Sunday, 29 June 2014


What a glorious day it is today. As I left the house I passed my neighbours who were looking all summery and heading off to Alexandra Palace. What a fabulous place to visit on a sunny day.

Ben Holder, the musical director of Brass, and one of five Bens working on the show, came over at noon today, and we listened to every single one of my arrangements. It was a fairly mammoth session, as you can imagine, but it made me realise how much I've achieved. He has kindly stepped in to offer help on some of the latter stages of prep, and this takes a great weight off my mind.

There were a couple of moments as I was trying to write on the train yesterday when I realised I was hideously stressed. Close friends will not consider this news. Only last week I spent ages trying to convince Fiona I wasn't stressed when she accused me of being so. But the stress symptoms are here. Heart palpitations, dizziness, inability to sleep. Every time I drifted off last night, I woke up panicking. I haven't had these particular symptoms since working on the 40-part version of the Pepys Motet, which essentially remains the most stressed I reckon I've ever been. Plainly my body is telling me that I can't continue at this pace, which is slightly odd as I wouldn't necessarily say I'm working that hard! Maybe it's a cumulative thing?

I watched Top of the Pops 2 on the television last night. They were screening an episode of the cult show from 1979, with a rather peculiar selection of songs including Janet Kay singing Silly Games, which, structurally speaking, is one of the most eccentric pop songs ever released.

There's a limit to the number of Top of the Pops shows they can broadcast these days because a large swathe of the DJs who presented the show have subsequently been arrested on paedophilia charges.

The (relatively safe) Mike Reid was the man with the mic in this particular show, but seeing very young girls, plastered in make up and pouting for Britain made me incredibly uncomfortable. It also made me realise that, like it or not, this was the way of things back then. Girls were trophies. Sex objects. The more youthful and fecund the girl, the more virile the older the man standing next to her looked.

And those girls were definitely playing the game. At one stage Mike Reid said, "the worst part of this job is having to stand up here with all these devastatingly attractive ladies." Cue the girls around him laughing as seductively as a group of sixteen year-old girls could. Five seconds later, Legs and Co, that dreadful dance troop, appeared wearing sexy lingerie and blowing kisses at a Vaseline-smeared camera.

We worry about the sexualisation of today's kids but back then, I think, the world that was presented on television was a great deal more sinister and unhealthy. Even as a child I used to wonder why all the young girls were draped over these old, hairy men. It was endemic to the BBC and I'm not sure we should be looking at scapegoating the presenters. What about the producers and floor managers who chose the girls to stand behind the DJs.

Sometimes I think it's important simply to draw a line under a particularly unsavoury period, like slavery, the imprisonment of gay people, or the oppression of women and say "it wasn't illegal then, it is now, so let's focus on today's problems."

Speaking of older, hairy blokes, I was speaking to my cousin yesterday about our wedding. His friends had apparently all been coming up to him and asking which one of the grooms he was related to; "the older one or the younger one?!" It didn't take long to establish that I was the older one. Not the smarter one, the one with the curlier hair, the one that cried or the one in the bow tie... The older one. Thanks!!

I am still a man in my 30s, yet in half an hour's time, my "younger partner Nathan" will be a man in his forties. Take that!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Burgess Hill

I appear to be at the train station in Burgess Hill. It's a funny old place, with a ticket office which never seems to be open.

Burgess Hill itself is not the most attractive town. It's filled with rather plain 1930s architecture and out-of-town industrial units.

The middle-aged man on the platform next to me, with his insanely posh partner, is so drunk that he fell over whilst trying to sit on a bench! He lay for some time like a beetle on the Tarmac, apologising profusely whilst his wife tried to pick him up. I desperately wanted him to be called Gregor. I have a horrible suspicion he was at the party I've just been to, so I'm pretending I've not seen him to avoid any more embarrassment!

Today's party was at my cousin Matt's house in Ditchling, a gloriously attractive village on the edges of the South Downs. It's one of those places you can't really believe exists! The party was a three-fold celebration: 21 years of marriage, 10 years since Matt started his business with his wife Boo, and five years since he was diagnosed with cancer. He made a tremendously moving speech - essentially about love - which had us all welling up.

Meriel came as my honorary husband and we spent much of the day drinking Pimms and eating cake. Despite the weathermen's promises of terrible weather all day, we were blessed with nothing but glorious sunshine, with the exception of one ten-minute shower. How do these weathermen manage to get things so spectacularly wrong?

Many of my extended family were there; my aunt (is it strange that I genuinely only have one aunt?) my cousins, their children and step children - the party creaking under the weight of homosexuality. It's not just both my brothers who are gay!

My aunt and my mother wore exactly the same skirt! What are the chances of that? Neither seemed at all worried by the fact. My mother apparently used to do the same thing with my God Mother, Janet. They're all a bit psychic, my lot. In fact, as I was walking along with Auntie Glen, I picked up my phone to send Nathan a text and she suddenly said, "and how IS Nathan?" Like I'd done something more than simply think about him... bit weird.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand, which of course started the chain of events which speedily led to the First World War. It's quite an astounding thought. One moment England is basking in the glory of an Edwardian summer and within two months it's at war... The greatest loss of life in war this country will probably ever know.

A brass band was playing at Victoria station. I sat in a cafe working, and kept hearing little blasts of Nimrod and other patriotic tunes. There's something rather timeless about a train station. I imagined Victoria 100 years ago... The news slowly filtering through about the Archduke's assassination. The majority of people having no idea what that meant, a couple more wondering if that meant a few lucky soldiers would be able to travel to Europe for the adventure of their lives.


23.23 is not a time to stop working of an evening. I'm all wound up like a spring, and I'm incredibly hungry, so am having to do a late night dart to the shops to find something both low fat and filling. Realistically this means a bowl of soup. Still, it's a lovely evening. The air is throbbing with rich aromas; the smell of garlic from the pizza shop next door, the dark scent of exhaust fumes from the Archway Road, a hint of Chinese restaurant, a whiff of rain...

My sense of smell is really very keen at the moment. There's almost constantly something wafting through my nostrils! The honey-like scent of buddleja is something I seem to be able to discern from a thousand paces, and there's a Lily-like smell which drifts into the kitchen every morning. I'm not usually good with smells. Perhaps I'm turning epileptic?

I went to Camden Market this afternoon to see if I could find Nathan a little something extra for his 40th on Monday. I haven't been down there for years and I couldn't believe how buzzy and full it was. It's definitely not a place to visit either with something specific in mind or if you're in a hurry. The place is teaming to the Pat Rafters with East Asian tourists carrying the most enormous back packs, whose only task it would appear is to suddenly stop and create enormous pile-ups and terrible traffic jams. The place had me running for the hills!

Just before I left, I saw a sign for a little pizza stand which advertised that it's products were made with "real tomatoes." Real tomatoes on a pizza? Whatever next?! Am I being dim? Aren't all pizzas made with real tomatoes.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Rain, creepers and Mormons

It's siling it down outside. Thick, heavy drops of rain throwing themselves at the road below us. I can see them glinting under the street lights. I've just finished work for the day and am watching a documentary about British Mormons, who seem a rather peculiar bunch. The film focusses on a young lad from Sussex who is going through his "missionary training." He appears to be slowly losing his mind, or at least his identity, as he becomes more and more brainwashed by his religion. It's incredibly upsetting. It's like the light has been switched off behind his eyes. Religion has so much to answer for.

I feel entirely washed out today; the product of my having finished a big chunk of work on Brass last night and my body screaming for me to stop. I have no option but to plough on, however. On and on I go.

Today, I decided to map out all four of the remaining songs in broad inaccurate strokes on manuscript. My plan is to work on all four simultaneously without letting any one run away faster than the others. This gives me a very clear sense of what remains to be done and means I don't end up getting all excited about finishing one before immediately feeling sick again because I have to start the next. Orchestrating Brass is an absolute triumph of will power if nothing else.

When I go to the gym, the bus drops me off in Tufnell Park on the Fortess Road, which is a street I know incredibly well. I know it because I lived there for eight years. It's all rather fancy these days; filled with cafés, and organic butchers and stores which sell sorbet, but when I lived there, it was something of a dump, with shops boarded over and a slightly down-at-heel vibe, which suited me just fine!

The road behind our old house is called Lady Somerset Road. It's an attractive tree-lined affair full of ramshackle, Virginia creeper-bedecked Edwardian houses which I used to stare at in awe when I lived there, imaging how it might feel to have a house which looked so beautiful.

Once a year, the good folk of Lady Somerset Road stage a street party. They put huge trestle tables out in the street and eat and drink until late. It's all rather Italian. There are bands, and probably a fire engine... There's always a fire engine.

As I walked down the road today I noticed a sign on a street light reminding residents that the next party was on its way. What I found astonishing was that they were advertising it proudly as the 15th annual street party. Fifteen years seemed like such a long time, until I realised I'd actually moved into the area two years before the first one!

It would seem that many things are conspiring to make me feel old at the moment. The revival of The Wier in the West End, for example, which is a show which I worked on as an usher in its very first guise at the Royal Court Theatre before it went into the West End for its first run almost 20 years ago. I remember the show well. It had an enormous impact on us ushers (all of whom were wannabe theatricals.) I remember the first preview, and one of the ushers actually having to be carried out of the theatre by audience members because the play had upset her so thoroughly! I'm sure it's meant to be the other way round!

The tubes have been in disarray today, and I ended up getting stuck at Archway on a highly-crowded train which was randomly terminated at the station. About 400 people ended up on the platform, all cursing and swearing and trying to speak to a slightly autistic LU staff member who didn't want to look anyone in the eye. We were all astonished by the announcement which came over the tannoy as we waited; "ladies and gentlemen there is a good service running on all London Underground lines." You can't make this shit up!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014


I've been battling my way through the epic eleven-minute opening sequence in Brass today. It changes key and time signature so many times, and has the added complication that the first four minutes is only performed by piano, drums and trumpet. I find myself being more cautious in what I write for this particular reduced ensemble. I can't just empty a box of musical instruments over the score to paper over inaccuracies with a wash of sound. Neither can I nestle in the comfort and familiarity of string music.

Sometimes orchestration is a little how I imagine key-hole surgery to be. Often there's only one possible choice, which involves placing a delicate spot in exactly the right location on the manuscript. Stick the dot in the wrong place, all hell breaks loose and suddenly you've a bleeding carcass of a composition which needs urgent attention!

Anyway, the good news is that I finished the draft for this particular sequence at about ten o'clock tonight, which gave me time for a lovely hot bath. I shall celebrate by sitting on the sofa for an hour or so, with a nice cup of tea, looking for episodes of Storage Hunters!

My cold has settled into a rather nice woozy place with the added benefit of a productive cough which I'm finding most satisfactory. I went back to the gym again after lunch, but drew the line at walking up the hill to Highgate Village.

Guys, I'm really struggling to think of anything to write tonight! I've not spoken to a soul all day apart from Nathan and my Mother on the telephone.

I did learn a new word, however. Diaeresis. A diaeresis, for those who have not been looking at my Facebook feed, is a special sort of umlaut, which happens to feature in my mother's name, Noëlle. To quote my beloved school drama teacher, "a traditional umlaut changes the the pronunciation of the vowel it sits on top of, but a diaeresis tells you to pronounce the two adjacent vowels separately (and not as a diphthong.)"

So therefore my mother's name (with the aid of the diaeresis goes from Nole to Nowell. Simples!

There are a number of names, like Zoë, which also use diaereses, but only one regularly-used word in the English dictionary, which still has one... Naïve.

Nathan tells me we used to use diaereses a great deal more regularly, in words which, these days, we tend to spell with a hyphen. Top of the list: coöperation and reëlect. Bizarrely, The New Yorker publication still insists on using diaereses in its columns today. It's considered to be an incredibly quaint and old-fashioned practice, but I rather like it. I may try and use diaereses more often in this column. (Especially now I've learned how to do one on my iPhone.)

I'm still rather attached to my mother's name for a diaeresis, however; "my special umlaut."

The Summer Book

Nathan left for Leicestershire at 4pm today. I wanted to spend some quality time with him, but I'm panicking about Brass, so sat in the kitchen writing whilst he watched telly in the sitting room. We managed a quick spot of lunch together at the spoon, but by the time he left I wasn't really ready for him to go.

I came down to London Bridge in the  evening which was full to the rafters with people, all of whom seemed to be heading in the opposite direction to me. I felt like an otter swimming up stream!

When I see a cloud of people walking towards me I often wonder how many of those unfamiliar faces I have passed in the street before. The likelihood, of course is that we pass hundreds of people on a daily basis who we don't take in but could well have walked past us on countless occasions. I used to think thoughts like that about my brother before I found him. In fact when we met for the first time we immediately tried to work out if fate had conspired to put us in the same place at the same time at any stage in our pasts.

I was in London Bridge to see Sara Kestelman in The Summer Book at the Unicorn Theatre. It was a highly atmospheric little piece written by Tove Jannson, the wonderful Finnish writer who brought The Moomins to the world. It was, as you might expect, all white nights, loneliness, summer storms and archipelagos: the sort of piece which makes me very keen to visit Scandinavia. I've periodically had dreams of staying in a log cabin on a Swedish island ever since finding out that Benny and Bjorn from ABBA wrote pretty much all of their biggest hits in a shack within the Swedish archipelago. I can imagine a summer on a secluded island being rather good for the old creative juices. Maybe I'll do it one year when I have a composition to immerse myself in.

Sara was, of course, remarkable as the Grandmother in this two-hander and the little girl who played the granddaughter was rather charming too if perhaps a little limited. Such an enormous and demanding role for a young actress...

We went out to Strada afterwards with Philippa and another one of Sara's friends who'd come to see the show. We were served by the most engaging waitress who was from Barcelona of all places. We had a lengthy chat about Cadaquez, the erstwhile Catalonian home of the artist Salvador Dali. Philippa and I visited the place in the year 2000 when Philippa was doing research for her screenplay, Little Ashes, which was turned into a film staring Robert Pattinson some 7 years ago.

Anyone familiar with Dali's work would turn up in Cadaquez and instantly understand where some of the influences from his paintings came from. There's something about the light out there, the muted colours and, more interestingly, a lot of the rock formations on the coast are somehow reminiscent of the jagged shapes and twisted, melted forms of Dali's pictures.

Monday, 23 June 2014


It appears to be raining. Quite heavily, in fact. We're driving along the M11 with the windscreen wipers set to "hard-core" listening to Kevin Brookes talking on Radio 4 about his book which recently won the Carnegie Medal. He tells us it took nearly ten years to get the book published. Almost every publisher turned it down because "children's stories need happy endings..." It strikes me that all great art gets rejected at some stage - often repeatedly. I think the problem with publishers, agents, producers, commissioning editors and those who make money out of raw creatives is that they have too many preconceived notions about what they believe "works", and often a ghastly misguided desire to have quite heavy creative input in the work. This, of course, waters stuff down and means the truly inventive stuff (which is ultimately what's going to be classed as great art) struggles to break through. The greatest art is driven by a single creative mind, and I think the best producers recognise this fact. Art cannot be created by committee.

Speaking of great art, we've been in Thaxted this afternoon. It's Nathan's day off, and we wanted to do something a little different to celebrate. The highlight of the visit was almost certainly my mother handing me my 40th birthday present. Before you all start wishing me a happy birthday through the highly personalised medium of Facebook, I should point out that she's a couple of months early (God knows I'm clinging on to my 30s for as long as I can!) My birthday is the 8th August.

The present she handed me was the most staggeringly-ornate, stunningly-beautiful quilt I think I've ever seen. She'd hand stitched it from scratch with 22 panels representing my career and life - which I suppose I'm lucky enough to have as two different sides of the same coin. All my compositions and films are there, alongside panels to represent my family, pets and favourite places in the world. Even Gloria Bee makes a little appearance, trying to make a nest in a television with the Channel 4 logo on it. There are panels representing Brass, Songs About the Weather, our wedding, my Grandparents... Perhaps the most impressive aspect is 100 individually quilted heads to respect my 100 Faces film. I stood for some time and stared at it in awe feeling unbelievably moved.

I believe she's been working on the piece for over a year - and my GOD, it shows. It's the sort of thing which will crop up on The Antiques Roadshow in 100 years and end up getting purchased by the V and A. It is that beautiful. Right now I feel like the luckiest and most loved son in the world.

The baby Jesus

I am at Euston Station, sitting on a bench next to Fiona. My eyes itch, and I'm definitely still filled with cold, but I'm not yet dead, and have decided to take that as a great positive!

We've just been to a concert; a fundraising do for a mutual friend whose brother was recently diagnosed with cancer and has a whopping hospital bill from where he was misdiagnosed and treated for TB in South Africa. It's a ghastly story which reminds us all how lucky we are to still have the National Health Service in this country.

The concert was wonderful. Nitin Shawney and Natascha Atlas were headlining, and most of the acts were performing cross-genre world music. There was a wonderful Kora recital by Sona Jobarteh. A kora, for the record, is an ancient Gambian harp which, tradition dictates, should only be played by men. Sona is pretty much the first ever woman to play it. That's a pretty major claim to fame!

There was jazz music from a virtuoso pianist, which was brilliant, but absolutely not my bag. It was all splashy chords and lack of structure, the sort of thing someone might noodle away at in a cocktail bar. At one point I turned to Fiona and said "this makes me want to chow down on a pizza." It seemed to go on forever, and really started to get under my skin so I rushed off to the loo for a bit of silence. Sadly, when I got there, it became all too clear that the dreadful noise was being piped in through speakers. It was louder and even more intense and it made me laugh so much that I lost the ability to control my pee!

For the rest of that particular act I hid behind a pillar, shaking with laughter. Sadly I find that sort of jazz music nothing but a string of terrible cliches. I feel the same about people performing Shakespeare. There are always performers who believe they have a new take on it, and furthermore, there are always people in the audience who believe they're witnessing something supremely magical. Well they're welcome to it. Just don't expect me applaud!

The jazz was followed by a man who got up to sing a couple of Baby Jesus songs, which he couldn't help but preface with a lengthy and bizarrely passionately speech about the love of Jesus, and how prayer would help Steve's brother through his cancer... Prayer had apparently helped him when he was "suffering from double pneumonia and in a coma," which the doctors apparently thought he'd never wake up from. The doctors also mistakenly believed he was HIV positive had "syphilis of the lung." Frankly when doctors are that bad at diagnosing, perhaps Jesus is your only chance! The one thing I find almost intolerable in some born again Christians is the great delight they find in doctoring stories to justify their conversions. The lack of logic in this man's story made me actually believe he was lying.

His lengthy speech was met with a typically British sense of bewilderment with the odd polite whoop from someone at the back of the audience. Of course in America, that crap would have generated masses of applause. Sometimes I feel very proud to be English. In the end, he felt so silly, he, quite rightly apologised.

When someone is seriously ill, and their loved ones have gathered to try and raise money for his medical treatment, the one thing it's inexcusable to say is that all we need is Jesus. No! He needs a good doctor.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Blinking midsummer cold!

At some point last night I began to get the sense that a cold was heading my way and at about 1am it entirely engulfed me! I kept waking up in the night unable to breathe and the dreams I was waking up from were becoming increasingly surreal...

I've felt like death all day, which feels a terrible shame as it's Midsummer and the weather is absolutely glorious. I would love to be in Avebury or Cambridge or on the Heath, drinking in the sunset, but instead I'm limping to the local kebab shop, with aching limbs, feeling lonely and rather sorry for myself.

I've managed a day of writing, albeit from the sofa, so at least the day doesn't feel entirely wasted. From now on my task is to write two minutes of orchestral music every day. If I keep this level of intensity up, I'll have broken the back of Brass by the end of the month. That's the theory in any case!

I did at least find time to marvel at how light it still was at 9.30pm. I think it's vital that we mark the seasons by noticing this sort of thing.

I sat and stared at the man in the kebab shop grilling me some halloumi and using a pair of tongues covered in terrible bits of meat, but was too much in a daze to say anything. I just felt horribly sick instead.

On the bright side, at least the problem with our ghastly alleyway smell seems to gave been solved. My neighbour reports workmen appearing in the offending flat's garden, who, when questioned, confirmed our worst fears, that the smelly water seeping through the wall was indeed sewerage. But, for the past two days, there's been no gunk, so something has obviously been sorted out.

I touch wood. I touch wood. I genuinely did just touch wood as well!!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Ropes, nets, storage holders and eigenharps

I've become curiously addicted to a show on Dave called Storage Hunters which purports to be a "real life" US series about storage unit auctions. I know! Who comes up with this stuff? The assumption, or at least my assumption, is that the units that are being bought and sold have been compulsorily reclaimed. Perhaps the people that used to own them went bankrupt or ended up in jail. No one ever bothers to point these things out at the start of the show, which, of course rather detracts from its legitimacy claims!

Anyway, the programme focusses on a bunch of oddballs and misfits (the same group every episode) who watch a big black guy with a power tool known as Green Mile breaking his way into a storage unit. Once the door has been prized open, everyone gasps like they're peering into an Egyptian tomb lined with gold. None of them are allowed to actually enter the storage unit and have a good root around, but all of them seem willing to have a bash at  bidding on the contents.

An auctioneer makes all sorts of weird noises in the process of selling the unit to the highest bidder. Many of the noises he makes have no sentient value, but they make him seem incredible charismatic, like he's performing a rare phonetics-based work by the composer Berio. The units sell from between 500 and 50,000 dollars.

The bidders all hate each other. Passionately so. There's a white trash married couple called Brandon and Lori who we're obviously meant to support, and, surprise surprise, every time they end up bidding on a unit, they find something astonishingly valuable lurking under a piece of tarpaulin. In one episode they found a rocket, and in another, a sports car worth $100k. It's like an episode of Flog It on speed!

There are baddies as well; a funny bloke called Papa Bear, and a pair of brothers, who always get their comeuppance. In one episode they paid $45,000 for a set of boxes filled with plastic wrist bands.

The rest of the bidders don't seem to  have any money, but can always be relied on to make the right noises. The black Mama sucks her teeth a lot, and the little Japanese girl (who the auctioneer actually calls "Hello Kitty") laughs with her hand covering her face.

It is, of course, an absolute fiction. On one occasion they ended up at a sea port, bidding on cargo units. For extra drama one was opened up, and caused much consternation because it was covered in rats. There was a lot of screaming and Hello Kitty almost passed out but no one seemed to notice that the rats had done no damage to the furniture in the cargo unit and were all looking incredibly healthy for a group of animals who'd had no food during a journey from China. More comically, the rats were all beautiful fancy rats in pretty colours; the sorts of rat you'd only ever be able to buy in a pet shop!

Furthermore; no one ever seems to question why they're not allowed to go into the units they're bidding on. It is the most surreal game show I've ever witnessed, but it's compulsive viewing.

Speaking of compulsive viewing, I've just returned from twenty doors down down the road at Jackson's Lane Theatre. I tend to forget that I share brickwork with an actual theatre and am ashamed to say that it's the first show I've seen there since living in the neighbourhood! How tragic is that?

What definitely wasn't tragic was the show I saw there tonight, Midnight Circus, which was a remarkable evening of death-defying circus activity. The whole evening was brought together by atmospheric lighting and thumping, pumping music; a blend of electronica performed live by Dave Kemp on an Eigenharp, and prerecorded rock and dance tunes mixed by Kemp as the performers did their extraordinary thing.

Highlights of the evening must include a highly erotic pas de deux performed on silks high above the audience by two almost naked Adonisis (or more accurately, one Venus and one Adonis!), and a finale which involved a shed load of fire. These people were literally risking their lives for our enjoyment. Hats off to them!

The show was the full sensual experience with cast members, each more attractive than the one before, hanging and spinning from ropes and nets by seemingly every part of their bodies, accompanied by extraordinary lighting effects which made them appear to fly or float like curious glowing creatures in the depths of an ocean.

So, go on, get yourself up to my neighbourhood to see a really very decent show, and if you're up here, come have a cup of tea with me first.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Same old, same old

A very lovely soft wind has been blowing all day today and there's a rather milky, hazy light in the sky. It's the sort of whether which delivers the scent of flowers! On my way to the gym I was almost knocked out, first by a honeysuckle and then by a rose. Sadly I don't think it'll be long before it begins to rain. But looking on the bright side, at least the rain will wash away stagnant water from our alleyway!

I saw two horse-driven hearses making their way along the Archway Road in the length of time it took for my bus to arrive. There seem to be a lot of these types of funerals passing our flat. I don't know which cemetery they're heading to, or where they come from. It's a practice I associate with the East End, so can only assume it's old East End Jewish people heading off to Hoop Lane cemetery in Hampstead Garden Suburb. One hopes they've not travelled all the way from Bethnal Green. That would be quite a journey on the back of a horse!

I'm afraid my days at the moment are all rather rolling into one. I wake up, I have a bath, I eat breakfast, I work on the kitchen table, I have lunch, I go to the gym, I go to the cafe, I work, I walk home, I work, I watch telly, I sleep.

Today I read an article about a woman who breastfed her eight-year old child. I know nothing about breastfeeding, about its benefits and everything, but I'm pretty sure a child who can remember being breastfed is going to have some pretty major psychological problems... Particularly if it's a boy. I think there comes a time when a woman needs to acknowledge who is benefiting the most from breastfeeding.

I didn't realise England were playing tonight until I switched the telly over to see if there was anything on before Grand Designs. By this stage we'd lost our match to Uruguay and everyone seemed both surprised and upset. At a certain point, instead of saying we played brilliantly but were robbed (there's always some excuse floating about), we should acknowledge that our squad is beyond awful, send them all back home with their tales between their legs and stick a load of second division players on a plane to Brazil who actually understand what it means to play in a team. I guarantee they'll do better. Routine humiliation is all that's required at a time like this. They'll soon learn to be better. But there again, what do I know about football, other than that it's a game for peacocks and poofs!?

Ps - when did they start calling IKEA ickea (to rhyme with sick queer?)

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Two for the price of one...

Two blogs in one today because yesterday's, for some reason didn't post! Aren't you all lucky!

Tuesday 17th June 2014:

I'm currently working on one of the newer songs from Brass. It was actually one of the first songs I wrote for the musical, and, after playing it to Nathan, who wasn't entirely convinced, I rather hid it away to the extent that it was never rehearsed during the Easter period. I am hoping a bit of a shine and a buffer will breathe new life into it. I'm falling in love with it again, so with any luck, it will meet the standards of the thirteen other songs I've so far orchestrated.

I went to the osteopath and then to the gym and was astonished to hear, instead of banter in the changing room, a full on improvised rap from a group of lads. It was really quite impressive. The content of said rapping was offensive in the extreme; lots of derogatory references to women, very much the terrain of most raps, but the rhymes weren't bad, and the guy who kept piping up with little snippets of melody had a great voice. Such a shame they weren't rapping about politics or something more interesting. Calling women whores, or more accurately "hos" is so 1998. When will these sort of men come out of the dark ages?

I did two hours in the cafe at Tufnell Park before walking up the hill again to Highgate. There's a moment when you're half way up when you see the church in Highgate nestling behind a bank of trees, almost as though it were at the peak of an impenetrably tall mountain... A mountain you realise with horror you're about to climb!

Wednesday 18th June:

I read today about a very special school in Borneo, where baby orang-utans who have been abused, abandoned, put in cages or lost their parents in the wild, get to learn the skills they need to be returned to their natural habitats. One of the saddest sights, according to the journalist, is a pair called Rocky and Rickina who refuse to be separated and were found hugging each other over the dead body of their mother who'd been killed in a machete attack. Too too sad. I sat on the top deck of a 134 bus trying to hold back the tears.

I have needed to keep the windows closed today as a result of the terrible stench which is coming from the alleyway behind our house. I finally managed to catch our neighbours on Saturday, and, on inspecting their garden, it immediately became clear that the water damage is being caused by a faulty water pipe. Heaven knows what the pipe is carrying, but it has obviously cracked underground. The stench is either rancid water or something a great deal more sinister. It's certainly getting worse.

Vinh at Haringey Council (yes that is the name he gave me when I called this evening) informs me that the matter is not an emergency. I agree with him at this stage, but should the wall collapse, or if someone gets ill as a result of raw sewerage pouring into our alleyway, then an emergency will certainly have occurred and every single person who I've contacted about the issue will need to stand up to be counted. Why is it that people are so unwilling to take preventative measures? I basically loathe Haringey Council with every fibre of my body. They have put us in a hopeless position where we are powerless to do anything. And yes, I know that no one's died, and that orang-utans are being ripped from their mothers arms in Borneo and that I'm a First World NIMBY who likes to moan and whinge, but I'm not enjoying the stench of shit which is floating around my house and don't see why I should pay vast quantities of council tax to a group of people who point-blank refuse to help me!

And here endeth the whinge.

The rest of the day had been spent working through the fourteenth arrangement from Brass. I'm still not quite happy with the end of it, so might take a look at something else whilst it seeps through the various uber-cluttered caverns of my brain.

A woman on the tube today was wearing a jump suit, complete with mini-belt the like of which I've not seen since Sheena Easton sang 9 to 5. The effect was something along the lines of a draw-string bag, and I wondered how much of a fashion victim you have to be to actively want to make yourself look like a sack of spuds.

Our bath is leaking water into downstair's flat. Our landlord keeps sending plumbers round, but none of them seem to be able to get to the root of the problem.

With the issues we're having with the alleyway wall, it seems there really is something in the water. Oddly, I dreamed about floods last night. My friend Julie and I had to push her car through a country lane which had become a river and then we were visiting a deserted village on the Isle of Wight which had been evacuated due to coastal erosion! Imagine being in my head!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Once Upon a Tchaikovsky

I had a meeting at Channel 4 today to discuss one or two ideas for musical documentaries. It's actually quite difficult to come up with an idea which works as a musical documentary whilst meeting the hard-hitting, experimental style which C4 prides itself on. I took my footage of Soho and we had a lengthy chat about wider issues. I do love Channel 4. I love pretty much everything it stands for and feel very much at home within its curiously 1980s-looking head quarters on Horseferry Road.

The rest of the day has been spent pottering. I played Nathan the two Brass orchestrations I've been working on over the last week, the first of which, the one where the cast sing their letters, actually made him weep, which felt like a rather good sign.

We took ourselves down to a print shop in the afternoon to get a quote on a print run of sheet music which might be good merchandise for Brass audiences. The show could also be an opportunity to flog a few requiem CDs, which continues to be a priority until all investors have been paid back in full.

This evening we went to see Malificent, the new take on Sleeping Beauty staring the newly bedamed Angelina Jolie and Sam Riley, whom I actually cast in his first ever feature film, Control! What a claim to fame! Jolie acted beautifully and her English accent was fairly good with the exception of her use of the "o" vowel as in "hot." Americans will insist on turning it into "hawt" to rhyme with "ought", which is, frankly, unacceptable!

The little touch of genius in the film was its use of the song Once Upon A Dream, which, of course featured in the original Disney cartoon. The new version is performed by the incomparable Lana Del Ray, but sadly, no mention is made in the credits of the role Tchaikovsky played in the piece. It was, after all, the main melody from his Sleeping Beauty ballet which Disney pinched as the basis of their song. Just because a melody is out of copyright it doesn't mean it no longer has a writer.

I sent Nathan off to my masseur this afternoon and he arrived home clutching a copy of a local magazine with a picture of our wedding inside. I'm not sure I'll ever get tired of seeing pictures of it, or having people come up to congratulate us. Just this week another three emails from strangers arrived. I still feel incredibly blessed.

South Pacific

This morning we walked through Highgate Woods and along Parkland Walk into Muswell Hill. Parkland Walk North of Highgate follows an old railway line which used to take people from Highgate Station to Ali Pali via Muswell Hill and the infamous Cranley Gardens, which is, of course, now a little more famous as the home of the mass murderer, Dennis Nielson.

The walk clings to the edge of a hill and offers stunning Mrs Tiggywinkle views across North East London on one side and Rear Window-esque glimpses up into the Victorian houses of Muswell Hill on the other.

We had soup in a cafe-cum-antique shop and then wandered back to Highgate. My guests were impressed and slightly surprised at how green North London actually is. I think I'm actually right in saying that there are so many trees in the capital that it can officially be classed as a forest.

This afternoon saw me on a train to Rugby of all places... Home of my ancestors. I mistakenly thought I might be able to find a nice cafe nestling near the train station to sit in whilst waiting for Ian and Jem who were picking me up there. I walked down a long Victorian Street towards the dope-scented, profoundly empty town centre, wondering how anyone could live in a place so genuinely horrifying. The whole town was filled with aggressive and bored-looking lads in their uniforms of shiny shell suits and hooded tops. And lots of Eastern Europeans. These should have been my people but the whole place felt utterly alien.

As I walked away from the station I remembered the story my Grannie used to tell - probably 100 years old - of a loyal dog who would meet his owner off the train at Rugby Station when he returned from work at the same time every day. I think the story then goes that the owner died, but the dog carried on going to the train to meet its owner. Day in. Day out. A sort of Greyfriar's Bobby in a less interesting environment.

I eventually found myself in something resembling a town centre with a church and a little pedestrianised shopping centre where there was a Cafe Nero. I was highly amused by the name of a shoe shop opposite, "That's Shoe Business!" Glorious! I was pleased to read in the window that the shop also "does number plates." What a relief! It makes me wonder whether they chose the shop name after they'd decided what to sell!

I was up in the Midlands watching Nathan performing in South Pacific at the open air theatre at Kilworth House, which is about a nine mile drive from Rugby. It's a beautiful theatre in a beautiful country house setting and we had a mirth-filled picnic which was provided by Jem and Shannon. Top billing went to Jem's asparagus quiche. Jem is a culinary God.

Open air theatre is such a treat. Nature always makes her presence felt in some glorious manner. Sometimes there are sunsets, crazy rain showers, little rumbles of thunder or blasts of breeze... Today there were birds, and lots of them. As dusk rolled in, song birds were replaced by the more sinister, rather empty sound of crows.

I very much enjoyed the show. Nathan, of course, was tremendous and there were some lovely touches, although very clever acting is required these days for some of the more unacceptable plot turns. The character of Nellie, for example, walks out of a relationship, essentially because the man she's in love with admits that he has children from a relationship with a black woman. It takes a high calibre actress to make an audience accept that sort of footle in this day and age!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Big woods and fire engines

It's a bit late to be writing a blog, but I've just spent the last thirteen hours in the company of Raily, Tanya and Hilary. It's been like old times all day.

The day kicked off with Hilary and a trip up to Highgate Village for the Fair In the Square, a sort of fete filled with all kinds of wonderful stalls, colourful people on stilts, curious pipe organs, and of course, the local fire brigade. What fete could ever be complete without the ability to climb all over a fire engine?!

There was even a little train which ferried people up and down a short stretch of road.

The atmosphere was wonderful. We ate veggie burgers and ice cream and listened to a local amateur choir singing songs from the shows. One of the sopranos got a little close to the microphone, and in the excitement of performing managed to sing every thing exactly a quarter town sharp, which lent their set a curiously polytonal vibe which would have fascinated my mate Sam!

The choir were followed onto the stage by a group of school girls doing a contemporary dance which involved a great amount of self-conscious posturing and jagged hand gestures. I'm not sure Highgate was quite ready for such an extraordinary display of originality, but it made the fete feel somehow complete.

We strolled across the Heath together before hooking up with Raily and Tanya, who'd been doing what female historians do at the women's history network all day.

We packed ourselves a mini picnic of crisps, muffins and fizzy pop and went back to the Heath, this time heading for Jack Straw's Castle to take a charming walk around the pergola there. It became the theme of the day to smell every single flower we encountered, Raily claiming she'd lost her sense of smell and someone else asking if it's possible to sniff the scent out of a flower!

We sat by a pond on a blanket brother Edward gave to me and talked for hours about the world.

We went home via Hampstead Garden Suburb; a request from Raily who'd seen the "Big Wood" on a map and thought it sounded intriguing. And it was! The whole of that area intrigues me, in fact, built as it was on wonderful socialist principals in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement. It was designed as a utopian garden city where poor and rich could live side by side, separated by hedges rather than fences. Ironically it's now one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in the UK!

We returned to Highgate where I cooked the team a pasta dish of mushrooms, courgettes, Quorn (TM) and peas in a cream sauce, with a beautiful salad which featured lettuce from Raily's allotment. She also handed me a Jerusalem artichoke, which I'm told I'll need to boil for an hour. An hour?!! It better be worth it. The last time I ate Jerusalem artichoke I was sitting next to the actress Billie Whitelaw at my old mate Vera's house. It was an enormous artichoke, which was given to me as a starter. I remember everyone sitting and watching me eating after they'd finished their starters and feeling both incredibly self-conscious and a little underwhelmed!

Friday, 13 June 2014

A day for poets

Today's been rather productive. I've done a solid eight hours' work and finished another orchestration; a five-minute epic scene and song called "Letters" where every cast member has an individual line and every melody from the show is reprised in some form. I suppose in it's simplest form, it's a little like One Day More from Les Miserables, except a little more up-tempo with even more countermelodies floating about. I played the whole thing through just before leaving the cafe in Tufnell Park, a heavy book propped up against my headphones cable, which is the only way I can get the thing to play in stereo!

I'm pleased with what I've written, although I shall need another pass in a few week's time to thin the orchestrations out. I think a healthy-looking score is one filled with empty bars. Nothing should be wasted, although that's a more challenging concept than you might think.

I walked home again, up Dartmouth Park Hill and through Waterlow Park, which looked a picture in the early evening sunshine. The birds were going crazy, there was a ripe scent of May blossom in the air and midges danced like specks of silver in the hazy shafts of light between trees.

There are a lot of homeless people in Waterlow Park, which I find hopelessly sad. The same trio sit in the same little shelter every day; an elderly lady with a boxer dog and two young men. It might be my romantic sensitivities but I always feel like she's somehow looking after them. Whenever I pass, she's holding court. Today she was telling the lads about childhood trips to Trafalgar Square, and I wondered what sort of upbringing she had, and at what point, and indeed why she ended up living in a park.

There could not be a bigger contrast between this trio and the wealthy folk of Highgate, who walk their dogs, lounge about and play tennis in the park, taking loudly about the things that seem to fascinate the wealthy.

The walk from Tufnell Park becomes easier the more often I do it, and, one assumes, the more weight I lose.

Highgate Village was a similarly glorious sight, bathed in sunshine. There was an antiques fair being held in the Highgate Society building. A young lad was sitting outside, strumming a guitar. The pace up here is always slower than in the rest of London. People mill. No one rushes. Particularly on a day like this. The sort of day that poets write about.

Water wall

We've been having terrible trouble with the wall behind our house. Our neighbours, whom I recently discovered are the type who have strange Eastern European women permanently cleaning their flats, continue to use some kind of irrigation system to water their garden. The water, therefore, continues to flow through the wall, the stench of rancidity is becoming intense and there are now massive mosquitoes flying around the puddles forming underneath. Haringey council have been informed but they continue to drag their feet. Apparently, when dealing with them, you have to be deeply unpleasant, sarcastic and somewhat threatening. The softly, softly, terribly nice approach only ends up with them saying "sorry, this is out of our jurisdiction." I discovered this to my cost some weeks ago. In the meantime, the wall is starting to look really quite perilous. I keep emailing the council to let them know that if the wall collapses, I consider them to be responsible, and at some point, someone will be forced to take notice...

I went to see a theatrical agent this morning. I'm beginning to think the time might have arrived to go down that particular route, if not just to have an intermediary figure who supports me, and is able to be a bastard on my behalf when the shit hits the fan. I would far rather someone thought of me as a lovely person with a nasty agent, rather than as a bloke who occasionally loses his cool and sends out shirty emails in the middle of the night. With an agent, I can put much more effort into dealing with turds at Haringey council!

I worked in Soho for a few hours after my meeting, went to the gym and then continued working in my favourite cafe in Tufnell Park before opting to walk home - up the astonishingly steep and unrelenting hill to Highgate, where I worked some more.

I am writing this blog entry whilst half-heartedly watching Hillary Clinton in an interview with Jeremy Paxman. She is coming across as an intelligent, shrewd, candid and hugely impressive person. I seriously hope she stands for the presidency, and further more that she becomes the first female president of the US. The world might have a future if this happens!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Too many G and Ts

I returned from Sheffield today feeling absolutely lousy on account of the the gin and tonics I polished off the night before. To make matters worse, I hadn't slept particularly well. For some reason, despite having gone to bed at 3am, I woke up with the dawn at 4.30 and witnessed the most remarkable sunrise, which made my heart leap with such joy that sleep, until it had cleared, was not a possibility. The sun rose as a rather astonishing shade of peach, which turned the white walls of my hotel room into a light box. I lay in bed for several minutes making silhouettes of animals before drifting off to sleep again.

The train journey home was pleasant enough. Archie phoned to say that Jon Snow, in his talk to 800 festival delegates, had talked about the wedding and how proud he'd been to sing in it. Many people are still saying It's the best piece of telly they've seen this year.

London was an instant nightmare. St Pancras station was filled with braying tourists. One woman in particular was seeing how loud she could shout at the person standing right next to her. They seemed to be having a perfectly ordinary conversation, just one which was astonishingly shouty. It was like watching an RSC production!

I worry that I'm turning into one of those little old ladies who is simultaneously deaf yet says that everything (music etc) is too loud. What's that all about?

I learned on Spring Watch today that the English grass snake lays eggs whereas the adder actually gives birth. This is why adders can live much further North because they don't need to atmosphere to be so warm in order to procreate. I was surprised there could be that much variation within one species. It just goes to show that even at the age of 97, you can still learn something new every day.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014


I took the train to the documentary festival in Sheffield today, where I talked on a fascinating panel about musical documentaries. It was a great event; lots of interesting opinions floating around and a good selection of musical documentary practitioners including the Daddy of the movement, Brian Hill, who made the iconic Feltham Sings.

We went for dinner afterwards and then out to a club. Imagine me going to a club and actually dancing?!

You might rather expect a documentary festival to be filled with people who'd seen our wedding on telly but I'm not sure I was quite prepared for the sheer number of people who came up to me in the club to offer their heart-felt congratulations. The funniest was a little Japanese girl whom I could barely understand. She kept saying "you? Composer? Wedding?" And then something I couldn't fathom which I subsequently realised was her asking where Nathan was. More than one person came up to me and said the wedding had made them feel proud to be British. What an astonishing, astonishing compliment. It's almost worth the tinnitus-like ringing in my ears that the loud club music has left me with!!

I read in the paper on the way up that Ronan Keating is making his acting debut in the musical Once.  How lucky is the West End to have a man of his calibre gracing its boards? I'm sure he'll prove to be a subtle actor with endless depth and maturity.

Ronan has said on record that he never saw himself starring in musicals but "now I see it as a play with music that sits better with me." One word. Tosser. I hope he gets nodules!

I'm eternally amused by how little pieces of one's life can often be knitted together in a single journey, in today's case, a walk from the train station in Sheffield to the hotel I'm staying in tonight. On the journey I passed locations from A Symphony for Yorkshire and a little film I made almost ten years ago about the floods in Sheffield.

More surprisingly, when I arrived at the hotel I realised I'd stayed here just after it opened in 1998, when I was working as the Resident Director of a tour of Madam Butterfly.

It was the first leg of the tour and I couldn't believe how fancy the hotel was. We all had double beds and the rooms had amazing city views. It was so fancy that I immediately called my partner at the time, Stephen, and said he had to come up to the next leg of the tour in Manchester so he could see how well treated we were all being. I told our bitch of a company manager that he was coming up, so imagine my horror, when we reached Manchester, to find I'd been placed in a single room which smelt of smoke and had no window!

I was so upset. At the time I was very conscious of being poor, and the fact that Stephen always ended up paying for everything. I'd really wanted to show him how well I was doing! And there we were, sharing a single bed!

The land of opera was such a back-stabbing, horrifying world, which thrived on cattiness and cruelty, and the most intolerable treatment of those who weren't the divas. Some of the most miserable times of my life were spent being bullied by a stage manager called Annie, whose nose I managed to put out of joint at one stage. She used to have me monitored in the Albert Hall to make sure I was doing my job properly. The moment I left the building she'd call me and ask me what I was doing. A lot is written about the aggressive behaviour of men towards women in the work place, but that cow made my life a living nightmare!

Still, the hotel in Sheffield was, and remains a rather lovely place, and I'm as happy to be here today as I was almost 20 years ago. Back then, I remember having to take a really early train back to London without the rest of the company. It was probably another little punishment from the tour manager. Whatever the reason, I was up pre-dawn and remember walking to the train station in a thick mist, over the strange tram bridges, the sound of factory sirens going off around the city; a call to work, one assumes, for steel workers.  It felt so other worldly.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The smell of rain

We're currently listening to the Shipping Forecast in the car returning from Huntingdonshire where we've been visiting Lisa, Mark, Poppy and the Slow Loris. It's been thundering and lightning all night and there are now little wisps of mist rising from the ground which we keep catching in our head lights.

There was a rather exciting little storm going on whilst we sat chatting in the conservatory. At one stage the air was thick with static, and every time there was a flash of lightning we could feel a soft buzzing around our ears.

I was reminded of a trip to the South of France (just before I met Nathan, in fact) when the house we were staying in ended up in the middle of the mother-of-all electric storms. Lightning actually struck that night and destroyed a garden wall no more than four metres away from where I was standing. I can still remember the smell of electricity as the lightning struck, and the hairs on my arms rising up as though I had my hand on a Van de Graaf generator.

The sound of rain on the conservatory roof tonight was wonderfully soothing. I'd cheerfully sleep in a conservatory during a rain storm. The constant drumming would soon send me off to sleep. I did it once with two friends during my sixth form. It was around Hallowe'en, I seem to remember, and my parents had gone away for the night. We carved pumpkins and then went to sleep in the conservatory with the pumpkins flickering in time with the rain.

As we arrived at Lisa and Mark's house we were instantly greeted by the glorious, rich and somewhat dark smell of rain in the countryside - a smell I love and realise I've missed since moving London.

It's felt rather like a Sunday all day today. That's what happens when your husband's day off is a Monday and you're lucky enough to be able to shape your own schedule. I genuinely don't know how some relationships last when one half works in the theatre and the other half has a regular day job. The actor wakes up after their partner has gone to work, and leaves for work just before the partner returns, who goes to bed before the actor gets home. It's disastrous really. Oddly, I'm told it can work quite well for child rearing!

Sunday, 8 June 2014


So a World Cup frenzy is hotting up, and everyone's hoping against hope that England will do well. I'm not altogether sure why anyone bothers. We'll scrape into the quarter finals and go out against Germany on penalty shoot-outs, the pain is written on the walls. I suppose, as a long-term supporter of Eurovision, I'm a fine one to talk, but at least with Eurovision, you can support another country who perform better! When it comes to the World Cup, we place our faith and hope in a group of over-paid bastards with silly hair-dos, who camply prance about like the world owes them a living, before being utterly smashed into the ground by Jonny Foreigner. Actually, that sounds almost identical to Eurovision, doesn't it? I've always thought of it as the gay man's World Cup!

I have been so profoundly traumatised by extraneous noise today. Sirens seem louder than normal and I have never heard such shrieking on the tube. I think it's the large crowds which are probably disturbing me most. I feel insanely agoraphobic when Nathan is away.

Still, I was very pleased to have overcome my ludicrous fear of weekend people to make my way down to the Southbank late this afternoon, where Ian was celebrating his birthday. He does the same thing each year; hires a table at Giraffe and tells all his friends he'll be there from 4 until late. These things are always fairly self-regulatory, people come, people go, and if you stay for a long stretch you'll meet all sorts of interesting people - and if you're lucky, you'll get to eat a Key Lime Pie!

Samantha Bond was there, but I didn't have the opportunity to tell her that we'd met, in 1996, I believe, at the stage door of the Adelphi theatre. It was the night of the Dunblaine massacre; that awful occasion where a gun man had gone into a primary school and shot loads of children. I can't remember whether she told me the news, or whether it was something which was filtering around, but I do remember feeling terribly shaken and explaining to her that there had been a shooting at my own school when I was a child, and that I hadn't, until that moment, realised quite how high the stakes had been. There but for the grace of God and all that...

I fancied an evening stroll on my way home, so walked up through Soho to Tottenham Court Road station, which was rammed to the rafters. Heaven knows where all those sweaty tourists were heading at 9.30pm, but at one stage the people standing both to my left and my right were snogging, which I consider to be unacceptable tube behaviour. No lust is so all-encompassing that it won't wait ten minutes to be continued behind closed doors. I stood in a corner of the carriage, desperately hoping they'd all get off ('scuse the pun) at Euston, which some did, although it wasn't until Kentish Town that I was able to sit down.

Nathan comes home tonight, which I'm thrilled about. I've missed him rather a lot this week.

Britain's Got Talent

The sound has stopped working on my computer. Hurrah. (I'm searching for the sarcasm emoticon...) Quite what I do to deserve such dreadful luck when it comes to all matters technological, I'm not sure. I guess the simple truth of the matter is that I'm glued to machines for many, many hours a day, which makes the likelihood of them wearing out, or breaking, or sulking quite high...

I punished myself by sitting down to watch The Towering Inferno which happened to be on telly. A disaster movie is always brilliant when you're in a bad mood. However bad your life is, at least you're not trapped in a burning skyscraper with Fred Astaire and O J Simpson... Although one can't help but wonder if the tits who masterminded 911 weren't somehow influenced by the film.

I went to the gym feeling a little sorry for myself, trying to work on the bus, with the sound from my computer continually cutting out in my ears. As I reached my stop, the guy next to me nudged me and blurted out, "did you get married on the telly recently?" Obviously I said yes. "It was beautiful," he said, and my day was instantly made. Believe it or not, he's the first stranger who's approached me in this manner and I felt proud as punch!

The gym was exhausting, but even more exhausting was trying to write a sequence of underscore in the cafe afterwards. The sun was glaring through the window and I was forced to hold my headphones in a special way to make the sound work properly, but really the exhaustion was Brass itself. I'm right at the end of my proverbial tether!

I worked late into the night and finally turned a corner on the song I'm currently working on, which means another one can get ticked off the list...

I stopped for a while to watch the final of Britain's Got Talent, which was a fairly high-quality affair by these shows' standards. Still, I worry that the result will mean a plethora of over-produced formulaic albums of musical theatre and semi-operatic covers hitting the charts in time for Christmas. Yet again, an absolute riot of cliches sprang from the glistening lips of all involved. The opera girl, with the semi-okay voice which would benefit from proper classical training, was told she was "pitch perfect." I get so profoundly irritated by people using this term to mean "you sing in tune." Perfect pitch is a very specific thing, which should never be muddled up with other terms. If I were a doctor, I wouldn't get away with telling someone they had cancer if they were having a heart attack, so why should an "expert" judge on a talent show get away with critiques which simply don't make sense?

I wrote down a list of all the cliches uttered (without any form of irony) by one or all the contestants. I think we had the full compliment...

"We're going to raise the bar"
"We're going to bring it"
"Blood sweat and tears have led up to this moment"
"This is going to be the performance of our lives" (x3)
"I want to make my dad/ family/ little boy/ dead husband proud"
"This is the biggest performance I've ever done"
"This is the hardest I have ever worked"
"This show has made me believe in myself"
"It's been such an amazing/incredible journey" (x2)
"This performance could change our lives"
"Everything rests on tonight's performance"

How's that?!


Saturday, 7 June 2014

Extreme busking

I'm not altogether sure what is happening to the weather at the moment. Having shivered through most of yesterday, I now find myself sweating like some kind of addict. It is boiling hot today, and I'm wearing a thick cotton shirt and a linen suit, which I'm sure classes as an epic fail! How could I have judged things so badly? Oh that's right: it was disastrously cold yesterday!!!

I made myself a leek, pasta and broccoli bake for lunch, which has made me feel a little weird. I blame the roux I made, which I didn't necessarily expect to turn a shade of grey! I think the flour caught on the pan or something. It was definitely grey, however, rather than the more usual wrong-roux shade of beige!

Speaking of grey, I shaved an enormous grey and orange beard off on Tuesday. It was so large and so bushy that I was forced to use clippers first and then a Hoover to get rid of the huge amounts of hair which I'd removed. Since taking it off I've noticed quite how many beards there are about. 2014 is definitely the year of facial hair. Almost every chap, and indeed some women are sporting everything from the full pervy Captain Birdseye beards right down to ornately coiffed Dali moustaches.

I'm currently battling my way through hordes of commuters at Waterloo station. A busker is hammering out something desperately annoying and high-octane on a mouth organ. I think blues played on a mouth organ is possibly one the most hideous sounds ever conceived. It's right up there with religious songs played by choirs of recorders, bass solos in jazz music and anything played on a flute.

I've just spent the late afternoon with a dear old friend, Jo Emery, who, come July, I'll have known for 20 years. Twenty years! It's a fact I find rather difficult to get used to. When did I become the man that says "twenty years in the business" whenever I can't get my way?! It seems like only yesterday that I was doing student drama at the Edinburgh festival with Jo. We were members of the National Student Theatre Company, and our great rivals at the festival were the NYMT, who, twenty years ago were staging The Threepenny Opera. We found them amusing because they were chaperoned, which meant they were young and not to be taken as seriously as us wannabe thesps. Who'dve thought, exactly 20 years on, I'd be spending my summer working for them?

It was so nice to see Jo. We hung out in the sun on the Southbank, and sat on one of those natural beaches by the Thames eating ice lollies and remembering the good old days. I must see more of Jo.

Back at Highgate I was rather astonished to see an eight-year-old lad who seemed to be learning to ride his bike on The Archway Road. For those who don't understand the significance of this statement, The Archway Road is better known as the A1: the trunk road between London and Edinburgh. It's single carriageway in my neck of the woods, and the speed limit is 30 mph, but it's always full of articulated lorries and buses and lunatic angry drivers who are fed up with London. The lad's Daddy did seem to be on the bike behind, and the lad himself was wearing a Ninga Turtle-shaped helmet, but he was tottering all over the place. Cars were beeping their horns, people were unwinding their windows and shouting at him to get onto the pavement. Actually, the Dad was cycling on the pavement at one point, but the lad resolutely continued to ride along the busy road. It was absolute mayhem, it really was. I'm all for taking calculated risks with children: allowing them to eat worms and that sort of thing, but even I would draw the line at this!

I read today that George Osbourne is warning people of the danger of Muslim extremists "infiltrating" our schools. On the face of it, what he's saying seems a little, well, right wing. Obviously, I'd never go as far as to say I actually agree with a Tory, but I do share some concerns of my own in this respect. When working on casting the film Brick Lane, I visited a number of schools in the East End looking for young Bengali people who might be interested in playing roles in the film. I was fairly horrified even then to discover that Muslim Elders (particularly in single sex schools) held the majority vote on certain boards of governors, and that any permission to go into schools to offer children these sorts of opportunities needed to go through them. Needless to say, in at least two cases, they refused. Brick Lane was a book they disapproved of, as, in fact, was the concept of acting. As a direct result, none of the kids at these schools (regardless of faith) were offered the chance to be in a feature film. I do worry that, in an attempt not to offend, or seem un-PC, we have created innumerable problems for ourselves. And what's the way out?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Three meals

Finally a bit of sunshine to warm us all up and make our worries fade away. The sunshine has also brought the nutters out onto the streets. On my way from the bus stop to the gym I encountered all sorts of odd balls. One woman with facial hair was sitting in her front garden,  fanning her lady bits and swearing at anyone who walked past. It takes all sorts, I suppose.

I did 40 lengths in the swimming pool. There's a buzz you get after a big swim which is quite moorish. There was a woman in the pool who rather put me to shame, however. When she arrived my heart sank. She had all the physical attributes of an incredibly slow swimmer. She looked like a toffee apple on a stick; a great big round top half, and tiny spindly legs. She also looked like one of those women swimmers who don't like to get their hair wet, so bob about on the surface causing huge queues of swimmers behind them. Imagine my surprise therefore when she steamed past me doing the front crawl. I've never felt so emasculated, or proved so entirely wrong!

I notice Alexandra Burke is going into The Body Guard as the Witney Houston character. On paper she's a great choice; oodles of personality, and, as Louis Walsh puts it, a fabulous recording voice. But here's the problem: I'm pretty sure Ms Burke has vocal problems. I can certainly almost guarantee she hasn't got eight shows a week of top-belt whinging in her. I'd like her to prove me wrong, but I have an enormous problem with reality stars thinking they can "do" West End shows. It's the reason I scream at the telly when Cowell tells people with theatrical voices and questionable tuning that they should be in the West End. No! In order to be in the West End, you need razor sharp pitching and brilliant vocal health.

This evening I met Jem, Ian and a plethora of other delightful people for a meal which took in three different restaurants. We had starters in Wagamama's, main courses at Bill's in Covent Garden, and after dinner cocktails at Balans in Soho. We were joined for the evening by the wonderful Richard le Cocq (or Double Dick as we love to call him), a charming yoga teacher called Warren and Julia Zemiro, Australia's top Eurovision expert! It truly was a wonderful evening. Just the right length. Just the right crowd. Perfect.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Rain rain go away

Yet more rain... I sat in the kitchen all morning, writing, with the window open, and realised just before lunch that I was actually freezing cold. The amaryllis which Uncle Bill gave us for Christmas two years ago is about to flower for a second time (v exciting) and I've placed it right next to the open window in the hope that it might provide a lovely supply of pollen for a passing bee. It's a bit tragic, I suppose, to be so brutally fond of bees, but I guess I'm still attempting to regain the balance of karma after murdering our friend, Gloria Bee, two years ago.

Gloria Bee was a mason bee who tried to build a little nest in a hole in the back of the telly which we used to keep in front of the (generally) open kitchen window. On the advice of a local bee expert I tried to dig out the nest and rebuild it in a plastic tube on the window ledge. It was, of course, an utterly hopeless mission. Plainly I managed kill all of Gloria's eggs, and days later, we found her, dead, under the telly. I believe she died of a broken heart, and to this day, the burden of guilt weighs heavy on me!

I watched footage of The Queen opening Parliament today and wasn't sure why this was happening so near to when MPs break up for their long recess. Surely the best time to set out what you're planning for the coming year is when the new term starts? Am I missing something? I'm sure this stuff used to happen in November...

Any more thoughts I might have had on this particular subject were entirely brought to a close by the Queen sounding a short "a". She actually read "enhance" the way that any self-respecting Yorkshire citizen would pronounce the word! I immediately tweeted my abject shock at the notion of The Queen forgetting how to speak her own version of English and was amused by a reply which said rather simply, "well Hannover is quite far North, isn't it? She sodding well ought to speak like a Northerner!"

I largely dodged the rain showers to get myself to Old Street, where I visited Philippa and her gang. It was a very pleasant trip, which has only just finished. Deia and I did sewing at the big conservatory table. Ah! The irony! I can barely thread a needle. We made a little cup thing which I covered in beads. It looked absolutely dreadful and Deia was plainly so unimpressed that she took herself off to watch a film, murmuring to herself as she left, "give me a shout if you need any help!"

We had baked potatoes for tea and Philippa gave me some brilliant steers on the Soho pitch. I have no idea how she manages to keep her mind so sharp and agile whilst bringing up two children. She's plainly a super hero.

The sun came out just before setting, which means the cloud cover has gone and it's bitterly cold as I walk home. The highest pity marks, however, have to go to Nathan, who Skyped me from his Leicestershire forest in what was plainly some sort of tropical monsoon. He took me on a tour of the set, which looked like something from The Poseidon Adventure. Poor thing was wearing the pac-a-mac I lent him and looked so dejected. Sodding rain!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014


The new fun game which all the cool 134 bus drivers are playing this year is the change of guard on the Junction Road game. The busses pull up at a random bus stop somewhere near the depot and then sit for up to ten minutes whilst another driver appears with his little money box and faffs himself into a place where he feels it's possible to drive us onward.

It's rained all day today, which means I've been in a permanent state of sweatiness as I've made my way around London. Rain is not at all good for an hairy man like me - think wet dogs - although it does strike me how ludicrous it is that, give or take the odd layer of fur - human beings are inherently water proof, yet insist on draping themselves in fabrics which are anything but.

Today I wore linen. Linen is not water proof. In fact, I reckon, linen would be pretty useless in any crisis including fire, bouts of coldness, immersion in water, and unexpected erections!

Why am I talking about linen?

I've just returned from a swim which followed a session with an osteopath who pummelled me so hard he had to mop himself down with a towel afterwards. That's dedication to the cause, I rather think! It's not why I'm writing about linen.

I did some work in the morning on Brass, easing myself into the full tilt I'll need to be going on it as of tomorrow. Fortunately I did just enough work to turn the corner on one particular track, which means for a blissful and precious few hours until the arrangement is over, I am finessing rather than doing grunt work.

At the bus stop in Highgate, I did the rather mortifying thing of smiling at and saying hello to a woman I thought I recognised. It was only when she grimaced and looked through me that I realised I was trying to get the attention of the woman who plays the Mum in Our Family!

As I walked down the alley to our house, I happened upon three school children sharing a joint. They tried to style it out, with faces which said "what? It's just a cigarette..." The problem with smokers is that their smoking addled senses have made them forget that dope has the most shockingly powerful smell. Plainly I wasn't going to dob them into police, I'm sure the police have more important fish to fry, but I was somewhat annoyed by their brazenness.

I got home, and flung myself at the sofa and immediately heard the most shocking ripping sound. I looked down to see the gusset of my linen trousers ripped to smithereens! Now THAT'S why I was writing about linen!

Monday, 2 June 2014

What day off?

Nathan and I have spent Nathan's day off trying to edit a little sample film about Soho as a pitch for Channel 4. We shot it on a summer night about two years ago when, it seemed, an almost inexhaustible supply of freaks were out and about.  It's all very rough and ready - both the material and our editing process - but I think there's definitely something exciting lurking within. A bit of a polish, a lot more research, some plucky camera men, and I think we could be onto a winner. It's certainly an idea which fills me with great excitement, which is always a good starting point.

They say a change is a good as a rest and the day off from Brass has definitely been good for me, although the idea of going back to the seemingly endless orchestrations is filling me with dread. I've got homework tummy; that sinking feeling I used to get as a child watching the Antiques Roadshow when I realised I hadn't prepped for double science in the morning! I have a target of completing two songs a week, which is something I need to maintain throughout June if I'm to deliver everything by the end of the month, which is my target.

We had lunch at the greasy spoon and then did our weekly shop at Sainsbury's in Muswell Hill. I was quite horrified (as I often am) with their selection of vegetarian frozen food. One tiny little shelf in an enormous wall of freezers is far worse than the tiny deli we live above. To make matters worse, it's Sainbury's policy to display their frozen "free from" range (that's the wheat and gluten free stuff) alongside the vegetarian food. Unfortunately, the assumption for a vegetarian who sees something which says "free from" in a green box is that it's meat free. Imagine my confusion therefore to see "Sainsbury's Free From Fish Fingers." Surely any veggie would assume that it was free from fish? No, says Sainabury's, it's free from "gluten, dairy and wheat, but it's our policy to display it next to the vegetarian food!" Brilliant!

Sunday, 1 June 2014


I went to the gym again today, spurred on to lose weight by shots of myself all skinny in Soho two years ago. I got the bus down to Kentish Town but was forced to curtail the workout when I realised I'd managed to padlock my locker without taking the key out with me. Cut to tragic scenes with me at the gym reception asking them if they'd use their giant lock-smashing scissors to break into the locker and retrieve my belongings. I risked leaving my bag in the locker to have a quick swim afterwards, but the pool had become a crèche, with children jumping in and out all over the place and one little girl even sitting at the side with a watering can and loads of rubber ducks which she was dropping into the water. I wonder if LA Fitness needs to work out whether it's there to get people fit or to look after children! There were even two little boys in the steam room which felt ludicrous beyond words. Why does a child need to steam?

I went onto the Fortess Road and spent the afternoon on Brass, slowly making my way back to Highgate via a series of little cafés where I worked for an hour or so. I tackled Dartmouth Park Hill by foot again, and it was almost as difficult as it was the last time... Almost to the extent that I wondered if the gradient had somehow got steeper in the past year although I'm pretty sure I'm actually just getting old or unfit!

The last cafe I worked in was Costa up in Highgate Village, where I overheard one of those ghastly only-in-Highgate conversations...

Little Girl: What was that shop with all the pictures in the window?

Posh Gran: That was an estate agents. They sell houses.

Little Girl: Can we buy a house?

Posh Gran: Your Mummy already has three houses, darling, it might be greedy to buy a fourth.

Might be? MIGHT be?

I'm comprehensively in the wrong industry!

Pigs and other people's children

I stood on a crowded tube this morning listening to the almost non-stop announcements about which bits of which lines were suspended; a sure sign it's a Saturday. In these kind of clammy, sardine-like scenarios, my instinct is always to hide, although my spirit was warmed by the familiar sound of a Northamptonshire burr coming from behind me. I turned around to see a group of people in rugby shirts, and on closer inspection they turned out to be Saints fans, which suddenly made sense of the accent! As I arrived at Victoria Station, I was astonished to find myself in a sea of Saint fans. It was like being down Northampton market! Heaven knows where they were all going.

The concentration of people in London today - and the dreadful noise they seemed to be making - entirely freaked me out. It's strange; you get rather used to traveling in London on week days when everyone keeps themselves to themselves. On Saturdays there are possibly more tourists about, or Londoners get together with their friends to travel, which means the tubes and trains are a great deal noisier.

Having been hiding away underneath headphones for the last few weeks, without Nathan about, I realise I've become something of a hermit, pottering about at my own pace, not making a great deal of noise. How quickly we lose the ability to deal with society!

It was Lewes where I was heading today, in one of those confusing trains from Victoria where you have to sit in the correct carriage due to the train "splitting" at Heywards Heath. The front eight carriages were going to Ore, the back four to Littlehampton, but the dot matrix machine was broken and there was nothing to tell me which carriage I was in. Furthermore, even if I'd known I was in the front eight carriages, I have no idea whether Lewes is on the way to Ore. I don't know what Ore is. I had a mate called Donna Ore. Was I going to see her? The carriage smelt of feet and fart, there was a man who sounded like Bill Oddie talking ludicrously loudly about football and I just about lost the will to live. Still, looking at the countryside on the way down South is always a treat... So green and rolling....

Lewes looked like a picture post card with houses covered in wisteria and roses. The sun was shining. Meriel met me from the station and we walked across the town to a little hollow in front of Rupert and Hilary's house where a lovely marquee had been set up to celebrate Rupert's 40th birthday. Everyone is 40 this year. By the time mine rolls along everyone will be completely bored of celebrating! I bought Rupert a "in deepest sympathy card", which I thought was hysterically funny. "Which garage did you buy this from?" He asked, in a typically blunt way... Sometimes I wonder why we bother with birthday cards. They're such a nonsense aren't they? Unless you're writing a proper message inside, or you've made the card yourself, they just become something else to put out with the recycling!

Rupert, who's about as carnivorous as a man can get had organised a hog roast. Fortunately his wife, Uncle Bill, is vegetarian, so whilst the meat eaters chowed down on pig, we were given delicious hummus wraps and exciting bowls of Eaton Mess. The hog roast was incredibly popular but for me there's very little which looks as unappetising as the half-eaten carcass of a pig mounted on a stick! It genuinely ended up looking like the scene of some kind of horrific murder. Bits of melted yellow flesh dripping down with globules of white fat. Like a terrible autopsy.

The party was filled with parents and children, some of whom I knew, most of whom I didn't. The ghastly truth about quite a few parents with young children is they can loose the ability to talk about anything else! It becomes almost desperately boring, particularly when you finally manage to get one talking about something else, but they always have their eyes elsewhere, watching their little darlings. I think they genuinely feel that they're multi-tasking, because the other parents they talk to are doing exactly the same thing and no one cares, but when you don't have kids, it becomes really offensive because you see them glazing over, nodding politely and occasionally saying something to keep you sweet, but the conversation always ends up coming to a rudely abrupt halt when their child sidles over. "What's the matter Totty? Would you like another drink?" The words cut into your own like a knife.  They can't even allow you the dignity of finishing a sentence before turning away and dealing with their beloved. And very rarely does the conversation ever return when the child goes away again, essentially, I believe, because they weren't actually taking anything in in the first place!

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. I have friends who are parents who are desperate not to talk about kiddy things, parents who look you in the eye, and when their children come over they will continue to look whilst reassuringly putting a hand on the child's arm which says "Mummy's talking right now, but when I can give you my attention I will do." And the truth of the matter is that their children are universally the polite, more fascinating ones with whom you ultimately want to spend more time!

On my way home, I got a text from Fiona who was on her way back to Brighton from Northampton. It transpired that her train was pulling into Gatwick just as mine was leaving... Or was it the other way round? Anyway, we waved in each other's general direction.

I got to Victoria in a rush to get home and settle, having spent plenty enough time with large crowds of people. The station was absolutely heaving and as I reached the tube, the horror occurred of my Oyster card needing topping up. The ticket machines were surrounded by huge queues of tourists who had absolutely no idea how to deal with the technology. I stood in a queue for at least ten minutes willing people to be more organised...

I got home and worked until 2am... Which is why I posted this blog when I woke up!