Friday, 27 February 2015

Photograph ten

A last minute decision saw me rushing into Oxford Circus today to take a quick photograph of Laura Cheetham, who sang soprano on all six movements of the Pepys Motet. We ended up opting to use the impressive timber-framed exterior of Liberty's department store as a back drop for the shot. I felt it looked suitably Pepysian despite the fact that it's a nineteenth century building masquerading as a sixteenth century one.

In order to get a splash of blue sky and the immense grandeur of the building, I ended up having to lie on my back to take the picture. It's amazing how many unnecessary tuts and mock sighs of astonishment you generate by lying on your back on a London pavement. I would have thought the majority of people have better things to worry about!

I was back in Highgate within an hour and a half and at the kitchen table working on A Symphony for Yorkshire. On and on it goes. I wonder sometimes if it will ever be done, and quite why it seems to be taking me this long, I've no idea. Perhaps it's because I've got nothing else to do.

We went down to Kentish Town at 6pm to meet Uncle Archie and Cat to discuss an ever-growing list of potential projects. Surely one of them will come to fruition? This waiting for gainful employment lark is like pulling teeth.

We ate pretzels and drank tea whilst Archie and Kat had a well-deserved end of week glass of wine. It was lovely to see them both. Dreaming about the future is fun!

We came home and watched Cucumber on Channel 4. Everyone's been talking about the most recent episode, so I tuned in with high hopes. Sadly it told the story of the least loveable of all the characters in the show, and did so in a series of yawn-worthy, badly-acted cliches, which disappointed me greatly. For the record, not all gay people are gurning, self-loathing, dysfunctional, emotionally aloof violent bastards who live in some weird Mancunian underworld. The ending was unnecessarily brutal. But why should that surprise me? It seems this entire series has done very little other than attempt to shock. The whole thing has left me with a very bad taste in my mouth.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Portraits 5-9

I slept for about ten hours last night, and woke up feeling a little better than I have been of late. Today promised to be rather epic, so I was relieved not to feel like a rinsed out dish cloth.

The purpose of today was to take another five... count them... five portraits for the front cover of the Pepys Motet CD, so I charged the camera batteries, grabbed a handful of Little Welsh Nathalie's beautiful placards and headed first to London's Pride, the epic St Pancras train station, which genuinely has to be one of the greatest stations in the world.

What they've done to save that place is genuinely amazing. This was the grotty barn of a building surrounded by old gas works where trains from Bedford and Wellingborough used to pull in. I sat as a teenager for many hours on various benches next to dirty-looking coffee kiosks drinking tea and feeding Mars Bars to pigeons. These days the entire place has been hollowed out. The Eurostar trains sit proudly alongside the longest champagne bar in Europe and the kiosks have been replaced by Carluccios, and Cafe Paul and Fortnam and Masons and scores of fancy little boutiques which announce to the rest of Europe that London means business. Two bronze statues peer over the hustle and bustle: Paul Day's giant meeting statue of two aquiline-nosed lovers fondly embracing and, appropriately, a statue of Sir John Betjeman, who loved this place.

The first photograph I took was of Joe Louis Robinson, who sang tenor on four of the Pepys movements. He's actually a little better known as a musical director, but he also has a charming light voice, which works very well in the mix. The Pepys Motet is an a'capella composition scored for twenty individual voices, each with a unique part, which means, at various stages, the twenty singers are all singing something entirely different. It is a highly complicated piece of music, which was almost impossible to record!

I photographed Joe at the Paul Day statue, and then again rubbing shoulders with Dear Sir John.

My second shoot of the day was in a rainy Greenwich, fortunately under cover, underground in fact, in the famous foot tunnel under the Thames. We actually filmed here, years ago, when I was working as the acting coach on the movie 28 Weeks Later. We were there for a whole day, but I don't remember much about it apart from climbing a lamp post somewhere near the tunnel, just to show off really. I used to be able to hitch my way up a rope or lamppost barefooted like a little monkey. I'm not sure I'd have the guts to do that now.

Our green room during the shoot was actually on the Cutty Sark; that famous old tea clipper in dry dock in Greenwich, which I'm told, for ten years, held the record for the shortest trip from London to Australia. There was a terrible fire a few years ago which nearly destroyed the ship, but fortunately, when it struck, most of its original wooden fixtures and fittings had been removed for renovation.

The Greenwich portrait was with Trevor Bowes, a professional operatic bass, who, like Joe, sang on four of the six motet movements. This evening he opens in Purcell's African Queen at English National Opera.

The Greenwich foot tunnel is a spooky sort of place, which smells of damp plaster. A lone double bass player was busking down there. It was a curious noise. A bowed double bass sounds a bit odd whoever's playing it; a curious blend of scrapy and robust, like a beginner 'cellist. For a few moments I even wondered if it was some sort of low saxophone or a tuba. The sound was reverberating through the tunnel in a most mysterious way. Anyway, it was a rather quirky accompaniment to our shoot, which I ended up rather liking. If you look carefully on all the pictures, the double bass is nestling proudly in the distance.

I took the DLR to Tower Gateway where I met Christopher Diffey, an operatic tenor who sings on all six movements of the piece. He's just off to Leeds to start rehearsals on a Jonathan Dove opera with Opera North, which actually opens at Covent Garden. I took his photo down on one of the Thames beaches by the Tower of London; an area I'm almost convinced would have been Pepys' alighting point for pretty much any river taxis he took whilst living at the Navy Offices near St Olave's Church. The tide had only just gone out, so everything was slippery and covered in algae and sludge. It was worth it. We stood underneath a wooden pier which provided some really interesting shadows and shapes against the murky brown water of the river.

I walked all the way from Tower Bridge to Moorgate to look at a potential location for a shoot on Sunday, then walked back to Bank and tubed it to Holborn before walking to Soho where I met the lovely Anthony Harris, a deeply theatrical and wonderful tenor who sang on all movements of the Pepys Motet. I photographed him outside a sex shop as a sort of nod to Pepys who was quite a randy bugger, and, if sex shops had existed in his day, would almost certainly have frequented them. As it was, Soho was only just being developed in his day. Previously it had been a hunting ground for the well-to-do. I'm told the word Soho was actually a hunting call.

Anthony and I had a lot of fun wondering around Soho, China Town, Piccadilly Circus, and then Soho again, where we sat outside a cafe drinking tea. I was determined to find him a husband, but my mission failed.

We met Nathan at his theatre and then walked up to Euston Square tube for the last shoot of the day. This one was with David Gregory who sang bass on all movements of the motet. I took photos of him staring into one of those curious warping convex circular mirrors you get on the underground. I'm never quite sure who they're for. They're usually on the stairs, one assumes so that you can see who's coming down as you're going up, but I'm not entirely sure they're necessary! They're cool to photograph though. I once took a shot of Tanita Tikaram staring into one of those. I used it for the inner sleeve of the London Requiem album.

I'm now in the bath. Shattered!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Wedding down under

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday night there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Today, everything's gone drizzly and murky, and I'm sweating in my duffle coat!

The newspapers this morning were filled with the story of the three missing East London teenagers who have gone to Syria to join ISIS. It's terribly sad that three young girls have felt the calling to do something which could ultimately make them so miserable, but at the same time, their absconding raises a number of serious issues...

It is clear to me now that many young British Muslim kids do not think of themselves as British. In fact, worse still, many think of Britain, the place where they live, as an enemy nation. I find myself struggling to do anything but assume that the majority of imams in British mosques are not doing enough to alleviate the situation. For me it is wholly unacceptable to live in a country whilst eschewing its values. If you want to be in the UK, you simply shouldn't be allowed to barricade yourself inside an inward-looking sub-community. If you want to take advantage of free trade, free speech, a relatively high standard of living and all the other trimmings which come from living in a Western nation, it is your duty to integrate. This means, amongst other things, that you have to learn English, you need to respect women and LGBT people, and you have to acknowledge that free speech means all British citizens have the freedom to poke fun at whatever or whomever they consider fair game. If you don't like these rules; head to another country. Just as those teenaged girls seem to have done.

I listened to a programme on Radio 4 which interviewed a member of the infamous Biradari in Bradford. The word Biradari means brotherhood in Persian, and in Pakistan, members of the Biradari are almost more important than politicians or religious figures. We're told that a Biradari exists in Bradford; a group of men who wield what many would describe as an unhealthy amount of power over the large Pakistani community in that particular city.

The man who was being interviewed was basically boasting that if he told the community to vote for a certain party, then that party would almost certainly be elected. It didn't work with George Galloway's Respect, who were actually elected based on an open opposition to the Biradari, but it certainly raises deeply uncomfortable questions about corruption and the potential for corruption among minority groups within the UK. There was a genuine sense that, at least in Bradford, the Biradari were operating the strings of whichever politician-puppet they had  chosen to support. This, of course, begs a question; who turns a blind eye in gratitude, and for what?

I'm afraid to say that the man being interviewed, though claiming to have been in the UK since the 1960s when he was a boy, was utterly unintelligible. He had the thickest Pakistani accent, which, for someone who effectively grew up here is an indication, possibly, that he'd not made integration into the UK a high priority, and that it's possible to live entirely within a mono-cultural ethnic community within the UK.

It's been quite a busy day today. Whilst working on Brass with PK in Worthing, a lot of activity was happening on Our Gay Wedding: The Musical, which was being broadcast in Australia. There were lots of lovely messages on Facebook and Twitter, and a nice review in the Sydney Morning Herald:

"If ever there was a compelling argument for legalising same-sex marriage, this is it. If only every wedding were as passionate, heartfelt and thoroughly entertaining as that of composer Benjamin Till and actor Nathan Taylor, who got married in Britain on March 29, 2014, the first day that same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales. With an emotional introduction by narrator Stephen Fry, this is a hilarious and brilliantly penned musical about 21st-century love rights..."

Simultaneously news came through that the show has received it's fifth award nomination. This time for a prestigious Royal Television Society Award in the Best Arts Programme category. We're up against Grayson Perry with his wonderful "Who Are You?" series. I'd almost be offended if we beat him! His show fits the brief of the award so much better than ours...

Our trouble, of course, is that Our Gay Wedding: The Musical defies genre. Is it a documentary? A musical? Structured reality? An art film? A political statement? Perhaps unsurprisingly we've had nominations for music, entertainment, innovation, TV moment of the year, and now art...

I, of course, am still no closer to finding my next job! My mate Matt always used to say that a career in the arts alternates between taking a step forward and consolidating the ground you've covered. I'm not really very good at consolidation!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

No Man's Land

I've been trying to organise more Pepys photo shoots in any spare time I've had today. Frankly, it's a little like trying to herd kittens! I'm attempting to find locations and times which mean no one has to go out of their way to meet me, but pretty much every person who's requested a slot so far has subsequently cancelled, leaving me scrabbling around to fill their space with people who haven't yet been photographed! You'd think people didn't actually want to be on the front cover of a CD! I've decided to instigate a "two cancellations and you're out" policy. Or in this case, "two cancellations and you're replaced by a balloon, a charming view of London, or, frankly, someone who fancies being on the album cover twice." Once in a fabulous disguise! Rebel Chorus members be warned! Be very warned!

It's freezing cold today. I walked from PK's house to West Worthing station and actually started panicking. It doesn't help that my charming cold is still hanging around like a fag hag at a gay orgy. My lips are cracking, I have a dry tickly cough and my shoulders ache. Mind you, a friend of mine tweeted earlier that his Monday morning had started with an injection in his eyeball, so I'm rather counting my blessings!

Our Gay Wedding: The Musical airs on Australian telly at 9.30pm tonight. That's 9.30pm Australian time, which I think must mean it's already tomorrow down under, and that 9.30pm at night there might be when I'm walking to the station in Hove tomorrow morning. I recently learned that some places - like certain areas in India - have time zones which encompass half hour differences. Mumbai, for example, is five and a half hours in front of us. How ludicrous is that? If you're prepared to split hairs like that, why not go for 16 minutes difference. I'm going to propose that for the Scilly Isles or other silly isles.

We've been working on the Brass soundtrack all day today and kicked things off with No Man's Land, the final number in the show, and something of a mega-track which includes a sequence where half the cast go over the top. We have to listen to every section in isolation whilst working out what needs to be done with it. There are approaching sixty performers on the recording, so you can imagine how painstaking the process of polishing them can be! We spend a lot of time making judgment calls. Occasionally an individual performer might have made a bit of a mess of a sequence where other players were also being recorded. Do we try to bury their mic in the mix? Or do we cut all the musicians who were simultaneously playing? It sounds a bit mercenary, but sadly with a recording, the out of tune notes never go away! There are also a number of instances where less is actually more. A delicate vocal can be strangled by too much orchestration, so sometimes we cut back so that something more subtle and beautiful can reach the light. You've got to kill your daisies if you want your grass to grow. That and other gardening metaphors...

I'm not a gardener. Well not a downhill one anyway!

Monday, 23 February 2015

Crisp packets and sequins

Hail was falling from the sky today whilst the sun shone. It was a curiously sight. The sunlight made the individual hailstones look like little sequins. I spent some time looking for a rainbow - or, I guess, more appropriately a "hailbow," but none seemed to exist. Perhaps the individual particles are too large to create that particular effect.

Everyone was talking about the weather everywhere I went today. "Hasn't it got cold again?" "It's getting into my bones." "The wind was shaking my house, I tell you..,"

I worked all day on the brass band arrangements of A Symphony For Yorkshire. I'm not sure why they're taking so long. I think maybe it's because I'm still attempting to crack the form. Writing for brass band seems to be a rather delicate balancing act which involves finding  combinations of different groups of instruments. Individual parts are not always self-balancing as they would be in a choir or a string quartet. If everyone's playing at the same time, for example, an individual horn part is very unlikely to be heard, yet each of the three horns traditionally has its own part. Put that against six cornets playing a single cornet line, and you need to start being clever with who plays what and when!

I went back to the gym this afternoon. It was painful. The cold has definitely not left my body, so I limped on the tread mill like a critic packet at the bottom of an escalator.

This evening I had a rehearsal with the Fleet Singers, which started with a soprano sectional and then became a full choir rehearsal. The altos were a little disappointing, I felt. We'd done such good work in sectionals the week before, but they'd become all timid and seemed to be waiting - en masse - for somebody else in the section to come in! We'll get there. When they're on their game, the section sounds genuinely lovely. There are some beautiful individual singers in there.

Nathan popped into the rehearsal and sang the opening number of the piece. He is singing the solos in the composition, which are settings of Betjeman poems. I rather like to think of Nathan playing the role of Betjeman himself and I must find a straw hat for him to wear. Anyway, he sang beautifully and I was very proud of him, and relieved that the music sounded so nice. One of the sopranos told me today that my music always makes her smile, because it's "happy music." It was a wonderful thing to hear. I like the thought of putting a smile on anyone's face, but I was also a little surprised as I think the music I write is actually quite sad. Perception is a funny thing.

I'm currently in Hove Actually, wending my merry way to Fiona's house in the freezing cold and ludicrous gales! We'll be mixing another four Brass songs with PK. Slowly getting there...

Lemon drizzle

We tidied the house and made a lemon drizzle cake today. I found a recipe online and used up the lemon Fiona had bought for last night's salad. The cake itself was baked in the special tray which Sascha bought us for Christmas. It's very cool. It has a series of compartments linked together in a sort of elongated N shape, so that the cake can be turned out and cut into smaller chunks, all of which have a lovely crusty "baker's" edge. Sadly I shoved it into the oven at an angle, so when the cake came out it looked like a ski slope! Still, as Mrs Wagland used to say, "if you close your eyes it will taste the same..."

The cake was made for Ian and Jem, who were hosting a final dinner party at their house up in Friern Barnet before winging their way to New York, for an exciting new chapter in their lives. Ian leaves in a few weeks' time. Jem follows him out there in May. We, of course, shall miss them bitterly. Our lives have been so intertwined in the years they've lived over here. Both sing in the Rebel Chorus and Nathan and Ian have been in several shows together. Their leaving the UK will almost certainly bring the curtain down on the end of an era and leave a big hole in our lives.

Jem's food was, as ever, utterly delicious. Today's delicacy was aubergines coated in bread crumbs. I've told a number of people recently how sad I feel that vegetarians often miss out on the joy of things covered in breadcrumbs. Surprisingly, not a great deal of vegetarian cuisine takes advantage of this particular delight. I often look at things like fish fingers with a great sense of envy. So imagine my joy when I saw what Jem had cooked! It would have been rude not to eat two...

The lemon drizzle cake seemed to go down well. We ate it with a big plate of summer fruits. I think everyone had at least two slices.

Shannon and Cam were there as well. They're a delightful American couple we've got to know through Ian and Jem. I hugged Shannon as we left, hoping we'd still get to spend time with her and Cam after the boys have gone.

Jem seems to have been suffering from a very similar cold to mine. He's been coughing and spluttering now for the best part of two weeks. It's funny isn't it? Knowing someone else is similarly under the weather can be rather comforting. It reminds us that we're not suffering from something more serious, I suppose. Or is that just me? Is this how all hypochondriacs feel?

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Photograph Four

Michelle came over today after her singing lesson and we went up to the Heath to take her portrait for the Pepys album cover. I wanted to photograph her in the tree with the hole in it, which is a spot which has a great significance for me. It featured in my very first film, Hampstead Heath: The Musical, and has been a Mecca for me and friends ever since. I've sat there in the middle of the night on several summer evenings and written about it many different times in this blog. It's basically an enormous tree, which has a hole in it big enough for five people to sit within. The wood inside the tree has been worn smooth by generations of visitors, including Finlay Quaye, who chose the spot for one of his album covers.

It was a beautiful day, and Michelle is one of those non-blinkers who you can ask to look towards the sun when she's being photographed and expect not to hear a load unnecessary whinging! I think she's aware how utterly stunning her eyes are, and how, with a little help from the sun, they turn into pools of glorious cornflower ice!

At the end of the shoot we were disturbed by a sort of clicking sound, which became something of a high-pitched roar! We turned a corner to find a running race in full flow, not just fifty or so runners, we're talking thousands of them, in an almost endless river, snaking its way over muddy pathways and through the trees. Thankfully they were all wearing spikes on the bottoms of their running shoes, so their were very few accidents. We did see a couple of runners tumble, however. As the river continued down the hill, the runners in it became increasingly old, slow and fat, which we found a little amusing. There were no women in sight. We assume they'd started their race at a different time.

As we watched them rushing past Michelle confessed a strong desire to flash them, which would, of course, have been hysterical. Sadly, I think she was joking!

I came back to Highgate, did a bit of work, and then settled down for an evening of telly and food. Fiona came up. She's rehearsing with Placebo at the moment and fancied a bit of a low-Fi evening, so we made pasta and salad and bedded in in front of a documentary about weird weather whilst Nathan wound wool.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Photograph 3 (and second degree burns!)

I'm sitting in front of the television nursing a horrible burn on my left thumb and forefinger. I'm pleased to report that the injury was received in the line of duty. I've been suffering for my art...

I've been in Aylesbury all day under a sunny sky filled with red kites. What is it about that bit of Buckinghamshire which seems to attract that particular bird? They fly above the roads and the canals, soaring on the thermals like glorious angels with forked tales.

I was in Aylesbury to see Raily, Hilary and the kids, all of whom were great company. We had a lovely walk along the canal and down to the playing fields. We watched a barge negotiating a lock. The air was ripe with the smell of wood smoke. A lot of canal boats have little wood burners, and little ringlets of smoke were drifting past in the boats' wakes. We ate butternut squash soup for lunch and a fabulous Quorn pie with peas for tea.

The kids crafted at the table. Will asked a series of incredibly perceptive questions about equality and wanted to talk to me about the Great Depression.

The highlight of the day was almost certainly taking Hilary's portrait for the Pepys Motet album cover. Hilary sang one of the top sop parts in the motet, and because it's very unlikely I'll see her in London for a while, I figured I might as well photograph her today. I thought it would be great to surround the photograph with fire. The fourth movement of the motet is dedicated entirely to the Great Fire of London, so I figured if I couldn't take advantage of an epic London location, I could at least evoke something Pepysian.

It was all hands on deck. We set up an astonishing studio in the back garden with lanterns and mirrors and a big steel bowl of fire. We burned Raily's Christmas tree which had been chopped up and stuffed in the garage.

The photos came out brilliantly. I was well chuffed, but sadly, whilst repositioning the fire bowl, I managed to catastrophically burn myself! It didn't hurt initially, which is probably a bad sign, but as I drove home, the sickening throbbing began. I'll be fine. I'm dosed up on pain killers and covered in lavender oil but everything feels a little tight. The mother of all blisters are forming!

I came home and Nathan showed me the thirty second YouTube trailer for the screening of Our Gay Wedding the Musical in Australia. It's rather sweet, I think, and the voice over calls it "the wedding of the decade" which I don't mind owning! Let's hope its screening convinces the Aussie prime minister to allow his LGBT people to get married. I've always felt that Australia is one of those places in the world you'd expect to have full equality, and feel it's rather shameful that they don't. A nation without full equal marriage rights seems, I dunno, a bit backward, really. I mean, which club would you rather be in? One with Russia, Nigeria, India and Sri Lanka or one with Canada, most of Western Europe, South Africa and much of Latin America?

My dream is to actually work in Australia. Perhaps I should do some hustling down under!

Oh yes. The link for the wedding film is this...

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Photograph 2

I barely slept last night, which is something I'm getting quite used to at the moment. Insomnia did, however, mean I was awake when the most surreal noises started occurring outside at about 3am.

At first the sound was barely audible and I assumed I was merely listening to a screech owl. We get rather a lot of owls in Highgate, and they make all sorts of tweets, coos and screams. Later still, as the sound began to take on a kind of rhythm, I convinced myself that it was merely a product of Nathan's sleepy breathing, which was heavy at the time, bordering on a snore!

I went to the loo, aware that the sound was becoming louder and louder. I opened the bathroom window and heard the full force of the noise: a grunting, screaming, clicking, weird guttural barking. I deduced after a tiny panic that that sound wasn't human, and then worked out that I was actually listening to foxes mating. Or, let's not mince words, a male fox brutally raping his chosen mate. It was the most unnerving, terrifying sound. I actually decided to record the sound and caught, much to my great delight, the sound of one of my neighbours opening a window and clapping as loudly as possible to move the foxes on. I listened back to the recording this morning and you can hear me cackling to myself at that point!

Eventually the sound subsided and all that was left was a periodic, lonely bark, and the sonic adventure was complete.

I decided to take the 43 bus to Bank today. It turns out that this was a bad idea. It took an hour and twenty minutes. I used the time productively and got lots of work on the brass band arrangements for A Symphony for Yorkshire done, making a brave decision to put the whole piece down another key. I have a tendency to write music which is a little high and have recently discovered that the E flat cornet, the "highest" instrument in the brass band, doesn't have as big a top range as I think an instrument like that ought to have. In fact, I think a good ordinary cornet player could probably play higher, which makes me wonder if the instrument actually has a point, particularly as the instrument tends to sound a little like an old-fashioned car horn!

I went into the city to meet Abbie at Monument Station. Abbie's was the second portrait I've taken for the cover of the Pepys Motet album. The initial plan was to go to St Magnus the Martyr church where there's a scale model of the old London bridge, but sadly, on a hideous grey day, the light in the church was dreadful, so we shuffled through the rain to see if St Olave's church was any lighter.

St Olave's is the church where Pepys and his beloved wife, Elizabeth, are buried. After his wife died, Pepys commissioned an artist to make a statue which he positioned on the wall above the alter. Now there's a man who had an inflated sense of his own position in life! He was a navel clerk at the time and obviously had no idea that he was going to become a world-renowned diarist!

Anyway, the church was beautifully lit and I photographed Abbie holding the symbol for "blessed" with the statue of Elizabeth in the background. I'm very pleased with the result. Abbie's watery green eyes look stunning, peering over the top of Little Welsh Nathalie's beautifully painted placard.

The bus journey home was a joke. Two hours after leaving Moorgate, we finally crawled into Highgate. For the record, that's 4.9 miles. If London bus travel is always like this, it should be free. There's got to be some kind of incentive for putting up with that degree of nonsense. The only positive was that I got two hours' work done whilst in transit. I got very thirsty in the process, though.

I came home and watched the live episodes of Eastenders and was somewhat disappointed and a little amused by the denouement. It all seemed a bit far-fetched, which was a shame because I was hooked all evening until the very last shot! I have hugely enjoyed the whole concept of the show dipping in and out of live footage and was brilliantly charmed by Jo Joyner's live gaff when she referred to the character of Ian Beale by the actor's name.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Buzzing like a bee

I managed to drop one of Nathan's darning needles down the side of the sofa today. In an attempt to retrieve it, we turned the whole thing upside down and were amazed to hear the rattle of coins cascading through the internal cavities. We unstitched a part of the upholstery and were astonished to fish out £11.54 in coins! And then, much against the odds, we found the needle! To celebrate we took ourselves for lunch at the greasy spoon. Little treats like this obviously have to be kept to a minimum for a while, but it's not often you come into a sofa windfall!

I had a can of coke, three mugs of tea and two cold and 'flu tablets, so by the time I got on the tube, I was buzzing like a bee.

Uncle Archie and I had a meeting at the BBC about a potentially very exciting project. With all these things, it's a waiting game which involves various commissioners talking to various other commissioners. Sadly, the more people who are consulted about ideas on the quirky/innovative spectrum, the less likely they are to be made! It takes just one commissioner to say that they don't like documentary musicals and the entire process is derailed. Nevertheless, I'm pleased that we've at least got this far. I'm a big fan of the woman we met with, so I'm glad to have touched base with her, whatever the outcome.

I emerged from the meeting and was immediately attacked by rush hour on Oxford Street, which is like nothing on earth! Huge static crowds of people hang about on street level waiting to get into the tube station. You have to fight your way through them simply to cross the road. Imagine that agony being part of your daily grind? I guess all you can do is go a bit zen and try to block it all out!

I retreated to the tourist-free streets of Soho. On my way through the backstreets behind Carnaby Street I happened upon the Marshall Street Leisure Centre, which would appear to be a glorious swimming pool, in a stunning 1920s building. You can see right through the front doors into the pool itself with its tall rounded atrium-like ceilings and decadent fixtures and fittings. Quite how I've managed to miss that place on the many occasions I've been in the area, I've no idea. London never ceases to surprise and delight.

I walked to the Strand where I met up with Ian at the Savoy Theatre. Ian was one of the vocalists on the Pepys Motet. Over the coming weeks I shall be taking 20 portraits of the vocalists who performed on the album. Each of them will be holding one of the placards Little Welsh Nathalie and I made, which display shorthand symbols from the first page of Pepys' Diary. Nathalie finished painting them over the weekend and they look absolutely stunning. I want to take pictures of everyone in spectacular and quirky London locations which either have meaning for them, or for dear Mr Pepys.

I was thrilled when Ian suggested I took his portrait on the actual stage of the theatre. That auditorium, with its gold and red velvet upholstered chairs and huge Art Deco arches, is one of the most beautiful in the world.

A very old friend of mine, someone I directed in a production thirteen years ago, was propped up against a piano just under the stage, learning a new song with a musical director. He didn't spot me, or if he did, he didn't recognise me. He was just eighteen when we worked together and now he must be over thirty.

Turkie for lunch

I rehearsed the Fleet Singers last night. It was a good rehearsal, I think. In true Tillian style, I went at the speed of light, but the work we did means we're now in a position where everything in the composition has been touched at least once, so, theoretically, from now on in, we're tidying stuff up rather than note-bashing. I wish I could say the same about myself. I was playing piano in a sectional with the altos at the start of the evening, and was reminded quite what an awful pianist I am, particularly when it comes to sight reading. Give me a set of chord symbols, and I'll busk a thoroughly decent accompaniment by ear, but put the actual dots on the piano stand and I clam up and start playing absolute nonsense! I forgot to play all the accidentals at one point!

I got home and Nathan had cooked beans on toast which was like nectar at the end of a tiring rehearsal.

I did a morning's work on the kitchen table today and then took myself to Somerset House to meet the Turkie for lunch. I wore my birthday scarf; a great, scraggly, colourful, long thing which was created over the course of a few years by the knitters in my life. Each friend (and my Mum) knitted another section, in a different colour, pattern and yarn. It was passed covertly in a plastic bag from one person to another. I think it was even sent through the post at one stage. It's about ten feet long and makes quite a statement. I could see people staring at it with a mixture of amusement and appreciation as I wandered around.

Our usual cafe was rammed to the rafters, so we trekked to Covent Garden to a cheap whole food cafe  and sat at the statue of the ballerina opposite the opera house. It's been a beautiful spring-like day in London today. The walk from Covent Garden to Waterloo felt almost like summer. There was some real heat kicking off the sun. It was a pleasure to be out and about...

A pair of chinook helicopters soared above me at one point, looking like giant bluebottles against the blue sky. You definitely hear and feel those giant things before they ever appear in sight.

As I walked past the IMAX, I was excited to discover a pair of lumberjacks abseiling through the branches of an enormous tree. What a glorious job to have on such a pleasant day. I'm told another Arctic blast is due any time soon, so I guess we all need to make the most of the sunshine.

The underground travelator at Waterloo tube was a mass of people subtly dancing and nodding their heads to a saxophonist playing boogaloo to a hugely exciting backing track. There are definitely certain types of music which it's almost impossible not to dance to. In this instance, I guess the urge came to us all because the beat of the music was the same speed as most of us were walking at.

Osteopathy was much needed this afternoon. I've been in quite a lot of pain recently, largely due to coughing as the cold works its way around my body. As the day wore on I felt lousier and lousier, shuffling onto Old Compton Street like a tramp to meet Nathan in his tea break. I took the bus home. I need to take more buses. They're cheaper, basically, and I'm officially poor! Plus it gives me longer to work. I like writing on public transport!

We came home and made pancakes, which we stuffed with raspberries, lemon juice, maple syrup and currents. Pancakes are good aren't they? I need more pancakes in my life. Pancakes and buses.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

On bananas and cucumbers

All the "IT" was out at the job centre this morning. I duly went in to sign on, but no one was able to tell me the status of my claim. I've heard nothing at all from anyone for two whole weeks. I took my passport with me - which was something I'd forgotten last time and had been asked to bring - but the man I saw couldn't think what to do with it, and vanished for a while to discuss the problem with colleagues. I could see them across the office scratching their heads and looking perplexed. There was more than a whiff of the blind leading the blind about the situation.

Eventually the man came back to tell me that my "claim form was blank" which, he felt, meant I'd been abroad for some time because there were gaps in my national insurance contributions. I explained that my NI was paid by direct debit and that I'd never missed a payment. He looked confused. "Is it because I'm married?" "I don't think so. To be honest this is between you and them. We're not really allowed to get involved." "But I thought you WERE them?" I said. "No. We're just the middle men in this office. You need to talk to Norwich." "Not Norwich?!!!" I swear I heard a series of dramatic chords.

Well, I did talk to Norwich. To a horrible woman, in fact, with a thick accent, who made it very clear she had nothing to say to me. It turns out I'm not eligible for any benefits - none whatsoever - not housing benefits, or council tax, or income based job seekers allowance or contributions-based job seekers allowance or tax credits. Nathan, it seems, just earns too much money slaving away in his box office for £10 per hour. I married him for his money, obviously...

We've been dutifully watching Russel T Davies' Banana, Tofu and Cucumber on Channel 4. I'm told the ratings are in free-fall, which makes me incredibly sad, but, I'm afraid, not entirely surprised.

There are some wonderful acting performances in the series, most notably Vincent Franklin, who plays the lead role of the troubled middle-aged Henry, and the utterly luminous Julie Hesmondhalgh, who plays his sister. Both are beautiful, nuanced, funny, deeply talented performers who could probably read the bible and make me believe in God.

The concept of the shows is also really strong; a trilogy of interlocking dramas (one of which is a sort of documentary fantasy.) It's rather intriguing to watch the characters interacting whilst having the luxury of being able to see different events from different perspectives.

In almost every other way, however, the shows miss the mark. Every time I tune in, I'm aware that I'm watching a series of vignettes which don't seem to have any sense of over-arching drama. The over-lapping of stories feels like a gimmick rather than a well-considered device. The same party seems to have featured in countless episodes, but we don't discover anything new about it, even though we're seeing it from five different perspectives. There's no single event which unites the characters; no sense of mystery unravelling, just lots of people dancing and getting drunk, and in the background, periodically, someone we recognise from another show.

The characters, a parade of box-ticking LGBT stereotypes, are largely unlikeable, primarily because they're all vicious to one another. There's no love in the shows, just lots of meaningless sex which seems to trigger nothing but bitterness.

The bottom line is that the shows feel like they were written and shot in the 1990s. They're set in Manchester, of course. You remember Manchester in the 90s? It's where all the queer dramas were set because of Canal Street, and because TV execs thought Soho was "too obvious." Based on Cucumber, it would seem that everyone in Manchester is still as bitchy and hedonistic as they were when we based our perception of gay men on Queer As Folk, and more importantly, they're still living in those enormous, minimalist loft apartments. Even the poor ones!

My issue is that it's no longer daring or even interesting to show gay people "doing" sex. Most people now realise that gay relationships go a little deeper than the ones they saw in the 90s which had been created for televisual shock-value. Yet in cucumber we see nothing but a meaningless yawn of sexual encounters designed to show how dysfunctional and self-loathing Russel T Davies' wants gay men to seem. Channel 4, by the way, are marketing Cucumber as a "gay drama." Just as they'd use the word "edgy" or "urban" to describe a show with a predominately ethnic cast. Even they would stop short of advertising "our new black drama!"

To make matters worse, nowhere have I ever been aware of so many actors in a show playing gay, whilst being so obviously straight. I'm afraid the majority of them look incredibly uncomfortable doing the sex scenes, and I'm almost convinced that the directors of the shows are straight men. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Banana, where we get to see majority of the lezza action. The camera lingers on the girls snogging for way too long. It's like something from Tipping the Velvet...

...And to cap it all, the plot lines have a habit of simply vanishing. In the first episode, Henry's co-worker kills himself because Henry accuses him of plagiarising the essays he's been writing for his part-time masters course (I kid you not). As a result, Henry is dismissed from work on no pay (like that would happen), but after episode two of the series, he forgets all about these particular woes. He's too busy sniffing around a load of twenty-something lads in a palatial warehouse.

So there you have it. The gay community's PR department takes one giant step forward. The world gets to see us falling in love and getting married; and then a year later, we take a massive step back and the world gets to call us all psychologically flawed again.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The house which became a garage

It's incredibly misty in Northern Essex tonight. Waves of fog are dancing in our headlights. Tori Amos is playing on the car stereo. This is like a scene from my sixth form years.

We've been in Thaxted with the parents all day, sitting in front of an open fire, drinking tea and eating a lasagne made out of Beanfeast. I hadn't eaten Beanfeast for years. It was an absolute staple of my student diet, but I haven't been able to find any of late. It's bloody delicious, and not just in a nostalgic way!

We donned wellies and walked to a little spot just outside the town, which always feels like it has rather a powerful mystical energy. It's at the bottom of a little hill, in the corner of a field, where the trees sussurate conspiratorially and the air is sweet with the smell of wood smoke. My mother has talked about the place for years, and the atmosphere there is somehow different; heavier, perhaps, but not in a sad way. More protecting, perhaps...

Curiously, I learned today that the spot was actually the site of an ancient chapel, so it's rather remarkable that my Mum has so often talked about its vibe. She's always been a bit fey, my Mum... I used to tell people she was a white witch.

We appeared at the spot just as the setting winter sun dropped below a cloud, and suddenly the tops of the trees looked like they were on fire.

Whilst out and about we met a Thaxtedonian who has recently suffered the indignity of a car careering off the road and smashing into her front room. Seriously. A beautiful timber-framed house and everything. The photos were so impressive that they made the local newspapers. It looked like she'd had a garage fitted on the ground floor of her property because the car had smashed through a window and driven all the way in!

The owner of the house had literally just left the room. She was in her kitchen and then suddenly all the timbers of the house were crashing down around her. She described being knocked to the ground purely by the strength of the shock wave. It sounds utterly terrifying. She's lived in the house all her life but has moved out and says she'll never be brave enough to move back in. That's got to be something of a game changer hasn't it? You'd never be able to relax in front of the telly again.

The journeys to and from Thaxted were terrible. London just doesn't work anymore, particularly on a Sunday when they do all the road works. I'm writing this blog at 22.40, stuck in a traffic jam on the North Circular. That's right. A traffic jam at nearly midnight on Sunday night. Welcome to London!

Central West London

My feet still ache from the pounding I gave them yesterday. This is plainly an indication that I'm getting old. I used to be able to walk for miles and miles without even noticing. Now I sigh when I sit down on chairs, secretly thinking thoughts like "it's good to take the weight off..."

The weather was minging yesterday. It did nothing but rain, and I was soggy like an old dog for much of the day. I'm wondering whether the pains in my ankles are actually a result of my needing a damp course!

My afternoon started at Mr Toppers on Old Compton Street, where a lovely Spanish lady with lustrous black curls and a thick Malagan accent cut my hair. She was keen to chat and tell me all about her planned trip to the North this weekend. "Where are you heading?" I asked. "Oh. I'm not sure how to say it... Shellfish..." "Shell Fish?!!" "Yes! That's it!" I wracked my brain to see if I could make sense of what she was saying; "do you mean Sheffield?" "Yes! That place!"

I walked from Old Compton Street to Bond Street in the driving rain. That little area South of Oxford Street and West of Soho is such a peculiar part of town. You walk down these ludicrously clean streets, filled with fancy boutiques, each of which has a thug in a cheap suit on the door and then, inside, some wistful little male model in black who pouts and looks slightly bored because he's no customers. Everyone you pass in the street around there is immaculately turned out but it all feels just a little bit soulless; probably what Soho's going to be like when they've finished clearing the area of everything but multi-national chains and ghastly casinos!

I met young Nick (the assistant musical director on Brass) for a cup of tea in a rather nice establishment lurking in one of those little lanes off New Bond Street. We had a good natter about musical theatre and then walked together to Marble Arch where we parted. He took a tube to the East End, and I walked across a darkened Hyde Park all the way to Chelsea where I did some work in a coffee shop before meeting Nathan. We tramped, for what seemed like an age, down the King's Road. It's one of those streets you get in London - like Holloway Road and the Green Lanes - which seem way too long for their own good! Just like most of Central West London these days, the King's Road is a little too swanky and soulless for my liking. This was where the sixties swung, for heaven's sake! This was where Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren created anarchy. Where the hipsters and hippies went to buy second hand clothes, smoke pot and tie-dye curtain fabric. Nowadays it's where you go to get fleeced by artisan breads!!

It was Julie's fiftieth birthday last night and she'd booked the upstairs room of a little bistro for an intimate meal with a couple of family members and friends. The food was tasty, the company was pleasurable. It was a very lovely night.

We walked to Fulham Broadway tube in the pouring rain, along the western part of the King's Road, where everything goes from being über glam to just a little bit scuzzy. It's also the part of town where all the Sloane Rangers go to party. This is where you might expect to find the cast of Made In Chelsea parading around. It's funny. Some of the posh young London set have more than a whiff of the "rural pursuits" about them. I guess their mummies and daddies have all got county estates. There are Chelsea tractors everywhere and all the young men wear wax jackets and cloth caps made out of tweed. Every body speaks the same way in those parts. They say "ya" instead of yes and words like "woh" and "way." They've all got enormous teeth as well!

Today's been a rather quiet Valentine's Day. Nathan's been at work. I've been arranging. I went to the gym and swam 50 lengths, somewhat irritated by a woman who obviously didn't want to get her hair wet, and seemed to be swimming at the most ludicrous slow pace. My osteopath tells me that it's actually very bad for a back to not duck your head under water when doing the breast stroke, so really we all need to chose between having green, straw-like hair and having good posture! My eyes are still hurting from all the chlorine they've been pouring into the water since it became a learning pool for infants. When I came out, all the lights seemed to have a weird corona around them!

Nathan got back from work and I cooked him a big roast meal. The works; from roast potatoes and every boiled vegetable in the world, to a broccoli mornay and a gravy created without any form of Bisto or Oxo.

And that's that, really. The food went down well. We've had a nice relaxed evening.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Steve Strange

I was incredibly sad to hear last night about the sudden death of Steve Strange, that erstwhile fashion guru and lead singer of the new romantic band, Visage, whose song Fade to Grey is a synth-pop masterpiece.

Steve was featured in the musical Taboo, a West End show on which I worked as resident director almost fifteen years ago. It's holds a very special place in my heart as it's where I met my husband, Nathan.

Taboo was written by Boy George and featured many of those colourful gender-bending icons who lit up the club scene in the early 80s.

Steve Strange was one of the first of his peers to find fame. He ran brilliant clubs like Blitz at the Camden Palace and was known for his vicious door policy, which, we're told, would often find him holding up a mirror to a wannabe reveller and asking them "would you let you in if you were me?" He was known for his biting wit and ability to destroy a person with a deadly one-liner or withering look.

We fondly took the piss out of him in Taboo, and turned him into a bit of a puffed-up, peacock-like parody of himself. Steve was Welsh, but had long since lost his accent, so when Drew Jaymson played the role with more than a hint of the Gladys Pews, the real Steve Strange was both confused and a little offended. His voice was often heard reverberating in the front of house corridors; "I don't have a Welsh accent!"

Nathan actually took over the role of Strange about halfway through the show's run, and, in the process, took the character another step in the journey towards Ruth Madoc...

Taboo featured a sequence towards the end where the central characters began to acknowledge that they were falling out of fashion. Steve was depicted as a paranoid junkie, wearing a long snakeskin coat, which Boy George had nicked from the real Steve Strange back in the 80s. We're told it was worth thousands of pounds, yet it was man-handled and unceremoniously bashed about in the tiny dressing rooms at the theatre. I'm afraid the real Steve Strange at that time often seemed a little more like the bitter, bewildered man who was being shown on stage... Later I saw him on a celebrity hair cutting show, and he seemed to be much more at peace with the world.

There were a lot of wrecks and drug-addled relics hanging around Taboo in those days; former birds of paradise who'd lost all of their beautiful plumage. One of the real life characters portrayed in Taboo sat next to me in the audience on one occasion and, when, his character appeared on stage said to me (rather loudly) "Who's that then?" "That's you!" I said, wondering why on earth he hadn't grasped that particular concept. "But I'm here... in the audience," he said. And that pretty much summed up what we were dealing with. I'd regularly find them, mid-show, weeping in the loos. Weeping perhaps for what had been, what they'd lost, or maybe simply because they didn't know what was going on! It was sometimes hard to know what to say to them. They'd been so, so luminous, and yet here they all were, fading to grey... And not really dealing that well with the process...

That said, anyone who made it out alive from the era would probably consider themselves incredibly lucky. If Aids didn't get you, the drugs probably would, so the very few, like Philip Sallon, who survived with their sanity are actually now considered the freaks they always longed to be!

That world of Taboo seems so distant now. Ironically, it was staged as long ago now as some of the actual events we were depicting were when we started rehearsals for the show.

There was a great legitimacy to what we were doing back then. The theatre we'd created for the show (underneath a spooky Catholic Church in Leicester Square) had an adjoining wall to the building where the actual Taboo club had been. Our make-up artist was the sister-in-law of the late, great Leigh Bowery, who also featured in the show, and the choreographer Les, was one of his best friends. It all became a little "meta" towards the end when the real Philip Sallon started to behave like the on-stage parody of himself and Boy George joined the cast - not to play Boy George - but to play Leigh Bowery!

Happy times, though. And many of the cast have gone on to do great things. Hollywood actor, Luke Evans, fresh out of drama school, played Billy. And Dec Bennett, who is currently Charlie Watts in Eastenders took over in that particular role. Casting director, Anne Vosser certainly knew talent when she saw it! We would often go out on the town after the show (quite regularly in New Romantics-style make-up) and we were quite a force to be reckoned with.

And of course, without Steve, and George and Marilyn and Leigh and Philip, there would have been no Taboo. So rest in peace, dear chap. By all accounts you were a complicated, brilliant, sometimes difficult man, but you brought joy to many.

Phone moan, stitch bitch, whinge, cringe, minge

I had a bit of a rough day today. One of those days when you feel a little put upon and slightly taken for granted. It's all perception, of course. You get a little cold, you get a little glum, and then everything you think about turns to silage in your mind! It's not terminal, and everything got a lot better after I'd eaten. I had a moan on the phone to Fiona and then another one on the phone to my Dad who asked the rather shrewd question; "are you happy?" Of course I'm happy. I'm radiantly happy, but he slightly caught me off guard, so I think I fudged an answer!

Anyway, when I wasn't whinging, I managed to work. I sent off an application to the Arts Council, I did some detailed work on my brass band arrangements, and all the time felt very grateful that my cold seemed to be slowly subsiding.

Nathan made everything okay again, when he arrived home from work clutching cookies and a bouquet flowers because he knew I'd been fed up all day. How absolutely lovely is that? I feel incredibly lucky to sit next to him on a sofa every night!

We immediately entered a television marathon which started with The Great British Sewing Bee. That show would make a man smile with a heart of ice, though heaven alone knows why there's only six episodes in this series. I want ten. Or twelve. In fact, I want this particular little piece of sunny joy to go on all year. I adore Claudia Winkleman. She's naughty, witty and utterly insane.

We graduated from the Sewing Bee into the dark, brooding world of Broadchurch, which has recently become a fest of lingering looks and focus pulls from an assortment of reflective surfaces. Why have dialogue when you can hold your camera for hours on a central character, standing in a field on a cliff top looking towards the sunset? If it was Scandinavian, or an advert for Scottish Widows, I'd forgive it. Because it's British, it's rapidly disappearing up its own arse! Mind you, Olivia Coleman is incapable of giving anything but the most exquisite acting performances, so I continue to cling on in the hope that some of the first season's magic will return.

Nathan is knitting socks with a yarn which smells like a farmyard and feels like wire wool. Bit weird.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Cov Market successes

For the first time in ages I'm sitting down to write this blog at my actual computer, rather than typing it in letter-by-letter on my iPhone. It's remarkable how much quicker the process seems, yet how much less I'm thinking about the content of what I'm writing!

Nathan is out. He's gone to a decadent lock-in at a yarn shop in East London. For anyone else this would be a metaphor for something well-dodgy, but I assure you that he's simply gone there to knit... And maybe gossip. The good news is that his epic double-knit shawl, which took him six months to make, is now off the needles, and looking mighty fine!

I read a remarkably moving blog post today.  It's written by a man who lived in the shadow of AIDS in New York throughout the 1980s, and is a lesson to all of us who whinge and moan about our lives. It is almost impossible to imagine what the gay community endured in that particular decade. To begin with no one even knew what was happening; they simply knew that fit, young gay men were dying. They were rumours to start with, then friends of friends, and eventually entire friendship groups. Imagine that happening now? The chilling paragraph comes towards the end, "the numbers of those we lost to the disease seemed uncountable. And they were, because so many had died in silence or worse, in hiding. Not only had they suffered unthinkable pain, they had endured it in shame."

It puts my mild cold into perspective, that's for sure! I allowed myself a little lie-in all the same, and then worked from the sofa for most of the day. I did lots of piddling things. I started another Arts Council application, I did some invoices, I tried to fix a computer, I removed myself from hundreds of spam email mailing lists, possibly in the process signing myself up for thousands more...

The highlight of the day was a meeting in Kentish Town with Uncle Archie and the team at Wingspan. We were talking about a potential project which has been rattling around for a few months now. It's one of those ideas which I'm desperate to happen. Strangely, it's often these projects which actually come to fruition. I say strangely because we all know that the universe thrives on irony and the destruction of dreams, but every once in a while passion burns through the icy exterior of the money people. I always knew that A1: The Road Musical, for example, would be made, as I knew that the London Requiem, 100 Faces and Oranges and Lemons would all come to fruition. Sometimes an idea is just too bonkers to be ignored. The films I've been commissioned to make by others have often turned out to be slightly less successful. I try my absolute hardest to make them work, but perhaps there's always that missing piece in the jigsaw that we call passion. I think, as a result, the people I know who write and create simply for money often don't see a great deal of artistic success. I've known a few people in my time who reckon they've cracked the formula for their particular branch of the arts and subsequently never had another hit!

Talking of previous successes, I keep seeing people from Coventry Market: The Musical on shows like The Voice. One of them, a girl called Letitia (but spelt in a silly way), is already through to Ricky's last twelve, and I'm told to expect the lovely Karl Frasnek to make an appearance this coming Saturday. I'm pretty sure they'll say no to him. He has a remarkable voice, but they always turn down the musical theatre performers in favour of those with a "vibe" who can't sing in tune. Some of the greatest West End performers have slipped through the net on The Voice, and indeed the X Factor. Of course they never show their auditions on telly because they know the viewing audiences will complain. One day I'll write down everything I know about the desperate manipulation which goes on behind the scenes in these talent shows. If anyone lifted the lid on their practices, we'd never watch them again! Or maybe we'd just all rather live in ignorant bliss...

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Bottom a flat!

I sang a bottom A flat this morning! I was so astonished that I did it again, and recorded myself. This is the range I longed for as a young man. What a desperate shame it comes as a bi-product of illness!

The cold stormed through my body last night. Fiona fed me pasta, carrot cake and Dairy Milk chocolate and I sat in front of her telly like a zombie under a rug, barely taking anything in...

The walk up to Hove Station with my suitcase was gruelling first thing this morning. I could feel the cold tickling my lungs and was getting more breathless with every step.

PK and I worked hard. The majority of today was spent on the song Letters. It's such a complicated piece of music and every element has to be individually isolated and polished. PK lulled me into a complete trance at one stage by looping sequences of vocal music whilst he steadily knocked all the soloists into rhythmic shape. There were moments when I started to feel really rather excited about how the final mix might sound. We thinned out some of the orchestrations to allow everything to start in a sort of dream-like place, but by the end it's gonna be like the Symphony of A Thousand.

It's Cat Wars at PK's house! His daughter has recently moved back in with her little moggy, but Chocko, the resident feline queen, is not at all happy to be sharing her territory, so it was whiskers at dawn, and, in fact, throughout much of the day. There's been a lot of hissing, gnashing of teeth and general sharpening of claws. I hate cats. They're such feral creatures at heart. I would genuinely hate to live with an animal which considered itself to be more important than me. Cats are like television execs or like those spiteful little girls at school who used to pinch and scratch, safe in the knowledge that no-one would retaliate. I once got into terrible trouble for hitting a girl who'd been all pinchy-pinchy-slappy-slappy-kicky-ballsy with me for a protracted period of time. When she starting dissing my Mum, I drew the line. I told her if she dissed my Mum again I'd punch her. She, of course, immediately realised she'd found my Achilles heel and started really badly slagging off my Mum, so I slapped her. Hard. And in the process I discovered HER Achilles heel: physical weakness! I'm a typical Leo. Happy to lounge placidly in the sun until someone threatens one of my gang, and then all bets are off! Anyway, according to The Pope we're allowed to hit anyone who criticises our mum, so there we go. Gotta love those religious leaders who advocate violence...

I got myself a brilliant deal on train travel from London to Worthing this time. Two singles for £5 each. This did, however, mean I had to travel on very specific trains, and as I reached the train station I realised I'd turned up a full hour early!

It wasn't a disaster by any stretch. I was hungry so got myself a lovely bowl of nachos at the pub opposite the train station. You know the one? The one where they don't sell coca-cola. (I kid you not!) Apparently they'd run out. That's right. Run out of a substance which is more plentiful on this planet than water itself.

The other curious thing about the pub was the music it was playing on the sound system. I think eclectic Easy Listening would sum it up. We had two random Eurovision songs, one from the 60s, one from the 80s, a Sing-Something-Simple version of "You Are My Sunshine," something performed by Caruso and "Grandma We Love You" by the St Winifred School Choir. What on earth was wrong with the little girl/ shrew who sang lead vocals on that song? She genuinely sounds like she's been inhaling a cocktail of helium and crack!

I got to the train station to discover that my train had been cancelled. Yay! To rub salt into the wound, the dot-matrix sign which listed the train with the word "cancelled" next to it, also opted to show me a list of all the train stations the non-existent train would be calling at!

Being stranded at West Worthing station in the freezing cold (when you have a wheezing cold) is not a great deal of fun, let me tell you. I was more bored than anything else. I attempted to occupy my mind any way I could. I tried to guess how many footsteps it would take to walk along the passageway under the tracks. I went for a little stroll to the local Co-op, which was a tragic affair with very little for sale. I was thrilled to discover that a single fresh orange is almost twice the price of a jam doughnut. I bought one of each by means of celebration. What do they say? Feed a cold, starve a fever.

The next train eventually arrived. Late, obviously, so it was 11pm by the time I'd reached Victoria and almost midnight by the time I'd returned home.

Monday, 9 February 2015


I woke up this morning a walking zombie. The runny nose I mentioned in yesterday's blog became a running torrent of water which accompanied me through the night. Perhaps a little foolishly, I took a Berocca tablet just before bed, assuming I had a cold coming on which I needed to stave off, but it just made me feel all zippy. I watched a programme on BBC4 about Genisis which seemed to go on forever, and then there I was, at 4am, wide awake and yet so tired I'd managed to convince myself that I was Peter Gabriel! I got up to get myself a tissue and rammed my shin into a coffee table, collapsed onto the bed and lay there for some time wondering when the waves of brutal pain would subside! Subsequently, when the alarm went off this morning I was not quite ready to greet the world! My face looks pale and wrinkled....

As the day wore on it became clear that I was actually suffering from a cold. PK and I worked speedily through the morning and then a fuzzy head engulfed me. By about 4pm, I was no use to man nor beast and was panicking every time I needed to make a decision!

I did, however, have a quick listen to the songs which PK has been working on in my absence, and I'm very excited. PK's favourite song so far is the song Brass. I'm always pleased when someone's favourite song in the show is different to the obvious choices like Shone With The Sun and Billy Whistle. I think it proves I've written a high-quality show with little or no dross!

We worked on When You're a Pal today, and the aforementioned Shone with the Sun, before making a start on Letters, which is by far the busiest and most complicated song in the show, with twelve or so soloists singing with full ensemble. There's dialogue, underscoring and then the most enormous and epic end chorus. We couldn't find quite a number of the solos. They'd managed to disappear into the Protools ether and it took several hours to track them down. By this point my head felt like it had be rebuilt with Plasticine, so it was time to leg it to the train station and back to Fiona's where I watched a programme about Budapest presented by Michael Portillo. I fondly mock the man for being a right wing Tory and rather physically stiff and wearing silly jackets, but he does look very good for his age, and I'm convinced, politics aside, that he's genuinely rather a nice chap.

I remember that his middle names are Denzil and Xavier and know this because my ex-partner, Stephen,  stole his seat in the 1997 general election and everyone laughed when the names were read out. That May day seems so long ago now. I've always prided myself on having an excellent memory, but the memories of that life-changing, warm spring evening have become nothing but a series of curious vignettes. I remember wearing a sort of Edwardian suit and feeling rather silly and eccentric when people started trying to take my photograph. I remember the shock of Stephen's victory and refusing to stand on the platform with him when the result was announced. I was young, very young, but old enough to realise it wasn't my victory. My decision not to stand with Stephen meant that all wives were also banned from the stage, so when Michael very graciously acknowledged defeat, his wife Caroline wasn't allowed to stand next to him for moral support, which I thought was a bit tough. In those days, because no one wanted to offend a gay person, and there were no civil partnerships, I was instantly given the same treatment as a politician's wife. I had a special pass which gave me access to all areas of the Palace of Westminster because no one wanted to be accused of homophobia. It was utterly ludicrous. I'd been with Stephen for just three months when he was elected.

Following the official announcement, we went to a Greek restaurant, before driving down to the South Bank in Stephen's battle bus, as the sun rose over a misty River Thames. Thousands of revellers were out on the streets. It felt like a new world had begun. People would look at Stephen's van, decorated in red and yellow ribbons and read his name on the posters in the windows. You could see some of them mouthing the words "Michael Portillo" and then erupting into spontaneous applause. Portillo's had been the biggest scalp of the night by far.

We reached the Royal Festival Hall, where an official party was being held. It wasn't the greatest do; they seemed to be doing nothing but play D:Ream's Things Can Only Get better whilst lots of handsome young New Labour types danced around in their trendy suits. I remember the driver of our bus saying we were going to enter in style, and taking the van right up to the dock doors of the venue.

We looked up and the concrete walkways were filled with cheering people, who were ripping up newspapers and throwing them down on us like confetti. Seconds later, Stephen was being carried above everyone's heads into the venue like some sort of conquering hero. It was quite a remarkable occasion...

I feel rather sad that New Labour so royally missed its chance to bring real change to this country. That night we thought revolution was in the air. We thought the House of Lords was going to be crushed; that we were entering a vibrant Aquarian era of hope and equality. I don't think I can expect to live to see another election where people feel that change is so possible. It's little wonder that my generation is so politically apathetic. We had our hopes dashed against the rocks 18 years ago...

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Cemeteries and compartments

It's been a beautiful, calm, sunny, fresh day today. The sort of day when everyone starts to feel optimistic, a day when huge numbers of people come up to Highgate tube and drift up to the village for lunch followed by a stroll through the famous cemetery or a yomp on Hampstead Heath. Highgate cemetery is well worth a visit, not just for Karl Marx, but for the myriad other curios there, including Douglas Adams' grave littered with the pens of visiting fans, and the eccentric tombs of a bewildering string of freethinkers and eccentrics. I would heartily recommend visiting the West Cemetery. That's the bit that isn't open to the general public. You have to book a special tour. It's ramshackle and highly atmospheric. The tour takes a visitor through the Egyptian Avenue, a series of tombs shaped like ancient Egyptian monoliths, and around the Circle of Lebanon, which is about as mystical and eerie as anything in London ever gets. There are catacombs and mini chapels. It's little wonder why the cemetery is the focus of so many ghost stories. In the 1960s there were even a series of reported Vampire sightings, which were accompanied by the gruesome discovery of piles of animal bones. Much recommended, but not for the faint-hearted!

I left the house at 6pm today to discover that the traffic lights on the A1 outside had stopped walking. It was genuine mayhem. Cars were randomly piling into the junction and swerving all over the road. As I walked down to the tube, I called 999, largely because I couldn't remember the number for the non-emergency police, but also because a road accident was almost certainly imminent. You can't really expect a cross roads on the A1 to function without lights. The woman who answered the call was, to my ears, a little snooty. As I said goodbye she said she'd "report it to the traffic division" almost as though she were saying, "like you should have done."

I thought I'd left the mayhem behind when I got on the tube, and prepared myself for a slow, comfortable drift down to Hove where I'm staying the night with Fiona before doing another two days of mixing with PK.

Victoria station was at a stand still. Most of the trains had been replaced by rail replacement buses, and the one I'd booked to travel on was absolutely rammed. There were tussles on the platform as people jostled to get on board, and a really silly woman in a hi-viz jacket was shouting at everyone to go further down the platform where she said there was "more room." What she wasn't taking into account was that the train was due to split at Heyward's Heath, and that only the last four carriages were going anywhere near where I needed them to be going. If I'd taken her advice, I'd have ended up in the wrong place.

The train proceeded to amble its way through South London at ludicrously slow speeds whilst we all got light-headed and breathed everyone's else's carbon dioxide. It was hot and claustrophobic, like some form of torture, really. The transport infrastructure in London is now so broken that I reckon we're just one terrorist attack away from complete anarchy!

Fortunately the carriage emptied a little at Croydon and then again at Gatwick, but the train continued to go at speeds which seemed slower than a Stannah Stairlift and I got stuck opposite a pair of gossiping women who seemed to want to comment on everything that was going on around them. The man opposite me was snoring gently, and one of them suddenly said, "ooh, someone's asleep." Then I got a runny nose, so kept having to sniff, so that became, "ooh, someone's got a cold..." I mean, what's the point in saying stuff like that!? Is her friend's life any richer for having had the bleeding obvious pointed out to her? Of course it's not.

I arrived in Hove feeling like an old dish cloth.

Saturday, 7 February 2015


We're currently driving through the misty Shropshire countryside, listening to the London Requiem at full volume on the car stereo. It's amazing how appropriate the album feels for a journey through the darkened, rather mystical world of the county in which I'm proud to say I was born. I rather like being able to say I'm a Shropshire Lad...

We've spent the day in North Wales at Nathan's sister's house, celebrating Nathan's niece's 21st birthday. It was a lovely gathering which featured four generations of an extended family with so many eccentric and unique branches, it would be almost impossible to explain!

Sam had cooked us all chilli and a table full of party snacks including a birthday cake in the shape of a hippo surrounded by smarties. Perfect. Truly.

We talked a great deal about Christmas Day, which was the last day we'd all gathered together in that particular house. It was agreed that it had been one of the best Christmases ever.

We're now driving on the M6 through the middle of Birmingham. The mist is really closing in, or possibly descending because rather curiously there's a clear moon in the sky. A series of floodlights on incredibly tall posts are glowing - almost floating - in the air. Birmingham always looks so troubled from the M6. One sees nothing but battered industrial landscapes, lorry parks, rusty rail depots, pylons, graveyards and down-at-heel grubby Victorian buildings. The M6 is elevated above everything. Almost as though escape via road is the aspiration of all Brummies...

I'm a proud Midlander, but Birmingham was never somewhere we visited. There never seemed to be a great deal of point in our going there. We shopped and went ice skating in Milton Keynes and Peterborough and went to the theatre in Northampton and Coventry. I always thought Birmingham was nothing but great big scary blocks of concrete watched over by the ghastly Rotunda. I've been there perhaps five times in my life - once admittedly to watch the Eurovision Song Contest. I'm proud to say I was there in the flesh when Dana International won. The parents say the city is beautiful these days. The canal district is apparently well worth a visit and the experience of hearing the CBSO playing at the Symphony Hall is, I'm told, one of the great wonders of the sonic world!

Maybe I should go back there to spend some proper time...

As I write this sentence, we're passing the exit for Coventry and Nuneaton, which is where my part of the Midlands truly begins. I love Warwickshire. The red earth in these parts was farmed by countless generations of my forefathers, and every time I enter the county, I feel a sense of great peace and belonging which grows as I age.

Friday, 6 February 2015


Fiona stayed at ours last night and after an early lunch at the spoon on Archway Road, we made our way (via Camden) to St John's Wood where we visited RAK recording studios. I'm not sure RAK should be written in capital letters. I don't know if it stands for something or if it's short for something else. Whatever the case, it's a rather fine little recording studio which oozes both class and atmosphere. In fact, if some of those corridors aren't haunted I'll eat my hat! Which is lucky because today I took delivery of one of the many hats I've left in different corners of London in the past year!

Speaking of eating strange substances, I'm told the Americans talk of "eating crow" in a similar way to the way we talk about eating humble pie. They're a fascinating lot, those Yanks. An American friend of mine, who has recently become a TV chef, was tasked with cooking a female chat show host an actual crow because she said if such and such happened she'd eat crow...  Actually maybe eating crow is more similar to eating a hat. Who knows? Does anyone reading this know? Anyway, the chat show host ended up eating crow both metaphorically and physically.

...Where was I?

I went to RAK to lend moral support to Fiona, and take photographs of the string session for her solo album, which the world ought to be very excited to hear. Fiona had opted to use a somewhat eccentric line up of players; namely a string octet with two extra violins. They sounded extraordinary. I could never have imagined that ten players could sound so much like a string orchestra. A lot of their success was in Fiona's adept scoring, which involved keeping the 'cellos fairly high and understanding when best to use divisi and unison. And of course the players, all of whom are at the top of their games. All that technical stuff aside, the music was divine. Absolutely stunning. Still, yearning, incredibly sad in places. She uses subtle dissonance to extraordinary effect. She's not scared of space in her music either, which is a great, great skill. Whenever I attend a session of Fiona music my own writing changes very subtly. I thought I was something of an expert, but what she doesn't know about string writing really isn't worth knowing. The session was brilliantly organised as well, and ended forty minutes early! Oh for a session which actually ends early!

It was lovely to see all the players, four of whom had played at our wedding, and many of whom I'd worked with before on projects as diverse as the London Requiem, Songs From Hattersley, Blast! and The Busker Symphony, which has got to be almost ten years old now. Kotono, who played in that particular project was filmed on a rickshaw trundling down Brick Lane. Those were the days when everything I made was merry and camp! Blast! was recorded so long ago that I can't really remember how it goes!

Thursday, 5 February 2015


My eyes are square. I've been staring at a computer all day. A brief sojourn to the gym is all that has kept me from turning into the middle-aged, 21st Century equivalent of Mike TV. It was worth it. I fired off an organ part for our recording of Oranges and Lemons, (which I've decided it a piece of music which needs to make me a fortune) and also finished the first draft of my brass band version of A Symphony for Yorkshire. Productive.

The news today was full of reports that anti-semitism is on the rise in the UK. We're told it's a reaction to Israel's behaviour in Palestine over the last few years. Even attempting to justify anti-semitism is unacceptable in my view, and I felt incredibly uncomfortable when this particular fact was trotted out by the reporter. No excuses. Besides, British Jewish people have nothing to do with the decisions made by the government in Israel. One of the most horrifying reports was of a man on a bus shouting hideous insults at a group of Jewish kids. The bus driver refused to stop to deal with the issue, which sadly doesn't really surprise me.

I witnessed a very similar event about ten years ago on the tube. In this instance it was a Northern man spitting and screaming racist abuse at an Indian bloke and his eight-year old son. It really upset me. The people he was spitting at seemed to just quietly accept it, like it was a everyday part of life for them, as homophobic bullying had been for me. I was upset for the father. Every father wants to protect his child, but, in this instance, he was helpless to do anything but accept the torrent of abuse and saliva heading his way.

No one on the tube said anything. Everyone merely buried their heads in books and newspapers and tried to imagine they were elsewhere.

I went apeshit at the man, followed him off the tube at Tottenham Court Road and had a scrap with him in the ticket hall, which ended with me sitting on the little bastard whilst screaming for the LU staff to call the police. The staff couldn't have been any less helpful, telling me to let the man go before he "had me up for assault." After a five-minute tussle, during which time I receive no help from anyone, I was forced to let the man go. He crawled out underneath the ticket barriers like a injured rabbit.

When the police finally arrived they said that there was little they would have been able to do even if I hadn't let the man go, because the Asian people the man spat at were unlikely to report the crime. So I made a statement but heard nothing more. I guess the man might think twice before behaving like that again. I think I gave him a bit of a shock!

Broadcast Awards

We're currently at the Broadcast Awards in the palatial Grosvenor House Hotel. It's a very swanky ceremony, with a big slap-up meal and lots of people looking very suave in their sparkly dresses and dinner suits. We didn't win the award for best music programme. That particular award went to a glorified advert for Coldplay's latest album, which wasn't exactly comparing like with like! We didn't even make the opening montage - in fact, the clip they decided to use from Hollyoaks was of two gay men getting married - so from the moment we walked into the space we knew there was little hope of winning!

Some very odd programmes won awards, so none of us are too downbeat about the decision. BBC1 won the broadcast channel of the year, which I thought was particularly strange. I've seen some dreadful dross this year on that particular channel. The BBC is notoriously playing it safe at the moment. The big celebratory film package demonstrating the channel's high points was led by the Great British Bake Off, which we all know was initially a BBC 2 show.

Am I sounding like a bad loser? It was genuinely lovely to be there. I met lots of fascinating people and enjoyed playing the fame name game. Top celebrity sighting: Mary Berry.

Highlight of the evening was definitely chatting to Jon Snow, who threw his arms around us and told us Our Gay Wedding had been the best show ever made by Channel 4. His particular favourite moment was our mother's duet, which he described as beautiful and wonderfully moving. Jon Snow telling us that is worth fifty Broadcast Awards!

The last time I was at an award ceremony in this very venue, we didn't win either! That was the SONYs in 2008. I think I'm going to politely decline the next invitation I get to an award ceremony here. That, or I might have to assume it's going to be third time lucky...

Julie popped around earlier on tonight. She was watching a show at the Gatehouse up in the village and wanted a quiet space to do some dramaturgy with a chap she knows who's writing a musical. It was a joy to welcome him into our humble abode. It turns out he's actually a legend. He wrote "I Love to Love" by Tina Charles! It was almost impossible to talk to him without humming his song!

Bit pissed. Should sleep.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

London odyssey

I hauled myself out of bed fairly early this morning to make the most of a day which I knew was going to be jam-packed with all sorts of fun. I opened the bedroom door to be greeted by Fiona, who stayed with us last night, and the news that it had snowed. I love snow. We looked out of the sitting room window at a winter wonderland. Snow was clinging to all the trees and people on the street below were shuffling and sliding their ways to work.

Fiona and I instantly headed to Highgate Woods. It's rather strange: Fiona is often with me when it snows in London. I think she's a harbinger of snow, which, for a woman whose name is an exact anagram of "brain of ice," is possibly unsurprising!

I had my camera with me and we took pictures between the trees, whilst excited dogs rushed about wondering what this glorious new substance was...

I returned home and spent a couple of hours working on my synopsis before heading into town with Nathan, carrying the enormous card which the kids from NYMT had made to thank Cameron Mackintosh for his generous donation to the Brass recording pot. It proved to be a somewhat cumbersome item to carry on the tube, especially when gusts of underground wind caught it, and it acted like a sail, guiding us through the corridors.

We deposited the card at Cameron's offices and the two charming people on reception made all the right noises. As cards go, I think it's a thing of very great beauty, but I was chuffed when someone else validated the fact!

At about midday, I ambled my way from Tottenham Court Road to Somerset House, determined that, if this wasn't destined to be a gym day, it would be a day which featured an obscene amount of walking!

I had tea in the little cafe on the courtyard at Somerset House. It turned out to be the most expensive tea I've ever consumed - £2.75 - but at least I got an hour of work done before meeting Michelle of the Turkie for lunch.

It was so lovely to see her. She's had some dreadful news, which actually made me physically hold my hand up to my mouth. Fortunately, she's being incredibly brave and choosing to look for the chinks of light rather than allowing the gloom of the situation to engulf her. She's well. Her family is well. And that's really all that matters. I felt incredibly proud of her, and somewhat humbled by her response to the crisis.

I guess, when we feel the world has bowled us a googly, we occasionally need to look around us to find out how others are doing. As if to prove this particular point, just as I wrote that very sentence I passed an elderly couple on the tube. He had withered legs, a calliper and was stumbling along with a stick. She was as bald as a coot, but for a few wisps of hair on the nape of her neck. Life is never as bad as we think...

I walked across Waterloo Bridge on my way to the osteopath. It was bitterly cold, but the sun was shining and there was a powder blue sky filled with scores of tissue paper clouds in delicate shades of grey, white and brown. The Thames itself was swollen, yellow and angry-looking. I guess all that melted snow had to find itself somewhere.

The osteopath session was good. He did a lot of manipulation on my upper back and then put me into a coma with some dorsal springing. I was mortified at the state of my boxer shorts however, which fell down as I took my trousers off for treatment, causing the osteopath to go a little red-faced. I must throw them away. That's twice within three days that they've embarrassed me. Naughty boxer shorts.

I took the tube from Borough to Old Street. It is Philippa's birthday today and I wanted to pop by with a little gift, see the god children and have a nice natter.

She wasn't there when I arrived, so I wandered back to Columbia Road in search of somewhere warm to have a drink and do some work. That place is a veritable ghost town on a week day afternoon. It's really rather strange to see an entire row of shops, including two, pubs closed on a Tuesday afternoon. I guess the flower market on Sundays is so successful it actually only makes sense to open up at weekends. I eventually found a pub and happily sat inside working, coming within an inch of finishing the second draft of my synopsis.

I spent two hours with Philippa. We made cup cakes and fuzzy felt circus scenes, whilst little Silver ran around like some sort of remote-controlled gnome on acid. I had no idea that a two-year old could move so swiftly. I simply don't understand how parents manage to keep their children alive at that age!

From Columbia Road, I walked to Liverpool Street, skirting between Brick Lane and Shoreditch. The whole district almost throbs with energy these days. Even the little side streets, which ten years ago were no-go zones peopled by drug dealers and gangs of Bengali yoots, are now filled with cafés, artisan bakeries and chi-chi boutiques selling reconditioned Ercol furniture. These were the slums of the 19th century; sickly ghettos filled with Jewish immigrants fleeing pogroms in mainland Europe. In the 1960s the Jews moved to the fancy suburbs and were replaced by a whole new wave of immigrants from Bangladesh. Concrete slums replaced the ones made of red brick. The stalls started selling popadoms instead of pretzels, and the cycle of life continued...

Now they say the Somalis are replacing the Bengalis. I disagree. The young professionals have moved in...

And then within a blink of the eye, you emerge in the shimmering lights and steel skyscrapers of Liverpool Street. It's a fascinating journey through time and taste.

From Liverpool Street, I travelled to Holborn, and watched the tourists outside the tube station dicing with death to hail black cabs in the middle of a pedestrian crossing.

I had a Subway sandwich for tea on Shaftesbury Avenue where I finished the draft of my synopsis and met Nathan before walking into Soho to meet Richard Fisher, a Broadway agent, and friend of Nathan's. We had a drink in the upstairs bar at Compton's, which is always surprisingly empty, and a great deal more salubrious than most of the gay bars in Soho. Purely by chance we also managed to bump into Philip and Darryl who came into the bar saying they were having one for the road... One bottle of champagne that is!

So as we travel home tonight, my feet feel like blocks of lead, but I have a great sense of both achievement and pleasure. I've seen friends. I've worked hard. I've walked the streets of our beautiful city. All days should be like today.

Monday, 2 February 2015


The sun was a pretty extraordinary sight all day today; almost entirely white and sitting permanently behind dusty cloud, which made it look about twenty times its actual size.

The day started with a visit from Little Welsh Nathalie downstairs, who popped up to help me with the boards I've been making for the front of the Pepys Motet CD. She's very kindly taken all twenty away with her to decorate with Pepysian shorthand characters, and in the process taken a great weight off my mind! We had a cup of tea and nattered about the Archway Road and how it has a somewhat bohemian quality. The shops are all a little alternative, and everyone you see around here seems a bit wistful and artistic. The reason is plain. For much of the 1970s and 80s, all the houses on the road were condemned. The council wanted to turn the A1 into a dual carriageway, and whilst environmentalists and local residents fought to prevent this from happening, property prices plummeted. And what do bohemian people like? Large, cheap Victorian houses!

For the rest of the day I worked on the synopsis for my musical. I'm slowly paring things down; cutting unnecessary scenes and trying to get a sense of where the musical numbers need to be.

I went to the gym after lunch and discovered a faulty running machine with a slippery tread, which I'd reported as broken on Thursday. I was assured it would be taken out of action until such time as it could be fixed, but there it was, switched on and ready for anyone to use. I'm usually fairly unimpressed by anyone who takes health and safety too seriously, but this felt like a fairly major problem. I told the manager, who blamed the people who fix the machines, whom she said were taking the piss out of LA Fitness. "No," I said, "taking the piss is not taking a dangerous piece of gym equipment out of service." She looked a little sheepish!

This evening I ran a rehearsal with the Fleet Singers. I went at quite a lick, and worked them incredibly hard, which I think they appreciated! It's important with a lengthy work like The Man in the Straw Hat, that everyone has the confidence of knowing the geography of the piece before we get too hung up on the nitty gritty. Too much detail too early on and everyone gets freaked out and thinks they'll never reach the end!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Buying trousers with the Orthodox Jews

We've had a right old day today. It's quite unlike me to start a Sunday with a list of things to do, but we had much to achieve, and by the time we'd had a lie-in and watched the disastrous Andy Murray match in Australia, there wasn't a great deal of time in which to do it!

Top of the list was buying two new pairs of trousers. If I'm to descend into poverty, I'm not starting the process looking like a tramp! It turns out I only have two pairs of trousers in the world. My second best pair has a hole in the crotch and my best pair no longer fastens at the top. We were in Sainsbury's earlier on and they dropped down to my knees, followed by my boxer shorts, because the elastic has gone in them. If it hadn't been for my duffle coat, I would have bared my behind to an entire shop of people! It's times like this that you have to acknowledge that things have got a little out of control!

We went to Brent Cross and wandered around between the mirrors (which were everywhere) and the myopic Orthodox Jews (who were also everywhere, holding things they were contemplating purchasing right up to their bespectacled faces!)

I hate shopping. Nathan hates it even more. He gets shopping tummy, which he describes as a sort of anxiety. Nothing seemed to fit and everything seemed to be either made for an anorexia-thin teenaged lad, or modelled on the sort of thing that Michael Portillo wears in his train journeys around Britain show: all mismatched jackets and semi-formal canvas trousers in the garish colours which 65-year old men think of as fun and funky. I panic bought some grey things from M and S and some black things from T K Max. Call me classy if you like, but the good news is that I won't have to deal with another undignified episode in Sainsbury's again!

We came home and I did a stack of admin before finishing the first draft of my new musical's synopsis which is way too long, although I would far rather read a detailed synopsis than something which doesn't have enough information to give me the full picture. I slogged hard to get it done, and finally finished at 9.30pm.

I am resolved to lose more weight. Looking at myself in all those Brent Cross mirrors was not a great deal of fun. I'm thinking of getting a pedometer and trying to walk 10,000 steps in a day. I did that once, about ten years ago, and the weight fell off me. A very close friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, is currently wearing a pedometer on her wrist, and confessed to me that, sometimes, when she doesn't have enough steps registered, she puts it on her daughter and asks her to run around for a while. That's how to beat the system!