Friday, 31 October 2014

Hot hallowe'en

Today has apparently been the hottest Hallowe'en on record - by some way - and everyone seems to have gone a little insane as a result. I'm told the next hottest was about fifty years ago and that one was at least three degrees cooler, although Raily, whom we saw earlier today, tells us she remembers one Hallowe'en when it was so hot, her costume consisted of nothing but a cape and a pair of knickers! (Awkward: I'm not sure that was a Hallowe'en...)

London has been bathed in a deep golden light all day today. The heat the sun was kicking out in the early afternoon was positively Mediterranean...

Raily, Iain and the kids came early this morning. It was Will's birthday last week, and for a treat he wanted to go to the nineteenth century operating theatre in Southwark, which is about as charming and eccentrically Will as anything I know. They brought a painting with them, from Raily's father, who's an artist. He wanted us to have it as a wedding gift. He was apparently very moved when he saw the wedding on television, having known so many gay men in his lifetime and watched helplessly as they endured first brutal homophobia and then the hell of HIV/ Aids. He lives in Northern Ireland, where, of course, gay marriage is still illegal, so I suspect this, and the fact that his grandson is my godson, was all feeding into his great generosity.

The painting itself is a charming still life of a violin and a lot of books and clippings about Ivor Novello, who couldn't have been a more perfect choice for us, him having been a brilliant composer and known gaybo, who even dated my hero Siegfried Sassoon.

Of course Raily and co arrived at the start of the two-hour period when parking is not free in Highgate, so we spent ages, driving in circles, looking for a parking space attached to a meter. It turns out there are very few of them round here, and sadly, the one we chose had been earmarked for some kind of roadworks, because when we returned, despite having shelled out £6 for the privilege of parking there for two hours, we discovered a heart-crushing yellow parking ticket. £65 immediately down the drain. We apparently hadn't noticed the tiny sign which informed us that the bay was closed. The only positive was that we arrived before the tow-truck came, which the workmen assured us had been called. Haringey council will fleece you for anything they can get away with. I was mortified. I spend my life telling people who have moved out of London how fabulous it is to live in our part of the city.

In an attempt to put the embarrassment and anger behind us, Nathan and I walked through the glorious Highgate Wood to a sun-baked Muswell Hill, where we bought pumpkins to carve. There has never been a Hallowe'en when I haven't created a little Jack o'lantern and I hope there never will be...

We decided to take advantage of the weather to take pictures of some of Nathan's new knitted creations. His last pattern, a double-knit Sanquhar-inspired scarf is selling really well on Ravelry, and he's quite rightly rushing out a few more of his designs. Funnily enough, we were photographing the Sanquhar scarf the day we found out that Channel 4 had commissioned Our Gay Wedding. That was the first sunny day of the year. Perhaps this will be the last.

There was a minor panic when we reached the house and discovered that Nathan had left his bag - filled with keys, wallets and passports - under a tree in the wood, but fortunately, when we rushed back, it was still there, being watched-over by a family whose children were playing on a nearby log. Only in Highgate!

This evening we went to see Shakespeare In Love at the Noël Coward Theatre, which turned out to be an unexpectedly pleasant experience. Yes it was all a little alienatingly thespie; lots of hoarse actors shouting their lines, pointlessly gesticulating and genuinely having a little too much fun on stage, but it's a show with heart, which doesn't take itself too seriously, and the incidental music is written by someone with a serious understanding and love for medieval music, which I appreciated hugely. I could have done without a few of the knowing Shakespeare puns which crept into the script, and furthermore the audience's reaction to said lines. "Oh yes... a reference to Macbeth... Oh yes, we know that quote gaffaw, gaffaw, fnah..." There was also a sequence in which two men kiss, which the audience found particularly amusing. Yeah, 'cus that's still REALLY funny, isn't it?!

Anyway, we were home before midnight to carve our pumpkins. I'm not quite sure yet what mine is going to be. I might go quite traditional this year. Mix things up, you know... Living the dream!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Round and round

I had a call today from one of our friends in India whose job it is to tell us their records indicate someone in the household has had a minor accident. I picked up the phone and felt my heart dropping when he announced himself. It happens with such alarming regularity, that, to keep things interesting, I now try to say something different every time they call. I learnt this trick from my Grannie, when late-onset dementia meant she asked the same six questions in a loop. "Do you have a girlfriend?" "No." "Do you have a girlfriend?" "Yes." "Do you have a girlfriend?" "Several." "Do you have a girlfriend?" "I'm married to my job at the sewerage plant, Grannie." On one occasion she entered a cycle in the middle of the night of coming into my bedroom, asking if I was warm enough and when I said I was, disappearing to the airing cupboard to find something else to put on my zed bed. By the morning I was covered in sheets, blankets, net curtains and towels!

So today, when my Indian friend told me his records showed I'd been in an accident, I said I had. I heard his eyes lighting up. "And you were driving?" "Yes." "And it wasn't your fault?" "Oh, I'm afraid it was... Everyone died. Everyone. Except me." "Oh" he said, the panic levels rising in his voice, "that's, um... Very nice." He then hung up.

Perhaps these people need to learn a little about compassion. After all, there's a strong likelihood that someone they randomly call will have been traumatically affected by a car accident, and "very nice" would, by all counts, be a somewhat inappropriate response!

You know when you spend a day wishing that someone who does nothing but complain would simply disappear and let you get on with enjoying life? That...

I sometimes feel this must how the rest of Europe feels about the UK. Sometimes people whinge so hard that you end up wanting to scream "if you're that unhappy, please, just get yourself out of my face!" I got fairly close to thinking that way about the Scots in the recent referendum, and am perilously close to telling a friend of mine that life doesn't always have to be a drama. God knows I've tried myself over the years to make desperate mountains out of mole hills, but bitter experience tells me that most people just want a quiet life!

I've done another hard day's work on the Fleet Singer's commission, and can reveal I'm now mid-way through the first draft of the last movement. I've worked at lightning speed, largely because I've been so inspired by this composition. I think this has a great deal to do with the fact that I'm setting lyrics which are exclusively about North London - my gaff. Besides, nothing but the best will do for my special Fleet Singers!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Sweaty head

It's been a somewhat testing day, largely due to the weather which has been hot, sticky and wet. Every time I've arrived at a new location I've had to take a towel to my forehead to get rid of sweat, rain water and goodness knows what else. The tubes were filled to the rafters with people whose hair had all gone frizzy and all I've wanted to do since 8.30 this morning is lie under a duvet.

I had a meeting with Jezza and Victoria this morning about the future of Brass in the hands of the NYMT. Exciting things, if not quite what we expected, are afoot. A number of complicated but crucial decisions were made in the meeting which I believe are critical for the long-term happiness of all cast, writers and current and future creatives. More difficult decisions are often taken out of your hands. I can't really say a great deal more until we've crossed a few more ts, but I believe it's sometimes more important to take a longer-term view on things.

I popped into Central London to see my agent and to have lunch with Nathan at a crazy little pizza place on one of the back streets between Covent Garden and Holborn. I can't really imagine how it survives. It sells pizzas for about a fiver, and you sit eating them in a little back room on a mish-mash of benches surrounded by cardboard boxes stacked to the ceiling. It was just what the doctor ordered, however...

The doctor has also ordered me to have a lovely cup of tea in front of the telly. Thankfully the large amount of work I did yesterday enables me to take things a little more gently today. It'll be back to the grindstone with a vengeance tomorrow.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Ghostly shadows

I rushed from Soho to Tottenham Court Road late this afternoon in an attempt to get on the tube before the rush hour started. Of course what I hadn't bargained on was the hideous pre-rush hour I encountered, created by tourists in their neon coats and heavy-rimmed glasses who'd plainly finished shopping on Oxford Street and were returning to their hotels in shitty places like Brent Cross for an early evening meal. The tube station was buzzing like a hive, with huge groups of young girls studying maps, and standing exactly where Londoners are basically programmed not to stand!

The warm weather we've been having becomes all the more surreal in the mid-afternoon. Since the clocks went back on Saturday night, a strange phenomena has started to occur. At about 4pm, the sun seems to drop like a halogen stone from the sky and weird, ghostly shadows creep across the streets. Because it still feels like summer, your body clock tells you it's too early to lose the light, so everything takes on shades of the post apocalyptic.

I got up rather early and decided to spend the day writing in cafés across London, the first of which was down in Borough, where I sat for an hour before, and then again after, an osteopathy appointment. The Starbucks opposite Borough Station is a charming little place. I know we're all meant to pretend to hate Starbucks for not paying taxes and for being generally loathsome for reasons only a Guardian reader would understand, but for some reason the staff in this particular franchise always seem to be in very good moods. They smile. They are helpful. They genuinely appear to enjoy their jobs and this can be hugely infectious. The last time I was there, one of the baristas was singing happily to herself as she worked in the back kitchen. I was charmed!

I ambled into Soho and had my fourth cup of tea in a cafe on the corner of Old Compton Street, where two care-in-the-community old dudes had been deposited by their carer, who'd paid for their food up front and made himself scarce after asking the cafe owner with a sort of knowing wink to keep an eye on them. I assume it was an exercise in independence which was a regular occurrence in there because the cafe owner wasn't at all fazed and carried out his task with great aplomb, particularly when one of the men began to panic because he didn't have any money and wasn't sure how he could pay for his sandwich. The owner told him very kindly that everything had been sorted out and that he wasn't to be upset. "But how much will it be when we next come here?" "You never need to worry about things like that when you come in here," came the reply. It was an incredibly touching moment.

Cafe four was the Starbucks on Wardour Street where there are plenty of sockets for tired mobile phones and lap tops. By the time I exited, I'd achieved a huge amount of work, but was buzzing from too many cups of tea. I met Nathan for dinner in his ridiculously late lunch break - 4pm - and was basically climbing the walls, having been living in my head-phone-fuelled, low-blood-sugar-tinted world of music and tannins for 7 hours! Not the best time to brave a rush hour, but I still seem to be alive.

...Small mercies, and all that!

Fighting wasps

Whilst chatting to my mum on the phone this morning, I noticed what appeared to be a pair of wasps fighting on the pavement. They were really going for it; rolling about on the Tarmac, getting stuck in. It was a proper brawl. On closer inspection, I realised I was was actually watching was a wasp attacking a bee. My save-all-bees instinct instantly kicked in, and I carefully trod on the wasp, pinning it down for long enough for the bee to disentangle itself and fly away. At that stage I released the wasp and was not unhappy to note that it flew away as well. I used to kill wasps with great alacrity, but have to confess that these days I find it difficult to deliberately kill anything, however gross it is.

I made a point of walking down to my favourite cafe this morning to do some work, but found it closed, so I took myself instead to Jackson's Lane, where, for some time, and until the lunchtime rush, I was the only person in the cafe there. I did, however, bump into a drama school acquaintance. We had a brief catch-up chat, and were horrified to realise that it's now 19 years since we were students at Mountview. He lived below me in bug-filled bedsits in Crouch End which were called Highgate Lodge, but known locally as Hellgate Lodge. There was rarely any hot water, we shared bathrooms and had baby belling ovens in our bedrooms to cook with. There was a single pay phone in the building's hallway, which was the only number I could offer anyone wanting to get in touch. This was before the days of mobile phones. If I went on a date, I'd have to give him the payphone number, which, of course, meant I could always find an excuse for someone not calling me back, convincing myself I'd simply not had the message passed on to me!

The one positive thing about Highgate Lodge was the fact that I had a little ledge outside my window, where I could sit and drink orange juice for breakfast whilst looking out across the North London skyline. Majestic on the horizon was Alexandra Palace, and I spent hours gazing at it, deciding then that it was London's most beautiful building. Little could I have known that the best part of twenty years later, it would be the location of my wedding.

It's been very hot today. Fiona, who's just returned from the States, called me in a state of confusion. It's almost November, and the mercury was up at 21 degrees.

I went out this evening to rescue some cup cakes from the car which Nathan had brought back with him from his trip to Flanders where he was singing in British Legion concert. It was still fairly warm and I was able to go out comfortably in a T-shirt. Sadly the cup cakes had melted in all the heat and ground themselves into the car's parcel shelf. As I strained to scrape cake goo off the upholstery I heard my trousers rip all the way from buttock to bollock! When I returned back to the house, I discovered we'd entirely run out of tea to drink with the melted cake. All in all a pretty disastrous outing!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Waves and ripples

I'm in Brother Edward and Sascha's sitting room, listening to the waves from the Thames lapping below us, looking across to the O2 where Lady Gaga is singing tonight.

We've actually just been watching footage on You Tube of the Mini-pops, that ghastly early 80s troop of lipstick-bedecked, helium-fuelled children who used to perform cover versions of songs written for adults. The Mini-pops were controversial even at the time. Viewers were horrified by the sexualisation of children, and newspapers described them as the "mini-whores." The show was subsequently axed after one series. It is brutally awful. We watched with terror as two children gyrated their way through "You're the One That I Want." I remember thinking the 'Pops were rubbish at the time. In retrospect, they were also deeply sinister. Apparently, they were better accepted outside of the UK in countries like Canada who have a better-established tradition of child stars.

Our You Tube fest took us on a search for more old school gems, and we ended up watching about thirty Eurovision songs; winners, losers and never-selecteds from every decade of the competition. It's charming viewing. We saw the only entry ever from Morocco, listened to Cypriot and German ballads from 1983, a surreal 1969-winning tune from Spain (the disastrous year when four songs won) and half a tonne of Schlage from Scandinavia.

As I sit here, I find my eye periodically distracted by a boat lit up like an enormous Christmas tree, drifting along the pitch black Thames outside. In it's wake, a series of waves ripple in an ever-growing triangular shape through the water, before crashing against the river bank.

I have to leave fairly soon as I'm heading back to Highgate by public transport, and it feels a long way away at this time on a Sunday, when the transport network in this part of town goes to sleep. The Isle of Dogs is a funny old place, full of dead ends created by building works. The whole area is now a massive building site, littered with cranes and hastily erected tower blocks pointing towards the stars. It's as though the recession never happened. It would seem developers are making up for lost time! Within a year, the view from Edward and Sascha's flat will have changed out of all proportion. Change is a funny thing. It doesn't happen at all up in my North London gaff, but Edward's part of the world is as transient as fame.

Meriel's day

It was Meriel's birthday on Thursday, so a group of us met today in Rye to celebrate. Rye is an awfully long way away. Ironically, despite being only 30 miles from Lewes where Meriel lives, it takes almost the same amount of time to get there from Lewes as it does from London... If London behaves of course, which it didn't today. On our way down we got stuck in some inexplicable traffic jam on the Ball's Pond Road, which essentially made us an hour late. The journey down was somewhat edgy, not just because Nathan and I hate being late, but because an email arrived about Brass which slightly hurt my feelings. One of the issues about being the writer of anything is that you tend to get a little over-looked. The next time you're out and about in London and you see a show poster, see how often the name of the writer is displayed. Not very, is the answer. At the UK Theatre Awards Brass was billed as "performed by the NYMT, directed by Sara Kestelman." Even the award for best playwright was announced by the name of the show rather than by its writer! It is, of course, part of the writer's duties to put up with this. Nathan reminded me yesterday that being in the limelight is what turns a level-headed individual into a crazy person who craves more and more attention, and I guess there's a massive element of truth in that.

Anyway, once we'd arrived at the harbour at Rye, eaten something, and my godson Will had come bounding over to say hello with a huge pleased-to-see-me smile on his face, the panicking began to subside.

A picnic on a pebble beach in October oughtn't to have worked, but I actually sat for much of the day in just a T-shirt, despite having brought scarves and hats and things.

We had drinks in a little pub overlooking the harbour where the locals ignore the smoking ban in the back half of the bar. The landlord obviously didn't like the cut of my jacket, because he kept me waiting to be served as long as he could, and then charged me a whopping £7.80 for two pints of lemonade! A couple of pints of beer would have been cheaper... In Soho! Plainly he saw me coming. I did the terrible English thing of paying without questioning anything and then whinged for hours afterwards!

We went into the town of Rye which is a mile or so in land from the harbour. It's a beautiful and ancient town, which winds up and down a hill. A curious observation we made about the shopping street was that there seemed to be a lot of shops hanging out in pairs. There were two old-fashioned sweet shops, two shops which sold natural remedies and vitamins right next to one another, and even more curiously, two pharmacists literally sharing a wall. I went in to buy Gaviscon and asked the woman behind the counter how it worked to have two shops selling the same stock next to each other. "It's brilliant" she said, "we share medicines when we run out of stock, and often, if we don't sell it, they do..." Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

Anyway, we bought sweets, ate chips and then went back to Meriel's house in Lewes. The last part of the trip was a bit of a disaster in terms of timings. Nathan, who is off to Belgium in the morning, had booked a hotel for himself in Folkstone (further East than Rye) and yet the journey to Lewes took us over an hour in the opposite direction. There was no way around it, however, as there weren't enough spaces in cars to get me back there any other way.

So essentially we had a quick cup of tea and a gander at Meriel's new house before I had to take a train back to London and Nathan had to drive for a couple of hours past Rye again and back to Folkstone. Frankly, it would have been quicker and cheaper for us both to drive back to London and for Nathan to head to Folkstone first thing in the morning!

Still, it was worth going to Lewes to eat the delicious and highly camp cake which Meriel had saved from the jaws of disaster with some hastily improvised decorating skills! A great day all round.

Friday, 24 October 2014


I deliberately opted to start a days' work in Julian's studio at 10.30am today, assuming the later start would avoid the rush hour, and the overly-crowded tubes which I've started to dread. How wrong I was. The carriage was full of steaming, sweaty people and I ended up sandwiched between a Dutch woman holding a toddler and a man with such hairy ears he was suffering from dandruff!

I love working in a recording studio. My days with Julian are always special and always start the same way. I exit the DLR at Limehouse and go to the local 7/11 to buy cakes, tea and milk for anyone working with us that day.

Julian works from a small studio deep inside an old Victorian factory situated at the end of the fabled Cable Street. It's an absolute hive of creative activity. As you walk through the corridors of the building, you pass hundreds of doors, each with a fashion designer, a musician, an artist or a crazy bohemian inside. I'm told there are dominatrixes working within the complex, and rooms where trans-people gather together to try on dresses and chat.

Julian's studio is at the end of the longest, dustiest corridor. It's filled with curios; bizarre microphones, crazy keyboard instruments, chairs and sofas with the stuffing coming out of them... But it's a home from home. I always feel very happy there because it means I'm creating.

Today's mission was to record a potential song for Eurovision. The BBC have called for submissions. It's very hard to know how serious they are about it. One assumes the moment EMI pops up with a "young artist with a great look", the search for songs from members of the public will instantly come to an end, but because I made such a big deal about them giving opportunities for writers, it's vital that I put my money where my mouth is... And not to put too fine a point on things, I'm offering them a million pound package. Nathan and I have created the Eurovision holy trinity: great song, great singer, great gimmick. Years of Eurovision appreciation has taught me what the competition needs and if the BBC think that's an arrogant statement and would like to cut me down to size then all they have to do is give me the rope to hang myself with. If that's not mixing deathly metaphors...

My worry is that the people who have been put in charge of Eurovision at the BBC don't know the art form well enough, and will simply think that a pretty bird, with an edgy song has a hope in hell of winning. The UK needs to play a sneakier game.

I can't really say too much about the song itself. What I can say is that the singer is Alison Jiear, who sang Yellow at our wedding, but is perhaps better known for her performance of I Just Wanna F***ing Dance in Jerry Springer: The Opera.

The experience of working with her in the studio is quite remarkable. She came in, ate Jaffa cakes, had a cup of tea and then a coffee, a quick warm-up singing through with the track, and then nailed it in two takes. Two takes! If that isn't a sign that she needs to be representing the UK, singing live in front of 500 million people then I don't know what is. We're talking the most astounding vocal tricks. Two takes. No auto tune. No moving stuff around. Two takes!

I shall be devastated if the BBC don't take this entry seriously, and frankly, if they don't, I shall enter it next year for a different country and then spill the beans. And that's a promise! I'm waiting. Eurovision, come and get me.

Peace and love

I heard today of the death of someone I was at school with. He wasn't in my form, but he was in my year group. He was disabled, and so people are queuing up to say how brave he was. I can't comment on the level of his bravery in later life, but it struck me at school that he was simply getting by with the tools that God had given him. Sometimes I think we rather patronisingly describe anyone who lives with a life-altering condition as brave, regardless of whether they're actually brave or not!

Anyway, it's very difficult for me to think about this bloke without remembering how brutally bullying he was towards me. He may have been disabled, but he hated the gays and had extraordinary upper body strength, which one day found him throwing me over a wall and into a thorny bush! It's understandable really; the bully-or-get-bullied culture in schools was so prevalent in those days that he was obviously simply being nasty to me because so many others were being nasty to him, just as I was horribly cruel to a tragic young lass called Amanda whose face was shaped like a spoon. It certainly can't have been easy to have grown up disabled in a Midlands Town and I suspect he had to overcome a huge amount of prejudice, which was possibly more hidden and subtle than what came my way because, even then, it was unacceptable to be unpleasant to disabled people... At least to their faces. We have Blue Peter to thank for that!

What is sad about all of this is that, because I ran away from the town where I grew up, largely due to incidents of this nature, it's impossible for me to know how some of these people from school developed and bloomed in adult life. I'm sure this particular lad grew into a wonderful, gracious, tolerant and genuinely brave individual. And at times like this I need to remind myself of the thing I've always argued about gay people, namely that we need to rise above the blame game. Homophobia happened. It shouldn't have, but those who gave people a hard time for being gay can't be blamed because they simply weren't given the facts. It's a marvellous thing that the UK, within my life time, has rejected and indeed reversed homophobia. In fact, one of the heads of Channel 4 said to me the other day that the film of our wedding made him feel genuinely proud to be British. Gay people, it turns out, have have a much easier ride than disabled people, to the extent that Our Gay Wedding: The Musical tanked at a recent diversity awards, largely because I think our concept of diversity these days no longer includes sexual minorities.

So I very much hope that my school chum rests in peace, and that he genuinely found peace and love in his time here on earth.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Grayson Perry

I forgot to mention yesterday that whilst in the ramshackle cafe on Upper Street, we were visited by a rather charming little robin, who hopped his way inquisitively around the table next to us, seemingly unconcerned about the two enormous human brings drinking fancy tea in close proximity. I read somewhere that there's something in the character of robins which make them very interested in, and surprisingly unflustered, by human activity. This is why they're often seen sitting on spades on Christmas cards and things. I'm not a great fan of birds, but if I were to chose a favourite bird, I'd almost certainly chose the robin. They have a beautiful song, and they're patriotic enough to stay in the UK all year round. I'm not a big fan of these fly-by-night migrating fellows. The greatest rewards come from choosing a horse and backing it through thick and thin! The ability to be loyal sorts all the mice from the men!

I worked all day on the Fleet singers composition, developing a little sequence of uncharacteristically funky music. There's a light jazzy quality threading its way through the entire piece which I'm rather enjoying.

This evening I ventured into town to attend the Channel 4 launch of Grayson Perry's new documentary series, Who Are You? It promises to be a very fine series of programmes, all of which focus on identity. Perry has created fourteen pieces of art to accompany the shows, which include silk prints, exquisite vases and one of his trade mark giant tapestries. I love his work, I love the way it flows organically and takes its inspiration from what many other artists would consider inane. Most of all, however, I love the way that he talks about his work. He is very much a man of the people. His art has the common touch, because he's full of empathy and humility. If you love and make it your business to understand people, then your work will have the common touch. I genuinely believe that.

The event was full of famous faces, many of whom were wearing clothes which which were works of art in themselves. Janet Street Porter was there. I was introduced and shook her by the incredibly limp hand, forgetting to remind her that I'd met her once before on the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. Nathan later told me I shouldn't have shaken her hand. She apparently hates being touched!

Uncle Archie and I then hot-footed it into Soho to a second party, this one at Evolutions, the edit suite, which was strictly for nominees at this year's Grierson Awards, which is a week on Monday, I believe. The Griersons are the Oscars of the documentary world and are highly regarded within the industry. Our
Gay Wedding has been nominated for Best Entertaining Documentary, which is subtly different from Most Entertaining Documentary, which is what I initially thought the category was called.

The party was hugely noisy. We could hear people literally shrieking at one another as we walked up the stairs and upon entering the room were blasted by a continuous roar of sound. It's moments like this when I tend to freak out. My ears and voice are very much my career, and trashing them both for the sake of fun is not my idea of fun! We found a quieter corner, put the world to rights and then beat a hasty retreat to Highgate to watch Grayson Perry on telly!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Dorsal Springing

I had another dose of osteopathy this morning, which involved a bit of clicking and a lot of something called dorsal springing, which instantly makes me go cross-eyed and sends me into a some sort of cat-like stupor. I'm told that the "fight or flight" instinct releases endorphins which explain my reaction but I reckon I'd pay a masseur mega-bucks to do that once a week for the rest of my life. Does anyone know a masseur who specialises in dorsal springing?

I had lunch in a greasy spoon in Angel. The food arrived and I couldn't believe the size of the portion. I started sweating at the thought of eating it!

I did some work in another cafe on Upper Street, before having tea with a charming animator I'd met at Abbie's wedding. We threw a few creative ideas around in a lovely ramshackle place at the end of Camden Passage. The tea was a bit fancy for my liking, however. Who serves "China Breakfast" tea instead of "English Breakfast?" For the record, China Breakfast is a black tea, which when taken with milk, is flavourless in the extreme. Adding milk simply turned the tea a weak shade of beige. And then all I could taste was cream.

I came home and finished my arrangement for Friday's session, whilst staring out at the trees by the tube station opposite, which were being buffeted by the wind like fronds of seaweed in swirling waves. We're apparently experiencing the tale-end of an Atlantic hurricane. The wind has been light by hurricane standards, but the news informs me that the leaves (which are still green and full of life) are acting as sales and causing trees to be ripped up from their very roots, which is in turn causing mayhem. Three people in London have already been killed.

Two workmen arrived at about 5pm this evening to clear the gunk from our guttering which has been causing all the water damage in our sitting room. I was astonished that they wanted to go out on the roof in rain and such high winds. There was also a somewhat apocalyptic-looking sunset, behind a band of rain, burning the Eastern sky. But out they went, with a little wooden step ladder, knocking over a shelf as they climbed through a sky light. I retired to the sitting room, half expecting to see a man falling past the window to an almost certain death on the Archway Road below, but eventually the men emerged with a bucketload of filthy moss, and mulch and bits of masonry, claiming that the problem has almost certainly been remedied, and saying they were quite surprised that I'd not taken it upon myself to go out on roof myself! I suspect it's because I'm a big old gaybo...

Monday, 20 October 2014


I did a morning's work today, prepping music for a little demo  recording we're doing at Julian's studio on Friday. At the same time I found myself replying to scores of tweets and Facebook messages from friends and colleagues about our surprise win at yesterday's UK Theatre Awards. I'm fairly surprised by how many people seem to know about it, and furthermore by how lovely and encouraging some of the messages have been.

Cindy, who's staying with us at the moment, accused me of being over-nonchalant about the award. I guess I probably am being. I've spent so long riding the ups and downs of this industry that I've become a little jaded and lost the ability to dare to hope for specific outcomes. My philosophy has always been to simply continue to create, and enjoy the process of creating. If you place too much emphasis on success, or even stop for long enough to define what you consider to be the definition of success, then you'll invariably be disappointed.

...Anyway, at 1pm, Cindy and I jumped on the tube and headed down to Charing Cross, and then by foot to Somerset House where we met Ted Thornhill for lunch. Ted and I have known each other since we were fifteen, and we spent our later teenaged years in each other's pockets, busking with Fiona in shopping centres in various Midlands town and cities. Our parents ought to have been thrilled. Whilst other Northamptonshire teenagers were sniffing glue and joyriding, the three of us were drinking tea from a giant brown teapot, eating my Mum's chocolate chip cookies and playing string trios. Rock on!

Cindy, Ted and I took ourselves on a river-side walk along the North of the Thames. It turns out that the South Bank is by far the better option if you're wanting a charming stroll. There's very little opportunity on the North Bank to enjoy the river, and the Thames path continually diverts a walker onto busy, exhausted-smutted roads where ugly concrete buildings block any potential views.

Still, it was lovely to be spending time with Cindy and Ted, and our end destination, The Tower of London, was well worth the walk. We'd gone there to see the porcelain poppies. For those reading this from outside of the UK, an intriguing art installation has been set up in the former moat around this iconic building. The installation features 900,000 ceramic poppies, all of which appear to be growing out of the dark green grass. Unsurprisingly the 900,000 poppies represent the British men who were killed in the First World War, exactly one poppy for every man (or woman) killed in battle.

It's a deeply arresting and beautiful sight. In two places, the poppies tumble over the walls and out of windows, almost as though the bloody tower itself were crying tears of red flowers. The poppies are planted in very close proximity, so that from a distance they appear as a sea of red, the edges sculpted like waves softly lapping onto a grassy beach.

As we stood there, staring wistfully, Ted said, "one for every man killed. Thousands of marriages that never happened. Thousands of kids growing up without a dad." It's impossible to even begin to quantify such enormous numbers, but somehow this astonishing spectacle made it just that little bit easier to comprehend. And therefore, I suppose, just that little bit more horrifying. Within that sea of red, however, were the souls of 1000 Leeds Pals, without whom, Brass would never have existed. I thought about the Pals a lot as I stood there. And right on cue, it started to rain. From the sky, and, I confess, a little from my eyes.

Sunday, 19 October 2014


As I left the house this morning, dressed in a dapper suit with my dusky pink bow tie, I had the sudden realisation that people would assume I was going to church. I'm not altogether sure the thought sat entirely comfortably with me, but the clobber drew a few approving looks, which are always welcome. A man on a bike shouted "nice tie" and when I turned round to smile, he said "looking very smart." "Why thank you, Sir," I said, wondering which Jane Austin novel I'd just walked out of! I felt proud as punch however. What a horrible world we'd live in if no one commented on a stranger's appearance for fear of being accused of misogyny or harassment. It used to be that many parents would proudly parade their newborns about in fancy prams so that the world could stop and tell them how beautiful their children were, but these days, most people are terrified of their child being exposed to sunshine! Besides, anyone stopping to compliment a baby in the street would be considered very odd these days. Terrible, isn't it? Someone was recently telling me about a beautiful animation he'd seen about a little girl who befriends an elderly man, and I thought how sinister it sounded.

I was wearing a suit to attend an award ceremony at Guildhall. The city of London excites me on a Sunday. It's always eerily empty, yet somehow seems to vibrate with the buzz of the millions of workers who have bustled through its streets on the other days of the week.

The award ceremony was the UK Theatre Awards, which honour the work of theatres outside the West End of London. Brass had been nominated for the award for best musical production; an award we were highly unlikely to win because we were up against a production staged at the Scottish National Theatre and a huge it well received production of Chicago at the Leicester Curve. I was happy for any of the three shows to win, really. The Scottish piece had music by my dear friend James, and Chicago was choreographed by Drew, who did all the dancing for our wedding.

It was a star-studded event, with all sorts of turns and West End Wendies handing out the gongs. There were ten of us on the Brass table, which, when we arrived, discovered, forebodingly, was table 13. Not a great number of the creative and production team were able to go, but boy Robin (and his Mum), Ben and Laura from the cast were there, alongside some of the NYMT angels and Sara Kestelman.

The awards happened during a tasty three course meal with a particularly stunning apple and chocolate pudding. The Guildhall is a beautiful and ancient building which I felt privileged just to be sitting in. And frankly, as the afternoon wore on, I felt more and more privileged just to be nominated for an award. Jodie Prenger sang something from Calamity Jane as the interval act. Michael Xavier was presenting. Wayne Sleep, Anita Dobson and Dorian from Birds of a Feather were amongst the people handing out the awards. It was a pleasure to watch the NYMT cast members seeing some of their heroes in the flesh. And even more gratifying that I was able to introduce them to people like Michael Xavier afterwards.

Predictably our award was announced almost last. I explained to everyone on the table that we couldn't expect to win, because only one of the judging panel had actually seen the show, and also, it would be foolish to expect a youth theatre production to triumph over the big-hitting regional theatres.

Brian Conley announced our award, and did a rather peculiar piece of stand-up beforehand which seemed slightly misjudged. He announced the nominations one by one and our table went bananas when he said the word Brass.

This was nothing however to the noise that was made when Brass was announced as the winner. I looked at Sara, shell-shocked. I hadn't prepared a speech. Neither had she!

We stumbled onto the stage, five of us, and I burbled something about being pissed and not having prepared anything to say. I remember thanking NYMT for their amazing record of commissioning new work, Arnold Wesker for helping us with some of the lyrics and for mentoring me for 20 years, and thanking "my husband, who I'm proud to say agreed to marry me in a TV musical at the start of the year." I then mentioned that Nathan had helped with Brass. And that was it. I should have talked about the importance of commissioning new writing and the importance of listing the names of writers on awards and posters and all sorts. But instead I handed over to Sara and she was wonderful and dignified...

And then we left the stage with a lovely glass award. Of course Sara and I spent the next hour wishing we'd said a million and one other things. Proof positive that you should always plan an acceptance speech even if you think there's no hope of winning.

I walked young Mr Jones back to Angel tube and then came home for a lovely celebratory cup of tea on the sofa. I very much know how to live, don't I? Rock and roll, people. Rock. And. Roll!

Saturday, 18 October 2014


All the trains from London Bridge to Catford had been suspended this morning, so I was unceremoniously dumped at Lewisham Station and left to fend for myself in the hell of South-East London. Maybe the genteel world of Highgate has engulfed me, but Lewisham felt like a confusing, noisy shit-hole, full of desperately rude people. Perhaps that should read people whose cultural concept of rudeness is different to mine. I was buffeted about by people who refused to do anything but walk on their own trajectory, and stared at with venom by people I'm sure were looking for a fight to get their Saturday morning off to a great start. One black girl actually sucked her teeth at me! Cliche!! Only in Lewisham would you find a 12-year old boy wearing a weave in his hair. At least I think it was a boy. Sometimes I can't tell the difference between a boy and a lesbian.

I found my way to a bus which took my through the Lewisham Centre, which is essentially a shopping street next to a run-down sports centre which was so dilapidated we used it as a location for the post-apocalyptic 28 Weeks Later.

Catford wasn't a great deal more relaxing. Catford has a drive-thru' Macdonalds, a JD Sports megastore, a Mecca Bingo and a Lidl in the middle of a roundabout. Four locations for which I'd struggle to find a use!

Fortunately they've now removed the railings surrounding this mega-roundabout, which is rather grandly called the Catford Gyratory. It used to be that you'd have to go on a proper SAS assault course to avoid walking 100 meters out of your way.

I was in Catford for another instalment of Cake and Craft at Julie and Sam's. The rest knitted whilst I stuck photos into an album. I'm proud to say that I've always treated my photos with the dignity of a proper album. I now have over thirty books, dating back to 1991; my entire adult existence documented in pictures. Sometimes a friend will come over and we'll sit and go through an album from a particular year. It will always trigger a lovely nostalgic chat.

Tina told us all the story of a woman she sees every day on the DLR who wears a "baby on board" badge. For those who are out of this particular loop, the "baby on board" badge indicates that the wearer, though possibly not showing outward signs of being pregnant, is with child, and therefore likely to want to sit down on public transport. Perhaps it's cruel of me to suggest that some wear the badges to demonstrate their fecundity to childless women. Part of me thinks that the need to sit down only comes in the latter stages of pregnancy when the bulge is very obvious, but I'm happy to be told that morning sickness for some is so ghastly and exhausting that a seat is the only way forward. Anyway, the woman Tina sees has been wearing her badge for 18 months, and is still showing no sign of actually having a baby on board. She's therefore either an elephant, or she's pulling the wool over everyone's eyes. Shocking behaviour.

After Cake and Craft, which was more Elevenses and Craft, Sam and I went into Central London via Mountsfield Park, which represents a slightly more salubrious aspect of South East London. The only trouble was the weather: humid with yet more mizzle. It's so hot and stuffy, that walking up the merest hill became almost impossible. We're told a hurricane is on its way and I can well believe it. It was just this sort of weather which fuelled the 1989 hurricane; the most devastating to hit London in living memory. That particular hurricane was typified by huge oscillations in temperature which swung from the early teens into the mid twenties throughout the night.

I went into town to meet up with young Josh and his charming friend from university. We had drinks at the Soho theatre where Josh has just been accepted onto the new writers' scheme. On the way back to the tube, I took them on a quick tour of the highs and lows of Soho, and sent them into the night in search of a funky cabaret.  It struck me how little I know about what's hip and what's not these days. They'd had a tip-off about a "too cool for school" cabaret in a venue I'd not even heard of! I'm such an old fogey!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Brent shock

This afternoon I went to Brent Cross in an attempt to remedy my tragic trainers situation. A quick look at my existing trainers this morning revealed that the heals had been run down into a crazy 45 degree angle, which is shocking beyond words, and no doubt the reason why every time I've looked at myself in a mirror at the gym recently, I've seen some sort of spanner with flapping ankles looking back!

So there I was in Brent Cross on a Friday afternoon, successfully dodging the crowds of bored housewives and Jewish gentlemen in their fancy Kippur hats. I hate clothes shopping. I hate, hate, hate it, so rushed into the first sports shop and picked up the cheapest pair of trainers I could find. They are blue. I can't tell you anything else about them, which became abundantly clear when they were placed behind the counter for me, and I'd forgotten what they looked like by the time the woman asked me which pair was mine!

There was a very strange sales assistant in the shop...

The display trainer was a size ten, my size, so I handed it to him and said, "can I have the other one of these?" He looked a bit perplexed so I burbled, "I'm a size ten, you see, and this one's a size ten. Unless it's not a size ten. Is it a size ten?" "Have you not tried it on?" He seemed astonished. "No" I said, "I thought I might wait for the other one..."

Seconds later a second sales assistant handed me a box. "Size six?" He said. "No." I said, "size ten." He walked away confused.

The original sales assistant returned with my shoes, "shall I put them behind the counter?" He asked. "Well I think I ought to try them on, don't you?" He looked offended: "but you said you didn't want to try them on..." "I said I didn't want to try a single one on its own... Trying on the pair is surely advisable?"

He looked at me like I was some kind of elderly troublesome customer. The sort that don't understand the way that life is and simply bumble through situations, with carnage in their wake. A combination of pity and slight annoyance flashed across his face. "Sorry, is this a bizarre concept?"I asked. He stared blankly. I took the shoe box from him and tried the trainers on. He walked away, shaking his head...

He returned after I'd tried them on, and I told him that the left hand shoe seemed a little tighter. By this point the sales assistant appeared to have entered a coma, so I closed the box and told him they were fine.

"I'll put them behind the counter for you" he said. "Can I not take them over myself?" He shook his head and took the box from me, giving me a look which said "cheeky bastard."

The shoes were duly placed behind the counter and I stood and waited for the till lady to finish serving the customer in front of me. As she finished, she smiled, and informed me that I was standing at the wrong end of the counter to be served. "The queue starts by the sign there," she said, wincing like an embarrassed fishwife tasked with telling her customers she'd run out of trout. "But I'm the only one IN the queue." Just as I spoke, in that oh so ironic way, two more customers arrived, and started queuing at the allotted sign, "I'm afraid I'll have to serve them first," she said. Giving me the pained look again, which instantly became a patronising smile. So I took myself to the back of the queue and waited 'til she was ready...

I witnessed a rather unpleasant episode on the tube this evening. There was a very lovely Geordie girl in her twenties sitting opposite me, with a slightly pissed, one assumes, other half, and an eight-year old lad, who couldn't have been a blood relative, so God knows why they were all together. Anyway, as the Geordie lass got off the tube, she engaged a group of Essex-Boy city slickers in conversation. She was very sweet, and asked if they'd had a good evening. They murmured in a way which implied they had, but it was as she got off the tube that the horrific remark was made. One of the city slickers shouted at the Geordie lass' boyfriend, "'ere keep drinking mate, she'll start looking more attractive."

I couldn't see how the girl reacted. I suspect she'll have been deeply offended, and will probably take some time to recover from such a disgusting comment. The lads, of course, had hysterics and and talked about "the look on her face when you said it" until they got off two stops later. I hope they miss their last tube home and that the bloke that shouted has a miserable life. He was nothing to look at. He probably only manages to pull mingers, which is why he was so familiar with the beer goggles concept. The Geordie was way out of his league! I just hope she realises that.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

One paragraph day

It's been one of those days which doesn't really have anything to say for itself. I think I spent the morning at the kitchen table writing music. I may have done some washing up, and put some laundry into the tumble dryer. I assume I drank eight cups of tea, because, on average, I drink that many cups a day. I ate buttered beigels for lunch, then went to the gym and ran 5km, constantly bemoaning the state of my trainers, which have entirely fallen apart. We went to a cafe, a Costa on the Fortess Road, where there was no phone reception and half the chairs were covered in sheets of plastic. I was simultaneously having a phone row with a person from EE, who was trying, yet failing, to explain to me why I'd reached my data limit for the month. I put Nathan on to him because I genuinely couldn't understand what he was saying. Nathan didn't fare much better, claiming that even though he (Nathan) understood everything the man was saying, the man himself didn't understand what the man himself was saying. I descended into a dark mood, which was only alleviated by half a millionaire's shortbread which Nathan delivered with my sixth cup of tea for the day. I wrote more music whilst Nathan knitted a pair of gloves. At 5pm, he drifted off to a knitting circle and I returned home to finish the first draft of the second part of my composition. I made us both sausages and mash for tea, we went for a walk around the block and through the part of Queen's Wood where the lampposts look like props from a Narnia film, and then returned home to watch Graham Norton on iPlayer. There.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Rain, rain, go away...

It's been a day of nothing but work. I was up at 9, and effectively sat at the kitchen table for eleven hours, only stopping for a brief sojourn to the gym. There's never been a better day to do nothing but work, however. It's been wet and miserable all day and it's still raining outside. I can see it teaming down like strings of sequins in the lamplight outside.

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly an incident this morning. I had my head very much in my computer, working on a particularly troublesome bar of music, when my eye was drawn to the window by a flash of yellow. Initially I thought I was looking at some kind of enormous hornet, and my heart jumped into my mouth. When I looked again, I saw a beautiful little Great Tit sitting on the window ledge staring in at me.

When I looked out into the garden, there were at least four of the birds hopping around with a couple of magpies in the tree outside. I have for some time suspected we have a pair of Great Tits nesting in one of the Victorian iron ventilation chimneys on our roof. Periodically we hear the chicks making a right racket, demanding to be fed, but I have very rarely seen them - certainly not in such close proximity. I wondered if the birds were fledglings, but it seems an odd time of year for recently hatched creatures to be bouncing around a garden.

Anyway, I put some Weetabix out on the window ledge, in the hope that the birds would learn there was a safe space with plenty of food, so that I could be pleasantly distracted throughout the day. I'm not sure they've discovered it yet, or, indeed, if Great Tits even like Weetabix. The rain will no doubt have turned the plate into inedible porridge, so I might need to try another food stuff tomorrow.

So sad it's funny

I was rather late for my osteopath this morning, and arrived drenched in sweat, having run from the tube station in a weirdly warm mizzle. There was a "person under a train" at Archway, and the tubes were entirely up the wazoo.

Londoners are so hard core when it comes to these sorts of tubic tragedies. The station announcements always sound so brutally frank when they say the words "person under a train" and of course people tend to simply groan when they hear the words. A suicide is an inconvenience if you're trying to get to work. End of story. No one spares a thought for the relatives of those who have been smeared all over the track, or indeed for the LU driver who witnessed the event, or anyone on the platform at the time when whoever jumped jumped.

Tannoy-announced excuses don't stop with "person under a train" however. On my way back from the osteopath we were informed that there were great delays on the Hammersmith and City Line due to a "trespasser on the line at Shepherd's Bush." There's an unusual concept. I wonder where he was trespassing...

I met a man on Saturday who was schooled right next to Suicide Bridge. When ever anyone jumped, they'd simply close all the blinds on one side of the building!

I met Jo Emery for tea today, an old friend from my student theatre days fifteen thousand years ago. She was in London for a casting in Soho, so we did lunch at Stock Pot, which is a cheap canteen on Old Compton Street where you get thrown out the moment you stop eating. This particular behaviour triggered Jo to recall a time from her childhood when her mother had so little money that, as a treat, they went to London for the day, and, for even more of a treat had lunch at Pizza Hut, but could only afford to share a glass of coke and a portion of garlic bread!

We spent a good ten minutes then swapping all of our other "so sad it's funny" anecdotes, including the fact that no one went to Nathan's 13th birthday party, and the story of my friend Helen's Mum, who'd spent an entire term at school knitting a tartan scarf, which she proudly cast off and took down to the local park to show off... She took the scarf off to go on the swings and when she returned, someone had taken a pair of scissors and cut down its entire length.

I came home and worked more on the Fleet Singers composition. My task this week is to write two minutes of music every single day.

Those of you reading this who are fans of Brass might be interested in

This is a recording of Ben Jones, the lad who played the lead role of Alf, who spent the last goodness knows how long single-handedly recording every single part of the most complicated song in the show. Women's parts. Tops sops. All the internal dialogue. It's an extraordinary achievement. Do have a listen...

Monday, 13 October 2014

John the Indian

An Indian man called "John" called me today to tell me that their "records" indicated that "someone in my family had recently had a road accident." I hate this sort of nuisance call. I hate them as much as I hate the spam emails which tell me all about Ellen de Generes and and wheelchair vans. My mobile is inundated with calls about PPI and the landline gets all this rubbish about accidents. Out of absolute boredom, I call their bluff and often pretend to have an anxiety attack: "Oh my God! Who's had an accident? Has someone died? Who's died?" They usually get all hot under the collar, and start burbling things about "their records" before hanging up out of pure shame.

Today I asked John if I could put him on hold, before balancing the telephone on the top of the piano and practicing a series of arpeggios. After about a minute I picked the phone back up. John was still there; "hello John, do you mind holding again?" "Um, no... Um," he said. I played the piano for another minute, and started singing a bit, before speaking to John again, "just putting you on hold again, John..." I said. I could hear him trying to tell me that he didn't really have the time to go on hold again, but I carried on playing and singing nevertheless. The phone finally went dead after another minute and a half's playing!

I worked in the kitchen for the rest of the morning, and then in a variety of cafés on the Archway Road, dodging the showers and finally breaking the back of a very tricky sequence I've been worrying over for the Fleet singers composition. I met Nathan in a terrible rain storm on the way to the gym. The car windows were misted over and, because of the rain, everyone on the roads were driving like twerps and lunatics. I've basically been wet all day; either covered in sweat or water.

There was a particularly massive rain shower at about 7pm this evening. The heavens opened and huge droplets of water started throwing themselves at North London. The storm instantly overwhelmed the guttering on our roof. Initially the rain started dripping through the windows and then, when we went up in the loft, we could see water pouring down the eaves in the far corner. Within minutes it was coming through the ceiling of our sitting room. There's water on the record player I brought Nathan for his birthday and splashes all over the telly. There are now buckets and towels draped everywhere. It's a scene of dreadful carnage! And it's still flipping raining!

Cecil Sharp House

We sat down this morning to watch last night's X Factor; a format which feels more tired, cliche-ridden and manipulative with every new season. Today we were forced to endure the well-trodden path of the boy band appealing to younger girls by singing Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl." This song is obviously intended to be sung by a girl. I wouldn't say the original was edgy, but it's titivating  lesbian vibe was at least refreshing when it came out ten years ago. When performed by a boy band, the song becomes saccharine in the extreme. "I kissed a girl and I liked it..." Um...? Because you're gay and the experience of snogging a girl was novel? Or because you're a tragic Virgin?

These "talent" shows are now so ensconced in their own bubbles, that they've started to become a self-perpetuating world of their own. You get the soap opera existences of contestants trying out, being told no and then returning the next year much "stronger" (whatever that means) and now the new phenomenon, where a member of a band (who have only ever existed in the world of the talent show) goes solo. Oh the trials and tribulations...

The thing I found saddest of all, however, was seeing that the show was using Cecil Sharp House as the location for its dance rehearsals. Cecil Sharp House is the well-respected home of British folk music, and it sits very uncomfortably with me to see it being dragged into the X Factor machine.

I went to my god daughter's second birthday party this afternoon and en route, somewhere on Old Street, noticed the new advert for Tia Maria, which carries the slogan, "it's better to break a heart than a heel." Is it? I mean, REALLY? Am I the only one who thinks this fake female empowerment thing is going a bit too far? I mean, what does the slogan even mean? There's a picture on the advert of two women walking home, late at night, arm in arm, laughing conspiratorially whilst carrying their high-heeled shoes like terrible slags. No doubt we're meant to see these women as man-slayers, who've wandered the bars being so cool and aloof that men have been reduced to quivering wrecks, desperate to be loved by these perfectly quaffed ice maidens.

What the advert doesn't show us is the scene which follows, where one of our girls is vomiting into the toilet whilst the other weeps into a tea towel because their evening of aloof behaviour backfired when the man they were desperate to ensnare entirely failed to notice them because he was too busy getting off with the trashy blonde girl who was throwing herself at him.

I long for more honesty in advertising. We're all trying so hard to get by in life. We don't need the added pressures created by models pretending to be real people and advertising executives filling our heads with nonsense.

The party was fun. We made crowns out of flowers and autumn leaves, and decorated cup cakes, whilst eating cucumber sandwiches and drinking mugs of tea. One of the little girls at the party came up to me and said "is it true that you married another man?" "Yes" I said, "is that a little strange?" "Yes" she said. And that was that!

We spent the evening eating delicious food Alex and Wes' apartment in East London. Brother Edward describes the place as a terraced house in the sky, and he's not wrong. It's split over three floors, which start on the 17th storey of an enormous building. There are huge windows everywhere with stunning views across London. From the sitting room, you can see all the landmarks of the city from the Shard to Big Ben, which must be four or five miles away. Highlight of the night was definitely a cheese with truffles in it. A lesser known fact about me is that truffles are my equivalent of catnip. They make me go all heady and giddy. Truffles in cheese was almost too perfect! I go to bed a happy man!

Sunday, 12 October 2014


It was Abbie's wedding today. It's often difficult to write about a wedding because weddings tend to follow a traditional formula which doesn't necessarily make for particularly interesting or surprising reading. No one's going to be surprised to hear that there was a flower-filled church, or that the bride looked beautiful, or that everyone had a thoroughly lovely time. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Abbie is a proud evangelical Christian, so I suppose I was a little worried about the potential spiritual content of her wedding. Would there be references to hell? Would everyone be told that a marriage was only valid if Jesus was part of the equation? Would someone suggest that gay marriage was a sin? As it happened, the religious side of the ceremony was subtle, relaxed and rather tender. Yes, there was a worship band, who mangled one or two ghastly traditional hymns with even more ghastly treatments on guitars and things, and the vicar continually talked about marriage as a union of man and woman with the objective of raising children, but the majority of the readings were deeply
heartfelt and about universal love.  And this touched me. I was really quite surprised, and frankly, a little humbled. I also remembered mid way through the service that these were the people who'd so kindly prayed for Nathan and me when we were in trouble in San Francisco, so I had a little epiphany, where I realised that religious people don't necessarily have to be judgemental bigots. Some have the capacity to love living people as well as myths!

Abbie looked a picture in a stunning black and white dress with a laced-up, plunging back. She carried a bouquet of silver brooches set into a ball of oasis, many with sentimental value or significance. It made such a great alternative to flowers, which of course only die. Abbie's bouquet will instantly become a family heirloom. Perhaps her daughter or even her grand daughter will walk down the aisle carrying it.

Nathan's beautiful composition, which really I'd only touched up in places, went down extremely well. The choir Abbie had set up to sing it, performed brilliantly, and the bride and groom were very happy with the result.

Nathan also sang Abbie down the aisle. Have You Seen Miss Jones? was a highly appropriate song for someone whose surname is Jones, and Julie sang the happy couple out of the church with a stirring rendition of Feeling Good. In true theatrical Abbie style this was accompanied by a seven-piece band.

We had a few mid-wedding drinks around the corner from the church in the old Colherne pub, which happens to be where we had our birthday drinks this summer. I don't know the west of London. I don't know how it all pieces together, so was quite shocked when we walked inside!

It was a nice crowd, mostly Rebel Chorus singers, which made me feel rather proud as they were all people who wouldn't have been in Abbie's life had I not formed the choir: a choir which I always wanted to feel like a family.

Abbie and Ian took their photographer to the picturesque Brompton Cemetery to have some pictures taken within the graves. Abbie's always had the heart of a goth and had been hanging out in the cemetery since she was a child. It's horrifying therefore to report that the police appeared to tell them that, without a license, they couldn't take photos, and that, if they didn't stop immediately, the photographer would be fined. A public place in broad daylight? I find that inexcusable. But then again, when we talked to Brompton cemetery about performing the requiem there they were beyond unpleasant. But to throw a bride in her dress out of the cemetery on her wedding day is beyond offensive.

The wedding breakfast was great fun. Good food. A well-conceived best man's speech involving animation and the band from the church who more than redeemed themselves for updating hymns by playing great covers marvellously well, some of which the bride herself sang. By all accounts a very fine wedding... But I didn't get cake! I saw delicious cakes across the room, and then I was in a car heading home to North London.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Stats and twats

I strolled down the hill to Sainsbury's today, wondering if the weather could have been any nicer. The sun was warm. The sky was powder blue. The leaves on the trees were just turning brown. Am I the only one who feels this summer has lasted forever?

I'm still not sure it quite feels like Autumn yet, although I saw pictures of a tornado over a motorway in Merseyside yesterday, so this beautiful balmy weather we're enjoying could be the start of a considerably less pleasant global weather trend. Someone once told me that the UK actually has more tornadoes (for its size) than any other place in the world. Whoever it was then justified this statement by saying that the tornadoes here are considerably less impressive, which is why they don't make the news. It still sounds a bit unlikely to me, but life is full of these curious statistics.

You can prove anything with a statistic as long as you give yourself the right parameters. Yesterday the newspapers informed us that a staggering half of the UK had tuned into the final of The Great British Bake Off. Of course the figure was actually half of those who had their televisions on at the time. Impressive still, but not good enough for a headline...

Personally, I love the use of a well-placed ellipses when setting out to mislead. This is, of course, the favoured tool of publicists dealing with reviews.

"Benjamin Till's inane music took the audience on an epic journey towards mediocrity."


"Benjamin Till's takes the audience on an epic journey."

That's not a real quote by the way. The last critical drubbing I got was too horrendous even to salvage with an ellipses! That said, I'm a great believer in the concept of a review being sometimes so scathing it moves out of insulting and into brilliant! I am still rather proud to recall the response from a viewer of Tyne and Wear Metro the Musical who described the film as "the worst thing to happen to the North East since Thatcher." Genius. If you're gonna diss it, diss it good...

I went to work in the cafe at Jackson's Lane Theatre after going to Sainsbury's. I often forget it's there, right at the end of the terrace that we live in. It ought to be a wonderful place to write in. They sell great vegetarian food, and the place has a lovely buzz about it. There are lots of actors around, albeit of the type that do movement theatre for children, and a healthy dollop of elderly bohemian women. I was grateful to be in there, because, at about 3am, there was the mother of all rain showers. I could hear it drumming on the theatre roof in an almost continuous roar. People kept rushing into the building looking like puppies who had fallen into a river.

Actually what ended up drumming me out of the place were the screaming children, most of whom, I assume, had come for an after-school ballet class. When one starts shrieking, they all go, and at one point I wondered if I was hearing the massacre of the innocents.  8 or 9 children wailing and moaning. It was like Armageddon.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Out camping a gay wedding

As I sat in our car earlier on, waiting to pull out of a space on Hillside Gardens, an old codger passed by in a fancy car and entirely took out our wing mirror! I watched as he drove up to the top of the road, turned around and came back down. I assumed he was coming to talk to me, but he drove straight past. I was forced to go in pursuit, flashing my lights and beeping my horn. It was like One Foot In the Grave meets the Keystone Cops. He eventually pulled over and tentatively got out of the car. I couldn't stay angry for long. He looked frightened and I hate frightening people. I took his name and number and he promised to pay, but I shan't pursue it. Wing mirrors get destroyed on a monthly basis if you live in London. Sometimes you've just got to shrug these things off... Also, the glass of the mirror was broken anyway. So essentially all the man has done is added to an already desperate situation!

I was up before 8am this morning, working on the Fleet Singers composition, which is now 1/4 complete. This afternoon was all about the gym and then a massage. It's becoming absolutely vital that I try to protect my back as much as possible, else I'll be like Quasi Modo in ten years' time.

I came back home, and went back to work on the music whilst Nathan knitted with a group of ladies in Islington. I think the technical term for this type of knitting circle is a "stitch and bitch." I should think by the time he gets home he'll have put the world to rights several times over and knitted several pairs of socks.

I am looking forward to his return, however, as I'm hoping he'll bring with him a copy of the Evening Standard, which I'm told has some kind of quote in it about the BBC music trailer looking like our wedding. Heaven knows what it says. The journalist contacted me and I rattled off a reply in seconds!

...Nathan has just returned and it turns out the quote they used was "I didn't think it was possible to out-camp our wedding." Nathan objects to the quote because he feels it stereotypes our wedding. I suppose I do in a way, but have to admit to having said it!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Ladies dressing room

There's a swanky hair dresser's on my street. I like the fact that it's there. I like its name. I like the font it uses on its sign. If I could afford it, I'm sure the experience of having my hair cut there would be absolutely extraordinary. Sadly, I can't afford the luxury of anything other than a cheap five-minute chop at Mr Toppers in Soho, and I'm afraid I don't seem to be the only one. Whenever I pass, the swanky hairdresser is sitting in a chair looking depressed and hugely dejected. I peer in and his face briefly flashes with hope at the thought of a potential customer, but as I pass on by, his frown returns. I'd love to be able to wave a magic wand and fill his classy-looking salon with customers. I'm sure he's a very fine hairdresser. Life just sucks sometimes, doesn't it?

Speaking of life sucking (in a far less tragic manner), lunch for me today was a dry pasty, shivering underneath a shop awning. There was a freak rainstorm just as I was walking from Victoria station to Channel 4. I stood, helpless, as people rushed about, searching for cover. I watched the market stall holders on the street desperately trying to wrap plastic sheeting around their goods. One poor woman, who was selling shoes, had an entire table collapse under the weight of rain water. There were shoe boxes and cheap stilettos floating about in a giant puddle and everything looked extremely tragic.

We had a good laugh at Channel 4 about the new BBC Music video. There are all sorts of rumours floating around about the BBC's decision to use the same location and the same song. One of the creative directors on the film apparently spoke on the Chris Evans show this morning claiming that they were the first people to discover the theatre! I'm convinced it's merely a coincidence. Others swear blind it's not!

As I was waiting in the lobby of C4, I could hear the Channel 4 choir practicing The Messiah in the basement. Their voices were echoing around the space like little singing devils floating around in hell!

I came back from the meeting with Uncle Archie, and we met Nathan in Kentish Town before heading to the gym, where we ended up getting changed in the ladies' locker room! Apparently a male engineer was doing something with the showers there, which meant we all had to swap. Fairly dangerous, we thought, particularly as the woman on the reception desk almost forgot to tell us! It was fun to see how the other half live, however. There were way more mirrors and hair dryers in there, and a curious little individual cubical, one assumes, for a particularly shy woman...

We came home for the final of the Great British Bake Off and saw our first Christmas advert on the telly, which I consider to be deeply unacceptable. No Christmas, please, until Bonfire Night, at least is over. In my view Christmas mustn't begin until the start of December. Else it's no fun...

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

God Only Knows

We sat down to watch last weekend's Strictly Come Dancing this evening, but there was something wrong with our router, which meant our options were either to watch the piece with enormous pixilations across the screen, or with periodic interruptions from the dreaded iPlayer spinning sun.

This evening, the BBC launched a new music initiative (I'm actually not sure what BBC Music is, but I'm sure  it's both wonderful and of no use whatsoever to me!)

Anyway, the film they've chosen to launch it with is apparently the product of the longest gestation period of any trailer ever made. It's plainly also one of the most expensive trailers ever made. It's a Perfect-Day-meets-Band-Aid type of film, with all sorts of luminaries like Elton John, Kylie and a lots of classical musicians that aren't quite as familiar. It's CGI'd to the hilt. Kylie floats on in a bubble and everyone ends up flying around in clouds painted on a theatre ceiling. It's spectacular and beautiful... And all proceeds go to Children In Need...

Anyway, the comedy part in all of this is that the song is a cover version of God Only Knows, just like we had at our wedding, performed...  Wait for it... at the old theatre in Alexandra Palace!

Comparisons are being made left, right and centre. Brother Tim has put both sequences up on his Facebook page. I love a good coincidence. I should point out that our version took five minutes to film rather than 2 1/2 years!

I was at the osteopath today, and sat in the waiting room observing people who were obviously in crippling pain. One poor woman could barely stand up from her chair. Another man, who seemed quite young and handsome, stood up, and walked towards the door with the most curious limping gait. It was only when I looked down at his feet that I realised his shoes were entirely ground down on one side. All too often our shoes exacerbate our postural problems! My trainers are utterly disastrous... I looked at them earlier on and felt ashamed.

Monday, 6 October 2014


In my bid to be more of a man-about-town, I have just returned from seeing Forbidden Broadway at the Vauderville Theatre. Nathan has just reminded me that the Vauderville is actually a theatre in which we've both performed, in slightly sadder circumstances, at the memorial concert of our dear friend Kevin. Funnily enough, one of the songs in the show tonight was a pastiche of Super Trouper, and I found myself paying particular attention to what the pianist was doing, remembering the trouble I'd had learning the song's strident bass line with my left hand. It didn't strike me until later that I was remembering playing the song at Kev's memorial in the very theatre we were sitting in.

Forbidden Broadway is a wonderful show which I would recommend to anyone who loves musical theatre. All four performers were remarkable. Insanely talented. It's one thing to sing those songs, but to simultaneously impersonate the grand divas that did them originally is something else. Christina Bianco, in particular, was belting out big chesty Idina Menzel numbers before turning her hand to coloratura arias by Bernstein with top Es and Fs.

The very fact that the theatre industry is buoyant enough again to sustain a parody show in a West End venue is very good news indeed. It's an indication of a community dusting itself off and standing proud again. I'm furthermore pleased to report that the stalls were full to the rafters, and that the audience seemed to be full of people who understood all the references and got most of the in-jokes... an indication that they'd seen the shows being pastiched.

I don't know when Forbidden Broadway was last in London, but probably not for years. The last time I saw it was in New York in about 2003. Nathan saw it Stateside in 1996 on a break from his run in Miss Saigon. He tells me he was particularly thrilled when they did a send up of that particular show. As they did tonight... Quite bitingly.

It's funny; they're mercilessly rude about the shows they feature, but, being "done" in Forbidden Broadway remains a true indication of having made it!

One day we'll see them ripping into Brass.

I saw Joe Luis Robinson for the second time in as many evenings tonight, which was lovely. That's what happens when you become a man about town. You meet other men about town. That, or he's like a number 19 bus. You wait to see him for ages...


I'm currently on a 134 bus heading back from Central London with Nathan, Lli and Lli's Mum, Silvia.

We've been at the writer's cabaret all night, where I sang Abba's Happy New Year and Nathan and I sang Love Is Everyone from our wedding. It was a deeply surreal, terrifying, yet wonderful experience. It suddenly struck me, as I sat down to play, that I've never sung into a microphone whilst playing the piano in public before. It's a curious experience. You have to keep your head entirely still, which is useless if you move around as much as I do whilst playing the piano!

The premise of the evening was that each of the writers sang a cover version of a song which has inspired them before performing one of their own songs. My piano playing is so ropey that most of my best compositions (and indeed the songs which have inspired me over the years) were entirely out of the question. Fortunately, Love is Everyone is relatively easy to play, as well as being the nearest thing I have to a hit, and Nathan's being there next to me as co-writer and co-vocalist made me feel a lot less panicky. I was hugely nervous... I think all of us were. Writers are often  just not used to performing, and yet our standards are incredibly high...

Happy New Year was an eccentric choice to perform in October, but it's a song with great significance for me. It's one of the most beautiful ABBA lyrics. "Man is a fool, but he thinks he'll be okay, dragging on, feet of clay, never knowing he's astray, keeps on going anyway..." And those words were written in a second language!

I can't tell you how lovely it was to be surrounded by fellow composers, all of whom were remarkable in their own way. The evening's MC was the lovely Bobby Cronin, a hugely well-respected cabaret song writer from New York. The rest of the writers were Brits, and we all had very distinct styles, from the beautiful lilting folk of Eamon O'dwyer to the Disneyesque joys of Jake and Pippa, who are writing next year's new commission for NYMT. They were the stars of the show really... They have a fabulous working relationship which seems to be entirely based on rather public rowing! Frankly, I could watch them for hours, singing then rowing, then singing then rowing again...

After the gig we went off to the 24 casino at the old Hippodrome, which is a really very pleasurable place to sit late at night. Nathan tells me it can get minging, but food is very reasonably priced and it wasn't too loud.

Top marks of the day go to Perry, who was the ONLY NYMT member to come to the gig, despite it being not just me performing, but Jake and  Pippa. Life, when you're a wannabe performer, is all about networking, and taking every opportunity you can to get yourself out there. Perry's presence was rewarded with a whole room of important people to meet including a top casting director and, of course, all the writers who were there. I hope he gets a decent opportunity as a result. He deserves it for his tenacity.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Laundrettes and hens

The rain today has made me incredibly unhappy. I had to drive Nathan to a service station somewhere on the M40 this morning, and the entire journey was marred by rain which seemed to be coming at us horizontally. To make matters worse our wing mirror got smashed a few days ago. It was like looking into a kaleidoscope...

Nathan deposited, I returned to London, did a bit of writing in the kitchen, and then decided it was time to brave the rain again. Our washing machine is still broken so I needed to go to the laundrette...

Our local laundrette is actually only two doors down, but upon entering, I was informed that their boiler had broken and that I would either have to wash my clothes in cold water or find somewhere else. "Are there any other laundrettes on the Archway Road?" I asked. "Maybe," said the Polish attendant, who was considerably more grumpy than the lovely lady who'd served us when we were last in there. "I think perhaps there's one towards Suicide Bridge..." She didn't call it Suicide Bridge, of course. She probably hasn't lived in North London for long enough to know this particular bridge's grizzly reputation.

So, anyway, off I trotted to Suicide Bridge, heavy bag of washing cutting into the inside of my knuckles, to find two dry cleaners masquerading as laundrettes, which offered to do my laundry at a wildly inflated cost, with a two-day turn around. Useless.

...So I decided to turn around and head instead to Muswell Hill. Muswell Hill is the answer to every prayer...

I jumped on the 134 bus. It stopped outside my house and the driver made an unintelligible announcement which sounded like the teacher in Charlie Brown. I had to go to the front to ask him to repeat himself. Due to roadworks on the Colney Hatch Lane, 134 buses would not be going to Muswell Hill. If I wanted to go to Muswell Hill, I'd need the 43 bus.

So off I got. I think the term on London buses is alighted. So off I alighted, and hauled myself through a series of puddles onto the 43 bus, suddenly rather desperate for the loo. I have run out of data allowance on my phone for the month, which means I can't access anything via 4G when I'm out and about. The alternative is paying £16.99 for a top up, which I'd really rather not do. This meant I was unable to use google to find a list of local laundrettes...

I wandered aimlessly around Muswell Hill, talking to Fiona on the phone. In the end she googled one her end and after much to-ing and fro-ing, I found it nestling under a shed load of scaffolding. My feet by this time were soaked through and I was utterly fed up. Total time taken to pop to the laundrette: 3 1/2 hours. Cost of two buses, plus laundry: £10.70. Level of dissatisfaction: dangerously high.

By the time I'd got home, it was time to go out again. This time to Abbie's hen do, where male friends were only invited for the evening. This is a vast improvement on not being invited at all, particularly, as has happened on more than one occasion, the bride is a very close friend. I'm not sure what it is that women do on hen dos that they think their close male friends (particularly the gay ones) won't also want to do, but this is only the second hen-do I've been invited to and the first I've been able to attend!

Heterosexual weddings seem to me to be filled to the brim with out-dated, misogynistic cliches. Why have bridesmaids? Why is it only the best man and bride's father who get to make a speech? And why do women drape themselves in fluffy white meringues? I wanna see a bride in bright crimson to reflect her inner daemon! Or better still, a bride wearing trousers with a groom holding the flowers. Or a wedding without a cake which no one eats! The best weddings I've been to are the ones which buck the trend a little, and they're usually the ones without a wedding planner!

When we got married the florist couldn't believe we only wanted green carnations. "Okay, we'll base everything on carnations, but perhaps some lovely purple irises as well?" She was very surprised when we said the only other thing we'd accept was green foliage. Ivy. That sort of thing. "We're blokes" we said,  "it's only because it's on telly that we're having flowers at all..."

I'm hoping that gay people getting married will breathe some new life into the institution and break down the boring stereotypes!

Anyway, the hen do was a lot of fun. I met Sam beforehand for a lovely cup of tea in a cafe and then we took a deep breath to embrace the hens who were all wearing basques and decorating cakes with pictures of willies. So THIS is what girls do on their hen nights! As the evening wore on, and people became a little drunker, there was a big round of "I Have Never" which I don't reckon I've played for twenty years. You know the game... You take it in turns to make a statement, usually rude, like "I have never had sex in a car" and then everyone who HAS had sex in a car has to drink. The aim of the game is to wheedle out the renegades from the holier-than-thous. Trouble is, there are those of us who have been around the block so many times we were permanently drinking, whilst some of Abbie's more religious friends looked at us aghast!

Home on the last (ish) tube home from Parson's Green (where?) to wait up for Nathan, who has been doing a gig in Manchester all day today. Hopefully he'll be back before I start to feel like Madam Butterfly!

Friday, 3 October 2014

Opportunity Knocks

I sat at the kitchen table writing this morning, bare-footed, enjoying the experience of rolling a little ball of foam around with my toe. This is not unusual for me. I don't really know how to be inactive, so part of me is always fidgeting with something.

Anyway, it was only when the foam ball began to disintegrate that I bothered to look down and saw that I was actually rolling a dead wasp around! Not only that, but the little bastard had stung me... Or more accurately I must have ground its stinging mechanism into my toe because it went all numb and itchy! Hysterical.

I did a morning's writing and then hot-footed it to Highbury to meet Jake and Pippa who are going to be writing next year's NYMT commission. I thought it might be nice to introduce myself to them in the interests of musical theatre writers sticking together and supporting one another. Now that I have a community of this nature, I am determined to become the life and soul of it - even if I do feel like the elder statesman!

I took a bus from Angel into London asking the driver if he went into the centre of town. When the bus eventually stopped at Marble Arch, I realised how Soho-centric I've become. It wouldn't have occurred to me to call Marble Arch the centre of town!

Anyway, I took the opportunity to do some shopping on Oxford Street, before having a hair cut on Old Compton Street. It seems that all the hairdressers these days are Italian. They used to be Australian.

On the way home I read a comment left by a chap called John Watson on one of the films accompanying my requiem on YouTube. It was a lovely comment, but it forced me to think...

"I don`t quite know why your music and compositions are not more widely broadcast. I watched the various snippets of "Symphony for Yokshire" that were broadcast as idents on BBC 1 a couple of years"

And it struck me... I don't actually know why my music hasn't reached a wider audience - perhaps I've always been in the wrong place at the wrong time - but I definitely think the time has come for more people to hear my music. From here on, I, Benjamin Till, will make opportunities for myself!

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Racism and pigeons

Nathan read an article to me today about a work by Banksy being painted over because the council deemed it "offensively racist." The irony of this particular Banksy painting, of course, is that is was actually a parody of racism. The work depicted a set of rather dull-looking pigeons holding banners which said things like "migrants not welcome" and "go back to Africa" whilst a beautifully-coloured parrot shivered and looked a little sad on the end of the ledge...

The very fact that all this nonsense is happening in Clacton ought to tell anyone that Banksy was making a political statement; holding a mirror up to the people of the town and their infamously right wing views on UK independence and immigration. The very fact that it's been painted over - BY THE COUNCIL - probably says more than anything else! It's a gross act of vandalism.

When will people stop getting so offended and taking themselves so blinkin' seriously? Life is not worth living if we destroy satire, humour and great art because it might offend...

Sadly I think this nonsense is the flip side of people like me gaining the right to get married. People are now so worried about the rights of minorities, and generally saying the wrong thing, that they'll end up smoothing out all the charming wrinkles of society.

Even my employer, the great BBC, is losing its sense of humour. In the wake of Jimmy Savile, everything is being washed and washed again to the extent that only the blandest colours remain. Their refusal to put my 100 Faces film on YouTube because it featured "vulnerable people" (which is what children and disabled people are now being patronisingly called) was part and parcel of the same problem.

My boxer shorts have now entirely lost their elastic. As I walked home from the gym, holding way too many bags to remedy the problem, I could feel them falling to my knees within my trousers which I thought was quite some achievement!

The rest of the day was spent not doing enough work. I've finished the first 2-minute song for the Fleet Singers, and done a little bit of piano practice for Sunday's concert, all the time wondering why on earth I'm putting myself through the indignity of singing in front of a live audience! Still, if you want to come, it costs £9 or £12 (all of which goes to a Manchester home for dogs). Here's a link for tickets.

I can't guarantee political correctness, but I can guarantee a good night out!


My alarm went off at 6.30am and I was surprised to discover that it was still dark outside. The halogen street light outside our living room window has broken down and is permanently flashing on and off. On for two seconds. Off for two. On for two... It feels rather like one of those New York apartments you get in the movies, where a giant neon light outside gently strobes to show that the people who live there are poor but desperately cool!  I think it's rather romantic. Nathan hates it. This morning it simply felt surreal.

I stumbled around the house trying to make sense of what was going on. It felt as though someone had stuffed a layer of cotton wool into the crevices between my brain and face. I lay in the bath, trying to keep myself awake by thinking about all the people I know who would already have been awake. Brother Edward definitely. Ellie. Maybe Tina. I think Philippa once confused me by suggesting her crew were always up at 6.30am. At the time I didn't know there were two 6 o'clocks in a day!

I made the mistake of trying to trim my bushy, old man side burns in a bathroom mirror which was covered in steam. I was trying to use a pair of blunt, rusty scissors. Hack, hack, hack. Great chunks of pure white and orange fell into the sink. I managed to make myself look like someone with alopecia of the beard.

Matt Lucas sent us a lovely present through the post yesterday, a newly-released 35th anniversary CD version of ABBA's seminal Wembley Stadium concert. It's fairly bizarre to hear the girls singing live; a genuine demonstration of how much they pushed their voices in the studio. Frida's voice overwhelms Agnetha's when the two sing together, and both do a fair amount of copping out by popping into their head voices mid-phrase and using vocal timbres which put less pressure on their vocal chords, sometimes to a point that their uber-familiar voices become unrecognisable. I read in the CD notes that Frida was actually suffering from a sore throat and spent the days of the London gigs in Harley Street. This could explain why she wasn't taking any risks, although, perversely, it's Agnetha who sounds bunged up.

The sun was rising as I made my way to the tube. A great big smudge of yellow in the Eastern sky was throwing threads of light like marble across the sky. It struck me that the sunrise is God's wonderful reward for the early bird, although I think something similar about the stillness which a night owl like me experiences in the wee smalls.

By the time I'd reached kings cross it was pissing it down with rain. September may have been the driest ever on record, but October is bound to be the wettest!

My train for Bradford left at 8.03am and I was horrified upon collecting the tickets that they had cost the BBC £166! In my view there's not a justification in the world for a train which costs that much money. I wasn't in first class. I wasn't sitting on a gold-embossed chair. In fact, I didn't even have a table to work on. In a world where we're meant to avoid driving as much as possible, it seems almost ludicrous to charge these kind of amounts to sit in a train  for two hours.

I was in Bradford for a meeting with the BBC and David Wilson from Bradford Film to talk about a possible project in the city. It's very early days, and there will be nothing to report for some time, but Bradford is certainly a rather fascinating city.

After the meeting, David (whom I liked enormously) took me on a little tour of the city centre. It's much more attractive than I'd assumed, and his passion for the place was deeply infectious. I've actually only visited the city twice, and on both occasions the only place I saw was the national film and television museum. It was there, in fact, where I got to hold the Play School toys, in the process fulfilling a life time's ambition. Jemima the rag doll is every bit as fit in person as she is on screen!

I guess I have been guilty of stereotyping Bradford as "Bradistan" with its antisemitic MPs and racial tensions. What I actually saw was a bustling city centre, filled with stunning Victorian architecture, where everyone seemed incredibly friendly. I look forward to dispelling my own myths about the place if I get to work on the project.

This evening we held a little choir rehearsal at our house. It's Abbie's wedding in a week-and-a-half's time and a group of us are singing her a specially-composed setting of a Shakespeare sonnet. I often wonder what the neighbours must think when they hear live choral music drifting through the walls. Bloody bohemians.

On my way home from Bradford I had a phone call from my agent asking me to sing (yes sing) in a cabaret on Sunday night. The event is being organised by Bobby Cronin, a New York-based writer. He does something similar Stateside. The idea is for composers to sing a song which has inspired them and then perform one of their own compositions. It is, of course, terrifying for me to even contemplate sitting in front of an audience whilst singing, but I think it's a really important thing to do, not just because all proceeds from the evening go to a charity which rescues dogs, but because it establishes a community of British musical theatre writers.

So if anyone fancies coming along to say hello, and to support me, lots of other talented writers and, of course the sad dogs of Manchester, then the cabaret is at Freedom bar on Wardour Street at 7pm this coming Sunday. If you're lucky you might catch a little impromptu performance of something from our wedding...