Friday, 29 April 2016

Joint tinnitus

So the weirdest thing happened last night when it became clear that Nathan and I were experiencing the same tinnitus which manifested itself as an identical high-pitched whistle oscillating between an Eb and a D/Db. I genuinely don't know how this can be happening. Does anyone understand tinnitus? It's the same noise that I've been experiencing on and off for some time, but Nathan has never heard it before. What's going on? Is Nathan actually hearing the inside of my head?! Are we so aligned that we're sharing conditions of the inner ear? Or do we not have tinnitus at all? Is there an electronic device in the bedroom which is making the noise? Nathan says that he could still hear it when he blocked his ears. When I block my ears I just hear the sea. And my heart beat!

We took our car to the garage in Highgate this morning. The garage is a lovely place, situated through an archway in a little courtyard on the hillside behind the High Street. It's located in a beautiful, somewhat functional 1950s building which has apparently always been a garage and looks like something from the mid West of America. They always do a brilliant deal on the work they do, which, for a garage in an area filled with people with more money than sense, is astounding. The mechanic, with his enormous grey eyes, is ridiculously easy on the eye and is obviously a really nice bloke. Instead of a calendar of naked women on the wall, he has framed photos of his children.

Our car was officially written off by the insurance company following our little prang with the lorry, despite the fact that we've been driving around in it ever since. The damage is actually nothing more than a broken back light and a little dent in the boot, which it turns out is only going to cost £150 to remedy, or £400 if we want to have it all done properly and re-painted. The insurance company are plainly just lazy. They're more than happy for us to spend the write-off money "as we wish," even if that means fixing the car. The only stipulation is that it passes its next MOT.

I worked the rest of the morning in Costa. A child was screaming so loudly that I recorded the noise and sent it to Llio as an MP3. Llio periodically sends me little recordings of the sounds of the madness she hears around her. The little girl in Costa had been toddling about quite happily, and, ten minutes before the screaming started, had walked into a table and muttered something incomprehensible, which only the Mummy understood. "You did bang-bang didn't you?" She said, unacceptably. When the child started yelling, everything became clear in my head. The child was plainly screaming out of pure frustration because Mummy isn't teaching her proper grammar. She's screaming because she knows the language she's been taught will have to be unlearned when she gets older. She's screaming because she doesn't have a friggin' clue what bang-bang is!

It snowed heavily for about ten minutes this afternoon. The snow fell at a 45 degree angle with great force. It didn't settle. A few minutes later the sun was shining again.

Just before the snow started, a pair of plastic gloves floated past my window. That was a little random. We're on the third floor. How do gloves get that high by wind alone? Plainly they were motorised...

The rest of the day was spent planning our trip to the trenches in France. We have to raise £1500. I hope the BBC will help us, and I have a few other ideas, but if not, I may have to open up a little crowd-funding initiative.


I drove to Leeds and back today in the most miserable weather. I'm told a snow storm is currently ravaging Scotland and I guess I was driving through its tail end... For the entire length of my journey!

The M1 is a mass of 50 mph speed limits and weird dot matrix signs which flash up with the message "reduce speed to 40! Incident." Then more exclamation marks flash up. Said incidents were almost systematic in their non-appearance!

But it was great to be in Leeds. I love Leeds. I had a lovely moment on Briggate listening to a busker playing Time To Say Goodbye on an electric violin, to a Bossa Nova beat, which felt eccentric in a wonderfully Yorkshire kind of way.

I was in Leeds, cap in my hand, talking to the BBC and Leeds Council about my plan to take the cast of Brass down to the place where the real Leeds Pals went over the top. Both parties were incredibly friendly and love the idea of a group of young Yorkshire folk on the trail of the Leeds Pals. The council people even offered us a donation towards the coach hire, which is incredibly generous of them. We have a coach company willing to take us to France, but they're a little pricey, so unless I can subsidise the trip with financial good will gestures from kind folk, we still may not be able to do it. I don't know why everything in my life tends to take on the quality of an uphill climb. Nothing ever seems to come without struggle or drama. It's plainly the path I've chosen for myself. Sometimes I wish someone would wade in with a magic wand and say "thank you for this fabulous idea. Step aside and I'll make everything brilliant!" I even found myself wishing for good luck on every hay lorry that passed me on the road today. I don't know what was more bizarre: me wishing on hay trucks or hay trucks in April driving through sleet!

I'd never been to the civic building in Leeds before. It's a stunning Italianate art-deco blog, built during the Great Depression as part of an initiative to get unemployed people back into work. The Leeds Motto, "pro Rege et lege" ("for King and law") is inscribed in giant letters on the building's portico and huge golden owls (also a symbol of the city) sit proudly at every entrance. I also discovered today that the "rege" part of the motto is most likely to have been pronounced with a hard "g" rather than a "zh" (which is how we sing it on the cast album.) So from now on in we'll be talking about "reggae"... Man.

The BBC look like they're going to make a few little films about the trip. Nothing, of course, is ever set in stone when it comes to the media. The week before our trip, Britain goes to the polls. If we vote to stay in Europe, all will be fine, but if the fascists get their way, and the government goes into meltdown, there might not be much room for a little TV piece about a group of musical theatre actors. Frankly, heading to France two days after the referendum might open us up to having our coach pelted with eggs if we vote to leave. The French don't tend to need an excuse!

The journey home was ghastly. Heavy traffic. Solid rain. When I got to Highgate, they'd closed off the road we normally turn onto. They're building fancy flats where once there was a magistrates' court. In the end I went on a fifteen minute detour practically via Crouch End AND Muswell Hill just to beat the ludicrous traffic chaos that this single road closure generates. Even more horrifyingly, I got flashed at the traffic lights on the corner of our road. (By a camera, not by a pervert in a rain Mac you understand.)

Thursday, 28 April 2016


Parakeets have moved into the trees opposite our house. I saw a tell-tell flash of luminous green earlier on. It doesn't surprise me that they've come. The ravine around Highgate tube is full of wildlife and very very tall trees, and I'm told that parakeets are drawn towards areas of wildlife near city buildings. They like the warmth apparently. One day I'll see a parakeet sitting in my garden and I'll be thrilled.

It's been a quiet day. I've been slowly coming down from my ELO-induced high. I worked from the kitchen table on a single lyric. It's not right yet, but I'm placing a huge amount of pressure on myself to improve my lyric writing, which I've always considered to be the poor cousin in the world of my writing.

The dreadful lyrics that I used to pen were legendary in my family when I was growing up. People would howl with laughter at the shite I used to come up with, to the extent that if anyone questions my lyrics these days I'll instantly assume that they're right and I'm rubbish!

So today I'm trying to write lyrics that actually matter or at least lyrics that aren't predictable. I'm also trying to limit the rhymes I'm using. I'm never going to be a Sondheim with loads of clever internal rhymes. I'm also not sure rhyming is the be-all-and-end-all of song writing. And yet I persist...

Llio came over tonight to watch Suffragette on DVD. The film was directed by the lovely Sarah Gavron with whom I recently reacquainted myself at Arnold's funeral. Some years ago I worked as the casting assistant on Brick Lane which Sarah also directed. I used to get her into terrible trouble by giggling in auditions. On one occasion we both got so hysterical that the producer of the film sent us out of the room. We stood outside like naughty school children wondering when we'd be allowed back in.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016


I walked past a man this morning, with a balding head, who had 666 tattooed onto his crown. I wondered what possesses a man to do something like that. Is it a form of self-loathing? Does he think it's a bit of fun? Did he do it when he was drunk? Does he believe in the Devil? Does he think his tattoo will help him to pull the ladies or intimidate the crap out of those who stand in his way? Answers on a postcard...

I was writing an email to someone today about the song How Can I Keep From Singing. I was pointing out that it had been sung very beautifully and wistfully by Enya. Imagine my horror, therefore, when auto-correct altered Enya to EBay! Surely the clearest indication (if one were needed) that I no longer live in the world I was born into! I was trying to tell him the story of the Radio 1 DJ who was so shocked and saddened by stories coming from China during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre that, after one particularly chilling news broadcast about nuns being run over by tanks, he simply said, falteringly, "I don't know how to follow that" and played Enya's How Can I Keep From Singing instead.

I went jogging at lunchtime. It looked lovely outside. Sunshine. Blue skies... Some time between putting my trainers on and opening the door, the weather took a serious turn. Three minutes later, I was running around Highgate Wood whilst being pelted by enormous blocks of hail whilst icy winds battered my face. One of the park rangers was mowing grass on the cricket pitch, one assumes in preparation for the summer season. He must have been even more confused than me!

This evening we jumped on a hugely crowded tube and made our way to the O2 to see that great Midlands band, ELO (now branded as Jeff Lynne's ELO). I don't perhaps waffle on as much about ELO as I do Kate Bush or ABBA, but I can assure you that they were as big a part of my childhood sonic landscape as either of those other two great acts. As a teenager I was obsessed with them to the extent that I probably single-handedly ruined my Dad's love for the group! I spent hours in independent record shops looking for obscure album releases from the early 70s when the band used recorders, French horns, 'cellos and anything Jeff Lynne or Roy Wood could get their lips or fingers around to create naïve prog rock masterpieces. The Battle of Marsden Moor was a personal favourite, listed by mistake on the back cover of the album I had as "The Battle of Marsden Moot!"

After Wood left the band (to form Wizard), ELO went mainstream and became a prolific singles band, and, from 1976 to 1981 entered an imperial phase where every song they recorded became a hit.

The fabulous Feeling were the surprise (well surprise for us) warm up act. What a treat! The last time we heard them playing live, they were playing us up the aisle at our wedding! They performed brilliantly. They're surely one of the tightest live acts on the circuit. You can hear every layer of sound. Dan, the lead singer, is a true showman.

The sense of anticipation for ELO was extraordinary. I tweeted that I was in the venue and was instantly hit with a barrage of tweets from people who had seen the show and wanted me to know I was in for a proper treat.

The typical ELO fan, it would seem, is about ten years older than me, male, relatively well-preserved and heterosexual, although there were a surprising number of women there, all - literally all - with regional caramel slices in their hair!

The gig was stupendous. Hit after hit after hit, starting with that epic gong and heavy-string introduction to Tightrope. Every song brought the memories flooding back. I thought of my Mum and Dad during Telephone Line, I thought of Brother Edward during Secret Messages and Fiona and Ted during Sweet Talking Woman. The string trio at the start of that particular song reminded me of teenaged busking trips to Coventry. I think I transcribed it for us to play alongside the Miss Marple theme tune! We certainly used to listen to it as we drove to busking pitches around the Midlands.

The 10538 Overture was a personal favourite. It instantly transported me back to my bedroom in Higham Ferrers playing a live version of the song on my little record player with its silly speakers. I had the image of a 14 year-old lad singing to the moon, unable to comprehend how excited he was to hear the 'cellos thumping away in that particular tune.

Don't Bring Me Down went big in the crowd. I swear the backing vocalists were singing "Bruce" instead of "grrrrroooose" but Jeff Lynne's mondegreens are legendary.

It was a treat to watch the original ELO keyboardist, Richard Tandy doing his legendary thing. He's old school rock. Cool as a cucumber. No extraneous energy. He just gets on with being brilliant. Some of the moments when he did the iconic vocoder solos were amongst the best moments of the night. He took it all in his stride and then casually pushed the microphone away like he hadn't just re-created 1970s pop-rock gold.

Jeff Lynne sang well. Hearing his unassuming, unpretentious spoken Birmingham drawl between numbers was rather magical. The band was top-notch. I think it was only the three string players who let the side down a bit. It didn't ultimately matter because a lot of the string material was on track, but they just seemed a little lazy, almost as though they'd mistaken the gig for a West Life concert. They looked neat and tidy but paled into insignificance compared with the fiery, theatrical performances of Mik Kaminski and the great Melvyn Gale which made 1970s ELO concerts so special. These new girls just seemed a bit tame, glam and, well, boring. They reminded me of everything I used to hate on X Factor when the singers were bland and the girls playing strings around them were paid to sway a bit whilst looking pretty but unassuming. I got the impression that the violinist was fudging some of the iconic string runs as well. Wrong girls for the gig, sadly.

Obviously everyone's highlight was Mr Blue Sky. The hall erupted into dancing, jumping and singing. Everyone in the space was united in their love of the music and, frankly, their love of everyone else in the 02 who was loving the music. There was a fabulous sense of camaraderie. Like Jeff Lynne had handed out several thousand ecstasy pills at the start of the show and everyone was suddenly coming up!

I have discovered that my new facial hair makes it impossible to whistle with my teeth, which seems a little random, and totally unfair when you want to show your appreciation of two great bands without shouting yourself hoarse.

We got out of the O2 mercifully quickly. I'm sure the poor bastards who were sitting in the Gods are probably still at North Greenwich tube trying to get on a train. I don't know how they manage to get however many thousand of us dispersed without major incident.

Feeling like a number one

Admin, admin, admin. On and on and on. My life is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent Arts Council application form! And, of course, the endless waiting game we play whilst people decide whether or not they're going to reply to your messages. Still waiting to hear about a bus. Still waiting to hear about a commission. Still waiting to hear whether I have the rights to turn a book into a musical. Still waiting for the gym to re-open. Today we went down there with our little ruck sacks and hopeful eyes. The doors were locked. They promised us it was opening this week. What we didn't expect was that this week meant Friday.

The yummy mummies were out in force this morning in Highgate Village, all panicky about secondary school choices. I didn't think wealthy people needed to worry about that sort of thing. I thought those sorts of women worried about their cleaners breaking into their safes and stealing jewellery they didn't know existed or whether the handy man had painted the walls a colour that their neighbours would describe as Weimaraner.

I burned my mouth all over today by eating a feta-covered potato that I'd grilled in the oven. I've subsequently lost my sense of taste and am fearing putting anything remotely hot in my mouth because I'm worried I've lost an entire layer of skin. My soup for tea was magma hot. The little bits of sweetcorn in it were so hot that when they exploded, I felt like I was putting my tongue on a gas hob.

I have decided to try to expand my brain by dedicating twenty minutes a day to memorising lists of British number one records. I've opted to focus on the official chart despite the fact that the NME chart gives ABBA an extra number one (Chiquitita) and has Vienna by Ultravox reaching the top spot. Vienna was famously and ludicrously held at number 2 by the ghastly Shaddap You Face by Joe Dolci. Hysterical. Anyway, you can now ask me anything you like about number ones in 1980. I'll have forgotten it all tomorrow, so ask quickly.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Grannies Make You Laugh

I decided to spend the day relaxing. I shan't want to do too much relaxing from henceforth, but it felt like a decent way to spend a Sunday. I watched a lot of telly. At one point I found myself on Channel 5, which is probably the first time in my life that I've watched that network. The show I saw was called Grannies Make You Laugh Out Loud. It was a You've Been Framed-style show with clips of loads of old people falling over. To be honest, I quite like a bit of slap stick, although apparently enjoying slap stick is an early sign of dementia! The show wasn't very good, however, and there was a deeply traumatic and vertigo-inducing video of an old lady almost falling out of a parachute harness, so I decided to switch to something else. I looked at the planner and was astonished to discover that the programme following Grannies Make You Laugh Out Loud on Channel 5 was called Budgies Make You Laugh Out Loud. That'll be a show, one assumes, with lots of clips of budgies making fools of themselves! Surely that's a new all-time low for British television?

The BBC meanwhile were broadcasting five hours of the London Marathon. Yawn! I mean, I get that it's an institution and all that. As I child, we were taken down to London to stand on the Embankment watching Peter Duncan (in his trademark green and white diamond suit designed by Blue Peter viewers) and Jimmy Savile running in a cloud of Lycra and smelly trainers, but I've never really understood why anyone would want to watch that crap on the telly. It's just people running in horrid shorts and fancy dress occasionally grabbing cups of water whilst a jazz band dressed in 1920s clobber plays on the cobbles at Cutty Sark. The most horrific television happens when that Hazel woman (and whichever other two-bit presenter who's drawn a short straw) have to run along next to the "fun runners" holding a microphone to the mouth of a giant bear costume, whilst screaming "which charity are you running for?" I always wanted one to reply, "oh, I'm not running for charity. I'm just a dick." It's horrifying telly which is best avoided like the plague. Or am I a terrible stick in the mud? Or maybe a bit anti-sport?

I'm currently watching a Second World War drama called Home Fires, which is confusing me, because the song "Keep The Home Fires Burning" (which I assume gave the show its name) was written by Ivor Novello in the First World War.

That said, as I get older, I find myself increasingly drawn to the Second World War as an interesting period in time. I have a rather strong feeling that there's some sort of blitz musical crystallising in the back of my mind. I obviously won't call it Blitz: Lionel Bart got in there first!

At some point this afternoon, I got locked in a cycle of watching great moments from previous Olympic Games on YouTube. Obviously, being a gay man, I went straight to the gymnastics and watched Nadia Comaneci getting a perfect 10 at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and then, of course, I couldn't resist watching Torvill and Dean doing Bolero in Sarajevo in 1984.

Seeing that clip made me decide to read up on the Winter Olympics because it suddenly struck me that, where once they were always held in the same year as the Summer Olympics, these days they happen in alternate even years. So where the last two summer Olympics were 2012 and 2008, the last two Winter Olympics were 2014 and 2010. So were there two winter Olympics in a row or was there a six year gap whilst they altered the system? It turns out that it was the former. There were Winter Olympics in both 1992 (Albertville) and 1994 (Lillehammer.)


I was looking at the statistics of this blog earlier on today, in particular the numbers of people who have read each post. I can reveal that the least read post was one I wrote in early 2010, which was only seen by three people. Three people! If you were one of those three people, all I can do is say thank you! The most read post was written on the 7th March 2012. It was called Hermits, and, I say this confidently, was possibly one of the dullest things I've ever written. Most of the post seems to be dedicated to comparing Anne Robinson to Velma from Scooby Doo. There are photographs of both women, so all I can think is that the 7000 people who "read" it are googling images of Velma from Scooby Doo and finding their way to my link. For the record, my usual readership these days is between 100 and 200 people per post. When I mention the NYMT, the readership doubles!

Nathan's Dad and Step Mum came to Highgate tonight. Nathan was still at work at the Shaftesbury theatre when they arrived, so I took them on a grand tour of the Heath. More specifically, I drove around the edge of the Heath, as the sun was setting, pointing out quirky little buildings whilst telling anecdotes. I showed them Boy George's house, told them the story of the Vale of Health and its miraculous escape from the Cholera epidemic, and regaled them with tales of Dick Turpin at Spaniards Inn. I should probably do tour guiding like my mate Josh does in Manchester.

As we turned the corner into Gordon House Road, Liz said to me, "you really love London don't you?" And I realised quite how much I do. Not London in general, I don't think, but the area around the Heath. I drove them up Swain's Lane, past the cemetery and Waterlow Park and I thought how amazingly lucky we are in my neck of the woods to have so many areas of wood and parkland. I read somewhere that London is technically classed as a forest because of the number of trees it has per square mile, or meter, or something. It doesn't actually surprise me, because most streets are lined with trees, and there are so many open spaces. 

We had our tea at Cafe Rouge in the village, where I had two giant bursts of echolalia when confronted by the rather silly voices of two of the staff there. My echolalia presents itself in a spontaneous and brutally embarrassing impersonation of anyone I speak to whose voice surprises me in any way. It tends to happen with Eastern European waitresses and, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit, certain Asian shop keepers. For some reason it's been plaguing me a little more than usual of late!

Friday, 22 April 2016

Hospitals and coaches

I did a morning's work in Highgate Village before being forced to cut my lovely peaceful writing session short when it became clear that I was going to have to do some serious phoning around to find a bus to take the cast of Brass down to France. Apparently the weekend we want to travel is famous in coaching circles as the busiest weekend ever. To make matters worse, one coach company in London suddenly raised their quote for the job by a whopping and extortionate £1000. It's really stressful and time-consuming. I'm going to dedicate Monday to the task, but if nothing emerges I'll have to throw in the towel. It simply shouldn't be this difficult to do something so nice. I just want a coach for Christ's sake!

In the late afternoon I drove up to Stanmore to the famous orthopaedic hospital there, where my cousin's wife, Sarah, is currently having a little stay. It's the strangest hospital, quite unlike any hospital I've ever visited. The buildings all feel a little pre-fabricated, like a 1950s holiday camp.

There's no obvious reception. You enter via a corridor, which has a little paper sign on it saying "to the wards." Anyone could walk in and there's no one anywhere to check that you're okay. Right in the middle of the hospital is an incredibly long corridor which is built on an enormously steep slope. My ankles started hurting after walking half of it. There's a single public unisex loo cubical half way along the corridor, with another paper-written sign attached to the window which says "you might want to flush the chain twice..." Apparently the water stopped working for a whole day earlier in the week.

It astonishes me that this is THE leading UK hospital in its field!

What was far more heartening was seeing how well Sarah looked. She was positively glowing. She's had the first of two operations on her back, but says the pain has already gone away. She was there with her two children,0 Harry and Erin, and we had a good laugh, kicked off in part by UKIP's latest party political broadcast, which is ludicrous.

I found out today that only four celebrities have come out in favour of Britain exiting Europe. I can't even remember one of them, but the other three are Ian Botham, Eddie The Eagle and Joan Collins (who, when I last checked, was living in America.) What a fabulous endorsement. Wouldn't you feel proud to be invited to a dinner party with those prannies? Talk about lowest common denominator. But then again, those who vote to exit Europe ARE lowest common denominator.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Goodbye Arnold

We're currently walking along the seafront in Hove. The sky is a dark shade of lavender and the sea is indigo fading into black. There are one or two little lights twinkling on the horizon: boats some way out to sea.

We've just sat on the beach eating chips as a tribute to Arnold Wesker. His play Chips With Everything is perhaps his most famous work, and we were a little disappointed that chips hadn't been served with the sandwiches at his wake this evening!

I drove down to Hove first thing and immediately got stuck in a dreadful traffic jam on the north circular with no petrol in the engine and no hope of finding a garage. That was a somewhat scary half an hour, let me tell you...

The rest of the journey was fairly smooth but for missing the turn off for the M23. I don't know if it's badly signposted, but I often seem to miss that junction when I'm driving down to East Sussex. I listened to Women's Hour on the radio, and all the tributes to Victoria Wood, whose death has shocked and saddened so many. I have always thought of her as the greatest ever British comic. She was a truly remarkable woman.

I reached Hove and had a delicious lunch with Fiona at her flat before walking along the seafront, marvelling at the chimney-like stick they've erected by the old pier which will one day become the mother of all viewing platforms. I shan't say what I suspect the platform will look like slowly moving up and down the pole, but I suspect I just have! Moving swiftly on...

We picked Nathan up from the train station in Brighton. He'd been working in the morning, so needed to join us a little later.

The crematorium in Brighton is one of the most charming that I've ever seen. Much of it seems to be cut into a hillside, and it was covered in yellow flowers. There were many dandelions and daffodils but the primroses were the most stunning. In many places they looked like carpets of the most delicate yellow cloth.

The funeral was wonderful. Lots of people spoke articulately and movingly about Arnold, no more so than his son, Lindsay, who said he was determined to make the event a true celebration because his dad would have wanted it that way. I was utterly thrilled to catch up with a few old friends, most notably Vera, with whom I spent almost every weekend in the late 90s and early naughties. Vera and her husband Bob lived (and still live) on the Hampstead side of the Heath, and used to hold the most tremendous parties and Sunday lunches. The great and the good of Hampstead's literary circle used to attend. Sandy Lean (widow of David), Billie Whitelaw, writers, painters, philosophers, theatre directors. We'd sit on Vera's camomile lawn eating kedgeree and drinking wine. You can imagine how exciting all of that was for a 22-year old! Seeing her again brought all those memories back and made me feel terrible for losing touch for so long. I will remedy that.

The wake was at a hotel on the London Road. We had a little moment when people took it in turns to say what Arnold had meant to them and to share memories and stories. Nathan encouraged me to stand and to tell the room about the way Arnold had mentored me. As we left, I spoke to his wife Dusty and said how important he was in my life, "you were very important in his as well," she said. My heart burst with pride.

As we sat at the wake, news came through of the death of the pop artist Prince, who was very much Fiona's pin up. She's always been a huge Prince fan. She was devastated.

The entertainment world has taken such a shocking hit this year. Bowie. Wesker. Rickman. Wood. Who's next? And why are they all checking out? What do they know? And yet the Queen goes on... Which song is worse? The National Anthem or Happy Birthday to You?

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

No beard

I sat opposite two French people in Costa this morning who were somewhat disconcerting. They must have been in their early twenties but they were whispering and giggling like a pair of little school children. I couldn't work out why they were behaving like that. Frankly, just by speaking French, they were probably ruling out anyone else in the cafe from understanding their conversation, but by whispering they were actually making their fellow customers feel so paranoid that they all started tuning in and trying to work out what was being said. It was very odd. The giggling was the most disconcerting part. I wanted to throttle the bloke. Then, when he stood, up he was only 5'6", so I instantly forgave him.

There were a lot of irritating people in Costa this morning, including two ghastly yummy mummies, one of whom was really worried because her son wanted to become a DJ, but she thought he ought to go to Cambridge instead. The other one, one of those privileged ethnically diverse types with a plummy voice, said she had started to think she needed to replace her nanny with a house keeper. First world problems.

There's nothing else to say about today. I ran. There was lots of blossom and the air smelt delightfully Spring like. There were no customers in the local barber shop again. It worries me so much that I am thinking of going in there again even though I went two weeks ago. Seeing the bloke sitting there looking all forlorn is heart-breaking.

I've started beating the text I've been given for the Gay Men's Chorus commission into shape. Heaven knows what's going to come out musically, but I'm looking forward to sitting down in front of a piano for the first time this year and seeing if the muse strikes.

I've shaved most of my beard off. I've left a big old General Haig moustache and a bit of stubble. I was fed up of looking old with the great big flash of white jowliness on my chin. The moustache is bright orange. My hair is black. What is wrong with my pigmentation? My face looks like an Egyptian flag!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

That twat

Today's been a bit "meh." Same old, same old. Up to the village for the morning, this time with Nathan, who was working on knitting designs. 

The afternoon was spent waiting for admin things to come through, and in the end, I hung up my work towels and watched the end of The Chase. 

At the moment I'm going through the text I've been given by the gay men's chorus to find little snippets of sentences that might yield something up tempo and celebratory. We're dealing with verbatim interviews, and there is a certain darkness to the one I've been given which doesn't necessarily scream gospel, so I'm going to have to be quite clever, or use the words as a jumping off place. 

I'm still avoiding the news. The sound is down but I can see that gurning, self-serving freak, Michael Gove yelling his chops off about Europe. Frankly, if you want that fishy-lipped turd to be the next leader of this country, then vote for us to exit Europe. You can all come and visit me in a devolved Scotland. Except those amongst you who really do vote for that twat. You might want to give it a year or so. He wrecked education. He'll wreck the country. I never thought I'd live to see a day when I supported Cameron! 

A polar bear

I landed a commission today, which is rather lovely. It's only for a four-minute choral piece, but it'll keep me busy for a week or so, and the project is a fascinating one. The piece is going to be sung by a sub-chorus of the London Gay Men's Choir and will be one of twelve compositions by different composers which deal with the experience of coming out from members of the chorus' perspective. Apparently, the submissions so far have been on the lugubrious and classical spectrum, so I've been asked to write something a bit more anthemic and upbeat.

On the creativity front, I can also announce that tickets have now gone on sale for Brass at the Hackney Empire this summer. I urge you all to see it. In fact, I shall only forgive those who are utterly skint, out of the country or not into musicals for not seeing it. The production is going to be sensational, and I reckon it's about time people cottoned on to the majesty and fabulousness of the show! It's genuinely the thing I'm most proud of in my life.

You can buy your tickets here:

How else would you be able to watch a musical performed by a cast of thirty four with a twenty piece orchestra in one of London's finest theatres for just £15?

I wrote up in the village this morning and then came home and spent the afternoon doing admin. Plans are forming to take the cast of Brass down to Serre in France so that they can soak up the atmosphere of the hallowed spot where the Leeds Pals went over the top. I hate organising trips. It's a nightmare. There's so much to think about: rules, regulations, practicalities. But I continue because I know what a unique and amazing experience it's going to be for the cast.

I got complimented on my moustache by the man in the kebab shop today. Facial hair and tattoos are the two things that straight men compliment each other on. I still wonder whether it makes me look like a giant white beach ball or a polar bear, but I'll keep with it for a while and see if I can get the ends of the moustache to twizzle like a ringmaster from the 1920s. It's a look.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

London Eurovision

I had a lengthy lie-in this morning, and spent a rather charming half an hour or so, still tucked up, looking at emails and Facebook posts. My mate Siobhan had posted a picture of me at an awards ceremony exactly eight years ago. I was curly-haired, handsome and youthful. We were at the Sonys. Coventry Market: The Musical had been nominated for an award which we didn't win, but Siobhan and I had a ball, got tipsy and danced the night away.

I'd spent the whole of that day in an edit suite cutting together a film interview with Arnold Wesker. The editor I'd been paired up with plainly didn't understand why she was there. "I'm a journalist," she kept saying, dripping with arrogance, "not an editor, and this is arts, not news." I think she was angry because she'd been left looking after the bags during the film shoot and felt she was a bit above all of that!

I left her to it in the edit suite to attend the awards. The film was looking great when I left and all that remained for her to do was to add a few credits. She posted the film online that night. I looked at it excitedly when I got back from the awards, but something awful had happened, and all the lovely cutaway shots we'd spent ages adding had vanished, replaced by hideously amateur-looking footage of the cameraman running down the road to catch up with me and Arnold as we walked and talked. There was a two-minute repeat in the middle of the film, and all the music I'd added had been lost. Plainly there'd been some kind of catastrophic technological crash and the editor had decided it was more than her job's worth to stay in the edit suite late into the evening to tidy things up before posting the film on the BBC's website. It was only an arts film after all, and not for telly.

As soon as I saw the film I sent her a text saying, "I think there's been a technical fuck up with the film. We have to take it down and figure out what's gone wrong. No one should see it looking messy like this."

The following morning I arrived at BBC London and was immediately hauled over the coals by one of the big cheeses there, "I understand you sent a text message, out of office hours, to a BBC staff member which included a profanity..." The editor had plainly realised she'd made a terrible botch of the film and decided to create a smoke screen, using the text message I'd sent to get me into trouble instead of her. It's amazing the lengths people will go to to avoid accepting responsibility. I learned a great deal that day about the way that institutions often value etiquette over output, how a freelance staff member's word will never be taken over someone on the regular books, and how a certain type of cynical, over-protected, unionised BBC employee could use the system to get away with blue murder.

It took me a week (and an official complaint from Sir Arnold himself) before the powers that be looked at the catastrophic video that had been posted. They were horrified. The editor was immediately asked to tidy the film up, but as a parting gesture, she removed all traces of the music we'd put in the film, all of which, she knew, had deep significance for both me and Arnold, coming from projects we'd worked on together. To make matters even worse, she then lost all the rushes for the films, thereby meaning the interview, which was deeply moving and all about Wesker's childhood in the East End, could never be reproduced, re-edited, or seen by a wider audience. When Arnold contacted the BBC to get the film footage a couple of years later, it was with great regret that they had to acknowledge it had gone!

Every time I see that cow of a woman doing one of her "proper journalistic" pieces to camera on the news, I think of what she did to that film and hope she feels a glimmer of guilt. I'm sure, when Arnold died, she probably didn't even remember who he was...

This evening we came to London Eurovision at Cafe de Paris, one of a series of events in European capitals which promote this year's slew of Eurovision entries, giving the singers an opportunity to practice singing the songs live and build a rapport with potential fans.

It's a lovely event. The French entrant won my heart. It's a catchy song and the singer, a typically French polyglot, is very charming and ludicrously handsome. I haven't supported France in Eurovision since 1989. They usually enter a bundle of bland bullshit which is way too cool for school.

The show was presented by Nikki French and Paddy O'Connell. French came 7th representing the UK in the year 2000 and has since become a huge ambassador for the competition and the unofficial figurehead of the Eurovision fan club. Her love for all things Eurovision never comes across as opportunistic or tragic. She loves it and understands who its die-hard fans are. I like her enormously. As do the fans.

Our companions for the evening were Brother Edward and Sascha and their "Eurovision wives," Fiona and Sylvia, who accompany Ed and Sasch to every contest, are enormous fun and do their best to keep their boys out of trouble. We had VIP tickets, which was a proper treat because it meant we didn't have to stand in a mosh pit surrounded by excited queens jumping up and down and waving Polish flags. Fiona and Sylvia, as women, are a very rare species at Eurovision events. There might have been 500 people in the audience tonight and maybe only 30 of them were women, which Sascha thought was quite a high percentage. Sylvia had been to a Eurovision event the day before which had been attended by 97 men and three women. The only straight men in the building were either performers or Cafe de Paris staff. There is a Eurovision gene in all gay men.

I always find entering Cafe de Paris a somewhat eerie experience. The stories of the bombs which obliterated the place in March 1941 are incredibly distressing. 34 were killed including many of the band who were playing at the time. Dancers died, still in hold. The legendary British wartime spirit was apparently hugely prevalent that night, typified by one of the injured, who, as he was stretchered away from the rubble shouted "at least I didn't have to pay for dinner!" He was cheered by onlookers.

No news

We're just outside Thaxted, driving along the country lanes just past the spot where the plumes of ghostly smoke are often seen drifting across the road. There's no smoke tonight. I'm actually a bit disappointed. I'd like our friend Tina to experience the phenomenon and it's exactly the type of evening where smoke is most likely to be seen. Crisp. Cold. Clear.

We've been to another quiz. We would have won but for a catastrophic end round on TV theme tunes, where the catch was that if you answered a single question wrongly, you'd lose all your points for the round. Our mistake was to blithely assume that the theme tune to Skippy The Bush Kangaroo was actually Steptoe and Son! Listen to the themes. They're really similar! But who puts the theme tune to Skippy the Kangaroo into a quiz!? And who the hell IS Skippy the Kangaroo?! It was a good quiz, though, and it was really lovely to see the parents and our regular team mates, Sally and Stuart.

We came to Thaxted with Tina straight from craft and cake in Catford. Today's cake was a home made cheese cake dusted with dried raspberries. Sam had bought cheeses from a local fancy deli. Catford, it seems, is on the up...

We had lunch with Sam and Matt in a local greasy spoon (keeping it real in true old-school Catford style.) We're planning a very special trip to the States next year, which we all became very excited about.

Abbie was knitting a lacy shawly thing today, whilst Sam, Julie and Tina all worked on baby ephemera. Nathan cast-on a shawl which he then "frogged" back after discovering he had miscalculated the number of stitches.

I ate cake. Blissfully. Whilst obsessively looking at pictures of Monument Valley at sunset.

What else? Oh yes. I've stopped watching the news. It feels like quite an irresponsible thing to do, but I feel I'll soon find out if something major has happened that I genuinely need to know about. I get bored of media bias. I get bored of watching vox pops of stupid people having opinions about matters they know nothing about. I don't want to hear another bored housewife saying she's worried about the children. I hate the newsmakers' insistence on showing one person with views for, one against and one undecided for "reasons of balance." Recessions happen because of the media. Ghastly words like "brexit" get coined and promulgated by the media. I don't really need to be told that there are more shitty things happening in the world with Isis and certainly don't want to watch politicians using these awful events as a platform for point scoring. I don't want to see the gurning, fat, privileged faces of David Cameron and Boris Johnson any more. Neither do I want to hear journalists delivering pieces to camera in mock "newsy" voices whilst travelling up and down escalators whist half the screen is blurred out as the backdrop for a series of ludicrous graphics because it's assumed that I can't focus for more than one minute without something visually exciting happening. So there. That's why I no longer watch the news.

Night night!

Friday, 15 April 2016

Running in the rain

It was tipping it down with rain when I woke up this morning, so, instead of walking up to the village, I decided to take myself to Jackson's Lane to work. Sadly, as I arrived at the theatre, I was greeted by a closed door and the information that the cafe opened at 10, so I had no option but to take myself through the rain and up to the village with the knowledge that the damp air had made my T-shirt smell like broken biscuits.

We watched a show about ageing on the telly last night, one of an almost bewildering slew of shows about or made in Scotland. This one was great fun and actually made by a friend of ours, Paul. It was presented by Angela Rippon who, at 71, was representing old people. Ms Rippon is known in the industry as having a photographic memory. She can literally look at a piece of script for a second, read it through once and then deliver it faultlessly to camera. Bizarrely, this skill doesn't seem to be diminishing as she gets older. As part of the programme she was given a cat scan which revealed, where the majority of 71 year olds can expect 25% shrinkage of the brain, hers had only shrunk by 5%!

Later on, she was put into a US Airforce test which demonstrated her ability to concentrate. The idea was to take the test and then attach electrodes to her scalp to see if the results improved. The only issue was that she scored 100% first time round! The guy running the test simply didn't know what to say. His youngest, brightest students would normally not get higher than 75%!

Anyway, if you want to live longer, the advice seems to be to exercise, to learn new skills, to have a vegetarian diet and to eat plenty of naturally purple food!

Friday mornings are busy mornings at Costa. It's the time those pack-hunting animals, the yummy mummies arrive en masse to take time off their gruelling schedules of charity work, shopping, nanny-ordering, and driving their dogs to the Heath in giant Chelsea tractors.

I came home at lunchtime and went running in the pouring rain. I've always enjoyed running in the rain. It feels incredibly liberating.

I spent the afternoon writing new brass parts for the ensemble members who are also players in this summer's show. It was important to get the parts out as soon as possible because they're going to need to get their playing up to scratch to perform the music properly. I don't feel any guilt for asking them to work hard. If their actor musicianship is up to scratch then they're much more likely to get decent work when they go out into the big wide world. You've got to be cruel to be kind!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

As if we never said goodbye

I was up in the village this morning, writing in Costa, when I looked across at the bloke next to me who was reading a newspaper. He turned a page, and there was Arnold Wesker's face. The article described him as the "last of the angry young men." Funnily enough, Arnold always used to claim that he wasn't an angry young man, but that he was very definitely an angry OLD man! The man in the cafe had a cursory read of the article before turning the page and I wanted to tap him on the shoulder and say, "you should read Chicken Soup with Barley and then you'd understand the importance of this man." Actually, when Arnold, a notoriously bad speller, handed the first draft of Chicken Soup with Barley to the Royal Court theatre, a spelling mistake meant he'd actually titled his first play, Chicken Soup with Barely!

There's little else to say about today. Yesterday's Sunset Boulevard at English National Opera was a proper treat. It's very rare to hear a musical theatre score played by a 51-piece orchestra and Michael Xavier was tremendous in the role of Joe. Glen Close delivered one of those performances which I will be able to say I saw for the rest of my life. She created the most astonishing moment when she sang As If We Never Said Goodbye, and brought a breathtaking pathos and fragility to Norma Desmond. We sat in the Gods, so I was too far back to see the subtleties of her facial expressions, but something special was happening which the entire audience seemed to be buying into. Of course it's very difficult to know whether a lot of the buzz was happening because this was Glen Close. If a less famous actress had delivered an identical performance, would everyone have gone so gaga over it? She certainly didn't sing the music beautifully...

The show instantly took me back in time. Almost exactly twenty years ago (in fact to the actual month) I did my drama school work experience on Sunset Boulevard, observing a director called Andrew McBean as he rehearsed a new cast which included Petula Clerk and Graham Bickley. Pet Clark was taking over from Elaine Paige, who had done a limited run of the show. I remember sitting in on a rehearsal with the bloke who'd played the butler, Max, since the show opened some three years before. The resident director suggested that maybe he could shake things up and keep things fresh by changing the position of his hands at the end of his big song, to which the actor replied, "my dear man. If this hand position was good enough for Trevor (Nunn, the show's original director) then it's good enough for me..." I learned a lot about a certain type of actor in that one session!

I was very good friends with the stage door keeper of the Adelphi theatre in the run-up to that week of work experience. I was there when the news of the massacre at Dunblane broke. I remember discussing it with a well-known actress who was dating one of the cast at the time. I told her about the shooting at my own school and how strange I was feeling in a sort of "there but for the grace of God" kind of way. Strange days.

Twenty years in the business and never dropped a sequin!

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Dear Sir Arnold

I knew the day would come at some point and I've dreaded it for some time. Yesterday, at 6.50pm, actually whilst Fiona, Nathan and I were talking about him on Sandy Heath, my mentor and dear friend, Sir Arnold Wesker, died.

He'd been ill for some time, suffering from Parkinson's disease. When I last saw him, just under a year ago, he was a little unstable, but very definitely a man I still recognised. I feel a little guilty not to have seen him closer to the end, but there again, grateful that I never saw him fading away. In my mind he will always be the great writer. The barrel-chested ox. The man who taught me integrity. The man who went to jail for his anti-nuclear stance. The great working class playwright who was praised by Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons today. The bloke who liked it when I called him 'Nold.

It was Arnold who encouraged me to carry on writing music when all I wanted to do was direct theatre. I first met him in 1996 when he took up an invitation to watch my graduation piece at Mountview School. I had directed a show called America Hurrah by a New York playwright called Jean Claude Van Itallie. Arnold was astonished by how much music I'd found in Van Itallie's words, and I explained that I'd trained first as a composer at York University. We exchanged letters - countless letters - and I sent him a tape of my music: just a few odds and ends I'd recorded whilst studying. He sent me one of the lyrics he'd written for a show called Letter to a Daughter and asked if, "just for fun," I'd set it to music.

And the rest, as they say, is history. 'Nold gave me my first professional commission and in the process, introduced me to Julie Clare, and the ripples just kept expanding. If I hadn't met Julie, Julie wouldn't have met Sam, and, taking everything to its logical extreme, Nathan probably wouldn't be a knitter... Life would have been very different without Arnold.

Arnold supported me at every stage of my career. Every new project was sent to him, often before it had been officially screened or released, and I'd eagerly await the email or letter which told me what he'd thought of it. He always kept me on my toes.

We did countless projects together. In the olden days we wrote shed loads of songs. We actually came within an inch of getting a record deal and wrote an unsuccessful Eurovision Song Contest entry together. More recently, I interviewed him at length on camera for BBC London, taking him back to his childhood home as part of films we were making for the Oranges and Lemons project. He commissioned me to write a title song for his World Service radio play The Rocking Horse. And he even performed on my requiem, bravely singing the words written on his mother's gravestone just weeks after his own daughter, Tanya, had passed away. His words will always live on in the song Shone With The Sun from Brass.

He never held back either with his praise or his criticism. He wanted me to better myself and encouraged me to "kill my darlings" - those beautiful songs and speeches which get in the way of story-telling and push a piece of art into a piece of indulgence. Or art, as we used to say, with a capital F. He felt our wedding was a little indulgent. He thought Hattersley didn't quite match the Radio Ballads of Ewan McColl but he played A1: The Road Musical to anyone who'd watch it and he loved the Requiem with a passion and wanted the world to hear it. He anonymously bought countless copies of the CD on Amazon, unaware that all of his orders were coming through me. He sent copies to people in Sweden, Japan, the US and the Czech Republic. That was the kind of man he was. When I lost a court case, 'Nold sent me a cheque through the post. That was 'Nold. Generous. Loving. Deeply loyal. Principled. He never suffered fools.

He believed that everything we did together should create a buzz. On one occasion he made Julie and me perform songs from Letter to a Daughter to the workmen who were setting up the Edinburgh Assembly rooms a full five weeks before our run at the festival started. We'd go on mad-cap trips around the country to meet potential backers. As we drove, I'd teach him English folk songs and he'd teach me songs in Yiddish. They were happy, optimistic, music-filled days.

I cried myself to sleep last night and the tears came again whilst Glen Close sang "As If We Never Said Goodbye" in Sunset Boulevard at the ENO, which we were lucky enough to see tonight. It felt right to be in a theatre.

I feel a little sad that the Brits don't dim the marquees of their theatres when key figures in our noble industry leave the world like they do on Broadway. I would have been proud to see the lights dimming in the West End for Arnold tonight.

Just before we entered the theatre, I received an email from Arnold himself, which made my blood run cold. For the briefest moment I wondered if it had all been a mistake, but the email merely carried the details of his funeral.

Arnold is survived by his wonderful wife and brilliant cook, Dusty, so named because Arnold thought her hair looked like gold dust. She is the inspiration for Beattie in Roots, which is surely the most iconic role he ever created.

'Nold always used to say that, had he had a musical bone in his body, he would have wanted to be a composer. He had a great passion for music. Perhaps that's why he took such an interest in me. The most perfect words he ever wrote were in his autobiography. When I read them for the first time, they struck such a chord that I immediately asked him to write them out on the inside cover of my copy of the book:

"Never stop anyone from singing. Stop their singing and you stop up their joy."

Sir Arnold, I loved you deeply and I shall miss you bitterly. You will never ever be forgotten. Thank you for being a part of my life.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Impromptu shoots

Fiona is here. We're watching Bake Off: Creme de la Creme on iPlayer, or at least we would be if the Internet connection in our house weren't so utterly dreadful. Naughty Talk Talk. Quick. Everyone ignore them...

We've just been for an evening walk on the Heath. The weather was beautiful. The sky was a vivid blue, but clouds of all sorts of different colours and shapes were merrily drifting across the sun. Fiona very kindly modelled some of Nathan's knitwear for us, and we did an impromptu photo shoot down by Kenwood House. The gardens around the house were a riot of colours. There was blossom everywhere, the bluebells are coming out in the woods and the daffodils haven't yet gone over.

We walked up to the magic ponds in the triangular sliver of the Heath between Spaniards Lane and the road to Golders Green. I found out today that the area is officially known as Sandy Heath. It was quarried extensively for sand in the 19th Century. Two oak trees stand proudly on a hill. They apparently date back a magnificent 300 years - Samuel Pepys himself could have seen them as saplings. These days they are considered to be so precious that they've been fenced off and a protection order has been placed on them. The trees around them are all pollarded so that enough light can reach them.

I don't know why I feel so drawn to that particular spot. I find it incredibly calming. The ponds are pitch black, so reflect everything around them like a ghostly mirror. The area has a sort of soft light about it and it's pretty much silent, but for the whispering of the trees. Perfect.

We had tea in the Bull Pub which is where Nathan attends a knit night on Tuesday evenings. Sadly, none of the other knitters turned up, so, had we not been there, Nathan would have sat at their reserved table like a Sad Sack. I understand the very same thing happened last week whilst I was in Sevenoaks. Heartbreaking. If you happen to be a knitter, and you live in the Highgate area, I'd say it was fairly imperative that you got yourself down to the Bull on a Tuesday night so that Nathan no longer has to be the Madam Butterfly of yarn!

Monday, 11 April 2016


Nathan and I have been watching a show called Episodes on Netflix, which follows a pair of British writers as they attempt to break Hollywood. Again, I'm aware that we're incredibly late to this particular party, but the premise of the show is that the two writers have written a successful English TV show which a major TV station in the States wants to develop and reshoot for a US audience. At first they're told the scripts will remain the same, and then, piece by piece, committee by committee, the show becomes something entirely different.

It's deeply painful viewing which will resonate with any writer, particularly those who work in the fickle world of telly. The over-arching theme which permeates the series revolves around integrity. Do you resolutely stay true to your own vision and risk obscurity or being accused of being impossible to work with? Or do you sell out to appease studio bosses and their quest for ratings? Who can you trust? Who's telling the truth? Who defends you behind your back? Who will stab you in the back when the shit hits the fan? How many people will insist on having their opinion heard even if it's really clear they know nothing about the project you've written?!

Something which I'm finding deeply irritating at the moment is the sheer number of covers of famous songs which are currently being used on adverts featuring a female vocalist, singing in a weak, slightly out of tune, whispery voice, often with a strong London accent and a speech impediment whilst a piano in the background plays something wispy. Nathan calls them "limp covers." They usually advertise supermarkets or companies trying to portray themselves as caring. I can hear the ad execs right now siting around a table saying, "we want the music to sound like Lily Allen doing Somewhere Only We Know." "Let's have a brainstorm." "What about Shine by Take That? That's got the right sort of message. We want our customers to know they shine." "Ooh... Shine bright like a diamond." "What's that one off of Les Mis? I Dreamed a Dream?" "love it!" "I thought that song was meant to be sad?""Let's change the lyrics then to make them happy... And remember we want one of those fragile London voices. Musical theatre performers doing musical theatre is so 80s."

I didn't much like waking up this morning. I had the strangest sensation that I was waking up for no reason. I hauled myself out of bed, went up to the village, and did a morning of work. The afternoon was spent back at home doing admin.

I went running as well. Spring is definitely here. The trees in Highgate Woods have started sprouting lime green leaves, there's a definite smell of pollen in the air, and many of the tees are now covered in blossom with bees flying happily from petal to petal, or, more specifically, I guess, stamen to stamen.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Midland spirit

I sat on a rail replacement bus today with a woman and her son. The lad seemed to be in a bit of a funk. He was annoyed because Mummy had taken him on a surprise trip to London and whatever she'd chosen to do had been "really boring." The mum was, understandably unimpressed, "in that case we won't come to London again" she said, in a sort of martyry way. "But I want to come next year," the child whined, "I just want to know what the surprise is going to be, so that I can tell you if it's something I want to do..." "In which case," she sulked, "you'll have to behave yourself on the way home. Do you think you can do that?" "No. Yes. No." Said the child. On and on it went, permeated by little high-pitched shrieks, which surged through my body like a fork in a pickled onion... I was wondering if a child should have the right to negotiate whether or not it's going to behave on public transport. No wonder the silly lad got bored on his special trip. He's plainly been indulged all his life. Sometimes defenestration is the only option!

I slept-in today. I must have put in about eleven hours, which is going some even for me. After waking up, I felt utterly incapable of doing anything other than sitting in front of the telly watching episodes of Storage Hunters. I've written about this show before. I find it utterly compelling. Nathan says sitting in front of it is wasting life. The premise of the show involves white trash bidding ever-higher sums of money on shite trash which they discover in reclaimed storage units. There are all sorts of brilliantly dreadful people, with names like Jessie and Brandon, who seem to have almost bottomless pockets when it comes to money. They all make a fortune out of the lots. The auctioneer tries to create the illusion of talking insanely quickly by inserting the word "brrrrrrah" between every word he says. I'm not sure why. I'm sure people think it sounds cool. I think it sounds like someone saying "brrrrrrrah."

They've tried to do something similar in the UK, but everything in the storage units over here seems to be absolute tat. The Brits bid restrained sums of money on the shite they're offered and nothing ever seems to yield a profit.

It's the same as the antique programmes on telly these days. We all know the value of everything and everyone is way too arch and obsessed with making a profit to let something go for a song. The winners of these terrible antique format shows are always the ones who make the smallest loss. Profits were a thing of the 1990s.

We watched The Voice last night. The standard of singing seemed very high, although I often wonder whether our standards go up and down depending on what we're watching. How many times have I heard a proud mother or auntie saying "I genuinely think that school show was West End standard..." I'm wondering whether the singers were merely good for a talent show or actually good by professional standards, but I enjoyed the ones I didn't sleep through and it's lovely to see Boy George as a guest.

The Voice has had an almost catastrophic record when it comes to artists (or "ar-ists" as Jessie J calls them) hitting the big time. To my knowledge, not a single person associated with the UK show has had a top ten single or album in their own right, which makes me wonder what the BBC is doing wrong. It's the same reason why I'd rather like Simon Cowell to take care of the Eurovision one year, because, like him or loathe him, I think he'd find the formula for British success. The BBC, on the other hand, can't be seen to be making a profit, marketing anyone, or getting involved in the external promotion of anything it makes. It used to have its own record label. These days, anything which it thrusts externally on the world has to be released for the Children In Need charity. It's sort of irritating. If we'd been able to spend the money which A Symphony for Yorkshire made when it was successfully released on DVD, I would have had enough to make another similar film, and another community could have benefitted. Much as I'm proud that the film made a shed load for charity, I'm also a bit sad that we couldn't make another one. BBC cuts have meant we've never been able to repeat the project. Boo!

I'm still a bit blue following Brass. It was such a special week, and the thought of re-entering a world where the emphases is on me to find more paid work is a depressing one. I hate hustling.

My work on Brass has made me think a great deal about the Midlands spirit. This is a bit of a generalisation, but I have noticed a tendency for young people from the Midlands to be not just somewhat inward-looking, but also incredibly back-footed. Where Northern and Southern kids exude confidence, I've noticed a real tendency for the Midlanders (and by this I mean those Midlanders who didn't have the benefit of being educated at a private school) to feel like they don't deserve opportunity, or worse still, a tendency to shun opportunity because they've been told by their peers that they're either not good enough, or somehow arrogant if they find an aptitude for something. "People like us don't have aspirations above our station." I recognise it wholeheartedly from my own upbringing, the witty Midlanders will crack jokes about how rubbish they are, how crap they look, how poor they are or how unintelligent they are, because that is the currency which they're expected to deal in. By and large, the Midlands kids I work with will need to be drawn out of their shells. They don't tend to hear about things like NYMT or the National Youth Orchestra. If they're aware of its existence, the assumption will be that they're not good enough to do it. I think a great deal of it comes down to lack of identity. When everyone argues about the North/ South divide, the Midlanders are assumed to align themselves with either one or the other rather than having their own proud identity. I have tried and tried to get Midlands initiatives off the ground, but no one is interested in the Midlands unless I'm proposing projects about the Asian communities in Birmingham or Leicester.

I would genuinely be interested to hear if anyone strongly agrees or disagrees with this statement. Has anyone else had this experience, or does my Northamptonshire shoulder-chip mean I'm noticing, or worse still searching for something which just isn't there? Answers on a post card.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Last day

We had our last day of rehearsals for Brass today. We'll pick up the reins again in August, and, in the meantime, I've told the cast to write hundreds of letters to each other. One of the themes of Brass is letter-writing and the importance of that particular method of communication in the First World War. I really want the cast to know how amazing it feels to receive a hand-written letter from a good friend. I'm encouraging them to put photographs and little gifts inside. My friend Ellie and I used to put mini Cadbury's Cream Eggs inside letters because we found it so amusing that they got so royally squashed in the process of delivery.

So our last day was essentially a stagger-through of the entire show. Because we're in a very advanced stage with the music, Hannah decided it might be possible for us to put the show on its feet in a sort of improvised way, and the experiment was a good one. The cast got a true sense of the piece and its emotional arc. The huge amount of character work they'd done with Hannah really came into its own. 

By the end of the rehearsal, emotional carnage had descended. As the lads went over the top, tears started pouring down the actors' faces. Some of the men seemed particularly distraught. It's hardly surprising: here was a group of people who'd spent the past week becoming the best of friends, who were now watching their new friends being blown to smithereens in No Man's Land! I also think the plight of the First World War Tommy is something which has the power to resonate with all young men. It hit me at the age of 15 when our school did Oh! What a Lovely War, so I'm rather proud to find that Brass is achieving the same thing.

I discovered a most surreal and wonderful fact today. Ethan Maltby, who has written this year's new commission for the NYMT was a year behind me in the Northamptonshire Music School. We worked out today that we'd played in the same orchestra for at least a year. Both of us were on the tour to Canada where the plane's engine exploded! Ethan's show, which, I'm told, is absolutely incredible, is also about the Battle of the Somme, but told from the perspective of a group of young children. As a result, it's already being described as mini-Brass, although I hope Ethan isn't too insulted by the comparison. I'm sure the two shows are like chalk and cheese. Whenever anyone offers a new piece of art to the world the first thing people want to do is compare it to something else! Anyway, I rather like the idea that we both hail from the same county's earth. Up the Midlands!

We left Sevenoaks, feeling a little deflated and sad, and happened to drive past the Hackney Empire on our way back home, which felt rather prescient. We tried to watch The Voice on the telly this evening but I kept falling asleep. I'm officially a zombie.

Three lads and a cup of water

Today has felt like the longest day of the week. Waking up was hard: I literally felt like someone had been punching me through the night. I go to bed at 1.30am and wake up at 7.30am, and that's not something which ought to be maintained for too long! It's the quintessential "work hard, party hard"'existence.

Rehearsals this morning happened very much without me. Everything was in hand. Hannah and Sam were working with the girls on dance routines whilst Alex finessed the boys' vocals. I was able to slip away confidently and without any repercussions at 11 or so.

I actually made my way into London to meet Tanya, Paul, Raily, Iain, Nathan, Meriel and associated kids at the Tate Modern. Actually the plan had been to meet at the Tate Modern, but because Mez and I were late, Tanya and family had moved on. That's what happens when you have kids. You keep moving, or little feet start climbing the walls!

I walked along the Southbank about twenty minutes behind Tanya, picking up waifs and strays in the form of Nathan and Meriel. London always feels so hideously noisy when you return after an absence. The area around Borough Market was crowded beyond words.

We eventually found Tanya sitting with her youngest in the little pocket park by the London Eye, which was a really grotty car park when I first lived in London. These days it's a mecca for buskers, all of whom have portable sound systems and make a hell of a racket as they attempt to rally the crowds they need to earn a crust. One man, an escapologist, was quite funny. We'd occasionally tune into what he was saying to his growing crowd of foreign tourists; "Give us your dog, mate, and I'll twist it into a balloon!"

Tanya's lot went on the London Eye. They come from Glasgow, and this was actually the kids' first trip to London. They were terribly excited and reported seeing amazing views from the top. It is so wonderfully infectious to spend time with enthusiastic kids. I get very weighed down by small children who have all the toys in the world who have seen everything and been everywhere. Give me a wide-eyed child who says "wow" any day. I'm convinced they have more fun. I'd even go as far as to say that enthusiasm is the best gift you can give to any child.

More than anything else, Tomas and Lily wanted to go on a tube train, so as we arrived at Westminster, the excitement reached fever pitch. I asked how many carriages they expected the tube trains to have. Lily thought maybe fifty, Tomas thought it was probably twenty. I guessed eight. It turns out the answer is six. Or, at least, we counted six. We may have missed some!

We took the tube from Westminster to South Kensington and I enjoyed showing the kids the thing that I always used to love on the tube, namely the electricity cables which are attached to the side of the tunnels which turn into long stripes of undulating colour as the tube smashes its way through the darkness. They go from green to red to orange to yellow...

We met Sam, Raily, Iain and my god kids at the V and A museum and sat for some time in the inner courtyard where all of the kids fell into a giant pond and got their clothes soaking wet. Lily spent the rest of the day walking about in an adult's cardigan which Raily turned into a fabulously bohemian handkerchief dress with the aid of a single piece of fabric which she used as a belt.

We went to the Curtains Up exhibition which celebrates West End and Broadway theatre. It's wonderful. I became obsessed with a 1928 tube poster which showed a map of London's theatre land and tried to work out which theatres had changed their names and which theatres had gone. I decided it was a shame that the Winter Garden and the Little Theatre no longer exist.

One of my enduring memories from the exhibition was watching Lily intently watching a video of a song from Matilda on loop. I always find it heart-warming to see a young person so into musical theatre. That's the future of the art form!

We tried on costumes whilst singing an impromptu version of Doe-a-Deer but the fun was cut short for me when I realised I had to get back to Sevenoaks for the evening rehearsal which focussed on the new opening of the show. It's a joy to see it slowly coming into focus. I now know I did the right thing by completely re-writing it. It just seems to set the show and its characters up better somehow.

After the rehearsal, the entire cast went back to the Boys' Halls for a little party. This one was official. I bought a load of crisps and fizzy drinks and we sang, played silly games and chatted until 10.30pm, when the girls were marched back to their own halls.

The boys continued to play games, and then, because it was the last night, got a bit silly and pranky. Callum found the entire contents of his bedroom had been moved into someone else's room - mattress and ladder to bunk bed included, and a series of retaliations and counter-retaliations ensued. At that point I bade them a fond farewell...

Friday, 8 April 2016

Long days

It's been another long, gruelling yet inspiring day. We work twelve hour days with the NYMT, which sounds like a hell of a lot, and would be by professional standards, but it's a truly immersive way to work. My favourite session is often the one right at the end of the day. It's half the length of the others, and it's regularly the time when the magic happens because everyone is exhausted and lets their emotional guard down. We had a session tonight with the girls, which involved learning the last sequence in the show, before I got a few of them to sing their solos. There were lots of tears when Robyn sang Could've Been and Kitty sang Shone With The Sun. That particular song is such an old friend. I sometimes can't believe I wrote it almost twenty years ago as an entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. Paul Gambaccini, who was in charge of that sort of thing back in 1998, deemed it too "pastoral and classical" to do well in the contest, so that was that! The next time it came to light was in about 2005 when Sir Arnold Wesker, who wrote the lyrics, played the song on his Desert Island Discs. A few years later still, it was performed at a retrospective concert and I suddenly realised it was too special to languish in a bottom drawer. When the Brass commission arrived, I realised the song had finally found its home. It's actually the first song I'd ever re-purposed in this manner, but it fitted so well into Brass that I genuinely can't imagine the show without it.

Our choreographer Sam was in for the first extended period today and she worked on a couple of sequences, first with the girls, then with the guys. It's so wonderful to see a new discipline hitting the cast. We didn't do dance recalls on Brass because it's not really a dancey show, so I had no idea if any of them could move in any way. Some of them like Tom, Elliot, Ross and Corralie absolutely came alive. It was wonderful to watch.

We've worked split rooms all day. I deliberately wrote Brass to separate the girls from the boys so that we'd always be able to maximise the potential of rehearsals. The MD, for example could be running music sessions with the girls whilst the boys do book work, or choreography. It works really well from a practical perspective, but it does mean the guys and gals don't get to spend much time together, which they find a little upsetting, particularly when they're in boarding houses at least a mile apart. Socialising is, in my view, as important a part of these residential courses as anything else. Without the Northamptonshire music school courses to Grendon, I'm pretty sure many of my friendships wouldn't have developed as strongly as they have.

Anyway, this evening, after rehearsals, I decided to chaperone a group of male cast members to the girls' boarding house for half an hour. We had a lovely time drinking tea and eating Pringles in the communal common room. To tell you the truth, I had no idea I was breaking strict NYMT etiquette, so, quite rightly, got a stern ticking off, but I felt like a proper wazzock holding my mug of tea with Winnie The Pooh on it whilst the head of pastoral got angry!

Thursday, 7 April 2016


I went to bed last night without writing this blog for some reason and lay there, drifting off to sleep, trying to motivate myself to get up and remedy the situation. I failed spectacularly...

I'll not lie. The last few days have been blissful. Not only are rehearsals going well - we've almost finished learning the entire score - but, apart from running the odd note-bashing session, I don't really have any responsibilities. It feels like such an odd admission for a workaholic like me, but, because Brass is effectively written, and the creative team is so strong, my task is simply to let go. Almost for the first time in my life. There was a moment yesterday when I went up to the director, Hannah, to ask her a question about accents, and she said "what I love about you is that almost every time I've got something running through my head which I want to ask you about, you seem to be thinking the same thing!"

It suddenly struck me that seeing an established work being rehearsed is an experience which most composers are robbed off. We are only ever usually about in the high-pressure environment of a first production, when everyone's rushing about in a panic, demanding cuts and making us feel like rubbish writers because what we've written is too hard, or too high, or too whatever it is.

There's also a lot to be said for coming on a residential course with a bunch of really cool younger people. It reminds me of being at music school again. That sense of freedom and optimism can be very infectious. Last night we spent two hours playing a game called Mafia, just because we could. I didn't need to rush off to write more music, or sit on my own in a kitchen doing orchestrations. I could just sit down on a sofa and enjoy the moment. Bliss.

I very much enjoy the ten minute walk from the halls we're staying in to the main school. We walk across a beautiful playing field and it's a really nice bit of "me" time. This morning the sun was low in the sky and glinting on morning dew. The countryside is spectacular in these parts. We're right next to Knole House, of Vita Sackville-West fame, which is known for its many wild deer. Yesterday, whilst the girls in the cast started learning brass instruments for the first time, a beautiful Bambiesque creature with fabulous white spotty markings, skipped its way along the gully outside our window. We all rushed over to watch its progress and made the ludicrous types of noises that only a deer can inspire. The wonderful Lucy in the cast, in her glorious Derby accent, said "that, right there, is what we're all paying for!"

The Asian man who runs the local penny shop has vibrant purple hair underneath the halogen strip lights inside his gaff. I wonder if he knows? I died my hair raven black when I was eighteen and it went a similar colour. At the same time my brother had used too much Sun-In and gone bright orange. My mum once spent a shopping trip to Northampton telling us how proud she felt of her two boys!

I had something of an out-of-body experience last night as I watched the cast singing the first few numbers of the show. I felt a rush of pride and deep gratitude and then this surreal sense that all these amazing young people were working so hard on something I've written. It was a curious but gratifying emotion.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Military drills

We had the dreaded fire drill this morning, which is genuinely the only truly awful thing about staying at Sevenoaks School. No matter how much you try to mentally prepare yourself for the moment it always seems to be that little bit more shocking than you'd remembered. I think it triggers something deep down in my psyche that could only be explored via hypnotherapy because I'm quite sure that more normal people get woken up from deep sleep by a hideous mechanical wail, and find themselves irritated but perfectly able to haul themselves out of bed and into a puddle-filled car park wrapped in a duvet before going back to bed again.

I found the noise of the alarm so shocking that I woke up screaming and then, when I returned back to the room, was so worked up that I instantly burst into tears like some kind of fruit loop! I mean, that's just not right is it? Maybe I should put myself into some regression therapy? Perhaps it goes back to all those childhood dreams I used to have about hearing the four-minute warning of nuclear attack? It's fascinatingly primal!

The other slightly quirky thing I've noticed at Sevenoaks, is something I encountered a few years ago whilst staying in another school. Dawn choruses from birds who live in the vicinity of private schools and hotels tend to feature one or two whistles and chirps which sound curiously like modern-day alarm clocks and iPhones. I noticed that again this morning, probably as my sub-conscious was trying to prepare me for the drill which we were assuming would happen at about 6am. There are certain British birds (don't ask me which ones) who are capable of mimicry, and I suppose the one thing they hear a lot of in school grounds is the sound of loads of alarm clocks going off in rapid succession, so that's the noise they copy.

We had a good day of rehearsals today. We're slowly ramping things up and lots of music work is getting done. Hannah has continued with character and story background work and it's very much bringing the actors together. She's created a safe space where anyone can talk about anything without feeling either silly or frightened. She split the cast into groups of four at the start of yesterday and asked them all to prepare and deliver a little seminar on one of the themes of the show. Everyone took to the task with great alacrity. We had a song about trench life, a boxing match reconstruction of the causes of World War One, a quiz about Leeds and a brilliant talk about desertion and shell shock. The interpretative dance about early 20th century homosexuality was a little perplexing, but, I guess you can't win them all!!

Food in the canteen was a tad disappointing at tea time. It's usually very tasty but as I exited the serving area with a plate laden with vegetarian ravioli, Outrageous Jordan pointed out that it tasted of bleach. It did. I made do with the soup instead...

We went back to the residential blocks tonight and ate pizzas whilst chatting about lions escaping from circuses, rubbish supply teachers and science experiments going badly wrong.

Here's a bizarre thing... We have managed to cast a sixth form pupil from a school in Yorkshire as the wife of a character who is played in the show by someone who is actually her teacher in real life! That is one of the potentially bizarre things which can happen when the age range of a cast is 16-23. Fortunately, Brass is a very young person friendly show, so there's no funny business on stage, in fact, the two actors are only together in one scene, but when you're casting with a net as wide as we do with the NYMT, it's almost astonishing to think we could have ended up in this position!

The male cast did military training today with a real army colonel. They learned how to march and stand to attention and were utterly humiliated by the big man who made them run up and down hills, wear traffic cones on their heads if they were naughty and generally shouted and blustered a lot. Perfect from my perspective. The cast got mucky. And a bit angry... All is good.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Glorious banks

I barely slept last night. I stayed up late with Jeremy and the team and then I had the kind of restless night I always have when I'm away from Nathan for the first night. We sleep in dorms whilst we're in Sevenoaks School. My room has two beds in it, both of which are single, but only one of which is made up! I discovered today that Ruby, Laura and Ben have all slept here in previous years. I have heard one or two spooky bangs and crashes from the empty room next door, but I'll attempt to be brave...

The only trouble with the bed is the pillow. I should have remembered to bring my own. This one is so thin and insubstantial that, after folding it into quarters, my head was still flat against the mattress!! I ended up sleeping with the pillow wrapped around a towel, which did the trick.

I woke up with what can only be described as a hangover, and prowled around the Waitrose in Sevenoaks looking for shower gel whilst feeling horribly fragile. It was a far larger shop than I'd expected with terrible escalators and things. The man behind the till in the olden days would have been described as simple. These days we might just call him eccentric or "care in the community." I made the mistake of asking him a question. He panicked and said a lot of words which sounded like "please help me" in eighteen different languages.

Rehearsals went well today. Our MD, Alex arrived, and got cracking in a hard-core sort of way with the music. I did some one-on-one note-bashing sessions with some of the new cast whilst Hannah, the director, had a meeting with the new set designer. They shared some of their ideas with the cast, and I think we could be on for a fabulous-looking production.

My note-bashing session was with new boys Oscar, who plays Tom, and Matt, who plays Cov-lad Wilfred in the show. Matt is a genuine Midlander, which obviously pleases me greatly. Obviously I'm determined for him to be a long-lost relative but he's not playing ball. My Mum was christened in the village his Dad is from, and my own Dad is convinced that many people with his surname come from Nuneaton. "Not my lot" he said. "Boo" said I!

Hannah ran a fabulous session this evening, encouraging the cast to share personal stories, memories and thoughts. It was incredibly inspiring, and, in some instances, utterly hysterical. I got a serious case of the giggles at one point, triggered by a somewhat smutty one-liner inadvertently delivered by a cast member who's far too intelligent to aimlessly wander into a double entendre! Our new George is being played by Callum, who flies the flag for Wales so wonderfully that I just want to scoop him up, dress him in red and green tail coat and pop him in the Eurovision Song Contest. Every time he opens his mouth I feel another rush of deep Welsh patriotism! Llio's Ma Silva will love him when she sees Brass.

There's a glorious bank of girls in the show who come from different areas of Yorkshire and I've become obsessed with listening to the differences in their accents. I've also noticed that some of the Southern girls in the show are beginning to have their own accents altered by those around them. I am hoping this process continues until the entire cast sounds like they've just stepped out of the Leeds Corn Exchange c. 1914... Up the Barnbow Lassies!

Monday, 4 April 2016

Day one in the NYMT camp

I'm slightly perturbed to report today that the Corporation of London, or whatever they're now called, have decided to sell three cafes from underneath the noses of the families who presently run them, and have done for more than forty years.

The three cafes in question are all rather dear to me. The first is in the middle of Highgate Wood, the second is in Golders Hill Park on the West Heath and the last is the one down by the bandstand on Parliament Hill. All three are dog-friendly, lovingly-run, inexpensive and charmingly old school. They hark back to a bygone era with their little ice cream kiosks, metal self-service counters and1960s original deco.

Now, I'm usually the first to criticise the NIMBY attitude which shuns the notion of change in favour of some sort of rural idyll which isn't realistic anymore. Change is often very necessary. But here, in these North London parks, people like to escape. Nothing needs to change. The lack of change is what attracts generations of people to these places.

The fact that the Corporation is replacing these quirky, honest, independent cafes with a ghastly chain of restaurants is the most worrying aspect. Chains use brands. They rip out original features. They ignore their regular customers in a quest to appeal to a different, trendier, richer crowd.

...And of course lets not forget that a number of family businesses are being threatened by this decision.

A petition exists, which some 20,000 people have signed. It attempts to encourage the Corporation to reconsider their decision. If you feel obliged to add your name, you can do so here:

I got on a train this morning to Seven Oaks and was aware that I'd brushed past a rather silly woman who was taking forever to settle herself down onto the seats opposite. Instead of saying something to me (I would have been fascinated to know what her beef actually was) she did the passive aggressive, very English thing of first staring at me and waiting for me to look at her, before catching the eye of another passenger and muttering a kind of jokey "some people" remark under her breath. I could see her staring at me in my peripheral vision but refused to play ball, because I'd genuinely not done anything wrong. In the end she stormed off down the carriage, so angry that she would rather martyr herself than simply get over it. Whatever "it" was...

The train was taking me to Seven Oaks school where rehearsals are taking place for the new production of Brass. The National Youth Music Theatre always do a week of rehearsals for their summer shows at Easter, which gives the young people a sense of what's to come, and also a chance to make friends they can look forward to seeing again in the summer. This Easter week is particularly useful for new shows, because it serves as a sort of workshop week to interrogate material and get a sense of the shape of musical.

This morning's journey to Seven Oaks instantly took me back two years. It was just a few days after my wedding and the director of the original production of Bass, Sara Kestleman, and I took a taxi to Charing Cross with suitcases filled with books and research material to inspire the cast. We'd just got back from a research trip to France where we'd spent two days looking at the locations which had inspired the piece. The show, at that point, was barely written. We had a script, but it was an hour too long, and perhaps only ten of the songs had been composed.

I remember feeling terrified. Would the show be any good? Would the young cast take to it? Understand it? Would the missing songs make everyone think I'd had a writer's block and start panicking that the show wouldn't be ready for the summer? I also felt a little bit weird that most of the cast had watched me getting married on Channel 4 just a week earlier!

It turned out to be a rather magical time. The weather was warm, the blossom was out on all the trees, the material went down well and I was deeply inspired. I'd leave Sara, Matt and Ben to the rehearsals and would vanish into practice rooms to write new songs. The music poured out. The song Letters was written in fifteen minutes flat. On one occasion Matt choreographed an entire dance number with me simply banging a drum so that I could orchestrate something which responded to the rhythms he felt the moment required. It was a very interesting way to write a dance number, and wouldn't have been possible without the Easter week of rehearsals.


It's now 1am, and I'm afraid I'm a little bit drunk! Rehearsals went very well. Hannah the director played a series of "getting to know each other" games, one of which was interminable, but highly successful. I certainly feel I know names and information about cast members I probably wouldn't have discovered through any normal rehearsal process.

I'm proud to report that we have a good showing on the LBGT front in this particular cast, although I have to keep reminding myself that gay white men are no longer allowed in the club, so I'm not sure where that leaves us!

It seems a happy cast, with a good percentage of proud Yorkshire folk which makes me feel very happy.

So there we have it. Day one in the NYMT camp is over... Where will the adventure take us next?

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Yam yams

There's very little to say about today. It's been one of those Saturdays when I haven't done anything but eat a bit, sleep a bit, watch a bit of telly and generally hibernate. I've watched a lot of nonsense on YouTube. I always think a lengthy YouTube session is indicative of a completely misspent day, but I've packed a suitcase for an adventure which starts tomorrow, so I can't be too down on myself! How tragic! "What did you do today Benny Ball Games?" "Why, I packed a suitcase." "Wow, Triple B, you really know how to live! I wish I'd been round your house today, it sounds like you were having a riot!"

Nathan was out of the house all day today, doing one of those singing gigs where they all pretend to be waiters and then burst into song. I would be surprised if there were a single wedding guest or corporate type in the world who hadn't seen something similar at some point and felt the need to pretend to be surprised! My favourite story is the one where the woman in charge of one of these ghastly corporate award ceremonies turned to Nathan and said, "right, I'm now going to hand you over to Nathan for the surprise entertainment!" Cue Nathan arriving on stage pretending to be a chef... Cover. Totally. Blown.

Right. I've packed enough clothes for a week, and way too many pairs of socks. I feel you can never have enough pairs of socks. I don't have enough pairs of trousers so I've washed the very clothes I was standing up in today. Nathan found me this evening wandering about the house naked from the waist down. A tragic sight.

Proud Midlanders will be pleased to hear that a young actor called Stuart Ash is re-telling the story of Hamlet in Black Country dialect. Excerpts from "Yamlet" will be broadcast on the internet, (specifically Yowtube) throughout April. For those who have no idea why Hamlet would become "Yamlet" in Black Country dialect is that those afflicted with said accent are thought to turn the word "I am" into "yam." Outsiders call them "yammies" or "yam-yams"as a result. My mate Tina is a yammoi and she often makes me spake like one.