple. I wondered if, in some world or other, she was waving at me. A moment later, I could have sworn there was a little lad with curly hair, and a brown jumper standing next to her, jumping joyfully and holding a plastic margarine tub, about to pick the blackberries at the end of the garden. I blinked, the figures disappeared, and my heart cracked.

It's been a day of ghosts. The ghosts that only come out at the smokey end of summer. The ones who herald the start of the new academic year when, for one day, everyone is the same age, and everyone has their slate wiped clean. The ghosts who take you by the hand and say "I'll watch over you until the spring arrives." The ghosts you never stop to thank. 

Friday, 30 August 2013

Tall waves

We've been in East Sussex all day, surrounded by wonderful people. The first port of call was Lewes, via the horrific traffic on the North Circular Road. It took us an hour to drive ten miles and by the time we'd hit the M40, we were ready to throw in the towel. 

The problem with going to the south coast is that you have to negotiate London first. Do you travel due South, taking the shortest route by distance, but having to drive through central London? Do you go East and risk getting stranded on the Blackwall tunnel approach? Or do you travel West and suffer the horrors of Hangar Lane and the M25. We went West. And regretted it.

It took three hours to get to Lewes, but we arrived and were immediately fed by Hilary; a glorious selection of breads and cheeses. 

We went to Tide Mills in the afternoon, that hugely atmospheric spot along the coast from Newhaven,  which is now an abandoned village crumbling into salty marshland. I think I'm right in saying that it was pretty much deserted by the Second World War and pulled down to prevent it from becoming a potential hiding place for invading Germans! I'm told it was also the home of a hospital for people suffering from tuberculosis, which makes it all the more creepy in my view. I'd love to go there on a misty day in autumn. 

Raily, Nathan, Iain and Mez swam in the sea. It was surprisingly warm, but the waves were enormous and poor little Wils had the fright of his life being rolled around in the surf in one particularly bad trio of waves. I sat with him on the headland throwing pebbles at an old tin can, drinking a bottle of raspberry lemonade. I imagined sitting with him in 40 years time when I'm an old codger, sharing an old-fashioned bottle of pop whilst his own kids get buffeted by the waves. 

We went back to Hilary and Rupert's for tea before heading West to Hove to call in on Fiona. We had a beautiful, bracing walk along the seafront to the pier, which looked like a pencil thin neon advertising hoarding stretching out into the dark, dark sea.

As we walked along, I stopped to make a recording of the sound of ropes slapping in the wind against the masts of a group of dry moored yachts. I've seldom heard a stranger noise. It was a minimalist musical episode. Cracks, clangs, claps and chimes playing in counter-point against the constant drone of the sea. I sat and listened, utterly transfixed, for ten minutes. 

We went along the pier, just as it was closing down, and felt like the last people to arrive at a party. Various hen parties were staggering about in tall, uncomfortable-looking shoes. Frankly, if you can't walk in heels, ladies, you shouldn't try! There's nothing less attractive than a woman staggering down a street with hunched shoulders and lolloping ape-like arms. It doesn't matter how pretty or expensive the dress is; if you can't walk properly, you'll look cheap! 

11th anniversary

It's our 11th anniversary. 11 years! We both forgot, of course, and only remembered on our way to Oxford, where we were watching the RAFTA production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Fire Station. The production was superb and the cast did me proud. My songs sounded wonderful. So much life. So much energy. The costumes and set were remarkable, and some of the acting was impeccable. Philip Goudal, Caroline Artus and Stephen Artus shone in a cast of very talented performers. Bravo to them all. 

After the show, we went back to one of the cast houses for a bit of a party - fancy dress, no less - where someone set fire to a pair of Converse shoes in the garden. As you do. It's apparently something of a tradition. It's an epic, beautiful sight, not dissimilar from some kind of Viking ritual, but the stench of burning rubber and cheesy inner sole can catch the back of your throat and make you choke! We were soon forced to retire into the house.

I fulfilled another life time ambition today by going punting on the Isis. Abbie and Ian were in Oxford today and we met up with them at Magdalen College for an hour of messing about on the river. 

Punting in Oxford is a decidedly weird experience. It's all a bit low rent, in all honesty. The river is shallow, the boats are rickety, they give you a piece of scaffolding for a pole and you're expected to stand inside the boat. Obviously I was having none of that, and stood on the platform at the other end like a true Cambridger looking down my nose at everyone else! 

I was very surprised at how few people there were on the water and fairly disorientated by the practicalities of punting in a completely alien environment. I know every meander, tree and meadow on the Cam and Granta, and sometimes the Isis felt really quite similar, but then you find yourself drifting along the side of a limestone wall, or a rugby pitch, or an ornate glasshouse, and wonder what on earth's going on. 

I was horrified to find people on pedalos bouncing their way down the river and a low-rent souvenir shop at the end of our journey filled with ghastly trinkets which screamed "I love London!" This would never happen in my beloved Cambridge! People of Oxford. Get some self-respect! And charge less for parking whilst you're at it! We paid £20 today! 

After punting, Nathan took us on a nostalgic tour of "his" Oxford, which was a Pandora's Box of childhood memories. We visited the pet shop where he bought his first rat and the jail where his father worked and lived. Oxford Prison is now a Malmaison Hotel. The old cells have been knocked through to create glamorous bedrooms and it all looks rather impressive. The cell block itself - which is still lined with the Porridge-style metal walkways - had a dark, curiously disturbing atmosphere. An all-pervading sense of sadness and violence echoed through the atrium and made me feel very uncomfortable. I'm sure many men must have committed suicide in that place. 

We climbed up to the top of the castle mound, once part of the prison grounds, which Nathan and his sister used to climb up as children. From the summit, we looked down at the winding streets of Oxford and out to the lime green hills which rise in the south. Nathan and Abbie knitted and got stung by red ants. 

It's been a great way to celebrate such a special day. I'm told an 11th anniversary is traditionally steel. Maybe I'll buy Nathan a toaster, or a First World War shell canister! The moon actually looks like a sliver of steel. It's been keeping a watchful eye on us throughout our journey home which has been very welcome as it's late and we're both very tired. 

Thursday, 29 August 2013


I read with interest today about the artist, Graham Hurd-Wood, who is painting a portrait of every resident in the city of St David's in Wales. The city is, in fairness, the smallest in the UK, with just over 1600 residents, but I think the idea is simply wonderful. Right up my street. He thinks the project will take him ten years if he manages a portrait every couple of days. Good luck, Graham!

I switched on the radio today to discover that the situation in Syria has worsened and that, yet again, without anyone in the UK actually wanting it, we seem to be on the eve of war. I'm not entirely sure why successive British Prime Ministers seem to want to flex their non-existent muscles in this manner. Do we really think we're that important on the world stage? Is waging war on a defenceless Muslim country all we have left to show everyone what the Brits used to be? We do so expecting no retaliation and label those who try to fight back as terrorists. Frankly, if we declare war on Syria, we only have ourselves to blame if they drop poison gas on us. 

The whole business of ignoring the wishes of the UN also makes me feel incredibly uneasy. If we are genuinely intent on ignoring all the suggestions made by China and Russia, then I worry that we're opening up a far more frightening potential diplomatic crisis. 

As Dianne Abbot said today, "we've seen this movie already. We know how it ends." And we do. Another 7/7...

Speaking of war, on my way to Penny's to finish off editing our 4 Colours films, I stopped off at the Tesco on Morning Lane in Hackney. What a mess that place is. There were far too few staff on duty and those that were seemed to be working at a snail's pace, chatting away, periodically drifting from their stations and causing even larger queues. It was one of those situations that immediately made me panic. I stood for a while in the queue for the self-service tills, but realised there were 73 people in front of me. 

The guy two along made a break for it and I followed him to the cigarette counter, which only had a queue of 12 people. Two women were behind the counter. One was gassing away to a mate, and the other one looked a little spaced-out, but I decided it was worth a punt. 

The space cadet immediately walked away from her till. I stopped her as she walked past me, "are you coming back?" "Yes" "it's just there's a huge queue" "I know..."

So I waited patiently in line, and she reemerged just as I got to the front of the queue after a ten minute wait. She took one look at my basket. "Only three items allowed" she said, whilst pointing at a sign over the head of her colleague which had been printed out hastily on paper and sellotaped over the cigarettes. Meanwhile it became immediately apparent that the other woman, the one underneath the sign, was serving someone who was definitely paying for more than three items. She was telling the customer that she oughtn't to, but would make a concession just this once...

"Thing is" I said to the space cadet serving me, "I've waited ten minutes in this queue, the sign isn't on this counter, and your colleague is serving someone with more than three items."

The space cadet shrugged

"Can I talk to your manager?" I said.

The space cadet told me I was being very rude and that she didn't respond to people who shouted. 

"I don't expect you to respond. I know you've made your mind up, so let me speak to the manager." She pulled a face and made a phone call and mumbled something."Wait there" I waited a while. She served someone else. I thought how odd it was that so many people could only need three items. "Did he say how long he'd be?"
I asked.  "No"

So I waited. Ten minutes. In the meantime the woman cleared off again. The phone started ringing, so I answered.

"Who is this!?" asked the man on the end of the phone, "I'm the customer waiting to see the manager," I said. "Why are you answering the phone?" "Because there's no one at the desk, and if you don't come soon I'm going to make a tannoy announcement on the microphone which has been left unsupervised and switched on!" "I'm in a meeting" said the duty manager, and hung up.

I looked at the tannoy microphone for some time, thinking that there's nothing worse than an empty threat. I picked it up, pressed the button and made an announcement to the store; 

"More staff needed in the Tesco store, more staff needed in the Tesco store, thank you." 

The announcement triggered much mirth and a round of applause from bemused customers in the queues.

At this point a security guy bumbled over and threw my basket on the floor, telling me I was no longer allowed to wait where I was. I asked why and he said something incredibly bizarre: "Would you answer someone else's phone at home?" he said. "I'm not sure why I'd need to," I said, "but if it was ringing and no-one else picked it up, I think it would be polite."

He told me to leave the store. I asked for his name. He was hiding his badge in his pocket. I took my phone out to make a note of his name. He said;

"If you take my photo I'll smash your phone." 

I pressed play on my recorder and asked him to repeat the threat. He did so. I handed him my basket, told him I'd run out of time, thanked him profusely for threatening me on tape, and left the store. 

Tesco have not heard the end of this!  

Wednesday, 28 August 2013


I've just finished an epic day of work, which started at 9am with a trip to the newspaper library in Colindale. I was horrified to discover, on arrival, that the place - a stunning example of 30s brutalist architecture - is being closed down and replaced by a "purpose built" facility in Boston Spa, Yorkshire. Yawn. 

So now if you come down to London to visit the British Library and they don't have the publication you're looking for, instead of popping up the Northern Line to North London, you have to schlep up the East Coast Mainline at great expense. There's a similar situation going on with the BBC at the moment. Everyone's really anti-London at the moment. It's desperately boring. 

I spent the day looking through copies of the Yorkshire Evening Post, from 1914-1916, trying to get myself into the mentality of someone in that era. The newspapers themselves are enormous. A2-sized, but only four pages long, with tiny, tiny fonts which made my eyes go funny. 

The level of propaganda they pumped out in those times is astonishing. The Battle of the Somme was reported as a great success and the "killed in action" column was stopped for two weeks; no doubt because readers would have been horrified by the enormous spike in numbers. 

I found a hugely moving letter written to the paper's editor by a soldier from York, hoping that people would send spare musical instruments to his battalion. He had got together with group of soldier friends and they wanted to set up a "string band." They were appealing for violins and mandolins because they felt so desperately deprived of music. The only noise he said he currently heard was the "screaming of shells." I think the fact that he was appealing for stringed instruments touched me very deeply. I instantly put myself in his position and felt rather helpless. I wonder if any instruments were sent to him, and if he survived the war...

I went from Colindale to Hackney to Penny's house to edit together a little video to go alongside our EP, Four Colours which will be released next month. We did some filming of the choir and our soloist, Jodie Prenger, in the studio when they were recording, and it all looks very lovely. It's left me exhausted, however. I'm definitely not very well right now, and haven't been for a little while - since I finished work on the White City film. Come on, Till, pull yourself together! 

Monday, 26 August 2013


I’m a little depressed today. It’s a sunny Bank Holiday Monday and I feel as though I should be doing something nice, but Nathan is away doing a gig in Cheshire and I am not feeling hugely well. Instead of doing something interesting, I’m sitting in the front room reading books about the First World War, watching terrible TV programmes from the US about ghost hunting and feeling a little sorry for myself.

In a few minutes I’m going to go and sit in a wood or something, so I can at least say I’ve done something with my day. The lure of the sofa is great, however, and part of me just wants to curl up in a little ball and wake up a more productive individual tomorrow!

I’m appalled to see that the veteran newsreader, Martyn Lewis, has filmed a series of adverts for Calgon (dish washing powders and the like) where he “pretends” to be an anchorman interviewing a series of “experts” about problems like lime scale. Of course, the adverts all end with the expert suggesting that Calgon is the only solution to the issue in question. It’s utterly transparent and really quite 1980s in its lack of humour. Frankly, I can only hope that Lewis is earning huge sums of money, because his reputation is surely in tatters? In my view, no one in a position of responsibility - even one who is retired - should be doing these sorts of things. I believe it’s tantamount to a former Health Minister appearing in an advert to talk about expensive pharmaceuticals. Leave all that crap to Carol Vorderman. Everyone expects her to be in adverts and can take whatever she says with a pinch of salt.


I made myself a mug of tea and carried it eccentrically through the streets to Highgate Wood, where I sat in the big clearing in the middle and enviously watched a large group of people playing a game of rounders. The sun was casting extraordinarily long shadows, so much that, for some time, I couldn’t work out what was obscuring my book, until I realised it was the shadow of my tea mug which was sitting about a metre away!

At this time of year the leaves on the trees seem to get darker and darker. Some of the trees were almost black against the skyline. I wonder when the leaves will begin to turn this year. Surely after such a spectacular summer we ought to expect a fairly spectacular drop?

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Battening down

Ah! The Great British Bake Off is back, and we've just watched it on iPlayer. What a wonderful show it is. With the coming of X Factor and Strictly, television is now sorted for the rest of the year. It's as though the world has started battening down the hatches for winter. We'll sit around a television watching the final of X Factor in the week before Christmas and someone will remark how strange it is to think that the first episode of the series was broadcast in the height of summer. We'll think back to this time of year, feeling nostalgic, talking about the blackberries we've frozen so that our crumbles can be filled with the taste of September!

We've just come back from Abbie and Ian's house just off the Cally Road. Nathan and Abbie knitted, whilst Ian and I looked at a photo of his Great Grandfather on the wall, resplendent in a First World War soldier's uniform. I wonder what that friendly-looking fella experienced in the gruelling years after the photograph was taken, and if he returned home a different man.

Abbie and Ian live in the estate just off Copenhagen Street, which is right next to the massive district behind King's Cross which is being developed to within an inch of its life. It's a part of London which used to be filled with grimy Victorian warehouses and rusty old gas cylinders. It was my first ever view of London. We used to come into St Pancras Station from Bedford and the sight of the gas cylinders would tell us we were almost there. That part of town always seemed so murky and dingy to an eight year-old child. One of many terrifying reasons why I thought I'd never want to live in London! 

The trip to Abbie and Ian's also reminded me of a time just after the general election in 1997, when Meriel and I were house hunting. We had a limited budget, but had found a two-bedroom flat for the right price just up from where we were today. We were very excited, as we walked up from King's Cross, at the thought of living in Zone One, but were incredibly disheartened to discover that the flat was in a horrible concrete building. To make matters worse, the flat had a live-in landlord, a Greek-Cypriot who had covered all the walls in ghastly wall paper, strange golden ornaments and icons, and light-up pictures of the Virgin Mary weeping! The floor carpets were swirly and the curtains were distinctly leafy. I could have vomited a more homely vibe. 

The land lord was bearded, fat, very odd and obviously incredibly religious in a Greek Orthodox sort of way. Meriel at the time was very Buddhist and I was very gay, so we ran as fast as we could in the opposite direction, incredibly despondent at the thought that we may not be able to find anything decent for the money we could spare. Curious, unsettling days.  I've just read my diary from the time, but it all seems to be about the Labour Party Conference which I was attending and seemed to be much more interested in writing about than the mere trials and tribulations of looking for a place to live in!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Kitchen hell

We've been cleaning the kitchen all day today. Literally. All day. 10 hours of polishing, washing, scrubbing, re-potting, de-greasing, and hoovering. We've hated every minute.

To celebrate a job well done, we decided to bake a cake, or more specifically, a cake and a little tray of biscuits. Unfortunately, there was an issue with the baking tin, so our beautiful biscuits are now covered with a layer of chocolate cake which has dripped down on them from above. 

I'm hoping the combination of cake and biscuit will be an amazing taste sensation, but I'm not holding my breath. I think we're probably looking at a major cake-astrophe!

To make matters a little more exciting, we returned to the sitting room to find an enormous amount of water pouring through the ceiling. It's been raining all day, and I think the roof has given up the ghost. I wouldn't be surprised if the whole lot caved in in the night. So that's soggy cake, biscuits and roof! A triple whammy! Don't you just hate English summers! 

Friday, 23 August 2013

22 22

It's 22.22. I like this fact. 22.22 was always the time when Nathan emerged from Spamalot and called to  say he was on his way home...

Today's list of things to do was over-ambitious and I haven't managed to get through it. Boo! I must learn to be more realistic. Two of the things I thought I'd be able to achieve involved deep-cleaning the kitchen (I'm hugely partial to an Autumn clean) and reading 200 pages of a book about the war. I managed the 200 pages, but only cleaned a third of the kitchen. By the end of the month the house will be sparkling. I find it almost impossible to sit down and write properly when distractions like messy houses are floating around. 

There's a woman on the telly at lunchtimes who shows dowdy ladies how to look more pretty. She talks about things being bang "on trend" - a phrase I loathe - but she also has a nasty habit of talking about clothes in the singular form. Yesterday she put a man in a "trouser" and a woman in a "jean" and today, horror of horrors, she talked about how lovely a young girl looked in a black "tight." I nearly threw my spaghetti on toast at the telly! 

It's all suspiciously American and goes hand in hand with British people suddenly calling each other "dude" and using that ghastly phrase "you smashed it!" Smashed what? A precious vase? 

Does my hatred of these new-fangled über-trendy words make me an old man? I've already been told on several occasions that I'm the grumpiest old git on twitter. 

Well, the slippers aren't out just yet. Even though I've stopped listening to Radio 1, I still hate Radio 4 drama, poetry readings, Countdown and sensible shoes. 

I read a great deal more moving First World War testimony today and sat tutting and sighing throughout like my old Nana used to do when she watched the news. What hadn't really occurred to me was how difficult soldiers found it to process the information that the Armistice had finally happened. Whilst London and Paris cheered, soldiers on the front wept. Some immediately went to the graves of those who'd fallen along the way, others simply hid away and wept bitter tears at the pointlessness of everything. 

The most extraordinary account I read today of what happened at 11am on November 11th, 1918, was this:

"Nearby there was a German machine-gun unit giving our troops a lot of trouble. They kept firing until practically 11 o'clock. At precisely 11 o'clock an officer stepped out of their position, stood up, lifted his helmet and bowed to the British troops. He then fell in all his men in the front of the trench and marched them off. I always thought that this was a wonderful display of confidence in British chivalry, because the temptation to fire on them must have been very great."

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper. 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Bring Wincey Back

I had another epic list to work through today. Loads of thing were on it; admin stuff, tax things and the more exciting task of sending out the last batch of the CDs for Four Colours. 

We're hoping we've not forgotten anyone, so if you're reading this and you donated money to the recording and you haven't received a package by, say, Monday or Tuesday, please feel free to drop me a little line. Post can be a little erratic from North London. 

It's one of those hot, wet days which I despise. These are the days that leave me unable to get dry! I feel like some kind of water-based rodent. 

The weather man lied to me again. On Monday, he peered straight out of the television and told me unequivocally that this week's forecast was "simple." It would be "hot and sunny every day." The forecast for the next couple of days has been downgraded to the catch-all "sunshine and showers." Why do they bother to say anything at all, I wonder? They merely toy with people who need the weather to be good for whatever reason. Brides, film makers, farmers, fishermen, summer fete organisers, people with birthdays, bin men, life guards and seaside cafe owners. 

...This list could go on for some time. 

I swear the forecasts used to be more accurate. Bring back Wincey Willis, and that weirdly shaped woman that my friend Ellie used to call Anorexia  Rhombus-Head. Or go back even further to the time when all weather men were freaks. I actually liked it when they wore corduroy, sandals and dark-rimmed glasses. The world had order in those days. You sensed someone was presenting because they knew a thing or two about their subject, and not because they were Barbie dolls whose only skills are waving their hands at a green screen. 

The same used to be true of politicians, until Blair and all those glamorous, plastic  women like Barbara Follett waltzed into Parliament in 1997. I'm not saying that all pretty people are shit. Just that they're more likely to be! 

Anyway, as I seem to have effortlessly steered this blog into a linguistic cul-de-sac, I should sign off and try to dry myself. Tragic, really, but there you go. I might go for a walk. Get a bit of fresh air. I swear there's condensation on my knees and lower back. 

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Naughty Parakeets

I sat on the sofa doing research for the musical for much of the day. The most important aspect of the writing process is nailing the plot line before I put pen to paper, pencil to manuscript or finger to keyboard. I have to be firm with myself on this front. The tendency is to get over-excited and start writing music, but that's a sure way to end up with a song about absolutely nothing which you spend the rest of the life of the project trying to justify because you've grown so attached to it!

We went to the gym in the late afternoon and then bought ourselves a bag of cherries and some grapes and went to the top of Parliament Hill, where Nathan knitted a pair of intricate gloves and I read another book. I'll confess. I'm a little bored of reading books. 

I was hoping for an epic sunset, but the sun dipped behind a dark cloud at zero hour and spoilt everyone's fun!

Still, it was rather lovely to be sitting at the top of the hill looking down over London. The air was incredibly still, and we could hear little snippets of conversation from some of the other people who'd gathered to watch the sun setting. There were a couple of young, posh girls talking about the possibility that one of them was pregnant, a largeish group of fifty-somethings were talking about theatre and a curious mixed race couple were making some kind of peculiar film which seemed to involve the girl (on camera) saying how uncomfortable she felt with what he has asking her to do. The camera would stop rolling and they'd start snogging. It was all a touch peculiar. Nowt so queer as folk! 

Parakeets, now a regular sight on the Heath, were flying in endless circles above us. Flashes of green in the bright blue sky. Screeching and screaming, making a proper racket. Lovely to look at, but apparently terrible for the environment. Paranaughties! 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

More Cam

I've been in Cambridge all day, punting along the Cam in blazing hot sunshine.

The countryside has started to take on the quality of the last days of summer. The trees are still the darkest of green, but the grass, the hay and the like are all shades of yellow and orange. Brittle and tired. The air feels dusty. Thistle down floats about and attaches itself to spiders' webs. The sun sets into smoky clouds. What a cracking summer we've had. 

Nathan and I walked from the car park in Lammas Land across Midsummer Meadow and into the city centre. There's not an inch of that walk which doesn't hold up a mirror to an ancient memory. I learnt to punt as a small child and I've punted on or near my birthday almost every year since the age of 5. 

But it's not just the river. There's a tiny open air swimming pool in the meadow. It's probably only a few feet deep. These days it's clean and a brilliant sparkling shade of blue. An old man was sitting at the water's edge, cooling his feet. I remember the days when the pool was dilapidated, green and covered  in algae. And yet still we swam in it!

We pottered around the market and I bought a piece of fabric to protect the amazing camera which my family bought me for my birthday. Today was its first outing. It takes wonderful photographs and I'm thrilled with it. 

We met Helen in a cafe on Green Street. She was looking summary in a cheese cloth top. Being mildly allergic to the sun, she has to cover up her arms on days like this but the lack of sun in her life has done wonders for her skin. She's one of those people who seem to look younger as she gets older. 

My parents arrived and we had brunch before hitting the river. Helen works at Trinity College, so we were able to hire one of their punts (for some ridiculously low fee) and have a tour of the beautiful college in the process. 

We had a little adventure along the backs; the part of the river where the glorious college buildings hang out. Queens, Kings, Clare, Trinity Hall, St Johns. Extraordinary Medieval and Elizabethan buildings. Dreaming spires and impossible bridges.

The tourists were everywhere. Punting along this section of the river is an assault course of American and Japanese tourists clinging hopelessly to poles in the river, their punts zig-zagging from bank to bank. 

We went down a tributary of the river by Downing College, which we'd never explored before. It was gloriously tranquil and we emerged in a completely unexpected part of town.

After a few hours of sublime drifting, we returned to dry land and had a cuppa in a church on King's Parade before heading home.

Oh the joys of a freelance lifestyle! 

Monday, 19 August 2013


I had a list as long as my arm today of things I needed to do. I can feel Autumn approaching and I like to knuckle down to work in the run up to Christmas without various admin tasks hanging over my shoulder. So, after a morning of emailing and booking a trip to the trenches in Northern France, the boxes of receipts came out and the misery of the yearly tax audit began. 

The living room is now covered in little piles of paper. I don't even know what I'm putting in each pile yet. These things slowly sort themselves out, although it feels like a never-ending task at the moment. The problem with receipts is that they have a way of folding themselves around one another. They're crafty, shiny little things. You think you're picking a single one out of the pile but it fans out to reveal a week's worth of wallet padding and life becomes hugely depressing as you realise each one needs to be catalogued.

Then of course comes the big question. What can I legitimately claim for? And it's at these times I find myself sympathising with MPs. If I was on a film shoot and found myself buying a Twix to raise blood sugar levels, why on earth shouldn't I claim for it? 

At the moment I'm trying to figure out if I can claim for osteopathy; the need for which earlier in the year was undoubtedly a result of my job. Hmm.

I've just revisited the list I wrote at the start of the day and discovered that I've ticked everything off, which has given me a sense of great achievement. The only thing I appear to have forgotten to do is eat, which at 10.15pm is not good news. There's no food in the house, so I've improvised a pasta source out of hummus, tomato purée and a third of a bottle of wine which Fiona started when she was round a few weeks ago. Tragic!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Drag queens and dogs

We've been in Putney today and are coming home in the most tremendous sunset. The sky has divided itself into banks of powder blue, pink and gleaming gold. A dark, smouldering, smoky cloud is creeping up from the horizon, soon to engulf the world.

We've been at Tobias and Mark's house all afternoon, for the first time in my life at an all-male party, which felt a little strange, I'll confess. 

We sat in the garden, and I spent hours playing with three lovely dogs. One of them, an insane Jack Russell called Thomas, was particularly charming. He'd found himself a little stone, which he was guarding with his life. His precious toy was carelessly lobbed into the pond by a party-goer, and the poor thing stood pathetically at the side, staring into the murky water hoping against hope that it would somehow float to the surface. I then knew the definition of tragic, or thought I did until the poor little animal fell in and had to be fished out. Even after getting soaked, he still stared at the water. 

The highlight of the day was certainly the "entertainment." Four of the party guests dressed in groteque drag and stumbled out into the garden miming to Shirley Bassey, Amy Winehouse and Marilyn Monroe. The dogs went berserk, probably because there aren't enough women in their lives, or because they'd never seen women looking like dogs before! They were barking and growling and snarling and whinnying. One of them, the whippet called Ben, hid underneath a table and refused to come out. The Shirley Bassey impersonator (who looked more like Pam Ayres) went a bit too close to the dogs at one stage and got a bit of a nip. Hysterical.

On our way to Putney, we drove north up the A1, towards the North Circular, and noticed that there were letters attached to each of the lamp posts on the left hand side of the road. The letters were written on A4 paper and carefully filled in with bright luminous colours.

"Happy 40th Birthday," the letters spelt, and then there was a name which looked a little like Fanny. On the next 20 or so lamp post, the greeting was spelled out again, but this time the name seemed to be Panko, and then Tank and then WN and then Fangn... The various greetings lasted all the way up to the North Circular, perhaps as much as a mile of individual letters. But who were they saying happy birthday to in code? Were these all different people celebrating their 40th birthday in a big joint party? Why did they all have such curious names? Was it simply that the person leaving the letters didn't know how to spell their friend's name and just had a load of attempts? Still, what a genuinely lovely way to mark someone's 40th. Imagine driving up the A1 and seeing that?! 

Oh my God, I'm nearly 40.

Ten things to do before I'm 40.

1) Visit the First World War battle sites

2) Lose 2 stones in weight 

3) Have a suit properly tailored 

4) Visit and record the sound of the "Singing Ringing Tree" in Lancashire

5) Write a work of breathtaking beauty

6) Try not to die

7) Have at least four epic adventures with friends

8) Find a way to earn proper money

9) Release the Pepys Motet

10) Make sure I'm not unemployed in my 41st year!  

Saturday, 17 August 2013


I got a little upset today again, reading accounts of the First World War. How am I ever going to write this piece without completely falling apart? Because my day hasn't been in any way, shape, or form interesting, I thought I might hand this blog over to the testimony of one of the thousands of soldiers who came back at the end of the First World War to a world which had cruelly moved on without them. In the 20s, there were fewer jobs, and men who had risked their lives for Britain, found themselves doing all sorts of undignified things, just to earn a crust.

The following quote comes from Trooper Sydney Chaplin from the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry:

"In 1923, I was still without regular work (just odd jobs when I could get them) when I was told that the Corps of Commissionaires were interviewing ex-Servicemen in London. So I managed to scrape enough to pay for a return ticket to London and enough to pay for expenses. I was interviewed by a Major who took my particulars, checked my discharge papers, then informed me that owing to the amount of applications it would be a very long while before they could offer me a post. So that was it.

I had a walk around and eventually sat on a seat on the Embankment. I must have dozed off, because it was dark when I woke up, so I decided to stay put until the morning. I woke up as the dawn was breaking, and what a sight it was. All the seats were full of old soldiers in all sorts of dress - mostly khaki - and a lot more were lying on the steps, some wrapped up in old newspapers. Men who had fought in the trenches, now unwanted and left to starve, were all huddled together.

I spent the day looking for work, but there were no vacancies anywhere. Finally I went into a cinema for a rest in the threepenny seats. It was dark when I came out and started to walk to St Pancras Station for the night train. As I was passing a shop doorway, I heard someone crying. I stopped and looked in and saw a man wearing an Army greatcoat with a turban on his head and a tray suspended from his neck with lucky charms on it. Another, unwanted after three years in the trenches. He and his wife were penniless when some crook offered him a chance to earn money easy if he could find five shillings. His wife pawned her wedding ring to get it, and in return he got a tray, a turban and a dozen or so lucky charms to sell at six pence each. What a hope! Now after a day without anything to eat or drink he was broken-hearted at the thought of going home to his wife without a penny. He was an ex-Company Sergeant-Major."

This absolutely broke my heart.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Putting the world to rights

We've just spent a glorious evening in the presence of the lovely Llio. We talked about philosophy, religion, quantum physics, extra terrestrials, families, Welsh independence, spirituality, sex, music, therapy and my silver elephant pendant, Little Great Alne, who never leaves my side. 

We sat in a little cafe in Muswell Hill; arrived at 5pm and left at 10. The world was very firmly put to rights. 

The rest of the day was spent sending CDs of our Four Colours recording out to the people who'd invested in the project. Just as I reached the post office counter window, Nathan suggested we send the parcels second class, and saved us us quite a lot of money! I always forget the concept of second class mail, and frankly, because the postal system is so unreliable, you might as well save the pennies. No one's in a rush to receive them.

I was hoping to have finished the current book I'm reading about the First World War today, but I've woken up with a cold, or hay fever or something, which is making me feel rather sluggish. Reading's hard when you're not feeling well! 

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Beeping woman

Whilst waiting in the car park at the gym today, a rather horrid woman pulled up in a car behind me. I took no notice. I was first in the queue and was simply waiting for a space to become available. The woman, however, was plainly a princess, and obviously felt she was too important to sit and wait in a queue. I suspect she thought there was a space in the car park which I hadn't seen, but instead of tapping on my window, or pulling up next to me, she started beeping her horn impatiently. I ignored her, and glanced in my wing mirror to see her gesturing angrily and wildly at me. Eventually, she gave up and screeched past me into the car park at high speed, flipping me the bird in the process. What a cow!

Twenty seconds later she was reversing aggressively obviously realising there was no space after all, and slightly embarrassed by her behaviour. Imagine my mirth, therefore, when she reversed the car into a wooden bollard!

It didn't do a great deal of damage, but everyone in the car park went running over to her. She was having none of it, however, and speedily exited the car park. Obviously getting away from the scene of mortification was more important than a gym work-out!

I had an amusing text this evening.

"I know this may seem a strange text, but we need your help to settle a family debate. We are fans of your work but argue over a small part over your Tyne & Wear Metro musical. Does the guy who had "a one way ticket to the States" get asked on a date by a he or a she? Thanks in advance, Steve."

I responded to say that the guy in question was most definitely singing about a she. "It might be the campest film in the world, but there are one or two straight guys in it! Is this good news or bad?"

"It's bad. Very bad as my one daughter and I have been arguing it has he with my wife, son and other daughter. We've certainly been proven wrong by the person would know the definitive answer! Thanks for the reply, I hope my text didn't weird you out too much. I wasn't actually expecting a reply, figured it would be the number of a PR rep or something."

I was genuinely touched to think a whole family had been watching the film. Turns out they're from Wolverhampton and have followed my work since Coventry Market: The Musical.

Metro still generates more comments and emails than any of my other films. It's so interesting to see how it divides people. 50% love it. 50% think it epitomises crap TV! It used to really upset me, but nowadays I'm actually just thrilled that people are still commenting on it, and that 70,000 have watched it online, which by my calculations mean 35,000 loved it! That aint to be sniffed at!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013


It's really not very wise to take one's World War One research into central London where there's always someone around to see the bitter tears being wiped away from one's eyes! 

This evening, as I sat in St James' Theatre, I read a charming little letter from Rifleman Bert Bailey, written to his young wife in 1915. It was full of "keep yourself warms" and "the OXO cubes were a lovely surprises" alongside a beautiful description of a harvest moon. I got a little tearful reading it. Innocence and hope poured from it.

I turned a page to discover that Bailey was killed four hours after writing the letter. There was even a photograph of his mother, in France, tending his little wooden grave in the 1920s.

I stopped reading for a moment to compose myself and flicked through the rest of the book noticing  it had been given to me as an 18th birthday present, 21 years ago, by my best school friend, Tammy. "Sponge" (read the inscription, I doubt she'd even remember why she called me that) "happy, happy 18th birthday, from your ever-loving friend, Tammy."

And then that set me off again. And all the waitresses in the theatre bar started looking over all concerned, which made me start to laugh hysterically! It was every shade of embarrassing. Damn that war for getting so firmly under my skin so early in my life.

St James' Theatre is a wonderful new performance space in Victoria, a part of town which seems to be in absolute disarray at the moment. I don't know what they're doing, but it seems to involve a huge area of land in and around the station. The place is full of diggers and cranes and weird wooden hoardings which funnel  pedestrians into a sort of labyrinth where one mistake could send them into an exit-less corridor which could end up at Buckingham Palace.
Still, it was worth the trip to see the magnificent NYMT performing The Other School,  Dougal Irvine's new psychological musical. I wish I had a name like Dougal Irvine. With a name like that, you're always going to be a successful writer of musicals. I bet there isn't someone else on twitter called Dougal Irvine with more followers!

One of the kids in the cast was from Higham Ferrers, so I collared him (and his parents) afterwards to talk about the old place. Sadly he didn't go to the same school as me. He goes to a much posher school down the A6 in Bedford. Oddly, the school that producer Julian went to. It's a small world!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Shooting stars

Last night, Michelle, Nathan and I went on a little adventure. At about 11pm we jumped in the car and shot up the M1, stopping at the near-deserted Gateway Services for sugary treats. I love service stations in the dead of night. There's something lonely and romantic about them. People tend to sit on their own, half-heatedly drinking coffee. Their faces tell intriguing stories about lands further up the motorway.

As we returned to the car, we could see instantly that there were no clouds in the sky, and that the moon, a mere sliver, was not going to get in the way of any meteorite sightings. That, after all, was the purpose of our journey. 

Turning off the M1, the roads instantly became pitch black. Here and there an all-night garage, a trucker stop, an enormous reflective sign, a repair van glowing like a gaudy Christmas tree in the darkness. 

We pulled up at the car park at Dunstable Downs, expecting it to be shut, but it was filled with other people who'd had the same idea. Whole families were taking blankets and pillows out onto the dark hillside to wait patiently for nature's finest fireworks display. Within seconds I'd seen a belter in the  Eastern sky. It looked like a search flare. A giant luminous dart shooting upwards through the sky. Sadly, neither of the other two saw it. 

We chose our patch, well away from the others, and spread a duvet out on the ground and climbed underneath a blanket. A steady supply of chocolates and peanuts made its way along the line and then back again. As it got colder and later, we snuggled up to each other, all the time staring up at the sky.

For a long time, the shooting stars appeared, sometimes three in as many seconds, although all seemed rather distant. Nevertheless, every time we saw one, we shrieked with joy like excited children. Periodically another group elsewhere would see the same star and a big cheer would go up across the hillside. Sometimes, we'd be looking in the wrong direction, and a great woop would go off in the darkness and the three of us would curse. 

I was sad, however, that none of the streaks across the sky seemed to match the glory of the first one I'd seen, and I was desperate for Nathan and Michelle to see something as good, if not just to prove that I'd seen something special myself, rather than imagining something in my rush to be on that hillside for a reason! It's astonishing how quickly you start to doubt your memory. 

There was a fairly impressive display on the south-eastern horizon at one point, followed by a lengthy discussion about whether one of the stars was actually Mars glowing red over the top of a dark forest in the south. "Mars", as it happened, turned out to be an aeroplane coming into land at Luton airport!

I wanted to remember the moment, and stood up to take a photograph. As I faffed about with my camera, the other two squeaked with absolute joy. I immediately looked to the sky and realised I'd missed a big one. The trail was still faintly visible like a ancient scar in the velvety Milky Way. 

I became frustrated that we'd not all shared the same experience. The wind began to howl and we clung even tighter to one another, our faces like little blocks of ice. It certainly didn't feel like August...

But just as I'd given up all hope, there it was, streaking across the middle of Sirius' cross bow, the brightest most glorious blue-coloured firework, seemingly lighting the entire sky. 

Nathan informed us that this was the 25 shooting star of the evening and we decided to wait until he'd seen 30. It felt like a round number, and secretly, I think we were all hoping to see something even brighter and bolder and more exciting. Nothing more impressive came, but Nathan had his important 30th sighting, and as we packed up our things and walked back to the car, he saw another two. 

It was undoubtedly a magical occasion and I am so thrilled to have people around me who will massage these curious whims of mine. Life is good, right?

Monday, 12 August 2013

Great day!

Very few people are aware that I've been waiting for the past 14 weeks to hear whether an application to the Arts Council for funds has been successful.

The application was made by the Kaleidoscope Trust, the charity for whom we recorded our Four Colours EP. The project we're looking to fund involves recording the testimonies of LGBT people in Commonwealth countries. The underlying statistic in all of this is that it's still illegal to be gay in 41 out of the 54 Commonwealth Countries. So whilst we celebrate the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, with its ethos of "diversity and equality", none of us should forget that LGBT people back home are frightened and, in many cases being beaten up, imprisoned and murdered just for falling in love. 

The plan for this particular composition is to feature some of these testimonies as part of an extraordinary awareness-raising electro-acoustic composition which will be performed in two very exciting London venues to coincide with the start of the games next August. 

Anyway, a decision about the project was made by the Arts Council on my birthday last Thursday, so it was a little strange when I woke up this morning to discover there was still no letter in the post. 

I 'phoned someone up, who told me that she couldn't give me a response over the phone, but she took my details, and I felt, by the tone of her voice, that things hadn't gone our way. I immediately emailed one of our contacts at ACE to ask if she thought it was worth applying again, in the light of Stephen Fry rather handily brining the world's attention to the concept of sport and equality with his open letter to the Olympic Committee about Russia's new anti-gay legislation. 

The lovely lady from ACE immediately called back and said, "Benjamin! You were successful. We pushed hard for this one and we want to fund the project!"


So, the project's happening and I'm just made-up. We'll announce it to the press in November and then Kaleidoscope's partners will spend time in Commonwealth countries collecting the testimonies. It could be incredibly moving.

It's a daunting prospect; a genuine opportunity to flex my composing muscles and try to make a work of art which raises genuine questions. Watch this space! 

To make my day go with even more of a swing, I received the first mix of one of the Pepys movements from PK, who is a freaking genius. It's so so exciting to listen to and I can't wait to get cracking on other movements. 

To celebrate, we've bundled Michelle into a car and are driving to Dunstable Downs to see if we can lie on a hillside eating Jaffa cakes and watching the Persius meteor shower. We're planning to reach the hill at about midnight, and it feels like a proper adventure! Life, it strikes me, is all about adventures and I've never sat on a hillside watching shooting stars before! 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

A word to the wise

A quiet day, which started with a mega-lie-in, continued with a trip to the gym, and ended with a visit to Brent Cross. 

I've not been clothes shopping for some time, but realised with horror this morning that the elastic had gone in the waistband of almost every pair of boxer shorts I own. I find the experience of clothes shopping quite horrific. Nathan kept holding things up and saying "ooh, you'd look lovely in that. Feel it, it's really soft against the skin" and I found myself wanting to twist my body into ever-smaller contortions! I emerged with three pairs of something other than boxer shorts. People, it seems, stopped wearing boxer shorts sometime after I last bought a pair! I feel like a 90-year old.

We were sent a link today to a piece in the Huffington Post about gay and lesbian couples who had met on Broadway shows. The article was responding to a piece in Playbill which listed 18 couples who'd met doing shows in New York. Rather shockingly, none of the couples featured was gay, which feels a little bit odd when we consider that the state of New York legalised gay marriage last year, and also, that such a high percentage of Broadway performers regularly lick the other side of the stamp! 

Anyway, today's piece in the Huffington Post deals with these issues, and points out that many of Broadway's finest fell in love with same-sex colleagues whilst working on a show. 

No names were mentioned in the column itself, but at the bottom, a little slide show introduces us to 20 good examples. Our great friends Christopher and Kevin were there, rubbing shoulders with Tony-winning composers, choreographers, stage managers, actors and directors... The sixteenth couple in the slide show were flying the flag for Britain and the West End. They looked strangely familiar. The short text at the bottom of the picture informed us that the two gentlemen met on a show called Taboo. The devilishly handsome one on the right of the picture was the show's Resident Director, and the cheeky lad on the left had played Steve Strange. They'd apparently met in 2002, and been together ever since. That's right... It was Nathan and me! Fame at last!

It instantly struck me what a difference 16 years can make. In 1997, I was photographed with my partner at the time, a young MP called Stephen Twigg. He'd just won an important seat in Parliament and I was having my first opera performed in London. The picture found its way into the Daily Mail, and a load of other papers, usually accompanied by unpleasantly homophobic articles. The pictures caused a stir. Everyone seemed to see them. A distant relative even tried to call my Grandmother to give her sympathy and counselling and when I went back to my home town the following Christmas, quite a number of people approached me in a pub to make rather unpleasant remarks. 

In 1997, we still had a long way to go. Clause 28 was redundant, but still hadn't been repealed and when Stephen entered parliament, no one knew how to treat his partner, to the extent that I was given all the perks of a common-law wife despite the fact that we'd only been together three months, because even if we'd wanted to, we wouldn't have been able to make a valid commitment to one another in the eyes of the law. 

The picture of Nathan and me will be seen by far fewer people than those who saw the 1997 image. We live in a world of images peaking out at us from myriad publications but also because the majority of people are entirely at peace with the concept of sexuality to the point of disinterest. Some who see the picture may even wonder why the gays continue to rub their business in the world's collective face. After all, the British LGBT community has the law on its side, what more does it want? The answer to this question is "usualisation." We want being gay to go beyond being "normal", it needs to be usual. Just as those 1960s pariahs, the single mothers, are these days.  We'll get there. Give us a little time to bask in the glory of equality and a little longer to stamp our little feet and point out instances of neglect like the piece in Play Bill, but we'll soon be off like modern day crusaders fighting the fight in Russia and in Commonwealth countries, whilst demonstrating to the world a nation which hasn't fallen apart because of its forward-thinking equality laws!

Whilst we're at it; a word of caution to my LGBT sisters... We have a duty not to repeatedly play the "gay card." We must not use the fact that all forms of discrimination are now illegal to take every "homophobic" slip-of-the-tongue to court, as some women and certain privileged ethnic minorities are presently doing. Playing the gay card is as easy as it is boring and we're better than that. Be grateful we have full equality, be grateful that there's no longer such a thing as gay marriage, only marriage, and try to understand those who take a while to cotton-on to what is we consider to be appropriate behaviour. 

And there endeth today's lesson! 

Saturday, 10 August 2013


We're sitting around my chimnea in our back garden. It's kicking off a lot of heat and glowing a beautiful deep shade of amber. It's the first time we've ever used it despite the fact that Nathan bought it for my birthday last year! Now we've broken the duck, I think we're going to be out here most evenings. It's so relaxing. Chatting calmly in the stillness of the night. We're currently talking about weddings and the benefits of sweet trees over flowers and favours. 

We've been on the Heath all day celebrating my birthday under a tree by the bandstand. It was a lovely day, a bit windy at times, but some wonderful people came to share food and play rounders. 

Obviously my team won the rounders. It was massive fun teaching the game to an American and an Australian, who had no idea what was going on. 

Broadway Ian was playing in a pair of Swedish clogs and someone asked if he'd be able to run in them. "Darling" he replied, "I can tap-dance in them!" Surely the quote of the day? 

Daniel, my first ever boyfriend, came with his partner, Matthew. They're in the process of having a baby with a surrogate mother in the States. It's astonishing how life has changed in the last few years. 

My brother arrived with a camera. A wonderful camera which was a gift from my family. 

Deia, Silver and Philippa were there. We played with a huge water pistol - a water rifle, even - which Nathan's father and stepmother brought with them. Deia says she wants to watch people playing rounders for the rest of her life. 

Nathan's parents' dog, Barny, was also there, but he kept getting freaked out by the sound of a starting pistol on the running track behind us, so ended up in the car. Poor thing. He missed out on the joys of the Heath. 

Tina lost a very special ring, and we spent ages searching for it, knowing how much it meant to her. I'm still hoping she'll find it in her bag somewhere or deep in a pocket. 

We went to the other side of the Heath with Tina, Nathan's sister, her partner, Peter and Abbie and Ian to look at the tree with the hole in it, and climb about six other trees... Each of us trying to get higher than the others. A fabulous sunset completed the day, and here we all are with our pizzas, feeling over-full, and hugely contented. 

Friday, 9 August 2013

Seven Oaks

I've just watched an advert for which talks about "part-exing" which I can only assume is short for "part-exchanging." I've seldom heard the like. Whatever next? 

I've been to Seven Oaks today to watch the marvellous National Youth Music Theatre rehearsing their summer season of shows. They're a week into rehearsals for West Side Story and a new piece by Dougal Irvine, who wrote a very interesting musical I saw at the Edinburgh festival about five years ago called Departure Lounge. 

Both shows are of a very high standard, and the kids are sparky and energetic and seem to be giving it absolutely everything. 

I'm less convinced by Seven Oaks itself, which feels like one of those impenetrable chocolate box towns, filled with shops which no one can visit because there aren't enough car parks in the town and the ones that do exist are miserably under-signposted and have spaces which are too small.

All we wanted was a sandwich, and we drove in ever decreasing circles, with me getting more and more panicky. It's one of those towns which any number of recessions couldn't stop from seeming like it was polished on a daily basis by Mary Poppins. Full of posh people. Surrounded by impossibly green tree-lined hills. 

Still, bravo to the NYMT. They were just superb! 

Thursday, 8 August 2013


I can safely say that few days in my life have been this endless and this golden. 

Today was all about my old Northamptonshire friends; people I've known since I was 15, people who  used to meet up with me every Saturday in an old church on the Kettering Road to play music. 

We reached Cambridge at 11, bought picnic things and then queued for punts. By the time we arrived, Julie and Sam had booked a punt for a full day, which took away any potential worry about returning at a certain time to save money. It seemed no one was in a hurry to get back to London.  There were no children needing to be fed. Everyone seemed quite content to simply be.

We drifted up the Cam towards Grantchester, the sun glaring down on us, our feet dangling in the dark, clear, cooling water.  It was magical. I could feel everyone unwinding as the punt slid silently over the glassy surface of the river. 

We stopped for a picnic in a field. Ted fell asleep. My parents joined us. In fact, they kept popping up at various stages of our day, prompting Fiona to wonder whether they were wearing jet packs! 

I opened gifts; books about the First World War, a beautiful print of a battalion transporting guns and a book of war poems from Ted which we all signed whilst sitting in the Orchard at Grantchester, beloved hang-out of the Bloomsbury set. When you sit in amongst those trees eating cream teas, you're sitting with the ghosts of Virginia Wolf, Rupert Brooke, EM Forester and Maynard Keynes. 

As the day went on, a most beautiful light began to descend. Ted fell in the river. We laughed a lot. Kingfishers darted in and out of the trees. My first ever sighting of those mercurial, magical birds. A glorious flash of the brightest aquamarine laced with a vivid salmon colour. 

We sang a little. Julie fell asleep. We watched people on the banks. Lovers cooing. Groups of students partying and debating pretentiously. Joggers. Fishermen. The odd naked swimmer. The glorious blue sky was reflected perfectly in the black surface of the river. 

We took the punt back at 7pm and sat in a field as the sun set, eating the remnants of our picnic and playing our favourite game, Meryl whilst our sun-reddened faces began to feel a little taught. 

We're not quite ready for the day to end, so Ted and Fiona are coming home with us to put a wonderful day to bed with a night cap and some rubbish telly. 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013


Fiona is back in town, staying the night with us before we head to Cambridge tomorrow for a little birthday treat with the parents. We've just walked down to Tufnell Park for food in a pub, before walking home across a spooky, and very dark Hampstead Heath. At one stage, as we crept along the tree-lined pathway towards the Women's Bathing Pond, things got very creepy indeed. There were strange noises in the undergrowth, and shadows seemed to be creeping out of shadows! The police tape covering the entrance to the pond itself was a little frightening. We remembered then that a woman's body has recently been found dead in the water. I sincerely hope they don't suspect foul play. Or should that be fowl play?

We told each other ghost stories, which didn't exactly
help matters, and were pretty relieved to see the lights of Spaniard's Lane!

Fiona reminded me of an incident which shocked us both yesterday as we were walking along the Archway Road. A bus drew up in front of us and a largish woman decided to make a dash for it. She was wearing a little chiffony skirt which was leaping up and down as she ran, revealing the most hideous things, which I can only describe as flaps of skin. I've no idea if I was looking at arse cheek or clunge, but it was naked flesh and it was wobbling around like a jelly in a tumble drier. Inexcusable.

Taking of inexcusable, I went to the gym this afternoon and was quite surprised to find a rather short man standing behind the counter waiting to take my card. I guess I've become rather too used to tall, bronzed Adonises at that place. So shocked, was I, in fact, that the thought that went through my mind actually tumbled out of my mouth, much to Nathan's desperate chagrin. I took one look at the man behind the counter and said one word, "tiny." What on earth will I be like when I'm old and senile?

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Trying to work

It feels like I've done pretty much everything but the work I needed to do today. Just as I sat down to transfer notes from the book I've just read onto a Word document, something else came up and I was distracted for an hour or so. And that was the pattern of the day.

Firstly, came the call from Nathan to roam the streets of Highgate taking photographs of his latest knitting projects. We got a little carried away and at one point I had him
sitting on the top of a very tall post box modelling his remarkable double-knit scarf. It struck me how important it is to have fabulous pictures of fabulous things! 

Speaking of which, Nathan is currently washing the little pieces of wool he found on gate posts and dry stone walls around Hadrian's Wall, which he's hoping to spin and turn into wool for another remarkable creation. 

We went to the cafe and I started to work again... Until Fiona arrived. We chatted for hours and then I walked her to Stroud Green via the Parkland Walk before jogging home in my little red shorts, bemoaning the fact that I've become so profoundly unfit that old men were overtaking me. I felt like a giant tomato. Still, Parkland Walk, a former railway line, looked glorious in the mid-summer sun. Enormous, juicy blackberries were already all over the bramble bushes. I've told everyone who'll listen that this is going to be an epic year for blackberries, raspberries and grapes... Not that we get many of them in the UK! 

I came home, started working, and then received a number of emails I had to deal with. And so it went on. I started working, then realised
I had two applications to fill in. A bit more work, then it was time to update my CV (which I've now rather grandly replaced with a biog, cus who cares what I did in 1997?!)

And now, after another five minutes' work, I realise it's blog time. 

Nathan is now "carding" his wool with two giant hair brushes with lethal-looking teeth that would surely rip any but the strongest wool to pieces.  Perhaps this is the point. Apparently before he can spin anything, all the strands have to be going in the same direction. Or something about knitting... It's my birthday on Thursday.