Thursday, 30 April 2015

Billy Whistle Mini-Premiere

And so the Brass journey continues with its series of mini milestones, many of which I've deliberately created to keep the cast and musicians excited and engaged about the project. When we started rehearsals for Brass I was very clear that I wanted the experience to be something the cast remembered forever, just as I will always remember my summers with the National Student Drama Company at the Edinburgh Festival. Art is never merely about audiences: it's about the astonishing bonds that creative people make when they work together... The cast bonded remarkably well and I think I owe it to them to create opportunities where they can engage with one another, for as long as I feel their need to do so! Just call me Mary Poppins!

Today's task was to send the cast the latest mix of Billy Whistle so that they can practice lip-synching for next Sunday's shoot. None of them has heard anything much from the recording so far, and I thought how special it would be if, instead of emailing them all, and have them listen in their own time, we all listened together online.

Fortunately there's a hugely active Brass Facebook page which the cast regularly check into, so, at 8pm, I went on and told them all to congregate there at 9pm, at which point I would release the link to the track. Word got round and I'd say a good half of the cast and musicians were there. It was all very exciting really. Like a mini-virtual premiere... It's amazing what you can do (and how rapidly you can do it) online these days. I posted the link and the screen went weirdly quiet as everyone tuned in...

And then suddenly, one by one, they started to respond. Lots of "wows" and "amazings" and a genuine sense of great pride. PK is suddenly on a roll and the mixes which are coming through are stunning. It is going to be an epic soundtrack "the best since Les Mis" says Nathan... A comment he apparently means! What IS certain is that you don't often get a new cast recording which features 30 singers and a band of 22! The music is MEGA!

It's just as well really. After putting in another twelve hour day on admin for these projects, I was beginning to get a bit square-eyed and under-energised.

I released the CD credits today so that people could check their names had been spelt properly. I was so relieved that I'd done so. I'd managed to leave two musicians off the list, and one poor girl got thanked as Hannah Forget instead of Hannah Froggett!

Now listen... Everyone reading this... Please come to our music quiz a week on Saturday. 1.30-5.30pm... I'm genuinely worried that no one is going to come, and unless we raise a few pennies I won't be able to afford release the Pepys Motet and Oranges and Lemons just yet. And believe me, this album deserves to be heard every bit as much as Brass!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Missing building

I emerged at Borough tube today and was confused to find the building opposite had been demolished. I can't remember what the building actually looked like, but I knew something wasn't quite right, and briefly wondered if autopilot had taken me in the wrong direction out of the tube. It's strange: you can become very used to the shape and light of a setting, so that when one aspect is removed, things can get a little confusing.

I didn't much like looking at the ruin of the old building; seeing it reduced to a pile of rubble. There were windows, tattered curtains and bits of wall paper which all felt a bit too human for my liking. Whenever a building is knocked down, it's fair to assume that not everyone is happy to be thrown out of their homes. Imagine the heartache of being told you need to be evicted simply to make way for progress... Ghastly.

On that note, I'm horrified to learn that The Black Cap, Camden's iconic and ancient gay pub, has closed down and is being replaced by luxury flats. Paul O'Grady was talking about it on his Radio 2 show yesterday. He has a particular interest in the old place because it's where he regularly performed as Lily Savage in the earlier part of his career.

The Black Cap was a dingy sort of place, with a downstairs, rather smokey and claustrophobic club space where all the drag acts used to perform. I never really went down there; it all used to get a bit sweaty and uncomfortable. The upstairs bar always far more salubrious, light and spacious. More importantly, it had a huge roof terrace where I sat on many a summer's evening in my 20s. The Cap was always open. In the nineties it was one of the only bars in the area with a late license, and loads of my straight mates used to go there after band gigs when they were buzzing on adrenaline too much to go straight home. I think it's incredibly sad that we'll not get to see it again. In the grim days of the 1980s, when the LGBT community was suffering, it was like a refuge. A metaphorical beacon of light where we could meet people without feeling threatened.

I came home and worked... Worked and worked and worked, worked some more and then when I'd stopped working it was 1am! Genuinely.

How did that happen? Better go to bed!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Like a machine

I'm officially a machine! I had a list of things to do this morning which I slowly and efficiently managed to achieve. The list, of course, continues to grow, but once I've sat down with Nathan and gone through our combined notes on PK's most recent (and excellent) mixes for Brass, I shall at least feel on top of things. Or more on top of things... Until the next catastrophe appears, of course!

For the next two weeks, and until the filming is finished on Brass, everything is in lock down. We've quizzes to write, mixes to okay, albums to master... I have to head down to Brighton for a day to do final mixes on Brass, and I have to plan Sunday's shoot, which involves a day at Abney Park cemetery. And Nathan has an important knitting commission to finish. Everything has come at once! It's quite terrifying.

The council have changed the street lamp outside our living room window. It's made the most astonishing difference. They've got rid of the halogen bulb and replaced it with a bright white light set of LEDs which twinkle like crystals on the frosted glass window panes. The old light used to fill the room with a rather sickening yellowish half-light. The new one looks rather like subtle moonlight, and catches the lower branches of the trees above the tube opposite in a most pleasing way. The squirrels who live there must be a little confused all of a sudden, however.

Monday, 27 April 2015

4 hours 50

It's just taken me 4 hours and fifty five minutes to drive the 125 miles from Weston-Super-Mare to London and I am rigid with clutch foot and nervous exhaustion! I suspect none of our problems would have happened had I not missed the turn from the M5 onto the M4 and blithely charged 25 miles towards the midlands without even noticing! We decided to remedy the situation by taking a cross country route through places like Cirencester and Stroud and back to the M4, but, despite travelling through absolutely stunning scenery, which I'm really pleased to have seen, my little lapse of concentration must have added forty minutes to the journey.

Stroud brought back a very specific childhood memory; that of driving home from a family holiday on the high street of the town and the boot of our car flying open and scattering our dirty laundry and suitcases all over the main road! I remember my mother rushing about with a load of passers by picking up old knickers and toothbrushes, whilst my brother wept in the back of the car, repeatedly telling us all that the holiday had been ruined!

Still, how about the scenery around Cirencester? How beautiful are those hills and mills?

We joined the M4 and rapidly hit the mother of all traffic jams, caused by an accident near Reading which I later learned was so serious that an air ambulance had to be called. The jury is out as to whether we'd have avoided the crash had I not made the wrong turn or, heaven forbid, hit the very spot where it happened just as it happened... There but for the grace of God go we all!

You do sometimes see the most wonderful things in times of crisis, however. At one point in the jam, when all vehicles were at a complete standstill, a young woman exited her car and rushed over to a lorry driver in an adjacent lane with a slice of lemon cake! He'd obviously seen her eating it, pulled a sad face or something, and she'd decided he ought to try a piece. It was a wonderful little moment.

This morning we walked along the sea front in Weston-Super-Mare. It's a very lovely little seaside town, which isn't at all as down-at-heel as you might expect. The only troubling aspect of the day was the sheer number of UKIP posters in people's windows down there. One of the penthouse flats on the esplanade took advantage of its elevated position and was displaying three enormous billboards, which I found both tasteless and terrifying.

We stopped in a little cafe overlooking the marina, where David had a black coffee with a dash of brandy, which smelt absolutely divine. I like neither coffee nor brandy, so knew I would hate the taste of it, but it did smell rather lovely...

Saturday, 25 April 2015


We've been in Exeter all day with Nathan and his Dad, on a wonderful trek into their family's past. This is where Nathan's father, David, was born. In fact, at one point, we saw the very spot; an upstairs window in a house on an estate with views over beautiful green hills. You're never far from beautiful green hills in Devon...

Our trip started in a suburb of Exeter called Topsham, where Nathan's Uncle Graham lives. We were essentially dropping in on people unannounced, and I was really struck by the fact that each of the three houses we visited were filled to the rafters with people; mostly other family members. Many of David and Nathan's tribe have remained in the place they grew up, so they drop in on each other on a daily basis - unannounced and often without knocking! My family are scattered around the four corners of the UK, so couldn't be like that if we wanted to, but I thought how wonderful it must be to have an extended family network around you, to share the burden of child-rearing and to make sure the elderly don't get lonely.

Uncle Graham was with his sparky sixteen-year old granddaughter, who keeps him topped up with cheeky banter and the odd tot of whiskey. They were a rather charming odd couple!

We had lunch surrounded by gay men (bit odd...) in a pub in the village before heading to the opposite side of Exeter to see Nathan's Auntie Sandra and his heavily-pregnant cousin Sarah, who are actually relatives on his mother's side. We were fed tea and an apricot sponge cake, and entertained by a gorgeous pedigree red border collie called Ted.  Some dogs are profoundly intelligent: you can see it in their eyes. This was one of the brightest dogs I've ever met.

From there, we drove to the St Loyes area of the city, which was very much the stomping ground of the young David. It's obviously a Labour Party stronghold, because there were red and luminous yellow signs in windows as far as the eye could see. I was intrigued to note that the sitting MP in the area is Ben Bradshaw. Ben is an openly gay man who was elected on that astonishing May evening in 1997 when we all thought the world was going to change for the better forever. Ben had expected to become the first openly gay man ever to be elected to parliament, but was pipped to the post by a young man called Stephen Twigg, who, against all the odds had beaten defence secretary Michael Portillo in Enfield Southgate in a moment which would come to define the election, and the end of an eighteen-year Tory reign, which had destroyed the miners, persecuted gay people, and turned several generations into selfish, money-obsessed little fascists. Stephen Twigg happened to be my partner at the time, and, as a result, in those early years, I hung out a fair amount with Ben Bradshaw and his partner, Neil. In fact, when I went to Labour Party events with Stephen, people would often assume I WAS Ben Bradshaw... Often leading to terribly embarrassing exchanges...

We called in on Nathan's Auntie Diane and his cousins Donna and Alison, whose house was full to the rafters. By that point I was buzzing on tea!

The last visit was to Nathan's Auntie Lorna, the charming 80 year-old matriarch of the family, who was surrounded by three generations of her family, one of whom spoke just like Ricky Jervais! We looked at photographs. There was a picture of Nathan's grandparents getting married in the late 1920s, which I found particularly moving. The two people in the photo would be destined to have ten children, eight of whom survived into adulthood, and from those eight children scores of grandchildren and even more great grandchildren. A successful dynasty by any standard. Nathan stops counting his cousins when he gets to fifty... I have four!

We came back to Weston Super Mare and had tea in a local gastro pub before coming home to finish the remainder of the delicious Banoffee Pie which Liz had made us the night before.  A fabulous end to a fabulous day.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Super mares

We're in Weston-Super-Mare, at Nathan's father and wicked step mother's charming new house. We've all eaten too much. Liz fed us a beautiful meal - macaroni cheese and a tricolore salad - and now all I want to do is sleep. It's amazing how tired a certain type of food will make you feel! It's also the end of a very stressful week, which would have wiped anyone out, I suspect.

We did a morning of frantic work... I had to send a bunch of emails and do a shed-load of admin. One of the things we've been asked to do, as part of research for a major project, was list what we consider to be the world's five most successful musicals. "Successful" is, of course, a hugely subjective word, and we've been told that we can judge success either from a commercial or a creative perspective.

So my five musicals were Les Mis, West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar, Wicked and Oliver. Nathan went for Les Mis, Grease, Merrily We Roll Along, London Road and Matilda.

The tendency, of course, is to write down all of your favourite musicals, which for me would have included Sweany Todd, Nine and Oh! What a Lovely War, but because artistic merit is more difficult to prove than commercial success, I stuck to a list of financially successful shows, and chose my favourite from those.

So come on then... If you're reading this, and you're partial to the odd musical, what would you have as your top five most successful musicals ever? Remember, you can judge a show creatively or commercially... Your lists will plainly make me realise I've missed half a tonne of brilliant musicals off my own!

The journey down here was pleasant enough. I drove, and we stopped at Chieveley services.

I don't know the West of England at all. It's Nathan's homeland, and he instantly broke into a peculiar Somerset accent when we stopped at the local Morrisons! The people in these parts, he says, are his people. I know exactly what he means. When I hit certain parts of the Midlands, or North Wales, I instantly recognise my own tribe.

I don't recognise the people down here in the same way, however. They all have slightly funny mouths, if I'm honest, which I think comes from the peculiar accent they have in these parts. Nathan says they're the nicest people in Britain. He's wrong. The nicest people in Britain come from Coventry... Where people's mouths are slightly less strangely shaped!

Thursday, 23 April 2015


A day can make a great deal of difference, and I am presently curled up on the sofa with Nathan, feeling a great deal less blue than I did this time yesterday... And on that note, a massive thank you to all the people who sent messages. Believe me, they spurred us both on!

I'm still unable to talk about the thing that was causing us the greatest amount of stress, but I can confirm that, following a meeting this morning in Central London, the issue has been satisfactorily resolved and both of us are hugely relieved. We popped back home to change and found a little bag of chocolates from Little Welsh Nathalie downstairs, who'd read the blog, and decided we needed a pick-me-up. It was a wonderful gesture which touched us enormously. We have both agreed that she is, without doubt, the best neighbour in carnation. Considerate, bohemian, beautiful AND Welsh!

We travelled to Spaldwick this afternoon to attend the funeral of Lisa's stepfather, Kim, who, it's rather sad to think, is the first of our wedding guests no longer to reside in the land of the living.

Spaldwick church is, of course, where we said goodbye to Lisa's son, George, my honorary Godson, and it was also where Lisa's brother, Will got married just a few weeks ago, the ceremony brought forward from August so that a very poorly Kim could attend the very happy day. It is therefore a church filled with hugely contrasting memories for Lisa and her family.

For me, it will remain the place where I watched hundreds of white balloons flying up into the heavens when George died, which remains one of the most beautiful images I've ever witnessed. The weather was remarkably similar today; beautiful, unbroken sunshine.

The funeral itself was very dignified and I'm thrilled to announce that we got to listen to a song by Doris Day and got to sing Jerusalem. What an astonishing hymn that is. It's the only hymn I know which makes me proud to be (almost) English and happy to acknowledge the Christian faith! Kim's sons Will and Ben read the eulogy, and his wife, Sally, was beautiful and brave throughout. Kim had already been interred at a brief ceremony in the morning, so, with the absence of a coffin, the funeral became a celebration of his life, which is perhaps how these things ought to be.

After the service, we went around the back of the church to stand quietly at Little George's memorial stone. Just as I bent down to touch it, I felt something wet and horrible splashing across my hand and waistcoat. A bird had opened its bowels above me and I'd taken a direct hit! I'm not sure if it was George or Kim having the laugh, but I took it to be a sign of a change in fortune. Being shat on by a bird is plainly a blessing... Or so they say!

We left the churchyard and headed across to the pub where the family had laid on THE most stunning selection of cakes, which included scones piled sky high with cream. Jam then cream. Is that Devon or Cornwall?

We made new friends and caught up with old ones. The Spaldwick community is a remarkably special one.

There was a wonderful moment when a plane, which might have been a Hurricane or some such, flew incredibly low, direct over the pub, no doubt on its way to RAF Brampton. Kim was ex-RAF, so we all took it to be a wonderful and serendipitous tribute.

We actually ended up going to the village of Brampton on our way home, largely because I'd taken a ludicrous wrong turning off the A14. Brampton is, of course, the childhood home of Samuel Pepys, and the house that his father owned still exists on the outskirts of the village.

I'd never visited it before, and it's a charming cottage with a stunning little blossom tree in the front garden. It felt rather magical to be standing there whilst the orange sun set.

We stopped off in Muswell Hill on the way home and found ourselves drifting around Sainsbury, where, at the checkout, we stood behind an old man, who was buying a cabbage and a "reduced to clear" pre-packaged selection of roasted vegetables for twenty pence. My response to the man probably says more about my current state of mind than anything I've written in this blog for weeks. The old man was plainly cooking for one, and, because he seemed to be friendlily (and somewhat hopefully) waving at everyone in the shop, I decided that he was both lonely and poor... And nothing hits my buttons more effectively than that particular combination. Nathan, of course, pointed out that the bloke was probably heading home to his wife, thrilled with his bargain, and furthermore that he might have been waving at people in the shop because they were all his friends... I'd already vanished into a haze of pity for him.

...And for the next ten minutes, I'm embarrassed to report, I wept. I wept like a baby because of the old man. But I guess I wasn't really weeping for him. I was weeping for Sally and Abbie's Mum and all the other recently bereaved people who must be feeling lonely tonight. I was weeping with relief that Nathan is okay. Weeping because I've been holding so much stress inside for so long... And weeping for joy because hope has returned once again, and he's a very welcome visitor!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Down in the dumps

There are days when blogs like mine are simply a waste of everyone's time, and I suspect today is one of them! I've got a bit of a grump on. It's been a tough old day, which was made even worse when we received a series of emails from people who worked with us on Our Gay Wedding saying they hoped to see us at the BAFTA nominees party tonight... A party we'd not been invited to! In fact, everyone else has has their invitations to the ceremony as well...

We were later told there'd been an oversight, and of course it's no one's fault, but what a way to make a pair of blokes feel just that little bit crappier than they already do!

I can't really go into too many details about what's going on at the moment, but Nathan and I are riding a rather rocky roller-coaster, which is beginning to grind us both into the ground. There's nothing like a glitzy awards ceremony to make you realise that life is full of rather cruel contradictions. They feel unreal at the best of times, but when you're going through the mill, they can seem a little bit grostesque! We will of course dust ourselves down and face the world with a smile tomorrow, and I have to keep reminding myself that however dark the shadows get, Nathan and I will always have each other and be able to provide an almost impenetrable shell that will protect us against whatever the wicked world decides to throw at us.

We hit a bit of a low patch at tea time and decided our only option was to go online to find a special deal on one of the restaurants in the Village, and, with that, we took ourselves off for a meal out. We went to Cafe Rouge, which is a tad fancy for two blokes without a bean to rub together, but the experience allowed us to think and talk about positive stuff whilst overdosing on cheese and carbohydrates!

Anyway. I shall be quite pleased when today is over so that I can make the most of tomorrow! And if anyone reading this blog is also feeling a bit blue, I shall be sending you double quantities of love tonight...

Floating balls of light

We're in a car speeding along the M11 from Northern Essex. At about 4pm this afternoon, seeing what a lovely day it was, Nathan and I jumped in the car and headed off to see the parents in Thaxted.

I was very pleased that we went. We were able to stroll down to the spot which my mum has started to describe as the "cosmic place;" that little corner of a field behind the village where the brook turns a corner and the trees whisper secrets to one another.

We were fed a magnificent meal which my mother described as eccentric because it was the product of her defrosting the freezer! We had some little filo pies that she didn't even recognise. I wasn't sure if they were savoury or sweet, but they tasted very good.

After eating, we popped back out and watched the sun setting over another field behind the village. It was magical to watch the clouds and vapour trails turning from yellow through gold and orange to purple. The moon was the merest crescent. Jupiter hovered in the sky above it. I wondered what Turner would have made of vapour trails. They have entirely changed the way we perceive the sky and I'm convinced his paintings would have been thick with them.

We sat in the sitting room. Nathan knitted. I did a bit more work on the music quiz. It was very relaxed and lovely.

As we drove back home through the darkened country lanes we could see planes taking off and arriving at Stansted Airport; balls of light like giant stars floating above the horizon. It's a rather eerie sight, but one that I've come to enjoy.

Monday, 20 April 2015


I've gone almost cross-eyed today sorting out rounds for our music quiz on May 9th. I've learned how to use Garage Band just to splice the chosen tracks together. I'm marching along...

I took myself for a massage in the late afternoon to see if I could get my shoulder sorted out. Honestly, you get to my age and suddenly can't remember how it feels to not have some part of the skeletal system which isn't quite working properly! I'm told it only gets worse. Call the vet and pop me in a bin on your way home..:

My masseuse is called Peter, and he lives down the hill and through the wood, which is about as Enid Blyton as any description could get. The sad truth is that down the hill and through the wood takes a man from Highgate to the infamous Cranley Gardens, the erstwhile home of serial killer, Denis Nilsen, who dispatched about fifteen young gay men in the 70s and 80s when Highgate was a lawless frontier and there was no such thing as a hate crime against a gaybo!

Anyway, today the area looked exactly like the sort of place which ought to be down a hill and through a wood. The streets were lined with blossom trees and the houses were covered in lilac wisteria. I tried to convince Peter to vote Liberal Democrat. I'm not a natural liberal, but a constituency MP like Lynne Featherstone is utterly worth keeping. This is the woman who brought in the gay marriage bill, and is currently doing great things in the fight against FGM. More importantly she's also the woman who sorted out the fly-tipping in the alleyway behind my house, and bashed Haringey Council's multiple heads together when they mistakenly sent the bailiffs in!

Massaged, and light-headed, I came home and insisted that Nathan come up to the Heath with me to take advantage of the glorious last forty-five minutes of sunshine.

We sat in our favourite spot, which is up towards Kenwood in the huge field where the green parakeets hang out in large numbers. It's a beautiful place to sit whilst the sun sets and turns the parakeets into flitting emerald darts. We sat on a rug, and ate hummus, cream cheese and bread from the delicatessen at the top of Southwood Lane whilst dogs gambolled and skipped around us.


We've just spent the evening with Hilary, rather unexpectedly, on her beautiful boat in Chelsea Harbour.

I now completely understand why someone might want to live in a house boat. One might assume it would be claustrophobic, low-ceilinged, and unsettling on the stomach, but in actual fact, the movements of the boat are incredibly gentle, and the living spaces are small enough to feel cosy but not so small they feel stuffy or enclosed.

We had a lovely night: great food in the form of a vegetable tagine, and wonderful chats about musical theatre, child-rearing and our recent trip to France. Hilary told us she'd been surprised to learn that Hitler had served in the First World War. This particular factoid came up as we were being shown around the Beaumont Hamel trenches. I think he was at Vimy Ridge, amongst other places, which is why our Canadian guide was so knowledgeable on the subject.

We had a bit of fun doing some filming for the Pepys Motet album. I've decided to shoot a little promo video for that project as well as the more professional one we're doing for Brass. It's almost impossible to market any recording these days without some kind of film which can do the rounds on social media, so we got the candles and lanterns out and had a play.

I'm ashamed to say that the rest of the day was spent doing admin. I had a lot to do - quite a lot of which was for our music quiz on May 9th - and Nathan was working on a knitting commission, so it made sense for us to sit next to one another working, but only communicating from time to time.

Speaking of which, I'm now in bed, and my husband is merrily snoring next to me, which must mean it's time to sleep!

Saturday, 18 April 2015


I went to Kew today with Philippa, Dylan and my godchildren, Deia and Silver. And what a uniquely beautiful day it was...

We met at Highbury and Islington train station. They were changing trains and had five minutes to get the kids, a heavily-laden buggy and two scooters from one platform to another. It doesn't sound like a massive challenge, but when you have two young children, any journey is littered with an astonishing amount of potential hazards, so it was astounding that we managed to hook up and change trains in our allotted time period without major incident!

Kew is lovely at any time of the year, but on a stunning spring morning, it's almost unbeatable. The tube station is surrounded by charming little independent shops, one of which is a somewhat eccentric charity-shop-cum-newsagent. Musty rails of clothes and old jigsaws rubbing shoulders with cans of coke and chocolate racks. There are artisan bread stalls and funky-looking cafés. It's really very lovely.

The walk from the tube to Kew Gardens is only about five minutes, and takes you along palm tree-lined streets. It's slightly peculiar to see palms in London, but there's more than a whiff of the art nouveaus about the area, so it all seems to fit in.

Kew Gardens was bathed in sunlight. There were so many flowers in bloom. Tulips, daffodils, magnolia, cherry blossom. It's Kew Gardens! I'm not sure why I'm even attempting to list the riot of flowers we saw today.

We went first to the palm glass house. It's hot, wet and sticky in there, which is never good news for an hairy man like me. We climbed a wrought iron spiral staircase to a walkway right in the roof of the building which looks down over the canopy of palms. It's particularly hot up there. Uncomfortably so, but worth it for the view. The building is the most astonishing feat of Victorian architecture. You can still imagine why Victorians were frightened to go in these sorts of buildings for fear of plates of glass falling on their heads.

After an hour we exited the glass house, dripping in sweat, and made our way to a set of cherry blossom trees for a picnic lunch. Philippa had made cheese and hummus sandwiches which were, in a word, delicious.

We walked on through the gardens, though a sort of Mediterranean grotto, to a Henry Moore sculpture of a mother and child, which was warm to the touch on the parts which were in direct sunlight, and freezing cold in the parts that were in the shade. I rather liked the sensual contrast.

We went from the statue to the treetop walkway, which is a fifty-foot-high giant metal structure which gives people the opportunity to walk along a pathway which crosses the tops of a series of incredibly tall trees. It's vertigo-inducing stuff, particularly when it's as blustery as it was this afternoon. The entire structure wobbles and shakes.

For the rest of the afternoon we hung out at the children's play area, which is a particularly fine one. Deia and Silver had a lot of fun jumping and running about whilst we drank a lovely cup of tea.

The journey home was uneventful, but for our needing to stop off at Willesden Green because Deia needed the loo. It was no hardship. It  gave us an opportunity to have another cuppa in the station cafe, which, for the record, is a lovely little spot, run by a lovely little man!

Nathan picked me up from Gospel Oak, and I was home before 7, feeling hugely relaxed and more than a little sun-kissed. I worked this evening.

Late night

Of course I’ve woken up in the night and realised I haven’t blogged. It’s no real hardship. I’ve always liked this time in the morning. It feels very still and magical. All the senses are much more heightened. Cars continue to drift along the A1 outside whilst halogen street lights drifts in. 

I’m watching the BBC Young Dancer of the year. This week focusses on contemporary dance, which seems like a load of nonsense, really, with its contractions, random body flinging and non-specific acting. I’m slightly irritated to see that four out of the five finalists are from London; proof positive for me that young people in London are blessed with opportunity whilst those in the sticks fade to grey. 

It’s also interesting to note that there’s a large amount of ethnic diversity within the five finalists, in fact, the Northern lad is the only one I’d probably describe as white. I’m genuinely all for that, but am also aware that I’m not looking at a representation of the statistical ethnic make-up of the British Isles… Yet again, I’m left wondering if the disadvantaged white kids in Northern and Midlands schools are getting as much access to culture as those down south.

The other thing I’d say is that all five finalists (apart from the Northern lad) sound quite posh… another indication from my perspective that the divides in this country are not racial but class-based.

Anyhow… There are enough people standing on imaginary soap boxes at the moment, so that’s plenty enough philosophising from me. 

There’s not a lot else to write about today, which was spent doing admin, writing press releases, entering another competition I haven’t got a hope of winning and repeatedly listening to one of PK’s rough mixes from the Brass soundtrack. Today’s song was the epic Prologue, which is twice the length of any song, and seemed to generate a huge number of notes despite my being hugely happy with it on first hearing. 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Lost musicals

Nathan and I have just been to see an evening of excerpts from new musicals at LOST Theatre in Vauxhall. LOST (and I'm told I must write it in capitals despite not knowing what it's an acronym for) is a lovely little theatre space in the middle of nowhere. If it were anywhere else in London it might stand a chance of being a popular venue, but it's miles from any tube, in the middle of 1960s brutalist housing blocks, and windswept streets scattered with Caribbean cafés and Asian convenience stores.

I'm afraid the shows we watched largely irritated me. Writing a musical is something which has to be taken seriously.  You need a plot, you need dramatic songs which further the plot, and you need subtle dialogue. More than anything else, you need to do your research to avoid crashing anachronisms which make an audience wince.  I don't think I saw a single song in all four excerpts which didn't feel like it had been crowbarred in in some way. The large majority of songs were written in the pop idiom and there wasn't a single character on stage who I gave a damn about. I just kept wanting to scream that we HAVE to do better than this in this country. We HAVE to write better musicals. We must learn to respect the art form.

Julie had produced one of the pieces, which, in fairness, was the one which showed the largest amount of potential. She's been a hands-off producer on the project, so I don't feel bad about saying that it wasn't wholly successful. The show is in its infancy, and putting thirty minutes of it on its feet was a good exercise which will have taught everyone a great deal. She'd assembled a top-notch cast, however, who acted and sang the s**t out of the piece. It's funny: within a minute of a group of actors waking onto a stage, you know whether or not you're in a safe pair of hands, or need to hold your breath for a bumpy ride. The three women in Julie's piece passed that particular test as soon as the lights went up. You can tell an assured actor sometimes just by their stance.

There's not much else to say about today, other than that I did admin. Today's task was working on copy for the inner sleeve of the two albums we're releasing. PK sent me the second draft of the first three songs from Brass, so a fair amount of the afternoon was spent listening to them. He's done a great job... Unsurprisingly!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Filming in the garden

Another day of hard core admin which found me sitting at the kitchen table firing off emails left, right and centre.

I did manage to leave the house for an hour before lunch when I took my computer down to Highgate Wood and sat on a bench working. I took a mug of tea with me which generated an astonishing amount of attention, which seemed a touch unnecessary. I mean, you wouldn't stare at someone walking down the street with a paper cup from Costa would you?!

Sitting in Highgate Wood, which we all know is the North London habitat for yummy mummies, I was astounded by how much baby talk I could hear. I'm told there's a reason why women talk to their children in ghastly high voices. I mean, it's plainly not just because we're trying to bring up a generation of backward counter tenors, is it? Some of the games that mums have to play with their kids are freakishly dull as well. Peek-a-boo is particularly loathsome, as it anything which involves repetition. It's a good job I'm not a Dad. I'd be giving it five minutes before announcing utter boredom and telling the children they need to find a mutation of the game which is more mentally stimulating... or they're on their own. I never talk to children in silly high-pitched voices either. They have to learn that low voices are far more interesting, and that head voices are for imbeciles, guitar-playing junior school teachers, opera singers... And Fern Britton.

Nathan came home from teaching at Urdang school and immediately vanished into the sitting room to record his fortnightly knitting vlog.

I continued working through the admin stuff until about 6pm, when we went out into the glorious evening sunshine and drove up to Ali Pali, which was bathed in a rich orange light. The idea had been to do a bit of experimentation with filming on my camera, but it didn't go particularly well. I wanted blossom billowing from the trees, but the few trees of blossom that were there weren't ready to let go of their floral cargoes, and the sun was always in the wrong place. After a few attempts, we aborted and came back home.

Never one to have a wasted day, I immediately went into the garden and set up a night time film shoot with our chimnea and a shed load of candles, which glinted in the still night air. Little Welsh Nathalie and Richard came down to give us a hand, and became "fire drop" monitors, standing above Nathan, dropping little pieces of tin foil down on him which almost looked like specs of falling flames.

I'm actually trying to record a video for the Pepys Motet album launch and have opted to film the Great Fire of London movement. The concept for the piece is to film various performers on the recording singing just two lines where their voice is particularly prominent. The idea is to always film at night - in different modern London locations - but for each of the shots to have a bit of fire in them, mostly in the form of candles or lanterns.

Nathalie brought her beautiful candelabra down which became the star of the shoot. Frankly, all the twinkling stuff I had hanging from trees became rather pointless. What we've filmed looks fab. I've just taken a look at the rushes. I'm excited to get someone else in the can. Lots of possibilities...

Tuesday, 14 April 2015


I went to bed ludicrously early last night. 11pm. Something like that. Nathan tricked me into thinking it was midnight because he thought I needed the sleep. Which I did. I slept through to 8am without even noticing that I was alive.

I did a morning's admin. I was like a whirling dervish ticking things off an ever-growing list of things to do, whilst applying Vicks vapour rub to the neuralgia nonsense on my upper arm. Obviously Deep Heat would have been a tad more appropriate, but the Vicks made things tingle in a different kind of way, which felt suitably decadent... I called my parents and discovered that they are also suffering from colds, which we no doubt passed onto them during Tim's wedding weekend.

I went into town to meet Nathan for a lateish lunch. He'd had a fairly awful morning at the box office on account of a ghastly customer who'd been immensely rude and then cried racism when he gave her a piece of his mind in return. Playing the race card as and when it suits is a despicable act because there is almost no come back. Crying racism, Islamaphobia, or homophobia merely frightens people into acquiescence and makes any victory an incredibly shallow one.

I came home and tried to consolidate files on various computers, mass storage devices and goodness knows what else. Every device I was using had some kind of remedial issue which made accessing their contents a complete nightmare. I was using slave keyboards and holding pet rat-chewed wires together with my finger tips. I was searching for various scores, photos and documents pertaining to the Pepys Motet and Oranges and Lemons, the latter I was horrified to learn was written six whole years ago... As I looked through various documents from various points in my life, I started to feel incredibly old; like a wizened old hoofer who finds a pair of tap shoes in an old chest and briefly remembers the time when he was able to do wings, Maxi Fords and a triple time step, all at the same time! Instead, I remembered the days when it didn't matter that I was poor!

At 9.30pm I finally located the last piece in the cyber jigsaw and was able to stop for the day and watch a few episodes of the sitcom Marry Me - which I recommend wholeheartedly. It's on Channel 4 OD, where you can still watch our wedding... as it happens.

Monday, 13 April 2015


My day started at Tate Britain this morning where I met Penny for tea, which became lunch, and a glorious look around an exhibition of pioneering photos, many of which were taken in the 1830s. They were quite astonishing to look at. In some cases I found myself peering into the faces of people dressed in Regency clothing. We all have a basic concept of what the Victorians looked like, as a result of seeing some of those famous shots of people like Isambard Kingdom Brunel in top hats and frock coats, but I've never seen a picture of a group of woman in empire line frocks before, or a photo of a man in white breeches a la Colin Firth in Jane Austin! It was eye-opening. Genuinely. It was also fun to look at some of the early Victorian female hair dos, with their carefully coifed great big scoops of hair sort of hanging down on the sides of the face like giant circular side burns. We're used to seeing something similar in period dramas, but in these cases it's very much the 21st Century version of the look. The original dos were a great deal more surreal and gravity-defying!

The Tate Britain is a fascinating and much-ignored little gallery, which has been utterly eclipsed by its flashier Tate Modern brother. It's actually a really nice place just to be. It sells lovely food and isn't full of insane tourists. There are a few brilliant pieces of art there as well including Mark Gertler's Vorticist masterpiece, Merry-go-round, which I was trilled to see today.

I came home and went into admin overdrive. There is so much to do in preparation for the various projects I've got on at the moment. We have a fundraising music quiz to prepare, a filming day to prep and two albums to release, both of which need press releases and inner sleeves... I've also got to find myself some paid work. Perhaps as a result of all of this, I have neuralgia all the way down my left arm, which got so bad this evening, I was forced to take a paracetamol. I also had a bath before cooking, which made me over-heat like crazy. I'm currently sitting in the front room like an elderly Cypriot lady, sitting on the doorstep, flapping my polyester skirt to keep my biddy-bits cool!

I switched the telly on at one point and got extremely upset watching one of those fly-on-the-wall ob-docs about road cops in the Home Counties. I was fairly appalled by their behaviour if I'm honest. A group of immigrants were arrested for stealing a bag of charity clothes from outside a supermarket. I think if anyone needs to steel clothes from a charity bank, they should be allowed to do so with everyone's blessing. The police behaviour felt nasty, heavy-handed and, if I'm honest, a little racist. No one deserves to be hand cuffed and taken to a police station for "steeling" charity bags. An announcement at the end of the show said the men had been let off because no one could prove who the original owners of the clothes were. One of the policemen kept saying that it was the principle of the matter that he was objecting too. He said the same thing after arresting someone else for steeling a broken cat scratcher from next to a dustbin out on the street. Frankly, I think he was doing someone a favour by taking it. Perhaps because this particular man was Irish, the policeman did that thing where he said he could smell alcohol and therefore needed to do a breast test. The test registered zero unsurprisingly. I say unsurprisingly because the same thing happened to me one night on the A1 when I was stopped and breathalysed. I don't drink. I certainly don't drink and drive, so I was actually horrified and offended when the policeman said he could smell alcohol on me. Like the man in the film, I registered zero. I think they say they can smell it, because it justifies doing the test in their mind. The programme ended and I was left wondering what police spend most of their time doing.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Powder blue

Our day started this morning with a buffet breakfast in our lovely hotel. It is an absolute treat to eat proper French baguettes in a French hotel. Crispy on the outside, soft in the middle: a dollop of cherry jam and a smear of Nutella = joy!

We went to a supermarket first thing. Nothing tends to be open in France on a Sunday, so we were hugely lucky to find anywhere to buy anything. It turned out that we didn't actually have anything to buy, but trips around foreign supermarkets are always a treat... Although these days there are disappointingly few differences between supermarkets and their supermarché cousins,

We spent the morning at the Beaumont Hamel monument to Newfoundlanders killed in the First World War. It was my third trip there and the place never ceases to amaze, move and surprise...

We had a guided tour with a very charming young Canadian student called Brendan, whom we all fell in love with a little! I think he was a little surprised and impressed to find a group of people who knew so much about the Battle of the Somme! The questions we asked him forced him to think quite hard!

We learned a great deal from Brendan. We learned that all the trees on the site are all native trees in Newfoundland, planted there so that the men buried on the site could feel like they were spending eternity in familiar surroundings. We also learned that the land itself was initially bought by Newfoundland women; one assumes the wives and mothers of the dead who were unable to think of another way to process their grief. It turns out that their decision to leave the site exactly as it had been during the last moment of battle, and merely to let grass grow over the jagged scars of No-Man's-Land, was inspired. It meant people like me could stand on a vantage point and look across the battlefield, getting a true sense of the scale of events, and exactly what a hell zone those men had faced on July 1st, 1916.

We walked around the site, across No-Man's-Land and over the German front line trenches. It's such a tranquil, beautiful place. Our conversations turned philosophical and spiritual. I did a bit of communing with nature. I think the place made us all contemplate the meaning of at least something.

We took ourselves off to Bus-Les-Artois, which is where the Leeds Pals were billeted. Things in those parts are always a little Groundhog Day-like. You go to Serre, and the farmer comes up and asks if you know Judi Dench. When you go to Bus, a lovely chap called Lobel appears and offers to show you his tiny museum to the Pals in a barn in his garden. This is a place which so inspired Brass. The little doll's tea set there, for example, inspired Harry and Emmie's story and the barn Losel went on to show us the first time we visited the place was used as Erik's inspiration for the show's set.

It was particularly lovely to see Lobel today as we were able to hand him a copy of the programme which he is thanked in. I thought what a surreal experience it must have been for him to meet a group of seeming strangers, all of whom knew his name, and were handing him a programme with his name inside!

From Bus we went to Auchenvilliers, and had lunch in the Ocean Villas Tea Rooms which is what the Tommies fondly called that particular village. There was a tendency for British soldiers to parody and Anglicise all French and Belgian place names, and Ocean Villas was a particularly good one in my view.

The tea room is run by Brits, and has a charmingly Greasy spoon vibe. The place also has a trench in the back garden, which has been reconstructed on the site of one of a number of communication trenches which ran through Auchenvilliers and on to Serre during the war. I think I'm right in saying that the Leeds Pals were in this particular village the night before they went over the top, so standing in a communication trench, which some of them might have stood in at that terrifying, life-changing moment, felt incredibly poignant.

I could think of a lot worse than running a little tea room in the Somme region in my retirement...

I jumped in Julie's car for the short hop from Ocean Villas to Serre, namely because she had the roof of the car down and I wanted to experience the joy of driving through the beautiful spring French countryside with the sun-kissed air battering my face. There was blossom everywhere. Daffodils. Primroses. Aubrecia. The joy of a late spring is that everything bursts into colour at once.

We walked around Serre for an hour, and Abbie, Hils and Julie finally got to see where so many of the Pals had lost their lives. One of the little cemeteries there has fewer than seventy graves but more than half of them were Leeds Pals.

From Serre we drove north-east, beyond Vimy Ridge and Neuf Chapelle to a cemetery on the outskirts of Hazebrouck, where Sam's Great Uncle Bertram lies at rest. It was incredibly moving to see Sam paying his respects, silently staring down at the little white grave, eyes filled with dignified tears. Seeing his surname on a gravestone was strange for me, but must have been even odder for him.

I'll struggle to forget the sky which hung over us throughout the day: powder blue always, and, in the morning, criss-crossed with white vapour trails. Whilst we communed with Sam's Great Uncle, layer after layer of tiny fluffy white clouds appeared, neatly spaced across the entire sky.

As we reached the ferry, the sun started to set, and by the time we'd reached the deck, there was a glorious sunset which made our faces glow orange. A stunning end to a very special day.

We listened to Brass as we headed home. It felt appropriate, somehow.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Albert again

We're sitting in the Ibis hotel in Albert in Picardy, France. There are eight of us here: Julie, Nathan, Abbie, Matt, Sam, Meriel, Hilary and me. We've spent the day trekking across fields and wandering around cemeteries in weather which can only be described as inclement.

The day started at 5am, with a car journey through Kent mist to Dover. The ferry was crowded; rammed to the rafters with spectacularly ugly people. Heaven knows what the French must think of us if that's the calibre of human being regularly invading their country!

We drove speedily down to Albert from Calais, the weather getting steadily more cloudy. There's a moment when you turn off the motorway, south of Arras, when you suddenly realise you're in the midst of the poppy trail, or the "circuit de souvenir" as they call it in these parts. My heart always starts pounding really fast when I see town names like Auchenvilliers, Pozièrs and La Boiselle. Their names fill me with a mixture of sadness, excitement and yearning... Almost as though I were some sort of reincarnated Tommy! Perhaps I am.

Our own tour started at the Lochnagar Crater, which is the site of one of the world's largest ever explosions on July 1st, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. It was the site of a bewildering number of German and British casualties, and the place where many of the Grimsby Chums met their end.

We drove from the crater to Serre, where the Leeds Pals went over the top. Sadly, our sat nav really shafted us by taking us down a single track road which got thinner and thinner and eventually became just tractor marks on the edge of a cornfield. It was an horrific and fairly terrifying experience, particularly for poor Julie in her Mercedes, which struggled and then broke down with a big chunk of the exhaust becoming dislodged. Google maps have a LOT to answer for...

To make matters worse, when we'd finally limped our way to Serre, we got out of the car, and were instantly drowned by a terrible rain storm. We stood in a cemetery under an arch, shaking in the cold, wondering how much worse the day was going to get. The only positive was that I was able to say a quick hello to my Great Great Uncle, young William Mabberley. We also got to see the mad farmer who haunts those parts stopping tourists, asking them if they're English then asking if they  know Judi Dench. When I was there with Sara Kestelman, the answer was a categorical "yes."

We cut our losses and legged it to the Thiepval monument, which we knew had a little visitors centre which would at least keep us dry, and by the time we'd emerged, the sun was shining again.

Hilary and I could hear a random bell-like sound coming from a distant corner of the monument site, and, assuming it was some sort of curious sound sculpture, decided to explore. It turns out it was the detritus of some sort of visual art project involving flags. The rusty flag poles were still standing, with bits of wire bouncing off them in the wind... And it was these wires which were causing the fascinating bell-like sounds. The sign was still there which told us what the original art work had been. I reckon what had been left in its wake was a vast improvement!

After Thiepval, Julie, Hils and Abbie returned to Albert to find a mechanic to help with the car, whilst Mez, Sam, Matt, Nathan and I returned to Serre in the glorious evening sunshine to commune with the Pals. It's such a special place; utterly at peace with itself in a strange sort of way. The fields had just been ploughed which meant there were large amounts of 100 year-old chunks of metal on the footpaths; the remains of shells and bits of barbed wire. Nathan scoured a field and found all sorts of interesting artefacts.

We returned to Albert and met up with the others in the lovely Cafe Higge, which, since coming to these parts is practically the only place I've eaten!

The night ended on the town square, with Julie teaching Sam and Meriel Jewish line dancing around the fountain whilst the golden Madonna and Child peered down on us from the top of the Cathedral. Perfect.

Friday, 10 April 2015


I'm exhausted. We're all exhausted. We're currently at Julie's house, lying in a bit of a heap, having a competition to see who's the most exhausted...

My day started in Victoria with young Harry from the Brass pit band. Harry played flugelhorn and trumpet in the show and on the cast recording. We walked down Victoria Street, sat on a little grassy knoll opposite Westminster Abbey and ate dry muffins and drank tea in the glorious sunshine. We talked about everything; musical theatre, trans-awareness, film casting... At one point there was a tiny flurry of rain which neither of us commented on!

I rushed home to Highgate, flung some things in a bag, jumped in the car and then drove to Seven Oaks in Kent to see how this year's NYMT rehearsals were getting on. The three productions the company are staging this year are Pendragon, Sweet Charity and Prodigy, by Pippa and Jake, which is this year's new commission.

A smattering of the Brass cast are doing shows this year and it was just wonderful to see them all again. We sat with Jeremy in the great hall and listened to some of the rough mixes from the Brass cast recording at top volume on a stereo. It wasn't the best system to hear it on - it was very bass heavy, and not very clear - but everyone seemed to enjoy it, and there was a tangible sense of excitement about what they'd all achieved. It's going to be an incredible album.

I had tea at the school for old time's sake; pasta and my second muffin of the day. All the cast are at such an exciting time in their lives. They've either just started colleges or are off to drama schools and universities. A huge number of them seem to be going to Trinity Laban.

After tea, I drove with Jeremy, through the most beautiful countryside to Tonbridge School, where the NYMT is rehearsing Pendragon. I was there mostly to see the adorable Anne- Marie, who is the costumier for the company, and Ben Jones, now Mabberley, who played Alf in Brass. It was particularly good to see him. I understand he has a very large role in Pendragon, but all I got to see him doing was lifting a sword dramatically! They were rehearing a scene with witches when I arrived, who seemed to be singing a setting of Adam Lay Y Bounden.

I drove from Tonbridge to Catford where we ate toast and more pasta with Julie, Bal, Nathan and Abbie.

We're up hugely early in the morning, so sleep is of the essence...

Thursday, 9 April 2015


We've been at a seminar in Mile End all day today. I can't really say why, or announce exactly what we were doing there, but the theme of the event was computational creativity. It was a genuinely fascinating experience to get a sense of what is out there at the moment in terms of, for want of a better phrase, artificial intelligence. Can computers yet make creative decisions? Can they reason? Can they self-evaluate?

...I've certainly heard a lot of words - used very often today - which I might not normally have heard on an average Thursday. "Algorithm" featured prominently (as you might expect) as did "ideation" and "intentionality."

I have had my portrait painted by a computer. I've also had a computer refuse to paint my portrait because a newspaper article in the Guardian had put it in a bad mood!

Highlight of the day was almost certainly having a robot "die" on me. It was midway through asking me a series of questions with its chirpy child-like voice, when it started to droop, gently lay on its back, and promptly stopped functioning! That's the effect I have on all technology. It's a gift, you know.

I've had some fascinating chats with a number of boffins, and only once felt myself glazing over and losing the will to live. I think I must have been going low blood sugar as Nathan tells me it was one of the most fascinating conversations of the day.

I'd genuinely like to be able to write more, but I can't...

Nathan and I are currently heading home on a crowded tube. Nathan is knitting. He attracts a lot of attention on public transport when he knits; particularly when he's also wearing a biker jacket. People stare in a mixture of amusement and awe.

We will eat pizza tonight. Another friend of ours' father has died today, and it feels like we ought to have an evening of contemplation and stillness. Two fathers. One week. Why is the world so blinkin' unkind?

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Derek Griffiths

The man making announcements at Borough tube this morning sounded just like Derek Griffiths! He was talking about planned engineering works, but I was expecting him to burst into song. Do you remember Derek Griffiths? He used to present children's telly and had a very distinctive sing-songy voice. His "solo vehicle" was a show called Heads and Tails, which, in retrospect, might have been called Heads and Tales, because he was telling stories about animals. Who knows? I never liked that particular show. I thought it was silly. What I do know is that Derek Griffiths was at university with my Dad and in Miss Saigon in the West End with Nathan, so I'm plainly destined to meet him at some point!

I woke up early this morning to the news that Our Gay Wedding had been nominated for a BAFTA award. We won't win, of course. We're up against David Attenborough and our old adversary, Grayson Perry, and he's the darling of all award ceremonies! Still, to have a nomination is incredible. And it's one of those ones awards which generates positive responses. People don't necessarily know what a Grierson is, but they understand the concept of a BAFTA. Matt Lucas called from LA to congratulate us. He's been nominated for seven BAFTAs of course, but I do somehow feel part of a rather special club all of a sudden... Fiona texted to say that there are not many people who can say their wedding has been nominated for a BAFTA, although she'd "seen a few look like they were trying!" I laughed all the way home from the osteopath... (Who has the cold I reckon I gave to him last week...)

I had my hair cut by a Kurd, who used a razor-blade to make me look a little too quaffed for my liking, before coming home to do half a tonne of admin on the various projects I've got coming up: namely two album releases and a promotional film, which needs to be costumed, located, set-dressed and produced. I'm trying not to ask too much help from anyone else; this is, after all, my idea!

This evening, Nathan and I went up to Halfords in Friern Barnet to change a headlight in our car, and buy a few torches which might help with another project I've got going on in the back of my mind. We were served by a wonderful, smiley girl called Peaches, who couldn't have been any more helpful, knowledgeable or enthusiastic. I seem to be witnessing the absolute polar opposites in customer service at the moment. It strikes me that people immediately decide if they want you to have a good experience! The woman at Haringey council whom I spoke to about our having been disenfranchised for a second time wasn't that bothered. It turns out that the borough has two separate electoral rolls, and they use the oldest one as the basis for all their communications. On the newer list we exist. On the older one we don't. The woman whom I spoke to thought my suggestion was a good one; namely that it might make better sense to have just one list. It would certainly waste less paper, fewer stamps and cause considerably less heartache from Haringey residents. She thanked me for my feedback. I told her she was welcome and that if I could assist the borough in avoiding any more unnecessary lawsuits she only needed to ask. When this level of ineptitude is going on, one hardly need ask how both Baby P and Victoria Climbie managed to slip through the cracks in Haringey Council's understanding of their own borough. Let's not forget that this was also the borough who took Nathan and me to court in absentia for not paying a parking ticket which had been sent to the wrong address, along with all the court papers and the bailiff note! And people wonder why it's so easy for immigrants to vanish in the UK!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The British Library (or is that racist?)

A tweet has recently been doing the rounds which depicts two contrasting images from America. One shows a black man with his hands in the air in front of a group of policemen wearing bullet-proof vests and pointing guns aggressively. The other is of a white man happily posing for a selfie with a jovial-looking policeman in riot gear. As separate images they're strong. Placed alongside one another, they're incendiary, particularly when a caption is added: "This is what white privilege looks like."

We gasp at the photos, horrified. How can we allow this to happen in a civilised society? But how many of us stop and think about what we're actually being shown? Although they've been put together, these pictures aren't linked in any way. They show policemen in different uniforms, in different places, in different unrelated, unknown circumstances.

The separate stories behind these two photographs are also unclear. Zoom out of one, and you might find the automatic weapon hastily dropped as the black man raised his hands in surrender. Zoom out of the other and there might be a row of men in riot gear posing for photos with people of every colour and creed. We just don't know. But it's dangerous to search for a link..

In order to truly view the scene in the first picture as racist, the police would need to have been shouting racist abuse, or we'd need to be convinced that the circumstances surrounding the picture were disproportionately heavy-handed... Likewise, for the image of the white man having his picture taken with a policeman to be a racist statement, I would need to know that a black man had had a request for a selfie turned down by the same policeman in similar circumstances. It's so easy to claim that all policemen are institutionally racist because, the fact is that they regularly have to arrest people.

I instantly went onto the internet and found a picture of a black man having a selfie taken with white policemen and the picture of a black policeman beating up a white man. Simply to prove to myself that it works both ways...

Now don't get me wrong. It doesn't always work both ways and more often than not, it works less well for people of differing social backgrounds (the poor, the isolated, certain religious communities...) We live in a deeply imbalanced society. Until recently, and probably still, if a gay man in this country was mugged, attacked or robbed whilst in, or near, a cruising area, the assumption was that he only really only had himself to blame. Ditto with any gay man who ended up being HIV positive.

The fact also remains that there are far fewer creative opportunities available for people from poorer or more rural backgrounds. In my view, socioeconomics and location divides people far more than race ever has, but this is a deeply unpopular view which apparently makes me a UKIP supporter.

If we are to genuinely show racism, which we all know exists, we need to do so in a considered manner. And that means not blithely retweeting images of "racism" which show nothing of the sort, just because we feel a little bit guilty for being white. Otherwise we send out a dangerous message: that it is inherently racist to criticise someone from a minority community who behaves badly. And if one more person counters this argument with the same dull statement about us having to take some responsibility for someone else's bad behaviour, I'll throw all my toys out of my tiny pram!

Anyway. Back in my deeply middle class and privileged white man's world, I re-kindled my British Library membership today to do some research for the rewrite of Brass. I wanted to look specifically at 1915 newspaper reports from the Yorkshire Post, and since the newspaper library at Colindale has been disbanded I've had nowhere to do this sort of research. The women who dealt with me on the phone were universally charming. It was no surprise to learn they were all in Yorkshire.

I had to re-register at the British Library in St Pancras, and pose for a new photo for my card. The woman behind the counter laughed and then swung the screen around to show me the last image they had of me: taken in 1998! It was like looking at a smiling ghost. Ah, the days when I was handsome and slim!

Anyway, I always felt a bit special to have a British Library pass and that rush of excitement filled me once again as the lady handed my pass to me.

The place still feels the same - filled with spiral stairwells and huge reading rooms. The microfiche is all computer generated these days, however, and a little less easy to operate than the old manual system. I found what I wanted mercifully quickly and was away within an hour, and off to Euston Station where I worked in a cafe whilst waiting for young Josh to arrive on a train from Manchester.

Josh and I walked down to Soho together, had a late lunch on Old Compton Street with Nathan and then sat in the gloriously sunny Soho Square where Josh listened to the first mix of the song Letters from Brass. He was wearing dark sunglasses at the time, which made the appearance of the tear trickling down his cheek all the more poetic and beautiful!

Monday, 6 April 2015


I've done nothing today. I'm told it was lovely outside. I wouldn't know. I was sitting on a sofa, feeling a bit sorry for myself, coughing occasionally and stuffing my face with Easter eggs. Well, actually, just one Easter egg. I didn't really have much appetite.

I feel a bit better this evening, thankfully. Nathan's cough, on the other hand, worsened throughout the day. In fact, I picked him up from work this evening and drove him to A and E because he was concerned that his pneumonia might be returning. For the record there doesn't seem to be any sign of anything other than a viral something-or-other. Let's hope he's feeling better in the morning.

We had a card through the post from Haringey Council today which claims that, despite our paying council tax, they believe our property is empty and therefore that anyone living there is ineligible to vote. This follows hot on the heels of the letter we received from them which told us our names were back on the voting register, and that we didn't need to do anything else if we wanted to vote. I now feel that Haringey Council HAVE to be the least organised council in the entire world. No wonder they are constantly marred by scandals brought about by negligence and ineptitude!

Sunday, 5 April 2015


7pm. We're driving through a murky, rather peculiar sea mist in the coastal town of Conwy. Darkness descended in less than a minute. One second we were driving through the hills, watching the orange sun as it sank behind a Welsh mountain, the next, we were entering a band of smokey fog... And that was that for the day. Now I know how brilliant the eclipse ought to have been!

We've had a genuinely lovely day which none of us really wanted to end. This part of the world is truly magical. I've always been incredibly proud of my North Walian heritage, and, perhaps as a result, whenever I enter the mountains of this part of the world, something within me comes alive. It's not just me, of course: I'm pretty sure there's no one on the planet, Gog or not, who wouldn't be stirred or inspired by this countryside.

Conwy is a particularly impressive little place, which is surrounded entirely by rambling medieval walls. With the possible exception of York, and Lucca in Italy, I doubt it would be possible to find such an impressive example of a walled town anywhere else on the planet. The views Conwy's walls offer are quite remarkable. Conwy Castle looms over the town like something from a Robin Hood legend. The castle is near perfect. I'm not even sure you could class it as a ruin. People would probably live in it if it weren't a Cadw-run.

From the walls you can see up into the hills above the town, which today have almost permanently been shrouded in some degree of mist. In fact, round here, when the sea mists ascend, they often don't go as high as the tops of the hills, so it's possible to stand on the summit of a hill in brilliant sunshine and peer into a valley filled with fog like a giant steaming cauldron. It reminded me very much of the San Franciscan phenomenon. I suspect something rather similar was happening... (*flicks through the pages of his A-level physical geography course notes searching for references to sea mists and haas.*)

The Conwy town walls undulate down to the harbour and end with a section which stretches a little way into the bay itself, like a sort of medieval pier. My Dad tells me this particular part of the wall was there to protect boats in the harbour heading off to Ireland in the bad old days when the town was an English outpost. The walls were there to keep the pesky Welsh out.

We sat on the seafront drinking tea, whilst around us scores of children dangled bait on the end of pieces of string to entice crabs. A man in a little hut was doing a roaring trade in crab-catching kits... And they seemed to work: many of the little buckets sitting next to the kids had rather perplexed-looking crabs inside!

From Conwy, we went into the mountains of Snowdonia. Initially I'd hoped to get all the way to Snowdon itself, but Brother Tim had tipped us off about a rather magical little church - one of the oldest in Wales - which sits in gorse-covered moorland on the top of one of the hills.

We snaked our way up there through single-track lanes, many of which were delineated by the most extraordinarily beautiful streams.

The church itself was magical. There's something deeply pagan about some of the rural churches in Wales. I'm told it has just two services a month, but for the rest of the time is open for visitors and hardy hikers. The back wall is covered in the Ten Commandments written in Welsh, with a crude painting of the skull and crossbones underneath. A bier hangs on one of the walls, used, we're told, to carry the remains of the dead to their final resting place.

The highlight of the church is definitely it's little Packard harmonium, which begs visitors to play it. Musical instruments deserve to be played, so, to celebrate the ancient pagan festival of Eostre, I did the honours, and busked some folk songs, very much enjoying the process of pumping the little bellows with my feet. I will return to that spot to record something. I feel a very strong sense that the place is blessed somehow.

In the corner of the windswept and highly atmospheric churchyard sits a well, the water from which was renowned for its healing properties, particularly, we're told, for children.

We spent another hour on a rocky hillside above the church, proudly flying a Welsh flag from a bracken tree whilst basking in the unseasonably hot sunshine. The valley below us was shrouded in mist. I felt incredibly happy to be there. I felt a sense of belonging somehow.

We went from the chapel to a winter garden complex where they specialise in Dutch pancakes (you can't make this stuff up!) where we met Tim and John again and ate, unsurprisingly, Dutch pancakes. Mine was sickly, rubbery and horrible, but don't tell anyone!

We went back to our little cottage for a plate of halloumi and a cup of tea. It was here that I learned that my mother's two favourite words are "toxic" and "soggy." I love the concept of a favourite word. I'm not sure I have one. Someone once told me that their favourite word was elbow. If you've got this far reading this blog every without getting bored, perhaps you'd tell me what your favourite word is... I might start a lexicon...

10pm. Our journey home started at about 7pm, and found us coming in and out of great banks of mist, the most impressive of which arrived as we drove along the coastal road near Abergale, where the sea was covered in a rolling, low-lying, almost endless mist which resembled dry ice in a Kate Bush video.

We popped in on Celia and Ron in Shropshire on our way home for tea and chat. They've been seeing green moving lights in the sky of late. They've convinced themselves that they're some sort of lazar display in a distant town, but I think they may actually have been witnessing the Northern Lights, which I'm told have been visible in the Midlands lately. There are definitely some curious sights to be had in the night sky at the moment. The moon as I write is bright orange and enormous!

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Tim and John got married

My brother Tim and his partner John got married today at Llandudno Town Hall. The sun shone down on us constantly. Spring has arrived. Once again God has proven that he likes it when the gays get married!

The day started with a little walk around the cottage we've been staying in. It turns out there's a beautiful moss-lined waterfall behind the house. I doubt water gets any purer than the stuff gushing down that Welsh hillside.

The town hall in Llandudno is rather badly signposted so it took a while to find. We actually went past it several times. It ended up being the building where a craft and antique fair was being held. 50p entrance fee. Lots of tat. I was tempted, but instead we hovered around in the vestibule until a woman came over and asked if we were there for the wedding.

It turns out that the wedding itself was a very select event with only fourteen guests. Bizarrely it was the first gay wedding (apart from my own) that I've attended. Perhaps as a result, I found the experience hugely moving, particularly when the registrar announced that "marriage was defined as the union of two people." I'm rather proud that it's no longer defined as the union of one man and one woman. In that single changed sentence, British equality was born.

I was also surprised by how quick a wedding can be if you a) don't film it and b) don't sing it! I reckon we were in and out within fifteen minutes.

Tim and John looked so happy. It was a joy to see them being declared "husband and husband" and cuddling and kissing each other.

The "wedding breakfast" was in a lovely country pub with views over a sun-sparkling estuary, beyond Conwy and back in the valley where we're staying.

We all sat on one table and ate gorgeous pub grub. I had a frittata and a bowl of chunky chips. We took photographs in the pub garden, with the Welsh mountains glowing mauve in the background. Tim's father made an eccentric little speech. It was all very charming.

We came back to Tim and John's long house on Little Orme and sat on their patio in the glorious late afternoon sunlight drinking wine, or, in my case, Lemsip!

I've been knocking back tablets, potions and cough medicines all day to try and beat this ludicrous cold I've been suffering from. I was up all night coughing. I'm determined it's not going to spoil my trip, but its damnedest!

Friday, 3 April 2015

Welsh vallies

We would appear to be in the most glorious North Walian valley, where the peaks of the hills are covered in a table cloth of mist, and the only audible sounds are babbling brooks and newly born lambs.

The sheep in these parts are a fluffy breed, whose lambs have rather charming ginger cuffs. I've never really had a chance to watch new born lambs playing before. I didn't realise, like kids in a playground, lambs gather together in big gangs and rush about causing mayhem and getting into all sorts of scrapes. There were a group of about twenty which we stood and watched for some time.

This part of the world feels particularly magical. It's absolutely steeped in legend. The nearest village is called Rowen. It has a lovely-looking pub, a little village shop and a beautiful three-aisled chapel.

A river runs through the village, and there's a glorious little walled graveyard under trees in a water meadow. The roads are lined with daffodils, and moss-coated dry stone walls. Little lanes wind up the hills, disappearing into mist. The air smells of wood smoke and gorse.

The telephone box in the town has been turned into a little tourist information station - a gwybodaeth - with leaflets and a shelf of books for local people to swap. One of the little posters in there was written in English and some disgruntled local had scrawled "Cymraeg?" across it, meaning "why is this not also written in Welsh?" The person who obviously looks after the phone booth had added a note saying; "instead of writing Cymraeg graffiti, why don't YOU translate a Welsh version instead of moaning!" Good call, I'd say.

We woke up this morning at Nathan's sister's house and spent the morning with Nathan's niece, Jen, driving to Oswestry, the place of my birth, where we bought Easter eggs for the family at great expense.

Sam cooked us a lovely roast dinner and we were joined by Celia, Ron and Julius.

The journey further North was ghastly in the driving rain with terrible traffic jams. But as we hit the coastal road, the sky started turning blue and this evening has been dry. I hope the skies are clear tonight. I'd love to sit and stare at the stars.

I understand my blog for Monday this week failed to print, so I enclose it as a special bonus here... You lucky people...

Monday 30th March: portrait 18.

I arrived at Finsbury Park tube today, just as the world, his wife and several of their extended family were getting exiting the station. There were queues around the block at the bus station outside. Frankly I'd have given up and walked. I had no idea that the Finsbury Park area was so popular with commuters. I used to come to this station when I lived in Crouch End, but never remember it being so rammed in the rush hour.

I've been with Julian today, in his mrs' vicarage, mixing Oranges and Lemons, which is the bonus track on the Pepys Motet album. Keen readers of this blog will remember that it features the recordings of 200 separate bells, struck, we believe, about 4000 times! It is the stuff of madness: overtones, undertones, harmonics, multi-phonics... They're all in there in abundance, and the effect is striking, if nothing else! ('Scuse the pun!)

We worked all day, but for a brief sojourn when we went off to Stroud Green Road for a bite to eat in an Italian deli. That part of town used to be incredibly edgy and quite exciting, but on the fringes of Crouch End, it's become mega chi-chi la-la organic moi-moi ja-ja. Back towards Finsbury Park, it starts to become familiar again, with its shops selling Indian fabrics, hair extensions, yams and knocked-off bottles of perfume.

We returned from lunch to find the vicarage in darkness, and ventured onto the street to find all of Julian's neighbours similarly in the midst of power cut. A bloke opposite, wearing some sort of medical white coat, seemed particularly upset, telling me he was in the "middle of a procedure." Bizarre.

By the time I left, both of our ears were bleeding. Bells, a church organ, a choir and a synth pad are all quite dense sounds, so we're going to sleep on it, and fine-tune the piece tomorrow when our ears feel a little less trashed.

From Crouch End, I walked back to Finsbury Park, which locals sometimes refer to as Crappy Rub Sniff as a homonym of what the area would be called if all the letters came in reverse order. I've always found this hugely amusing. Upton Park goes one stage further, revealing Crap not Poo if spelt backwards.

Anyway, I digress. I took the Victoria Line from Finsbury Park to Euston, which is a particularly quick journey. I find the Victoria line to be a very pleasing line in this respect. When I lived in those parts I could get from the tube stop down to the Royal Court at Sloane Square, where I worked, in seventeen minutes.

At Euston I met lovely Ruth from the Rebel Chorus off a train from Brugge where she'd spent the weekend with her husband. These days Ruth lives in Coventry, so my only option for taking her portrait for the Pepys album cover was to catch her as she made her way from one train to another.

Ruth sang on five out of the six Pepys Motet movements and was in the original gospel choir when we performed the piece as a forty part motet back in 2010. She features very prominently in the Great Fire of London movement, singing the first few lines; "Jayne called us up about three in the morning to tell us of a Great Fire in the city. She says above three hundred houses have been burned down." Jayne Birch was Pepys' loyal servant. No one knows a great deal about what happened to her. I believe Pepys included her in his will despite her having long since married and left his service. Under any other circumstances, someone of her status would have lived and died completely unnoticed, but her status as the person who first told Pepys about the fire - the man whom himself has told us more about the fire than anyone else - secures her a little spot in history.

Because Ruth sang this particular line, I've always seen her as Jayne, and that's why, in the photograph, she is holding a placard with the word "Jayne" written on it. It's actually one of the first words in Pepys' diary which which isn't written in shorthand. Real names like Jayne and Axe Yard (where Pepys lived) didn't really have shorthand characters, so he wrote them in full.

Customer services

The day kicked off at the Apple Store in Covent Garden, which is always a pleasurable experience. I was returning a broken cable and they couldn't have been any more charming or helpful. I do think many businesses could learn a great deal about customer service simply by visiting an Apple Store and finding out why staff seem so universally happy to be working there.

The same can be said for the Sainsbury's Local on the Archway Road and the Starbucks opposite Borough tube, where staff are always keen to smile and help. I wonder why certain places generate happy staff? Is it good bosses? Or is it places where employees genuinely have enough flexibility in their roles to actually make a difference and help people? In my view a great deal of bad customer service happens as a result of customer-facing staff not being able to authorise the little protocol-busting manoeuvres which brighten a troubled customer's day.

I went from Covent Garden to Earl's Court to meet Abbie. We had tea and brownies in the upstairs room of the cafe in that giant Tesco hypermarket on the A4. It's actually unexpectedly cozy up there, with leather sofas and brilliant light fittings which sit in bowler hats.

Abbie was sad and I felt sad because she was sad. There was very little I could say other than that I was there for her. We all are. As I rushed across London to be with her this morning, I remembered that we'd returned from our San Franciscan pneumonia crisis to find some potatoes, a tin of beans and a packet of cheese from Abbie waiting on our doorstep. It was one of the most touching things anyone's ever done for us, so Abbie, if you're reading this, if there's anything you need, just ask.

I grabbed lunch back in Highgate, measured Nathan's shawl for reasons unexplained, dashed to the post office to send Jo's phone charger back to Portsmouth, and then drove down into Kentish Town to replace the tyre which had exploded on the M25 on Saturday.

The mellow men at Kwik Fit predicted an hour's wait, so I went into Kentish Town to do some more errands.

I sat on the floor in Barclays Bank for what felt like most of the afternoon. I might not have minded but the man sitting on the chair to my left had such bad BO that even my burgeoning cold couldn't offer protection.

I was in the bank to get a form stamped for my Arts Council grant and there weren't enough staff in the branch to help me, particularly once the manager had decided it was a form he'd need to "look over thoroughly" himself. After an hour's wait for him, on the floor, I was dealt with by someone who wasn't the manager, who plainly hadn't read the information on my form before stamping it. The manager reappeared and I asked why it hadn't been a job that his counter staff could have done a minute after I'd arrived. "This was a form which needed to be read carefully," he said. I looked at the woman who'd stamped it; "did you read this carefully? What is this document about?" "You want to pay money to a company called Brass" she said. I laughed, "that couldn't be further from the truth!" Her eyes narrowed in a "don't criticise me, I'm a nondescript Eastern European and I know people who could make you disappear" kind of way. I left feeling violated by her icy blue eyes and strong jawline.

I returned to Kwik Fit, paid for the new tyre they'd fitted, and drove the car out of the garage. I'm not altogether sure what made me think twice, but as I reached the end of the street I thought I ought to just check they'd put the spare wheel back in the boot. Imagine my surprise therefore when I opened the back door to find nothing! Of course they were hugely apologetic when I returned and told them they'd not actually changed the tyre I'd been charged for, and they got the job done at a suitably Kwik fit fitter speed, but I can't think how horrifying it would have been if we'd got a flat tyre on the way up North tonight and thought "thank God we changed the tyre" to discover an empty boot!

Speaking of which, we're currently half way up the M6 on our way to Wales where we're staying with Nathan's sister on the way to Llandudno for the weekend, where Brother Tim and John are getting married. We've listened to rough mixes of all of the Pepys Motet, Oranges and Lemons, and Billy Whistle from Brass. It's odd to think I'm going to be unleashing two hours of Till on the world in June! Two whole hours of recorded music. It's very exciting. There must be something in the air: Fiona is presently mixing two albums as well...

We're much later than we thought we'd be. Nathan was forced to get off the tube at Camden and take a bus the rest of the way home, which delayed him by an hour, partly because he got into an argument with an incredibly rude Underground staff member at Camden station. I note today that LU have launched a campaign which attempts to stop people shouting at their staff. The poster slogan runs something along the lines of, "my Mum got shouted at today by a customer. I thought she was crying, but she told me there was just something in her eye." I get it; LU staff put up with a hell of a lot of nonsense. But some of them are right arsey so and sos with serious lip-sucking attitudes, so from time to time we must all reserve our right to vent!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Wistful sore throat

I woke up today with a sore throat. Joy. That'll be another cold Nathan's passed on to me. My Mum thinks it's all part of the same illness. There are so many people who have been poorly on and off this year, some complaining of illnesses which go back to November last year. It's particularly galling because I've been feeling really well of late...

I've finally managed to enfranchise myself again. Is that the opposite of disenfranchise? A letter arrived from Haringey Council this morning, which said, "I'm writing to let you know that your recent application to be added to the electoral register has been successful." Ironically the letter then says, "you don't need to do anything else. You won't need to register again unless your entitlement to be registered changes." Or, of course, if there's a glitch in the system which involves someone at the council randomly removing a tax-paying Haringey resident from the voting register as happened to us both last year! We were told then that it had been our responsibility to let the council know that we hadn't moved out of the borough. I wonder how long it will be until it's our responsibility to tell the council we haven't moved again. Twats.

I went to the osteopath this morning, highly conscious of the fact that I'm always ill when I see him. He looked at me with a raised eyebrow; "is the cough STILL bothering you?" I felt rather unconvincing as I told him that I'd felt perfectly well for the best part of a month. I'm pretty sure he's now decided I have some sort of terminal illness.

I came home and worked on a couple of little piano/ vocal arrangements; a Shakespeare song and a Lewis Carroll poem.

A close friend texted with some rather bad news just after lunch, which put me in a sad and contemplative mood for the rest of the day. Sometimes life seems so astonishingly unfair and words feel so inadequate...

The news made me think about all sorts of things; largely how in life there really should only be space for love, and yet we waste so much time and energy hanging onto hatred and anxiety. Me particularly.

Nathan came home from work and locked himself in the sitting room filming the third of his knitting vlogs whilst I worked on the bass band arrangements of A Symphony For Yorkshire whilst continuing with a whole heap of admin and making a vegetable stew.

We caught up on previous episodes of Mr Selfridge, which finished with a slightly surreal sequence (with strange anachronistic rocky guitar music and soft focus slow-mo) which featured the lovely Emily from the cast of Brass! It was fabulous to see her on telly, and if it weren't for this silly sore throat and my friend's bad news, I'd have gone to bed with a big smile on my face. As it stands I'm feeling somewhat wistful.