Saturday, 23 November 2013

Forest Hill


At 4.30pm this afternoon, I found myself stranded in Forest Hill, which is one of those places in South London which residents justify by saying “it only takes 15 minutes to get to London Bridge,” forgetting that there’s not a person on this planet who actually wants to go to London Bridge! And of course the trains are never quite as regular as residents suggest. Whilst waiting for the bi-hourly Victoria train, I was forced to sit on platform 1 for at least 25 minutes, freezing my nuts off, wishing I were somewhere a little more accessible. The man sitting next to me absolutely stank of vodka. He was plainly so profoundly pickled with the stuff that I could smell him in the open air with quite a breeze blowing.

So what was I doing in Forest Hill, bearing in mind it’s probably 8 years since my good mate, Ellie moved out of her little flat opposite the church there?

I was contacted earlier in the week by a chap called Paul who played the recorder in the Busker Symphony, a film I made for Channel 4 in 2006. We’ve exchanged the odd email since the project was aired, and I knew he was trying to break into photography. Anyway, he asked if he could do a little photo session with me, and I, having never done an official photo shoot before, decided it would be fun.

Perhaps I should have thought more about the shoot; the types of pictures that would be useful to use in the future. I should have brought a big old pad of manuscript paper, for example, but instead I brought a bowler hat. Hmm. I also decided that, for some of the pictures, I might go for a sort of 1920s Charlie Chaplin look. He was, after all, my cousin three times removed. I went into the Chemist shop opposite Highgate Station and thought it might be best to ask the woman behind the counter if she could recommend “something like kohl.” She looked at me rather horrified - “make-up you mean?”- before taking me over to a display and pulling out an eyeliner, which was described as kohl. I took it and thanked her.

As I paid, she said, “it takes all sorts!  Can I get you a handbag as well?” Now, in her defence, I was squirming somewhat about the idea of buying make-up, so she could probably tell it wasn’t a lifestyle choice. But what if it had been? What if I was trans and this was my first voyage into the world of buying make-up? I think the woman’s response would have destroyed every last piece of confidence I had, and I would have instantly melted into a pit of mortification. It’s not often you get a sense of how far we still need to travel in this country before we can call ourselves truly open-minded. The world of trans-sexuality is one we all need to learn about, particularly people who work in the sort of shops that trans people might feel the need to frequent. Chemists are surely at the top of that list.

Anyway, the shoot went well. Paul took all the pictures on old-school film camera from the 1960s, which I very much approved of. It made me a little nostalgic for my own days of taking photographs on film; the days when you actually had to understand the mechanics of photography to be able to take a decent photograph. These days it’s all about trial and error, and serendipity. Back then you really had to know your craft. The same is true of composers. Anyone can buy music writing software and fiddle around until something half-decent emerges... what they won’t realise is WHY is sounds half decent, or implicitly understand how they can make it sound even better. I thank God sometimes for my classical training.

My cold intensified in the night, not helped by the fact that I went up into the freezing cold loft and wrote music until 2 in the morning. I subsequently kept waking up in the night with the most horrific sore throat; probably more intense than any sore throat I’ve ever experienced. Still, by the morning, it had drifted down into my chest, and I’m now in that tickly-productive-cough stage. I think a lot of people are going down with colds and things at the moment, and I thank my lucky stars that the colds I get don’t tend to affect me for long. Quite a lot of my singing friends, and, in fact, my family, get these awful chest infections every time they catch a cold.

The woman opposite me on the train to Victoria was looking at me rather curiously. I almost asked her what her problem was, until I realised I’d probably still got kohl from the shoot all over my eyes. She’d no doubt have thought I was consumptive.

I hit Victoria station in the rush hour, which was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I have never seen so many people crushed into one space. The ticket area at the tube was like nothing on earth, to the extent that I immediately found myself running away. Sadly, there was nowhere to run to. Every corner I turned, I encountered another large group. It was freezing cold. The only slight positive was my happening upon a plaque in the station, marking the spot where the body of the Unknown Soldier, in 1920, had rested the night on its way to Westminster Abbey. I was rather touched that this important location had been marked.

I went with Llio to Ravenscourt Park this evening to see a jazz singer and violinist called Alice Zawadzki, who is, without any question, a genius. She’s a remarkable vocalist, and uses her violin as a kind of support for her voice. The violin never sticks out. She doesn’t do huge epic solos, but sometimes you think one of the other band members is singing harmonies, and then realise she’s actually playing in thirds with herself; the flautando of her violin blending perfectly with her breathy jazz voice. It was an evening of daring rhythms, complex tonality and virtuoso musicianship, and I feel richly rewarded for having witnessed it.

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