Thursday, 12 May 2016


It's 1.15am on a very misty, moisty evening. It's the sort of night where street lamps create huge coronas of smudgy light in the sky. The world seems to be wrapped in cigar smoke. I have just finished listening to Radio 4 closing down for the night, which has to be the most quintessentially English sound that exists. I wondered what an American would make of the dulcet, easy-listening flutey wafts of Sailing By followed by the near-incomprehensible and deeply soporific Shipping Forecast. This evening, the lovely continuity announcer with her soft, lulling voice, told us all to sleep well, and then, of course, came the National Anthem, in that all-too familiar version where the oboes in the orchestra are just that little bit too loud!

I'm currently at Watford Gap Service Station, doing that thing I love to do in the middle of the night, namely just sitting, with a nice cup of tea, allowing the electrically charged silence to massage my senses. Some kind of slot machine within hearing distance is playing the music to Mission Impossible in 4/4. It's offending my ears a little, but it's nice not to be driving...

I've been up to Macclesfield and back today to deliver a speech and hand out awards at Fallibroome Academy's annual performing arts prize giving evening. Fallibroome is the former school of both Hannah Lawson and Ben Jones from the original cast of Brass. It's a performing arts specialist college so the award night is the highlight of the yearly calendar.

I was so so impressed by the place. The teachers are deeply committed to the students. The students are conscientious, polite and highly talented. The head teacher is forward-thinking and fully understands the importance of the performing arts both within a school curriculum and as the outward facing aspect by which his school will be judged. I genuinely don't understand why those ghastly Tories don't see the point of the arts in schools. Sure, a statistically tiny number of school kids are ever likely to find careers in creative industries, but a child who plays a lot of music often has a better grasp of maths and languages, higher levels of concentration and the ability to listen. A child who does a lot of drama exudes confidence and knows how to present him or herself. It was so so wonderful to hear a head teacher saying that, regardless of the cuts, his school will continue to thrive as an arts hub.

My speech seemed to go down well. It generated a few laughs, and on two occasions, spontaneous rounds of applause. I felt like a politician! I was essentially simply trying to be as inspiring as I could be, whilst pointing out a few pitfalls, and encouraging the young people to think about one or two things I think it's worth thinking about. It spoke well of the kids that they listened so intently, without losing focus or chatting away.

I went for a drink in a charming village pub afterwards where I met the self-confessed biggest fan of Brass, which was rather nice. He's a friend of Ben Jones' utterly luminous mother, Jo, and he genuinely seems to know the soundtrack inside out. He says his favourite song changes every day. Today it is Keighley followed by Scared.

I am exhausted. ABBA has got me this far on my journey home. I've been dancing at the wheel to keep myself feeling perky. I've also been quite intrigued by the sheer number of lorries driving along in the slow lane of the motorway at this time of night. They're literally bumper to bumper, the little squares of red tail lights stretching far into the distance. It's like a sort of sub-culture. An underground movement. Where are they going? What do they know that we don't?

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