Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Jamoolia

Nathan and I have decided to change the way we watch Strictly Come Dancing, and, because of her unacceptable homophobic views, we are refusing to watch, or even acknowledge the presence of contestant, Jamelia. From now on, every time that horrifying woman appears on screen, we have decided to either leave the room or fast forward the show until a more palatable face appears on the screen. It was, of course, the fat Nolan sister who came in for most of the criticism in the dreadful "comparing-Isis-to-gay-marriage" Loose Women debacle, but let's not forget that Jamelia kicked the hornets nest firmly into the fire by suggesting that someone asking for a cake baring a positive gay rights message was as offensive to a Christian as someone asking for a cake with graphic sexual content plastered all over it.

So, until that gurning troll, who makes me ashamed to be a Midlander, is kicked off the show, I shall feel proud to hit the forward button until she's gone away.

So Jamelia, if you're reading this... How about you learn that homophobia - however you dress it up - is as unacceptable as racism? And then we can all get along famously again... Until then, I hope you're voted off the show as soon as is humanely possible.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Wedding toast

It's 11pm, and we're at Ali Pali, staring out across the extraordinary panoramic view of London you get from here. It's particularly clear tonight and the lights of London are twinkling like a Christmas tree. The local yoot are out in force. We've noticed this before when coming here at night; the car park tends to attract lots of young couples, mostly Turkish and Greek-looking, who sit in flash cars, and probably make out, although whenever we walk past they seem to be looking rather grumpy. Maybe it's like the old American tradition of "parking" up on hillsides overlooking cities. Or perhaps they're selling drugs. Come to think of it, the place does rather stink of marijuana!

Anyway, we've come here to toast Nathan's sister, who is presently on her way to a wedding chapel somewhere in Las Vegas where she is getting married to Julius. It felt appropriate to head up to the place where we got married ourselves. It's also the place I came with Fiona to release a balloon in memory of her Grandmother on the blustery morning after the London Requiem premier.

When I first moved to London, I lived in a bedsit in Crouch End. It was a little bug-filled attic room at the top of an Edwardian mansion. It didn't have much going for it, except for the fact that you could climb out of the window and sit on a little ledge which had an astonishing view up to Ali Pali. I used to sit there on summer mornings with an orange juice and watch little busses passing in front of the palace on the road where we are currently standing. At the time I thought it was the most beautiful building in London. I still do. I would have hyperventilated, however, if someone had told me I'd be getting married there in twenty years' time... In a blinking musical!

Nathan's family's tradition of toasting each other at set times is a wonderful one. They do it without fail at the start of the Queen's speech on Christmas Day. It simply means that, wherever the clan is in the world, they'll all be thinking of each other and sending love simultaneously. So, it made perfect sense to do it for Sam to wish her a happy, long and loving life with Julius. (PS - she's getting married in a cowboy hat, because... Why the hell not?!)

I am falling hook, line and sinker for Jeremy Corbyn. Everything I read about him which isn't in the right wing, scare-mongering press appeals to me. He's a vegetarian. He's against nuclear weapons. He has a 50/50 male/ female ratio in his shadow cabinet, and, for the first time in my life, I find a leader with a policy on the Arts. And what a policy! Corbyn believes that the Arts are central to the happiness of all British people and that they should be accessible for all. So, on top of everything else, people like me, who have been hammered by every regime since Thatcher, might actually be better off, whilst the wealthy buggers are forced to share a bit of their wealth! It's really interesting to see how the media twists what he, and his shadow cabinet say, however. Head for the original source material and you'll be surprised at how different it is!

Moonset

It's 3.17am and Nathan and I are sitting at the top of Parliament Hill, underneath a duvet, with our heads on pillows, looking up at a full lunar eclipse. The moon is just about to disappear into a sea of rusty orange. I think you might describe it as "nearing totality." Somewhere in the darkness around us, a group of young men is singing Space Odyssey; "Ground Control to Major Tom." Someone is playing a guitar. A born-again Pagan is playing some kind of wooden flute. A melody that only a Pagan would know. I'd say there were perhaps thirty or forty people up here. Some have telescopes, others have fancy cameras. A large percentage of them are nutters, but it's an incredibly good-natured atmosphere up here.

The men have finished their song and are now howling like wolves, which has triggered much barking from real dogs somewhere on Highgate West Hill.

It's almost entirely pitch black now. When we arrived here, the moon was so bright it was casting silvery shadows all over the pavements. Now it's difficult to see my hand in front of my face.

The moon vanished from the top left-hand corner and in the process of disappearing, threw all sorts of crazy shapes. At one stage it looked very like an egg sitting in an egg cup! I couldn't find my tripod so all the pictures we ended up taking were a touch pointless, but it was an eerie and magical experience which I shan't forget in a while.

As the group of men burst into a rendition of Blue Moon, it feels like it's time to go home to bed. I have muchly enjoyed our little jaunt. Life has to be about experiencing these extraordinary things.

I couldn't find my tripod, so these pictures aren't great... But they're a memory of a memory...




Sunday, 27 September 2015

Sunrise

We were up very early this morning to catch our flight back to London. It seemed ludicrously early, but then I opened the curtains, took a sniff of pure the alpine air and watched as the orange sun crept up over the mountain behind the hotel, allowing Turin's roof tops, which had been a grey slate colour, to turn a vivid shade of red. It was a truly majestic sight.

We were through customs and security at the airport ludicrously quickly. Italians genuinely don't give a shit about these things. They didn't even look at my passport! All this meant we had a bit of a wait at the gate, which would have been fine had they not been playing splatter Jazz on the airport music system. You know the sort of music I mean? It goes on forever, with a series of wind instruments playing atonal relentless semi quavers. Airports are meant to be calming places. This music made me wonder whether I was having some sort of eppy.

It seems strange to be back in London. We've only actually been gone for two days but it feels like forever, to the extent that I assumed the milk in the fridge would have gone off in our absence. It hadn't.

Of course gallivanting about Italy has left us with a mountain of work to do, so today was the turn of Brass. On and on it goes, so on and on I worked. I really shouldn't be sitting working at midnight on a Saturday, but here I am! I am in the process of fine-tuning the Prologue, which is the last of the twenty songs I've got to format for publishing. Yawn. Yawn. I hate this show. It's made me boring.

I've had the telly on in the background all day today. I'm told there's some kind of Rugby tournament going on at the moment which I'm trying to avoid if I'm honest, so have watched everything and anything else, including shows about Capability Brown, Wallace Simpson, Princess Diana's dresses and penis enlargements. That's Channel 4 for you! Not that I actually watched any of it. I was under headphones. Penis enlargement operations are not the nicest things to glance up at mid-bar!

We sat down to watch Strictly, and played the "what's wrong with Tess' dress?" game. It's come to our attention that there's always one thing which prevents what she's wearing from being lovely. Yesterday's problem was the spiky d├ęcolletage, which made her look like like an exploded Christmas cracker. Tonight's dress was just a few inches too long, and seemed to drag along the floor behind her like a hotel towel.

We adore Claudia, however, and her clowning about. It strikes me that there are very few comedians around at the moment whose acts are based on clowning or buffoonery, and I appreciate the fact that her brand of humour isn't afraid to go there.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Beautiful Turin

When the nice people at Channel 4 sorted out our flights to Turin, they couldn't get us back today so asked if we'd mind staying two nights in the city. We thought long and hard... For two seconds... Before saying yes as cooly as we could!

So here we are in Turin for a second day, and I can tell you, in complete contrast to my appraisal of the place yesterday, it's a very beautiful city.

We had breakfast in the hotel and were out and about by about ten. Turin is an easy city to navigate because it's built entirely on a strict grid pattern. This came as something of a surprise. Ancient cities are not often built on straight lines.

Just as in Manhattan, where there's always a sense of the world outside the city, the grid pattern here means that from every street you can see out into the countryside, which, more often than not, means that you turn a corner and end up staring at the craggy, snow-covered Alps. From our hotel window this morning we could see a steep hillside, far beyond the city, with a Sound of Music-style church clinging to it. Wisps of smoke-like mist were rising from the trees. It was a breathtaking scene.

Although it's been beautifully warm today, Turin plainly doesn't get as baked by the sun as other places in Italy that I've visited. It is very green. I guess it has a climate similar to Switzerland, so I'm not sure why I should be that surprised.

We made our way slowly towards the city centre, stopping briefly at the square in front of the Verdi Conservatorio. From a spot by a fountain we could hear the musicians furiously practising scales.

The city is full of little oval signposts which tell you a little bit of history about the place where you're standing, so we've both become rather knowledgeable about the place.

Our first destination was Le Temple du Cinema at Mole Antonelliana, which is Turin's most iconic building. When it was built in the late 19th Century (as a synagogue, although it was never used as one) it was the tallest brick structure in the world. It soars into the sky like a cross between a wedding cake and a gaudy radio mast.

You can take a panoramic lift up to a viewing platform about half way up the building. It's a vertigo-inducing experience because the lift is entirely glass and doesn't appear to be fixed within any discernible shaft. It merely drags you up to the top of an enormous domed-roofed room and then up through the ceiling into the open air. The views, as you might expect, are awesome. You can see the whole of the city, across a giant river and out to the mountains. Dare to peer straight down and you're rewarded by the sight of parked cars lined up below like little matchboxes and restaurant tables on the streets seemingly no larger than drawing pins.

We came down again in a crowded lift, which meant we were forced to stand with our faces squashed against the glass of the door. My eyes were closed throughout!

From Mole Antonelliana, we went to the Palazzo Madama, where the building's Roman foundations were on display underneath a glass floor. In a city like this, digging downwards is tantamount to peeling back the layers of an ancient onion. Cutting into the Roman brickwork was a Medieval underground spiral staircase. Fascinating.

As we exited the building, churches across the city were chiming one o'clock in seemingly ever-more elaborate ways. I have fundamental issues with Catholicism, if for no other reason than its grip on this country is the reason why my own marriage is not valid in any way here, but the chiming of Catholic bells in these parts is a wonderful and deeply evocative sound.

We stumbled off the tourist path and into a huge fruit market, which was filled with hundreds of shambolic stalls laden with the most delicious-looking colourful local produce. The smells of lemons, olives and mint were overwhelming.

We had a Caprese salad for lunch, "the best Caprese," declared Nathan, in the style of Pepys, that "he'd ever had." The tomatoes were exquisite. Every time I eat a tomato in Italy, Greece or Spain, I'm reminded how terrible the tomatoes we eat in Britain are. I felt as though I were eating the summer. We sat eating in a piazza and were accompanied at one stage by an old gent with a portable karaoke machine who murdered Delilah and Wonderful Life by Black. Strange choice, I thought...


We walked around for another few hours, sipping granitas from plastic cups, allowing ourselves to drift wherever our legs took us, towards any building, monument, grand courtyard or plaza which took our fancy.


We had to work for a few hours in the afternoon. We didn't have to, we made ourselves to keep on top of things. Although, truth be told, sitting in a cafe, underneath a portico sipping tea in the early Autumn sunshine whilst writing music is almost more fun than listlessly strolling around a beautiful Italian city.


We came out again this evening and walked the streets once more, crossing over one of the rivers and finding ourselves in a little residential area of Turin, where we shared a delicious pizza and an arancino in a tiny place called Cinepizza. It was a punt which paid off. The food was delicious and when the bill arrived, we were staggered that we only had to pay twelve euros.


The white elephant in Turin's enormously beautiful room is the fact that all the drivers here are terrible. They swerve, beep their horns, drive at erratic speeds and generally make everyone (well me at least) feel incredibly uncomfortable!


Still, the pace of life here otherwise is a wonderful one. At 10pm, the streets were full of people happily milling about with their children. It's a proper promenading culture and it all feels so safe. No one was drunk. No one was yelling and screaming. Everyone was merely drifting, happily window shopping, going to theatres, watching street musicians or simply being. Old, young... The other curious aspect is that there's no loud music. People sit outside the bars and cafes and talk. The Via Po buzzes with cafes and bars. In one of the little courtyards behind the porticos, a modern science fair was going on. Little kids were sitting in circles being read to, and several stalls had been set up to demonstrate all sorts of curious tricks with magnets and computers.


In another courtyard, a series of mini Eden-project-shaped pods had been set up; each one was a mini-lecture theatre and all the chairs and tables within were made of cardboard.


We had delicious, smooth ice cream from a gelateria whilst marvelling at the astonishing architecture in the town. Outside the Egyptian Museum, two enormous fibre glass statues of the goddess Sekhmet stand proud. In London they would have been pissed on, broken up, graffitied or stolen. Here, people respect them.


Nathan summed up both of our thoughts when he said, "I could never leave London for a place like this. But I wish London were more like this."

Prix Italia

There was a comic moment at shit o'clock this morning when we arrived at Stansted Airport at the same time as a group of lads who were wearing lederhosen and little pork pie Tyrollean-style hats, "ooh look, a stag do!" I said. Nathan looked behind me and naughtily gestured at another group of men, "Are they on a stag do too, then?" he asked. I turned around to find a group of identically dressed Orthodox Jews in Homburgs. It's always good to start a day of travel with a bit of casual xenophobia...

At 5.20am, Stansted was like Piccadilly Circus at rush hour. A queue of cars and taxis stretched all the way along the slip road leading up to the drop-off zone, and the customs hall was jam-packed with people. First thing in the morning is the worst time in the world to have to face such large crowds. Smelly people, excessively loud people, fatties, dawdlers and people making announcements in multiple languages are top of the long list of those you end up wanting to shoot!

To make matters worse, I managed to leave Nathan's mobile phone in the stupid plastic tray thing that they make you turf all your electrical goods and belts into. Fortunately we managed to get it back. The staff at Stansted Airport are very kind.

The plane journey to Turin was uneventful, but for a rather stroppy Ryan Air stewardess with a face like a slapped arse and an attitude only her mother could be proud of!

We were transferred from the airport to the hotel with surprising ease. Turin, at first glance, seemed to be a somewhat grimy industrial city, covered in graffiti and full of rather edgy people. I learned today that it's actually the fourth largest city in Italy after Rome, Milan and Naples. It has almost two million citizens.

The Prix Italia festival has been in full swing for a week or so. There have been all kinds of events, screenings, operas, talks, dinners and so on...

We arrived at the festival village at around noon, and have been beautifully looked after ever since by two immensely charming Italian lassies called Alessandra and Viola. Nathan and I have been treated like celebrities all day. We've been interviewed on live telly, taken for a lovely pasta lunch in a beautiful building which looked like an Escher painting and generally pampered and made to feel special.

The awards ceremony itself was charmingly shambolic. We had no idea what was going on most of the time, but it was all happening with great humour and good heart.

The good news is that we won! Uncle Archie was over the moon, describing the Prix Italia as "so august and secretive it is almost legendary." It's a real feather in the film's cap. They're also very beautiful awards which look like flaming torches made of woven metal presented in beautiful wooden boxes.

I got the distinct impression that we were considered the bells of this particular ball. I think everyone was really tickled that we'd turned up, thinking perhaps we brought a bit of eccentric colour to the event. We were certainly made to feel like rock stars. Everyone wanted their photographs taken with us.

We made a hugely political speech, pointing out that there was still a long way to go in the journey towards LGBT equality, and that Italy remains the last country in the Western World not to legally acknowledge LGBT relationships in any shape or form. It was a calculated risk which paid off; the room lit up and erupted into cheering. The awards were being broadcast live on Italian TV. You never know who's watching and who might be moved to take up the cause, but no one can say we didn't do our bit.

Afterwards one of the award organisers described the speech as the highlight of the occasion.

After the ceremony, and a lovely buffet, we were whisked away to the theatre to watch the European premier of a Chinese opera performed by a company of sixty and a 50-piece orchestra from the Beijing Opera House.

Obviously it would have been a much better piece if the singers had been mic'd up and the orchestra had replaced its wind section with more strings. It was also fairly mediocre music with a shockingly weak plot. Opera libretti are so often completely on the nose. In fact, I've yet to watch an opera which is anything other than slightly disappointing when it comes to the theatrical side of things.


...But what a thrill it was to visit the Teatro Reggio here in Turin. It's a magnificent, opulent, glamorous barn of an opera house which was built in the 1970s and opened by Maria Callas. It's the first opera I've seen in the home of opera.


After the show, we sat on a little piazza outside a taverna and drank a gin and tonic with the band of new friends we've accumulated today which include legendary film maker Anthony Wonke, whose film, Children of the Revolution has just become Channel 4's most decorated film ever!


On our way home we were able to reunite a lost husky dog with its owner. All in a day's work!


This day has been just wonderful. The people running the awards are open, friendly and passionate about their work. Their spirit, kindness, honesty and enthusiasm knocks the BAFTAs and its snooty, celebrity-obsessed, somewhat arch, too-cool-for-school ethos into a cocked hat. It reminds me how much we need to fight to remain in Europe.


Right... I'm off to bed!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

24 hours from Turin

We rarely get taxis, particularly in London, but I am writing this blog entry whilst sitting in a boiling hot cab which is making its way to Tottenham Hale. We've been running about rather a lot, so the windows of the car are steaming over.

So here's the deal: we're heading to Tottenham Hale to catch a train to Bishop's Stortford, where we'll be picked up by my father who'll take us to Thaxted, where we'll stay the night before being picked up by a taxi which we'll take to Stansted Airport, where we'll get a Ryan Air flight to Turin. In Italy. And breathe.

So why Turin?

At 5pm this evening we received a call from Channel 4, who informed us that Our Gay Wedding had been nominated for the most prestigious documentaries award in the world! It's called the Prix Italia. I know, I'd not heard of it either, but Uncle Archie was hugely excited. The ceremony is tomorrow and Channel 4 wanted to know if we'd like to go... Less than 24 hours' notice to get to Italy. We're game.

We are assured that Channel 4 genuinely only found out about the nomination today. They're not exactly renowned for their organisation when it comes to award ceremonies, but then again, neither are the Italians!

So there we have it. The damned shame is that they can't get us back to London on Friday, so we're having to stay an extra day in Turin. We're plainly heartbroken at the thought. So when we don't win, we can console ourselves with some lovely Italian sunshine.

I don't know what category we're nominated in. Neither do I know what's going to happen when we tip up at Turin airport tomorrow. My assumption is that it will all be very disorganised, and we could well end up missing the ceremony itself... But no one will care, because that's the Italian way. And we won't care because we're in Italy!

Season of mist

We've just been into Soho for a dinner meeting with one of the creatives attached to our mystery project. We went to Bistro Number One behind the Palace Theatre. In an area of flux, it's one of the last remaining eating establishments which I still recognise in that part of town. It's certainly one of the few reasonably-priced diners. When I worked in the West End on the show Taboo, we had all sorts of local options for cheap grub: West End Kitchen, Diana's Diner, Amalfi... Gone the way of all flesh, dear! When the infamous Stock Pot finally closes its doors on the world, Soho will officially be dead... (It is already)

Anyway, the meeting went very well. I can't tell you what we talked about, but I had a lovely vegetarian moussaka and some deep fried Brie whilst chatting!

I inch closer to the time when Brass is finally done and dusted. I'm trying to do half an hour here and there throughout my working day and every time I open either the script or the final number that I'm working on, I realise there's just that little bit less to do...

That said, Nathan blithely reminded me today that I hadn't done any of the scene change music, and my little heart froze over.

Onward and upward...

It's rained again all day today. There comes a point at which one has to wonder why Brits haven't developed webbed feet. Is it too much to ask for a little dry spell before winter finally arrives? I long for autumnal walks on the Heath with glorious red and orange leaves fluttering about in the breeze. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and all that. That was written by Keats as it happens, whose home was by the side of the Heath, so it's not a huge leap of logic to imagine he was actually describing London's favourite park when he wrote that poem. In those days, of course, the Heath was an actual Heath; a marshy wilderness which was the hunting ground of the likes of Dick Turpin. There's a pub in Kentish Town called the Assembly Room. 17th Century travellers heading North would gather at that particular pub so that they could travel en masse through the dangerous Heath. Large caravans of horses and carts were far less likely to be targeted by highway men.

Anyway, we're back home and have an hour's work to do on Brass before turning in, so I'll love you and leave you... Night night...

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Monster Munch

Fiona keeps sending me photographs of Scotland. She's up there on a little road trip circumnavigating a number of lochs which are frankly making me drool. The sky is cornflower blue, the air looks crisp, the water is clearer than a lake in the Alps... Frankly, I'm not sure why more of us don't holiday in the British Isles... Actually, I'll limit that to Britain and Ireland, because I'm not acknowledging Northern Ireland until they can sort out their views on gay rights. For similar reasons I'm still boycotting Loose Women and vow to do something else every time that nasty cow Jamelia steps onto the Strictly dance floor. She gives the Midlands a bad name.

It's rained all day, nay, all week in London. Today was particularly unpleasant because it just drizzled away like soda coming out of a badly made siphon.

The mystery project continues to develop in Kentish Town. We walked down the hill in the drizzle and copped out by taking the bus back up again, meeting a woman with a fox terrier in the process. The verdict, if anyone is at all interested, is that fox terriers are the perfect pet to own if you have lots of time to spend with them. They're difficult to train, but excessively loyal to their owners. I'll confess, I've no real idea why the woman was telling us all of this, and if I'm honest I'd not even heard of a fox terrier. I was more freaked out because she looked like my neighbour, Little Welsh Nathalie, in, like, twenty years' time...

We had soup for lunch and pasta for tea, and at about 5pm, were so over-worked and over-wrought, we ran to the local shop and gorged ourselves on a load of crap food including a packet of beef favoured Monster Munch. And yes, I am still a vegetarian. Beef Monster Munch crisps have never been remotely near a cow, although I can't vouch for the number of chemicals who lost their lives in the process of creating that particular 1970s throw-back.

A little research on Monster Munch (and yes, I am grasping at straws to find content for this blog post) reveals that the snack was originally called "Prime Monster snacks." I'm told this was a play on the word Prime Minister. Quite why this was an appropriate pun I'm not sure, particularly when considering that Calaghan was in that particular office when the snack was launched. It's no wonder that its name was changed within a year, although the concept might have taken off under Thatcher. People could have bought the snack and mercilessly stamped on it, just to take out their anger on something.

As another little nugget of pointless Monster Munch information, I can reveal that, in 2004, the company (by then part of the Walkers franchise) launched a vanilla ice cream flavour version of the snack, which I think sounds almost as hideous as the salt and vinegar doughnuts I once bought at Sainsbury's. They were out of date and only cost 15 pence. I couldn't tell if they were hideous because they were stale or because salt and vinegar flavoured doughnuts is the most ghastly concept in carnation (or "in captivity" which my friend Shaheen used to say. This was the Shaheen whose Mum calls "Pret a Manger," "Pret Manager.")

Pickled onion flavoured Monster Munch is the only flavour which has remained solidly available. Quite right too...

Tomorrow's mini-lecture will be on Wotsits.

Only joking...

Do you remember salt and vinegar Wotsits?

Monday, 21 September 2015

Henry in Brass

Nathan and I are watching the X Factor and Downton Abbey. I'm pleased to report that Nathanael, who played the role of Henry in Brass, has finally made it onto the screen. They didn't show any of his first round audition, which can't really bode well for his future in the competition, but we've just seen him getting through the first stage of Boot Camp. I felt like a proud father. They're doing Boot Camp at The Grove, which is a sort of spa-type hotel up near Potters Bar. We spent a wonderful weekend there with Matt and the gang, probably ten years ago. It was a ludicrously hot weekend, and we spent most of our time in the swimming pool which the ludicrous contestants were flinging themselves into just to get on telly. I remember trying to play tennis on a Tarmac pitch next to the pool in bare feet. The bottom of my feet burned because it was so hot.

It's been a hugely tough day and I've done little but sit on our sofa working on Brass. There's now a me-shaped dent in the leather cushion. I am getting there though. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and finally feel like I'm in a train hurtling towards it. 

The only break in the monotony was a little jaunt towards Queen's Wood to take photographs of Nathan's latest knitting designs. We found a bush with berries on it which were exactly the same colour as his epic Genesis shawl which is a glorious fusion of oranges and greens.

Speaking of knitting, Nathan was away for much of the morning, running a knitting workshop, teaching people how to knit brioche style, which I gather is a technique, not dissimilar to double knitting, which creates a very sculptural and stretchy fabric. You see? I'm learning.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Kinky Boots

We had a very short lie-in this morning, which was like heaven for two incredibly tired men who'd been sitting in London Gateway service station until significantly past midnight the night before.

We jumped in a car at 11am and took ourselves off to Pinner via a Jewish bakery on the fringes of Hampstead Garden Suburb, where we bought croissants, and a post office in Stanmore, where I sent a thank you note to Tilly Trout for recording her glorious bespoke bed time story.

We were in Pinner to see Nathan's father, wicked step mother and step sister and family. We had a fabulous lunch of quiche, hummus, figs, dates, bread, cheese and olives. My mother would call it a cold collation. A fancy gastro pub might have labelled it Mediterranean Meze (which they might have spelt with a double z!)

It was lovely to see them all. David and Liz had recently been to see Banksy's Dismal-Land in Weston Super-Mare, which sounds quite a hoot. It's being billed by organisers as the "most disappointing theme park" in the world. They showed us the pictures, and it seems it's a typically Banksyesque series of witty, grotesque and deeply political pieces of art on a much larger scale than I'd imagined. Of course it's a huge hit, but we're told it will have to close at the end of the month due to some pointless wrangling by the town council. I don't understand why, if something is bringing a huge influx of tourism into a troubled seaside town, people aren't literally fighting to keep it going.

We came back home and immediately set off into Central London. Actually, that's a lie. I sat down and did three quarters of an hour on Brass whilst Nathan mended the kitchen drawer.

It was my brother's birthday on Thursday and we were celebrating with a trip to the theatre. I feel very blessed at the moment. We're going to see all sorts of live theatrical experiences. Six, I think, already this month.

Before the show we went to Salieri on the Strand for a few bowls of slightly over-priced pasta. I was fairly horrified to discover that the restaurant's Prix Fixe didn't have a vegetarian option. You might expect that sort of footle from a snotty French restaurant, but Italian food ought to be inherently full of vegetarian options. The limitations in the menu were, however, more than made up for by the most eccentric waiter I think I've ever been served by. When he initially came over, he was surly and taciturn in a way which managed to be inexplicably charming. When he came back with a bottle of wine for the drinkers present, he decided to make a little joke about the cost of the bottle. I personally didn't get the joke but it was obviously one he found hugely amusing because he burst into peels of the oddest laughter I think I've ever heard. It was a bit like a goose honking and a little like lorry reversing. It was ferociously loud and all "sung" to the word "hee." I couldn't tell if it was an inward sound. It silenced the room and all the other diners turned around to look. When it started I actually thought he was having a seizure. As it developed (I'm not joking when I say it lasted 45 seconds) I started to feel a mixture of embarrassment, amusement, joy and deep concern. It was a truly magical moment.

The show we went to see was Kinky Boots, which has just descended on the West End. It was a lovely musical: Feel-good, beautifully-performed, charmingly-predictable and largely well-written. The show is set in Northampton and I'm pleased to report that at least some attempt had been made to feature the accent. It is, I believe, the most difficult British accent to perfect, largely because it's distinctive, yet quite subtle, and very rarely heard. All of the cast attempted the accent but few got close. Jamie Baughan, who played Don, felt authentic enough, but placed his accent a little further up the M1 in Leicester, but it was the mightily talented, Amy Lennox who came the closest to my ears.

The rest of the cast pretty much universally got the distinctive long "a" twang wrong, with Killian Donnolly actually pronouncing a Northern version of the vowel, but hats off to them for saying "goo" instead of "go." That was proper moosik to my ears!

The only other caveat was that I felt the music didn't quite hit the mark. I wanted slightly less mush and a little more melody and drama, although there were some absolutely stonking numbers which got the audience whooping like wild cats.

All in all, it's a great night out and I hope it runs for a good long while. Go and see.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Services

It's 10.30pm and we have cabin fever. Nathan and I have been sitting next to each other or opposite each other 24/7 for the last four days. We're either on the sofa, in bed, or down the road in an office in Kentish Town. Sometimes we walk from one place to another. Sometimes we take a bus. We have not yet found a bus which will take us from the sofa to our bed, but there's still time!

We've made a somewhat random decision to drive to the first service station on the M1, where we're going to treat ourselves to a hot chocolate 1960s new-wave style. At the services, Nathan's going to knit and I'm going to do an hour's work on my Brass score. It just breaks up the monotony of life! Gets us out the house...

I think it's maybe a little tragic that I'm so excited about going, but I genuinely love service stations at night. There's a hum, a kind of static charge, which I suspect comes from the fact that they are such intensely busy places during the day that they accumulate an energy which never quite escapes during the quiet times. That sounds utterly insane doesn't it? I feel the same way about theatres.

I think what is easy to deduce from all of this is the fact that I'm a night owl. We both are. We're rarely in bed before 1 and rarely up before 8.45am and get deeply irritated by people who assume that these hours make us lazy people!

I still can't say anything about the secret project. Somewhere, in an office in Kentish Town, is a wall covered from top to bottom in post-it notes, strange drawings and photographs. It looks like something from Crime Scene Investigation. That'll get your brains spinning!!

Tilly Trout

I've never mentioned this particular fact in this blog before, but Nathan and I have a little ritual every night before going to sleep. Since developing mild tinnitus earlier in the year, I've occasionally found it a bit tricky to get off to sleep, particularly when the room I'm in is completely silent. We've explored playing different bits of music on my iPhone from Vaughan Williams to minimalism, but it turns out my ideal sleep companions are the dulcet tones generated by a lady from Norfolk called Tilly Trout who has a glorious knitting pod cast. I have no idea why I find her voice so soothing. She's chirpy, has a wonderfully pictorial way of describing yarn and is obviously incredibly warm-hearted. I tune in for a while and then allow myself to drift away...

We have a bit of a running joke every night: "Where's Tilly?" I ask, and the iPad comes out... Last night was no different. I got into bed and asked where Tilly was, before sinking into the pillow. But then a strange thing happened. The voice was familiar enough. It was definitely Tilly, but instead of staying "hello, it's Tilly Trout here..." she was saying "hello Ben..." And before I knew it, I was listening to my very own bedtime story which Tilly had made up and recorded specially whilst knitting some gloves with a 2 by 2 rib stitch pattern!

It was so surreal and such an amazing treat. I think Nathan must have mentioned at some point on his own pod cast that I enjoy listening to Tilly, and Tilly, who herself watches Nathan's podcast enjoyed the thought so much that she recorded me my own bed time story. How sweet and amazing is that? It was a great story as well, about a little boy who learned how to knit...

It did the trick and I slept like a baby, although my dreams were a little bit on the disturbing spectrum. There was a beautiful, rather enormous full moon on display in one of them which I was trying to photograph, but my camera had broken and the shutter wouldn't close.

Nearer the dawn, I actually managed to dream that I'd died, and was desperately trying to get in touch with Nathan from the other side as it were, turning up at a pub in East London known to be haunted, and trying to find a medium!! It sounds ludicrous, but the entire experience was incredibly distressing and I woke up crying, which is something that's happened only a couple of times in my life. Thankfully, glorious sunlight was streaming through the bedroom window when I opened my eyes, so I was able to breath a sigh of relief and enjoy the process of realising that I was still alive!

We walked down to Kentish Town this morning, down Swain's Lane and along the side of Highgate Cemetery. The road was covered in conkers, which must have fallen prematurely in yesterday's stormy weather. And then I realised that it's pretty much autumn and that the conkers probably weren't premature after all.

We walked back in the dark across the Heath. The moon was peaking through the clouds. Somewhat spookily, after yesterday's dream, it seemed surprisingly large, but it was in its crescent form rather than full so I didn't start checking my pulse! The clouds in the sky were a curiously dark shade of Amber and the sky behind them was the darkest shade of midnight blue. It was all a little surreal and made more peculiar by the continual distant peeling of the bells of St Anne's church on Highgate West Hill.

They're doing something strange to the ponds on the Heath. In fact, the boating lake appears to be twice its former size. In the darkness we couldn't really tell what was going on. There just seemed to be a huge expanse of water reflecting the moon. We've subsequently ascertained that they're digging dykes to protect North London from the potential mayhem which might be caused by huge quantities of rain water falling on the Heath. In 1975, the ponds burst after a mega-storm and there was catastrophic flooding in Gospel Oak, South End Green and the Vale of Health. I believe someone actually drowned in a basement flat!

We'd already got a bit spooked by the sudden appearance of a cluster of torches which seemed to be hovering in one of the trees. It turned out to be a group of children with a couple of adults all of whom were holding sonar devices with torches attached, which we assumed were being used to locate bats. The machines made the most curious sound. A whooshing and clicking.

So all in all, having been in the worlds of Brass and our new project for much of the rest of the day, it's been a fairly surreal twenty-four hours. I shall be quite pleased to wake up tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Beautiful. Sorry. Grotesque.

Today's weather was foul and we were caught out without coats or umbrellas. It has done nothing but tip it down all day. Great sheets of the stuff throwing itself from the sky. The tubes smelt of wet dogs, faulty electrics and muddy festivals, and at Kentish Town Station, some poor bloke was having to scrape surface water off the tiles in the ticket hall with a giant piece of specialist equipment. It was one of those days when the infrastructure of London entirely breaks down.

This evening we went to see the Carole King musical, Beautiful, at the Aldwych Theatre, and sat in our soggy clothes as the train wreck unfolded.

Now look, before I lay into the show, I should point out that the audience had a lovely time. The show was given a partial standing ovation and the lass playing King started owning the stage when material from the epic album Tapestry gave her something to get her teeth into (and the costumes allowed her to move around the stage with a little more gay abandon.)

But golly, what a pile of sh*t that show is. I am so profoundly bored of juke box musicals, particularly biographical ones which are based on stories which don't deserve to be told. The first act was a revolving carousel of random actors playing random 1960s pop acts gurning, preening, wallowing and massacring their way through a series of songs with no dramatic thrust or interesting musical content.

In between these outpourings were the badly-written, badly-acted, really badly-costumed book scenes which attempted to dramatise what was essentially a non/story, or as I like to call it, a nory. It seems that the multi-millionaire Carole King had a sad life because her childhood sweetheart (whom she went on to marry) had an affair and a little nervous breakdown as a result of taking pot. Boo hoo. Very sad. My heart bleeds. Now how can we crowbar in a rendition of The Locomotion?

Some of the singing, particularly from the male cast, was excruciating. In fact, I got the strong impression that the cast were merely phoning in their performances. There was a black hole of energy on that stage tonight.

Speaking of phones, how rubbish must a director be to allow an actor to dial a number on an old-fashioned rotary phone before picking the receiver up? It's a small, largely insignificant thing, but in my view, it demonstrates a general sense of shoddiness which arose like an silent-but-deadly fart from the stage tonight.

Perhaps our experience was not aided by the weather, or the fact that the usher who tore our tickets (and let us sit down in the wrong level of the theatre) was too busy telling another usher about his latest auditions to actually do his job properly. Being an usher may not be what he wants to do for the rest of his life, but it's still a job, which for the fifteen minutes when the audience is coming in, is worth doing with pride.

If that show took more than a week to workshop and if any of the creatives worked on the show for more than the cost of a travel card I shall feel deeply offended.

That said, the audience loved hearing all those old, familiar songs, and very much enjoyed making appreciative noises as the band struck up for each number. Of course this makes me wonder what we were actually applauding when the singing ended. The song itself, or its lack-lustre performance? We were certainly not applauding the ways the songs slotted into the over-all narrative of the show. Nor were we applauding the grotesque midi strings which strangled all the shoddy band arrangements.

But what do I know? I'm just a writer who cares about his craft and the future of British musical theatre. Maybe one day they'll carve up all my shows and create a new hit show which some hack will write on the back of a cornflakes packet for mega bucks and we can all become wealthy empty vacuums and tell the rest of the world how sad it was in the days when we used to value our art form.

Stars out of five? One. For the piano miming.

Bohemians

We're currently watching the third and final part of Victoria Coren-Mitchell's fascinating TV series about bohemians, which was made by Wingspan, the company responsible Our Gay Wedding: The Musical. The third episode of the series looks at Bohemianism in the latter part of the 20th Century. I think I probably have to acknowledge that I'm a bohemian. I certainly suffer from pretty much every symptom associated with this particular disease. Wingpan have made a wonderful, thought-provoking series and Coren-Mitchell is engaging throughout. I have but two tiny caveats, the first of which is that Coren-Mitchell, a self-confessed bourgeois person, seems completely unable or unwilling to get her head around the concept of genuine sexual liberation, believing it can only come with lashings of psychological damage. I don't think for a moment she's right on that score, and genuinely believe that, as long as nothing duplicitous is taking place and both parties are in complete agreement about the direction their relationship goes in, all is fair in love.

My only other issue with the series is that all the modern figures who are interviewed as examples of bohemians (John Cooper-Clarke, Maggie Tamlin, Stephen Fry, Grayson Perry) are extremely rich, well-known figures in the arts, who, as a result of being famous, in my view can't possibly be bohemians. They may have been bohemians once, but I actually think the concept of bohemianism is compromised by wealth.

Actually, I'd be much more interested in seeing an ancient artist living in a council house who's worked all their life as a painter but actually hasn't sold quite enough paintings to adequately feed herself and doesn't know what will happen when she gets ill or dies. Poverty and bohemianism are inextricably bound. Of course all these famous figures claim that bohemianism is no longer alive because "we all have permissive values these days." I would argue that they make these claims exactly because they are no longer a part of the sub-culture which once defined them.

As you might expect, Reverend Richard Coles popped up to talk about his seedy/ heady/ political lifestyle as a member of the Communards and his subsequent embroilment in the Anglican Church. There's no doubt he's a fascinating character worthy of inclusion in the film, but Coren Mitchell described him as the vicar of a church in Finedon "near Peterborough." Finedon is actually just a few miles up the A6 from Higham Ferrers where I grew up. Unlike Peterborough, it's in the county of Northamptonshire, far closer to places like Wellingborough, Kettering and Corby. Saying it's near Peterborough for me is almost as ludicrous as the town of Bedford having a Milton Keynes post code!

Anyway, aside from these tiny, and profoundly irrational niggles, the series is wonderful. I'm not sure you can catch it on iplayer at the moment, but when it's repeated, watch it with joy-filled alacrity, if that's not a tautology!

The programme ended with a discussion about hipsters. I've always rather hated the term, and indeed the people who identify themselves thus. I'd never associated hipsters with bohemians but it seems most people consider them to be modern day incarnations of boho folk. Someone in the film was totally on the money by describing hipsters as people who simply try to look like bohemians without any of the bother. As A A Gill opined, "I'm never convinced that facial hair is ever a substitute for thought!"

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Don't read this blog. It's boring!

We seem to have been working solidly since 9.30 this morning, and, once again, I'm not altogether sure we've achieved anything of any note. On top of everything, it's been a day filled with arguments as Nathan and I try to work out what on earth's going on and how we're going to work together to make sure it all makes sense in the limited time frame we have. We'll get there, but not without a few teething problems. So many documentaries these days are infused with fake jeopardy, but I assure everyone that, on this particular documentary, the jeopardy is there in spades. Frankly, if either of us come out the other end of this process with our sanity intact, it will be a blessed miracle.

Right, it's midnight. I need to stop for the day. I apologise for not having anything more interesting to say. I apologise in advance if my blog isn't the most entertaining read for the next few days!

Anyone know any good jokes?

Here's one from Nathan:

Q - what do you call a fly with no wings? 

A - A walk!

(I don't get it.)  

See, told you it was burning! 

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Cross-eyed

I reckon I've gone a bit cross-eyed today after doing a twelve-hour solid stint on Brass. After all that work, I feel no nearer to completion than I did at the start of the day, and aside from a bad back, I've frighteningly little to show for sitting at a computer for all that time. One day I'll sit down and discover there's nothing left to do. At that point I will weep for joy. At the moment, however, because I don't really dare look ahead to try and work out how much more work there is to do, my philosophy is simply to work as hard as I can as often as is possible. One day, though. One day all this will be done!

The only other thing I've achieved today was taking a set of pictures of Nathan's newest sock design. We did it in the garden against dirty brick walls, rusty padlocks and metal fences. It all looked rather urban and New York-like. I'm not sure the socks, which are dark green and somewhat organic in appearance, were particularly enhanced by the gritty setting, but the pictures look very cool and I'm pleased to have achieved at least something of use today.

We had a Chinese for a late-night tea whilst catching up on the X Factor from this weekend. I'm told by The Guardian that the show is haemorrhaging viewers and, as the series progresses, it's beginning to feel incredibly tired despite the new judges and the fact that they've obviously combed the country to find some genuinely talented acts. But if anyone says "I didn't like it... I loved it" "your harmonies were on point" or "the best thing about you is that you don't know how good you are" again, I might be tempted to turn the bloody nonsense off.

There were two gospel choirs on Saturday's show who sang, in my view, incredibly badly, but, of course, they were told they sang with "soul" and perfect vocals, which is what everyone has to say when black people sing gospel. I find it incredibly frustrating because it genuinely devalues the brilliant gospel singers and choirs out there. I'm also not sure why a group of panelists, most of whom couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, are allowed to comment on vocal ability. Can anyone tell me what Nick Grimmy-thingy is bringing to the table? He seems to be a personality vacuum with no discernible musical skills. He just smiles and pouts. I don't really know why I'm giving any of this much thought. The show's a pile of pants, but we can all watch it whilst doing a million other things, so it's useful background material and as such, we'll all miss it when it's gone.













Oliver, Jack, Flammie and Rosie

We've been in Malmesbury in Wiltshire this evening, which is a place that neither of us had hitherto visited. It's a stunningly beautiful Cotswolds town, so I'm wondering quite how it's managed to slip so spectacularly underneath my radar. I assume it's largely because I never allow myself to get further than Avebury when I'm in these parts, which is the same reason why Nathan and I have only just made it to California: Up until recently neither of us felt comfortable pole-vaulting over New York!

We were in Malmesbury to watch Rosie and Jack from Brass performing an evening of songs to help raise funds to get Rosie to drama school. She's lucky (and by lucky I mean talented) enough to have been selected as one of ten students on the prestigious MA musical theatre course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and takes up her place next week. She performed a wonderful programme of songs, all of which were a proper treat to listen to. I was particularly touched to hear her singing Shone With the Sun from Brass, but everything she did sounded glorious. She has the most mellifluous voice, one which I'll never grow tired of hearing. I championed her from the moment I saw her in the first day of auditions for Brass, and knew the moment I saw her that she would be in the show. Check out my blog from January 4th, 2014. Bristol auditions, "one girl in particular could easily be right for the pivotal role of Eliza." That girl was Rosie. Anyway, she looked gloriously statuesque this evening in a glamorous blue frock and I was SO proud of her.

I was also proud of Jack, who sang a wonderfully moving version of Anthem from Chess. It's been a while since I last heard that song and I always forget quite how special it is.

The concert took place in Malmesbury Abbey, where Rosie's father happens to be the dean or vicar or verger or canon or whatever they call the head honcho at these kind of institutions. It's a stunning building with one of the most impressive Norman arches I've ever seen. More than that, the place is imbued with a wonderfully warm, inclusive atmosphere. Rosie's Dad wants it to be a community space, and once a year, even allows skateboarders to come in to do competitions! It's the first church I've been to in ages where I've felt I wouldn't necessarily burst into flames upon entering!

I'm so pleased we made the effort to come...

As it happened we were in the area anyway on account of having been in Newbury this afternoon to see the production of Oliver at the charming Water Mill theatre, which, for some reason, is teeming with rather cute ducklings at the moment. (The theatre grounds, that is, not the show itself!) Is September not a somewhat quirky time of year for ducks to spawn? Was I witnessing second litters? I worry about their chances of survival if there's an early winter.

The show, which featured (as you might expect at the Water Mill) a cast of actor musicians, was beautifully staged and very well performed, with some lovely little touches which included the act two opener, Oom Pah Pah, actually being performed in the theatre's garden before the audience were ushered back into the auditorium. I'm never wholly convinced by actor-musician shows. I think they can be a little distracting both aurally and visually. The 'cellists, for example, for some reason, are always expected to stand up to play, which always compromises the sound they make, and forces me to sit and stare at them to work out if they're playing with harnesses or whether they've had to buy especially long spikes. I also wonder whether a cast of actor musicians are ever quite good enough in any of the disciplines that are expected of them. There's always a compromise. It's hard enough to find a triple threat, but a quadruple threat, including one that plays music to the standard needed for a West End show, is surely almost impossible to find?

It was in Newbury that we heard the news that Jeremy Corbyn has been overwhelmingly voted in as the new Labour leader. I'm very happy with the result. I'm not sure he's got a wide-enough appeal to be the next prime minister, but apart from the nonsense he talks about women only carriages, I agree with everything he says, and feel it's about time that we sent a message to politicians telling them that no one's interested in boring, squeaky clean, bland Barbie Dolls who do as they're told and say only what's diplomatically required to remain in power. Now that there's a proper Left Wing party, I can get interested in politics again.

As we drove home tonight, we stopped off at a garage on a country road somewhere near the M4. As I got to the counter to pay, an RAC van pulled into the garage. "Thank God they're here" said the man who was serving, "that poor car's been stuck at the petrol pump ever since the bloke filled it up with the wrong kind of petrol." Turns out it was a young couple, and they'd been there for three whole hours. Three hours! The woman of the couple was wrapped in a blanket on the front seat, weeping. What a way to ruin a Saturday night. I'm getting tearful just thinking about it...


At a second services stop on the M4, we bumped into Julie's best mate, Flammy and her Mum, queuing for a late night toasted sandwich in the Costa Coffee. It was a lovely surprise and we had a quick catch up chat, which, as always with Flammy, involved a lot of laughter.


So all in all it's been a great day, In fact I wish all day offs could be more like this one!

Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Arsenal

Another day along the timeline of our mystery project, and it feels like we're just about on schedule, whatever "on schedule" means with a project where, for reasons which will become painfully clear when the cat is let out of the bag, no-one has any real sense of what's actually going on! Each new day, just as we start to feel we're getting a handle on things, in comes the curve ball and we're back to feeling a little non-plussed again!

So, anyway, today found me doing another round of research whilst Nathan went through a 200,000-word document with a highlighter pen. I did my obligatory hour on Brass at about 5pm, and, that was about that...

We met my new friend, Sharyn at Kentish Town tube at 7pm and took her for a lovely walk on Hampstead Heath in the soft, milky, early evening light. Sharyn is from Canada, more specifically Calgary in the province of Alberta. I met her about three years ago in a cafe on Old Compton Street. I was writing music under a pair of headphones, she was on her way to see Jersey Boys, and we simply got talking. It turned out that she was something of a culture vulture, so we had a great chat. We also discovered that I'm just two days older than her youngest son, which felt like a strange coincidence.

We kept in touch and she saw the wedding and sent us lovely gifts through the post including a key ring which I dutifully carried around with me until the chain broke. This is the first time she's been back in the UK since then, so it was fabulous to see her, and, of course, show her the magic of the Heath, which was looking spectacular this evening.

She treated us to a delicious meal up in Zizzi in Highgate and showed us photographs of her lovely summer house which is by a giant lake. Everything's by a giant lake in Canada. There's so much flippin' space (and water) in that country! She also showed us photographs of a forest camp site which was so large you couldn't see the people in the next door pitch!

Her grandson is a big fan of The Arsenal, so we drove her to the Emirates Stadium and photographed her standing by the enormous, already iconic statue, which spells out the team's name in twelve-foot high letters. We dropped her off at Arsenal tube, and all of us went on our separate ways.

I'm pleased to say that Nathan seems a little perkier than he has been of late - and a big thanks to everyone who has enquired after him. I think the root canal has done him a lot of favours. Thank God.

Right. Time for bed. We've a busy day tomorrow.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Promtastic

We're heading home from the Albert Hall where Jarvis Cocker was hosting a late night Prom with the BBC Philharmonic. I'm proud as punch to report that the orchestral arrangements were done by Fiona, and even prouder to report that her work was absolutely stunning. The evening was esoteric and eccentric in the extreme. Mr Cocker sang four songs whilst introducing a series of pieces from the orchestral repertoire which were loosely linked by the theme of the sea. There were snippets of recorded documentary interviews as well, all from people who'd experienced haunting and near death experiences under water, including a free diver and two blokes who'd got into terrible trouble in a submarine. Musical excerpts from the orchestra ranged from the deeply evocative Sailing By from the Shipping Forecast through Jaws to a rather stunning rendition of The Aquarium from Carnival of the Animals. I'd forgotten quite what a sublime piece of music that was. I'm not yet convinced that the BBC Phil is the greatest orchestra in the world, but love the fact that they get to do these wacko concerts which bring classical music to much more diverse audiences.

Apart from Fiona's arrangements, which stole the show, the other highlight was a two-minute virtuoso organ improvisation by Richard Hills which needed to be heard to be believed. I think many composers, me included, shy away from writing anything particularly interesting for the organ. Moments like Hills' extemporisation tonight, which made me so excited tears started streaming from my eyes, remind us what a powerful, versatile and multifaceted instrument the organ is.

The Prom was such a lovely way to end a tiring day, which started at 8am with a drive up to Hendon where I deposited Nathan outside what can only be described as a suburban town house where his root canal procedure took place. The infection, the orthodontist told him, was fairly extreme, based on the fact that the tooth bled with great alacrity. Too much information? I'm just pleased it's all over.

Nathan arrived back home, drooling like a trooper from the corner of his mouth, rather sooner than anticipated, whilst I was doing a weepy on-camera interview for the documentary project.

It was a glorious day weather-wise and we drove down to Kentish Town in baking hot sunshine. It seemed a shame to have to work this afternoon, but work we did, like good little boys, until it was time to amble into central London to meet Fiona for some Italian food before heading to the Albert Hall, where this blog post begins. Do feel free to start reading all over again...

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Schmutter

I'm slightly late to the blog tonight on account of getting myself waylaid looking through the Fall 2015 edition of Vogue Knitting, which features a pattern by my husband, the incredibly talented designer Nathan Taylor AKA Sockmatician. The design is a double-knitted shawl based on the iconic Chrysler Building in New York. One side of the garment shows the building in the daytime, and the other shows it at night. It's a stunning bit of schmutter, and I'm exceedingly proud of him. Just to recap: that's a pattern published in Vogue Knitting, which is the most prestigious publication in the knitting world. Proud? Hell yeah!

Nathan is off to see an endodontist tomorrow where he will be having root canal work, which I'm told is a fairly unpleasant experience. He's been living with some sort of infection in his tooth for some time now and until recently we'd been waiting for our useless dentist to get back to us with financially viable alternatives to the ludicrously expensive specialist she initially suggested. She never got back to us, so Nathan's been forced to settle for the first one. His blood tests came back suggesting his body was fighting some kind of infection and I'm quite convinced it's to do with this tooth. In fact, I've done some research which suggests his chest problems might be linked to the same issue. I have my fingers firmly crossed that all his problems will be solved with the single procedure.

We spent the day down in Kentish Town doing an inordinate amount of work on the documentary project. I was incredibly proud of what we achieved. We worked ourselves into a frenzy and had to take a walk around Hampstead Heath to calm ourselves down.

We walked home as the sun set, all the way up the steep hill into Highgate and down again, arriving home just in time for the Bake Off, which we watched with a plate of pasta and salad on our laps. It turned out to be a somewhat nail-biting and emotional episode. I'm nailing my colours to the mast as a huge fan of Nadia. I think she's inspiring and hugely amusing...

There's not a great deal else to say. After the Bake Off finished I did two hours' work on Brass before watching the end of Despicable Me, which we watched last night until I prematurely fell asleep. At least I can finally say with authority what a Minion is, having won four of the little tykes on the Santa Monica pier in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Clutter

I took the day off from the documentary project today and worked solidly on Brass. It made sense to do so. Nathan was doing a day at the Shaftesbury Theatre and the time had firmly arrived for me to make in roads into the two numbers from the show I've opted to totally re-write. I've been putting this day off for weeks now. The idea of starting again on two whole songs, whilst the other twenty are almost entirely done and dusted is just sickening. 

Still, sometimes you have to light your candle and bravely step out into the darkness, and today that's exactly what I did. I didn't get incredibly far, but I blocked out the overture sequence from one of the two songs and almost finished the first draft of the other, which meant I felt quite upbeat when I stopped working this evening.

I was working from home, which meant I could do some much-needed washing. The bedroom floor was covered in clutter, which is an indication of quite how busy we've been of late. I found a pair of linen shorts under a suit. The last time I wore them was in Los Angeles. As I picked them up and stuffed them in the washing machine, I wondered what would be going on in my life when I pull them out of my chest of drawers next summer. The likelihood of my needing them again this year is sadly next to zero. It's tragic to think that summer is over, and even worse to realise that it sort of vanished into a haze of rain and wind. I like my summers to end with a few weeks of that glorious treacle-coloured sunlight that you only get at the end of August; the one which creates dusty, long, rather burnt-looking shadows, perfect for picking blackberries in!

Still, as is always the case with September, I'm feeling very optimistic and creative at the moment. I think the sensation must go back to school days. The Christmas term was always the most exciting one. It was all about new beginnings, no exams on the near horizon, and learning music for Christmas concerts and school plays. Ever since leaving education I've traditionally done my best work in Autumn.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Charlie and the Chocolate Craptory

It could well be a bit of a late night. Nathan and I have been working on a document all day which we’ve promised to send out before tomorrow. We’ve worked on it on the tube, in the car, for seven hours in an office and at one point as we gobbled down soup for lunch. Whilst not working on the document, Nathan has been gallivanting around North London to get his blood test results back from the doctors and to have more blood taken at the hospital. These days, certainly up in Highgate, you can’t actually book a useful appointment with a GP. Last week, as they sent him away for the tests, they told him the results would be back in a week, but that they couldn’t book him an appointment for three weeks. The advice instead was to call at 8am for an “emergency appointment,” which involves a peculiar lottery system where you call and call and call in the hope of catching the receptionist when she puts the phone down on the lucky person that managed to get in before you. When Nathan finally got through, all the morning emergency appointments had gone, so he was advised to call back at 1pm for an afternoon emergency appointment. We had a land line and two mobiles on constant ring-back for ten minutes until Nathan finally got through. He was seen later in the afternoon… 

This evening we were lucky enough to get a pair of tickets to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, which has to be one of the most iconic theatres in the world. It’s certainly one of the biggest, oldest, most beautiful… and most haunted. Nathan actually worked there for a year, performing Miss Saigon in the late 90s. He tells the tale of returning to the theatre late at night to pick up a bag he’d forgotten, and being let in by the 24-hour stage door keeper. He walked down a darkened corridor backstage just as a pay phone started ringing randomly. Thinking it was the stage door man trying to get his attention, Nathan answered, but the line was silent. He got a bit freaked out, but went to his dressing room to collect his bag. As he returned along the corridor a few minutes later, the same phone started ringing again.  He picked it up, but again it was silent…

There are so many ghost stories attached to that particular theatre, including the tale of the Man in Grey, who appears in an 18th Century hat, sitting in the fourth row of the Upper Circle, before walking along a row of seats and disappearing through a wall. Apparently he only appears during shows which are destined to be successful. In the 1840s, when they did renovations in the theatre, they found the skeleton of a man with a knife in his chest in the very wall cavity where the grey man disappears. In 1939, the entire cast of a show witnessed him. I’m pretty sure I’d rather see the Man in Grey, however, than the floating disembodied head of Grimaldi the Clown, who is apparently sometimes seen floating in the auditorium's boxes. Slightly less terrifying than that particular pair, is the “helping hand” ghost, who nudges actors into better positions on the stage, and pats them on the back when they get big laughs. TERRIFYING!

During the late 90s, I worked for a few years as the stage door keeper at the New Ambassadors Theatre. At the end of each shift, I had to walk around the theatre locking up, and always found the experience rather unsettling. As I walked into the darkened auditorium, I often felt that I could still sense a residue of energy from that night’s audience. When there’d been a funny show, I swear the house felt lighter, somehow. Tragedies, like The Wear, where, on first preview, one of the ushers had to be carried out of the theatre by the audience because she was so distressed, always left the theatre feeling rather heavy and gloomy. Of course I was probably only imagining it, but if I had a pound, as they say, for every unexplained noise I heard in those late night lock-ups, I would be a very rich man. I was most grateful to the intruder we found in the gentlemen’s loos one night, (fortunately before all the staff has left the building) because from then on, the theatre’s fireman was rostered to do the lock up with the stage door keeper. 


I wasn’t a massive fan of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by the way. I thought there were some wonderful sequences: the Oompah-Loompahs were absolutely brilliant, the acting performances were strong and there were some glorious (if a little clunky sets), but the music was just a bit, well, meh. It just bumbled away in the background, never really hitting a huge climax, or taking the audience anywhere exciting. It was just there. Written, as they say, on the back of a Cornflakes packet. There’s also an issue with the pacing of the story, in that it takes such a long time to reach the chocolate factory itself. In this production, you don’t actually see the magic inside the building until after the interval, which means there are one or two too many slow and static scenes involving Charlie’s extended family, all of which, frankly, leave you wondering why on earth they’re all so poor. (In this particular stage show, although the father was unemployed, the mother seemed to be working as a nurse, so quite why they were living on a rubbish dump and couldn’t even afford a bar of chocolate, I’m not sure! What was she spending her nurse’s salary on? Crack?) 

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Hoovers and Gogs

We're on the M1 heading back from Cheshire. Nathan's sister has recently departed the Land of my Fathers and is now living with her husband-to-be, Julius, in a beautiful modern house made of reclaimed bricks on the edge of a charming village called No Man's Heath. How cool is that name? As we drove up the M6, I was beavering away on a song in Brass called No Man's Land, so our destination felt particularly relevant. There are some brilliantly named British villages, aren't there? My three personal favourites are Pity Me (the most neurotic village), Shingay-cum-Wendy (the campest village) and Cold Christmas (the most romantic village.) The rudest is, of course, Twatt, on the Shetland Islands, but I've never been there. Feel free to get in touch with any other weird or wonderful village names, real or imagined!

I'm a little sad that Sam is no longer living in Wales. It's difficult for me to imagine not being able to have such regular Goggy top-ups. Visiting Wales is an itch I have to scratch periodically.

So, today's gathering was to wish Sam and Julius well as they depart on their wedding-cum-holiday-of-a-lifetime, which will see them riding Harley Davisons the full length of Route 66. The wedding itself takes place at the Grand Canyon. Cher and Meat Loaf can, frankly, eat their hearts out! Here was me thinking that we'd got the monopoly on awesome and unique weddings! #totallyupstaged!

The Hoover Dam is, of course, just off Route 66. As we drove home this evening in ludicrously slow moving traffic, I asked if Nathan would ever want to see that particular feat of structural engineering. "I'm not sure..." He pondered for a moment, "although I'd like to meet the giant beavers that made it..." Quick as a flash, my husband!

Strictly Come Who?

We're on our way back from Julie and Sam's where we've been doing Craft and Cake. It's been a much-needed break, although I was secretly working on Brass documents during the afternoon, proof-reading the clutch of piano/ vocal scores I'd spent the morning printing out.

Today's crafters were working on a variety of projects. Tina was even crocheting a carpet for a tent out of multi-coloured garden string, which I thought was rather ingenious. Elsewhere in the room, people were knitting socks and scarfs. We ate Julie-made salted-caramel eclairs and Sam-made pasta with cream and peas. There was a fruit cake, home-made bread and pots and pots of tea.

We watched the first episode of Strictly Come Dancing, and it seems the BBC are using the word "celebrity" in inverted commas this year... That, or I'm getting very old! I had no idea who anyone was. None of us did. In most cases we were forced to listen very carefully to the one-line description of participants as they sashayed down the staircases. "Bronze medal-winning Olympic boxer, X," "Random female sports presenter, Y" "Token BME presenter from Country File, Z..." Next year they'll be featuring the entire cast of Gogglebox, or running a reality show to turn "real people" into the celebrities they need. There was one moment when all the "stars" were asked to hold up circular question marks in front of their faces whilst the professional dancers walked in. On a count of three, they revealed themselves, to much cheering from the pros. I'm sure it must have been acting. If that rabble of D-listers (including the woefully homophobic Jamelia) had unveiled themselves to me, I'd have been confused and then distinctly underwhelmed!

Still, the great joy about Strictly, is being able to see Claudia Winkleman back on our television screens. She's a hugely talented presenter in my view and I'm genuinely really proud of the BBC for allowing two women to co-host a prime time Saturday night entertainment show. It's so much more refreshing than the deeply misogynist cliche of the old sleazy comedian standing with a pretty young floozy who's sole task is to gurn, pout and twitter. It's only taken the BBC about eighty years to realise the errors of their ways, but, as my Mum used to say, "better late than never..."



Friday, 4 September 2015

Totes emosh

I am a level of knackered tonight I hitherto thought impossible! We have been filming all day. Like ALL day, documenting a seriously important milestone in the project we're working on. It's all a bit terrifying. This is the point at which we allow other people in, and have to start sharing and being malleable. I've always been a bit of a one-man-band, so this is somewhat problematic for me!

I realised today that it is almost exactly thirty years since I started senior school, which means I've known my dear friend Tammy for as many years. It's actually her birthday today, which gave me cause to send her a cheery message, whilst deep down I was feeling really emotional. I used to hear old people uttering cliches like "where do the years go?" I used to want to throttle them, and say, "you know exactly where they've gone. Time passes. Get over it..." And then suddenly you're 41. Suddenly you're in a thirteen year relationship like the one your parents were in when you started senior school thirty years ago. And part of you wonders how it all happened.

I see my God children and want to tell them just how much they've grown and give them a quid to spend on an ice cream. I'm turning into my Grannie! God, how I sometimes miss my Grannie!

I got inexplicably tearful today because the project we're working on is very close to my heart, and forces me to reflect on my life as a five year-old boy in a dusty market town in Bedfordshire. Again, the years tumble away, and the memories, which I once considered indelibly etched on my little grey cells, don't seem to be that easy to access anymore. I see a haze of sunlight instead: generalised images of rounders matches, teddy bears' picnics, kagouls, ABBA records, Nuclear Power No Thanks stickers, kiln parties and home made bread dipped in cider vinegar. The memories which remain, invariably take a moment or two to sharpen, but so many are gone forever; simply evaporated in the heat of those long summers.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Exhausted kebabs

We're exhausted. It's 8.30pm, we've only just finished work down at Uncle Archie's in Kentish Town, we're gonna gobble down a bit of food, and then I need to get cracking on another song from Brass. At the moment, my only respite is the actual act of eating, and even then, whilst stuffing food in my gob, I'm trying to read a document, or check an email. It's punishing beyond words.

The positive is that we're doing good work. Really good work. Things have started slotting into place and there's only been a small amount of tension, all of which has come as a result of the team not all being in the same place at the same time. Things have a habit of moving forward in leaps and bounds when one of us is absent, and this invariably causes hints of friction.

It's veggie kebabs from "Mega Grill" tonight. Mega Grill! I ask you. It's only children's nurseries which have worse names than kebab shops. Nurseries are always called ghastly things like "Little Stars" or "Tiny Monsterz." Kebab shops are usually named after other fast food chains ("Hawaiian Fried Chicken") or randomly prefixed by some kind of shiny gemstone. How do I know all this? Well, unfortunately, as the work-load increases, so our ability to cook for ourselves diminishes. It's soups and salads for lunch and then whatever we can source from local takeaways for tea. Last night we had pasta from Papa Del's, which doubled up as lunch today because the portions are so wonderfully large.

They've dug up the road at the back of our house. Apparently they're doing essential gas works for ten weeks, which probably means the road will be closed for that long. I must say, it's rather lovely. The road is blocked off at the junction with the A1, which means there's no through way, which, of course, means it's deathly quiet, and suddenly great for parking. I hope the gas works take forever, frankly!

Hysterical wombs

So Nathan's knitting Podcast continues to attract new followers, seemingly from every corner of the world. He's recently been getting messages from a young lad in Taiwan. Nathan has a little segment in his films called "stuff for the boys" which addresses the issue that knitting is often seen as a somewhat feminine pursuit.  It's not a boy-versus-girl thing. Many women aren't that fussed about knitting in pink Kidsilk Haze or making silly lacy things, so Nathan simply tries to promote project bags, patterns, stitch markers and the like which aren't exclusively for girly girls. He shows his viewers things with geometric shapes on them, for example, rather than floral designs. Blacks and Browns instead of pinks and lilacs. He is also trying to encourage male knitters to reclaim the craft by doing so publicly. Nathan often knits on the tube - usually whilst wearing his big leather biker jacket. He garners rather strange looks all the time, and people, for some reason, often feel the need to secretly take his photograph. The sense however, is that they're impressed, or at least find him charmingly eccentric. On only one occasion have I witnessed homophobia. In this instance an older woman actually tutted and moved into a different area of the compartment when both Nathan and our friend, Trevor pulled out their knitting.

Anyway, the lad from Taiwan is particularly keen on the "stuff for the boys" strand, explaining that, in his country, men are very much looked down on for knitting, and that he has to stuff all his crafting accoutrements into a ruck sack because the project bags for sale out there are teeth-achingly feminine.

He tells Nathan that he sometimes knits in public, but that it can attract really abusive comments. The other day, an older man came up to him on a train and said, "if you were my son I'd beat you to death." Hideous. The lad's response to the dreadful man was dignified and pithy; "well I'm glad you're not my father. And I feel sorry for your son." At this stage, I feel the need to refer all readers to my blog on Monday about the concept of women-only tubes, reminding them that the world is not always a safe place for LGBT people, or those who appear to be on the LGBT spectrum. I also feel obliged to remind everyone that the quest for gender equality has to work in two directions... If a bloke wants to knit, learn the harp, be a midwife or play netball, it should be as inappropriate to take the mickey out of them as it is to tell women that their wombs make them hysterical. 

And if you want to see Nathan's wonderful knitting podcast, click here... 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Dot dot dot

I woke up this morning, checked in on Facebook, and immediately witnessed a text book example of what I call the "dot dot dot" Facebook status. I'm sure everyone reading this who is on Facebook will be aware of the oeuvre. The statement is usually brave but resigned and just non-specific enough to create mayhem amongst friends. The dot dot dot statuses are almost exclusively followed by the ellipsis of doom... The best examples of the form divide friends into those who know your inner most daemons (ie your real friends) and those who don't (ie the people who need to feel ashamed that they have no idea who or what you're talking about.) The dot dot dots tempt your inner sanctum of friends to send an "in the know" cryptic response, which deliberately sheds no new light on the original message and achieves nothing but making the sender feel (and look) really smug.

Today's classic dot dot dot status was; "well here goes...."

Others I've read in the past include;

"Just when you thought life couldn't get any more painful..."

"Can't believe it's all started again..."

"Waiting for an ambulance to arrive..."

"Keep thinking about Devon. Lol. Know what I mean...? (winking face emoticon followed by list of friends names who, one assumes, shared this extraordinary Devonian experience)...

If not cryptically quipping, the quintessential response to the dot dot dot message is either to "like" it, which seems almost too bizarre for messages which are often tragic in tone, or to write those two, ludicrously bland, 21st century "can't think of anything else to say, but need the world to know I'm nice" words, "hugs, babes." The tragedy is generally completed with a pink emoticon of some description. Frankly, if you can think of nothing other than that to write, it's probably worth wondering if you need to write anything at all.

Cut these tragic messages out of your status updates, people. If you're feeling sad, share enough facts so that those who perhaps don't spend their lives Facebook stalking people have some sort of idea as to whether they need to be on suicide watch or simply assume it's just another whinging text designed to both antagonise and worry your friends.

Oh yes.

Dot dot dot...

Night!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Women only

On my way to Moorgate this morning I sat on a tube carriage which very speedily became women only. It was just one of those things. I looked up at one point and realised I was a lone man in a sea of femininity. I'm afraid many of the women sitting with me were rude. One decided she wanted to sit next to me, where my umbrella was resting, but instead of asking if I'd mind moving it, she kicked my foot, pointed at the umbrella and grunted like a caveman. She threw herself down on the seat, immediately changed her mind, stood up again, and in the process shunted my computer so hard that it slid down my leg. Did she apologise? Did she f**k! Worse still, the group of girls she was with burst into peels of hysterical laughter as I grappled to restore the scene's factory settings.

As a result of this, and myriad other reasons, which I'm about to list, when the debate kicks off properly about whether or not there should be women only carriages on British trains and tubes, I shall be arguing most firmly against.

Firstly, as evidenced today, men do not have the monopoly on abusive, rude or anti-social behaviour. A bloke on a tube surrounded by a gang of girls, particularly an elderly one, could be made to feel hugely intimidated. Probably not as intimidated as a woman travelling on her own surrounded by a group of men, but intimidated none the less. On that particular note, if group of lads heading home after a night on the town are wanting to cause problems, are they really going to be put off by a sign which says "women-only"? Of course they're not. In fact, I suspect, the taboo of entering the woman-only carriage could well prove too alluring to ignore.

On another note, I think it's also worth remembering that men travelling on their own - particularly late at night - are, in my view, just as likely to attract "unwanted attention" as women... It's a different sort of attention but the consequences are no less unthinkable. Men get beaten up on the streets all the time. They give another bloke the "wrong look" and all hell breaks loose. Funnelling men into single sex carriages fuels testosterone and creates dangerous powder kegs. In fact I'd go as far as to suggest that the presence of women makes men behave with more decorum towards one another.

Worst still, feminine men and transpeople are red rags to the bullish behaviour of a certain type of pissed-up gang. Protecting women from this but not members of the LGBT community, the elderly or, indeed just men who don't want to get involved, is almost too horrifying and negligent for words. On so so many occasions in the past, I've been forced to cross the road from a group of lads, or move carriages because I've felt uneasy, or been jeered at for wearing an AIDS ribbon.

Tackle the behaviour of louts by all means, but not like this, because by doing it this way, you're sacrificing one person's safety for another.

I had lunch with Meriel today in a rainy Spitalfields Market. We had veggie pie and mash, which was rather delicious, before taking a walk along Brick Lane and back round to Moorgate where I took the tube back home and worked on the Brass scores until midnight. Not a great way to spend a Bank Holiday, but I guess the weather was so awful, so anything else would have been a nonsense.