Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Rainy Northamptonshire

The weather was horrible in Northampton today, although according to Nathan, it was a lot worse in London. When we returned this evening, the garden was full of twigs which had been blown down from the trees by heavy winds.

Northampton was a rainy, murky place, which was not inappropriate for the day of a funeral. We were saying goodbye to my old drama teacher, Ursula, who was such an important figure in my teenage years. Judging by the large numbers of people who were at the funeral, I'd say she was a pretty important figure in a lot of people's lives. There were representatives from her days at Oxford University in the 1950s all the way up to her post-retirement adventures with theatre groups in Northampton. She was loved at every stage along the journey by young and old alike. I have seldom been to a funeral where so many people seemed to want to talk at such length and so effusively about the person who's gone.

The turn out from my old school was fairly impressive. At least two of Ursula's former pupils were there, including Chris, from the year below me, who is now a playwright, and Tim, who was actually in my form, and stayed very close to Ursula over the years, often acting in her productions. She was plainly much-loved by her fellow teachers as well, judging by the fact that at least eight staff members from the Ferrers School were present including the lovely Miss Hull who taught me A-level Georgraphy, Miss Holloway, who coaxed me through A-level music (and in the process taught me the rules of musical suspensions, which have become perhaps the most identifiable aspect of my composition style) and my absolute guru, Miss Stratford, who tutored me through GCSE history - a job she shared with my own father! Miss Stratford, was actually the woman who encouraged me to go to York University. She was also the person who ripped up the syllabus when we were studying Chinese History in 1989 at the exact time that the Tiananmen Square massacre happened. It was, without doubt, one of the most exciting educational periods of my life. Catherine had come all the way from Edinburgh to the funeral. That's how loved Ursula was.

Northampton, on the other hand, felt a little unloved. It's in a desperate state these days. The place is plainly falling apart. All the old car parks have been built over, so even if they wanted to, people couldn't visit the place. I spoke to one bloke today whose offices have recently been moved into central Northampton. Apparently there are 2000 staff members in the new building with only sixty allocated parking spaces! The situation is grim, but not as grim as the shopping centre which is full of boarded-over premises. Even Oliver Adams, the much-loved bakers on St Giles Street, has closed. The town centre used to feel so bustling and, I suppose, glamorous for a hick from the East Northamptonshire sticks like me. These days, it's empty and tragic.

We did have a rather lovely lunch down at Nanna's Kitchen opposite the Jaguar Place on the Kettering Road, however. It's a sort of New York-village-style bric-a-brac cavern filled with amazing second hand clothes, records and piles of intriguing nicknacks which may or may not have been actual antiques. In the heart of the place is a cafe which sells lots of delicious healthy, gluten free, vegan and vegetarian food. It was a real highlight of the day, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who likes that sort of boho vibe.

I'm rather sad to report that I missed seeing that prize clunge, Nigel Farage by a matter of minutes as I passed through the market square on my way to the funeral. He had commandeered a stall and was due to do a meet and greet in the driving rain at 2.30pm. Had I not had far more important things to do, I would have happily turned up to throw rotten fruit at the bastard. As I passed, a series of ghastly, young, gurning, chinless, UKIP acolytes were setting up his stand. Gosh, I felt proud to be voting to stay in Europe. I hope the rain has made them all go mouldy. Stupid little tits.

Lovely Northamptonshire

I'm sitting in a Premier Inn at Billing in Northampton. I usually love a good Premier Inn, but, as we arrived this afternoon, we were informed that the gas ovens had broken in the kitchens, so we wouldn't be able to have the cooked breakfast we'd paid for. My Mum has always been particularly keen on the cooked breakfasts at the Premier Inn, so the news was not hugely well-received. Add to this the fact that my parents' room stinks of damp and you've got a group of people going to a funeral tomorrow who feel a bit hacked off. Yeah, yeah, First World problems, I know, but these little things add up. 

I was also getting really angry at the BBC news this evening. I've tried not to watch the news of late, but I happened to switch the telly on to find a report in full flight about the ghastly Brexit business. What irritated me beyond all measure was the fact that whoever put the package together opted to use cutaway images of union flags when talking about the out campaign, which rather sends the message that those of us who want to stay in Europe are somehow not patriotic or proud of our flag. I am entirely bored of the media whipping this campaign up into an issue of Britishness. I am deeply proud to be British, but I want to be British within Europe. Voting to stay in isn't saying I want to lose the flag! It was wholly unacceptable journalism. Just report the facts. That's all we need. Don't speculate. Don't over-egg the pudding. Don't whip us all up into a state of apoplexy.

Apart from all of this, I've had the most wonderful day in Northamptonshire which started in Higham Ferrers, the town I grew up in. We were expecting horrible weather, but the sun has pretty much shone all day. We decided to take a little walk down the lane where we used to live, and were stunned when a couple emerged from the front door of the very house we'd called home for fourteen years. I decided to engage them in conversation and they instantly asked if we wanted to come in and have a look around.

It was so bizarre walking back through that door. It was like walking into a dream. Everything seemed so familiar, but so so different at the same time. Smaller, perhaps. The walls had been stripped back to brick and stone, and many of the floors had been re-tiled. Everything looked rather classy if I'm honest. Towering above the back garden was the walnut tree which we gave to my Dad on his 40th birthday. It went up like a rocket at the time and started fruiting almost immediately. The earth in Higham Ferrers is apparently perfect for walnut trees. You could have knocked me over with the feather when we discovered that the council had put a preservation order on the tree! It's rather special to know that we've planted something which could last for hundreds of years and simply cannot be chopped down!

I posted a picture of my family standing at the end of the street on Facebook, and was so touched by the many people who posted memories which reminded me what an incredibly special place that house was. People wrote about the parties, the play rehearsals, the strange food we used to make in the kitchen, which included peanut and pickled onion sandwiches, and half oranges, with the pulp scooped out, filled with jelly. It was always an open house. There was always someone sitting at the big kitchen table drinking tea or playing a game whilst chatting to my Mum.

We went up to my old school, past the house where Tammy used to live, and then along the old railway line to the big council estate where a shed load of other mates used to live. I saw my first Brexit posters on that council estate.

We had lunch in the Griffin pub surrounded by people with hugely familiar accents. The East Northamptonshire brogue is a very specific sound which you never hear on telly. There is something about it which goes straight to my soul. It's not an entirely wonderful sensation. It brings back its fair share of unpleasant memories, but it does remind me of a time when I was innocent, and optimistic and all of those things which happen before life starts to bite chunks out of you!

We went into Rushden in the afternoon which looked a little more deprived than even I remember it. Many shops were boarded over on the High Street, and I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. Fortunately, at that moment, I got a message on Facebook from my old music teacher, Chris, telling me that her wonderful goat farm was having an open day. The farm was only about ten minutes from where we were, so we jumped into the car and hot-footed it over there. The farm is situated in a windy spot on a hill overlooking the Nene valley near the lakes at Stanwick where they famously found scores of important Roman remains.

The place is fabulous and they have about 200 incredibly friendly goats who seem to love nothing more than being scratched behind the ears.

It was so good to see Chris. She was such an important figure in my life. She was the person who encouraged me to learn the cello and sing. She's probably the reason I'm writing music now. And the goat's cheese that her farm produces is amazing! They do blue cheeses, harder cheeses like Cheddar and Red Leicester... It's quite brilliant. I bought loads. And ate a goat's cheese ice cream, flavoured with honey and rhubarb!

There was a mini farmers market going on up at the farm and I was astonished to find my old desk partner from the 'cello section of the county junior orchestra selling sweets from the back of a custom-made van! Melanie and I lift-shared to the music school in Northampton every Saturday for at least three years. We did A-level music together and probably met when we were about ten. It was so so lovely to see her - with her bright pink hair looking fabulous in the sunlight. Selling sweets is what she does at the weekend. During the week she's a teacher. I was trying to work out how the pink hair went down with her pupils! Sadly she doesn't play the 'cello anymore. She says she values her long nails too much!

From Chris' farm we drove to Northampton to check into our awful hotel and then drive out, through deeply beautiful countryside, to a little village called Brixworth. The trip involved driving across the middle of the lovely Pitsford reservoir, which I once fell into as a drunken teenager.

Brixworth is stunning. It's built on hills and surrounded by green, tall, ancient trees. The church in the middle of the village is one of the oldest in the country. It's definitely Saxon. There's more than a whiff of Roman about it. It's also incredibly eerie. It always has been. There's a really weird atmosphere inside. It feels pre-Christian somehow. We once had a dog who literally freaked out when we tried to take her inside. On another occasion I heard the sound of a fox hunt as I crossed a stile out of the church. Dogs barking. Horns tooting. I was with a friend and the sound was so loud we thought the hunt was about to race through the church yard itself. We stood waiting for it for ages, but it never came, and then the sound disappeared the moment we stepped down from the stile. As we walked away, we thought how odd it was to hear a fox hunt on a summer evening. We walked across the fields and returned to the church, after dark, an hour or so later, and were astounded when we heard the very same fox hunt, just as clearly, the moment we climbed up onto the stile. Hopping back into the churchyard, the sound entirely disappeared again. It was really weird.

We had tea in a pub. It was slightly bland, but stodgy enough to fill a hole which will probably last for about eight days!

And that was my lovely day in Northamptonshire...

Sunday, 29 May 2016

The possibility of magic

I travelled to Thaxted by train today, which involved a car journey through North London from Highgate to Tottenham Hale, which should have taken fifteen minutes, but instead took forty-five because, as we all know, London is broken.

Tottenham Hale itself was a hell zone with lots of people milling about who were plainly not at all used to travelling in London and were mostly heading off to Stansted Airport. You can tell an out-of-towner a mile off on public transport. They stop dead on train platforms, seemingly for no reason, and then walk at half of the pace of the rest of us. This sort of behaviour can have pretty catastrophic knock-on effects!

The train to Bishop's Stortford was fairly horrifying as well. A group of pissed-up lads were "on tour." They all had cans of beers with them, and were staggering to the loo, barely able to stand to wee, and seemingly entirely incapable of closing the toilet doors.

Another family had a child who did nothing but scream loudly. It wasn't a distressed scream. It was the scream of a child who has never been told that the rest of the world isn't as interested in it as his parents plainly are. Screams were followed by howls of laughter and the sounds of encouragement from the adults around it. The noise I personally wanted to hear was the sweet sound of defenestration...

I arrived in Thaxted to find the whole of North Essex bathed in glorious early evening sunshine. As we drove along the country lanes we saw two muntjac deer skipping about in the hedgerows.

My Mum and I took ourselves for a pre-prandial stroll whilst my Dad watched the England/ Wales rugby match. We walked across the fields behind the town. The hawthorns were in bloom, many were flowering in glorious shades of pink. Some were so laden with flowers that, from a distance, it looked like it had been snowing. Below the hawthorn bushes, swathes of cow parsley billowed in the breeze. It was really quite overwhelming. And the smell was quite glorious.

We walked across the brook and around the corn fields to what has become known within my family as the "magic place." It's the site of an ancient chapel, which these days is nothing but a marshy field and a copse of susurrrating trees, but the place really does seem to be laden with a rich, powerful atmosphere, which my mother and I picked up for a good period of time. I obviously can't say for a fact that we weren't picking up the vibes simply because we were expecting to pick them up, but I'm pretty convinced I was feeling something very powerful, right inside my chest. Whether that was being produced by my brain, or by an external force, I've no idea. But what is life without at least the possibility of magic?

Saturday, 28 May 2016

A 1920s weight lifter

It's been a lovely day today, but I have largely stayed indoors. Nathan is in Macclesfield, of all places, pretending to be a waiter at a wedding who suddenly bursts into an operatic aria. I reckon there can't be a wedding guest in the world who hasn't at some point been "surprised" by some sort of singing barman, but Nathan is always off somewhere else to do more! He once did a gig in South Africa which didn't quite go to plan. The mother of the person whose party it was was so horrified at the cheek of the lowly waiting staff bursting into song, uninvited, that she went on a rampage, screaming at people, claiming the party had been ruined.

I got a bit lonely today so went out to the local barbers for a haircut - really just for something to do. I had a nice chat with the barber. We talked about the musical Taboo which I worked on for the best part of two years in the early naughties. He was a "club kid" in the mid 1980s and regularly visited the real Taboo club which featured so prominently in the show. He's only about five years older than me, but whenever I meet someone like him, I feel eternally grateful not to have been a young gay man living in London during that era. Those gender-bending, balls of wonderful energy were all-but destroyed by HIV/ AIDS. He'll have lost friend after friend and gone to funeral after funeral in the late eighties. That era, for that very small, tight-knit community, was every bit as catastrophic as the First World War.

The barber was quite excited by my moustache because it looked like the 1920s strong man he had on one of his tattoos. He was horrified when I told him I'd been using Pritt Stick to keep it in place. "There's all sort of wax" he said, "that will do the job just as well." "Why do I need wax when I have Pritt Stick?" I asked. He sighed, and then cut my hair to look just like a 1920s strong man.

Nathan returned from Macclesfield and we watched a programme about Beethoven's Fifth Symphony which made me feel a little bit ill, because it was full of the conjecture that I responded so badly to at university when studying Sibelius. Sometimes it's possible to over-analyse a piece of music. It needs to be okay to admit that we don't know why a certain phrase was written, or to acknowledge that a composer might have written a piece of music, not because he was consumed by revolutionary spirit, but because he was given a much-needed commission which kept the wolf from the door. Ultimately, to me, it doesn't really matter. If it sounds good and it's moving or exciting, I'm not sure I care why.


We're driving along that really eerie dead-straight road which links Devizes and Avebury in Wiltshire. The fact that it's straight implies it's Roman, which lends it a somewhat mystical aura. I'm also aware that this particular road is renowned for UFO sightings. Nathan says that this knowledge freaked him out as a child. His family often drove around these parts. The excitement is mounting because a storm is brewing. The dark sky periodically fills with lightning. Any moment now I'm going to hear the five-note theme from Close Encounters booming out across the plains! I have my phone ready to film!

We were in Devizes for one of Nathan's family's weddings. Nathan has an enormous family. He reckons he's got about "40-odd" first cousins. The fact that he can't count them all tells you about as much as you need to know. I have four cousins. And one aunt!

So a big family means lots of weddings, funerals and family parties. On one occasion they had a "just 'cause" party because they were sick and tired of only getting to see each other when everyone was either grieving or highly stressed and in Bride-zilla mode!

I'm afraid, after fourteen years, I still get a lot of them muddled up. I'm awful with faces, and even worse with names, and there's a fairly strong family gene which makes them all look rather similar! Many of them have a West Country burr as well, so it's not like I can pinpoint certain people because they're talking in accents that I'm more familiar with!

What unites them all, however, is their loveliness. They are incredibly kind to me and always make me feel welcome and at ease. I think they're continually amused by the fact that I can always find a cup of tea to drink, whatever the occasion. I genuinely don't like alcohol (but for the occasional glass of whiskey) so a nice cup of tea is as refreshing for me as any cold beer. That's probably the most Englishy thing I've ever written down!

On our way to the party we stopped off at Avebury. Of course we did. I wouldn't be able to comprehend going to Wiltshire without making a little pagan pilgrimage to that magical place. There was a house for sale within the stone circle. I imagined how astonishing that must be. Your garden would be within that hallowed turf. A garden where ancient Druids once worshipped! I don't think it gets much better than that. I wonder how much it costs to retire to a stone circle.

We ate a plate of food in the pub and took ourselves for a little stroll amongst the stones. The sky was bruised and threatening, which added considerably to the drama of the walk.

Here's a little thing though... twice now, in as many days, I have stumbled upon a little bag of dog shit discarded by the road side. Yesterday's offering was underneath the cash machine by the post office on The Archway Road. Today's was next to a stile within the stone circle. I am very grateful to dog owners for dutifully clearing up after their pets, but if they're going to absentmindedly leave the little bags of crap all over the sodding place, then all they're actually doing is stopping poo from decomposing naturally, and turning white like it used to on the streets in the 1970s! The bag outside the post office had been kicked into the middle of the pavement by the time we'd returned from the local shop. That bag will no doubt have subsequently been trodden on by a small child wearing Jesus creeper sandals and white socks whose day will have been ruined. Ruined I tell you. So, if you're a dog owner, don't forget to clear up after clearing up after your pets!

You can put a turd in a Harrods bag, but it's still a bag of shite!

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Council House Crackdown

Our boiler broke temporarily this morning, so, whilst I was waiting for the water to heat up for a bath, I watched a very trashy programme called Council House Crackdown, which followed members of the council as they removed people from council houses which they weren't entitled to, usually because the lawful tenant was subletting the house whilst living the life of Riley elsewhere. The presenters use highly incendiary language like "scammer" and "cheat" in the same way that, thirty years, ago they'd have used words like "pervert" to describe people like me. To validate their hard-core views, the presenters take pains to describe themselves at the start of the show as having been bought up on council estates. There is, of course, no-one less understanding of poor people than a poor person made good.

Much was made of the fact that the tenant of one such property was a "former pop star" who'd faked identity papers so that he could continue to live in a council house he wasn't meant to be in. I think we were all meant to cheer as the bloke was carted off to the police station and the voice over announced that the flat he was in had now been let to someone on the council waiting list. A triumph of the deserving over the undeserving.

But what happened to this former pop star? Where did he end up? Of course the BBC couldn't wait to name and shame him as a chap called Daniel Boone who'd had a "hit" record in 1972 called Beautiful Sunday. They didn't give any more details. It was plainly enough for viewers to know that he was a "pop star", and therefore probably extremely wealthy, spending all his money on drugs, and all the other clichés these low-rent exposé TV shows like to allow us to assume. I did a little digging to discover that Beautiful Sunday was actually a one-hit wonder which reached number 21 in the charts. If Boone himself didn't write the song, it's unlikely any money he made from his brief pop career would have got him to the end of 1972, and even if he wrote the song, it certainly won't have made him rich.

My immediate response was to think how awful it must be to have had a degree of fame in your prime, but to be forced, as an old man, to scam yourself into a council house, and then appear as a pariah on national telly. No one on the show reported what had happened to him after he was slung out of the flat he'd lived in for years. No one thought to discuss the fact that, since the 1980s, when the government sold off much of the council housing stock and didn't reinvest the money in new properties, there is a woeful lack of council housing, which leads people into doing ridiculously desperate things to live in one.

I'm pretty certain that some of the people rolling their eyes and tutting at the telly screen this morning will have been from the very generation who benefited enormously from an era where council houses were available for pretty much anyone on a lowish income. My parents had a council house for a few years after they got married. It gave them a buffer zone which enabled them to set themselves up before buying a house. That, of course, was in the day when the vast majority of people could actually afford to buy a house! These days very few of us can, but do we get to live in council houses whilst we save up for our deposits? No. We cripple ourselves paying ludicrous rents and die inside when people over the age of 50 remind us how much money they made out of property!

Sometimes I think we're so fast to judge people - and so quick to jump to mock moral outrage - that we forget that the majority of us are struggling to get by in life and that, from time to time, it's good to try to understand. The "I'm alright, Jack," mentality really naffs me off because, one day, you might not be alright. You might go bust. You might have an accident. You might be shammed by an unscrupulous trickster and then the world might turn its back on you. I am reminded of the gravestone quote, which I found in Highgate cemetery: "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

I shall not be watching that dreadful show again.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Pasta bakes and BGT

I made a pasta bake tonight and we're binge-watching more episodes of Britain's Got Talent, including the one featuring our friend's extremely classy girlband, Zyrah Rose. As predicted, Simon was rude to them, describing their act as "caviar, when a lot of people want spaghetti bolognese." His theory was that they were too "untouchable" to win. That pretty much sums Simon Cowell up. Dive in. Make a fast buck with something which catches the zeitgeist. Bale out.

(At this point I feel obliged to mention that when Kate Bush was signed to EMI, they sent her away for a year to learn mime skills and hone her creativity. In those days, record companies wanted artists to be in the business for the long-haul. Would you describe Kate Bush as "untouchable"? Absolutely! That's one of the reasons she's so mystical and special.)

I'd also like to pour scorn on the fact that all of these boy bands, girl groups and family acts on Britain's Got Talent have so many layered-up backing vocalists on their tracks that they might as well be miming. It would be great to hear what the singers actually sound like without all of these sonic bells and whistles. Yet more artifice!

Here's a question for you all. How do you spell the thing Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen does to rooms and cushions? Zjush? Zhush? As in "let's sjush this place up a bit..." This question has, for some time, had me stumped. Every time I find myself saying it (and, let's face it, my sexuality dictates that I use the word a lot) I find myself wondering how on earth I'd write it down...

There's a bloke who roams the streets of Highgate whom we've nicknamed "Fingers." He's one of those local characters that the place wouldn't be the same without, but he doesn't half freak me out! He's a fairly old chap and he walks around with his socks tucked into his trousers in a sort of "I'm a rambler" kind of a way. He carries a little bag with him into which he puts anything interesting that he finds in the bins that he rifles through. And boy can that man rifle through bins. He uses his bony little fingers to very carefully untie bin-liners, or make small, somewhat surgical holes in the polythene. It's genuinely a most disconcerting thing to stumble upon someone so brazenly going through the things you threw away the day before! It makes me somewhat self-conscious.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The metaphorical bottom drawer

I wrote a song this morning. It was rather lovely to be up in the loft again, writing music which wasn't limited by the output of ghastly computers. I think perhaps I've written something which is a little too sentimental but I've put it in a metaphorical bottom drawer and will see how I feel when I get it out again in a few days' time.

We went for a walk this evening in the dying embers of the sun. They're building a new apartment block further down the Archway Road, where the courthouse used to be, and to advertise it, they're displaying a huge aerial shot of the neighbourhood on a billboard. We stood staring at it for ages. Our little house is there in the bottom left corner, and you can see our car parked on Southwood Lane. The thing that really stands out on the picture, however, is how green everything is in this part of town. From above, it genuinely looks like some kind of village in the Chilterns. It's often said that London can actually be classed as a forest. There are apparently enough trees per square mile to merit being labelled thus, and looking at the billboard tonight, I suddenly saw why!

We've been catching up on Britain's Got Talent semi-finals this evening, the first of which was a tawdry affair which seemed to prove that Britain really doesn't have any talent whatsoever, but thank God the judges were on hand to remind us all that the shit we were watching was world class. Let's hope the standard picks up throughout the week. It ought to: one of the cast of Beyond The Fence is in a very classy girl group who I believe are performing in semi-final three. I won't hold my breath, however. The pros who turn up on these shows are routinely ripped to shreds. For this reason, you often get West End actors preferring to talk about the menial jobs they do when they're not actually acting. I've had mates describe themselves as check out girls and painters and decorators because they know the judges will suddenly crucify them if the actual truth is revealed!

One day I'll write a blog about everything I've heard about TV talent shows from friends who have worked on them, been contestants on them, or, more frighteningly, are professional performers who have been approached by "enablers" offering them huge sums of money to be contestants on the show. The artifice is astounding!

Monday, 23 May 2016

MMD cabaret

I applied for several "jobs" today. I place the word jobs in inverted commas because I don't actually believe that jobs in the arts exist! In the last few years I've probably applied, in good faith, to fifty "jobs" I've liked the sound of. For the longest time I even paid subs to be a member of a specialist website which posted jobs for broadcast professionals. I never heard back from a single one: not even a "thanks but no thanks." Is this peculiar to the arts? Or does this also happen in the real world? The only actual jobs I've ever got have been ones I've pitched for, or been approached to do. I think what happens is that people feel the need to "advertise" jobs in my industry which they've already earmarked for someone. If they don't advertise, it probably looks a bit dodgy! That, or I need some serious help with my cover letters! It's very curious. 

I ran in the gym today whilst watching an endless revolving door of garish pop videos on the TV screens. It used to be that I would quite happily tune into the pop music on the big screens, but these days it all seems rather tragic and facile. I never thought I'd become the man that didn't "get" popular music, but I'm pretty sure they don't make 'em like they used to! What I do find astonishing is the way that women, in 2016, still allow themselves to be portrayed as sexual vessels in these pop videos. Legs out. Tits out. Lips smeared with butter. In one video a woman was firing missiles from her bra. I think it was meant to be a bit post-feminist, but sadly she didn't look much like a warrior. She was too busy pouting and preening to be at all effective. 

I recently saw a photo of a string quartet - all female - dressed in tiny dresses. One of them seemed to be using her violin as a dildo. It was most distasteful. It's obviously hideous that men still want to look at that crap, but I've also started thinking that women actually have to take some responsibility. No one was holding a gun to the heads of those string players. They've obviously simply decided that sex sells. They're not wrong. And of course, they're free to wear whatever they like, and portray themselves as they wish, but they can't expect people to take them particularly seriously and certainly have a limited right when it comes to complaining about sexism in the industry. It's all rather 1980s. Or am I being unfair?

This evening I attended the inaugural Mercury Music Development cabaret for new musical writers, which somehow felt like a really important event. For some time I have thought how wonderful it would be to have a monthly cabaret where writers could try out new material in an un-pressured, supportive environment. 

The cabaret happened at the Phoenix Artists' Club, better known to theatricals as the dreaded Shuttleworths. It's where West End performers usually end up at the end of a night when all the other London venues have closed down. Until the smoking ban came in, nobody knew it actually had a ceiling! It was always so full of thick, brown cigarette fumes! I have spent many a disastrous evening there, surrounded by drunken actors weeping! 

Anyway, the event was hugely well-attended and we were treated to songs by all sorts of contemporary musical theatre writers including my mate, Pippa Cleary and Zara Nunn, who went to music school with me in Northamptonshire. It was really good to get a sense of who is out there, right now, doing what, and how well. There were a fair number of comedy songs, and quite a lot of rather turgid ballads which could have done with being half the length, but there was a huge amount of variation, proving to me that musical theatre is actually one of the most versatile art forms out there. We were treated to proper jazz, some beautiful wistful impressionism and music which had almost operatic pretensions. It was a great night, brilliant organised, and the next time it happens, I might dare to sing or play something myself!

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Benny Hill's

I woke up in a bit of a funk this morning, worried about money and thinking it might be time for me to find myself a job - any job - to tide me over for a few months until the next commission comes in. This is a periodic dilemma because, despite the fact that I have plenty of creative skills, I'm not sure any are particularly transferable in the big wide world! That said, I had this very conversation with a playwright recently who'd been forced to take a job in publishing to make ends meet after he'd had a child. His response was quite interesting: "I worried about that until I actually started work and then realised being a self-employed artist involved working a shitload harder than anyone with a "proper" job. Everyone's so lazy!"

Anyway, I sulked a bit, thought dark, dramatic thoughts for a while and then got over myself and went with Nathan to the wonderful Drayton Arms pub in Earl's Court to see a play which written by our good friend Daryl. It was directed by his husband, (Nathan's best man), Philip, and stage-managed, acted and produced by a big group of Nathan's friends whom he met doing drama in the Royal Airforce. Nathan, of course, wasn't actually in the airforce, but his nearest drama group as a youngster was at RAF Brize Norton and his years there were hugely formative.

The show was great fun. It was called Benny Hill's and was set in a drag cabaret bar in, I think, Benidorm. The show was a six-hander, with brilliant performances all round. The set, which was designed by Janie Ranger (who did the artwork for the London Requiem) was perfect, and reminded me of a little gay bar Philippa, Sam and I used to frequent when we stayed in Nerja many many years ago.

The Royal Airforce theatre club is a really very special organisation. They place a heavy emphasis on new writing and run an annual one act play festival where the theatre groups from different RAF bases get to compete with one another. The standard of everything I've seen which has emerged from the "RAFTA" umbrella has been very very high. I have some incredibly happy memories of the time I wrote music for their production of Much Ado About Nothing. The rehearsals were absolutely brilliant fun.

We chatted in the pub for some hours after the show. The barman apparently recognised Nathan and me from the wedding which I found rather astounding after all this time - particularly as we've both subsequently added a considerable amount of facial hair to our faces and taken a fair amount off our heads. Or at least Nathan has, who took a razor to his bonce this very morning!

We came home to a pasta bake and the Antiques Roadshow on catch-up.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Please help the NYMT's Brass cast trip to France

Today has possibly been the most sedentary day of my entire existence. I discovered in the mid afternoon that I'd been in competition with Fiona, who has the 'flu, to see who could do the least. I haven't moved from the sofa. I didn't even make myself lunch. Here's what I HAVE achieved today:

- Sent three emails
- Read four emails
- Spoken to Philippa and my parents on the phone
- Texted Fiona (multiple times)
- Taken two photographs of myself on snap chat
- Ordered a pizza
- Walked in a circle around a number of art deco housing blocks on the A1 towards Finchley
- Eaten a pizza
- Watched more television than I could ever have thought possible.
- Eaten a bowl of pears

Anyway, it doesn't really matter what I was doing, because the important thing I have to write about today is the National Youth Music Theatre's trip to France, and the little fundraising mission we're just about to set sail on.

Those who know my show Brass will know that it is set in the First World War, and tells the story of the Leeds Pals battalion. I am presently organising a trip which will see the cast of the current production of Brass visit the spot where the real Pals went over the top, almost exactly 100 years to the very hour that it happened. We will stand in the field where No-Man's-Land once was, play the last post, and give our thanks to the brave men from Leeds who fell at that spot.

The trip will be extraordinarily moving, and give the young cast, many who are from Yorkshire, an opportunity to entirely immerse themselves in the world of the show. They will suddenly get a sense of how those men felt going over the top, uphill and at dawn, into a blinding sun. Later in the day, we will get the opportunity to see where some of the Leeds Pals were actually billeted. I can't begin to explain how important this trip is.

Anyway, because the cast are mostly students, I wanted to make sure that none of them had to pay a ludicrous amount of money to go on the trip. We are therefore trying to raise about £1000 towards the cost of the coach which is taking us all the way from Leeds to the Somme region and back again.

The NYMT has set up a donations page, which means anyone with a spare ten quid, who agrees that the trip is going to be life-changing for the forty young people who are making it, can throw a bit of money into the pot (and stop me from worrying that I might have to run a bake sale...)

Please only donate an amount that you have to spare. Every penny counts. We will be writing blogs whilst we're down there, and making a few simple films, so as soon as they're up, you'll be able to get a sense of what an amazing thing you've helped to bring to fruition. Here's the link which gives you all the information you'll need about how to donate:

I thank you all, in advance, for your kindness. Have a wonderful weekend and I leave you with a photograph of myself dressed as Livingstone, mostly because I'm like that...

"An event near you"

There's this ludicrous thing they do on Facebook at the moment where they inform you that one of your friends "is attending an event near you." I'll often dutifully click on the event, assuming that, by "near me" they might mean at Jackson's Lane or up at the Gatehouse in the village. Sadly, I think Facebook might need to reappraise their concept of "near" when it comes to London. This morning's "near" was Highbury corner. Yesterday's was the Central School of Speech and Drama. I get Camden, Angel, Hackney... I've even had the West End!

It's curious, isn't it, how concepts of distance change depending on where you are in the word? As a young man I would regularly travel the 15 miles into Northampton without blinking. If I were still living in Higham and someone told me a friend was attending an event in Northampton, I might even contact them and ask if they wanted to meet for lunch... Unless of course they were from Higham as well, in which case they'd think I was mad!

London, however, is a curiously compartmentalised place and the places Londoners consider "close" are reserved for those within a few stops on the same tube line, or areas within very very easy walking distance. Traffic is always so bad that it often takes a huge amount of time to get pretty much anywhere. If you take a bus you have to factor in a possible change of driver, or some kind of altercation which normally ends with the driver switching his engine off!

Highbury is probably only three miles from Highgate, but it takes 45 minutes to reach. Bizarrely, most journeys in London take about an hour door to door. I don't quite know how that works out, but I think most of us factor in an hour for all journeys and are pleasantly surprised if we've time for a coffee at the other end. Imagine how far you'd get if you travelled for an hour out of Northampton? And everyone wonders why Londoners are all so grumpy.

Speaking of Highbury, I had to travel there today, on a crawling 43 bus, surrounded by hot, sweaty people, men with burst blood vessels in their eyes, and a crowd of adults with learning disabilities who didn't quite have the same sense of special awareness that one might normally expect on public transport.

The meeting all but shattered any hopes I've had of doing this installation I've been trying to plan for the last few months. The quote I'd initially been given trebled as I sat talking to the chap, the colour all but draining from my face as my hopes were dashed! I don't feel too upset. There comes a point when you have to acknowledge that an artistic endeavour is destined to line the pockets of everyone but yourself, so when the hugely inflated quotes start rolling in, you end up wondering why you're not trying to develop something with a far greater personal artistic legacy. I asked an editor in Newcastle for a quote, which arrived when I was on the bus on the way home from the disastrous meeting. It was so high that the cost of VAT on the bill alone was within £100 of the quote I'd had from a editor in London for the entire job! What I hate with a passion in my industry is greed. People trying to pull the wool over fellow creative people's eyes. If you want to fleece someone, fleece a banker!

In a way it's a relief that the project is over. It would have been a huge amount of work on my part, with, as I say, almost no financial reward. Letting go, however, is always a bit painful. Still, as I say whenever I'm talking to young people about careers in the business, being in the arts is all about falling over, taking a moment to register the pain and then dusting yourself off and getting on with the next mad mad-cap idea.

We watched an old episode of Top of the Pops this evening which featured Legs and Co dancing to The Birdie Song, with a curious half-time Scottish jig, whilst the audience did the familiar dance we all learned when we were about eight! It was some of the worst telly I've ever watched. The song is interminable. It goes on and on. Kid Jensen, who was presenting the show, literally didn't give a shit and introduced it as The Tweet Song and then, at the end, the Bird Song.

I'm now watching a programme about the EMI record label, which makes me wish I'd been born thirty years earlier!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Quiztopher Lillycrap

I think I may have discovered an instrument I loathe even more than the clarinet. I realised this fact whilst sitting in the cafe again this morning. My ear suddenly tuned in to the most ghastly, strangulated sound, which I eventually diagnosed as a harmonica. Now, when I say I hate the harmonica, it goes without saying that I am not including the extraordinary contribution Larry Adler made to jazz music with his fully-chromatic vibrato-tastic mouth organ, but a badly played harmonica is hideously tough on the ears. It's such a crude racket. It's like the crystal meth of the music world, particularly if it's one of those harmonicas which only plays in one key and offers nothing but a load of random extra scruffy scuffy notes. Add to this the fact that pretty much all harmonica players think they're incredibly cool and you have a very nasty mess!

There were two ghastly men on the same tube as me this evening. They seemed intent on making more noise than was humanly possible, literally shouting at one another at the tops of their voices. One was fat; it made him more resonant! I think they were showing off. The thin one was smoking an e-cigarette, which, for some reason, irritated me even more. Are you even allowed to smoke e-cigarettes on the tube? The whole situation became a great deal worse when a busker got on the train and started singing Jonny Cash, which the two men decided to join in with. Badly, but full-throatedly. I became incandescent with rage when they then didn't give the busker any money. I think if you're going to engage and sing along with a busker (even if it's just so that the last remaining people in the carriage look over at you) you have a duty to give him a bit of money. Ghastly creatures.

On a more positive note, I did some work this evening which I very much enjoyed. I was marking papers in a professional quiz which was being run for a group of lawyers in the city. It's quite a high-octane experience. The quizmaster sweats away, being fabulously charismatic and pressing buttons on his laptop to facilitate all sorts of visuals and sound clips, whilst the marker's job (me) is to endure the most insane adrenaline rushes as 15 teams hand in their papers for scoring which needs to happen in the few minutes it takes for a quiz master to give the answers to the previous round. I suspect adrenaline rushes of that nature work very well for me because I was feeling a sort of buzz all night! Obviously I spent a lot of the evening wishing I was also in one of the teams. I've decided quizzes are my favourite thing in the world. If I could do one in Thaxted once a month, I reckon I'd be happy as Larry!

It always amuses me to hear the names that people choose for their quiz teams. Apparently the same ones come up every time the quiz master I was working with does a quiz. They're almost always puns, like Quizteama Aguilera and Quistopher Biggins, or names designed to make the quiz master sound like he's saying a rude word, like "Norfolk and Chance" (and if you don't get why that might sound rude, say it quickly and aloud a few times!) Quizzie Rascal, I'm told, has become very popular of late. We had a "Lizzie Rascal" today, which sort of took the pun out of the pun whilst still maintaining the pun!

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Dry Weetabix

I sat in the cafe today next to a group of posh gals revising for their GCSEs. They covered an enormous amount of ground, and I learned a great deal whilst listening to them. They revised biology and maths, but then spent a long period of time talking about religion, one assumes either as part of a human geography or RE paper or perhaps even philosophy or ethics. Posh gals study those sorts of things at GCSE, I suspect. 

It's amusing to hear what ludicrous questions these poor kids are asked to answer: "Does evolution prove that God doesn't exist?" Of course the immediate answer to this question is "who gives a shite? God doesn't exist because there's no evidence for his existence," but the perception amongst the girls was that there was a correct (somewhat convoluted) academically-sound answer to this question which they could learn by rote! 

I did feel sorry for them though. They were working incredibly hard and one of them had just worked out that she had 24 exams to do in the next six weeks. At that stage another said, somewhat forlornly, "how do you clear your head?" And the third said "How do you not panic?" The level of stress these kids are under is extreme. In my day coursework at least took some of the pressure off. It was more fun as well.

I had the strangest dream last night that a small child I was associated with wanted to grind a dry Weetabix into Ru Paul's face! The Weetabix grinding had been prearranged and there were television cameras. Ru Paul was going to turn up at a somewhat Suburban house, and the small child was going to open the door and let rip. I was waiting on the landing of the house feeling mortified. "Are you sure Ru Paul will be alright with this?" I asked. Then I was trying to suggest that a dry old Weetabix smeared across her face probably wouldn't have a great deal of impact. "Maybe a custard pie?" I suggested. As it happened, Ru Paul arrived, the door was opened and she graciously bent down to allow the small child to rub the Weetabix across her face like a crumbling pumice stone. And that was that! Now where on earth does a dream like that come from? 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

"It's only light entertainment!"

I spent the morning working at Jackson's Lane community centre, which went from being a delightfully still place, peopled by one or two elderly women who'd been keeping fit and were quietly discussing the horrors of urban foxes, to a hell hole filled with the most horrific children I've ever encountered, who ran around the building screaming whilst turning every single surface into some kind of extended adventure playground. Some of the children were the ugliest kids I've ever set eyes on. Great big jaws and funny foreheads. Is that uncharitable of me? No. It was uncharitable of their ghastly privileged parents to allow them to run riot in an enclosed public space. Take the little bastards to the park and remember that YOU chose to have kids, not the people around you!

On the way back from the gym this afternoon, I listened to a story on the radio which I found very moving. The story concerned an 86-year old lady called Jane Little, who played the double bass in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for an astounding 71 years! She apparently wanted to be a ballet dancer, but didn't have the right feet for point work, so took up the double bass, much to the chagrin of her parents!

Sadly this extraordinary woman collapsed and died whilst playing on stage this week. She was performing a concert of songs from the shows with the orchestra she'd played in all those years. Rather astonishingly, the number they were playing was "There's No Business Like Show Business" which feels about as appropriate as it gets!

We worked late into the evening. I've been formatting and sorting out my composition for the subsidiary of the London Gay Men's Chorus. I had an email from the organiser earlier saying that the choir would prefer homophonic writing over polyphony. In laymen's terms this means that I should try to keep all the rhythms the same throughout the four choir voices and not have any individual parts venturing out too much on their own. Anyway, the good news is that the music I've written is entirely homophonic. The only issue is that when I wrote to tell the organiser this fact, my computer did its ludicrous auto-correct thing and I ended up telling the organiser of the London Gay Men's Chorus that my writing was "entirely homophobic!" Hysterical.

I have been trying to get rid of emails from my new iPhone. Data of this nature, according to Nathan, is taking up way too much space. I do have about 4000 emails lurking in there somewhere. Sadly, they often don't delete themselves the first time I hit the button, so I'm having to go back in and delete them all again. It's ghastly, especially when dealing with emails that are painful to read. I deleted some 500 relating to Beyond the Fence earlier which made my blood run cold. I'm beginning to realise that the project was so traumatic and stressful that my mind has actually begun to filter stuff out! Nathan showed me some videos he'd taken on his phone on a particularly stressful day near Christmas and I couldn't remember even being there! I looked disengaged and haunted on the film. Everyone seemed to be having a lovely time around me, but I'm pretty sure my head was somewhere very dark! Talk about First World problems! As Julian Clary used to say when the entire cast of Taboo were screaming at each other in the communal male dressing room, "I don't know what all the fuss is about. It's only light entertainment!"


I don't know what it is about this year and deaths, but I discovered late last night that Ursula Wright, my old drama teacher (and form tutor) died on Saturday morning.

I don't know how she died. We were Facebook friends and, around Christmas, she'd been in and out of hospital. Her posts suggested she was waiting for an operation which was cancelled and rescheduled several times. Perhaps there were complications? Perhaps it's best not to dwell on these things?

She was, however, a live-wire, and possibly more responsible than anyone else for my decision to choose the performing arts as a career.

She arrived at the Ferrers school at the start of my third year there. She'd been a linguist and a deputy head teacher at another school before re-training as a drama specialist. Drama at Ferrers before her day was always a bit shambolic. People piled into the school hall and did pointless improvisations with English teachers who wished they weren't there!

Ursula arrived like a firebird and immediately set about remedying the fact that the school didn't have a specialist drama studio, finding an old, disused garage behind the art block, which she carpeted and turned into a fully-functioning "making space." Her brainchild survived for a decade, before the school was awarded performing arts academy status, and she was finally given the beautiful purpose-built theatre which she'd always dreamed of having.

She never put up with shit from me and saw me through countless silly seasons, always seeming to understand the best way of dealing with me without pouring oil on the dramatic waters which surrounded me as much then as they do now. When she told us we were doing a production of Oh What A Lovely War, I went to see her, grandly and angrily, to say I didn't know why I, a pacifist, could ever be expected to perform a play about war. She suggested very subtly that I give the show a chance before adding, rather shrewdly, "and, of course, no one's forcing you to be in it..."

I gave the show a chance, and it opened up an obsession with the First World War which has lasted a lifetime. Without Ursula, it's possible that Brass wouldn't have happened.

Ursula also introduced her students to the crazy world of 1960s surrealism and experimental theatre. In 1987, the drama club performed "Interview" by Jean-Claude Van Itallie, which became the first show I directed myself as a student at York University, and, in fact, the last production I directed as a student, by then at Mountview School. It was at this production that I met my mentor Arnold Wesker, who subsequently met the writer Jean-Claude Van Italie and asked him to sign a copy of the script for me. Full circle. I have Ursula to thank for that.

Ursula was a great supporter of the under dog and refused to write anyone off. In fact, there were a number of kids in my year who tanked every GCSE except drama. That was Ursula's special ability: She cut through the Northamptonshire malaise and made kids believe that they could achieve more than they'd ever imagined. 

Her husband was the screen writer, Brian Wright, and they seemed almost impossibly glamorous to a young lad like me. I suppose that was one of the most important things that she offered to us. Namely the ability to look out of the county. Suddenly a career as a creative person in London wasn't perhaps as far away as this Midlands comp lad had assumed.

Ursula's work continued long after she'd retired and left the Ferrers School. She ran the Masque theatre in Northampton and continued to inspire young and old people alike. She kept in touch with me, and would always be the first to congratulate, commiserate, or offer a few choice wise words. Part of me wishes I could claim to have had a special relationship with her, but the truth is, she made everyone feel special. Messages are flooding into Facebook from people saying similar things. She was greatly loved and respected by all. A true one-off.

I think I was maybe feeling a little wistful and spiritual as I sat writing in the cafe this morning, thinking about Ursula and the idea that she might meet Arnold in heaven somewhere. I over-heard a conversation between two young lads with thick London accents who were siting next to me. Something one of them said sounded so wonderfully, and surprisingly spiritual, that I instantly tuned into his conversation: "you see" he said, "the earth's connected!" "How lovely" I thought, before realising that he was a blinkin' electrician!!

The air was rich with the smell of flowers when we left the house this evening. I don't know where the smell was coming from, but it was breathtaking. There's something about the air on hot evenings in May which is always over-powering. Perhaps it's jasmine?

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Couch potato

So here's what I did today:

1) Woke up at 11am

2) Sat on the sofa underneath the window for four hours, only getting up to walk to the kitchen to fetch plates of last night's lasagne and various cups of tea
3) Drove Tina back to Tufnell Park station
4) Sat on the sofa opposite the sofa I sat on for four hours for another three hours whilst uploading a film to Vimeo and eating more lasagne.
5) Had a bath.

So here's the moral of the tale: don't stay up until 4am if you're 41 years old. It'll turn you into a couch potato.

Boris Johnson is a tit.

I have nothing else to say!


Yesterday was a long and very busy day. We went to sleep at about 4am, and have only just woken up, which is why this blog is only just getting written.

Our day started with a drive to Finsbury Park where we found Little Michelle standing patiently under a railway bridge. It was a pre-arranged rendezvous, but, to passing motorists, it might have looked a bit dodgy in a vaguely curb-crawling sort of way!

We drove to Catford for an early craft and cake. It was a nice bunch, which included a young lad called Ben (everyone's called Ben these days) the son of one of Julie's childhood friends, who was knitting a hole-ridden scarf with circular needles. Kate Jarman was there as well, sporting her eight month-old pregnancy belly, which actually looked rather neat and tidy for someone so far into pregnancy. Tina had crocheted the baby a gorgeous blanket, which I think Kate was really touched by. When you get a gift like that, it must suddenly make everything seem very real. In one month's time, a little baby - MY little baby - will actually be lying on this...

Sam was doing origami! He made me a crane which is currently sitting rather proudly on our sitting room mantelpiece and a little boat (a sampan, I'm told) for Nathan. Julie got me and Michelle making pomanders out of oranges and cloves. I was instantly reminded of my Grannie who always had something fun going on for us kids when we turned up at her house. Peeling pickled onions, chopping pears, picking strawberries...

Funnily enough, when I arrived and found Julie digging cloves into the sides of an orange with the help of a knitting needle, something in the back of my mind immediately assumed she was making a christingle, but was I was instantly told that a christingle involves a candle, and, often, little sweeties. I'm pretty sure we didn't have sweeties attached to the christingles that we made at school, but then again, I thought they were an Easter thing. I've never really got my head around Christian customs! I enjoyed stuffing cloves into an orange though!

We left craft and cake with Tina and Michelle in the car and drove back up to North London, allowing ourselves a quick ten-minute shopping stop in Muswell Hill.

The later afternoon was spent prepping food, prepping giant scoreboards and prepping little flags for a sweepstake in readiness for our Eurovision party.

Ah! Eurovision: you never cease to surprise! The new voting system is ludicrously exciting... The jury votes come in bit-by-bit (usual style) and then, in a flash, all the tele-votes from viewers come in, and the leaderboard changes dramatically. The U.K. plummeted from about fifteenth to twenty third (which is what happens to a mediocre song, boringly-staged) and Poland went from last but one to about sixth. Australia, which had led from the very beginning, slipped into second place, with the Ukraine becoming the surprise winner and the favourite, Russia, ending third.

The giant scoreboard we created on our wall predicted the same top three, just with Australia winning and the Ukraine coming third.

It was a nice crowd. Anthony Ding Dong, and Ben and Oscar from Brass were there. Raily and my godson, Will came, along with Abbie, Tash, Little Michelle, Tina and Marinella.

Young Ben astonished me by asking half way through the evening if the UK had ever won Eurovision, thereby proving how ludicrously badly we've done of late. When I told him we'd won five times, he nearly fell off his chair. That said, the UK's last win was in 1997, when he was just one, so you can't really blame him for not remembering that!

There was a rather sad moment when Graham Norton encouraged us all to raise a toast for Terry Wogan, who, of course, was the voice of Eurovision for so many years. I actually think the BBC missed a trick in not using the evening as an opportunity to screen some kind of tribute package to him. But that said, I'm increasingly of an opinion that the BBC just doesn't "get" Eurovision, hence why shite like Joe and Jack or Joules and Jim or whatever those little talentless little gob-shites were called. Watching them was like watching two people who had won a regional competition rather than the slick, charismatic pros which every other country had offered up.

The contest was presented beautifully by the Swedes, who, unlike us (or the BBC) are a nation who REALLY get Eurovision. Petra Mede is always a joy to watch, particularly when she's forced to deal with the random wafflings of the national vote givers. One of them said the most peculiar thing, which I can only think makes more sense in Swedish: "if there's room in the heart, there's room in the butt!" Um...?

Brother Edward and Sascha face-timed us from the venue at several times. I still get a bit excited to think that they're there in the venue. As soon as the results came through Sascha immediately tried to book a hotel in the Ukraine. It was already fully booked!!

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Sunday in the Park

I spent last night in Swiss Cottage watching the second year acting students at Central School performing a production of Sunday In The Park With George, a Sondheim show I didn't know at all. It's a very good musical, but it's surprisingly "low stakes." There's no student uprising or world war providing the show with a back drop, and very little actually happens. It tells the story - or at least provides the audience with vignettes about the life - of Georges Seurat, the pointillist painter, who sadly never sold a painting in his lifetime! I wonder if God has created any mechanism for these penniless creative geniuses to look down from heaven and see their legacy on earth!

The actors did a great job. I was there to watch Ruby and Oscar, who are both in the cast of Brass, but young Ben was also there. He's a first year student at the drama school.

I spent the afternoon at the Palace of Westminster seeing a man about a dog, or rather a woman about an installation. That place is so remarkable. I actually used to be a tour guide there, but the security has increased massively. I turned a corner out of central lobby and found myself face to face with a machine-gun wielding policeman.

They were preparing the building for the state opening of Parliament, and we found ourselves inadvertently walking the route that the dear Queen will take next week.

Bits of my tour guide training came back to me as I wandered around. I realised I'd remembered half facts. I remembered that Westminster Hall was built in 1099 under William Rufus, but that it's hammer beam roof had been added later under Richard the something... Or was it the other way around? 

I remembered details about certain paintings, but couldn't remember who the paintings were of! It was, in fairness, twenty years since I'd last set foot in some of those chambers.

I came home and spent the night baking lasagnes. As you do.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Second semi

Fiona's just arrived, and we're having a lovely catch up over a cup of tea. It was the second Eurovision semi-final tonight, and, by and large, the right songs went through to the final. We watched it over salad and nachos with Abbie. In our view, tonight was all about the Australian entry. I chuckle to myself every time I think about the fact that Australia are now competitors in the Eurovision Song Contest. I don't quite know how it managed to happen. One day they were keen observers, the next, they were in it for "one year only" and now they seem to be in it for the long haul! It is, without doubt, one of the most eccentric things to ever occur in the most eccentric competition in the world!

So, if you're on Facebook, I heartily recommend that you type the following into your address bar:


This will take you to "hidden" messages, which come from people who aren't your official friends on the site. I was astounded to find heaps and heaps of messages of good will sent to me and Nathan after the wedding two years ago, and then another set of messages from Australians after our wedding was broadcast over there. I then found messages from people I thought I'd lost touch with, including old friends from the Northamptonshire music school and a number of distant relatives. There was also a message from someone who is now actually dead. It was the last message he ever sent to me and I never received it.

There was also one of those astounding messages you occasionally get from strangers, brimming over with tragic homophobia. It came from a tit called Nick Smith, whom I don't know, but, for some reason he decided to contact me after the wedding to say: "as an older man I don't like queers. You disgust me. Cant [sic] you take a tablet or something to make you normal? Why on earth do you prefer your own sex. Very strange." Oddly I didn't feel any anger towards him. Just a sense of sadness that anyone could be that behind the times. Nathan wanted me to publish this Nick Smith chap's profile so that all of our friends could send him angry messages. I don't think Mr Smith needs any more reasons to hate gay people. Sending him those sorts of comments would merely reinforce his sense of anger.

I just like the idea that he read about our marriage - or saw it on the telly - and thought, "I know. I'll drop him a personal little message to tell him what a sick bastard he is..." How did he think I would react? What did he want me to say? "Oh you're right. Find me a tablet and I'll un-gay myself..."

I got some lovely messages following my talk yesterday in Macclesfield, including one from a parent who wanted to tell me how inspired both she and her daughter had been by what I'd said. #warmglow

The rest of the day was spent rushing from pillar to post. We went up to Alexandra Palace to record my little video clip for the film I've got the Brass cast making, which I came home and edited with Nathan. It looks rather good I think. I hope the people it's heading to appreciate what we've done and that the wall of silence you often get in these instances doesn't gradually appear.  Or worse still, that we don't receive that dreadful letter you often get which starts "Dear Applicant" and ends "the standard was very high, and unfortunately we're not in the position to be able to offer you any feedback on your application..." (Despite the fact that they've asked you to leap through countless hoops whilst applying to them!)

We did our shopping at Tesco for this Saturday's Eurovision Party, went to the gym and then spoke to Brother Edward and Sascha in Stockholm on FaceTime. They were at the UK Eurovision party over there and looked resplendent in their union flag sports jackets.

...And then Abbie arrived, and the Eurovision joy began...

Thursday, 12 May 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Semi 1

It was the first semi-final of the Eurovision song contest tonight and a pleasantly eccentric crew of people came around to watch it with us. We had Harrison from the cast of Brass, our American friends, Shannon and Cam, and Llio and her radiant mother, Silvia.

I made a salad and some nachos (which went weirdly soggy) and created a big bowl of fruit pastels, wine gums and chocolate buttons which seemed to go down a storm.

The standard of Eurovision this year isn't that fabulous if the semi-final was anything to go by. I thought about four of the songs were okay, but none of them, not even Russia's odds-on favourite, did that much for me. What was exciting, however, was knowing that Brother Edward and Sascha were there in the auditorium in Stockholm. It's always really interesting to hear from him which of the songs are going "big in the room" against which of the songs were going big in our sitting room. Occasionally, I'd message him to say "gosh, didn't Greece sing out of tune" and he'd say "we're not hearing that here..." The same often happens with the judges on X Factor. You get such a different sonic experience when you're hearing live music in a large space. Everything is a lot more echoey and out of tune notes just get sucked up into a sort of cathedral-like sheen. Edward's favourite song was Iceland, which everyone watching at our party thought was just a bit, well, "meh."

We were treated to a little snippet of the UK entry, which was enough to realise, yet again, we are paying no attention to staging. Whilst Russia is going for amazing screens, and almost vertigo-inducing CGI effects, the UK has opted for a soft-rock band sitting on a slider. We could have used a really cool street dance crew like Diversity, or one of the astonishing visual performance artists we see every week on Britain's Got Talent, but instead, we go for the 1980s rock band look. How bloody embarrassing. We'll no doubt stick a fire curtain behind the boys in the last chorus just to complete the cheesy look.  It's an instantly forgettable song - but we all know, when it comes to Eurovision, a visual gimmick can save the day! And it was the Brits who invented the blinkin' visual gimmick! Making Your Mind Up, back in 1981, was a terrible song, but the skirts being ripped off created a whole new genre of Eurovision performance.

The mini-party caught us slightly off guard. We were running around like blue-arsed flies all day today, editing little films, doing admin, tidying the house. I upgraded my phone. I'd managed to inadvertently switch the wifi off on my present phone, which meant I ran out of data after just ten days. EE have been badgering me to upgrade for some weeks now, and the thought of going for twenty days without being able to check my emails when I'm out and about, was so horrifying that I caved in, went to Crouch End, and am now the proud owner of a iPhone 6 something, which Nathan is presently setting up for me. Anyway, by the time we'd been to the gym and returned home, the guests had started to arrive and we had nothing to give them to drink apart from water or tea...

But a fun night was had by all... Tomorrow I go to Macclesfield...

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Pritt stick moustache

Fiona is here tonight, and we've just been up to the village, we hoped, to eat at Cafe Rouge, but it was closing early, so we went next door to Strada where we ate lovely food. Mushroom bruschetta? Not 'arf!

It's Eurovision week, so gay men across the world have stopped answering their emails and have gone into party mode. My brother and Sascha are out there in Stockholm, and we're hosting three parties for the two semi-finals and the final.

In the meantime I have a load of admin to do. More forms to fill in. More pots of money to identify and chase. Tomorrow we're cutting together a little video of the cast of Brass begging the BBC to allow us to perform the work in a site-specific Northern location later in the year.

I've also been composing, and finally have started to get my head around my composition for the London Gay Men's Chorus' "Shame" initiative.

I went to the gym just after lunch. It's been incredibly hot and muggy today which means I am permanently in a state of melting. I finished my work out, had a shower and literally couldn't dry myself. I even tried using a hair dryer to dry my body, but the sweat just kept on dripping. Quite extraordinary.

I also realise that I've been bitten by gnats, probably whilst Nathan and I lay in the parakeet field last night looking at a cloud formation which resembled Virginia Wolf and then morphed into the shape of a skull, which was, well, a little disconcerting. So disconcerting, in fact, that we plainly didn't notice we were being munched on.

I have started using Pritt Stick on the ends of my moustache! I was quite horrified yesterday to discover the handlebar sagging and looking like the legs of a tarantula, so I went online to see if I could find any suggestions. One guy seemed to spend hours primping his moustache with a home made cardboard invention and a load of hairspray, but someone else just suggested daubing the ends with Pritt Stick and wrapping them around a simple pencil for the curl. I did it. It worked. And it held all day!

It rained in the late afternoon. The sky went a very odd murky colour and, by seven o'clock I had to turn the lamps on in the sitting room. When Fiona arrived, and we walked up into the village there was a glorious smell in the air: a smell which was more than a little reminiscent of my childhood... It was a heady, rich, verdant sort of smell. The aroma of rain on a summer's day. The smell of hedgerows filled with cow's parsley, stinging nettles, dock leaves and cuckoo spit. You don't often get this smell in Highgate and I enjoyed every moment!

We spent the last hour of the day watching the section finals of the BBC Young Musician of the Year which boasted not one but two of the players from this year's Brass pit orchestra. Both Stephanie and Zach played astoundingly well. I felt proud to be associated with them and very excited to think that they'll be playing my music in the summer.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Rescuing the bee

I spent a morning doing bits of admin before our attention was drawn to a sad-looking bee whom I found exhausted and sitting on the window ledge in the bathroom.

I can't bear to watch a bee in trouble, so I rushed to the kitchen and found some honey which I put in a little pile next to her. She immediately started to eat it, but ended up with her face stuck in it, so I was forced to repeatedly rescue her with the aid of a little comb. She then kept rolling over and getting stuck on her back which was really very distressing to watch. The poor thing was plainly at death's door.

We decided to leave her whilst we had our breakfast, and when we returned, she was looking perkier, but when she tried to fly, she merely dropped onto the floor. So out came the honey again and this time she seemed entirely content to actually feed from our fingers whilst sitting on our hand. She started to clean herself at this point which we took to be a good sign.

Ten minutes later, we opened the window, and a little later, she flew away happily. Bee officially rescued.

This afternoon I met young Ben from the cast of Brass at Hampstead Tube. It was the perfect day to visit the Heath: absolutely boiling, 27 degrees. Hotter than Italy. Hotter than LA. The Heath was rammed. The roads around the edge were gridlocked, and finding a parking space was almost impossible.

But something happens to London when it gets hot - particularly when it's a weekend. Everyone slows down a bit. Everything takes on a happy, hazy atmosphere. For some reason on days like this I always think about Adele's Hometown Glory:

"I like it in the city when the air is so thick and opaque. I like to see everybody in short skirts, shorts and shades."

I took Ben on a tour of all my favourite parts of the western side of the Heath. We walked up Heath Street to Jack Straw's Castle and beyond to the pergola which was, as ever, looking like the set of a Shakespearian play.

We crossed the road and wandered around Sandy Heath for a while before heading to the tree with the hole in it, which we sat inside for a while.

I think Ben was particularly impressed by the Vale of Health, that curious little encampment of wisteria-covered Edwardian houses in the middle of the Heath where the only sounds you can hear are the chirping of birds. It's where DH Lawrence and the Bengali poet Tagore once lived. It's also the home of a permanent gypsy encampment which seems to co-exist quite happily with, what has become, one of the most desirable set of residences in London, if not the world. I always have the somewhat romantic notion that both communities look out for one another.

We ended the afternoon back in Hampstead Village where we ate an apple pie and a cheese cake.

As I returned to the car, I noticed that the sun had started to cast rather beautiful shadows, so telephoned Nathan, told him to stand by, rushed to Tesco in Highgate Village (which had literally been stripped of food by a locust plague of picnickers and revellers) bought a few bits and bobs to snack on, collected Nathan from the house, and took him back to the Heath where we sat, on a rug, in the parakeet field, until the sun went down.

The day ended in front of Masterchef whilst orders for Nathan's latest sock "recipe" buzzed into his phone. The right person won Masterchef. And the right people are buying Nathan's design.


I went to the Heath in the late afternoon today to meet my old chum Ted, his girlfriend, Gersende, and her lovely friend, whose name I've forgotten because it was French and a little unpronounceable! How awful and English does that make me?

We had a lovely time. Gersende and I walked across the middle of the Heath looking for Ted and the lovely French lady, but when we reached the other side, we discovered they were back at the exact place where we'd started!

They're still digging up the ponds. The place looks like a horrible mess, with great big steel fences and piles of brown mud lining pretty much any water source. I think they're creating drainage solutions in the very unlikely event that a catastrophic rainstorm, focussed on the Heath, leads to the ponds bursting their banks.

As unlikely as it seems, there was a major weather event in 1975 which caused all the streets in Gospel Oak, Southend Green and the Vale of Health to flood rather terribly. You can hear all about it the next time the Fleet Singers perform Songs About The Weather! The flooding was so bad that people were said to have drowned in their basement flats! They said then that the likelihood of it happening again was, like, a million to one, but the UK climate is changing so I suppose they're taking no risks.

It was lovely to catch up with Ted, and I've become a massive fan of his Mrs to the extent that when she pulled out a bottle of champagne from her back pack I was really hoping it was going to be followed by a lovely little announcement. It wasn't. Apparently we were simply toasting the sunshine. I'd have been happy to toast the fact that Gersende had cycled all the way up to the Heath from Dulwich in just an hour!

The Heath looked glorious in the evening sunlight. It was packed full of revellers, many of whom seemed to be smoking dope! Huge wafts of the stuff were floating over us as we sat by the boating lake watching the sun going down.

We walked up to Highgate in the evening for a drink in a pub. The famous Flask was ram-packed, so we went to the one which sells Thai food and backs onto Pond Square, which Ted and the girls absolutely loved. I forget sometimes quite how special Highgate is... Sadly, none of us saw the ghost of the frozen chicken which is said to haunt those parts. That's right: the ghost of a frozen chicken!

Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Midlands spirit?

I had an interesting email exchange today with a BBC staff member from Nottinghamshire who claims that Midlanders are not unified by a sense of belonging. More specifically, he says that people in Nottingham have no interest in what's happening in Birmingham and that Derby residents aren't bothered about hearing the news from Staffordshire and so on. He doesn't believe that the Midlands, as a single entity, actually exists. He says the people who live in his corner of Nottingham are much more interested in places like Sheffield and Leeds. I was quite surprised by his comments. In fairness, he does live in the North of Nottinghamshire, north of the River Trent, which, I discovered whilst making A1 The Road Musical, is generally the point at which Midlanders suddenly start calling themselves Northerners, but I still maintain that Midlanders, true Midlanders, have a strong sense of kinship.

What unites us is undeniably intangible. I guess we all know how it feels to live miles from the sea in locations that people are usually passing through. I think, as a result of this, that Midlanders can have a somewhat inward-looking stance which has a fairly catastrophic effect on self-esteem. I have discussed this in several previous blogs, so shan't enter this particular verbal cul-de-sac here.

The media doesn't encourage any of us to label ourselves as Midlanders or feel any pride in our Midlands heritage. It seems that they want everyone to be either northern or southern. To entertain anything else would mean that the world can't be painted in clichéd shades of black and white. The BBC, for example, has a large pot of funds which it dedicates to projects which celebrate "the north" (whatever that is.) Senior BBC figures whom I've spoken to about the Midlands identity have all felt the need to talk about the Asian community in Birmingham as somehow representative of the Midlands. I often feel they think everything else that goes on in the area is bland and vanilla. No wonder we struggle to find our identity.

I called my parents at lunch time to see if they could throw any light on the matter. My Dad feels the East Midlanders care more about their rugby than those in the West and that the north-south-biased transport networks in the UK have traditionally prevented Midlanders from exploring their own region.

And yet, despite all this, I continue to feel a great affinity with all Midlanders whether they're from Brum, Cov, Newton-In-the-Willows, Clun or Corby. I have even grown to accept Derbyshire as part of the gang! As a lad, I didn't used to feel I had a great understanding of Derbyshire, which always seemed an other-worldly sort of place, covered in hills and snow and really only the place where Simon Groome and Goldie used to go tobogganing.

I wonder if I maybe place too much emphasis on searching for my tribe? Perhaps it's because I've lived all over: born in Shropshire, grew up in Northants with ancestors in Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Birmingham and Staffordshire. To an outsider, they may seem like disparate, somewhat random places, but they're all in the Midlands. My family have stayed within the confines of this geographical area, never moving south or north (apart from the Welshies!) I feel very proud to be the grandson of a man who ran a soup kitchen during the Coventry blitz and I think Midlanders will have more of an idea of the significance of this statement. When I go to the Midlands, I see names that I recognise on gravestones and hear speech patterns and inflections that make me feel comforted. These feelings are too powerful to ignore.

Any thoughts from Midlanders on this issue would be interesting. Do I simply need to acknowledge that the Midlands doesn't exist and move on? Or is it okay to cling to a romantic ideal that all Midlanders have something inexplicable in common?

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Join the Kew

What a lovely day! We've been in Kew Gardens with my parents all afternoon curtesy of Daryl who gave us some tickets which I was able to give to the parents at Christmas. The weather couldn't have been more perfect: a hot bright sun, a dark blue sky, and a gloriously refreshing breeze accompanied us all day.

We met the parents at Highbury and Islington after voting in the mayor election (both of us opting for the same, somewhat illogical combination of Labour and Lib Dem), putting the car into the garage to be patched-up, and buying some lovely picnic things.

We took the overland train from Highbury to Kew Gardens through all those rather romantic-sounding stations like Hampstead Heath and Finchley Road and Frognal. The railway line cuts through a swathe of greenery. London is so leafy. People who live outside the city are often rather shocked to discover this particular fact.

The area around Kew train station is very special. It's hardly surprising that houses in that neck of the woods sell way into the millions. There are all sorts of lovely little shops and the roads to the gardens are lined with stunningly well-maintained trees.

Kew Gardens itself is a very special place, particularly at this time of year. The star attraction is almost certainly the bluebell wood around Queen Charlotte's Cottage. It's the most extraordinary sight: a blanket of blue and purple underneath old English Oak trees stretching as far as the eye could see. In the shade, the delicate flowers are the darkest indigo, but in the sun, they glow brilliant shades of lavender and lilac.

The smell is intense. British bluebells have a similar aroma to hyacinths, and I learned today that they're actually known as wild hyacinth or "hyacinth non scripta." At one point the smell became almost overpowering when it merged with the aroma of wild garlic.

The birds were plainly very happy to be alive in Kew today. They were singing almost constantly, and, at one point, we were joined by a lovely little robin who wanted to sing to us for a while from a branch just above my head.

We sat and watched the ducks, geese, coots and swans on a bench by the lake for some time. Several of the ducks seemed to be gay. One couple - both male - seemed very attached to one another. Then they started mating! I didn't know where to look!

We crossed the bridge to get away from a swan who seemed intent on puffing itself up to a great height to intimidate us. As we made a hasty exit, we passed a bloke with a broken arm, "been this way already have you?"

We had our picnic down by the Thames with the glorious Syon House positively glowing on the other side of the water. My Mum had neatly cut out a newspaper article about the Battle of the Somme to show me. It came in the form of two pieces of paper, perhaps twenty centimetres square. At one moment a crazy wind blew-up which literally took the pieces of paper out of my hand, instantly carrying them high into the air. At the same point, a vortex of dust rose high from the path beside the river. The pieces of newspaper rose higher and higher - like a pair of helium balloons - perhaps forty feet into the air, right across the river and into the woodland in front of Syon House. How bizarre is that?! We wondered if we'd just witnessed one of the infamous Thames corridor tornadoes. When I say infamous, I mean totally unheard of, despite the fact that the Thames corridor actually experiences more tornadoes than anywhere else in the world. They're just not at all powerful. Or interesting!

We walked back to the main gate and drank cups of tea in the main cafe, before buying lollipops and heading back to Highbury where we went our separate ways.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Ghastly man

I had the most horrifying conversation this morning with someone on the switchboard of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. I basically phoned, at the suggestion of one of my contacts in the museums industry, to find out who it was best to speak to about a potential installation. I explained who I was, and said I was simply looking for an email address where I could send my pitch. The man who answered the phone was rude and essentially did his best to make me feel like a worm who'd just crawled out of a compost heap. "As you're a cold caller" he said proudly, "I'm not allowed to give you a name." I asked if I could maybe email him and get him to pass the email on to someone more appropriate. "Your only option is to send a letter or a fax." He said. A fax?! A flipping fax?!! I sighed, resigned, "okay, who should I be addressing this letter to?" "As I've said," he said, "I'm not permitted to give you a name." "Can I ask what YOUR name is?" I asked "I don't have to provide you with that information..." And that was that. "Thank you for being so unhelpful," I said. And hung up.

I felt incensed and then ashamed and then incredibly depressed. It's difficult enough to cut a living in the arts without bastards like that doing their best to make you feel like third class citizens. I have a pathological hatred of making phone calls at the best of times so always appreciate it when people have the decency to make me feel like my phone call actually matters. Surely the best way to deal with answering telephones is to assume that everyone who rings in is a human being, who hasn't deliberately called to make your life a misery! As Ru Paul says, "stop! And ask yourself a question: do I want to be right... Or happy?"

I tweeted my disgust at the museum and then contacted their press office for a quote for this blog, which wasn't forthcoming, but they did get straight back to me, and diverted my complaint to the man who deals with such matters, who, I have to say, has been incredibly efficient and sympathetic: "We do not have a ‘no names’ policy and nor could/should we as a public service! I shall ascertain what has happened..."

I feel slightly vindicated, although I still find myself hating the fact that, to get anything fun off the ground, you have to deal with heaps and heaps of this sort of nonsense.

I now have a little curly moustache which I'm training with the aid of a bit of special wax. I think having weird facial hair is a bit like driving a Morris Minor. You end up locking eyes with the other men you pass who are equally sartorial in the moustache department. I get the impression that it's a bit of a club, but that those with longer, curlier moustaches look down on those like me with shorter ones. That's my perception anyway. I'm wondering if I look a bit ludicrous, but am hoping that the key to not looking too much like a fuddy-duddy Dali is maintaining stubble over the rest of my face. I may, of course, be entirely wrong.

We went to an event this evening hosted by the Arts Department of Channel 4, who, of course, commissioned our wedding. Grayson Perry (who beat us in most of the awards we were nominated for) was launching his new show about masculinity, and it looks absolutely fabulous. He's such a talented man.

We walked across Trafalgar Square in the lengthening shadows of the early evening sunlight. It was a genuine treat to be out and about. What lovely weather we're having this week!

St Bride's

I woke up this morning to the news that Leicester City had won the Premiership. It made me think a few things. Firstly, that my Dad, a life-long Leicester City fan, will be over the moon, and secondly, that footballers are paid far too much money. I assume that the Leicester City players are some of the least expensive in the Premiership, and that their success can be put down to the fact that they simply played well as a team. Football is, after all, a team game. It's always stuck me that these preening, prancing, goal-hanging, ludicrously expensive "top flight" players, are often in it for their own self-glory. The England side are routinely thrashed in the World Cup by teams which, on paper, oughtn't to be able to hold a candle to us. I have long thought that our pitiful record on a national level was due to "star" players lazily resting on their puffed-up laurels. Create an English team out of second division players, make them train together three times a week and I bet the strategies they'd develop would thrash our "A" team in seconds.

But, I'm no football pundit. I used to run in the opposite direction when the sweaters were thrown down on the school field - unless, of course, they were being used as rounders posts. I was always accused of toe-punting (whatever that means) and stupidly amused by the kids shouting "handball" because I thought they were referencing Hamble, the ugly doll off of Play School! The girls had way more fun at playtime. Their games were far more imaginative. They plaited hair and span in circles to see how far their dresses billowed out...

This afternoon I visited two churches where I'm hoping to create a little installation in September. I'm not going to say too much about the idea at this point for fear of jinxing it, but it involves television screens and a crypt!

The highlight of my day was undoubtedly a tour around St Bride's Church, which has to be one of the most fascinating churches I've ever visited. I was greeted by the vicar and an administrator, both absolutely charming women, the latter of whom had been in the choruses of the Raymond Gubbay operas I worked on at the Albert Hall in the late 90s. We had a good laugh exchanging stories. The Aïda was a particularly bizarre production, one which seemed to engender slightly odd behaviour from those who had the misfortune of being involved. On the last night of the show, for example, a fair number of the female chorus were thrown into the onstage pond as the lights went down. I still remember the piercing operatic screams echoing in the darkness!

Anyway, St Bride's is the church where Pepys was baptised. In fact, he was born in a building right next to the place. His brother was buried there, as were a number of his siblings who died in infancy. The church burned down in the Great Fire of London and was bombed out in the Blitz. There's a little museum in the crypt which has some charred wooden remains from 1666 alongside a little pile of warped and semi-melted pieces of stained glass.

St Bride's is on Fleet Street, and is known as the cathedral of the newspaper industry. Its famous, gleaming white, "tiered" spire was the inspiration for the first ever wedding cake. And that's a fact!

The crypt has a tiled Roman pavement running through it and all sorts of foundation walls from various periods. There's been some kind of church on the site since the 6th century. The original church was probably founded by nuns. We know this, apparently, because of its name.

I was taken through a locked door and introduced to the charnel house, which was incredibly eerie. I didn't actually know what a charnel house was, but it turns out it's essentially a storeroom for human remains which are removed from crypts when they become over-crowded. The coffins which take up most of the room in these scenarios (particularly when they're made of metal and lead to ward off body snatchers), are disposed of, and the larger human bones, mostly femurs and skulls, are neatly stacked in the charnel. The bones I was looking at today were medieval. It was an incredibly thought-provoking experience. All of those people had relatives and friends that grieved their passing, and yet we have no way of ever knowing who they were. Some 7000 bodies were buried on the site throughout history, a particularly obscene number of those during the cholera epidemic.

St Bride's is most unusual, however, in the fact that all 227 people who were buried under the nave, and whose bodies were disturbed when the church was bombed in the war, have been carefully catalogued and stored in boxes in the crypt for research purposes. You take a box from a shelf which, for example, might be labelled "skull," open a little book and find out that said skull belonged to a bloke called John something or other who lived at such and such address and drowned in the Thames at the age of 27. It's a remarkable resource. And what makes it even better is that the vicar understands the importance of her church, not just spiritually but socially and historically. She's a live wire who's so into historical research that she says she finds it a little odd to work in a church with no parish records to speak of. The two catastrophic fires destroyed anything of that nature. In her previous church she had great fun digging out records - particularly before weddings - so she could tell the happy couple about those who'd shared their wedding anniversary in the distant past. Christmas Day, I believe, was a very popular day on which to get married in those days. Pepys was thrilled on Christmas Day 1665 that a couple were getting married in his parish because it indicated that the long, dark days of the plague were well-and-truly over:

"To church in the morning, and there saw a wedding, which I have not seen many a day; and the young people so merry one with another, and strange to see what delight we married people have to see these poor fools decoyed into our condition, every man and woman gazing and smiling at them."