Friday, 31 July 2015

Sisyphus

I spent the entire day sitting at the kitchen table once again and for the first time in my life hit a moment when I actually became bored of my own creativity! The work I'm doing formatting Brass is so mind-blisteringly dull that it's actually putting me into a panic; a fear which I think must be born from worrying that my work on the piece might actually never be done. I feel like a modern-day Sisyphus, forcing myself to work in a level of detail which feels almost pointless. But creep forward I must, one minuscule step at a time... Let's hope it's worth it, and that the show isn't met with the level of indifference displayed by that silly, droopy gothic girl in Wales with her ludicrous online review!

Desperate for little treats to take me away from the hell of my task in hand, I searched high and low throughout the day for things to distract me when I'd reached certain milestones in my process. I'd switch the kettle on, for example... Sadly, something usually drew me back into the work, so the kettle boiled regularly, yet no tea was ever made. Sometimes I'd check Facebook, which is rare for me, but I'm pleased to report that I found an old school friend lurking there today. We went to Junior School together. In fact, we shared 'cello lessons. She was a bit rubbish at the 'cello, sadly, and confessed today that she only took it up because she wanted to be Julie from Fame. This strikes me as a hugely understandable reason for learning an instrument. I, too, wanted to be Julie from Fame. I wanted to run down a long corridor with my 'cello case in one hand and my schools books in another. Genuinely. It was a fantasy which followed me through much of my childhood, but sadly the corridors were never long enough and running wasn't allowed in them. Besides, I was never late for anything, so why would I be running? As a point of fact, it's actually really very difficult to run with a 'cello case; it trips you over, and makes the instrument inside rattle about rather dangerously... Anyway, my old friend was more of a dancer and tells me she did ballet right up to the moment she went to university, when she gave it up in favour of some kind of business degree, which, no doubt, will have brought her a much more stable lifestyle. It was lovely to hear from her. I liked her enormously when we were at school. In fact, I think I had a bit of a crush on her...

My only other "treat" today was going through my emails and opting out of junk mail. After formatting one set of instruments, I'd allow myself to opt out of a couple more. When I started to click on the "un-subscribe" button - which, in some websites, has become the almost intolerably grotesque "click here to un-sub" button - I began to notice that large swathes of the emails were coming from one website address, fewgbe.net. I just don't see the point in some of the things which get generated and sent on by these companies. They often make no sense. If they were well-made adverts, I'd sort of understand it; for every one hundred people who ignore the advert, there might just be one person who is looking specifically for the thing the company is trying to sell. But when the writing is gobbledygook, or, as is happening more and more recently, is written in an invisible font, you wonder what on earth's going on.  Who is keeping the industry of junk mail alive? It strikes me that it's an exercise in futility which is right up there with what I myself have been doing all day!

So, there we have it. Back in a full circle to where I started, which very much sums up my existence at the moment. Each morning I open up a new file (a single song) which I complete by the end of the day, and the process begins all over again. Thankfully, a group of us is going away on a little holiday tomorrow, so I've got something to look forward to...

Filth

Every time I take a blinkin' 134 bus into town, there's a driver change near the Archway bus depot. I'm not sure it's something which routinely happens on this particular route, so I do think I've been unlucky to encounter it as often as I have. The process is a faffy one, and, if the new driver isn't ready and waiting for the bus to arrive with his little tin money box, then it can take forever. As it did today. There was also a little flash of road rage as the bus pulled away from the stop in the form of a rather aggressive exchange between the bus driver and a trucker who'd inadvertently broken some sort of Highway Code.

I went to the dental hygienist today. It struck me what a peculiar blend of unique sounds and tastes one experiences at the dentists. There are high-pitched whines and scraping noises whilst vaguely aniseedy tastes drip down the back of one's throat. Apparently my dental hygiene is good, but I need to wear my special disabled person's gum guard more regularly at night. "I can tell you've been stressed" she said, through her paper face mask and thick Greek accent, "I can see the imprint of your teeth on your tongue..." She's not wrong but I instantly felt like a failure. Still, my teeth now feel smooth and delicious and I was loathe to eat anything for the rest of the day.

I worked the rest of the morning in the cafe opposite the dentist and there experienced a rather lovely moment when I glanced around and saw nothing but a sea of people with relaxed, smiling faces. A rare treat in London. A pair of very old men were talking about the Labour Party leadership, a Dutch family had just tucked into some delicious-looking croissants, a pair of female academics were deciding which type of herbal tea to sample. Everything felt calm and balanced. I suppose a cafe is a good place for witnessing people at their best. We go to cafes with friends as a treat, and use them as little stress-free refuges from the frantic pace of the towns and cities in the outside world.

From the best of society, I happened upon evidence of the worst in the form of graffiti scrawled inside one of the lockers at my gym. "Israelis are Nazis" it said. A bloke was shovelling his belongings into the locker seemingly entirely unaware of what the great big letters said. I could not have used that locker. By using it passively, in my view, you're agreeing with the ghastly sentiment it expresses.

I immediately went upstairs to the manager and reported it. By the time I'd finished my work-out, the locker was open again and the graffiti was still there. I went back to the manager and showed him a photo of the words. "Oh" he said, (I thought he was going to say how shocked he was) "if it's in marker pen, we have to get specialist cleaners in." "Obviously in the meantime you'll be closing the locker down so that no one else has to be offended by the wording?" He started to um and ah. "Let me put it another way" I said, "if you don't immediately shut that locker down, LA Fitness are passively agreeing with the sentiment expressed within and I will immediately print this photo." I held the picture up so he could see that I wasn't joking, and sailed out of the gym feeling angry yet somehow slightly righteous. 

filth
For the rest of the day I've bounced up and down like an emotional yoyo. I worked like the clappers and finished formatting another score from Brass. Hurrah. I then read a review of our wonderful cast recording which is currently appearing in programmes in West End theatres. It describes Brass as a "haunting and evocative" musical. The review goes on to say that the cast's "astounding performances are immortalised forever in this beautiful cast recording" and that the show now has "the opportunity to reach an even wider audience." Hurrah.

The cast of Brass then went a bit loopy searching for reviews of the album elsewhere and found one lurking in a public forum which was a little less than favourable. It pottered along in a vaguely positive way until the following paragraph was dropped like a stink bomb in a 1970s subway;

"The music from Brass is not going to be the next big thing in musical theatre and it might leave you singing more well-known songs that it reminds you of rather than the songs from Brass itself... From listening to the music alone it is difficult to find one stand out, show stopping number. However, all of the tracks are pleasant to listen to; you will tap your toes along to We’re Forming a Band, feel haunted by I Make the Shells, and Billy Whistle is a hugely catchy tune that you will be whistling for days."

I mean, it doesn't even make sense. No stand out number, but one song which you'll be whistling for days! A little bit of digging reveals it was written by a peculiar-looking creature from Wales who's an amateur performer of musical theatre who likes to post videos of herself singing dreadful songs on YouTube. The problem with the Internet is that no-one knows whether the critics are legit or not! We write what we like when we like... (Hence why I'm allowed to publish this lousy blog on a daily basis!) Boo!

...Then I got turned down for some funding from the Arts Council. Triple Boo!

I went to see Llio tonight. Hurrah. And listened to some of the demos for her next album which were sensational. Double Hurrah. She excels as a creator of electronica. At this stage she's just used the samples and sounds she can find on logic, but she's making brave, sometimes breathtaking choices. I'd love her to have the opportunity to work with a really decent engineer to see what magic she comes up with.

We then listened to the Pepys Motet album in its entirety. We sat with our headphones plugged into a splitter and experienced the full sonic ride as PK intended. Llio was incredibly effusive with her praise afterwards, describing the work as a masterpiece, which was very kind and made me feel very happy. She wept, got shivers, laughed, smiled, wept again. I would love to have filmed her reaction, if for no other reason than to give me something to look at when I'm feeling low about all things creative! The day ends on a triple hurrah!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Cecil the Lion

I started my day by reading an article about the awful case of Cecil the Lion, a much-loved Zimbabwean male lion who was lured from a conservation area and killed, for sport, by an American dentist wielding a bow and arrow, who paid £40,000 for the privilege. Cecil didn't die immediately and was pursued for forty hours before being shot, decapitated and skinned. For sport. The world is up in arms about it, and chat show host, Jimmy Kimmel got so emotional about the subject that he very nearly broke down...

But is it time to call the hypocrisy police? Every year millions of animals are killed so that we can have tasty food in our bellies. Because eating meat is actually no longer something we need to do to stay alive, technically, our only reason for eating it is that it's nice. We eat for sport, I suppose.

...Of course we can argue long and hard that animals who are bred for meat are killed humanely and probably wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for the trade that ultimately kills them. Kimmel was, of course, quick to point out that the situation would have been far more acceptable had it been hungry local people killing the animal because they needed to eat rather than because they wanted an adrenaline rush. To an extent, I agree, particularly as I'm not sure there's a great deal of nutritious vegetarian food on offer in Zimbabwe!

...but WOULD we actually accept a lion being killed for food? A beautiful lion with an enormous flowing mane? Of course we wouldn't. And so a catalogue of double standards reveals itself. We admonish the Spanish for bull fighting, yet we'll happily eat cow. We condemn posh people for fox hunting, yet begrudgingly support badger culling. We eat pig, but are horrified when someone tries to feed us horse. Some of us are okay eating any sort of meat whatsoever, as long as it doesn't actually resemble the animal from whence it came. Scratch the surface and there are a thousand moral dilemmas going on. And yet because most of us are agreed that we wouldn't eat a lion, we feel we can come down like a tonne of moral bricks on someone who kills one for sport.

Surely the bottom line is that animals are animals, regardless of how rare or protected they are? Pigs are probably more intelligent than lions, they're just not as majestic or beautiful. Cows who line up to be slaughtered in an abattoir may not suffer pain as they are killed, but they do smell blood and panic whilst they wait. Death is death whatever form it takes.

I'm not a militant vegetarian. I genuinely don't care what other people eat. Some of my best friends are meat eaters! I went to a bull fight once and wasn't hugely shocked. I drink milk and acknowledge that if everyone else turned veggie, but still drank milk, we'd still have huge issues in terms of what we'd do with the boy calfs. I wear leather shoes. I occasionally eat gelatine in sweets. I'm as much a mass of contradictions as the next man. Ultimately I'm a vegetarian because I don't like the notion of animals being killed for food and don't much trust the meat industry not to poison me. Let's not forget that the first cases of HIV probably came as a result of humans eating a bush meat...

So whereas I find the case of Cecil the Lion incredibly distressing, I'm just not sure we ought to be starting a witch hunt. Hand on heart, are the rest of us really so irreproachable?

I feel similarly about Lord Sewel, who seems to have got himself into all sorts of trouble for snorting cocaine and having all sorts of kinky sex. I think there's a passage in the bible which says something along the lines of "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." We all got our knickers in a twist about the concept of bugging telephones, yet it's apparently okay to feed our lust for the salacious by secretly filming someone? We all do things in the bedroom that would make us feel incredibly embarrassed in the cold light of day and yet we're capable of ripping someone else apart for the mistakes they make in the heat of the moment. And, if we're honest, many people take drugs. In fact, 38% of young British people admit to having taken an illegal substance of some sort. If everyone who'd taken illegal substances in their life suddenly lost their jobs, then the infrastructure of our country would collapse.

One of the great tragedies of modern life is that we expect our politicians to behave in ways only the most boring people in society do. This only has just one outcome: boring politicians. The interesting ones are always forced into resigning. Do I know anything about Sewel? No. Do I know whether he was any good as a politician? No. Does anyone else? No. So why do we care what he does in the bedroom?

There. I've bored myself now...

Disastrous Colchester

I watched a bit of a Time Team documentary last night. They were searching (rather unsuccessfully) for an ancient palace belonging to King Canute. There's obviously been some sort of top-down reappraisal of the way we're expected to spell Canute. Apparently he's henceforth to be known exclusively as Cnut. CNUT! Now I'm all for a bit of historical accuracy, and am the first to refer to Boadicea as Boudicca, but I reckon you've got to draw the line at calling someone by a name which could become an auto-correct catastrophe on your computer!

My mate went to school with a girl called Fuquenisha. I think she was a young Muslim girl. The teachers actually insisted that everyone call her Nisha. Imagine having your actual name banned from the playground?

I went to school with a Chinese girl called Hoo Flung Dung, and someone whose middle name was rumoured to be Cuckoo. That may have been casual racism, though...

I have seldom seen so many people descending on Highgate tube this morning. They were actually queuing to get into the little causeway which runs down the hill to the station's back entrance. I felt like I was in a Lowry painting.

There were more ferocious queues just to get out of Moorgate Station. At one point we were all funnelled into a tiny corridor where the queue came to a stand still for the best part of five minutes. I can't imagine what would have happened had someone shouted "fire." London is surely bursting at the seams in a way which has to be remedied before there's an event which causes an unimaginable loss of life.

I took the train from Liverpool Street to Colchester this morning for a meeting at the beautiful Mercury Theatre. I'd always thought Colchester was meant to be a rather charming city filled with impressive Roman remains. Not so if you arrive by train...

The train station is a mile or so out of town and the walk into the city is uninviting, un-signposted and covered in concrete. This is plainly not a place which wants to invite people in. I ended up walking along a horrifying dual carriageway with no pathways. One slip and I would have cascaded under a lorry. On the outskirts of the city centre sits the most beautiful former cinema building which has been boarded over. The place feels bleak. Unloved.

After my meeting, I sat in a cafe and listened as someone asking for directions to the station was told, "you wouldn't want to walk it, mate..." Well at least it's not just me! I tweeted the town council and they said they were working on "improving this route." You'd think it was the first thing any self-respecting council would have worked on.

I got the bus back. The sign said "all busses stopping here go to the train station." As I got on I double checked and the driver said he was indeed going to the station. Imagine my horror therefore when he didn't actually stop there! Busses go near to the station but not actually to it! If anyone from Colchester is reading this, and you value outside visitors, I suggest you get onto the council and urge them to sort this nonsense out!

I came home, working on the train and back at the ranch, before heading to my dear friend Daniel's house in Belsize Park. Daniel has recently had twins with his partner, Matthew, and I got there early enough to hang out with the babies, who are delightful. Masculine parenting is quite fascinating to watch. The kids were having their feed when I arrived and after they were done and burped and things, Daniel said "I think it's time isn't it?" Within a minute, both kids were in their cots, the lights were out and there wasn't another peep out of them!

I'm afraid I've become all too used to bed time being quite a drama with my friends' children. Seeing it happening so casually and effortlessly was striking, almost brutal.

Michelle of the Turkie joined us for an evening meal. I'll confess to being rather chuffed that Daniel and Michelle (though both contemporary alumni from York University) only met properly at our wedding where they got on like ancient friends.

We ate an amazing pie with eggs and onions and tomatoes and a crispy topping which is apparently an old Burbidge family recipe. I remember Daniel making it for me twenty two years ago. Twenty two years! Where do those pesky years go?

Michelle came to stay with us tonight and is presently asleep in the loft. Nathan is totting up the sales from his new knitting pattern, which is a glorious scarf based on Peano's space-filling curve. He released it yesterday and it's already sold more than twenty copies. He's understandably fairly chuffed.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Woodpeckers and Mongolians

I woke up this morning, a bit peeved at the idea of being up so early, and desperately wishing that I could have had another hour in bed. As I sat, in a partial coma, eating my cornflakes, staring out of the kitchen window, I was rewarded with the sight of a beautiful woodpecker bouncing about within the branches of the enormous tree in our back garden. I'm used to woodpeckers round these parts being green and yellow, but this one was black and white, almost as though his little body (or was it his wings?) was a tiny chess board. He had a bright red head, which I think must mean he was a juvenile greater spotted woodpecker. (I looked that up on google!) We're certainly doing alright at the moment for birds in our garden. Beyond the nesting robins, magpies, black birds, wood pigeons and great tits, we've had wagtails and now woodpeckers. I'm holding out for a pair of flamingos...

It's a good job the view out of the kitchen window was so inspiring, as, baring a quick trip to the gym, I've done nothing but sit at the kitchen table from 8.30am this morning til 9pm tonight. I've been working on Brass again, developing the score so that it matches the rewrite of the script I finished in June. There's a hell of a lot to do. I've blithely re-written the whole of the Prologue and decided that the piece needs to start with an epic, virtuoso overture played by a brass band, which of course I now have to write! There comes a time when you long to stop working on a show... and that moment has arrived with Brass. I've pampered this dark beast for two years now and I need it to stop demanding food from me! That said, I'm sure there's at least another month's work in the score, so I have to take lots of deep breaths and complete this final stage a bar at a time.

It was nice to get back to the gym, although some of the blokes there are somewhat cliched. I reckon all that grunting and sparring can't be good for anyone, and I would question any man's sexuality who feels the need to be so brutally masculine. The way they talk to one another is insane. They call each other "cuz" and "bro" and communicate in little bursts of nervy chatter which explodes from their mouths like the last remnants of ketchup from a plastic squeezy bottle.

We sat down to watch some telly at the end of the night, but some kind of atmospherics (I assume) meant that none of the channels were working properly. The screen kept freezing and breaking up. It got so frustrating that we were forced to switch the telly off. I even considered reading a book (I don't read*) until I realised there was a blog to be written.

*Of course I know HOW to read and I fairly regularly end up with my nose in a non-fiction book when I'm doing research, but novels have never really been my thing. My brother is not a reader either. Perhaps it's in the genes. Perhaps it's more to do with my being slightly ADHD. I certainly don't think I have the mental stamina and calmness for reading novels. I'd constantly want to be doing something else.

I reckon I've read no more than thirty novels in my life, which sounds like rather a lot, but that includes periods when I've actively tried to read a book a week, like the time I worked on the stage door of the New Ambassadors Theatre, which had to be one of the most boring jobs in the world. I once did a 40-hour shift and slept in an area no larger than my curled up body! I'm somewhat proud to say that, back then, I read everything by George Orwell and a whole host of other dystopian novels by like likes of Huxley and Henry Miller. I've also read Joyce's Ulysses... But before you start accusing me of being all high-brow and intelligent, other novels that I've consumed and enjoyed include Death on the Nile, How Green Was My Valley, Murder She Wrote: The Novel, Duty Free: The Novel and Mrs Tiggywinkle.


...Please don't bombard me with ideas for good reads! I feel obliged to point out that I simply don't have time to read. By the time my days are in their twilight, I'm so spent that the best I can manage is a TV show with no plot line.

That's said, we've just watched Joanna Lumley's Trans-Siberian Express documentary on ITV player, which does offer food for thought. It's a stunning series which I would urge you all to watch. She's such an unbelievably engaging woman and she's travelling through parts of the world which I can't even begin to comprehend. Mongolia. Siberia. Parts of rural China.

It's actually made me want to go to Mongolia. It's rather mystical, and they have a good track record of dealing with LGBT people. Being gay was decriminalised in 1961!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Cold collation

Based on the weather today, I'd say yesterday's bride, Catherine, totally lucked out! It was raining cats and dogs when I woke up this morning and seems to have done so all day. It wasn't an unpleasant sort of rain. It was that heavy rain you only get in the summer which brings with it an inexplicable, powerful smell which evokes childhood. I went to buy milk from a local shop and was a little surprised to see the streets full of joggers, the majority of whom appeared to be wearing prat hats. I've always rather enjoyed running in the rain; it brings with it a sense of liberation not dissimilar to the times in our early childhood when we were given permission to strip you down to our pants and run into a hose pipe in the garden.

We went up to Thaxted again today. It was my Dad's birthday yesterday and we were due to go to Cambridge for a meal in a Grantchester pub until my Dad came down with a bug and we decided there wasn't much point in going somewhere which is much nicer when it's not raining with a bloke who wouldn't enjoy eating the food he was kindly offering to pay for! So instead, we took food with us and prepared what my mum would call a "cold collation," which is essentially a table of cheeses, salads, breads, quiches and nicknacks. Brother Edward and Sascha were there, with Ted's university friend Daniel, whom I've known since I was seventeen. He's adorably easy to shock (a product of having lived in the U.S. for way too many years) and, as a result, always brings out the outrageous in me.

Sally and Stuart from the town popped by with their two kids to have a slice of the ludicrously large birthday cake which my father had found in the local bakers. It was less cake, and more hand-crafted stool; a great big chocolate thing covered in more chocolate, which we ate with raspberries because we all know there's nothing better than the combination of chocolate and raspberries.

We left at 7.30pm, and, in the short time it took us to drive from Thaxted to the M11, a blinding sun burnt through the hazy, murky rain clouds which turned the sky opal blue and lasted all of ten minutes before the clouds descended once again and darkness rushed in. 

On our way home, we tuned into Radio 4 and were greeted by a "topical comedy show" about words called Wordaholics. It was a little confusing as they seemed to be making jokes about the BBC's recent move to Salford and the "forthcoming" London Olympics. It was only as the programme finished that they announced it had first been broadcast in 2012. 20-bloody-12?! Words cannot express how disappointed I am with the BBC at the moment. Repeating a three-year old "topical" radio show in, what must be, a fairly well-listened-to slot, is almost unforgivable. It's not like these radio panel shows are expensive to make, or that what we were listening to was comedy gold which has stood up to being repeated so long after it was relevant. If the BBC genuinely wants us to believe it's taking itself seriously as a broadcaster at the moment it has to do better than this. This is BBC Radio 4. Not Dave.

For those of you who are interested in the caricature that was done of Nathan and me at the wedding yesterday... here it is. We didn't tell the artist we were married, but he seems to have put hearts all over the picture! Could it have been that obvious?


Sight reading

We woke up in Chippenham this morning and had breakfast in the Premier Inn. Full vegetarian English. Eat as much as you like. Bish, bash, bosh. Thank you very much for asking.

From Chippenham we drove to Melksham, a pretty little market town in Wiltshire, which my phone has repeatedly auto-corrected to Milkshake!

It was Nathan's cousin's wedding, or, I think, more accurately, his first cousin once removed's wedding. Nathan was singing Love Changes Everything in the church, so we got there early to work out levels for his CD backing track. As a precaution we'd thrown the sheet music into his suitcase, just in case there was some sort of technical error. It turned out everything worked really well, however, and I was put in charge of clicking play on the computer which was feeding into the sound system. I'm not altogether sure why the person from the church who showed me the ropes didn't seem to want to hit play on his own sound system. As it turned out, he spent the wedding plodding about nervously in the church's side aisle singing hymns in a voice like Harvey Fierstein, and when it came to the key moment, followed me over to check I was doing things properly!

The service was great, although the vicar went on a bit, to the extent that I wished I'd brought a book with me, or some colouring in. I'm sure no one would have noticed. If you're not going to make your sermon either theatrical or relevant, you can't expect anyone to bother to listen to you. Sometimes, when I'm forced to sit in a church listening to the droning sounds of a vicar, I think how amazing my sermons would have been had I gone in the direction of the cloth. There would be light effects, illusions, songs, dramatic costumes, smoke and crazy smells. Get the senses going, you know. Religion is no excuse for dullness.

Anyway, when it came to Nathan's moment, I duly walked to the back of the church to press my button (followed by the church's technical guy) and, horror of horrors, immediately discovered that the computer had gone to sleep. The tech guy panicked and turned the whole thing off, which was about the silliest thing he could have done.

Meanwhile, Nathan had been announced and was standing like a dick at the front of the church, making small talk with the congregation. He later told me he was about to start reciting rude Limericks out of pure desperation. I looked down at the computer screen. Still dead as a doornail...

There was nothing for it. I grabbed the sheet music and ran to the front of the church, where a nutty professor had been sitting at a keyboard playing organ music as the congregation came in. He must have wondered what on earth was going on as I elbowed him out of his seat and asked how I got the keyboard onto piano setting. I then did the unthinkable and sight-read my way through Love Changes Everything, whilst Nathan sang. It was the biggest adrenaline rush I've probably ever had, and, bizarrely, it went really well! Just call me Mighty Mouse!

We came out of the church and helped Nathan's cousin (not the cousin getting married, another cousin) to change her flat tyre in a local car park. Our puncture (which turned out to be caused by a nail embedded in the tyre) was a slow one, so we decided to drive to the reception (at a very swanky golf club) before attaching the spare wheel.

There was a very amusing moment when Nathan's uncle, who'd also helped to change the tyre, finished putting the nuts onto the wheel and proudly said, "right, jack off, Nathan." The timing of Nathan's retort, "steady," made for comedy gold, particularly when Nathan's cousin, blissfully unaware of the smutty turn in conversation, suddenly said "does anyone want a wet wipe?" We could have gone on all day with lines about nuts and spanners...

The reception was a dream: great food, lovely company, all sorts of innovative little additions, like a caricaturist who sat in the corner of the room working his way through the guests. Nathan and I had ours done. I've never been caricatured before (apart from in the form of rude poetry graffitied on a university wall) and assumed the end product was going to be about my nose. It turns out he went for the eyebrows! Great big stripes of black felt tip!

We changed our own car's flat tyre in the early evening and couldn't get the sodding wheel off the car. It had been on so long that it had sort of welded itself to the axel. Straight men at wedding parties have a sort of sixth sense for anything to do with cars (they smell grease and oil in the sea of crepe de chine and floral bouquets) and an increasing crowd of blokes in suits gathered around us, each holding a glass of wine and an opinion. It turns out that the wheel simply needed a strong kick, which was eventually provided by the most gung ho of the crowd, in an illegal-footie-tackle kind of diving motion delivered from the front of the car, which was so base and masculine I felt quite giddy!


We had to leave the party just as the music at the disco went 1970s. I have never in my life left a party whilst Staying Alive was playing. A true indication of how old and sensible we've become!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Dirty

The weather in London was astoundingly awful today. Dirty, dirty weather. It seems to have done nothing but rain. Typical, really, for a day when loads of people will be trying to take their families on holiday. Worst perhaps because there's mayhem at the Cinque Ports as a result of the migrant crisis, so you can't escape the British weather even if you want to.

This has been our first day off together in what seems an age. We were very sad not to have been able to take ourselves off to Highgate Woods or something. Instead we stayed inside whilst I watched endless clips on YouTube about Liverpool in the 1960s on the Internet. We also signed off all the art work for the Pepys album and sent that off to the CD manufacturers. Now comes the task of trying to get people to buy it when it's released. The task I hate more than any other!

We had lunch at the local greasy spoon and made the decision to head west this evening rather than tomorrow morning. We have a wedding to attend in Wiltshire and decided to treat ourselves to a Premier Inn this evening to avoid the hell of getting up at 7am and getting unbelievably stressed in the ghastly traffic which the first day of school holidays invariably brings.

We left Highgate late enough to avoid rush hour traffic, but drove straight into a massive rain storm and traffic jams on the North Circular brought about by heavy flooding. It took an hour to reach the M25, although God knows I was relieved not to have been one of the poor drivers in the surprising number of abandoned cars we saw by the sides of the road. A wheel had fallen off one of them. In another, a woman driver looked extremely frightened. Horrible.

We listened first to the hits of the Pet Shop Boys on our journey and then the Waterloo album by ABBA before trying some Tori Amos which we couldn't hear above the sound of the rain whacking down on the windscreen, so we had Deacon Blue, the BeeGees and a load more ABBA and arrived in Wiltshire at 10pm.

We arrived with a flat tyre on the car. Joy. These things are best left till the morning!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Gear means great

I'm a little too tired to write much tonight. We've just spent the last couple of hours going over the final proofs for the Pepys Motet album art work, which is being done by our next-door neighbour, Richard, partner of Little Welsh Nathalie. It looks amazing. He's done a wonderful job which I can't wait to see printed up on the CD itself.

We started filming this morning at 8am. This time at our house. I was in the bath when the film crew arrived. Fortunately they were starting with Nathan, who then had to dart off to do a full day's work at the box office at the Shaftesbury Theatre. He arrived home tonight barely able to stand. Apparently it was an incredibly busy day, with a very complicated "incoming," which is what they call the moment of mayhem when the audience descends on the theatre.

I was with the film crew for the rest of the day. We shot sequences up in the loft, which got incredibly hot, and then went off to City University buildings near Angel where I was treated to a rather extraordinary presentation. I do wish I could write more about what we've been up to.

I walked all the way to Angel tube before realising I'd left my bag at the university, so had to traipse back to collect it.

I fell asleep at 10pm last night. What am I? Some sort of Nana? From now on, when I have a slice of cake with a nice cup of tea, I'm going to call it "a little something extra." That's how old I feel.

In my spare time, I'm creating a glossary of 1960s slang terms. If anyone can think of anything cool in this respect, do let me know. My favourite so far is a word the Beatles used repeatedly in their films. Gear - meaning great.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Grotty


I was rather amused this morning to find a letter from the Moorfields Eye hospital, plainly meant to be sent to my GP's surgery, which informed them about the treatment I'd been given for my blepharitis when I went there as an emergency patient last month.

I don't have a regular doctor, so, on the form, where it said "name of doctor," I wrote "Highgate Group Practice:" The name of the surgery.

Imagine my delight, therefore, when the official letter came here addressed "Dear Dr Highgate!" I think I may adopt that particular name as a writing pseudonym. "Who wrote this piece of camp erotic fiction?" "Dr Highgate, of course." "And are we any closer to knowing the identity of Dr Highgate?" "No, but we know he has a gammy eye..."

We were up again at shite o'clock this morning for a meeting down the hill with Uncle Archie and Cat. Nathan was working today so our only option was to meet at 8am. I should have been organised and taken great plates of croissants and fresh fruit. That's what people in the city do for breakfast meetings isn't it? It might have woken me up a bit as well. I was so tired that my body felt hot inside. It took me until mid-day (when I got back home again) before I felt even remotely normal again.

The little girl opposite me on the tube to the osteopath this afternoon weed herself, which was fun and games for the mother, who was rifling through her bags to find some clean, dry leggings. The girl didn't seem that fussed. She stood, rather passively, as Mummy sorted her out. Who would ever be a mother? Potty training just adds insult to injury, doesn't it?

I learned something fascinating today, namely that the word "grotty" (meaning dirty or unpleasant) was invented by Alun Owen in 1964 for use by the Beatles in their Hard Day's Night feature film. In context, it's George Harrison who uses the word. We're told didn't actually want to say it, but was convinced to do so, and ends up describing a couple of shirts as grotty. When asked what the word means, he says "grotty... grotesque."

I watched the rest of Hard Day's Night for research purposes this evening. It's a funny old piece which seems to make very little sense. There was a great deal of surrealism about in popular culture in the mid 60s!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Stunning

We've been filming in Durham all day today and I've found myself increasingly beguiled by the city. We found out last night that considerably fewer than fifty thousand people live in the city, which seems a ridiculously low number. I'm told a further eighteen thousand students live there during term time, which must give it one of the highest student to townie ratios of any place baring St Andrews in Scotland. Our landlady was moaning this morning over breakfast about how busy Durham gets when the students are in town.

We were filming at the university, some of which is situated in the city's medieval castle, up on the hill next to the cathedral. Imagine going to university in a castle? That's surely every Harry Potter fan's dream?

I did a lot of walking up and down hills whilst being filmed today. You can't spend any time in Durham without going up, and then subsequently down a hill. We found a tiny little walkway through an archway in a house leading to a steep set of stairs which cut into the hillside. It was all a little bit "Mrs Tiggywinkle." It turns out that the secret(ish) passage was originally used by pilgrims heading to the cathedral. It had an incredibly eerie atmosphere.

The guesthouse we stayed in turned out to have a pancake cafe attached to it, which made for a somewhat intriguing breakfast. The woman who served us was definitely keener on pushing the pancake side of the menu. "Any pancakes for you?" she asked. "I'll just have poached eggs and mushrooms" I said. "In a pancake?" "Um, no, I think I'm alright..." "How about a nice pancake?" It turns out the cafe was in an old barber shop, which added another layer of surreality to the proceedings.

The day of filming ended on one of the bridges over the river; an utterly tranquil spot where the only sounds you can hear are those of people (the odd intrepid tourist and some of Durham's finest yoots flapping about on the river bank) flowing river water and the wind rustling through a thousand trees. I can't think of another city in the world where this would be possible.

We came home by train and saw Denise, the agony aunt from This Morning, sitting at the train station. She took the same train as us down to London, which I assume means she's on the show tomorrow. It strikes me that Durham is exactly the sort of place where someone like Denise ought to be living. She's always struck me as an incredibly kind and dignified lady. The view of the city from the train station remains one of the greatest in the world. If you ever head up to Edinburgh by train, and haven't yet seen it, make sure you sit on the right hand side of the train (facing the direction of travel.

That side will also give you views of the epic bridges over the Tyne in Newcastle and the equally impressive bridges of Berwick Upon Tweed, as well as offering glimpses of the bruised North Sea and glorious windswept white sandy beaches all the way along the Northumbrian coast and up into Southern Scotland.

I'm now pulling into Highgate station, rather thrilled to be home, but somewhat less keen to consider that I'm up again at 7am for a shit o'clock meeting with Uncle Archie.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Durham

I'm wondering if today could have lasted any longer if it had tried!

I appear to be in a guest house in Durham. This place redefines chintz. The walls are covered in a paper which depicts a series of dying lilac tulips, there are folds upon folds of what I can only describe as a sexual fabric hanging from the window, there's a dressing table with a sconce around it, the like of which I haven't seen since my grandmother passed away, and all the woodwork has been distressed, painted white and touched up with shiny gold paint. I'm staring at a chaise lounge now. How could I have missed the deep purple chaise lounge*?!

(*thanks to my reader who points out that it's a chaise longue, not lounge!!)

Still, Durham is a beautiful city. A very special location. There is not one single street in this place which isn't framed by the most remarkable view. The entire city is watched over by a castle and a cathedral. Turn a corner and they're there, towering over a dark green ravine through which the blackest, shiniest river meanders.

Cat, our director, used to come here on "music school" summer camps, and took us on a tour of some of her former haunts. Every story she told triggered a memory of my own. Our summer schools were in a Northamptonshire village called Grendon. It's where I met Sam Becker and Ted. And probably Fiona, although I can't actually remember meeting Fiona. That's a little strange isn't it? How can you not remember meeting your closest friend? Is that a thing perhaps?

We were up at the crack of dawn to film sequences at Goldsmith's University in South London. It felt like a very successful and highly informative morning. The other contributors were fascinating and we all got along famously.

I didn't much like leaving Nathan on the tube at 2pm. He's not come up to Durham. It's just me and the film crew for this particular part of the project.

The train from King's Cross was in disarray. The carriage we were booked on had faulty air-conditioning, so we were sent off to coach K, which turned out to be first class. Result!

Sadly, we weren't treated like first class passengers. In fact, the staff wheeled copious trollies laden with fruit and cakes past us in a sort of "look what you could have won" kind of way.

Still, that aside, the chairs are ever so comfortable in First Class. It was rather lovely to lounge our way up to Durham in style. Railway travel is by far the greatest method of transport. I absolutely love sitting on a train, but when you're in a half empty compartment and you have a table in front of you, and a laptop and a sandwich and a cup of tea... Well there's nothing better is there?

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Soily hedgerows

We're currently driving home from Thaxted. Quite a lot of my blogs start like that, don't they? Thaxted is a place we visit rather often. It's close enough to London to come to for a half day or so and it gives us a fabulous opportunity to commune with nature. The fields around the town are so beautiful to walk in. Tonight the air smelt, as my Mum put it, like "late summer." It's a very specific smell which I remember well from my childhood; a blend of dusty hay fields and the dark, verdant bite of soily hedgerows. I remembered sixth form walks with my brother and the Sidey girls through woods and churchyards on the Northamptonshire /Bedfordshire border, the threat of school just around the corner, the smoky sun low in the sky.

So it would appear that my blog about early onset gender stereotyping has caused more controversy than I perhaps expected! In fact, I'm surprised the suggestion that parents might think twice before buying their sons toy guns would create any controversy outside America. It seems I was wrong.

I should start by apologising to anyone who was genuinely offended by what I said. I certainly didn't set out to write anything unkind. It is true that I was writing from a hunch and not from a perspective of having done a long-term study into how many gun crimes were committed by men who were given large quantities of toy guns as children. I am also aware that, as a non-parent, I have absolutely no right to tell parents what to do with their own children's lives. That goes without saying. We all know that you can't be a good teacher if you're not a parent. Or a paediatrician. Or a composer, I suppose... Parents understand the world in a special way which us mere mortals struggle to comprehend. We have to imagine instead what it must feel like to have been a child...

I'll say just two more things on the issue... I was at a school where a former pupil, obsessed with guns, came back and shot the deputy head and a number of the kids with an air rifle his father had given him. I've written about the experience before in this blog. It's something I wouldn't wish on anyone and I'm afraid it's an experience which I feel couldn't have been helped by the childhood experience of firing a toy gun with no consequence.

My second point is a more personal story. I had a fairly miserable period in my early childhood brought about directly by gender stereotyping. As a five-year old, when I started school, I wanted to play with the girls. I liked the games they played. They seemed more imaginative. The dinner ladies had different views. They said if I played with dolls and things I would end up being gay. So I was banned from sitting with the girls.

I still remember running through the playground crying because I had no one to play with.

I went home in tears and told my Mum what had happened. I'm not sure this was the famous time when she went in and told the teachers she'd rather I were gay than a nuclear scientist, but on this occasion she tried to find solutions, and asked me what it was that the boys in my form liked playing with. I told her that they all had action men.

The next morning, when I woke up, my Mum had gone to a charity shop, bought an old, naked action man, and stayed up through the night making clothes for him. She'd knitted him a little jumper, made a cape out of an old cagoule and a little pair of corduroy trousers.

I took the action man in with me the next day, and proudly went over to a group of lads who were playing with theirs. They took one look at my action man and fell about laughing; "he doesn't have eagle eyes!" They chanted! "Jippo action man."
Eagle-eyed action men, you see, had a little button on the back of the head which enabled the action man's eyes to move from side to side.

...And so I took my rubbish action man, and hid it under a pile of coats. I didn't want my Mum to know it had gone down badly, and for the rest of the week, until the ban was lifted on my playing with girls, I sat on my own at play times.

There. That's all I have left to say about gender stereotyping. I'm aware that everyone is different and that for every story like mine, there will be a million others from people who have different views on the subject.

Oh yes. One final coda. I always wanted a Girls World but was never allowed one. Good things come to those who wait, however, and, for my 39th birthday, my five-year old god-daughter presented me with hers. It now sits in the kitchen, her glorious golden hair tumbling over the microwave! You see? There's hope for us all!

Saturday, 18 July 2015

A whinge about gender stereotyping (and a nice picture)

I saw a woman with her five-year old son standing at a pedestrian crossing today. The little lad was holding a somewhat realistic replica "toy" gun which he was brandishing in the style of mini-terrorist. There was something deeply unsettling about the sight, which threw me into deep thought. My initial reaction was one of indignation: Surely if you're going to buy your child a gun, and encourage him to "play" with it, you only have yourself to blame when he finds an air rifle in a local field and mistakenly shoots you through the face with it?

Then my thoughts turned to gender stereotyping. I hear a lot from my friends with kids who tell me how they're, quite rightly, doing everything they can to encourage their little girls that they don't need to feel oppressed by a male-dominated world, but it would appear that some of these mums are doing everything possible to reinforce the very behaviour from men which makes women feel less confident. Hand a young lad a toy gun and he'll grow up behaving more aggressively, and see girls (who don't carry guns) as fragile weaklings who need to be protected by his chivalrous behaviour. Men learn from a frighteningly early age that they must patronise women. All that opening doors nonsense is part of the same issue.

In my view, boys suffer as much, if not more, from early-onset gender stereotyping. Certainly most of the men I know from my generation (particularly those who don't hail from privilege) grew up believing they would get married to a woman and provide for her whilst she brought up the children. If we were unable to provide for our families, we were not deemed proper men, and we had not fulfilled our potential. Our "role" in life was re-inforced by parents, teachers, the media, both subliminally and explicitly. It's the reason why Nathan and I still struggle to accept hand-outs.

So anyway, if you're a mother, and you're considering whether to buy your son a gun, do think twice... It helps no one! Buy him a magic wand instead.

I decided to stay home all day today to celebrate a much-needed day off after a punishing week. Poor Nathan had a wedding gig to do in Macclesfield, so was out of the house before I'd worked out who I was!

Of course, a day by the telly was never going to be something my ADHD brain would allow, so by about 4pm, my feet had started to twitch and demand that I took them on a little adventure. Fortunately at the same time I realised I was one or two pictures short for my Pepys Motet artwork. I therefore took myself on a little jaunt to the most photogenic district of London, Old Street.

I don't much like the people who hang out in Old Street - those desperate hipsters pretending to be artists and the trashy girls who think they're classy wearing ripped jeans and high heels whilst smoking outside hetty bars - but the area is visually thrilling, filled with a mish-mash of buildings built in every conceivably style and era, all of which have been decorated with street art by some of the biggest names in graffiti. Homeless people sleep under Victorian railway arches, people have set up offices and homes in everything from old grimy cloth factories to tube trains which have been transported to roof gardens high above the streets.

Anyway, I took more pictures of the placards Little Welsh Nathalie made with Pepysian shorthand painted on them. I wanted to place them in surprisingly modern London locations, thereby reflecting the very essence of the Pepys Motet, which is a massive collision of old and new. Old text, new studio techniques, the ancient art of a cappella singing against jarring and complicated modern jazz harmonies. I ask myself frequently if Pepys would have approved of the work. I suspect he would have been both flattered and fascinated, yet horrified to think the world might be able to listen to twenty performers singing the most intimate details of his extra-marital sexual adventures. On that note, I keep wondering whether the piece might actually be banned from the radio. There are countless references to pissing, cunnies and cockerels! Total filth! Legitimate seventeenth century academically-studied texts they might be, but for many years these passages were omitted from all publications. Obviously they were the first ones I set to music...


Friday, 17 July 2015

Fabulously gay

We've had another day of filming today which started in a recording studio in Crouch End listening to Abbie singing Sondheim, accompanied by the gloriously sunny Joe Louis Robinson who's off to Spain in September to become head of voice studies in a drama school. He's going to be living in Sitges, which is fabulously gay. It was his birthday today.

Abbie sang beautifully. Really beautifully. Very movingly. That's about all I can write about the process, as I'm sworn to secrecy. In a break in the filming I played Joe and Abbie the mastered version of the Pepys Motet, sadly on speakers which weren't quite balanced, so all of PK's extraordinary stereo effects were slightly lost. They seemed very impressed, although everyone seems agreed that it's one of the most complicated pieces of music they've ever heard!

We came back to Highgate and continued to film, sitting on the sofa by the window in our sitting room. There was a brief sojourn whilst the crew set up, so we spoke to Jem and Ian in New York on Skype. They've settled in really well and looked incredibly happy. Sadly, seeing their faces again has made us miss them even more.

I can sense that this blog entry isn't really going anywhere because I can't really talk in detail about what I've been up to today! It's a little frustrating, not least because what we're doing is so exciting.

We ordered a pizza tonight and caught up on episodes of Humans, an excellent drama on Channel 4, which you can see on 4OD. Sadly, we ate the food too late, so I suspect I'll have crazy acid reflux all night.

Pleased to report that the jippy tummy has cleared up, but sad to report I'm too tired to do anything now but fall asleep!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Shaking the BBC

Nathan and I are both exhausted. I've been utterly wiped out by a combination of jet-lag, many early starts and a tummy bug. I'm like a walking corpse!

It astonishes me to think that we were in Madrid less than twelve hours ago. It was lovely to walk through the streets of the city as it awoke. Early morning seems to be the only time in that particular city (at this time of year) when the climate is conducive to anything other than hiding in air-conditioned buildings or walking really slowly!

On our way to the airport from our wonderful hotel, we went around two sides of a huge park, which was filled to the rafters with joggers, all taking advantage of the lower temperature.

The flight was pretty good, by flight standards, which makes me think that the problems we encountered on our way out weren't simply the result of Ryanair being a dreadful airline, and more the combination of Ryanair and Stansted Airport just not working as bed fellows. I think the problem is that both companies (if we can call an airport a company) put money before the needs and desires of their customers. The powers that be at Stansted, for example, have now made it impossible to pick someone up from the airport without paying for parking. There's no free pick up zone. There used to be. In fact, there were plenty. This decision, of course, has had a negative impact on local people (like my parents) who sometimes want to use the train station at Stansted to go to London or Cambridge. Before it became impossible to access, I'd often go to Stansted train station when I was visiting my parents. Not any more. For the money they spend in parking to pick me up, I might as well get a taxi to Thaxted. Or a taxited as you might call it!

As I parked the car back in Highgate this afternoon, I passed two little Asian girls in the street who were walking home from school. They were teaching their Dad a song they'd learned: "Goodbye-ee, goodbye-ee, wipe a tear, baby dear, from your eye-ee..." What a charming song to hear two little girls singing, not just because it knocks 1 Direction songs out of the water in terms of melody and sentiment, but also because it implies that school kids are learning about the First World War, which I think is vital in an era where violence is all too often glamourised or at least misunderstood by young people.

I read today that the beloved BBC is about to be subjected to some sort of parliamentary review. I've said it many times: I would go to the grave defending the rights of the BBC. It is a vital British, nay world, institution, which is envied everywhere. It's therefore vital that it remains independent from any government control or intervention before we find ourselves aping the misery of Italy, where telly is absolutely dreadful, largely because most of it is controlled by Berlusconi.

With all this in mind, I find it really painful to admit that I feel the BBC IS in need of a major shake up at the moment. I think too many people within the organisation are either arrogant, or too frightened to be daring. There are too many people in middle management positions creating too many layers of bureaucracy. When you govern by committee, everyone ends up playing it safe: the programmes which get made are everyone's second choice. Everyone is too busy trying to track down projects which might lead to high ratings. Second seasons of rubbish show are commissioned, well, because "better the devil you know..." The organisation IS in a mess. Independent production companies are thinking twice before taking their ideas there because it can take months for the BBC to make a decision, or even set up a meeting. Meanwhile, in some quarters of the organisation there still exists a "we're at the BBC and we've got jobs for life" mentality which can promote a climate of deep laziness. Worse than this, staff become jaded. Live wires with brilliant ideas get bored of constantly coming up against red tape, and I've witnessed so many brilliant, beautiful minds, leaving the BBC because they're simply bored of trying any more.

So there's the dilemma: the BBC in my view does need a shake up. It needs to understand why it exists, and huge numbers of staff without creative or practical skills, unfortunately need to lose their jobs. The quality and originality of its output needs to improve and it needs to be braver and less obsessed with ratings. But I don't want a government to tell them that!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Flamenco

We've been filming all day in the mega heat of Madrid. We were actually based at one of the university buildings on the outskirts where it was apparently a couple of degrees cooler than in the city centre itself, but every time we left an area of air conditioning we almost keeled over.

We came back to the hotel and I borrowed our sound man's lovely Sennheiser headphones to listen to the newly mastered Pepys Motet album for the first time. I lay on the bed and allowed the music to transport me to another world. It felt like a really important moment in time. I started writing the Pepys Motet at the same time as I started writing this blog a full five and a half years ago. That's a heck of a long gestation period, during which time the piece has taken right to the edge of sanity more than I care to mention.

Sadly, since being here I've been coming down with some sort of stomach bug. I've obviously eaten something dodgy. Possibly for breakfast in the hotel. It can foxtrot oscar right off as far as I'm concerned. Fancy trying to wreck my time in Spain!

We went out in central Madrid tonight and did some filming in the Plaza Major, which is a stunningly beautiful medieval square. It's extraordinary to think that when those houses were built, Spain was a super power which owned half of the known world.

I found myself transfixed by a street performer dressed as a dog, with a body created from strips of metallic paper. His face was a mask made of beautifully carved and painted wood, and he could snap his jaws together like the crocodile on You and Me. I wonder if anyone else remembers the crocodile on You and Me? We nick-named him Disco Dog, because when you gave him money, he danced like some sort of rain man. I loved him, and could have watched him doing his thing for hours.

The sunset tonight was spectacular. It looked like a fan-shaped graphic equaliser radiating out from behind a cloud!

We went for tapas in the evening and I repeatedly fell asleep at the table, which I found somewhat mortifying. There was a darkened room behind the restaurant which we were ushered into after eating. The room was filled with dark drapes and red-topped wooden tables and it transpired we were being brought in to watch a flamenco performance.

The show was remarkable: earthy, authentic, dramatic, at times the performers demonstrated deep vulnerability. The opening sequence was hugely moving. The guitarist was a virtuoso, the singers ripped their hearts (and vocals cords) to shreds, and the dancing was universally exquisite. I have seldom seen such fast and precise tapping and clacking. It brought the house down.

We were in the audience with one of the lecturers from the university who had brought us there to see proper flamenco. I turned to him at the interval: "please tell me that was incredible. I haven't just loved every moment of that because I'm a tourist, have I?" I was relieved to hear that the performance had indeed been a high calibre one.

What a perfect end to a very special few days in this remarkable city.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Madrid

We had the most awful time at Stansted airport this morning. It's difficult to know whether our misfortune was a bi-product of a broken airport, or whether the manifold horrors we experienced were due to the dark ineptitude of Ryanair, who are clearly the worst airline in the world. I actually believe they take great delight in being such recidivist crap-wangers. When you complain, you're confronted with waves of clog-dancing Irish arrogance and ambivalence.

The check-in desks at Stansted this morning were rammed. They were essentially queuing out of the doors of the departures building. No one knew what was going on. Periodically, the passengers on certain flights were called out of the queues they were in and sent to a different desk for "immediate check-in." We arrived at the airport two hours before our flight, and after an hour and a half had only just checked our baggage in, having been sent to two separate queues because the woman on the desk didn't deal with excess baggage or fragile luggage.
After waiting for ten minutes in a scrum at the security gates, we started to panic. I rushed over to a staff member who ushered me into a priority line. Sadly this queue took forever again, and was made even worse by the fact that I'd forgotten to remove deodorant from my suitcase, which meant I had to have a complete baggage search. The walk from security to the departure gate was a good ten minutes, so we arrived just as the last call sounded.

At that point, the woman on the departure gate wrapped a yellow ticket around our hand baggage, without explaining what it was for. It turns out it meant that our hand luggage was destined to be put into the hold because there was no room for it in the overhead compartments. We only discovered this fact when we reached the plane and an incredibly rude woman grabbed it. "What's happening?" I asked. "Your hand luggage is going into the hold..." In a panic, I rifled through the bag, rescuing my passport, luckily as it happened, as I'd never have got through customs in Madrid if I hadn't thought to. I was absolutely furious.

We boarded the plane and watched with horror through the window as our hand luggage was literally thrown onto a conveyor belt by airport staff. I asked a steward if he'd mind exiting the plane and telling them to be more careful: "people put valuable things in hand luggage because they think they're going to be keeping it with them." We told the steward how horrified we'd been to have the whole no hand luggage thing sprung on us and he told us that the woman on the gate was obliged to tell us what was happening when she attached the yellow ticket to our luggage. She'd told us nothing, so we hadn't had the time to work out what we needed to remove from our bags.

I'd left my wallet in there, so when those money-grabbing bastards came down the aisle flogging food and drink, I explained that I had no money, due to a breech in protocol on Ryanair's part, and asked if I could have a glass of tap water or a cup of tea as a good will gesture. The air hostess, she said no. She told me that the plane's tap water wasn't drinkable and that they had to charge for bottled water. I asked to speak to her manager, who also said no, smiling acidly. Surely denying someone a glass of water is a genuine infringement of his human rights? Not, apparently, in the world of Ryanair. In the end, the first steward took pity on me and brought me a glass of "his own water" which he poured out of a bottle into a tiny glass. Bless him and all that, but how hideous...

I'm also slightly worried to report that Nathan looked out of the window at one stage to see an Easy Jet plane flying within about 200 meters of our plane at 10,000 feet, which I would have thought was fairly close by aviation standards. Fortunately he decided not to point it out to me.

Anyway, on a more positive note, Madrid is boiling hot. At 42 degrees, I think it's the hottest weather I've ever encountered. It was the sort of weather that you couldn't sit out in for more than three minutes before feeling like your organs were shutting down. Even Madrid residents were panicking. In the streets we'd see them rushing over to fans and sources of water. We watched, with great amusement, in a little square in the Chueca district, one woman squirting a hose at a terribly grateful dog.

We took ourselves into a El Corte Ingl├ęs, which is Spain's premier department store. Ironically, it translates as the English Court. I needed to buy some headphones but we stumbled across a new vinyl pressing of an ABBA single, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of Waterloo with versions of the song in English and Swedish. Find! I instantly bought it for Nathan to add to his collection of 400 ABBA singles from around the world.

We bought nectarines for tea. In that kind of heat, fruit is the only thing which seems appropriate. Without wishing to sound too much like Samuel Pepys, they were the most delicious nectarines I ever ate. They were certainly the juiciest. Fnah fnah. I had to rush into a cafe to wash my sticky hands afterwards. Cor blimey, I did.

We went out this evening and at 9.18pm it was still 35 degrees. It became so muggy at one point that tiny droplets of rain were forming in the air and spontaneously dropping down without a cloud in sight. I made the mistake of wearing long trousers and sweated like I've never sweated before.

I walked home through Puerta del Sol which buzzes at night. There were artists painting pictures on the side walk, break dancers popping in front of a huge crowd, African gentlemen selling anything they could get their hands on and people lobbing little coloured lights into the sky which went up like rockets and then floated back down to earth like LED fireworks.

Grey Gardens

Yesterday, on arriving back in London, we fell asleep for a few hours, and then forced ourselves to get up and stay awake until midnight so that we could give ourselves the best chance of beating the jet lag.

Touching the nearest wooden table, it seems to have done the trick, because we were able to wake up at 8am this morning feeling vaguely refreshed and ready to face the world, which was just as well because we spent the entire day filming a documentary in Cambridge.

We largely based ourselves at the maths department at the university, which is a curious place, fairly reminiscent of the canteen in The Big Bang Theory, and peopled by rather wonderful-looking geeks. Nathan happened upon one group of young students who appeared to be studying a Rubik's Cube. They were, I'm told, staring at it as though it were some kind of religious icon.

The sound recordist on the shoot was rather worried by my hairy chest, and the concept of mic'ing me up without the permanent sound of hair rustling against the microphone like trees blowing in the wind. He was forced to use a special device called a "hush lav" to compensate. Mortifying.

I watched an amazing film on the plane last night called Grey Gardens, which told the somewhat iconic story behind the extraordinary 1975 documentary of two women (a mother and a daughter), both called Edith Beale, who live a somewhat tragic co-dependent life in a once-grand, now-utterly-ramshackle house in East Hampton. The women are the cousin and aunt of Jacqueline Kennedy and sit rather squarely on the outer edge of the line which separates eccentricity from lunacy. The film fills in the parts of the story which are covered by photographs and somewhat bitter reminiscing in the documentary. We essentially watch two glamorous society figures in the 1930s crashing and burning over the course of almost 40 years and ending up in a house which is literally falling down around them with nothing but the friendship of a tribe of semi-feral cats. The two Ediths in the film (which was made in 2009) are played by Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore. Barrymore is particularly remarkable in the role. I wept uncontrollably for ten solid minutes after it finished (and not just because I was terrified of the turbulence which had accompanied much of the film!)

Right. Bed time for me. It's midnight... and I'm off to Spain first thing in the morning. (I know!)

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Confused


I'm deeply confused. I appear to be on a tube heading away from Heathrow and, although I'm about ready to go to sleep, it would appear to be tomorrow!


Twelve hours ago, I was sitting by Matt's pool, having just eaten a tomato and mozzarella salad. It was baking hot. The sky was blue.


Fifteen hours ago, I was in a little cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard. A waiter had just dropped a plate, it had smashed on the floor, all the customers had shouted "hoop-la" (a bit random) and one yelled "job opening!"


The weather is overcast in London. There's a dirty, grey sky. I'm not sure I'm ready to be back!


The flight was horrifying. It was full of children. At one point they all seemed to set each other off in some kind of hell-sent chain reaction of whinging and wailing.


There was light turbulence all the way through the flight which royally freaked me out. I can't sleep in an aeroplane: the moment I drift off, I immediately wake up again rather violently. It happens as regularly as clock work.


One of the hostesses had a big arse, which meant there wasn't quite enough space for her to walk in the aisles without bumping into my elbow... Every time she passed... However far I tried to pull it in.


The same hostess made some awful noises when she spoke. She was all "if you need any help, just come and find myself or one of my colleagues." (It is a mortal sin to not understand where it's appropriate to use a reflexive pronoun.) She also threw the word "do" into every sentence "when you do leave the airport" "when you do want some duty free..." Her most perfectly awful sentence was uttered to the man behind me as we prepared for landing: "could you just recline the seat forward for me?"


Virgin Flight crew training should teach people how to use language effectively. Frankly, if you can't be bothered to talk properly, use mime.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Disney Dreams

Today we went to Disneyland! I won't lie. I wasn't expecting much. In fact, if anything, I assumed I was going to be engulfed by a somewhat hideous all-American, somewhat evangelising, plastic dream-world. In reality, I've had an astonishing day. A day of magical escapism. A day of hysterical laughter. I felt like an eight year-old child again, and as a result I refuse to be jaded or too cool for school about the experience.

We were there as special guests, and were shown around the site by a fabulous, generous and interesting woman called Vanessa, who made sure we went to the front of all the queues for rides which made the experience an extraordinary one.

We went on a total of 18 rides. The first highlight was the Small World experience. I'd wanted to go on it ever since hearing that Fiona's sister, Vic, had got so terrified by all the little dolls there that she'd burst into tears and had to be carried out. It's the ride which is often cited as the most likely Disney experience to break down. I think one of the characters on the Big Bang Theory was traumatised for life by getting stuck on the ride as a child. Apparently it used to break down regularly because the population of the U.S. became heavier and heavier in the decades following the opening of the theme park, which, incidentally, is sixty years old this year. 


I think Disneyland's age is one of the reasons why the place feels authentic and not as tacky as other theme parks. It maintains a sense of its 1950s, post-war, confident American roots. It's an immersive experience. There's not a single shop, ride, street or corner which hasn't been themed or considered. This all adds to the magic.

We met Mickey Mouse. We were taken into a back room in a ritual which felt a little dodgy, if I'm honest, like we were doing some kind of secret arms deal with Russian terrorists, except we were shaking hands with a cartoon character. It felt rather un-American to do anything other than uphold the myth that Mickey was there in front of us. I now know exactly how people feel when they go into a church and listen to a vicar preaching. It's about comfortable myths, I suppose, which make us feel good about the world. 


We went across from Disneyland to its sister and neighbouring park, California Adventure, where some of the more adult rides can be found. The most terrifying is definitely the Tower of Terror, which is a ride in an imaginary lift, which rapidly climbs to the top of a pretend hotel building before plummeting like an absolute stone to the extent that your stomach ends up in your mouth. It was one of the most terrifying things I've ever experienced which was only made bearable by Matt's hysterical laughter and the fact that it was mercifully short. I didn't stop swearing.

We went on the Grisly Mountain ride and met a ten year-old, rather sparky girl called Jordan. Heaven knows where her family had got to, but she seemed to be riding the rapids on a loop on her own. She told us all about what to expect on the ride and was so engaging that we went on a second time with her and got soaking wet for our troubles.

The theme parks are stuffed full of people on mobility scooters. I've seldom seen the like. People were taking their scooters all the way down the ramps to the rides and then hopping out with seemingly no mobility issues. Lazy fat gits!

We had tea in one of the fancy restaurants on the site. And it was possibly the best food I've ever eaten. Perhaps it was the company. Perhaps it was the fact that eighteen rides had helped us to build up an enormous appetite, but everything that went on my plate was absolutely delicious.

We watched an amazing presentation after tea. A spectacular display of music, coloured lights, fiery explosions and Disney film clips projected onto fountains. It ought to have been tacky and messy, but it was utterly transporting.

The theme park continues to throb late into the night. I think the rides close officially at midnight.

We crossed back to Disneyland to watch the late-night parade, which is essentially a glorious carnival of flashing coloured lights with huge floats carrying Disney princesses down the Main Street. Again, it ought to have been a disastrous cliche, but it was magical. I stared. Transfixed.

The laughter started at about 11pm. All five of us went to the loo for a quick wee before going on a final ride. Whilst we were in there, we could hear some poor bloke having the most awful time in a cubical. The farting sounds were so ear-shatteringly loud that they brought our entire conversation to a stand still and left us incapable of doing anything but laugh uncontrollably.

The laughter continued outside the loo, where a small child managed to trip over my foot. That was funny because it shouldn't have been!

The final ride of the night was the wonderful Splash Mountain, which is essentially a glorified log flume. It was fabulous to ride it in the dark. I was right at the front and got a proper soaking. Hurtling down a steep slope in a wooden raft in pitch darkness is a terrifying experience. You hit water at the bottom, hear the splash, but only know where the wave's heading when it hits your body! Cue more hysterical laughter which hasn't really stopped! 


Thank you Disneyland! I'm a true convert!

Friday, 10 July 2015

The old zoo

We had breakfast in a little cafe on Santa Monica today, and realised we were surrounded by people talking about film and television. Not a single person in the place was having an ordinary conversation! I found it incredibly alarming.

LA revolves entirely around the entertainment industry. Everyone I've met here has supported that particular infrastructure somehow, from agents who deal specifically with celebrity endorsements, to people who advise actors on good investments in the field of fine art. In other towns and cities, the bankers are the ones frittering their cash away and attracting leeches, but here, it's the actors and directors who have the power.

Dope is as good as legal in Southern California, so the air is heavy with the smell of the stuff. There are even "green doctors" who will provide pretty much anyone with a medical certificate which allows them to use the drug. I think the process goes something along the lines of, "why do you want to use marihuana?" "Because I can't sleep at night." "That's fine. The certificate costs $40. You are now licensed to get stoned..." Bam!

The other thing which makes me laugh about Americans is that they are allowed to take pets on flights with them (for free) if they have a doctor's certificate which says their animals provide them with "emotional support." Isn't that hideous?! I think the dogs have to be small enough to fit in a basket which can fit under a plane seat, so it might be difficult to fly a pair of Weimaraners across to New York, but then again, very few people from this city have anything but the tiniest, silliest dogs!

We walked for miles along Santa Monica after breakfast, and then took a taxi up to the old Los Angeles zoo which is up at Griffith Park. The zoo opened in the 1920s and closed in the 60s, probably when the animal rights lobby deemed it too small and too cruel! A replacement zoo was subsequently set up further into the park.

In true American style, the ruins of the zoo have been left to slowly disintegrate, thereby offering us an amazing insight into the way animals were kept in the early 20th Century. 


It's a fascinating place with a deeply eerie, yet somehow rather calming atmosphere. I bet it's a tremendous place to visit at night. I think I read somewhere that they do ghost tours up there and there's a Shakespeare play being performed in the grounds tonight. Daytime visitors, of which there are surprisingly few, are able to wander around the site, past all the old cages and enclosures. Many of the doors are bolted shut, but there are plenty that you can enter to get a sense of just how tiny and claustrophobic those cages actually were. It can be somewhat overwhelming. More intrepid and foolhardy visitors can climb through holes in fences into even more unusual pens. You can even squeeze yourself into the little corridors and chutes with trap doors either end used by zoo keepers when feeding tigers and lions. The whole place is graffitied up to the eyeballs, which a lot of travel writers seem to think is a shame. I didn't mind in the least. It made it seem more real somehow: more genuine and less like some sort of tourist destination. What's less for the feint-hearted, however, is the fact that many of the enclosures reek of ammonia. I'm not sure whether this is as a result of the previous animal inhabitants or modern day tourists and vagrants being caught short. 


I think the place probably looked rather lovely in its heyday. The setting, in the sandy hills above Hollywood, is stunning, and the pens, though tiny, are beautifully landscaped to look like they've been cut into the rocks. There's even evidence of a huge man-made waterfall and river system snaking its way through the site. 


It's a must-see location for anyone with imagination. If you don't like walking, or if you like your tourist sites to look rather pretty-pretty, give it a big miss! 


This evening we went to the launch of OutFest, the LA gay and lesbian film festival. They're apparently screening 166 LGBT films from across the world in locations across the city, so it struck us how ludicrous it was that Our Gay Wedding: The Musical wasn't one of them. Everyone wanted to talk to Matt, of course, and, much as I wanted to tell people that Nathan and I had done something rather important for gay rights on the other side of the pond, I knew no one was ever going to be that fussed. People are so obsessed with celebrity here that, if you're standing with one, you might as well be invisible, which of course makes you feel and act invisible in a viscous cycle sort of way!

We were thrilled to see John Cameron Mitchell (of Hedwig fame) winning a fellowship award for services to film. We were re-introduced to him briefly before the event, Nathan, as someone who'd actually performed the role of Hedwig, and me as the god father of Philippa's children. Philippa has co-written his next film, which everyone here seems very excited about.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

You're trespassing





I went for another run this morning in the chocolate-scented Hollywood morning air. I think some sort of cocoa plant grows in these parts which emits a dark, rather lustrous smell when the air is close and misty...

We had breakfast with a young lass who follows Nathan's knitting vlogs and was brave enough to get in touch with him. She was deeply charming. The more I learn about the knitting community, the more remarkable I think it is. Knitters, like animal people, are all incredibly friendly. I love the thought that people across the world of every colour, creed, religion and age can be united by that single passion. We talked a little about earth quakes. I feel sure I was awoken two nights ago by a little tremor. As a Californian, she was comically dismissive: "Anything under 5 on the Richter Scale is a foot rub!"

As we walked up Sunset Boulevard to meet her, we were amused by the fact that all the grass verges in that part of town are actually made of astro turf! A reminder that this whole city is essentially built on desert...

We drove up into the Hollywood Hills before lunch in the hope of getting a closer look at the iconic white-lettered Hollywood sign. We parked on a street with complicated parking restrictions; a decision we'd later end up regretting, as when we returned, we found a ticket on the windscreen. It's not a massive deal to get a ticket in a city which is ruled by the motor car. It cost us about £40, rather than the £130 I'm currently contesting with Haringey Council for parking on my own street!

We'd been tipped off about a trek which takes intrepid hikers up into the Hollywood hills and around the back of the Hollywood sign. It's not your typical American day out because none of it involves a car, so we decided it had to be worth it to get away from the crowds and the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city!

We took a wrong turn at one point, and found ourselves stumbling up the side of a very steep hillside, closer and closer to the Hollywood sign itself. I was expecting it to be surrounded by a wire fence or something, but there we were, perhaps fifty metres away with nothing between us and it...

...And then we heard the terrifying voice screaming at us over a loud hailer, or bull horn as I think they're called over here: "hikers, you are trespassing. Go back to the road way immediately!"

We have never moved so speedily! 


Back on the road, we snaked our way around the hill, getting higher and higher, the views of LA getting better and better. We could literally see for miles from up there, the buildings of the city centre were poking up through the haze and smog like rib bones in an elephant's graveyard.

It's really silent in those hills. Little lizards sun themselves on wooden picket fences which have partially fallen off the side of cliffs, blue jays bounce in the trees, families of inquisitive dragon flies hover in the sky, whilst majestic eagles soar on the thermals watching over the world.

A biker was cycling up and down the hill. He must have passed us three or four times. Each time we wondered where on earth he was finding the super human strength he must have needed to repeatedly cycle up a hill that we were struggling to walk up.

The view from the top was worth all the panting and sweating, however. We were greeted by a three hundred and sixty degree view which stretched from Venice Beach to Pasadena and out to the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance. But just below us, sitting behind a fence no more than ten meters away, was the back of the Hollywood sign, its letters all in reverse. It was so close that we could see it was made out of corrugated iron. So near that we could view the metal spikes tethering the sign to the ground.

Nathan tweeted a picture of us up there and said "can anyone guess where we are?" Someone replied, "I've never heard of Doowylloh!"


We walked back down the hill, had lunch in a wonderful cafe filled with 1950s booths, and then drove to the northern fringes of the town, a route which took us past the building where a "psychic advisor" lived, and along the perimeters of the Warner Studios lot, with its famous "WB" logo'd water butt which we've become so used to seeing at the start of films made at the studios. 


Our destination was LA's finest knitting emporium, a pink-facaded shop called Unwind where we had a lovely chat to the owners. Hanging on the wall in one corner was a shawl which could only have been a Stephen West design (a young knitwear designer with whom we spent a glorious holiday in Italy some three or four years ago.) "Is that a Stephen West pattern?" asked Nathan. "Yes" said the shop owner. "Is that the design called Itaca?" "Yes. Why?" Nathan explained that Itaca was designed and knitted during the holiday we'd had with Stephen. He knitted it on Itaca Beach whilst the rest of us swam in the sea and helped him to find shells with natural holes in them to attach to the edges. Seeing it hanging up on the wall of an American knitting shop was quite astonishing.

This evening we had drinks and a meal with our close friend Adam who moved to LA from New York some eighteen months ago. He looked amazing. The climate and lifestyle is obviously working wonders for his body. But he misses New York, and who wouldn't, really? It was so so lovely to see him again. We haven't clapped eyes on him for at least a couple of years, so it was amazing to while away a few hours in his delightful company.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Goodbye to Sandra Dee

Yesterday on Venice Beach
Today would appear to have lasted forever. I feel sun-kissed and relaxed and like I've used every ounce of the day. 

I had a jog first thing. The mornings in LA since we got here have all been rather misty, so I took myself up the Santa Monica Boulevard to the bit of LA which can't decide if it's a bit gay and sleazy or a Russian enclave. In the present political climate, I'm sure the two communities are living incredibly uncomfortably next to one another, but I suppose the street must come to life when Eurovision's on! 

It is incredibly Russian up there. All the names of the shops are written in Cyrillic script and most of them sell red caviar! There was also a "Russian Jewish community centre" which had my head spinning! I didn't know there were any Jewish Russians any more. (Cue a rush of people getting in touch to tell me that there are more Russian Jews than any other minority community in that fascist nation...)

I came back from my jog and Nathan and I walked about four miles to Hollywood. The buildings in this city are all rather frozen in time. In the UK, people tend to update and do-up buildings as a matter of course. Over here they tend to wait until they fall down, so there are scores of buildings which date from the latter decades of the twentieth century which are literally crumbling. I rather like it if I'm honest. There's an authenticity about them. As you walk along the boulevards you are confronted by the 1970s, the '60s, the '50s..

Somewhere near Sunset Boulevard, an American bloke stopped us and asked if we knew where the other City Bank on that particular street was situated. We told him we had no idea and he did a double take: "you guys have an accent... What is it? French?" French? FRENCH? No, matey, this is what English OUGHT to sound like!

Slightly further up the street, there was a curious prefabricated house with hundreds of cow and zebra hides hanging outside. It was a most curious sight. There we were on the fringes of LA's swankiest district, and everything looked like something from the Wild West.

We walked past Hollywood High School, which has to be one of the coolest-named and coolest-looking high schools in the world. It's a huge Art Deco lump. Fabulosity.

Plainly Nathan sang Sunset Boulevard as we walked along the actual Sunset Boulevard...

I was given the most disgusting brunch in a cafe. Those who know me well will know I have a pathological hatred of stickers. Any sort of stickers, really, but stickers on fruit will actually turn my stomach and make me feel positively violent! The other thing I hate is coriander. As far as I'm concerned it's the devil's herb, which, to me, tastes like pennies and blood pressed into a bar of soap.

Imagine my horror, therefore, when my two poached eggs arrived (tepid) in two halves of an avocado which had a sticker attached to it, covered all over with a coriander sauce. I almost burst into tears, but did the terribly English thing of not sending it back because I felt silly complaining.

We strolled along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which, like everything here, is much longer/ bigger/ more impressive than you'd expect. There are thousands of names written in thousands of stars, stretching along the pavements of countless streets. It's exhausting looking at them all, particularly when you see the same names listed two, sometimes three times to honour their work in different fields.

The streets they're in vary enormously from grubby old sidewalks which look like the Holloway Road, to the swanky pavements outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre and Madam Taussauds where all the really flashy names can be found! I had my photo taken next to plaques honouring Angela Lansbury and my Great Granfather's cousin, Charlie Chaplin. Nathan was photographed with Gene Kelly's star. It had to be done, although Lord knows there was a ghastly bottleneck of tourists outside the Chinese Theatre, all of whom I wanted to smack with the remnants of my avocado brunch. 

Charlie and me...
We came back to Matt's, picked up Luke, and took ourselves on a mega-adventure into the world of cheesy film. Nathan drove Matt's car and we jumped on Highway 101, all the way up through the weird scrap yards and strange out-of-town malls, to the grotty suburbs in the very North of LA to pay homage to the house where Marty McFly lives in the movie Back to the Future.

Now I'll confess: that particular film doesn't have much resonance with me. I've seen it, probably once, and certainly couldn't remember what the house looked like, but to Nathan and Luke it was really special, and it was a great privilege to watch them enjoying the sight. Just to compound our joy, a little hummingbird descended from a tree outside the house and gave us a quick flamboyant show before darting off again.

The next part of the day was my suggestion. We drove down to fourth avenue to visit the dried up river basin where they filmed the "Thunder Road" car race sequence in the film Grease. This particular section of the film is probably most memorable for the bit where Olivia Newton-John sings the immortal lines "goodbye to Sandra Dee" before rushing off into the sunset to have a dodgy perm and squeeze herself into the tightest black trousers ever seen on film!

We didn't know if it would be possible to actually get down into the culvert itself, and our initial attempts to access the river basin were thwarted by railway tracks and high fences. We stood on a road bridge looking over the river, thinking that this particular elevated view of the iconic landmark would maybe have to suffice...

...And then, in the distance, we could see a couple of people actually down by the water's edge. We watched them disappearing out of sight underneath a bridge, and deduced that there must be some sort of hidden entrance to the culvert there.

the tunnel
We drove round in ever-decreasing circles trying a variety of different roads until we stuck gold, and happened upon a little dirt track, which vanished into a tunnel which went under a huge bridge. We parked the car, and tentatively walked down the track, undeterred by a homeless chap with a voice like a pirate who screamed, "Thunder Road is MY home. Do not enter my home." We decided he was the ghost of Kenickie, got a little bit freaked out, but nevertheless continued down the track, through the murky tunnel and out into the astonishing surroundings of the river basin, which is one of the most epically atmospheric locations I've ever visited. 

Thunder Road
...and yes, of course, we all filmed ourselves singing "look to the sky, take a deep breath and cry goodbye to Sandra Dee..." Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay... But it absolutely had to be done. It was a glorious moment.

Frenchie and Sandy
We travelled home through downtown LA, where hundreds of homeless people push shopping trollies around. Some sleep in tents. Others sit in wheelchairs. We watched one man going through the bins and finding a designer handbag, which he seemed rather thrilled with. For me it was an absolute indication of a culture where the gap between rich and poor is as large as it is ludicrous.

We also had the privilege to drive past McArthur Park, which is a beautiful park. Of course we spontaneously burst into a rendition of the Donna Summer song. "Someone left my cake out in the rain..."

We came home and immediately went out for dinner in a restaurant with Matt's witty and very beautiful housemate, Rebel.

A wonderful day. Truly.