Sunday, 30 November 2014

Oh deer

I'm writing this blog on a plane. I don't recall ever having written a blog on a plane before. Perhaps it's an indication that my crippling fear of flying is finally subsiding.

We slept like logs in Emily and Jack's bedroom. It was an immensely cozy, toasty-warm experience. Emily had put little bottles of water on our bed and a series of magazines including one with an article about Kate Bush in it, which I read when I woke up.

We went for a bracing walk in the hills behind their house this morning. The dogs had a wonderful time jumping over fences and running into woods. The walk took us around the edge of a reservoir. On one side of the path, a bubbling stream, the colour of whiskey (or whisky as they spell it in these parts) trickled its way down hill.

There are apparently large wild cats roaming in the area, and at one point we stumbled upon the severed leg of a deer, which, we could only assume was the handy work of a panther or something of that size. I'm told the police are aware of the issue, but tend to try to keep the fuss down to a minimum to avoid terrifying people!

I felt a little sad saying goodbye to our hosts. I don't get the opportunity to see Emily nearly often enough, and this weekend has reminded me that I absolutely adore her...

The taxi back to Inverness Airport took us through Nairn, which looked a great deal more pleasant by daylight. My friend Tammy tells me it's a rather lovely part of the world, and I no longer think she's mad for saying so!

At a certain point on our journey, we officially entered The Highlands, which seemed a little odd because the terrain in these parts is less hilly than you might expect. You can, of course, see the mountains looming large on the horizon; glowing mauve and lavender, and bedecked in wisps and scarves of cloud.

On a number of occasions today we've been presented with a vista which includes a large part of the coast. Up here, it's very possible to get a sense of the geography of Scotland. You can see for miles; right up into that final little land mass of the UK, which leads an intrepid adventurer all the way up to the mystical John O'Groats. It's funny to speculate as to whether this trip would have felt any different if we were travelling into an independent Scotland.

As the afternoon melted into the clouds, the mist started rising from the fields, like giant gossamer table cloths on enormous snooker tables. In The Highlands, all the signs are bi-lingual. The English town names are written in black, and the Gaelic ones appear in Celtic green. I learned today that the Gaelic for airport is "port adhair."

Inverness airport is no bigger than a bus depot. It reminded us both of an American movie lot, with curious hangars and 1950s shacks scattered everywhere. The airport has a little cafe inside which sells homemade food and cakes. It was rather refreshing not to find the clichéd big chains crudely flashing their neon signs at us. What was somewhat less refreshing was the mayhem we encountered at security. The queues of anxious people were snaking through the airport foyer, and, by the time we'd reached our desk, the flight was due to be taking off.

There were all sorts of theories floating around. Fiona, who was travelling back from Edinburgh airport today, had had a similar issue due to some kind of security alert, and, in fact, been forced to abandon ship and make a dash for the train. People in our queue were suggesting that the infrastructure of Inverness Airport wasn't designed to handle the large numbers of flights they schedule on a Sunday evening, others suggested that a large number of fire-arms were being transported by travellers who had spent the weekend hunting in the Highlands.

Nathan was stopped by a ghastly easy-jet employee on the gate and told he wasn't allowed to get on the plane with his hand luggage AND the little man bag he'd slung over his shoulder. If he wanted to board, he'd have to stuff one inside the other, but would need to leave the queue to do so. She got quite hardcore about it in her nasty, whiny Scottish way. Meanwhile, a series of obese women walked though the gate hiding their handbags in coats and enormous rolls of fat. Sometimes I hate budget airlines!

As we boarded the plane, we were greeted by a spectacular sunset of orange, pink and red, a spume of black smoke from an industrial chimney cutting into the bands of colour like a giant silhouetted Mr Whippy!

As we flew South, the right hand side of the plane was treated to the sight of a sky which genuinely looked like it was on fire. Sometimes I'm astonished by the beauty and magic of nature.

Saturday, 29 November 2014


We're currently sitting in Emily and Jack's house, on a hillside above a very charming little Northern Scottish town called Elgin. I'm reliably informed we're in a county called Moray. Who'd've thought?!

We stayed in a lovely B and B last night which is run by two former professional figure skaters. It was an absolute delight to spend an evening chatting to them whilst sipping Scottish whiskey. We actually had a number of people in common, including Colin Retushniak, a Canadian skater who happened to work as a producer on Our Gay Wedding: The Musical.

We opened the curtains this morning and were greeted by a view of moorland, farmland, pine woods and distant glowing mountains. The area is really rather quirky because it's filled with army and RAF bases. In the dell of one of the hills, a load of aeroplanes and hangars were poking through the mist.

Today's lecture went incredibly well. Gordonstoun School is situated in stunning grounds. I was expecting a somewhat stuffy institution, possibly ostentatious, with brand-spanking new facilities like the many public schools I've previously visited, and wept over. Instead, we pulled into a rather charming, laid-back, happy kind of place which felt like a sort of wonderful 1950s holiday camp.

We delivered our lecture in a little hall to about 200 sixth formers, who were hugely polite and attentive. We spoke for about an hour without incident, but for a tiny technical mess-up which meant we had to ditch one of our film clips.

Afterwards, a group of LGBT kids from the school came and chatted to us, one of whom was a young girl from Hong Kong. She'll be a wonderful ambassador for LGBT rights when she returns to her home country. Actually, I felt that about all the kids we met today, who come from countries all around the world. Many of them will be future leaders and ambassadors, and will hopefully return home with enlightened attitudes.

Over lunch, a young Russian lad came to talk to us, wanting to take issue with us for criticising his country's anti-gay laws. "The laws" he claimed, "aren't homophobic, they are there to protect straight people from being converted." We tried to argue with him, but his eyes glazed over like a Born Again Christian. With any luck, during his time at the school, a more enlightened attitude will slowly embed itself in him, but his aloof, almost arrogant self-belief made me realise what a steep uphill climb LGBT people in other nations will have on their journey to equality.

One of the Indian students at the school told us his cousin had come out as gay, and subsequently disappeared, which was deeply chilling.

After lunch, Jack, who is the head of drama at the school, took us on a tour of the site. The high point was almost definitely the extraordinary "round square" and entirely circular 17th century building with an entirely circular courtyard within. If you stand by a stone in the very centre of the courtyard, an extraordinary acoustic effect rings out; a curious tinny echo, the like of which I've never heard. There's actually a smaller stone, which sits on the larger one, specifically so that you can strike one with the other to make a noise to test the acoustic. Brilliant.

We walked around the edge of the grounds, along the "silent walk" and to a beautiful little school chapel in a little copse. It's so odd to think that this is the school of most members of the royal family... A school of kings, and princes and dukes... And yet, humble somehow.

Jack took us back to his little farmhouse, through Elgin and past all manner of curios, like a deer farm with hundreds of the animals peering out from a hay barn.

The house is absolutely fabulous. We sat and ate cous-cous with Emily and Jack's polite, witty and highly intelligent children, in front of the wood burning stove, whilst one of their dogs ran in circles in front of us like something from a brilliant comedy drama. A perfect day.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Yesterday's blog!

Heavens! This is actually yesterday's blog, which I wrote and then forgot to post! Reading this first will make a great deal more sense of the first paragraph of tonight's installment!! Call it a double bill!

The tree outside the kitchen window was full of great tits this morning. There's genuinely no way to write that sentence without it sounding ridiculously comic, but it was a lovely sight to see them hopping about. That particular tree is always one of the last to lose its leaves in the winter, so at this time of year it's filled with wildlife.

I went to the gym at lunchtime and then sat writing in a cafe in Kentish Town whilst Nathan knitted a cowl. One of Kentish Town's nutters was on the prowl. I remember her from the days I lived on Fortess Road. She's a deeply curious character. Older; maybe 60 or 70, and black, but always with enormous red cheeks which she paints on with lipstick. She's really posh, in a completely English way, which shouldn't seem strange, but, for a black woman of her age, particularly one who's plainly not exactly had the best life, it's all rather intriguing.

Back in the day, this particular woman used to walk into all the cafés in the area, order a plate of food, eat it, and then tell the cafe owners she wasn't prepared to pay because the standards of hygiene in the cafe weren't what she expected. She'd then flounce out, with the cafe owner spitting blood in her direction!

Her only problem with flouncing out of anywhere was that she could never open a door herself, one assumes because of possible germs on the door handle. So she'd hover by the door, asking in an incredibly loud voice for one of the other cafe customers to open the door for her. All rather comic.

Today she was on a tirade against internet porn. Her friend was looking at porn on his phone without any sense of irony or embarrassment. For some reason she felt the need to tell the entire cafe what he was doing, and yet he continued to do so. It was all rather surreal. Particularly when the woman asked if she could then make a phone call on the offending handset!

We went to buy some bits and bobs in the Sainsbury's Local on Kentish Town High Street, and it suddenly struck me that whenever I visit a Sainsbury's store, regardless of its size, I feel bitterly disappointed at its selection of vegetarian food. There's always meat and fish hanging from the rafters, but you'll be lucky to find a Linda McCartney sausage, let alone something like a vegetable pie or a nut roast!

When I last complained to Sainsbury's via twitter, some ghastly woman from Tufnell Park spotted my tweet and mocked me for having "First World problems," to which I responded, "if considerably more of the First World turned vegetarian, there would be considerably fewer THIRD world problems!"

Still, as we exited Sainsbury's clutching my tragic little box of veggie sausages, the Christmas tree in the window filled me with a little, rather tragic rush of joy.

I came home and worked, worked, worked, delivering the final bars of music to the Fleet Singers at 10.30pm, which means I can go up to Scotland with a clear head, and start properly planning the Brass and Oranges and Lemons recording sessions first thing Monday.

A town called Nairn

I woke up this morning to discover that almost every leaf had fallen off the tree outside our kitchen window in the night. It was the most surreal sight. Yesterday, it was a playground for little birds, today it looked like a giant piece of tumbleweed! A sad-looking magpie sat on one of its branches, no doubt wondering where his supper had gone!

I was like a machine today. I had a twenty-point list of things to do, which included a large amount of admin, booking studios, tidying the house, paying in cheques, writing thank you emails and a visit to the gym. And I ticked them all off one by one. I felt an enormous sense of achievement. Once an hour, I stopped to run through tomorrow's lecture. I'm afraid I'm one of those people who can leave nothing to chance. If I'm unprepared, and there's any elements of performance involved, I will instantly and completely fall apart when confronted with an audience. I don't know what it is that makes me entirely freak out in front of large groups of people. I often have to pretend to be someone else to overcome my acute shyness. No one ever believes me when I say that!

I stood waiting for Nathan at Victoria Station in the middle of rush hour. Trains were coming in and out of the station like a badly written fugue. At one stage two electronic announcements sounded simultaneously - and I was standing directly in the middle - they were advertising different trains, but the information was otherwise the same. They phased like an early Reich composition.

I'm currently in Scotland, in a taxi heading on the A96 from the minuscule Inverness Airport through the moors to Gordonstoun School. At least, I assume we're heading through moors, largely because we're in Scotland. It's pitch black outside but for the odd transport cafe and an eerily-lit bus shelter or hay barn.

We've just passed through a town called Nairn, which seemed to be a giant council estate with a garage in the middle, and, of course a ubiquitous Co-op. There's always a Co-op in a council estate, and it never seems to stock fresh fruit or vegetables!

The flight here felt completely unnecessary. I hate flying, and to make matters worse, the woman sitting behind me was totally freaking out whilst smoking an electronic cigarette! It was all a bit random, particularly when we realised it was actually her children who were trying to calm her down.

To make things more surreal, because we've just got off a plane, my subconscious is telling me I'm in a foreign country, which, in a funny sort of way, I guess I am. The very North of Scotland is so remote that it feels unlike the rest of the UK, somehow. Quite how, I've not yet worked out. Perhaps when it's light tomorrow, I'll have a better idea.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Foh pas

I woke up this morning and looked out the window to see epic blue mists swirling around the trees above the tube. The street lights were still on. Everything looked a little surreal and somewhat magical. But after a few minutes I started to feel sad. I'm not sure I like the winter very much.

My mood was lifted when I went downstairs to find two letters on the doormat, one with a generous "Brass for Brass" cheque inside from Llio's Mum, Silvia, and the other with a cheque in it which will basically pay for the mixing of "Oranges and Lemons," which the Rebel Chorus are going to record on January 11th. The latter came from Michael Smith, whose generosity to the Rebel Chorus has been beyond extraordinary. This particular cheque means I can relax, and we're now just one fundraising event short of being able to release our Pepys Motet CD! Hurrah! How lucky do I feel to have people like Silvia and Michael in my life? And how lucky do I feel to be recording two albums in January?!

...I dunno, you wait years for a recording and then two come along at the same time!

I worked through the morning, before heading to Paddington to meet Fiona off a train from Bristol. I know, right? Paddington! Old School! It's a horrible place as well. We had to leave the station to find anything to decent to eat, heading out onto whichever high street Paddington Station is on, finding a lovely little cafe where the staff did their best to make us feel like complete and utter freaks. By the time we left, we'd decided a lot of stuff was getting lost in translation, because when you ask for the bill in a cafe, you don't necessarily expect them to look at you like you've just asked them to remove all their clothes!

I met Nathan for a second lunch in Soho. I've decided to experiment with eating four small meals a day to try and ride my tendency to go up and down like a yoyo depending on the levels of sugar in my system, so I had two salads... (And a cheeky bowl of chips with Fiona.)

I had my hair cut on Old Compton Street by an Italian bear. Having one's hair cut is a bizarre experience because it gives you the opportunity to really examine yourself. What else are you going to do when faced with an enormous mirror, even if you're someone like me who tends to avoid mirrors whenever possible? Anyway, I had a good gander at myself, and deduced that my skin looked alright but that I wasn't too impressed by the double chin, or the grey streaks of hair in my fringe, which I initially mistook for dandruff! Ageing is a funny old process. I watched another hairdresser, an Italian, I think, and thought how my hair used to look like his; all thick, black, lustrous and curly. These days my hair is almost entirely straight and thin. What I wouldn't have given to have straight hair as a teenager. What I wouldn't give right now to have my curls back! At one point, my Spanish bear stuck a brush into my scalp and started blowing it with a hot hairdryer. It suddenly struck me what he was doing... Trying to get some volume into my hair! I died a quiet death!

Nathan returned from work armed with an amusing anecdote. They have a new front of house staff member at the theatre who works on the merchandise stall. She happens to be of South East Asian extraction and is, by all accounts, charming. So charming, in fact, that a member of the public went up to the theatre manager to say what wonderful service she'd had from "that lovely girl, Foh." The theatre manager was perplexed. "Foh?" "Yes," said the woman "Foh. The little Asian girl on the merchandise stall. Her surname is Staff... Foh Staff. It says so on her badge." The name badge was actually the same one that all the other ushers were wearing. FOH Staff. Front of house staff!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014


I woke up this morning feeling an almost complete lack of motivation, and had to give myself a stern talking to at about 10am when I'd achieved nothing but watching two episodes of the Big Bang Theory!

I spent the morning working on The Man In the Straw Hat, and then the afternoon and evening writing my lecture for the kids at Gordonstoun School. We're calling it: "Should real people sing - the journey to Our Gay Wedding." It feels rather remarkable to be going into a top private school, which will no doubt be filled with future prime ministers and business leaders, to talk openly about a gay wedding. When I was at school, Clause 28 meant that homosexuality couldn't even be discussed by teachers. What an astonishing amount of progress we've made in just 25 years. I feel very proud to be British. If Nathan and I went into a school in Russia and delivered the same lecture, we would instantly be arrested...

A woman on the television appears to be cooking a lobster at the moment. She's repeatedly hitting a claw with hammer and the claw is shattering into thousands of pieces. I genuinely can't understand how this can be considered as food. I have never eaten shell-fish. I can't really imagine how it must taste. I last ate meat at the age of seven, and think I can remember the texture and possible taste of chicken, bacon, sausages, fish fingers and tins of mince meat. I get some of those flavours muddled up with halloumi cheese nowadays, which I've always insisted tastes just like bacon, much to Nathan's great annoyance.

We're now watching Sue Perkins travelling up the Mekong River, in what's shaping up to be a rather enjoyable documentary. She's incredibly charming. In fact, I think she's fast becoming a national treasure. She is, however, having to eat lots of fish with the people she's meeting. I'd be useless doing her job...

Editing films

We've spent most of this evening editing together clips from the various films I've made over the past ten or so years. We're taking them to Scotland on Friday night. Nathan and I are delivering a lecture at the prestigious Gordonstoun School, which is tucked so far away in the wilds of next-to-nowhere that we have to get there via plane, train and taxi.

Someone from my junior school has posted a class photograph on Facebook. It comes from the fourth year, when we were mostly 10 years old and it's lead to pages of memories about trips, and school songs and kids who could turn their eyelids inside out. I've learned some interesting facts about my former class mates. One of them, for example, is a pro darts player, ranked 50th in the world, which I consider to be really rather impressive. He has a darts player's nick-name and everything! And a page on Wikipedia!

We continue to try and organise everyone's diaries for the cast recording of Brass. It's becoming an absolute nightmare trying to get players and singers to commit to a series of dates. I got so stressed thinking about it earlier that Nathan had to drag me for a walk around the block.

It was freezing outside. We walked down Wood Lane and through Queen's Wood, along the path which looks like something from Narnia. The pavement was covered in a thick layer of brown and orange autumn leaves, which had been rained on, so under lamp light they looked shiny, like tiles of polished brass and copper.

Most of the parked cars we passed were covered in frost, the first frost of the season. Heaven knows how cold it's going to be in Scotland!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The smell of wood smoke

Nathan had his first full day off in about sixteen years today and we celebrated by having the mother of all lie-ins before treating ourselves to breakfast in Muswell Hill. I say breakfast... We might call it lunch.

It has literally done nothing but rain all day. Rain, rain, rain. One of the windscreen wipers on the car has broken - fortunately on the passenger side - but as we drove along the motorway, with the rain pounding on the window, it all got a little hairy. I kept slamming my foot down on an imaginary brake because I couldn't tell how far the car was away from anything else on the road. Fortunately Nathan was driving, and is unflappable in these sorts of situations.

We were driving to see the parents in Thaxted, and had a big old drama in the country lanes around Stansted Airport as a result of extensive flooding. A man in a passing car indicated for us to stop and wind the window down, to tell us we'd never get through to Thaxted and that he'd just been forced to turn around at Haigh's Farm. It was all rather Winter 1963, but we drove on regardless because we're reckless and macho like that.

At Haigh's Farm, we were greeted by  a scene of carnage. A river appeared to be running through the farm itself, and the road was covered in deep, brown water. A cluster of men in hi-viz jackets were very helpfully stopping cars and telling them that their best chance of getting through was sticking to the left hand side of the road in a sort of "you didn't hear that from me" sort of way. And so we ventured forward, walls of water spraying up the sides of the vehicle. At one point the car started losing power and Nathan went uncharacteristically dramatic and said "that's it. It's over..." Fortunately it wasn't, and we crawled through the flood, and on to Thaxted where a wonderful open fire and a brilliant meal was waiting for us.

Ah! The joys of Thaxted. The cozy smell of wood smoke, the endless cups of tea, the chocolate cakes, occasional lamps, and all the tins and boxes filled with all sorts of useful objects like scissors and bits of string. The parents were on great form, and my Mum was looking almost regal in purple and olive green.

My Dad has bought himself a brand new poppy-red mini, which is a thing of great, great beauty. We watched the Strictly Come Dancing results show, marvelling at how everyone attempts to maintain the illusion that the show hasn't been recorded the night before. "Oh look!" Said my Mum, sarcastically, "Mary Berry's come to see the show for a second night running. In the same clothes. And she's still sitting next to Dave from the Hairy Bikers!"

Barry Manilow sang Copa Cobana. Frankly, they weren't going to have him on the show to sing anything else. My Dad maintained that Manilow doesn't have any other songs, which felt a bit unfair! A string quartet of pretty, skinny blonde girls was miming in the background. The rest of the musicians on stage were men. When will the BBC learn that this sort of musical gender stereotyping is the stuff of 1999 and should have died with Westlife? How about we show that musicians can be all kinds of shapes, sizes, ages and colours? God forbid we should see a female drummer, bass player or trumpeter. God forbid we actually get these musicians playing live. (It's the same MU rate after all!) And when will female 'cellist realise they look horribly tacky playing in mini-skirts with their bare legs wrapped around the instrument?! Pet hates! #angry'cellist!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

My thoughts on Emily Thornberry

So it would appear that Labour MP, Emily Thornberry has resigned from the cabinet for the terrible sin of tweeting a picture of a house with three England flags flying outside, with the implication that the owner of said house was a UKIP supporter. In the run up to a bi-election in the same town, I'm afraid I would have made the same assumption. Many of us would have done. But apparently Ms Thornberry is a terrible snob who is completely out of touch with society; part of a breed of elitist politicians who live in posh houses in Islington and have liberal middle-class values which are out of touch with the rest of us. Personally I believe she's apologised for any offence caused, and that should be the end of the matter.

...But no. We are forced into another trial by media. Ched Evans. Dave Lee Travis. Roy Harper. Who will be the next victim of red-topped vigilantism? When will we stop trying to place ourselves above the law makers in this country?

What worries me is that if we continue to cave in to the pressure of the small-minded moral majority, we'll be but one hop, skip and a jump away from bringing back the death penalty, allowing people to smoke in pubs, banning free thought and turning into a dictatorship led by the housewives of Midlands towns.

Sadly, I think Ms Thornberry's resignation says a great deal more about Ed Miliband than it does about her. This is a man whose weight is so far on the back foot that he's in danger of falling backwards into obscurity; a man who is so desperate to stay in power under any circumstance, that he believes the avoidance of a few negative press inches are more important than defending a close friend and loyal member of his team who has stuck by him through thick and thin and whose only crime was implying what most of us were thinking.

Yes, of course people should be able to fly the English flag with pride, wherever they want. I'm the first to argue that England gets a raw deal within the union, but three flags and the white van sitting in the driveway of the same house are indicative of a certain type of person, and I think Miss Thornberry was merely trying to indicate what an uphill climb her party was facing in the area where scenes like that were witnessed.

It turns out that Thornberry, far from being born with a spoon in her mouth, grew up on a council estate and has defended herself by saying she'd "never seen a house where people can't see out of the window because of England flags." Quite right. This is when English pride becomes an aggressive statement and one worthy of comment.

The owner of the house has responded; "I will continue to fly the flags. I don't case who it pisses off. They have been up since the World Cup." I take one slight issue with his statement. The flags aren't flying. They're actually hanging. Drooping.

I believe British society has now reached a cross roads and we have to think very carefully which road we want to take. UKIP are aggressively appealing to the lowest common denominator; the people who think the easy fix to this country's problems is blaming someone else. If we are scared to criticise these views, and rip to shreds the brave few who are putting their heads above the parapet, however misguidedly, then we are lost.

Ask yourself a simple question. Who would you rather run this county? A genteel, middle-class female politician with gentle left wing leanings who supports gay marriage and rights for women, or a white male who would jump ship to an extreme right wing party at the drop of a hat? However I look at this story, I see it as a battle lost for the good guys, and whoever played a role in Ms Thornberry's resignation has specks of blood all over their hands. And yes, that includes you Ed Miliband. You're no leader in my eyes.

Friday, 21 November 2014


You know those days when the s**t hits the fan and just keeps hitting it; almost as though there's a chimpanzee on the prowl, flinging the poo of every member of his extended family directly into the blades? That! My body has reacted physically. My neck is in spasms, it hurts when I swallow and I keep going dizzy. Joy!

I slept for eleven hours last night, and woke up naturally for the first time in an age. As a result, I experienced a series of peculiar dreams as I drifted in and out of sleep. I can't remember any of them, but woke up feeling anxious, so they can't have been a great deal of fun.

The morning was spent emailing. Emailing, emailing. Admin. Admin. We're trying to sort out some potential dates for the Brass cast recording, which is a most complicated jigsaw puzzle, involving the availabilities of fifty young performers, plus, more crucially, a series of recording studios, who all seem to be curiously busy in early January. It's hell on toast.

The frustration really started ramping it up on my way to the gym when I received an email from a friend which made me feel dreadful, and then, as I came out, I found a parking ticket on my car. The last time we went to the gym, we were handed a little permit which allows us to park in the car park for free. I immediately placed mine on the dashboard and said it had to stay there because it's exactly the sort of thing I'd forget. It turns out the silly thing must have blown away, because it was no longer there this afternoon. Hence the fine. Hence me going into slight meltdown.

At that point I simultaneously found out that the two dates I'd earmarked for brass player sessions on Brass were problematic for players, and then, via a generic "Dear Sir/Madam" email, that our song has not been shortlisted for this year's Eurovision. If I'm completely honest, I wasn't really expecting it to be. The BBC plainly has its own desperate-to-fail agenda when it comes to the competition. The generic letter was at least one step-up on the response to the last song I entered, which wasn't even acknowledged! Apparently, due to the large number of people who entered, they can't give us individual feedback regarding why we weren't selected, but they very kindly wished me luck in the future. Talk about feeling crushed by a brutal machine. I'm a soddin' BBC composer! And I'm 40!

I personally believe that if people have taken time to find singers and create demos, and you're a subsidised broadcaster, you have a duty to find the five minutes it takes to tell them why they've not been successful. They plainly weren't inundated with entries. Frankly, anyone with an ounce of compassion would realise that you have to be a little bit careful with the feelings of creative people if you want them to continue to create in the future. What makes things even more perplexing is that I'd just sent an email to the woman at the BBC I'd been exchanging countless Eurovision-related emails with, asking if there was any news. A politer individual might have emailed me back with a personal message.

It reminded me of the time I was called in for a meeting with Stephen Daldry and half a tonne of other swanky people about the possibility of my becoming the resident director on Billy Elliot. We had a lovely dinner in a pub and a two-hour chat. A few weeks later, a letter came through the post which read, "Dear Mr Till, thank you for your interest in this position. There were a number of very strong applicants for the role, and I'm really sorry we didn't get a chance to meet with you on this occasion. Good luck with your future career etc etc..." Sometimes a generic letter can cut to the heart!

...Oh, I shall be watching very carefully to see what the BBC actually selects this year. If it's anything short of genius I shall stamp my little foot incredibly hard. And next year? Well, I shall turn my attention to a different European country and show the BBC how it's bloody done!

I'm currently speeding my way back to Highgate after a phone message from my neighbour, Little Welsh Natalie, who tells me that we are currently experiencing a power cut! A power cut?! Oh joy of joys! What next?

Basically, the moral of this blog is that if anyone else has some poo to fling at me, they might as well do it right now. Gladiators? Ready! Poo flingers? Ready! I'm gonna eat myself into a coma.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

First day of winter

I'm currently trying to get over this cold/ nervous exhaustion thing which is coursing it's way through my body. I'm sitting under a blanket watching a TV programme about the rather stunning Tagg's Island on the Thames out towards Hampton. The island is situated roughly at the start of the non-tidal, calm part of the river, where the water twinkles in the sun, and meanders slowly whilst people swim and mess about in barges and rowing boats.

Tagg's Island is famous for its community of bohemians who all live in house boats permanently moored on the water's edge. They call them house boats, one assumes because they float, but the majority are two story buildings with multiple rooms. I would love to live there. One of the women on the show had a grand piano in her sitting room, with enormous windows looking out onto the river. If I lived there, I'd have a punt in my garden and I'd be as happy as Larry, whoever he is...

I finished and delivered parts two and three of my composition for the Fleet Singers this morning, and sent them off to the choir leaders before heading to the gym, making a detour en route to the shops on the Archway Road. We wanted to put some posters up to advertise the show Julie is producing at Trafalgar Studios next month. The piece promises to be excellent. It's written by my mate Di Sherlock and is a one-woman show based on Dickens' Miss Haversham, which stars theatrical grand dame, Linda Marlowe. With a bit of persuasion and a couple of quid, we managed to get about ten posters up in shop and cafe windows along the street. I'm always happy to go the extra mile for a mate who's taking risks for art. Producing a show is the ultimate risk, and I really hope it works for her.

We had our first casserole of the season for lunch today; a sure sign that we're battening down the hatches and preparing for winter. The heating is now on in the morning and at night, and I'm finding myself searching for long-sleeved tops. I might eat a bowl of porridge for supper. I just have. It was lush.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Little boxes

I seem to have developed some sort of allergy or mild cold. I'm coughing, sneezing, blowing my nose and making all sorts of strange spluttering noises. It's bizarre. It came on after a little swim in the gym. I blame the hundreds of children who were rushing about around the pool edge. I'm not sure children should be learning to swim in a gym, weeing in the water and screaming like banshees. They should be somewhere with a wave machine.

I went to Pimlico this morning to deliver a Brass for Brass cheque to Jeremy from The NYMT. The cheque, for a hugely generous amount, came from the Richard Carne Foundation, who do marvellous work giving financial assistance to young people training for careers in music and drama. It's helped us enormously, so much, in fact, that I'm hoping by the end of the week, we might be halfway towards our target.

I got to Pimlico an hour early. I'm always am hour early, so that I can sit and do some work in a cafe whilst I wait. I opted to sit in a Starbucks this morning which made me smell of fried cheese. At one stage a song by (I think) Eméli Sande came on the radio. Whoever it was was going large in the vocal department. And when I say large, I mean large in a mildly hysterical, "aren't I a fabulous singer" sort of way. I'd just started tuning into the indulgent noise when an elderly gentleman sitting opposite me, tapped my table with his stick and said; "who's that singing? She's in agony is she?" It made me laugh.

I had an early lunch on Old Compton Street. A girl walked up to the counter of the cafe I'd chosen for my salad and said, "I'm looking for a job." The cafe owner asked for a CV and she duly took one out of a plastic wallet. I turned around to take a peek at the girl to see if I thought she would make a good waitress. She was wearing the largest sunglasses I've ever seen, which almost completely covered her face. It made me rather angry. She'd come into a cafe looking for a job which involves being friendly and personable, and yet she couldn't be bothered to show the cafe owner the whites of her eyes. There is so much that young people need to learn about presentation. It's terrifying...

I walked for miles around Central London in the early afternoon, passing scores of those charity people who stand on street corners with their hi-viz jackets, clip boards and flirtatious "resting actor" smiles. I hate having to avoid eye contact with anyone, but sadly, it's all too clear with these people that if you catch their eye, they'll instantly pounce like cheetahs. They were everywhere today. Smiling like moronic Mormons.

The post office have now introduced Sainsbury's-esque automated tills which have weighing scales and little machines which spew out stamps. They're almost impossible to use and, worse still, it appears that they've been designed to make you pay beyond the odds for anything you might want. "Would you like this letter to arrive tomorrow?" It asks. Well of course you would, so you say yes, but it turns out that guaranteed next-day delivery will set you back £8 instead of £1.20... All these little surcharges get added, and by the end, you have to start all over again. It's all a bit theoretical anyway, because the machines break down at the drop of a hat. Mine switched itself off because I pressed the button by mistake that said I was paying with a credit card rather than a debit card...

I met Nathan for a second lunch (soup), and we took our little decoupaged box filled with letters to Cameron Mackintosh's offices. We lucked out because Cameron's PA was sitting with the receptionist. Unfortunately Cameron is away from his offices for a month, but I know his PA will make sure the letters are read by someone. I opened the box and he looked visibly moved to see the letters inside, with poppy petals sprinkled everywhere. We all need to keep our fingers crossed that he responds positively, so that we can get this recording done. It's a very exciting prospect and I'm desperate to get my teeth sunk into it.

Public enemy

I found myself thinking about public enemy number one, Ched Evans today. His photograph was all over the newspaper everyone was reading on the tube. For those who have been living in a barn (or a country where sex crimes are not titilatingly sprawled across newspapers), Evans is, or probably was, a Premiership footballer, who was sent to jail for raping a young woman. We're told he's appealing the conviction, but the current situation indicates that he did the crime and, furthermore, that he's served his time.

Now, I can't possibly get into the nitty-gritty of what happened. I wasn't there. I don't know any of the people involved, and in fact, I'd not heard of Ched Evans until he was released from prison a few weeks ago. Judy Finnegan has already got herself into a lot of trouble for suggesting that there may be more to the story than a cut and dried case of rape. Whatever the truth, it's interesting to note that Evans' girlfriend is sticking by him.

Regardless of his guilt or innocence, the fact remains that Evans went to jail. The case was presided over by a judge who, one assumes, used intelligence and experience of the law to work out what he felt was a fair sentence.

Now, of course, everyone is screaming blue murder because Evans is hoping to return to playing football. Of course he is. It's his job. It's how he earns his money. It's what he's good at, just as I would hope to return to composing if, god forbid, I went to jail. Jeffry Archer continued to write books after serving time, and Nelson Mandella became the president of South Africa!  Who are we to decide when one crime is more worthy of forgiveness than another?

When it comes to sex crime, it seems that people always assume that the perpetrator is a recidivist. Once a adulterer, always an adulterer. Once a rapist, always a rapist. "Think about the children" they yell. But we don't say this about murderers... Or arsonists. They were whinging about Evans on Loose Women the last time I switched the telly on. The only person who seemed to be making sense was the singer Jamelia who, quite rightly, was pointing out that part of the experience of prison is rehabilitation.

So here's my question. What do these people actually WANT to happen to Evans? Do we live in a world where we all think we're above criminal justice? A world where, because we read about a crime in The Sun, we all feel we know more about the case than the judge who spent weeks in a courtroom deliberating over it?

Should Evans sign on? Should he try and find work in a shop? Frankly, whatever he does, he will be hounded, and his life will be miserable and that seems to be what people want to happen. But what about redemption? What about giving someone a second chance? What about acknowledging that they made a mistake, and trusting our ancient legal system to select a suitable punishment?

I sat in my favourite cafe after osteopathy, but the experience was deeply marred by a woman screaming at someone on the phone. It put me completely on edge. She literally shouted in an agitated manner at a friend for more than an hour. After a while it got into my bones like damp winter weather, and I could hear nothing else. As she spoke I became aware that they were playing 1960s vibraphone-based splatter jazz on the sound system, which created an almost unbearably tense atmosphere.

I changed cafés and headed into Soho to continue writing. I was meeting Nathan for a late lunch, but four cups of tea, a lack of food and sleep, and ears full of headphones, turned me into a jittering idiot. By the time I found Nathan, I was climbing the walls!

I've had a quiet evening in tonight. Working. Cooking. And latterly, catching up on Downton.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Brass for brass

I can't sleep. I think the fact that I'd forgotten to write this blog wasn't helping matters. Neither was Nathan, who, uncharacteristically, seems to be snoring his way through the night!

I'm sitting on a sofa, listening to the metronomic ticking of my ABBA clock, whilst the cars continue to swoosh past on the A1 below. As is always the case at 3.30am, I'm feeling a little reflective.

All sorts of thoughts are going through my mind. What will my next job turn out to be? If I can't find work, what will I do? Normally I'd try to sign on, but as a married man, I suppose that safety net is no longer an option. What sort of work could I expect to do in the short term?

I spent the evening decoupaging! Julie and Sam would be deeply proud of me. I've been making a beautiful little box to put all the letters the Brass cast have been writing to Cameron Mackintosh inside. I have cut up lots of images from the show, glued them to the top of the box and covered everything in about six coats of varnish. I think it looks pretty good in an authentic turn of the 19th Century sort of way.

The box has 21 letters inside. I suspect yet more will arrive in the post tomorrow. I'm really proud of the cast for doing this and have my fingers firmly crossed that something good will come of it. The idea that we'd be unable to do this recording is now unthinkable, particularly as a symphonic performance of the piece in London is becoming increasingly unlikely due to cost.

Perry from the cast came all the way up to Highgate this evening to deliver his letter, and sat and chatted to us whilst I varnished. Perry played Wrigley in Brass, and is now out of education and attempting to cut his teeth as a professional in the industry. I certainly don't envy him, but utterly admire his courage in giving it a go. A life-time of feast or famine lies ahead of him and, as an actor, he'll never ever be able to control his destiny.

Nathan's been cracking an old joke about actors rather a lot recently, which is funny, yet terrifyingly accurate. Question: "Why doesn't an actor look out of a window in the morning?" Answer: "Because it gives him something to do in the afternoon."

By the way, if you're reading this and have thought you'd like to make a donation to the Brass for Brass kitty, please feel free. Even if it's just a fiver, every penny counts. Remember, all the proceeds of the sales of this CD will go to the NYMT bursary fund, which gives young people who wouldn't normally be able to afford to do so, the extraordinary opportunity to work with then National Youth Music Theatre. And it's well worth it. Believe me. They get to work with people like me!

Right. 4am, and back to bed for me.

Sunday, 16 November 2014


I got stuck in a ludicrous traffic jam today, on the A1 somewhere near Sandy, and, in desperation, switched Radio 4 on in the hope I'd hear one of those soothing voices they specialise in. They were playing a programme about a 19th Century Dorset-based poet called William Barnes. I'd never heard of him, which isn't really surprising because if it's not by TS Elliot or a First World War poet, I've probably not read it!

It turns out that Barnes wrote poems in a Dorset dialect, which he kind of made up, based on Anglo-Saxon and a few words he'd picked up from peasants working in local fields.  

Anyway, they also interviewed a modern day poet, a rather charming woman called Liz Berry. Berry is from the Black Country and has a beautiful, strong Yammy accent, which obviously rather instantly made me feel homesick. She writes poems which are ripe with Black Country dialect.

I was actually moved to write to her earlier to say how much I'd enjoyed her poetry, in the process saluting her for flying the Midlands flag. I'm very much hoping the two of us will work on a project at some point in the future.

I'm sitting watching a BBC3 programme called Snog, Marry, Avoid at the moment, the premise of which is to do a make-under on a ghastly specimen. There's a girl on right now who is wearing so much mahogany fake tan that you can't actually see anything but her teeth, which are covered in lipstick. I wonder how people get like that.

There's so little else to say about today. Nathan is in Hull performing with the Westenders, and I'm a bit lonely waiting for him to come back. How tragic is that? The only thing which is more tragic is the fact that I can't think of anything else to write!!

Devil's Dyke

As we drove home last night, after extracting ourselves from a mega-midnight traffic jam on the North Circular, we witnessed a very unpleasant incident involving the car in front of us pulling up alongside a middle-aged Turkish couple on the pavement, who were duly pelted with eggs. Fortunately the eggs landed at the couple's feet, but they were obviously quite shocked and perplexed. We tailed the offending car for long enough to get its number plate and then turned around to check that the couple were okay, and to let them know that we had the car's details if they wanted to take matters further. They said they didn't; sadly, I suspect they were the kind of immigrants who don't want to make a fuss, even if it means turning a blind eye when being treated badly.

I reported the incident to the police, assuming that, if these people were flinging eggs about, it was fair to assume they were probably up to other forms of, perhaps more serious, mischief.

There were two women on the tube this morning talking Dutch. At least I thought they were talking Dutch until I realised they were actually speaking in the strongest, most excessive Geordie accents. Having worked in Newcastle for several lengthy periods, I am pretty well attuned to all sorts of North Eastern accents, but this was something else! These women needed to put themselves up for dialect research!

I was on the tube heading to Victoria Station, where the plan was to take a train to Hove for the day. This would have been a simple enough task had it not been for some kind of planned engineering works which meant I had to get a rail replacement bus from Three Bridges. Sadly Southern Trains hadn't put enough effort into the customer service side of what was undoubtedly going to be a complicated day for passengers and indeed staff.

The train announcer told us that the replacement buses would be leaving from outside the front of Three Bridges station, but it turned out that the buses actually went from the far corner of the back car park. It was raining. All sorts of elderly people were trying to rush to the bus, which pulled away before we'd arrived. A group of men wearing hi-viz and carrying clip boards were trying to work out which bus went where. It was a shambles. Some buses were going direct to Brighton, others went via other towns and villages. Still more were apparently heading off to Lewes. None went to Hove. There was confusion, outrage and anxiety all round. It should really not have been that complicated...

Fortunately we ended up with a bus driver who didn't give a shit. There were only five of us on board, so he decided to floor his vehicle in the outside lane of the motorway, and the expected 45-minute journey lasted just twenty!

I met Fiona at Brighton Station in the end, and sat in the concourse eating some potato wedges whilst a stranger's dog begged at my feet. It was a little disconcerting, particularly as the dog's owners were laughing hysterically at how sweet it looked. It wasn't sweet. It was begging. And everyone was then watching me eat my potato wedges, which made me incredibly embarrassed!

We took a taxi out to the Devil's Dyke, a spectacular gorge on the chalk downs, high above Hove. The place is steeped in folk law and legend and was once home to a funicular railway and (I think) the world's first cable car. It's a stunning, atmospheric spot. In one direction you can see all the way to the sea, and in the other, for miles across the southern plains.

There's also a charming pub up there, which sells delicious food. Meriel and Hilary met us and we took one of the National Trust's suggested walks down into the dyke itself, and then up onto the ridge in a spectacular figure of eight. The sun shone, it was a bit muddy under foot in places, but the walk was glorious and a lot of fun.

We visited a farm run by the National Trust, with a little cafe, where we drank tea. I stroked sheep in a field, and we saw an old-fashioned wooden donkey wheel. One assumes it was built to drag water up from an aquifer which apparently still sits underneath the farm and provides water for much of the Hove area. For some of the walk, I was joined by a ladybird, who hopped onto my jacket shoulder and remained my companion for the best part of an hour.

The walk took us up through a wood, and then right to the top of the downs, where the views were simply divine.

The day ended back in the pub with soup and a salad and much mirth. We sat and watched the sun setting from a bay window; orange turned to mauve, then violet, then indigo and finally dark black.

I managed to get a non-stopping train back to London, but because of the nonsense engineering works, it took me home via Angmaring and Littlehampton (miles west along the seafront from Hove). It felt entirely like I was heading in the wrong direction, largely because I was. The eventual train journey was a full hour longer than it ought to have been.

Victoria Station at 8pm on a Saturday was full of terrible prannies; drunk people wandering aimlessly, people standing on the wrong side of the escalators, people dithering and pushing and creating multi-person pile-ups. On weekends, London fills with tourists and revellers who don't understand the etiquette of tube travel. They don't get that it's dangerous to simply stop at the bottom of an escalator. They don't know that you have to get off a tube train and simply walk the direction everyone else is walking in - until you get your bearings...

From Victoria I went to Tufnell Park to see our new friends Peter and David, who actually got married the same day as us. I suppose they were the other gay couple whose wedding was more circus than ceremony, having become the very first two gay men to tie the knot on that remarkable day. Their marriage was at Islington Town Hall at the stroke of midnight. It generated a huge amount of press attention, and by all accounts ended in some kind of street party on Upper Street, largely due to the sheer number of well-wishers who turned up to share in their joy. Though we didn't know each other then, we have somehow shared a fairly remarkable experience, and Peter and I have been in regular contact via email.

The party was great. In fact, it re-introduced me to an old friend who I'd worked with in a ballet in the year 2000, which seems like forever ago... Because it is!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Wonder Woman

It was so grim and dark this morning that the street light outside our living room window didn't go out. It spent much of the day instead casting rays of eerie orange light onto our sofa. I woke up at 8.30am, heard the rain literally pounding onto the roof, and allowed myself to fall asleep again for another hour. Ah! The joys of being freelance!

When I finally woke up, the terrible weather outside instantly made me want to eat porridge. Porridge is the elixir of life!

I worked throughout the day, finally finishing the fine-tuning on the second movement of the Fleet Singers composition, which I can officially reveal is called The Man in the Straw Hat. I've actually set four John Betjeman poems to music in this composition, and all the other lyrics in the piece are inspired by his writing. Betjeman often wore a straw boater, which he tended to place at a rather jaunty angle on his head, so the title felt appropriate. Wistful, not too pretentious, evocative of long summers on Hampstead Heath in the 1930s...

We went to a quiz in Chelmsford tonight, which involved driving out of London in the early rush-hour on a Friday night. Rookie error. By the time we'd arrived, 2 1/2 hours after leaving Highgate, our car's computer revealed we'd been traveling at an average of 14 miles per hour. When traveling East, the capital seems to last forever. Traffic light after traffic light. Jam after jam. My foot went all fizzy and kept shaking on the clutch. I hate the A12.

The quiz was a lot of fun. The MC rattled through the questions, although it instantly became clear that it was one of those easy quizzes where an almost perfect score was required to beat the competition.

We came joint second - out of 18 - largely due to having played our joker on a round about comic books which we did rather badly on. It was like watching a car crash. There was nothing I could do to prevent catastrophe. I'd nailed my colours to the mast before the round began to say I knew nothing about comics. I have never read a comic. Never once. I wasn't one of those sorts of lads. I did, however, know the name of Wonder Woman's alter ego... (Diana Price, for those scratching their heads.) I loved Wonder Woman. I dressed up as Wonder Woman as a five year old boy, with a cape made out of a dressing gown and a lasso of truth made out of newspaper! And, for some reason, a wand made out of a old chair leg. Hmm. Anyway, for me, Wonder Woman was a lovely lady with blue eyes on the telly. I had no idea she was also a comic book character. Glad to have been of assistance. Shame I didn't know anything about the Beano. Someone's now going to tell me that Wonder Woman WAS in the Beano. I don't know...

The journey home was a speedier affair with Nathan driving at 90 miles per hour along the M25... But then we were utterly destroyed by the North Circular. We're still here as it happens. Crawling along. Three lanes of traffic merging into one, and a tunnel closed somewhere ahead. Joy!

Slumber party

I sat and listened to the most extraordinary conversation between two middle-aged men at the gym today. It seemed to be nothing but a string of names. One of the guys would say: "Gappy Brown. You know him?" And the other would say, "Gappy? Yes. He was my sister's first boyfriend! Gappy Brown is Gloria Brown's nephew." "Oh, I know Gloria Brown. Big tits. Lovely girl. She used to go down the Nag's Head" "I tell you who used to go down there... John. What's his name. John..." "...Stephens?" "No. John Stephens is the cabbie who lives on Green Estate. He's the one one who crashed his cab with customers in it." "I used to live down Green... It was alright in its day..." "Gappy Brown lived on Green." And so it went on. Like an enormous game of word association, never reaching a point, constantly evolving, but going in giant circles, like a rotating door.

This evening I went to Philip Sallon's birthday party, which was at the Groucho club. The theme was slumber party, and I felt like a proper dickhead sitting on the tube in a fluffy dressing gown. It was spectacularly mortifying. I kept trying to remind my face to wear it with panache. People are far less likely to be embarrassed for you if you own what you're doing, but instead I shuffled about, like an escapee from a mental hospital.

The party itself was a lot of fun, although god knows most of the people there had managed to make bedroom attire look a great deal more sexy than I had. Nathan was working, so Julie Clare came as my plus one, wearing a beautiful laced neglige. Philip looked like a Frida Kahlo self portrait, in a floral print floor-length silk kimono gown and a glorious tall black turban, which he confessed to having crafted from an old T-shirt. All the other men at the party looked vaguely Victorian, in an opium den sort of way, though there was a level of self-obsession in that space which almost defied gravity. In these sorts of instances I tend to retreat inwards, and avoid talking about myself or my work, largely because I'm not really interested in watching someone's eyes glaze over when I begin to talk! Instead I have lots of fun asking people questions about themselves and talking about inappropriate things. One girl did manage to extract herself from her ego for long enough to notice the wedding ring on my finger and asked what my wife was called. "Nathan," I said. Embarrassment forced her to make a deeply patronising "isn't that sweet" noise before asking to see a picture. I actually don't have one of Nathan on my iPhone, so hastily googled "Our Gay Wedding: the Musical" and handed her the phone. She spooled through a number of pictures, never once thinking it was a bit strange that all my wedding photos were online and thereby, in my view, demonstrating a whole new level of self absorption!

I went home clutching a doggy bag of cakes for Nathan, looking more shambolic than I had on the way there. I stopped on Oxford Street to help hail a taxi for my friend Jo, and was horrified when they all refused to stop. In fact, one switched his light off as soon as he saw us. Alex swore it was because of my dressing gown. "You look like a proper nutter" he said. "Like Amy Winehouse, in the middle of a bender, going down Camden High Street for a kebab." He wasn't wrong. Someone even took my photo on the tube!

My first letter to Cameron Mackintosh from a Brass cast member arrived through the post this morning. It was very exciting to see it sitting on the doormat. It came from Laura, who plays Eliza, and was beautifully decorated and stained with tea. She subsequently told me that the letter says how Brass means the world to her, and that "for the first time, this year, during the 2 minutes I cried... I finally understand why we wear our poppies..." The comment meant more to me than she could possibly have known.

Again, if you are moved to make a donation to the pot, which has currently raised about £1,500, you can do so by going to...

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Brown rice

I'm cooking brown rice. It doesn't look very nice. There's a grey sort of film on the surface of the water. I love rice but rarely cook it because I don't really know how to! Today's attempt is all part of my new healthy eating regime, which starts and ends with proper ingredients. Silly really; I wildly prefer eating stuff which doesn't taste processed, but it's been a while since I last made a salad. So much so, in fact, that when I came to clear out the fridge, I found a cucumber which had literally turned to water. All that was helping it to keep its form was its plastic wrapping. As I removed it from the shelf, it burst open and a shocking gloopy substance went all over the floor and my trousers. I didn't dare to smell it. It was all too horrendous.

I worked through the morning sitting at the kitchen table, and then, after lunch, went to the gym, before heading up to a cafe in Highgate Village to work again. I'd forgotten how posh people are up there. I sat opposite a pair of school girls, who I thought were taking the mickey out of Sloanne Rangers until it became clear they actually spoke that way!

I'm pleased to say that the appeal for funding for the cast recording of Brass has passed it's first milestone of £1000. It seems like a huge amount, but, of course, we need another eleven of those. When Nathan and I launched a crowd-funding initiative for our Four Colours charity recording, it took four weeks to get to £1000, so at least we're well-ahead of that! That particular project felt like pulling teeth.

I received an email from one of my benefactors today who has pledged a hugely generous amount. I'm not going to announce it until I see the cheque, as I somehow feel like I might jinx it. The donation will still leave us with a huge hill to climb, but it will certainly give the coffers a boost.

The cast and musicians are currently writing letters to Cameron Mackintosh in the hope that he might like to pledge a little something to the cause. I am collating the letters, and will put them all in some kind of basket with some lovely photographs of the show. One of the cast sent me a draft of the letter he's sending, which is written from the perspective of the character he plays in Brass. It made me cry. It's so heart-felt and beautifully written.

It made me realise that I have managed to achieve exactly what I set out to achieve with Brass, which was to bring the First World War to a generation of young actors and allow it to get under their skin in the same way that Oh What A Lovely War had got under mine when I was at school. I genuinely think my life was improved by an awareness of the First World War. I think it was the first time true empathy crept into my soul.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


I sat in my favourite cafe in Borough this morning, staring at the clouds, trying to find inspiration. A plane was flying very low in the sky. One assumes it was heading towards City Airport, which my brother informs me has one of the most picturesque approaches, involving a change of direction right over The Shard.

I found the sight of a low-flying plane somewhat chilling and it caused a few nervous glances from other customers, who probably saw me staring and decided I had a point! There's nothing like a little dose of group hysteria! The fact of the matter is that it's 11th November today, and it was approaching 11am as the plane flew past, and, frankly, I wouldn't put it past a terrorist to have a pop at this country as it marked this important occasion. Armistice Day seems to have traditionally attracted displays of terrorism. Who can forget the IRA attack on Enniskillen? I suppose it's traditionally been an occasion where the armed forces are on parade, but I've always seen the date as a celebration of pacifism. A warning to all generations of the danger of war.

I was in the waiting room at the osteopath when the clock stuck eleven. I sat there for about five minutes prior to the event wondering if I ought to make a little announcement to remind people, but fortunately, the receptionist did the honours, and as the clock hit the hour, he simply said "eleven am" and stood with his head bowed in a deeply dignified way, the poppy on his jacket creating a powerful statement with the AIDS ribbon next to it.

I, of course, immediately started crying, which confused my osteopath when he came bounding into the reception half way through the two-minute silence and called my name. It turns out that the reception clock was running a minute slow, so he'd done the silence with the other osteopaths elsewhere in the building and then come to find me.

I was fairly horrified by the behaviour of others in the waiting room. One person started texting, another woman refused to look up from her magazine. In fact, as I looked around, I could see no-one who seemed remotely like they wanted to mark the occasion. They behaved more like people on a tube when a beggar asks for money. Dreadful really.

I found myself in a tragic state of red alert for the rest of the day. Could I smell gas at Bank Station? Why did the train grind to a halt in the tunnel? Why had an entire building of people been evacuated onto Soho Square?

If anyone reading this blog is feeling particularly flush at the moment, you might like to think about becoming a Brass Angel. The NYMT have decided to make a fully professional original cast recording of Brass. I can't tell you what an astonishing opportunity it will be for the young people. Recording a cast album is something which is like gold dust on an actor's CV.  It also means that Brass lives on, and makes it a great deal easier for me to take the necessary baby steps towards a professional production of the piece. So anyone who has been moved by the story of Brass, or by the young people, who have been so fabulous, please get in touch.

You can directly donate by going to

Monday, 10 November 2014

That haunting smile

I delivered the first part of the Fleet Singers composition to the choir this afternoon. The rest will follow at regular intervals this week, as and when I feel each bit is fully finessed. When that commission is done and dusted, it's out into the unknown again for me. In the interests of keeping busy, I have two personal projects to be getting on with; a re-write of the script of Brass, and a brand new musical, which I'm going to tentatively begin. Baby steps, obviously: starting anything is terrifying. I just wish I was being paid something to do it!!

Ben Holder came over this afternoon, and we had a lovely chat about a potential original cast recording of Brass, thrashing out the dates which might work for the various necessary sessions. It's not going to be cheap, however, so the fundraising effort will need to be effective and intense! We're hoping to record at the very start of January!

I've been watching the Children In Need Choir programme, which strikes me as a rather ghastly gimmick and an even ghastlier song. For those who are out of the loop, a series of non-singing celebrities like John Craven, Alison Steadman, (insert name) Blue Peter presenters and Craig Revel-Horwood have got together to form a choir.  The song they "performed" and subsequently released was recorded at Abbey Road and features the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which strikes me as a pair of rather expensive indulgences.

I shouldn't be cruel, because, of course, anything for charity is obviously important. But it's such a terrible-sounding choir, that all they've been able to do to make it sound remotely decent is stick a load of reverb on everything. It sounds like it was recorded in a train station, bizarrely with the announcements going on at the same time!

I suppose I'm a little bit tired of the BBC's Children In Need charity. It gets trotted out to justify all sorts of BBC projects which might have been expensive enough to raise eyebrows without the excuse of being for charity, like the recent trailer for BBC music which ripped off Our Gay Wedding and probably cost six times the amount. And where the performers and writers give their time and expertise often for nothing, other people cream in the profits.

We sold A Symphony for Yorkshire DVDs for Children In Need. They sold really well, about ten thousand of them in total. I waived any potential fee, as did all the performers, but then we discovered that only £5 from every £10 DVD was actually going to the charity. As usual, the BBC had to farm out the task of reproducing DVDs to an external company, whose eyes must have lit up at the thought of making about £4 profit on every single sale. I think they could have netted as much as £40k, which would have paid for a second community film. I should have offered to do the repros myself!

Nathan's been singing at the Ivy tonight, dressed as a First World War Tommy. He sent me a picture of himself smiling proudly in his uniform which made me feel incredibly sad. I thought about the smiling faces of thousands of missing men on the giant display at the Thiepval monument. I thought about the spouses and lovers of those who simply disappeared. Just like the Cheshire Cat, all that remained of them was that haunting smile. I hope my husband never has to go to war.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Eurovision moons

We're at Brother Edward and Sascha's house watching a deep orange harvest moon rising above the black Thames.

We've just watched ourselves on telly winning the Grierson Award. Edward is one of the few people I know with Sky, so we asked him to record the broadcast last Friday. It was rather strange to watch it again. As they announced our award, Nathan and I both started to feel a little nervous, almost as though we'd imagined winning it, and were about to be revealed as frauds!

We also got our first opportunity to see our appearance on This Morning which was recorded the day after our wedding. We looked a sorry sight. Me particularly. I was bloated, blotchy and remarkably fat, with great big bags under my eyes. Holly and Philip must have thought they were interviewing a semi-deflated balloon. Grotesque. Time to slim down again.

I had a horrible dream last night. I kept waking up, falling asleep again and re-entering the same dream! I was in Cambridge on my birthday and trying to gather my friends for a photograph, but they were all in different places in the city. Every time I managed to locate one group, another group would disappear, or tell me that they needed to get back to London. It was hopeless.

We're now, once again, listening to previous Eurovision entries, with an added twist tonight that everything we're hearing failed to be chosen to represent the UK at some point in the last 50 years. The songs very much demonstrate that by 2006, when this country stopped doing a national pre-selection, we were entering absolute rubbish; largely talent show rejects singing songs with little or no merit, written on the backs of cornflake packets by writers who were saving their best songs for more credible artists. Jordan, six months pregnant, in her ghastly pink rubber catsuit, was an all time low. It frustrates me to hear these songs, not just because it makes me realise quite how little interest the BBC has in Eurovision, but because they remind me that the British pop industry was simultaneously going down the pan, engulfed by manufactured pop groups thrown together by money-hungry managers desperate for a fast buck.

By contrast, in the 1980s, amazing tunes were falling at the last British hurdle. This was back in the days when the Eurovision actually mattered. I certainly hope that listening to these failures isn't tempting fate for our own entry this year. I'd obviously rather not join a list of "never wases!"

Pubs and gothic churches

We've just returned from a charming pub in King's Cross where we were celebrating Fiona's 40th birthday. We were in an upstairs room with beautiful sash windows looking over York Way. Lovely food. Great company; people I'd not seen for far too long and wonderful surprises like Nicky and Vic, and Vicky and Nick and Victoria... (Sensing the theme?) PK was there with Liv. And Julian and Carla, and Gillon (telling me he wanted the vows from our wedding released as a single so he could listen to them every day... ) And then a heap of old music school friends from Northampton. It was the best reunion.

In the afternoon, we went to a splendid Victorian high gothic church in Earl's Court to see Abbie in a piece which explored the memories of children in the Second World War. Nathan made me giggle: "did they misread the memo about World War One?" It was actually a little refreshing to hear about the other war for a change after being bombarded by the 14-18 conflict for the past year.

Abbie was stunning. Her monologue was a direct transcript of the memories of a local woman who was one of the few children in the area who was not evacuated. It was beautifully staged and very moving at times. It was also rather lovely to hear her singing We'll Meet Again in her rich, fruity alto voice.

Friday, 7 November 2014


There's very little to say about today other than that King's Cross station seems to be in complete disarray. Some shenanigans are happening with the Northern line and the way you access it from ticket halls, and it's now impossible to exit the station without a ridiculously long underground walk, which deposits you in the shiny little aluminium plaza behind the station where the gas works and prostitutes used to be. When I last came to the station you could opt to exit almost directly onto the Euston Road via the old ticket hall where the terrible fire was. Fiona was at this very station earlier complaining of insanely lengthy queues for loos and taxis. As is so often the case in the UK, it would appear that money has been ploughed into the building (making everything look shiny and industrial chic) with an almost complete disregard for practicalities. Thar said, the newly refurbished station itself, with the giant plaza out front looks absolutely stunning, I just wish I hadn't been too irritated by all that walking to fully appreciate it!

In recent days I've noticed rather a lot of born again christians standing in public places, handing out magazines and pamphlets. I passed a gaggle of them wearing their sensible shoes and tweedy skirts at Victoria yesterday and they were working King's Cross earlier on like dead-eyed, modern-day whores. Whores, of course, with less value to society. It is, in my view, a cynical and deeply transparent act: the Muslims have started to misbehave, so the Christians go on a recruitment drive, desperately hoping for Armageddon whilst they're on earth so they can watch people suffering. They refuse to engage in plans to save this planet, because its very destruction is in their interest. They attempt to pick off the vulnerable; the easy prey, the mentally ill or those who have been shat on by society. It's dull beyond words - and a little dangerous. Stick them all on an island and force them to function like human beings. It'll be like Lord of the bloody Flies!

I worked all day on the finer details of the first part of my composition for the Fleet Singers. I'm going through the piece with a fine-tooth comb, stripping back some harmonies, and bringing others into focus. It's a time-consuming process, but one which I enjoy thoroughly. It's where mathematics and logic come to the fore. The raw, creative, emotional splurging is done and dusted on this project.

I drove to the gym earlier, and managed to get hemmed in by several cars in the car park. It was one of those ridiculous scenarios when I literally had to extract myself an inch at a time. I was there for at least ten minutes, my face flushing bright red when ever anyone passed and stared. By the time I freed myself I was shaking like a tragic leaf. Experiencing mayhem in the process of parking is one of the most emasculating things known to man!

I've run out of oats, so can't treat myself to a pot of porridge in front of the telly tonight. Does anyone remember the story about the little girl who wished for porridge and her wish came true and the porridge kept pouring out of the pot? "Stop little pot, stop!" She yelled as the porridge poured into the village and started drowning little old ladies. I was never sure what the moral of that particular story was. I mean, wishing for food, particularly a super-food like porridge strikes me as a very sensible thing to do if you're hungry and can't afford any oats. Porridge is more filling than goji berries. She wasn't wishing for money, or cocaine or beef burgers.

I suspect the moral of that particular story was that one that says poor people shouldn't have ideas above their station. If god wants you to die of hunger, it would be rude to disobey him. I'm pretty sure, however, that if there IS a god, that he wouldn't operate like that. I don't think he'd much want his flock to stand outside train stations handing out magazines either.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Circus

Fiona finally arrived home at about midnight last night, and I had a banquet waiting for her of soup and bread, asparagus with parmesan, and a lovely salad. She looked insanely tired, unsurprisingly for someone who'd just played the last date on her world tour with the band Placebo.

Today was all about deliveries: enormous boxes from the States, a brand new telly from John Lewis and a new modem from the man at Talk Talk. She's now set up for the winter. We plugged the TV into the aerial and were astonished to find it worked. In both of our experiences, these things are rarely simple, and usually require some pimple-faced youth to turn up and make us feel incredibly stupid.

The sea in Hove was turquoise and rough. Strong winds in the night had blown large quantities of shingle off the beach and onto the Tarmac promenades.

We had lunch in a little cafe on the beach front, staring out across the brown metallic remains of the old pier, longing to be able to see it in all its Victorian splendour again. They're building a giant tower there now. It's some kind of viewing platform which will no doubt stand out like a sore thumb and be prohibitively costly to visit.

I came home at exactly the wrong time. Victoria Station was busy like nothing I've ever witnessed. The underground ticket hall was filled to the brim and there were guards manning giant metal gates at the station entrance to stop people flooding in when things became untenable. There was no way on earth I could imagine staggering down there with all those people. It's a gift for terrorists and a complete nightmare for just about everyone else. I can't begin to imagine why people would put themselves through that level of humiliation on a daily basis.

Instead I decided to walk North from Victoria with the plan of finding a Northern line station which might prove less busy. On my way along Victoria Street, I passed pubs filled to the rafters with people. Queues of them ten or eleven deep at the bar, no doubt all shouting loudly at one another to make themselves heard above the shouting. There are few words to describe how little London's infrastructure works, and how horrific it can be at this sort of time. Cattle are frequently treated better...

The BBC contacted me this morning with the irritating, if not entirely unsurprising news that the next project I was hoping to be working on has fallen through. This is the second project in development at the BBC to collapse within two weeks. Of course, this means when I finish the Fleet Singers piece, I shall have nothing in the diary, which is a hugely depressing way to finish such an impressive year, and a lesson to us all that the life of a freelance creative can be a perilous roller-coaster.

Of course, with this latest project to hit the skids, it was only me, as chief creative, who'd had to block out three months in my diary, time which I'll never refill, because the project launch was already meant to have happened.

The problem, of course, is that the BBC has managed to get itself into a situation where a great deal of its output can't be created in-house. People, like me, with the creative and technical skills required to actually make programmes, are farmed in these days to make the shows which win the awards which allow the in-house commissioners and broadcasters to pat themselves on the backs.

And yet, certainly in my experience,  creative freelancers are treated like play things. Someone with a salaried job at the BBC comes up with a charming, yet half-baked idea, and, without offering any payment, calls in a freelancer to help flesh it out.  A pitch is developed, which fails when some kind of internal BBC process reveals that a similar project is in development elsewhere in the corporation, or that the project doesn't tick enough of the BBC's boxes. This process always leaves the freelancer with the same question... Why on earth did these discussions not take place before the freelancer was brought in? The answer, however, is always the same: because the freelancer is expected to develop ideas for nothing if he's ever going to be commissioned for real, and because the commissioner is not required to behave with any more responsibility. Tomorrow morning, they will still have a job, and the process can start all over again with a new idea and a different creative with another set of vital skills. Meanwhile, the freelancer loses a big chunk of potential earnings and suddenly doesn't know how to pay his rent! It's nobody's fault. It's simply the way that things have become, but it's definitely a frustrating circus, one in which, sadly, we're all expected to perform!

There. Rant over. Back to heavy duty hustling first thing in the morning.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Fireworks and fortieths

I’m on a train to Hove, listening to the guard on a tannoy trying to explain that the train we’re riding is due to divide at Hayward’s Heath, and that the carriage numbering system on the dot matrixes is displaying the wrong information. On and on he goes… every time the train stops at a new station. A baby is incessantly crying near his microphone, so the sound being broadcast is like some kind of representation of Dante’s Inferno. Added to the guard’s concern is the fact that those on the Lewes-bound part of the train should expect an incredibly crowded service due to it being Bonfire Night, and Lewes therefore being rammed with pagans and revellers watching an effigy of the pope being burned. I have many friends in Lewes who tell me it’s a tremendous experience which I ought to see one year, but the notion of crowds of people, all letting off firecrackers and behaving like tits fills me with a sense of terrible dread. I once got caught in something of a crush of people in Berlin on New Year’s Eve where people were literally lobbing fireworks into the crowd and causing mass panic. Never again!

Without wishing to sound too cruel, it appears there’s a convention for people with facial disfigurements somewhere in East Sussex. I am sitting opposite a man with an enormous, bright red birth mark which stretches from his forehead to his chin, and there’s a little girl opposite with a nose like a cucumber. A man has just walked down the aisle with no discernible muscles in his mouth, so I’m pretty convinced we’ve either transported ourselves to the Victorian era, or they’re all heading to the same place!

On my way down to Victoria Station I stopped off in central London to meet Nathan for lunch. We returned to our favourite little back street pizza joint, but the ambience was somewhat less subtle than it was on our previous visit. A loud-mouthed Polish woman decided to put all the chairs on the tables and wash the floor with a ghastly-smelling mop whilst talking in a gratingly loud voice to other members of staff. I have never been mopped out of a restaurant before!

I walked to Victoria via Trafalgar Square and was inexplicably moved by the sight and sound of a busker singing Free Fallin’ surrounded by a group of those strange people who dress up as Yoda and that wizard in the Hobbit, using long robes and trickery to appear to float in mid air. I’ve no idea why four of them were working the same patch, but they were all bobbing up and down to the music and I rather liked them for doing it. Sometimes I feel very proud to be a Londoner. I like the way that London presents itself to visitors. 

The man opposite me on the train has worked his way through four cans of beer since getting on. I’m not entirely sure how anyone can drink that much, so early in the day. Neither am I really sure how or why anyone would want to drink beer. The yeasty smell coming off the empty cans is appalling.

I’m heading down to Hove to celebrate Fiona’s 40th birthday with her. She’s in transit today, and arriving at her little flat very late this evening. I figured it would be nice to be there when she arrives with a plate of food and a bottle of wine.

…I arrived in Hove after dark, with the sound of fireworks cracking and spluttering in the distance. The air was thick with a heady mix of gunpowder and woodsmoke, a deeply nostalgic smell which reminds me of my childhood. I’m not aware that we get it that much in London. One assumes it’s blocked out by the stench of pollution.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Two doggies

On my way to the osteopath this morning, I walked through a pocket park where two dogs were playing. One of the dogs was no bigger than my foot, whilst the other was a giant St Bernard, which looked remarkably like a bear. It was intriguing to see the little dog seeming so exquisitely unconcerned by the power and size of his friend. The two owners looked on, profoundly amused, as the little one attempted to jump onto the big dog's back in a sort of sparring-cum-mating ritual. I believe that's what you call punching above your weight!

After osteopathy, where I was crunched and battered for the best part of an hour, I sat and worked in my favourite Starbucks in Borough. You'll all be relieved to hear that Starbucks has officially announced Christmas. There were little glittery trees all over the counters and a special Christmas-flavoured cappuccino was being promoted like a boy band on its last legs. I could do without Christmas for at least a couple more weeks!

It became apparent at one point that I needed the loo, and as the sensation slowly grew, I found myself repeatedly glancing over at the queue for the single-occupancy unisex cubicle, hoping every time I looked that it might have got a little shorter. Of course, Sod's law dictated that the more desperate I became, the longer the queue got. There seemed to be a never-ending flow of Japanese people coming off the street specifically to use the facilities. Heaven knows where they'd all been or why they were all Japanese, but there they were... Queuing. Eventually I resigned myself to actually joining the queue, astonished by how long some of the people were taking. Women particularly. I mean, what on earth do women do in loos? I had visions of some of them having poos, and being too embarrassed to open the door immediately, and spraying perfumes and wafting their arms around for hours to disperse the smell.

I went into Central London and continued writing in a cafe on Wardour Street before meeting Nathan for a late lunch, astounded by the change in the weather. It is now incredibly cold: 15 degrees cooler than it was on Hallowe'en and dropping. Icy rain dripped down the back of my neck and made me long to be back home, curled up in the sitting room.

The plaudits and congratulations continue to come flowing in following last night's award. A lot of people seemed genuinely pleased that I finally seem to be getting some sort of recognition for my work after having slogged my way through the first twenty years of my career. I do hope this is the case. I want a mortgage and a pension like everyone else I know. As we walked back into our bohemian garret with threadbare towels hanging on the doors, and damp patches on the ceiling, we both wryly commented on the irony of having just got back from a glitzy televised award ceremony. Seconds later, Nathan turned to me and said, "don't we get to do the most amazing things?" And he's right. We do. And I would trade in all the luxuries in the world for my life right now.

We won... Again!!

There was a spectacular sunset in London today. We emerged from the gym to find the entire sky ablaze. It genuinely looked like the clouds were on fire. Bright orange. The colour of a pumpkin. Stunning.

The gym was tough. I'm back on a healthy-eating, gym-bunny kick, but there's something wrong with the inside of my foot which makes running rather painful.

We came home from the gym and speedily got ourselves changed into glad rags. It was the Grierson Awards tonight, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall; one of those industry awards where no one quite knows what to wear. Both of us eventually opted for the dressed-down suit look. It's always best to try to look like you're not fussed if you lose or win!

Fortunately we won! We are now the official and hugely proud winners of the Grierson Award for best entertaining documentary. Heaven knows how we did it. We even beat Gogglebox!

We were a little more prepared in terms of speeches. My task was easy. I simply made a joke about having been nominated for a Grierson in 2008 and not wanting to be a bridesmaid at my own wedding!  I think I then tapped the statuette on the head and said "and I finally got my man" before tapping Nathan and saying "and in the process, finally got this man!" Nathan's bit of the speech was much more considered and political, and got a brilliant response from everyone in the audience. I got the impression we were a popular win and afterwards hoards of people came rushing up to us to congratulate us, many of whom had been on the voting panel.

I can't really remember much about going up onto the stage. I remember, as the clips from all the nominations were being shown, thinking it rather odd that a television camera was in my face. I was practising my "never mind" look, thinking they were merely filming me as a gracious loser, and then Micky Flanagan was announcing that we'd won! I floated onto stage and then floated off again... That's genuinely all I remember!

The highlight of the night was probably meeting Sue Perkins, who threw her arms around us and said what we'd done was important and how proud she was of us and our film. We obviously told her that we were massive fans of Bake Off, and that we had been since before it had gone mainstream! I also reminded Sue that I'd done her autocue 100 or so years ago.

All in all it was a wonderful evening. We hung out with the team from Educating Yorkshire, and probably would have danced the night away with them, and a host of other people, had it not been for the fact that Nathan is up early in the morning!

We got a taxi back to North London with some of the team. I'd not taken a taxi in London for so many years that it all felt rather decadent. Instead of taking it all the way home, we got out on Swain's Lane and walked home through Highgate Village, which seemed remarkably calm in the still evening air. Hurrah for life. Really!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

More poppies

We're on the tube, heading home from Moorgate Station. An old lady with teeth like tombstones and ludicrously baggy tights is playing recordings of a Pakistani woman singing what sounds like a Pakistani tongue twister on her smart phone. It is loud, and irritating in the extreme. The entire carriage is rolling its collective eyes.

We've just spent a very lovely day with the family which started at Spitalfields Market in the East End. My mother absolutely adores it there. She loves the bustle, and the rows and rows of alternative stalls. I think they remind her a little of the 1970s; those long summer days, which for us seemed to be largely spent on a commune in Bedfordshire. The smell of joss sticks always takes me back to my early childhood, so whenever I'm in the vicinity of hippies, I, too, am engulfed by nostalgia.

We met Brother Edward and Sascha and had lunch in Giraffe, which was rather pleasant. I remembered to tell the waitress to avoid covering everything in rocket. Vegetarian food these days is always bedecked in rocket. It's almost as though the people who serve it think the portions don't look large enough, so take a great big handful of the stuff to justify charging the same price as a meat dish. The problem with rocket is that it's bitter. It overpowers everything else on the plate, which is just insane for lettuce!

From Spitalfields, we walked through the city to the Tower of London, to pay a homage to the 900,000 porcelain poppies nestling in the tower's moat. Neither Nathan, nor the parents had seen them before, and they're certainly proving popular with the general public. So many people are now visiting the site that they've had to introduce a one-way system to the footpaths which snake around the Tower. Huge wooden fences have been put up in certain places to stop people gathering in areas next to busy roads.

The installation - and the way we've taken it to our hearts - certainly makes me feel proud to be British. Everyone there was taking it incredibly seriously and I was deeply moved to see the groups of volunteers who are still planting poppies; a mixture of military types and ordinary people including several children.

We walked back to Liverpool Street via the Monument, which I have promised to visit at some point. I'm told the views from the top are extraordinary. Not epic and spectacular, like the Shard, but surprisingly impressive for just 300 steps! "Tall enough," says my mate Ted.

We had tea in Liverpool Street station, somewhat perturbed by the sight of policemen wandering about with large machine guns. We're told a terrorist attack is imminent, and one assumes it will be nasty when it comes.

This evening is all about snuggling up in front of the telly. Nathan's exhausted and we have to be bright eyed and bushy tailed for tomorrow's Grierson awards!


I dropped Nathan off at a roundabout on the M4 this morning. He was off to do a gig, not just in Wales, but somewhere 2 hours west of Swansea. I didn't know that Wales extended that far west! He was heading for the middle of nowhere, that's for sure, a tiny coastal town now doubt, with just the sea as its companion. A few hours after he'd entered Wales, he sent a text asking me to email him a document, which I duly did, and he duly received. I remembered a trip to Hay on Wye in 2000 with Sam, when our mobile phone reception basically disappeared somewhere in Warwickshire and never returned until we hit the same spot on our homeward journey. How astonishing and unstoppable technology is...

There had been a car fire on the Westbound M4 carriageway which was causing a traffic jam, which I didn't fancy being part of on my way home, so I decided to take the A4 back to London. It took rather longer than I'd hoped, although it did introduce me to a whole suburban landscape around Heathrow airport which I didn't know existed. I found the experience of seeing aeroplanes taking off at such close proximity rather disconcerting. They literally seemed to be taking off above my head. I also got to experience the half-world where the A4 runs underneath the M4 for some miles. The motorway sits on decayed concrete stilts above the road, and in its shadow are all sorts of curious shops, houses and, rather surreally, a car which had smashed into a wall and simply been left.

I've been experiencing rather tender gums over the last couple of days. I'd put it down to the weather, or just one of these things, so was therefore perplexed to discover that a wisdom tooth seems to be coming through on the top left side of my mouth! I would have thought the age of 40 was a little late for these sorts of shenanigans, and I'm particularly confused, because, when I was 21, I thought I'd had all my wisdom teeth removed! I do remember them saying to me that they were going to put me under and then decide if they were going to remove two or four but I assumed they'd removed four because, well, frankly, it all hurt so much back there afterwards that I couldn't imagine they'd only done half the job!

Mind you, immediately after the operation I was completely out of it. When they first woke me up, I accused the nurse of being the Angel Gabriel, and then found the concept so hysterically funny that I my mother was telephoned to pick me up much earlier than anticipated because I was disturbing other patients by laughing so much!

I sat and watched Strictly Come Dancing on my own tonight with a plate of pasta and some tinned pears, keeping one eye on the fireworks bursting up behind the trees next to the tube opposite. This evening is the date of the famous annual fireworks display at Alexandra Palace, which lies behind the trees on the horizon. They were obviously putting on quite a show because there were all sorts of explosions going off, some of which were literally shaking the house. There then followed a flurry of mini-displays, closer to home, which were making even more racket. Heaven knows what all the local cats and dogs were thinking! It's the perfect night for fireworks however. Not a cloud around and a bright half moon in the velvet-black sky.

It's now 2am, and I am waiting to pick Nathan up from the place I dropped him off some 14 hours ago. Thank God for BBC4 and it's relentless episodes of Top of the Pops! I'm surprised they can find any episodes which aren't tainted by Operation Yewtree, but I'm eternally grateful to the sounds of 1979 for keeping me awake!