Friday, 30 September 2016

Just take the Scottish fiver...

I worked on a fabulous little quiz tonight in one of the old independent City banks. Walking in was like going back to the 1920s, and I was instantly reminded of scenes from Mary Poppins. It was all marble floors, dark wooden panels, long, straight corridors and ornate, brass decorations. On one of the shelves, a selection of top hats hinted at the bygone era of banking. I think if bankers still wore top hats, we possibly wouldn’t demonise them as much!  

The joy about working on these quizzes is that you get to visit all sorts of extraordinary places in the City of London and the Temple. There’s a whole world of snickleways, courtyards, secret pubs and hidden buildings out there if you’re brave enough to venture away from the Strand, Chancery Lane and Gray’s Inn Road. Every time I visit the City I find another treasure. Today I walked all the way from Farringdon to Embankment and very much enjoyed the adventure. 

Abbie was tonight’s quiz master and it ran flawlessly. More crucially, the quiz teams were really up for it, and, upon arrival, immediately and keenly set about answering the table round questions. They were obviously all there to quiz. So often you come across people who are on some kind of conference and would far rather be chatting their colleagues up and taking advantage of the free bar. The guy who had organised the evening was very charming and met us in the bank foyer to take us up to the cafeteria where the the quiz was taking place. He was conservatively suited and booted. After making sure we were okay, he darted away to change, and re-ermeged in a T-shirt and jeans, revealing arms covered entirely in the most extraordinary and beautiful tattoos, none of which were in any way visible underneath his business attire. It just goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover! Sadly his team came last… 

The rest of the day was spent writing lyrics. I took myself to Jackson’s Lane where the lady behind the counter in the cafe asked if I had a different fiver to the Scottish five pound note with which I paid for my cup of tea. I must have given her the dirtiest look, because she instantly went on the defence, “it’s just my customers don’t like being given Scottish money…” “then they need to get over themselves,” I said, “this is legal tender. Take the money, or I’m going to walk out of here without paying.” I hate that sort of thing. It’s an example of the small-minded petty racism which brought the horrors of Brexit to our country. 

In defence of Cliff

I'm getting very lax with this blog. I only realised at about 4pm today that I hadn't posted yesterday, and, when I tried to remember what I was doing, I realised I couldn't remember! The truth is that I was writing all day. All day. Working on lyrics for Em. All day. From when I got up at 8am. Buried in my lap top. Right into the evening. I got such cabin fever that Nathan had to take me for a midnight walk around the block. And that's why I didn't post...

I woke up this morning to see Brother Tim had posted something witty about the fact that Sir Cliff of Richard is releasing his 101st album tomorrow. Tim can always be relied on to make me laugh out loud with his comments. Sometimes they're brilliantly contentious. Meriel once said that the joy about my brother is that he has a brilliant ability to light a bomb fuse, rush off to an elevated spot, and enjoy watching the carnage unfold. Obviously no one could ever accuse me of something similar!

Anyway, it wasn't actually what Tim posted which was contentious, it was one of his friend's responses which made me cross.

Whoever it was accused Cliff Richard of being a "nonce," which, for readers outside this country, is a slang term, meaning paedophile. Now, Cliff Richard has had a pretty awful time of it of late, clearing his name following a string of "historic" child abuse claims. This one was particularly nasty. The police even tipped off the BBC before raiding his house, so most of the country became aware of the allegations before he did, which was one of the greatest abuses of the legal system which has happened in a police operation riddled with catastrophe and unpleasantness.

A week or so ago, the newspapers reported that Cliff had been exonerated and that all charges against him had been dropped. He must have been forced to make quite a lot of noise about the fact, as newspapers in this country are incredibly fast to report allegations of this nature, but positively remedial when it comes to printing apologies or stories which clear the innocent person's name.

So, in short, Cliff isn't a nonce. He isn't anything of the sort and to say as much is little short of slander. The poor man has probably been forced to spend a small fortune clearing his name. And yes, I'm sure someone like Cliff Richard won't have been financially ruined by the fight, but it will have taken everything out of him emotionally, and probably physically. The great tragedy, in my view, is that members of the general public, who know none of the facts, almost systematically both refuse to apologise for their role in the Macarthyesque witch hunt, or have the decency to refrain from spreading further gossip with the ludicrous view that there's no smoke without fire. Blithely writing the word "nonce" on a Facebook feed is tantamount to publishing an allegation, and in my view ought to be punished.

From what I can gather, and everything I've heard, Operation Yew Tree is failing. Almost every one of these cases becomes one person's word against another. And can any of us remember the exact details of sexual encounters we had ten years ago, let alone forty? More worryingly, I have heard, and I'd hate to think that this was true, that police in certain instances have actually suppressed information they know will lead to a case being thrown out, one assumes because they're not reaching their targets when it comes to convictions. The more I hear about Operation Yew Tree, the more I wonder whether it's not a massive waste of tax payers' money which diverts police away from solving actual crimes. We've taken a few key scalps. Everybody these days knows the rules when it comes to sex. Can't we just move on and focus on the dreadful things which are happening in the present?

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Glasgow Girls

Do any other Londoners hate the voice of the woman who says things like "Northern Line. The next train to... Morden, via Bank, will arrive in... 2 minutes?" There's always that pause, which lasts ever so slightly too long before the automated system selects its destination, and her ineffectual, gratingly sweet, but sex-tinged voice completes the sentence. She's always preluded by a downward arpeggio which might as well have been played by Gladys Pugh on a glockenspiel. It puts me right on edge, I tell you, I do. It's like being massaged by someone who's been sleeping on their arm and lost all feeling in their fingers.

I often wonder how voice over artists actually speak in real life. If the woman who whispered her way through the Marks and Spencer's adverts spoke like that in real life, no one would be able to hear her, and if the X Factor voiceover man ordered a pint in that ludicrous bark, someone would smack him. There's a way that news journalists deliver pieces to camera, stressing almost every word, that I also find somewhat distracting.

I had to do the dreadful thing of getting on a crowded tube train in rush hour today. I stood at Bank Station, and the crowd was four or five people deep. There's nothing worse than being on the platform edge as the tube train rattles into the station. One crowd surge from behind at the wrong moment and you're a dead man. You then stand in the carriage itself, people pouring in and out of the train on both sides of you, buffering you in circles, first left and then right. If I had a pound for every time I've had to shout "I am not a turnstile!" I'd be able to afford to sit in the stalls of a lot more West End Theatres.

The man to my left stank of plasticine and rabbit hutches, and the lad to my right swayed into me every time the train rocked, I could taste the chewing gum the woman behind me was chowing down on, and at one point, the train was making such a ludicrously loud screeching noise that I almost vomited, which, of course, would have completed the sensory attack by giving everyone in the carriage something to stare at, smell, taste, touch and scream at.

I was travelling to Stratford East to see Bad Girls at the Theatre Royal there. Hmm. Here's the thing. I don't think I'm the best kind of audience for that sort of show. I went to too many Edinburgh festivals in the 1990s, and saw too much fourth-wall-shattering student drama to think that I was watching something cutting edge, political or gritty. Musically, it was lazy. Performances were, in the main, weak. Accents were appalling. The double, triple, quadruple casting was confusing. A violinist in school uniform appeared on stage at the start of every soddin' number, and then self-consciously tapped her foot and swayed to the music. One of the composers kept tipping up, overacting her way through every scene and song. The show had no atmosphere. It looked cheap. I felt bored. I felt a bit embarrassed. I didn't give a damn about any of the characters. I didn't learn anything about immigration. I got the impression that a lot of clean, middle class student actors were jumping up and down on the stage pretending to be angry, and that in turn made me angry. For me, it was a rather nasty case of the Emperor's New Clothes. A dose of the missed opportunities. It could have been spectacular. I don't feel bad for saying any of this. The audience was good. The reviews for the show have been spectacular. The audience perked up at the end, and one or two people were even standing up. Everyone else, I'm sure, saw something that I didn't see and had a thoroughly lovely time as a result. People were pulled in by the genuinely important overarching message of the piece: namely that asylum seekers are still having a rough time in this country. Although quite why anyone thought that this musical shed new light on that particular issue I'm not sure.

So I am returning from Stratford feeling quite down cast. And old. Been there. Seen it. Worn the T-shirt.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

How dare the X Factor!

I made Nathan sleep on the other side of the bed last night in an attempt to break him of his comical OCD tendencies! As a result, we both had an awful night's sleep! When you've slept by someone's side almost every night for fourteen years, you get used to certain regimes. I sleep on my right hand side and face the wall. It's almost impossible to break that habit! Now who's the one with OCD?!

I am eating mega-healthily again at the moment. As usual, with my cycle of getting fat and then getting thin again, I'm angry with myself for blithely eating too much cake over the past two months, so it's salads, soups, rice and that sort of thing for the foreseeable future. This wouldn't need to be the case if I'd had the self control not to stuff large quantities of shite into my mouth with the sole excuse that I was busy doing Brass.

I went to Sainsbury's to buy vegetables, and happened upon the most peculiar conversation:

Girl: Innit, Roshie?

Boy: (confused) What's that?

Girl: (triumphant) Yeah! Innit doh!

It almost perfectly summed up Youth culture. If they could have texted the conversation, I'm sure it would have been even more surreal. There would have been emoticons and no vowels, and I would have felt even older than I felt today!

We caught up on the X Factor last night and learned in the process quite how brutally racist the British public can be. It was the six chair challenge, where contestants are thrown into a bear pit of ghastly people baying for almost anyone's blood on offer. It's like a public execution. Proof, if proof were needed, that we're ripe and ready for an extremist right wing politician to appear who'll come up with a cock-and-bull conspiracy theory which gives us permission to kill the Poles, or the paedophiles or the Muslims or the trans community. History never repeats itself. Man always does...

Anyway, the particularly horrifying aspect of the show was the way in which the audience of gurning imbeciles responded to European contestants. One eccentric girl from Denmark, who, in fairness was dressed as a doll, was booed repeatedly until Sharon Osbourne was forced to dispatch her, and another, the best singer of the night in my view, a young girl from Finland, described herself in a cutesy way as a "Finnish snow fairy." This seemed to rile the audience more than if the poor thing had described herself as a Cheryl Cole hater. Cut to a woman in the audience rolling her eyes around in a sort of disgusted manner like people used to look when they saw gay people holding hands in the street. Mrs O told the girl she didn't feel "connected" with her performance, and requested that the girl, off the top of her head, sing something else... this time a cappella. They love a cappella singing on the X Factor, mistakenly believing it's some sort of gold standard when it comes to vocal performance, when actually the question ought to be whether a contestant can sing in tune with an accompaniment. Anyway, the girl started singing in French (rather beautifully I thought) and the entire audience turned on her. Booing, screaming, yelling, telling her to get off the stage. The panel joined in; "you're in Britain, honey, not France..." I felt entirely ashamed to be British. Imagine booing someone simply for singing in French? If we don't see ourselves as part of mainland Europe anymore, we should at least be respectful of those Europeans who have the misfortune of being over here at the moment. If Europe refuses to trade with us because it sees us as a country filled with backward, tragic, small-minded oiks, then we're profoundly done for as a nation. This has to be a place where people actually want to visit... and trade. The poor girl crept off the stage, plainly feeling ashamed, just as the Danish doll had done minutes before.


I didn't much like yesterday. It was one of those days when a lot of things came crashing down and I was left wondering where I was going to start the rebuilding process. Nothing major. I'm just a bit fed up and in need of a job! It was one of those days when I kept having to remind myself that I chose this lifestyle. And then I kept having to remind myself not to make knee-jerk phone calls railing at people for not getting back to me when promised so that I can move other projects forwards. Of course, the truth is that everyone is simply getting on with their own lives and no one owes anybody anything, although I so often find myself just wanting to shake people and ask what on earth they actually do for most of their days.

I had a very interesting conversation about laziness with someone on Sunday; about how so many people in so many jobs feel aggressively entitled to do so little. I've come across many lazy people in my career. I worked for a company once which had a policy of filling their offices with pretty women because they thought it would be nice for clients to enter a building where there was lots of hot totty to look at. I genuinely wish I were joking. Of course, we spent most of our time trying to find things for these women to do, but none of them seemed that bothered about learning new skills and seemed only to want to do what they were ultimately being paid to do, namely to waft around the place looking pretty. One of them used to get very excited about booking restaurants for lunches during days of filming, and would often come up to me, whilst I was shooting, to tell me that she was very bored but how much she was looking forward to lunch. Another used to regularly go outside for rather lengthy fag breaks and later admitted that there was a tanning shop opposite which did a line in 5-minute booster tanning sessions... She'd say she was having a fag, pop over there and have a quick tan before exercising her right to then have a cigarette. If I wrote any of this in a play, people would accuse me of being a misogynist. Of course, I'm not saying that all the women who worked in the office with me were lazy. Not by a long shot. One in particular was always the first into the office and the last to leave, and spent her days with her head buried in a computer. It just so happened that all of the lazy people in that office were women. And, of course, it's difficult for a male boss to tell a staff member that he or she is lazy without being accused of bullying. We live in strange, somewhat precious times.

I met Josh for a cup of tea yesterday, which was a welcome distraction from moping. We met at the Soho Theatre Cafe, which seemed to be full of pseuds pretending to be creatives. I love the word pseud. It's a brilliantly pretentious word to describe brilliantly pretentious people. We walked across Soho and met Nathan in the churchyard behind St Giles' in the Fields, in the foothills of Centre Point. It's a lovely, very quiet, somewhat windswept place, which the tourists don't visit. A perfect place to sit and eat sandwiches...

Monday, 26 September 2016


It seemed to take forever to get back from Shropshire yesterday. We did that slightly silly thing of trying to travel into London early on a Sunday evening, when the world and his wife are also trying to get back into Town. There's something which happens to people on a Sunday night where they panic about getting home. I think everyone suddenly remembers the washing that needs doing, and the television they promised themselves they'd watch. It's a bit like the panic people get in to "have a drink before Christmas" like some sort of seismic shift is due on December 25th which some of us mightn't survive.

The roads were chockablock. The M1 is a joke at the best of times at the moment, but was utterly insane yesterday. I was slamming the breaks on left, right and centre to honour sudden speed limit changes. 70 became 60, then 50 then 40, then 50 again... seemingly for no reason. I like to drive with a good stopping distance in front of me, so was consistently driving thirty or so metres behind the car in ahead. I'm not quite sure why this became such a red rag to so many driver's bulls. One drove up close behind me, flashing his lights aggressively and waving his little fist like I was some sort of road hog. Everyone was driving at 50. Whether he was in front of me or behind me, he'd still be driving at that speed. I was thrilled when he tried to undertake me and got stuck at an even slower speed. For long periods we'd all crawl along at 5 miles per hour getting terrible doses of "clutch foot." I assume this is why Americans drive automatics.

I was in a rush to get back to London myself. Not to do the washing but to see young Josh's short being performed at the Arcola Theatre in an evening of writing by contemporary voices. I'm afraid I slightly struggled to see the point of some of the pieces. One seemed to be a re-telling of a biblical story, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dream Coat-style without the all-important music elevating it from being inane and dull. I think we were learning what happened to the dark horse brother of Jospeh who sold Joseph as a slave. From what I could gather, he had sex with his daughter-in-law and narrowly avoided being stoned to death for fathering his own grand child, or at least providing his son with a father and grandfather in one fell swoop. I think. It was a little too confusing to fully invest in.

Act Two was a lot more fun with Josh's piece - a clever polemic based on 49, (the number of LGBT people killed in the Orlando massacre) and a monologue about a woman who had lost all sense of herself and started to think she'd become a fold-down chair. It was wittier than you might expect... I was very proud of Josh, but I did leave the theatre wondering why some people think certain ideas are theatrical viagra!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Margaret Drayton (novelist)

Yesterday was a day of extreme travel, which started in Leeds and then continued in Manchester and Stoke on Trent before concluding in Market Drayton...

I had a very lovely walk across Manchester from Victoria station to Piccadilly which took me through the Northern Quarter which felt like a very special place, full of cool-looking cafes and funky independent shops. I have traditionally been quite down on Manchester, largely because it's either rained or snowed every time I've ever been, but also because it has a confidence which hitherto struck me as misplaced arrogance. I've been hearing really good things about the arts scene up there recently, however, and, as a result of yesterday's charming walk, I think it's time for me to get over myself and start getting into the place. I certainly saw a lot of people wandering around who looked like members of my tribe. I'm going to take one of young Josh's tours of the city to see if he can further convince me.

The journey from Manchester to Stoke was uneventful, but it gave me a chance to finish the brass fanfare I've been writing for the NYMT concert, which I have dedicated to Jeremy Walker for all the hard work he does behind the scenes for that organisation.

I had a cup of tea in the cafe in the station and was served by two of the grumpiest men I've ever encountered behind a counter! Their behaviour went beyond rude and back into the realm of charming!

Nathan picked me up from the train station and we made the shortish journey to Market Drayton where my mother-in-law, Celia was celebrating her 70th birthday at the British Legion club.

We spent the afternoon helping to set up the room, or, more specifically keeping those who were doing the work company. I had a little sleep, we changed into glad rags, and the evening unfolded majestically. It's was a really lovely event. Huge swathes of Nathan's family were there and the highlight was almost certainly the entire room standing in a circle, holding hands and singing along to the family song: Gerry and the Pacemaker's You'll Never Walk Alone.

Celia had thought about every tiny detail of the evening, even down to her placing a basket filled with perfumes, breath mints, safety pins, heel plasters and Tena lady pads in the loos for anyone who needed them! There was a caricaturist, Snoopy The DJ, a short cabaret performed by Nathan, Sam and the kids, and a huge photo frame hanging from the ceiling provided by Nathan's cousin Leanne, which came with a table full of fancy dress items to wear whilst having your picture taken. Celia had even organised a coach to pick people up from various B and Bs and hotels in the area so that people didn't need to book taxis. It was a perfect night.

Nathan's enormous family continue to amuse and bemuse me. I still can't get my head around all the names, and the specific nature of their relationship to each other. There's a lot of confusing intergenerational madness going on, with cousins and things the same age as uncles and aunts and vice versa. My family are so much more simple by comparison. I have one aunt, one uncle, two brothers and four cousins. That's it!

The evening ended with a small group of us releasing helium balloons into the night air, whilst remembering absent friends.

Actually, the evening didn't quite end there... We returned to Celia and Ron's house at the end of the night, and were just getting ready to go to bed when one of Celia's neighbours (who'd been at the party) arrived in a bit of panic. The coach which had been laid on to take people back to their hotels had been hit by a car whilst crossing over a dual carriageway. Ten of the guests were still on board and the car which had ploughed into the coach was a complete write off. Fortunately no one was seriously injured. Some of the car's passengers were trapped in the car until the emergency services arrived (35 minutes later) and a lot of those on the bus were suffering from a bit of shock. But no one was seriously injured, thankfully. Celia, of course, is devastated but I genuinely think that everyone involved in the crash will feel hugely grateful that it wasn't a lot worse, and will probably grow to love to tell the story of when they returned from a 70th party and ended up in a mega accident! It's certainly the mother of all anecdotes.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Stop whinging about Bake Off!

I'm in Leeds. I'm eating breakfast in a Travelodge, feeing rather chuffed because it's proper food rather than one of those weird breakfast boxes, with the hideous reject Nestlé cereals in little tubs with built in pots of long life milk and manky granola bars which make your heart sink.

This morning an odyssey begins which sees me travelling from Leeds to Manchester, before changing train stations in Manchester and heading to Stoke, where Nathan picks me up and we travel to Shropshire for my mother-in-law's 70th birthday. Confusingly I have arrived at Leeds station to discover that two trains leave for different stations in Manchester at exactly the same time. You couldn't make it up!

I booked my tickets via, who have become my least favourite people as a result. A pre-ordered ticket from Leeds to Stoke ought to have cost £42. This journey involves a change in Manchester. If, however, you have the foresight to book the two journeys separately, the cost plummets to £7.50! Yes, of course I feel a little smug, but the cost of rail travel in this country shouldn't be a lottery which can only be won by the sneaky, and those who happen to book their tickets when some sort of sale is on.

I decided to travel with a "mobile" ticket. Normally with the Trainline, you are given scores of individual tickets including seat reservations and receipts, which tumble out of a machine in the train station and royally clog up your wallet. A mobile ticket, however, sits on your phone and saves your wallet from splitting at the seams. It's a good idea, although I'm not quite sure what happens when your phone gets nicked as you whip it out to go through the barriers! The problem, I discovered yesterday morning, is that the seat reservation information is on a separate screen to the QR code which you present at the barriers. I literally couldn't find the information I needed and got into something of a panic at King's Cross whilst looking for it. Cut to me calling up the company, and instantly being transferred to a call centre in India where the woman asked me repeatedly for different numbers: passenger number, ticket number... all of which she plainly typed in wrongly because she kept telling me the system had nothing which matched. I kept trying to tell her that all I needed to know was where on my Trainline app or mobile ticket I could find the information I needed. "What is your email address?" She asked. I told her. "This email address is not on our system." "Of course it is. I get spam from you guys every week..." She put me on hold. In the meantime, I approached the man on the ticket barriers who instantly showed me where to find my seat reservation and that was that. I hate the fact that the Trainline think it's acceptable to have a call centre in India. Nathan gets very angry with me when I get all aerated about this particular issue, but I feel very strongly that it's easier all round if someone on the end of a travel line has detailed knowledge of the geography of a country, and, indeed, how the peculiarly eccentric British place names are both pronounced and spelt. I waste so much time spelling things out. It's hopeless. Had I been put through to a call centre in the UK, the person I was speaking to would almost certainly have had the app on their own phone and would have been able to answer my question in seconds without the rigmarole of asking for all those ludicrous numbers. My heart sinks when I hear someone with an Indian accent telling me their name is Roger or Belinda or Sharon, because I instantly know they'll have a script in front of them which will ultimately lead to my being forced to ask to speak to their boss, who is only slightly more qualified to answer the question I'm asking!

I was in Leeds all day yesterday for a meeting. I can't be more specific than that. I already suspect it's not going to come to anything, even though I'd really like it to. I do love Leeds. It's an honest, buzzing city. I love wandering around the market and seeing the different stalls selling crazy combinations of items. There's one stall which resembles a jumble sale with piles and piles of seemingly random items of clothing careless strewn across a trestle table. A group of women were picking various items up, giving them a shake and holding them up against themselves. For a moment I felt a little sad for them before realising that they were perfectly happy, and plainly enjoying their search for a bargain.

I had lunch in the market. The man who served me called me "kid". Instant bonus marks. And then The Name of the Game by ABBA came on the radio. I knew I'd chosen well!

One of the things I forgot to mention last night in my blog is that our American adventure next year is costing us 10-15% more than it would have done had we booked before the Brexit vote, which, for a holiday as expensive as this one, is rather a lot of money. I'm not sure what else to say about the matter other than that if you voted Brexit... Thanks...

Speaking of Daily Mail readers, I was appalled to read the headline on that dirty rag as I sat on the train yesterday. "Sweet loyal Mary and a greedy rat." The piece was obviously about the Great British Bake Off and was written by that odious homophobe, Jan Moir. It was plainly admonishing Paul Hollywood for his decision to follow Bake Off across to Channel 4, like Channel are some kind of terrible money-grabbing organisation and working for them is akin to selling your soul to the devil. Channel 4 are a risk-taking, bold, brave and wonderful broadcaster, who I am proud to have worked with on many occasions over the years. So what if Paul Hollywood wants to work for them? The arrogant party in this particular story is the BBC for refusing to pay top dollar to keep one of its programmes and thereby putting its presenters in the dreadful situation where they have to make this sort of choice in a public arena. A message to the BBC: stop resting on your laurels, stop whinging about losing Bake Off and whipping up public opinion against those who dare to show loyalty to the production company rather than the broadcaster, and get out there and focus on making the kind of shows which make the BBC the envy of the world. End of rant.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Talking too loud

A very posh woman was talking incredibly loudly in Costa Coffee this morning. I couldn't see her, but I could hear every word she shouted. She was telling her friend (and the rest of the cafe) about the improvements she was having done on her house. Very loudly. Her home was obviously larger than it's possible to comprehend and she wanted us all to know about it. I'm afraid I found myself assuming that it wasn't her personally who'd paid for this enormous house and its phenomenally expensive alterations. I'm pretty sure a wealthy husband or a doting father would have played his part. And if that's misogynistic of me, then she shouldn't have been talking so loudly!

I have been working on a two minute fanfare to kick off the National Youth Music Theatre's West End Gala at the Adelphi Theatre at end of next month. I've been asked to use themes from Brass, so I'm quoting Billy Whistle, When You're A Pal, The Last Post and Reveille. I've done a first pass, but just need to let it sit and breathe for a while. Obviously it needs to have impact and a sense of occasion, but I'm equally aware of my slight tendency to, as Nathan puts it, "never knowingly underscore..."

This afternoon I worked on a new song from Em. I'm experimenting with reconstituting the chorus from another song in the show and allowing it to appear as in a very different musical setting. Andrew Lloyd Webber did something similar with Oh What A Circus and Don't Cry For Me Argentina. It's a quite useful device because it means an audience is more likely to leave the theatre humming a tune - and this seems to be one of the most important factors people use when judging the success of a musical. One of the big problems with new musicals is that people only tend to see a show once. Reviewers particularly will tend to predict that a show's melodies won't last the test of time purely because they're hearing stuff for the first time. In the case of Brass, particularly when it came to the re-written version, I used scores of leitmotivs; little two and four bar melodies which cropped up all over the place. Some of these tunes had significance. There was a death theme, for example, which the audience hears for the first time in the Prologue, when Bickerdike convinces Morrie to lie about his age in order to sign up. It's a fairly upbeat, innocuous scene, but the decision Morrie makes at that moment will ultimately lead to his death. I quite like the fact that the underscore at this point foreshadows this.

This evening we went into central London to finally book our amazing holiday to the States next summer. We've paid our deposit. It's all happening. Very exciting. I'm not sure I've ever had something in my diary that far in advance. I found myself wondering what will be happening in our lives in eleven months' time. What projects will have happened by then? What world events will have shocked us all? And most crucially, will I be fat or thin!?


So here's a conundrum: We woke up about a week ago to discover a rather large tree branch on the patio of our garden. It was the morning after highish winds, so we merely assumed that the branch had fallen from the tree above the patio during the night, and thought nothing of it until a closer inspection revealed that the tree branch belonged to a different type of tree! We have an ash tree in our garden and the branch of came from a sycamore tree. There are no sycamore trees anywhere near our garden. The branch has obviously been picked up and transported. It's still there. The leaves have crinkled up a little, but every time I pass it I wonder how the imposter branch actually got there. Is there a species of poltergeist which specialises in tree transference?

I worked at Jackson's Lane in the morning. A group of elderly people were sitting in the cafe waiting to have their first rehearsal for a play they're putting on. It's the sort of initiative I approve of immensely. There's so much in this world which is specifically aimed at young people, and all too often, the very old are entirely overlooked. The rate of loneliness is so high in this generation, and yet, we have so much to potentially learn from them. It makes no sense to me.

This evening I went down to Embankment Pier and boarded The Silver Sturgeon to assist on a quiz, which was a lot of fun. We went up the Thames as far as the Isle of Dogs. I wanted to wave at Brother Edward as we passed his house, but he was in Barcelona. Looking at Canary Wharf from the river is quite an experience. The lights from the buildings are almost blindingly bright and reflect on the ink black water rather perfectly.

We were running the quiz for an international crowd, mostly European, which meant no one was too cool for school, too pissed to care, or had too many chips on their shoulders about not being bright enough to do a quiz. All of these factors add up to a good time for all. Everyone was charming, dignified, polite and set out to have fun without feeling the need to get so pissed that they fell overboard or vomited all over the soft furnishings. Proof, if any more proof were needed that I view myself as European. I feel more comfortable in the presence of Europeans and feel proud that I share a commonality with them.

I got home to find that Nathan had been locked out of the house and had been taken in like a waif and stray by Little Welsh Nathalie downstairs. They'd spent the night making cookies for the great British Bake Off which we iced when I got home. I made a marmalade paste to smear onto the biscuits before topping them with melted chocolate and dried cherries. Down boy! They were delicious.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

This film makes me want to...

We're on the A1 in Huntingdonshire, heading south. I appreciate that Huntingdonshire is no longer a recognised British county, but I can think of no better way of describing the area we're in! There's a nip in the air and it feels a little misty. Autumn is definitely rolling in. I'm wearing a jacket and I haven't yet boiled over...

We've been to see Lisa, Mark and the kids this evening, and spent the most charming evening sitting around their kitchen table, eating fajitas, watching videos of boils being lanced on YouTube and hearing all about young Poppy's school. At one point she appeared with her timetable, which fascinated me for some reason. It was rather lovely to see the list of subjects. I remembered my own timetable, and how I used to dread certain days and look forward to others. I hated Tuesdays. We had double science and maths on Tuesdays. I loved Wednesdays. Double music in the afternoon, my drama club in the evening and The Kids From Fame on the telly to cap off a perfect day.

Driving back down the A1 is always a highly nostalgic experience, not only because of the musical film I made about the road, but because we lived for several years in Potton, just a few miles from the road in Bedfordshire. You can see Sandy Hill and the iconic television mast from the road. I used to play with a girl who lived in a mobile home, next to a pig farm in a wood underneath that mast. I remember that the television reception was actually really bad at hers. I think she lived too close to the mast for it to be effective. We used to eat fish fingers and vinegar-soaked chips. That's actually my last remaining clear memory of eating meat. I became a vegetarian in 1981 when I was about seven. Quite why I was hanging out in a mobile home on a pig farm in a wood underneath a giant television aerial is beyond me... but it was the 1970s, and at the same time I was also hanging out on a CND commune, and my brother's best friends were gypsies on a massive encampment on the outskirts of the town! Ah! Those were the days.

I was contacted by a chap yesterday who sent me the most curious and rather flattering email:

"My friends and I have become a little obsessed with your work. In particular, Tyne and Wear Metro, Coventry Market and Watford Gap. We quote them constantly and must viewed each upwards of 8 times. I digress, each year we hold a small awards ceremony for the best Vines (the 6 second twitter films) made within our circle of friends and would love it if you could provide a prize for one of the awards. Do you have any signed photos or memorabilia that you would be kind enough to send? I'd be more than happy to cover any costs this would incur on you!"

I have sent them a few pages from the original musical manuscripts I wrote for the Metro film. I hope it's the sort of thing they'll appreciate! It's always really lovely to hear from people who enjoy that particular trilogy of films. They divide people massively, and for ages I felt very embarrassed about them because so few people seemed to understand that they were written from a place of humour and certainly weren't meant to be taken too seriously.

Tyne and Wear Metro: The Musical continues to divide people on YouTube. It's now had 110k views but the latest viewer comment says: "this video makes me want to change species!" I'm actually still chuckling inanely to myself about that particular remarks! It's one of the better disses and probably only topped by the person who wrote, "this is the worst thing to happen to the North East since Margaret Thatcher!"

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The ghost of Maurice

I'm returning from central London to Highgate after an evening at the new writers' cabaret in the Phoenix Artists' Club, better known to people my age as Shuttleworth's.

It's such an important evening. It's essentially an opportunity for writers to try new material out without any pressure or any sense of not being good enough performers. Some are better writers than they are pianists or singers, others are brilliant pianists and not the best singers in the world, but the important thing is that there's a community of us who are out there, doing stuff, flying the flag for contemporary British musical theatre. It's such a supportive atmosphere. Everyone cheers and claps, and then hangs about afterwards saying lovely things to one another. I'm pretty convinced that the only way we're ever going to raise the profile of British musical theatre writing is by events of these nature. We need to form a united lobby and tell the world that we're here, we're fierce and we're not going shopping. Okay, I'll work on the slogan!

I took Ben Mabberley with me to sing the titular track from the song Em. I borrowed the word titular from one of the other writers who mentioned the word when describing his song. It made me laugh because it has the word tit in it. It's also quite a useful word. I might have used "eponymous" to describe the song in the past, but have only heard that word in association with central characters rather than songs. In a pop album, Em would be known as the title track.

Anyway, Ben did a brilliant job. That boy has a fine, fine set of chops on him, and I always enjoy introducing him to new groups of people. He told me he'd had a lovely evening and loved meeting the gang, so that was good. We rehearsed during the afternoon at my house and everything went rather smoothly. Sadly, this evening, I was ropier than I've been at previous similar cabarets in the past. It's a more difficult song, but, by this afternoon, I had it completely under the fingers. Sadly, the piano at Shuttleworths is a different beast to mine at home. It has an extra octave at the top, and the keys are higher. I know, I know: a bad workman always blames his tools. If truth be told, I got a crippling case of the heeby-jeebies and spent the entire performance focussing on overcoming my nerves instead of playing the notes I'd practised. I was disappointed with myself.

Hysterically, one of the other writers, a hugely charming Eastern European fellow, has written a show called "N"! So M followed N! This messed with the heads of anyone in the audience with OCD!

The lovely Siobhan from BBC Coventry and Warwickshire came and met us at Shuttleworths for a high-speed catch-up before the cabaret started. As ever, it was truly wonderful to see her. I reckon me and Shiv could take over the world if we put our minds to it. She is one of those incredibly rare BBC producers who is deeply creative without being stifling or patronising to the creative people she works with. She was talking today about the need for people in her position to try to understand the mentality of an artist. Creative people don't always behave in a corporately appropriate manner. We don't always understand or even respect the rules or etiquettes of the institution we've been brought into, and we don't approach work in the same manner - often taking things a great deal more personally than the people they're working with. We allow ourselves to be walked all over because we don't want to lose the contracts, but the moment we raise concerns, we're described as difficult. So often employers will inadvertently make us feel like they're doing us a favour by employing us. It's all too easy to accuse a creative person of being difficult when actually they're behaving in a way which is actually symptomatic of the way they're being handled. It was rather lovely to hear someone saying some of these things.

The charming staff at Shuttleworths got chatting to us, and I mentioned the olden days when the irascible Maurice, former owner of the place, would drag up and perform eccentric lip sync'd dance routines to musical theatre songs. He died four or so years ago, but his ashes are still in an urn in the building! He's also rumoured to haunt the place. The bar staff have all heard strange noises and seen weird shapes floating about in their peripheral vision. To me, having known Maurice in life, it doesn't surprise me whatsoever that he would haunt the place after his death. He was synonymous with Shuttleworths. That building creaks under the weight of its theatrical significance.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Booking a hollybob

Nathan and I drove into town today and parked outside Liberty's! It felt highly decadent and weird to be able to pull up and park somewhere so central. The shops were open. Tourists were drifting about. It felt very much like a week day and seemed highly counterintuitive and naughty to park on a single yellow lines. We half expected to return to find a clamp, or to have had the car towed away. No matter how sure you are of the rules, there's always some technicality the bastards can get you on. There are many streets in London, for example, which have different regulations on the different sides of the road. Southwood Lane in Highgate where we park our car is one such road!

Anyway, we were in town to meet Sam and Matt, and we had a rather jolly little lunch in my new favourite Greek restaurant on Brewer Street. I had borek: delicious little triangular filo pastry parcels filled with spinach and feta cheese. Lovely with a salad and paprika sprinkles...

We were going to eat at the new vegetarian version of Pret A Manger on Broadwick Street, but it's proved too popular and was full to the rafters! It was designed as an experimental pop up, but we read today that it's just been made a permanent fixture.

The purpose of our trip into central London was to take another step towards booking our holiday of a lifetime to USA next summer. We're driving coast to coast and have now planned our route through the central of America, taking in a load of the sorts of places I've hitherto only dreamed of visiting. We're doing it all: Grand Canyon. Monument Valley. San Fran. DC. NYC. The travel agent is going to spend Tuesday putting a package together for us, and, all being well, on Thursday, we'll be able to go in and pay for it. I think we all started to get a bit of a rush of excitement, and a sense that it is actually going to happen now. It's no longer a crazy pipe dream!

Tape 1

I spent the morning playing the piano, worrying continually about my neighbours who must think I'm the worst neighbour in the world. I keep wanting to open the windows and shout to anyone who was listening that I'd stop irritating them all after the gig on Monday!

We went to Thaxted in the afternoon to celebrate my brother's birthday, and I was able to present him with a little project I've been beavering away at for the past few weeks. There's a back story here, so few free to skip a couple of paragraphs if you don't like lengthy stories!

In 1978, my Dad had got himself a teaching job at a school in Biggleswade which didn't start lessons until the unusually late time of 9.30 in the morning. This gave him a bit of unexpected free time before going to work, and he had a period where he'd listen to Terry Wogan's breakfast show on Radio 2, using his posh new stereo to tape some of the songs he heard. Obviously it was pot luck. He might get half way through a song and decide he didn't much like it so rewind the tape back and record over it with the next song.

Anyone who knows my Dad will know this was somewhat atypical behaviour. For as long as I can remember, his morning regime has involved reading the Guardian with classical music playing on full blast. Every breakfast from my childhood was accompanied by the sound of Radio 3 drifting into the kitchen from the sitting room. Terry Wogan's voice was never heard (although I did used to think my Dad WAS Terry Wogan...)

Anyway, the result of my father's brief foray into recording pop music was a bright orange TDK cassette which was known within the family as Tape 1. Edward and I listened to it on an almost constant loop. It had loads of songs on it which we absolutely adored. Radio 2 in that day played a mixture of easy listening, novelty songs and tracks which had been in the charts a few months previously. As a result, I can categorically date the period of taping to the latter part of 1978, which I consider to have been the finest ever year for pop music. Or perhaps the joys of Tape 1 are largely responsible for my feeling that 1978 was a vintage year? Who knows? Whatever the case, Disco music has certainly always been in my bloo
So, to cut a long story short, our beloved Tape 1 got recorded over, when my brother was living in Poland in the 1990s. My Mum used to record Saturday mornings on Radio 4 to send to Edward as a weekly taste of home. She regularly recycled tapes and, on one occasion, the unthinkable happened, and she recycled Tape 1!

A recent surge of general nostalgia has meant we've been mercilessly ragging my Mum about her decision to record over Tape 1, so, for a birthday present for my brother, I decided to recreate the tape, and spent ages trying to piece together the track listing. It was slightly easier than I'd thought. I remembered many of the songs instantly, but then, upon reading lists of the big hits of 1977 and 1978, I found myself becoming misty-eyed at the thought of several of them, which instantly brought back memories of white poo covered causeways, Co-op stamps, CND communes and pac-a-macs!

For the record, and for the sake of nostalgia, some of the tracks I included are as follows:

Portsmouth (Mike Oldfield), The Floral Dance (Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band), Don't Give Up On Us (David Soul), Let's All Chant (Michael Zager Band), Talking In Your Sleep (Chrystal Gale), Sandy (John Travolta), Forever Autumn (Justin Heyward), Never Let Her Slip Away (Andrew Gold), Lucky Stars (Dean Friedman), The Hustle (Van McCoy), You Don't Bring Me Flowers (Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand), I Lost My Heart to a Star Ship Trooper (Sarah Brightman and Hot Gossip) and Halfway Down the Stairs (Robin the Frog.)

In the process of finding tracks, I also came across an old album from the TV show, Rainbow, which we'd had at the same time, so I also included songs from that as well. Rod, Jane and Freddy, who used to sing all the songs, were called Rod, Jane and Matt at the time. Matt was Matthew Corbett, who went on to find fame as the Sooty puppeteer! Fact.

It was rather lovely to sit and listen to the album with everyone there, and it became something of a nostalgia-fest, sitting around the open fire. And yes, we had an open fire on the go. The temperatures have plummeted within a few days from 30 degrees to about 15.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Reading hell

We were woken up in the night by the mother of all claps of thunder. It was so loud, I leapt into the air. The rain was belting down, which meant an obligatory rush about the house closing windows and preparing ourselves for a flood. A bucket needs to go under one of the skylights in the loft and we have a water proof sheet which goes down on the living room carpet. It's all rather Withnail and I. All the electrical items are then removed from anywhere water might seep in. We watched a river flowing down the A1 for a while and then went back to bed. It was a curious rush of adrenaline to experience in the wee smalls!

It was brother Edward's birthday today, so I called him at lunch time after spending a morning slaving over a hot piano. I now have a blister on my finger from playing so much (#badtechnique!) We then took ourselves to Brent Cross via Muswell Hill to do a spot of shopping with the Jews and the Asians. Brent Cross attracts such a profoundly unique demographic. The "special occasion" section in the card shop in John Lewis is full of pictures of menorahs.

This evening I drove to Reading to help out with another quiz. This one was literally in the middle of nowhere. I didn't think nowheresville happened near Reading. I thought it was all M4 corridor towns, shopping malls and service stations in those parts. It turns out it's full of winding, single track country lanes and no reception, which is, of course, a nightmare for sat nav systems. Mine got me royally lost, and had me going in circles for half an hour, getting more and more het up. It deposited me by a barbed wire fence and told me I'd need to park the car and walk the rest of the way! Thankfully I left civilisation with plenty of time to spare, having heard that the storms last night were playing havoc with the roads. It took me three hours to drive 45 miles.

Good quiz. Rowdy bunch. I'm not sure three were many die-hard quizzers in their number but the quiz master got the tone of the questions just right, so they all had fun. There were lots of gizmos. Buzzers. Giant screens. Sound effects. Bells and whistles. There was a free bar...

The journey home was marred by a hell of a lot of roadworks. Again, I assume they were all emergency repairs as a result of flash flood damage. It was one hell of a storm! They don't half cone off large sections of road for the smallest of repair jobs, however. The North Circular at gone midnight was at a standstill with traffic jams stretching from Hangar Lane to Staples Corner seemingly so that a tiny little van and a little cluster of men in high viz could open a man hole cover. A little later, a chap in a flashing cherry picker was examining a bridge. Dull. I got home at 1am.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Endless piano music

This has to be my least favourite type of weather. It's hot and very very muggy in London. Plainly if there isn't a thunder storm going on above ground (I'm on the tube) then there's about to be one. I am dressed up nice and smart to go to a quiz, but everything I'm wearing is already damp. Soon my moustache will start to droop. I wish I were wearing a giant kaftan, like my Grannie often wore. Hers were usually purple. She introduced yellow into her colour palette after her golden wedding. She liked yellow. Her entire kitchen was yellow. Walking in there was like entering a field of primroses!

I've gone off piste. I've no idea why. Actually, that's not true. My brain is utterly addled as a result of being cooped up in my house all day, all the way through the morning when the weather was dry and fine, before the front moved in. I had to shut the windows because I was playing the piano and didn't want to annoy the neighbours. And boy was I playing the piano! I did nothing else from 9.30am til I left the house at 6pm. I am playing the piano to accompany Ben Jones at a little cabaret on Monday night. It's a forerunner for the NYMT concert at the beginning of October which I wrote about in my last blog. I'm not a natural pianist. I'm self taught, so sight-reading is problematic. Furthermore, I have very limited technique, so my left hand doesn't play at the same tempo as my right hand, and semi-quaver runs have the habit of sounding lumpy and weird. The song I'm playing with Ben is relentless and charging. In the show it would be played by a rock band, which means the piano part I've written is quite a roast, specifically to reflect how it ought to sound. I genuinely don't know if I'll get through it, and yet I'm forcing myself to play because the new writers' cabaret is all about daring to do the stuff you might not have the guts to do in a more formal situation. I'm not sure I'm any better at playing the song than I was first thing this morning and I only have three more days to perfect it (all of which are chockablock full of other activities.) This is genuine jeopardy the like of which Anneka Rice would lap up like some sort of boiler-suited, giant cat, faced with a bowl of milk! I spoke to one of my writer friends today who is performing a three-part song at the same cabaret with no rehearsal whatsoever, so I guess we'll be in a competition to see who sweats it the most! Add mega performance anxiety into the equation and the audience could be in for quite a night!


The quiz tonight was in a very chi-chi hotel on the Strand, which might have been bordering on too-cool-for-school: all chrome structures like a gleaming church organ, over-polished stone walls and piped in heady smells. It reminded me of a hotel I once stayed in in Newcastle where they had really posh wall paper on the walls, and a 24-hour club feel in one of the bars, but the rooms didn't have baths in them because apparently baths don't fit the demographic of the party people the hotel was aimed at. After a gruelling day of filming you NEED a bath!

The event itself was a charity fundraiser. It's an annual event and I'm pleased to say that they raised more money than in any previous year. The quiz went well. The team that won were taking things very seriously and kept coming up to ask which questions they'd got right, and what they were scoring.

As we walked back to Waterloo in the soupy air, we passed a couple of media types who were plainly talking about the Bake Off fiasco, and the business of the show transferring to Channel 4. One of them seemed somewhat aerated as he pointed out that the world wouldn't come to an end just because Mel and Sue were refusing to relocate to the dark side. The only trouble was that in the height of his rant he called them "Sue and Kim" which made me laugh because it was plain his subconscious was telling him not to mix the presenters up with the 1980s pop princesses Mel and Kim. I loved Mel and Kim. I knew their dances. I had their posters on my wall. Mel was my favourite. Then she died. I was heartbroken. Sort of. The obsession with them was coming to a close and had been replaced by Tanita Tikaram and war poetry. I'd decided that the reincarnation of Wilfred Owen shouldn't be into dance music. Wilfred Owen liked goth folk pop.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Thaxted fields

I did a morning-and-a-half of work on the two songs from Em today and then sent all the parts off to Jeremy. Both songs are being performed at St James' Theatre on Sunday October 2nd as part of an evening of music by contemporary musical theatre composers from both sides of the Atlantic. I genuinely urge you all to come along. It's really important for the future of the industry that we all get behind new writing - particularly British writing. There's some wonderful talent out there, and Jeremy tells me it's going to be a brilliant concert. Come, please! My two songs are being sung by Laura Barnard and Ben Jones who played the two lead characters in Brass. You loved them in Brass. Come and see what else they can do!

I have to say, after the success of Brass, I find myself a little reticent when it comes to offering new songs to the world. The Brass songs have all had the time to become ear-worms. There's a recording and several films which enable people to get to know the music, so anything else I throw out into the world goes in at the start of a long journey which inevitably begins with people saying the songs won't stand the test of time - largely because they're not yet familiar.

After a late lunch we took ourselves off to Thaxted. Today has been boiling hot and because Nathan is working tomorrow I felt we needed to get out there and see the last rays of this summer's sun.

We went for an early evening walk across the fields and down to the magic place where I had a little word with the universe to sort me out with a commission as soon as possible. The light was beautiful. Thistle down and backlit midges floated and darted about in the sky like the first flurry of winter snow. The shadows were dark and long, and turned the furrows of the freshly-ploughed fields a dark shade of mauve. The yellow sun made the trees literally glow. Fir trees looked like they'd just burst into majestic lime green flames. The whole walk felt like we'd drifted into a dream.

We watched Bake Off and talked furiously about its anticipated commute to Channel 4. Now, I'm a huge fan of Channel 4, but Bake Off doesn't feel like a Channel 4 show. The fact that the BBC has lost it, to me, rather sums up the sheer arrogance of that particular broadcaster. They have rested on their laurels for far too long and really need to start realising that, if they're not able to make shows in-house any more, they need to get a lot better at pitching to keep their most successful programmes. Working for the BBC is fast loosing its status as a badge of honour. Shows spend too long in development and quality dips as a result of producers and commissioners feeling the need to interfere and have their twopence worth to justify their roles within the institution. The opening episode of Bake Off got higher ratings than the Olympics and the Olympics are sure to have cost the BBC hundreds of times more than the figure they refused to pay to keep Britain's favourite cookery show. Actually, Britain's favourite show. Full stop. The final of Bake Off last year was actually the highest rating show of the year.

Tradition dictated that we made biscuits and we finally had success! They were crumbly - very crumbly - but, smeared in chocolate and lemon icing, everything tasted delicious... and they went like ice creams in the sun!


I drove up to Northampton today for a meeting at my old music school about a potential commission. It's such an inspiring and special place to visit and I'm relieved to report that it hasn't changed a bit since 1992 when I was last there. I was so happy to see that the fees for studying have been kept extremely low so that all the ensembles and classes are open to people from all backgrounds. It's absolutely crucial: without the Northamptonshire music school, and its "music for all" policy, I'd simply not be a composer, not just because we could never have afforded the extortionate rates some of my friends pay to give their children music lessons, but because the school provided me with a window to the outside world. I met likeminded people there who wanted to get out of the county, and wanted to do well in exams - two concepts which were somewhat alien to the majority of people I went to school with. It was very much my salvation. It gave me hope and it gives me hope to know it's all still going on.

We had our meeting in an amazing cafe which is in a retro shop just down the Kettering Road from the music school. I'd eaten there once before at a friend's suggestion on the day of Ursula's funeral. It's such a quirky little place, full of room-after-room of bric-a-brac and second-hand clothing. Had it been there in my youth, I'm pretty sure it would have been the quintessential hang-out for our sort, and, sure enough, as we walked in, a little gaggle of music school kids were drinking coffee.

It's been boiling hot today. Hot in a way where the sun feels dangerous and makes you panic a bit when you go outside. I understand it's done nothing but rain up north to the extent that Manchester seems to be under water and friends up there are marking themselves as "safe" on Facebook. I can't imagine what's happened.

I have settled down this evening to watch some more of the Paralympics which I find both inspiring and uplifting. It's rather lovely to see races that Brits are likely to win. I sat and watched about six gold medals being won the other night. Three have been won tonight in the twenty minutes I've been watching! It's glorious. I watched a swimming race the other day where there were only about seven limbs in total across the entire field of athletes. One Chinese woman was doing backstroke with no arms whatsoever, which I thought was fairly clever. I have no idea what was propelling her through the water so quickly! She must have had some kind of onboard motor.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Roy Harper

I've been suffering from pretty bad hay fever this week, waking up every morning with a miserable runny nose, which runs like a tap throughout the day. It's really beginning to get me down. I had to get out of bed in the night. I sat and watched a home improvement show. It's not hard to find one of them on the telly! I must have fallen asleep on the sofa because Nathan woke me up with a cheery "oh hello there." He'd gone to the loo in the night without realising I wasn't in bed, heard the telly on and assumed it had turned on by itself. I must have been in some mega-dream, because his voice royally freaked me out. Apparently I shouted "please, no. Please don't..." I think I thought he was some sort of ghost! My head's a funny old place! I went back to sleep and dreamed I was visiting the Scilly Isles. It was a beautiful hot day, but the waves in the sea were twelve feet tall and inundating all the country lanes. 

I worked all day on the title song from Em. I'm now really very happy with it. I'll play it to Nathan first thing tomorrow to see if he has any thoughts...

This evening we went to see Roy Harper playing at the Royal Festival Hall, which was a wonderful treat. I went with Sam's sister Katie, who was the perfect companion for the evening. Keen readers of this blog will remember that I conducted two tours of Roy's music a few years ago. I felt very honoured to do so. Roy is a living legend. His music has influenced Pink Floyd and Kate Bush. He was one of the first folk rockers, a pioneer of acoustic prog rock. He's also a very decent human being who certainly does not deserve to have been subjected to the two years of agony which were caused by spurious allegations made by God knows who. That's the problem with these allegations. You can make them and get away Scott free. 

I was particularly moved when he played "I'll See You Again" which has always been one of my favourite Roy Harper songs. It wasn't on the set list for the last tour I did with him and I twisted his arm to have it reinstated, so I was really thrilled it was played today. It has this fabulous brass fanfare, which I used to get a rush of excitement whilst conducting. I got a little bit teary during the concert. I was experiencing a big old dollop of love for Roy, a great sense of relief and joy to see him back on his feet again, and it suddenly struck me that three of the five string players in the line up had played at our wedding. 

Roy's voice sounded great. He was singing with more vocal support and possibly emotion than the last time I heard him. Mind you, the last time we worked together, he knew about the allegations but was obviously unable to talk about them. That must have been just awful: sitting in front of an audience, secretly knowing it might be the last time you play publicly, wondering what kind of a shit storm will happen when the news escapes, all the time knowing you're innocent but being helpless to do anything to protect yourself... 

He performed a few songs which I didn't know. One, called The Hang Man, is sung from the perspective of a man waiting to go to the gallows who knows he is innocent. Roy sang it with such fire, defiance and passion. He's plainly a man who has spent some time staring at his own set of gallows. 

I was thrilled to see Beth the bass player elevated to the ranks of band member for several of the numbers. She came down off the orchestral podium and stood between Roy and his other guitarist for several numbers, and absolutely looked (and sounded) the part, giving it some seriously beefy pizzicato work, and making the trio look so blinking cool. 

Roy's signature song is Me and My Woman. It's fifteen minutes long, and has an epic, restless quality, changing time signature and key all over the place. With a full symphonic line m-up of brass and strings, it's the track that many of the audience spend the night waiting for. I loved conducting that track more than any other. There's a great long sequence in 12/8 which used to give me an absolute rush of excitement. There are few adrenaline bolts in the world which match being in the thick of music making of that quality. 

Of course he finished the set with When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease which is one of the saddest songs in carnation. And the ensemble played it stunningly. One day, I guess, Roy really will play that song for the last time, but on the basis of tonight, his 75th birthday concert, that won't be for many, many more years. 

The great joy about a Roy concert (obviously apart from the music) is the banter. He chats to to audience as though he were holding court in a pub. Some of the brave ones shout a question or make quips out loud which Roy almost always responds to. He has the ability to make everyone feel valued. And heard. And that's a rare gift. 

Fiona had done all the orchestral arrangements and her name was even on the tickets which felt like an appropriate honour. She took the reins from the late, great, David Bedford who collaborated with Roy for countless highly fruitful years. Bedford's death could have been catastrophic for Roy, and he was very lucky to find Fiona. He plainly adores her. 

I was proud of the players, proud of Fiona and proud to know Roy and his wonderful wife Tracy. It was a very good night.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Garden party

London was boiling hot today. Really lovely late summer sunshine shone down constantly. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. It would have been awful to spend the day stuck inside, but fortunately we had a place to be. Abbie had invited us to the annual Philbeach Gardens residents' party. Abbie was brought up in a house which over-looked the gardens and her mother still lives on the street. The party demonstrated to me that very strong communities still exist in London. Philbeach Gardens is in Earls Court, but there are these little communal residents' only gardens all over the capital. They're often walled, or hedged off, and situated in the middle of a square. There's a scene in Notting Hill where the two main characters go into one at night and have a bit of light rumpy-pumpy on a bench under a tree!

I've never been in one of these gardens before. Philbeach Gardens is situated behind a grand crescent of houses. All the properties back onto the garden and all the residents who live in them have their own key to get into it. There are one or two little rules associated with the garden. You can't take a dog inside, you can't play football on the grass, you're encouraged not to make too much noise and if you invite more than ten mates for a party or picnic in the garden, you're officially meant to ask permission of other residents, oh, and you have to be out of the garden by 11pm...

It's so beautiful in there. There are tall trees, large lawns, benches, little arbours. There's even a grass tennis court in there... All hidden away, like a marvellous secret. I'd defy anyone walking along the streets on the edge of the garden to know it's there. It's totally private, only overlooked by the the properties who own it. I'm not very good at judging size but it must be at least an acre.

We ate a picnic with Ian and Abbie's Mum and listened to a wonderful live band. Abbie sang jazz standards. Very well. The sun shone. We sunbathed. It was so lovely to lie on my back on a rug whilst the jazz music washed over me.

We left when the sun dropped below the level of the houses. As we walked back to the car, a young girl, off her head on the bottle of lighter fluid, stopped us. She was incredibly affable, but plainly loopy loo. She wanted to talk to us: "I think it's so awful that the world is homophobic." She blurted out. "I don't know where they come from, all these homophobes. I think you're inspirational." Neither of us were quite sure what to say to her. We weren't holding hands or anything, so we were quite shocked that she'd so readily identified us as a pair of homos! We thanked her, wished her well, and she waddled off, happily holding her open can of lighter fluid. It was a highly eccentric end to the day.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

The greatest song ever was at number 1 forty years ago!

We've been at craft and cake this afternoon. It was a small crowd. Hilary, Sam, Julie, Nathan and Tina. I had a go at crafting. I was trying to make felted balls out of wool. It wasn't entirely successful. They all ended up looking like little muppets with great big cracks in them which looked like silly mouths and then my hands went into cramps from the repetition of rolling balls of wet soapy yarn for minutes on end...

It was good to see the team. Everyone else was knitting and Julie had made scones and the most delicious polenta lemon drizzle cake. On the way to Catford we listened to a CD of music by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, which was quite a nostalgia-fest for a child of the 80s like me. The songs don't half all sound the same though! I remember thinking that at the time. They all start with a little blast of drum machine, have almost relentless fake strings in them, and a little break down in the middle where the lead vocal is sampled "n n n n Nineteen style." Harmonically, they're actually always quite complicated. Verses and choruses are regularly in different keys, and the chords are often quite jazz influenced. In the late 80s, the top ten countdown always had three or four "Hit Factory" songs in it. Jason, Kylie, Rick Astley, Mel and Kim... then even Donna Summer and Cliff Richard got in on the act, singing identikit hits with their endless remixes.

As a result of listening to this album, I've discovered a song which I've become a little obsessed by. It's from the later part of the SAW period; the time when they were using external writers and working with groups like Steps. The song in question is really rather atmospheric in a sort of dark, vibey 1990s clubland kind of way. It's called Pray and it's sung by a former model called Tina Cousins. It ought to be awful but there's a wonderful break-down chorus towards the end of the song which has block, dense harmonies. Very Abbaesque. Brother Edward would love it!

Here's a question. What does "Showing Out (Get Fresh at the Weekend)" actually mean?

We decided to have a pizza night tonight. Pizza and X Factor. A winning combination.

Here's a cool fact: Exactly 40 years ago today, ABBA was at number one with Dancing Queen. That makes me feel a) happy b) old. Watching ABBA on Top of the Pops singing Dancing Queen is my earliest childhood memory!

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Two plays about gays

Today was another day of thirds, which started with Fiona, who stayed at ours last night, and a lazy brunch at the local spoon. We took ourselves for a morning walk around the woods, and put the world to rights with conversation. She told me the story of a colleague of hers who was taking pictures of his niece and nephew in a swimming pool and was accused by some passing nut job of taking pictures of random children. An argument broke out. He showed the nut job and the life guard who'd been called over the pictures he'd taken (which were all of his relatives and no one else's kids) and supplied his name and number to put the nut job's mind at ease. It turns out that the nut job was actually part of some crazy vigilante crusade against paedophilia. It was a few weeks before Fiona's friend realised that the nut job had googled him and contacted all his prospective employers to tell them that he was a paedophile. He instantly had jobs cancelled with no one bothering to contact him to ask if there was truth in what the woman was saying. I don't know if it's worse that this woman took it upon herself to drag a complete stranger's name through the mud or that his prospective employers would cancel gigs simply because they didn't want to be involved in all that. Accusing someone of paedophilia is now the easiest way of ruining a hard-working, decent man's life and the tragic witch hunt has to stop.

I worked in the afternoon, and knocked the title song from my new musical into some form of shape. By the end of the afternoon I felt I had a song, which has been forming shambolically for some months in my head. I've written the song with Ben Jones in mind. I tend to write better when I have a voice in my head. The only trouble is that when I write music for his ridiculous vocal prowess with its epic top range, I end up with songs which very few other people can sing!

This evening Llio and I went to watch our mate Greg Ashton performing in two very beautiful short plays at the Hope Theatre on Upper Street. Ash actually wrote the plays himself and they're paired under the title "Two Short Plays About Gays." There were three actors in total, Ash, who is so fabulously comfortable on a stage, a lovely, subtle young actor called Joseph Martin, and Louise Jameson, who is a tremendous actress. If Jameson's name is familiar, it's probably because she played an iconic Dr Who assistant called Leela from the Tom Baker days, who wore a lot of leather way back in the 70s. She was also in Eastenders and Bergerac.

Anyway, Ash's plays were loosely linked. The central protagonist in both shows was probably the same person. Ash didn't want to labour this particular point. He wanted the audience to make their own minds up. The first play focusses on the trials and tribulations of a young rent boy who arrives in London and shacks up with a kind, old drag queen. Or is she?! It's a really very charming and witty piece. Ash plays a variety of roles: the older version of the rent boy, a series of drag queens, various clients. He interacts with his younger self throughout. His younger self being played by Joseph Martin.

In the second play, another two-hander, Jameson plays the older character's Mum, and we realise fairly speedily that she is appearing in ghost form, very much the Mum which the central character (by now a drag queen himself) has created for himself on account of his not actually having seen his Mum since she threw him out of home after discovering he's gay. The mother apologises for the being a bad Mum, and claims she's finally come to terms with her son's sexuality, giving credit to gay characters in soap operas for her sudden enlightenment. But there's a devastating plot twist.

Jameson plays the fragile, tragic, brittle character brilliantly, so brilliantly, in fact, that you feel unable to hate her for treating her son so brutally. We begin to learn why she has behaved like she has, and actually start to sympathise with her plight. It's refreshing to see this sort of story told. I have long since felt that we can't blame anyone for the way they responded to gay people at the height of HIV and Clause 28. It was a very moving and laugh-out-loud evening of theatre. I definitely recommend it.

We came out of the theatre and sat in the pub downstairs waiting for the actors to come out. A bloke sidled over and asked if we were waiting for the Charleston class downstairs! We were a little perplexed. I was almost tempted. I love a bit of Charleston. When we looked around at the gaggle of people plainly going to the class, we noticed all were wearing burlesque-esque retro clothing, and had beautifully quaffed hair dos. At that point we realised why Llio, with her bright red hair and me, with my curly 1920s moustache had been singled out!

When Ash introduced us to Louise Jameson she stared at us both for some time before saying, "you are the most beautiful couple." It was such a lovely compliment from someone so wonderful that we almost went along with it! A great evening.

Friday, 9 September 2016


I did another quiz today. This one was meant to be in Bristol, but a last minute change of location found me heading to Hungerford instead. Hungerford is a pretty little town, which ought to be in Wiltshire, but I have a feeling is in Berkshire. For people of my generation it will always be the place where Michael Ryan ran amok shooting people in, I think, 1988. About fifteen people were murdered. It was the first time this country had ever had a mass shooting and the fact that it took place in a peaceful rural town made it all the more shocking and difficult to comprehend. Every time I pass through that town I feel the weight of its history. Then I laugh like an imbecile because there's a car showrooms in the town called "Dick Lovitt."

The quiz was a lot of fun. There were only six tables, so marking the papers was a doddle, although the quiz master rattled through the answers so quickly, I started to wonder how I've managed to mark three times this number of quiz sheets in previous gigs.

The drive to Hungerford was fine. Longer than anticipated. I don't much like driving. As I get older I'm more aware of the dangers of the activity. I think we all become increasingly risk averse the older we get. And the older we get, the slower our reaction times become, so it's hardly surprising really. I've never been much of a driver. I tend to drive at the speed of the music I'm listening to. I always have. Fiona once pointed this particular fact out to me as we were driving along the M1 on our way to (probably) Coventry to busk. I'd managed to slow down to about 40 miles per hour whilst listening to Arvo Pärt and then immediately broken the sound barrier when ABBA's Summer Night City came on. To make matters worse I was tapping the accelerator in time to the music!

I did manage to catch an episode of The Archers as I drove today, which is rare for me because I'm not yet ancient enough to appreciate that show. I've caught bits of it here and there but until today have never heard my mate Annabelle saying anything despite her having been a regular for something like fifteen years. Today she offered to drive someone home from court. I was thrilled. Thrilled I tell you.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Acrid winds

I've spent the day today scoring music for a Brass medley in the forthcoming National Youth Music Theatre gala concert, which, for the record, takes place on October 30th. They're celebrating 40 years of existence. The orchestra for the concert is larger than the pit orchestra for Brass, so I'm expanding the orchestrations to include a wind section. Friends, colleagues and regular readers of this blog will know how much I hate wind instruments. They make such a ghastly noise. I'm literally forcing myself to add them to the sonic equation. The problem with wind instruments is that, whatever you do with them, they end up sounding like 1970s sitcoms or cruddy Broadway shows. They are so unbelievably lacking in versatility. A bassoon will always remind you of Ivor the Engine, an oboe will always sound like the moment the barricade revolves in Les Mis, piccolos are Frank Spencer and a wind ensemble is either the music to that dreadful show with Hyacinth Bouquet or Peter And the Wolf - which isn't, admittedly, a 1970s theme tune. Wind instruments provide nothing but comedy sounds, or, in the case of the oboe, fake mournfulness. Even the word wind is silly. The instruments even effect the way that people look. Players often have odd lips. Flautists are genetic predisposed to have long blonde hair. I could go on...

I realise this is all deeply subjective and I very much appreciate that I'm the one with he problem. I should probably go into therapy. But by adding wind to the Brass orchestrations, I am attempting to tackle my intolerance head on. Perhaps the players will make such a glorious noise that I'll instantly be converted. Or maybe the fact that I simply can't think of anything to do with them will mean, if they do sound rubbish, it will all be my fault. Maybe I need a one on one session with a bassoonist to see if they make anything other than duck or train noises. Pah pa pah. That's my impression of a bassoon.

I worked through til 7pm when I decided to do a load of cooking in time for the Great British Bake Off. I had it all planned. I'd cook some biscuits, make some pasta, and everything would be ready for 8pm. At about 7.55 all hell broke loose. The pasta wasn't ready, the biscuits were still dough and the Halloumi on the pan was starting to curl up. I sat back down at my computer to send one email, "what the hell's that smell?" Asked Nathan. He threw open the oven door and acrid black smoke filled the room. The biscuits had gone from anaemic to charcoal in a matter of seconds. I tried to photograph them and the carbon shimmered in the flash like stars in the night sky. Straight into the bin they went, like one of Fiona's experimental wheat-free loaves. Moments later the pasta turned soggy and started to fry. It was a culinary disaster of epic proportions and we ended up having to watch Bake Off on catch up, with a fresh batch of biscuits, huge, wet lumps of pasta and rock hard Halloumi. The bake off was good though. Bread week. I'd love to bake bread but I think we need a new oven before I'll consider making anything but biscuits.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Mr Vaz

I read with a sigh about Keith Vaz today. I am so profoundly bored of the press thinking it's somehow their duty to talk about (homo)sexuality in a titivating manner. Ask yourself one simple question: is British politics a safer place now that Vaz has resigned from being the chair of the home affairs select committee? It it worth ignoring all the good he's done for the sake of a quick fix of moral indignation and a few giggles? Is a man who grapples with his sexuality on the occasional Saturday night really unable to govern? Frankly, the only people who should even venture to give a stuff about Vaz' "sordid" sex life are his family, and they certainly don't need to have his indiscretions listed in minute detail. No one should care. We all play the mock shock card, muttering how much we feel for his poor wife and children, but if we really felt for them, we wouldn't be writing about the situation in the papers. His wife and children are probably as humiliated as Vaz himself. How about we protect the innocent people here? This is a painful business which surely needs to be sorted out in private. If we really cared about Maria Fernandez, the headlines would talk about her pain, but instead they lead with what Vaz was meant to have said to the rent boy: "don't forget to bring the poppers..."

The whole business of creating honey traps for the purpose of column inches makes my blood boil. It's so very 1980s and really needs to be stamped out. No one is perfect. People have affairs all the time. None of us would stand up to scrutiny, no matter how holier than thou we all feel we are. We need colourful characters in politics. We need leaders, and by their very nature, leaders have flaws. By all means sack him for arsing up the economy, or for fiddling the books, or for breaking the law, but we absolutely need to move on from this nonsense or else the politicians who govern us will be boring, bland and ultimately ineffectual. I hope Keith, Maria and their family can sort their problems out and that he can continue to do what he does best: Govern this country.


I forgot to blog last night. It's hardly surprising, I got home at about 1am having, several times, nearly fallen asleep at the wheel. I was in Birmingham, doing some quiz work, which is something I enjoy enormously.

The day was very much one of thirds. I spent the morning working and then met my parents at Tottenham Hale station. They were down in London for the day to see the Daniel Barenboim prom (which apparently was magnificent.) I was trying to think of something to do with them they'd not done before. They are, without question, the most enthusiastic and appreciative people I know, so showing them new places is a real treat.

I took them for a walk into Highgate Woods and we ate lunch in the lovely cafe in the clearing there. We strolled up to Muswell Hill via the Parkland Walk with its stunning views across London. You can see as far as (and further than) the Olympic park. The houses, parks and buildings in between stretch out in mauves, greys and greens like a giant pointillist painting.

We came back via the woods, and marvelled at quite how green north London is. Great swathes of forest and woodland cut through the concrete and red brick buildings. The very lungs of our city.

The journey to Birmingham was terrifying. I used my satnav and, despite travelling at around the speed limit for much of the early part of the trip, the predicted arrival time got later and later with messages flashing up telling me that traffic was "getting considerably worse." My predicted arrival time went from 6.18 to 6.30 to 6.50 to 7.30. My blood ran cold. Then the estimated arrival started randomly and wildly oscillating and flashing like a cheap set of Christmas lights. I had no idea what was going on, I just knew I didn't like it.

Fortunately, a sneaky last-minute decision to drive through Coventry meant that I arrived on time. Birmingham never impresses me. As I was walking to the hotel from the car park, an ear-splitting message was shouted over a loud hayler. It sounded like something from the third Reich. I instantly froze, assuming it was aimed at me, or that it was police yelling at me to hit the deck because some sort of mad gunman was on the loose. I couldn't work out what the voice was saying but deduced it was something to do with the man weeing behind a concrete wall, who started aggressively shouting back. It was all very weird, and more than a little unsettling.

The quiz went well though. That was fun. I was the helper, which means I mark papers, generate little stats and generally do everything the quiz master is too busy to do himself. I was horrified upon arrival, when one of the clients walked into me with a full wine glass. She had lightning fast reactions and managed to avoid spilling the contents of the glass, but wasn't at all interested in seeing the funny side, which basically turned me into a bumbling Hugh Grant, all apologies and embarrassed streams of nonsense words.

It takes a while to get into the mind set of very speedily marking quiz sheets. It's actually all about looking at the answer sheet in peripheral vision. The wrong answers kind of ping out. At least they do for me.

The journey home was uneventful, which made it dangerous for my tired eyes. There were definitely a few occasions when I suddenly found myself veering slightly into another lane before getting one of those adrenaline bolts these situations generate. It had been a very long day.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Burning lavender

Well what a very charming day we've had! This morning Abbie and Tina came up to Highgate and, after grabbing a few takeaway cups of tea from the little orange-fronted cafe below our house, we jumped in a car and sailed up the M1 to Hitchin.

We picked Julie up from the train station there and drove to the neighbouring village of Ickleford where there is a lavender farm. We caught it on the last day of the season, which has apparently been quite a bad one this year due to a very wet May.

The joy of the Hitchin Lavender Farm is that you pay £4.50, they hand you a bag and some scissors, and you can go along the rows of lavender in an enormous field picking as much as you want. It's a really rather pleasurable and peaceful experience. The smell of the flowers fills your lungs, and you walk through clouds of very happy bees looking out across the Hertfordshire countryside. When the season is at its height the aroma is apparently overwhelming, and everything is purple as far as the eye can see. It wasn't quite like that today, but there was certainly enough lavender to more than fill our bags.

Nathan also managed to fill his beard with lavender stems! He looked rather fetching, and the flowers stayed put in his beard all day. They're still there now. I think flowers work rather well in a big bushy beard. It sounds rather eccentric, and it probably is, but I think he looks very cool and bohemian, particularly now that he's just finished knitting a big slouchy hat, which came off the needles and went onto his bonce as I was driving there this morning.

After we'd filled our bags with flowers, we sat outside the lovely on-site cafe and gorged ourselves on delicious tea and cakes before buying some pots of lavender which I'm hoping to plant under the tree in our garden to encourage bees. I want bees in abundance.

We dropped Julie off at the station and drove back into town, parking by the British museum, where we said goodbye to Tina. Abbie, Nathan and I walked along Endell Street specifically to get bags of chips from the legendary Rock and Sole Plaice (see what they did there?) I still maintain these chips are the best chips in London. They're enormously fat - almost an inch across and a good half-centimetre thick. They're a great treat to have whilst walking through Covent Garden.

We met Jack Reitman from the first cast of Brass on Waterloo Bridge and wandered down to the Embankment directly opposite the OXO building, where the crowning glory of the Great Fire of London anniversary celebrations was taking place. I don't know who comes up with these ideas, but this one was every bit as exciting as the poppies at the Tower of London.

Someone, God knows whom, had built a 400 ft long replica of the City of London as it looked before the fire in 1666. The replica city was placed on an industrial barge in the middle of the Thames and, at 8.30pm, they set fire to it. For the next forty five glorious minutes we stood and watched London burn. It was an astonishing sight. Little explosions saw building after building burst into flames. Churches. Town houses. Halls. The fire spread West and then back East again, just as the real fire had traveled. The crowd sang London's Burning and cheered as steeples became engulfed and collapsed into the flames. The old St Paul's went up like a Christmas tree. The air filled with little specks of flame, which Pepys would have called "fire drops." It was a deeply moving experience and I was instantly reminded of Pepys' account of his trip to a tavern on the south side of the Thames where he sat and watched London burn: "in corners and upon steeples and between churches and houses as far as we could see up the hill of the City. Horrid and malicious bloody flame."

Pepys wrote about great arcs of fire and we saw them tonight. We heard the snapping of the flames "a horrid noise the flames made and the crackle of the houses at their ruine" and felt the heat of the fire, "all over the Thames with your face in the wind you were almost burned with a shower of fire drops." I can't begin to explain how impressive it all was and how grateful I was to Abbie for suggesting that we went.

Believe it or not, this is a photograph and not a painting. Nathan took it on his phone. How astounding is that?!