Saturday, 24 June 2017

Vera

I ended up at my old friend Vera's house today. I'd been on something of an epic journey which involved a trip to Primrose Hill which is a very lovely part of London. It's one of those fancy bits of town which is almost exclusively the reserve of pop musicians. Its beautiful Georgian streets hum with happening privilege! It's very cut off from its surroundings, "protected" by a railway line to the north, Camden Market to the east and Regents Park to the south. No one passes through Primrose Hill. It's a bit like Dartmouth Park in that regard. You go there if you live there or if you're the right sort of person to visit one of its fancy pubs or bars.

Vera suddenly popped into my head and it struck me that I was close enough to her house to pop in. I last saw her at Arnold's funeral last year and it was the first time I'd seen her in an age. I promised to visit her more regularly and have felt bad for some time for not yet popping by. I didn't want to drop in unannounced, so spent the longest time trying to dredge up her phone number from the dark recesses of my mind. A number sprung to mind and I decided that I'd call it. I wasn't at all convinced it would be the right one.

I was fairly astonished therefore when Vera's husband Bob answered and I immediately organised to pop in. Bob said that he'd talked about me only that morning, so I felt as though I'd made the right decision.

He opened the door. He looks fantastic. He must be way over 90, but he's incredibly upright and vital. If anything I think he looked younger than he had when I last saw him. Vera also looks well, but she doesn't talk much. I think she understands everything. She seemed thrilled to see me. Sometimes you get the impression that she's struggling a little to follow the gist of the conversation. Other times I felt perhaps that talking was just a bit too much effort. And God knows we've all been there!

We were joined by a very pleasant Chatty Cathy called Doris for the second half of the visit. She was a German journalist who'd know Vera since 1980 and didn't seem at all impressed that I'd known her for "just" 22 years!

The time flew. We had a cup of tea, and then I felt it was time to go home. I left the house with past memories crashing through my mind. It was at Vera's house that I first met my idol, Billie Whitelaw. I remember trying to tie knots in cherry stalks there with my partner Stephen Twigg. I remember learning the word "kedgeree"' there, and watching poor Nathan eating tripe, and reading poetry with Sam Becker. Days with Arnold and Dusty Wesker. And Hedi. And Fritz. And Sandy Lean. There was always something going on. Highbrow conversations. Wonderful roast dinners.

Whilst I'm in a wistful mood, I discovered yesterday that Doreen Brigham has died at the astonishingly ripe old age of 105. Yorkshire folk in particular will know Doreen as the wonderful Harrogate woman who provided lyrics for Sing a Song of Yorkshire, the last movement of my Symphony for Yorkshire. She was 98 at the time, and the good folk of the county absolutely took her to their hearts on account of the moving third verse of her poem, which I leave as a tribute to her:

"And when I’ve done my roaming, and when my step grows slow;
When heart and mind assure me that will soon be time to go,
Then let me rest in Yorkshire, for it’s there I want to lie
‘Neath the sun and the wind and the heather… and a gleaming Yorkshire sky."

Sleep well under the Yorkshire sky, Doreen.

Friday, 23 June 2017

A day away

I saw the front cover of the Guardian newspaper today which showed a group of lads at a school in the south west who'd decided to beat the heatwave by turning up to school in regulation skirts because they weren't allowed to wear shorts. The skirts actually looked quite woolly and probably, as a result, not the coolest items of clothing in the world, but they were making a protest, so the point was made. The story heartened me greatly. Obviously it would have been a far more glorious statement had the lads been supporting a trans girl or fighting for gender equality rather than simply putting a finger up to teachers, but certainly, in my day, no school boy would have been seen dead in a skirt, whatever beef he had with his teachers. We are entering an era, I hope, where men can express themselves visually however they choose. Young lads who want to wear skirts, either for comfort reasons or because they're not that bothered by gender stereotyping, should be free to do so, just as women should be able to wear trousers as and when it suits them.

I saw a young trans-woman on the tube yesterday who looked so fabulous I felt the need to congratulate her. She had a mountain of glorious, blonde, naturally-curly hair piled high on the top of her head, and was wearing a floor length black dress, cut daringly enough to accentuate the fact that she hadn't yet gone down the surgery or hormone route. Perhaps she never will. Part of me hopes she'll always feel happy with a gender fluid identity. The more androgynous that some people opt to look, the less pressure others will feel to be at the polarised ends of the gender spectrum. I personally want to live in a world where ten percent of people are hyper-masculine, ten percent are hyper-feminine and everyone else is happily somewhere in the middle. And one day, I suspect, the same will be true of sexuality.

I spent the entire day today out of the house. I had a meeting first with Wendy at Central School to talk about Em, before heading to Shepherds Bush where I met Michael. We had a gloriously long walk along the south side of the Thames from Hammersmith Bridge all the way to Chiswick and then back along the north side. We stopped for a drink in Barnes and had a little picnic on some steps leading down to the river. The Thames was incredibly high today and as we ate our picnic, a boat came past which created waves which came right over the bank, almost carrying our food back to Central London!

Some of the houses along that stretch of the river are to die for. I spent ages staring at them in awe, wishing I lived there. "You better get writing" said Michael, helpfully!

I took the North London line to Hampstead Heath from Shepherd's Bush. The train takes you right past the Grenfell Tower, which has become so iconic in the last week or so. We all know the shape that the fire made as it cut through the building. Seeing it in the flesh through a train window was a little like seeing it on a television screen: I was somehow still one step removed. But it's certainly a deeply chilling sight, one which I suspect West Londoners will need to get used to because I can't see them knocking it down any time soon.

I met Philippa in a Turkish restaurant in South End Green. We worked out that it was the first time we'd been out,just the two of us, since before her second daughter Silver was born. I suggested we get pissed and then did magic mushrooms on Hampstead Heath but in the end we had a lovely two course meal, Philippa drank rosé, I had a sparkling mineral water and then we went for a lovely walk, at a nice slow pace because Philippa was wearing wedge heels.

We met a young woman, lost and wandering aimlessly by the tree with a hole in it. It was getting dark and I'm not sure it was a very good place to be lost. She was trying to find friends. They'd dropped a pin to show their location and sent it to her phone, but when she tried to put it in Google maps everything went wrong. In the end I asked to speak to her friend to ascertain what he could see in order to establish where he was, "grass, trees..." he said. Useless. "What can you see on the horizon?" I asked. "More grass and trees..." In the end, I managed to work out where he was from the dropped pin and, because I know the place so well, was able to take her to him. Turns out he hadn't noticed he was sitting next to Boudicca's Mount - an ancient tumulus surrounded by a fence. He'd also not noticed a pond at the bottom of the hill, or Highgate church looming large on the horizon. Frankly, he didn't deserve to be found!

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Terrorism?

I read a report yesterday, which I'm sadly unable to find again, which said that a rather large percentage of British people didn't think the attack at Finsbury Park was an act of terrorism. There's been some sort of survey. God knows who these people are that provide the statistic-hungry media with figures they can spin for their own advantage. I've never been asked my views on anything like this. Anyway, the figures are being held up by left wing press as an indication that the British public are inherently Islamophobic. And, of course, this could well be true. The feeling is that the media almost immediately reported Manchester and London Bridge as terrorist attacks but that it took them way too long to report Finsbury Park in the same way. I'm not sure I entirely agree. I've not heard it described as anything other than terrorism. Almost pointedly so.

Islamophobia is undeniably a huge issue in the U.K. at the moment. But I believe we've mistakenly started to use the word "terrorism" as a catch-all to define anything which causes terror, rather than as the word was intended to be used.

It's a little unclear, but there does seem to be a basic universal definition of the word terrorism:

"Terrorism is the use of violence or threat of violence especially against civilians in the pursuit of political aims, religious, or ideological change."

By this definition, I would struggle to call Finsbury Park a terrorist attack. As previously stated in this blog, I believe we need to define it as a hate crime. This makes it no less terrifying. No less unacceptable. And, in fact, by describing it as a hate crime against Muslim people, I believe we're sending out a much clearer message that there's a specific problem with Islamophobia in this country.

I previously mentioned Orlando as an example of a crime against my own community which, in my view, people were too fast to describe as terrorism. By defining it this way, it somehow becomes a universal attack on us - an attack on Western values - and homophobia gets swept under the carpet. Yes the gunman may well have pledged allegiance to Isis. Isis merely gave him an excuse. The fact was that he was closeted gay, in deep turmoil, and took everything out on a community which he'd loosely been a member of. There was nothing remotely ideological about his actions.

Journalist Owen Jones famously walked away from a Sky News interview when the anchorwoman started to claim that this particular attacker could have chosen any bar, and just "happened" to pick a gay one. It was extremely insulting because it effectively denied that there was a specific issue with homo and trans phobia in the US.

So, look, I have every sympathy for those who want to call Finsbury Park a terrorist attack because they think it's a way of making this a universal issue. But actually, Finsbury Park was simply an attack on Muslim people by a white man with a grudge. And we have to remember that. There was nothing remotely ideological about his actions.


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Audra and Billie

There is nothing like hot weather to zap every inch of energy out of a person. I woke up with chronic shoulder pain as a result of my pillow becoming so laden with sweat that I was forced to prop it up with my hand all night.

Nathan continues to be ill. We went to A and E yesterday and were, mercifully, told there was nothing untoward going on, so I suspect he's just going to have to sit it out and wait for the hell to pass. He seemed rather chipper this morning, but retired to bed this afternoon.

We seem to have an enormous problem with fly-tipping in the alleyway leading to our house. About a week ago, twenty black bin bags were dumped on the path, entirely blocking our way. Most are filled with leaves. Some are filled with masonry. There are no lights in the alley, so, at night, we trip over the bin bags and they split. Their contents have spilled out all over the pathway. Unfortunately for us, the footpath is privately owned by the owners of the properties which back onto it, none of whom actually live there because they're all rented out as shops and flats. Because it's not a public right of way, Haringey council refuses to help us. Today I spent hours trying to get through to the health and safety people. My neighbour tried yesterday and was held in a queue for an hour. When I phoned today, a recorded message informed me that the call volume was too high even for me to be placed in a queue. I'm not altogether sure how a Heath and Safety department in a council can operate like that. It's all very curious and incredibly frustrating.

This evening I came into town to meet Matt. The poor bloke couldn't get more than a few feet without being stopped and asked for a selfie. I'm not sure I'd ever have the gall to walk up to a complete stranger and ask for their photo, but I guess it's all part of the circus attached to stardom. Matt is always so gracious. I guess if you get snippy, people instantly call you a diva and take your picture anyway.

We were in town to see Audra McDonald's blistering performance as Billy Holiday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill." The show has transferred from Broadway where it won McDonald her sixth (count them) Tony award and there is no doubt in my mind that this particular award wasn't wholly deserved. The show is brutally painful and portrays Holiday in the last few months of her life: a nervous shell, high, drunk and not coping with life.

I didn't know much about Billie Holiday but didn't need to to enjoy the piece. All the information I needed was there. She had a pretty desperate life. She went to jail, she was raped as a child, she had a succession of bad egg husbands, she suffered untold prejudice. As a "coloured" performer, she was banned from going to the loo at one gig because there was only one loo in the building for black people, and that was for male staff members. We none of us know that we're born.

We went backstage to meet Audra afterwards, and she told us that Holiday used to really like coming to the UK because people treated her so much better over here. It was a real treat to meet her. She's a Broadway icon, one of the world's greatest singers, and this is the first time she's come to the West End to do a run of theatre shows. This was only her second preview. She's such a lovely woman. Warm. Interested. Intelligent. Her love and respect for Holiday shines through.

I wholeheartedly recommend this show. Move heaven and earth to see McDonald perform.


Monday, 19 June 2017

Gee

It's boiling hot today. Boiling hot. It was boiling hot yesterday as well. By the end of the day I'd almost melted. My pillow was solid with sweat when I woke up. I didn't do anything all day yesterday. I moped about a bit, feeling flat and a little sorry for myself, waiting for Nathan to get back from an interminable rehearsal. I should have found myself something to do. I should have been walking, swimming or picnicking on the Heath.

I woke up this morning to the news that there's been another terrorist attack in London. This one seems to have been carried out by an Islamaphobe. I was incredibly moved to read that the attacker was protected from an angry mob by an Imam. For some reason I find myself wanting to refer to this particular attack as a hate crime rather than an act of terrorism. I think an element of planning and ideology is required for something to be defined as terrorism. By that token I wouldn't describe the Orlando attack as terrorism. It was a hate crime against gay people. I think the term terrorism actually waters down the essential facts, which in the case of Finsbury Park is that a man who hates Muslim people decided to kill Muslim people. It was specifically an act of Islamophobia and it's important that we treat it as such.

Obviously, we don't know any true information about the perpetrator. He may well have been part of some ghastly white supremacist group. However the attack is defined, it's ghastly and it shouldn't be happening and, I predict, it will do nothing other than bring Londoners further together.

True to form, The Sun newspaper didn't have news of the attack on its front page. I was actually fairly shocked, particular as their headline instead was about Ant from Ant and Dec going into rehab. Great to know these newspapers that are so pro Brexit and so right wing have such integrity when it comes to reporting news.

The other piece of news today was that the number of people killed in the Grenfell Tower has risen to 80. Those who have lost their homes are to be given £5500 by the government, which seems like a brutally small amount. These people have been treated in a disgusting way. I've read about one (relatively young) bloke being sent to an old people's home. Others are in hotels and have no idea whether they'll be rehoused in the area.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Done and dusted

I took my first ever night tube today at 3am. Celebrations after Em found me out west, and actually close enough to Grenfell Tower to see it, looming in the distance: a charred silhouette against the night sky. The housing blocks around it were lit up like Christmas trees. Scores of lights denoting scores of lives. But Grenfell was dead. Pitch black. Blacker than the sky. I was actually quite shocked by the sight of it. I think it's probably the knowledge that it's essentially a very public mausoleum. There are still goodness knows how many dead people in there and it feels somewhat brutal that they're suspended in mid-air rather than being with their families.

I suppose I'm in something of a reflective mood. Em is over. The run is complete. We went out on a corking, emotionally-charged performance. I actually ended up chatting to a lovely chap from the Royal Theatre in Northampton afterwards so didn't get a chance to see people leaving the theatre. It was incredibly hot in there, so it became a little difficult to know whether people were weeping or sweating profusely! The two performances today were accompanied by the sight and sound of audience members furiously wafting their programmes as fans. There's something about my shows which seem to generate inclemently hot weather conditions. Last year's performances of Brass took place in a mega heatwave and I remember a university production of The Crucible sending the audience into a complete torpor, largely because we'd creosoted half of the set the night before the show opened which meant dangerous petro-chemical fumes were dancing in the heavy, sweat-laden air.

Most of the films I've made have also been shot in heatwaves. I burned to a crisp making A Symphony for Yorkshire.

Theatre can be a brutal industry. You spend hours and hours rehearsing a show and then, just like that, everything comes to an end. Em is the product of a year of almost solid writing and probably another six months of fairly intensive research. It could well be that those six performances represent the only public outing for the show. Despite my best endeavours Brass has only been performed eight times despite some of the best reviews I've ever read for a piece of theatre. And yet a cheap and nasty jukebox show like Mowtown hurtles towards a thousand performances.

I nevertheless feel incredibly proud of Em. Various people have described it as epic, which I rather like, especially as I'd wondered whether it was a little "kitchen sink" in its outlook. Almost everyone has described it as highly moving. Some say it's more moving than Brass, despite no one actually dying in Em and my continued belief that it's a fairly light-hearted piece (until the end.) I was highly touched by one of the students from one of the lower years at Central sidling up to me and gushing his praise for the piece, "I'm a working class Northerner" he said, "it touched me like nothing has before..."

I feel so proud of the cast. Some of them have grown beyond all measure during the experience. I was thrilled with them all, and very honoured to have written the last show they'll ever perform together as a year group. I ducked out of their after show party. I'm a bit too old for student union antics and felt they probably needed to let their hair down without me cramping their style. They'd all dolled themselves up and were looking terribly glamorous when I last saw them. I bet they won't be looking quite as sharp when they get home tonight!!

Right! I'm at Archway. I think it's time for me to sign off. Night tubes are hugely efficient. I thought I'd be hanging about for hours. Actually I've sped my way home.

Night all. Look after your loved ones.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Family

Yesterday my family came to see Em. It was a somewhat surreal experience all round. Readers of this blog will already know that the story of Em is based on the experience of my own mother in Liverpool in 1965. To have her in the audience alongside the very child that she gave birth to in that dark period was extremely moving... for them, for me, for the cast, and, no doubt, for the rest of the audience. I made a little announcement at the end to say both "Fred" and "Em" were in the audience and there was a hugely respectful and lengthy applause for them.

Both dealt extremely well with what could have been a deeply troublesome experience. Though obviously very moved, and, at times, disturbed, they were gracious throughout. I think my Mum rather enjoyed the references to Warwickshire and seemed surprised both by how accurate the story was in places, and by how much artistic license I'd taken with it elsewhere. The character of Bron, for example, was an amalgam of two Welsh girls that my Mum lived with at the time. Illya, who, in the show is a working class Liverpudlian book shop owner, was actually a PHD student in real life! But then, periodically, she'd turn to me and say things like, "did I tell you that the landlady was a Shirley Bassey fan?"

The audience response was overwhelming. There were many tears, particularly during the matinee. My mate Michelle was in pieces. I think the show taps into all sorts of unresolved issues for people, largely relating to lost love in all of its forms.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Two down...

There was a horrible burning smell at Highgate tube this morning. I have no idea what it was, but it royally gave me the collywobbles. I think all Londoners have the right to feel a little jumpy at the moment. We've not had a good run of it of late.

...So we are two shows down now with four to go. I can't think what I'll do with myself when it's all over. I think last night was was fairy typical second night show. Nothing awful happened, but the cast were a tiny bit under-energised after the adrenaline injection of the first night which followed a day of rehearsals. An actor has to sort of psych his or her way back into performance mode when he's effectively had a day off.

There were some wonderful moments. In some cases the cast are literally ripping themselves apart for the pleasure of the audience. Because they're often less than a metre away from audience members, this can be a hugely exciting experience.

The response from the crowd was great. I had a lot of people in. Jake and Pippa, Michael and his crew, Matt Lucas, Anthony, Little Michelle and her dad, Julie, Sam, Nathan... the large numbers of friends abs colleague who are attending this show has made me feel very loved. I'm a little disappointed more producers and artistic directors haven't come, however. I hear time and time again from industry stalwarts that no one is putting on good, or innovative musical theatre, but they entirely base their remarks on the lamentable trash that's presently happening in the West End. It's incredibly depressing. I'm not trying to claim that Em is the greatest new musical of the 21st Century (it's the second best, after Brass) but I do feel it at least deserves to be seen! One of the problems with UK producers these days is that it always has to be their idea.

My prediction is that today's matinee will be good and that tonight's show will properly take off as the cast begin to find their feet.

I once worked with a director who believed the optimum performance in a show's run is the 40th. Up until this point everyone is learning the show and discovering what works, and beyond then, things begin to go stale. I think perhaps there's mileage in the idea. There's nothing worse than watching a long running show when it feels like actors are phoning their performances in.

Right. Back to the grindstone.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

PrEMiere!

Yesterday marked the world premiere of Em. Hannah spoke to the cast, just after the dress rehearsal, and told them all to enjoy the experience of telling a story for the first time because there would be so few moments in their lives where they'd get that particular opportunity. In the case of Em there haven't even been any workshops, so yesterday night was the first opportunity anyone got to see how an audience would react to the show. Which lines would land? Would people laugh? Cry? Look bored?

Young Josh became my personal first pair of ears and eyes after coming to the dress rehearsal. We met beforehand and sat, drinking tea, outside the venue. "I can't believe how laid back you are" he said. Josh remembers the mayhem surrounding the first production of Brass up in Leeds. I've never known a more stressful couple of days!

By comparison, Em has been a breeze. The creative team has been brilliant to work with but I guess I've also slightly changed the way I deal with these things and am far more of a mind where I think it will be what it is and all I can do is do my best (without actually losing my mind!)

The show went incredibly well. There were some wonderfully friendly faces in the audience. Little Welsh Nathalie, friends from student drama (some of whom had done the reading a few weeks ago), Adam Jay from New York, Jeremy Walker, Ben Mabberley, my agent...

They all made the right noises, as did the audience in general. I tend to run away a bit during an interval as it's actually a little disconcerting to hear audience members discussing your piece without knowing that you're actually the writer. The cast were buzzing at the end of the show. I think they've suddenly realised they have a show which is worth doing well. A show that people love.

The day was, of course, marred by the terrible fire in the housing block in West London, which is probably only a couple of miles from Central School. An acrid smell drifted across the district at one point which I'm pretty sure was attached to the incident. Friends closer to the area say the smell was unbearable.

I watched the news for the first time this morning and was utterly devastated by the stories. I can't imagine how terrified people must have been on the upper floors, literally waiting to die. The stories of people throwing their babies out of windows are utterly soul-destroying. I can't actually bear it. I was intrigued to see pictures of visits to the area by May and Corbyn. May looked aloof and uncomfortable as she talked to emergency services. Jeremy Corbyn was hugging people. He seems so much more natural. He feels like one of us whilst she seems like a ghastly robot. Totally out of touch.

I feel a change within this country. People are rallying around one another. Terrorist attacks are unifying people: making people care more about one another and watch out for each other. I think the days are numbered where the rich get richer and the little people get shat on. People are rallying. A man on the telly today was highly critical of the (highly-wealthy) Kensington council: "they can find 200 extra people for a pointless recount to try to keep a Tory MP in power, but they can't find 200 people to co-ordinate the distribution of the perishable goods which people are dropping off at the help centres."

Hannah pointed out yesterday that we're probably all going to remember the rehearsal period of Em as a period of great unrest. Since rehearsals started we've had two major terrorist attacks, a snap general election and a this dreadful fire. The UK has been almost continually in world news.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Nearly there

Yesterday started with a charming breakfast with Jem who's over from New York where he's been living for four years. He looks extraordinary; he's lost a load of weight and is radiating happiness and confidence. New York agrees with him. We spoke for some time about the musical theatre industry over there. The fact that it just works. There are countless opportunities for performers and a huge amount of investment in new musical theatre writing. There are scores of professional theatres in every State who only want to put on musicals. People genuinely care about the art form. It makes me weep when I think about what's going on over here by comparison. The Equity minimum for a performer on Broadway is $1900 a week (probably about £1300.) Over here it's about £500.

Nevertheless Jem says that the moment he touched down in London he realised how much he's missed living here. He mentioned how happy the accents make him feel, and how he'd forgotten how lovely it is to sit in a quiet train compartment. Not sure that's quite my own experience of British train travel, but I'll take any compliment about this country right now.

Anyway, aside from making me feel almost sick with envy, seeing Jem was an absolute buzz. I've missed him.

The last session of the technical rehearsal took place in the late morning and afternoon, and everything went slowly, but surely. I'm beginning to get a sense that we're sitting on something rather special and am excited to see how the cast respond to the energy of an audience. It feels rather odd to think that we're almost done now.

In the late morning I had an offer to attend the Jerusalem film festival next month, which feels like an incredibly good idea in the light of the fact that I'm presently working with Michael to try to pitch a film about Tel Aviv to Israeli producers. An hour later I'd impetuously booked a flight to Israel, knowing that you sometimes have to do these things straight away before the sensible part of your brain tells you what a silly idea it is because you're poor! I've obviously made the right decision as a series of meetings have already been fixed. Also: how exciting to go to Israel!

In the evening we were meant to have a dress rehearsal, but Hannah felt time would much better be spent running all of the numbers for sound. We have another dress this afternoon, and she rightly felt that it could be really demoralising if we had to keep ploughing on regardless, knowing that huge mistakes were happening that it would be almost impossible to fix without stopping and starting again. Her instincts were absolutely right and I left the rehearsal feeling much more upbeat about things. So much, in fact, that my legs started to feel a bit fizzy and I decided to walk all the way home. Across the Heath! It took an hour and a half. Nathan forced me to have a bath when I got home. I think I smelt a bit!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Pulling together?

I find myself incredibly moved by the large-scale political mobilisation of young people which is taking place at the moment. Finally, a vociferous and powerful collective voice to rise up against pointless austerity measures and the complacency and "I'm-alright-Jackness" of many of the Baby Boomers, whose total disregard for anyone but themselves is tasteless in the extreme. 

For the record, it is NOT okay to have a really decent pension deal for yourself and then block the younger generation from having the same privilege. It is NOT okay to buy your council house and then stand by, tutting at poor people and calling them lazy, when the government says it can't afford more social housing. And it is certainly not okay to vote Brexit when your children and grandchildren urge you not to because they are the ones who have to live with the fall out. Being old does not inherently make you wise, it simply makes you more. The older I get, the more I realise this. So, frankly, if older people aren't prepared to take responsibility for the young, then young people need to take it for themselves. And these Baby Boomers would only have themselves to blame if young people got into power and immediately cut pensioner benefits, arguing that this particular generation has done well enough out of benefits. Of course they won't do that, because young people appear to have a better grasp of social responsibility... and that makes me happy.

Of course it's not all Baby Boomers. Of course it's not. I feel incredibly proud of my parents, for example, who displayed a Labour poster in their window despite the impossibility of a Labour MP ever representing constituency. And there are many other people of their generation who care just as much, and my thanks go to anyone reading this blog aged over 70 who has given thought to how hard it is to be young at the moment. You are the people with nothing to gain out of being generous. And that, in my view, is true altruism.

Frankly, anyone who is still supporting the Tories as they climb into bed with nutters of the DUP and dangerously undermine the Good Friday agreement, needs to have their head examined. If there's a sudden surge of Irish-related violence, then you will all have blood on your hands. If you genuinely have more interest in ripping us away from Europe then you do the peace of our own union then please delete me from your lives. I have nothing to say to you without getting into an argument.

We went to a coffee shop today where two newspapers, The Mirror and The Express were sitting at the same table. Obviously both of these comics have very different political outlooks, and the way that both were dealing with the recent election told me as much as I needed to know about the reason why the country is so polarised. The (left-leaning) Mirror showed a photograph of Corbyn looking presidential with the headline "we will evict Number 10 squatters" whilst the right-wing Express opined, "we need to calm down and pull together, says Boris."

What hope do we ever have of pulling together if newspapers aren't responsible enough to state fact without hyperbole?

Monday, 12 June 2017

Best songs and singing

Nathan and I headed down to central London this afternoon to attend the Stephen Sondheim Society's Student Performer of the Year competition at the Noel Coward Theatre. The competition is run in conjunction with the Stiles and Drewe Prize for best new song, for which Brass had been shortlisted.

The idea is that twelve students cherry-picked from drama schools across the country compete for the award of performer of the year, by singing a Sondheim song and a song by a new British writer. I was lucky enough to have a young lad called Rob Peacock singing Brass, and he did a stunning job of it. In the end it didn't win. I think perhaps my song came close as it was singled out for a shedload of praise from George Stiles who said "it was a really beautiful song with such reach and melodic power." The team from Rogers and Hammerstein were there. They publish Brass and came bounding up to me afterwards to say how beautiful the song had sounded. I think a fair number of people were surprised that the piece worked so well with just a piano.

Bizarrely, I knew all the judges, who included Dan Gillespie Sells, lead singer from The Feeling who, of course, sang us up the aisle.

In the end the contest was won by a very charming song called Gerry and Me, which was beautifully written, despite perhaps owing quite a lot to Jason Robert Brown.

The performer prize was won by Izuka Hoyle, who is plainly destined for great things. She's stunningly beautiful, and has one of the best sets of pipes I've heard in ages.

There was an after show in the penthouse in a swanky hotel on Leicester Square where two cokes cost an outrageous £7.70! The views over London were, however, stunning.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The DUP?!

So it would appear that Theresa May has got into bed with the ghastly DUP in a last-ditched attempt to stop her house of cards from tumbling down. It beggars belief to learn what that dreadful person will do simply to remain in power. Who else will she screw over in this increasingly bizarre one-woman mission to gain a "hard Brexit"? What even is hard Brexit? She claims it's the will of the people and yet she refuses to tell us what it is. One assumes that's because she knows it's something the people won't want. What the hell is that nut job planning?

Now I don't pretend to be an expert in the DUP. Rumour has it they're anti-abortion and that some of them are creationists, which is just the sort of lunacy you need in politics particularly to prop up a prime minister who, by her own admission regularly asks for God's assistance when making decisions. What's certainly not in doubt is the DUP's utterly backward views on gay marriage. Because of them, Northern Ireland remains the last corner of the British Isles where LGBT people are not equal. In my mind you would have to be a fairly unpleasant person to continue to back a prime minister who would be prepared to cynically form an alliance with people like that, particularly in the light of the fact that May is only in Parliament right now because of the surge in support for her party in Scotland, a phenomenon largely attributed to Ruth Davidson, a gay woman, who is about to get married to her long term partner!

Insanity.

I'm finally at the stage with Em where I've done all the work I need to do as writer and can leave a rehearsal at the end of a day without worrying about what I need to do when I get home. It's been a long time coming! Of course, I get home at night far too tired to do anything other than sleep, but it's a relief to know somehow that, if I went into a coma tomorrow, the show would still go on. It's floating. I've done my bit. And, furthermore, the creative team is so strong that I don't need to do anything in rehearsals now except sit at the back of the theatre drinking tea and trying to keep everyone chipper through the long tech.

The show has suddenly started to feel coherent and exciting. I realise I've spent much of the rehearsal period feeling a little distanced from the material I've written. I'm not quite sure why that is. I had the crap kicked out of me on Beyond the Fence, so there's probably an element of self-preservation in play. It's possible too that my subconscious, knowing how close I am to the material, has forced me to remain a little more detached and aloof. It may simply be that I've become old and jaded. It's probably quite healthy for a writer to stay on the outside of his work, however, and not to be as profoundly engulfed by it as I was with Brass. The most peculiar thing about Brass is that I actually ended up feeling like I was dealing with my own memories to the extent that it never even occurred to me to wonder, for example, whether the language I was using was authentic. It was probably something to do with my life long obsession with the First World War. All kinds of little stories and accounts that I'd read over the years had become so lodged in my mind that it sometimes ended up feeling like I was telling my own story! That, or that, in a previous life, I was some sort of Tommy!

Friday, 9 June 2017

Clarity

I went to bed last night daring to hope that there'd be a hung parliament this morning and woke up to the news that we'd got one. Theresa May has had that ghastly, smug, somewhat insane smirk wiped off her face. And that'll do for me. Of course she's telling us all that the country now needs a period of stability. But the country ain't listening, babe, because we all know that you divided us and made us miserable all over again by calling this general election purely for your own political gain and to prove how popular you are. Spectacular own goal! And now, to make matters worse for her, she's going to have to start kissing Scotland's arse, because if it wasn't for the Conservative gains in Scotland (in a heartening display of a Scottish desire to remain in the union) she would be entirely incapable of forming a government.

On and on the Brexiteers went about Remainers needing to shut up and accept the will of the people. And I say one thing. Last night has proved that the will of the people is an ever-moving and complicated thing. No one should ever feel forced to lie down and give in.

I woke up with clarity this morning about one thing. If the Brexit vote and this subsequent election have taught us nothing else it's that the British people are rebels. It's part of our spirit. We don't want anyone telling us what to do and will go to almost any length to prove this fact. And that actually makes me feel rather proud.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Voting

I rather grumpily cast my vote first thing this morning. I went into Jackson's Lane Community Centre, half expecting to have been disenfranchised by Haringey Council for the third time, after we discovered last night that we hadn't been sent a polling card. I don't know how many times one can be expected to register oneself to vote at the same address before something officially sticks, but plainly it's more times than one would assume!

Anyway, as it happened I was on their list and the woman was able to get her ruler and pencil out and put a line through my name. I wasn't asked for ID. I could have looked over her shoulder and claimed to be the first name on her list that I could read without a line through it. Turn-out is likely to be so low on this election that I doubt anyone would actually have noticed. It demonstrates how genuinely easy it is to commit election fraud in this manner. It seems we spend all our time trying to prevent online fraud, and yet, when it comes to voting in person, there's a woman with a pencil asking for your address!

For the record, I voted Lib Dem, really as a thank you to Lynne Featherstone, who was a great constituency MP and was almost single-handedly responsible for the LGBT marriage act. I didn't much care for the campaign the Labour woman Catherine West ran to oust Lynne from office. It felt underhand and cynical and she's turned out to be a very crummy MP who hasn't bothered to respond to any emails I've sent her about either Brexit or Corbyn. So it was middle for diddle for me.

I was hugely unimpressed by both the Workers' Revolutionary Party and the Women's Equality Party for forwarding candidates who didn't even have addresses in the constituency. Also, my constituency has been exclusively represented by women MPs since Barbara Roche in 1992. I have to believe that they will be fighting for women's equality where they see it's necessary. The Lib Dem person I voted for was also a woman. Actually, so was the Tory!

As I came out of the polling station a woman was literally doing cartwheels. "I've voted for the first time!" She was yelling to a friend the other side of the street. "I've voted for the first time in this country!" She was so excited. One assumes she'd recent been granted full citizenship or something, because she didn't look far off my age. And at that moment I understood the importance of the vote.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Rain and more rain

Rain poured through the roof throughout the night yesterday. We could hear it steadily dripping into a bucket through one of the skylights in the loft. It was a hollow, surprisingly rhythmic sound. Our landlord is aware of the problem. Men keep coming round to "fix it", but none have so far had any impact on the problem. They arrive during dry periods, crawl out on the roof for a few minutes, spend hours telling us the nature of the problem as they see it, and then, when the rain returns, we're back to square one. It's a curiously depressing do-si-do. We have a wonderfully reasonable rent, and a great relationship with our landlord, and just don't want to be the people who whine about this sort of thing. So it's catch 22.

The walk to the tube yesterday morning in driving rain was supremely bizarre. It was falling at an angle which meant the tiny umbrella I'd found in our kitchen drawer was only actually able to keep my head dry. My trousers were damp. My back was soaked. Then it was so muggy and warm on the tube that I started sweating profusely, so then everything was wet, and I smelt like a wet dog and felt profoundly sorry for myself.

Nothing could top my walk in Camden, however, where, on top of the rain, there was some sort of profound gale going on which instantly turned my umbrella inside out and made me want to weep. My shoes at that point started taking in water. It was happening to everyone. Everywhere I looked, people were being buffeted about. Branches of trees were scattered on the pavements. June it wasn't!

News seems to be filtering in rather slowly from London Bridge. The headline story is that quite a lot of the injured and dead are foreign nationals. It's hardly surprising. London is an international city, and wears its love for outsiders on its sleeve. Stab London through the heart and the ripples reverberate across the world. The other major story appears to be that a huge amount of the bravery and heroism in the face of the attackers came from people born in mainland European countries. A Romanian, called Florin Morariu, threw crates at the attacker's head. Giovanni Sagristani and his partner, Carlos Pinto, a nurse, fought the man out of a cafe and delivered crucial first aid to one of the wounded. None of this to me is reading particularly like a reason to throw all the Europeans out of our country. And yet, almost immediately after the attack, a rush of people took to Twitter demanding a swifter and harsher Brexit. Back off. This is a London thing. And Londoners overwhelmingly voted to remain.

We did a minute's silence in the rehearsal room at 11am. People across London were marking the moment and it felt hugely appropriate to do the same thing.

Other than this my day was spent under headphones orchestrating. Right up against it. Panicking wildly. I'm now so tired that I have deep black lines under my eyes. I didn't notice them until the head of musical theatre (who hasn't seen me for a bit) pointed them out. I immediately went to a mirror and couldn't quite believe what I was seeing!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Muted

It felt incredibly muted on the tubes today. Everyone seemed a bit low energy. A bit sad, perhaps. Maybe I was imagining things. But even the buskers seemed to be playing rather gentle, mournful, respectful music. I travelled to Oval this afternoon for a meeting of the Musicians Union's Writers' Committee and a quirk of fate meant I ended up on the wrong branch of the Northern Line, having to change lines at London Bridge, which was deathly silent.

The LU staff were highly chipper. I think perhaps they'd all decided to be as jovial and upbeat as possible. A woman speaking into one of those hand-held speaker things, said "stand clear of the closing doors. Beep. Beep. Beep..." Bless her soul.

We've moved rehearsal venue from Borough up to Central School itself in Swiss Cottage, so the commute is a little shorter. If I were driving it would be considerably shorter still, but Highgate to Swiss Cottage is a bit of a faff on public transport because it involves taking a tube to Camden and then a "31 bus to White City." Obviously I don't go all the way to White City. That would be silly. Although I'm always amused by the bus announcements which report only the final destination.

A child had a tantrum on the bus today. A major, major tantrum. His mother, in desperation, plonked him down on the nearest empty seat, which happened to be next to me, and for the next few minutes my ears were ringing from the sound of high-pitched screaming. The child eventually yelled himself into a torpor, slowly deflating, like a burst beach ball, into a corner of the bus where he shivered like an addict, his sallow eyes peering at me. Spent.


Sunday, 4 June 2017

No words

There are no real words to describe how I felt when I heard about the terrorist attack on London Bridge last night. Philippa texted me: "You're not near London Bridge are you?" I'd gone for an evening stroll on the Heath. I'd heard a few sirens and a couple of helicopters, but nothing particularly untoward.

I instantly texted Brother Edward - who is more likely to be in that part of town - and then emailed my Mum to say I was okay. There's very little else you can do.

Nathan was out for the evening, with friends in East London, but I couldn't get through to him. Instinctively I knew he'd be fine. As he was. But I kept thinking "what if he went off piste? What if he ended up in Borough Market for some reason?"

There's nothing else to say. London will carry on like nothing's happened. War time spirit, and all that...


Saturday, 3 June 2017

Diva strops

It was so humid yesterday. I'm told there was a giant thunder storm whilst we were in rehearsals. Hannah got caught in it. Emerging from the building was like stepping into a shower cubical. Absolutely no breeze. It was bizarre.

The opera company continue to rehearse in the space next to us. I have to say, I find the performers a funny old bunch to say the least. One of the performers wafted into the green room yesterday morning and, instead of talking to the person behind the desk about the possibility of turning the air conditioning on, she decided instead to stand in the middle of the room asking everyone who caught her eye if they were feeling hot as well. It was a dramatic display of somewhat desperate passive aggression. You'd think she was being boiled alive. Eventually she sat down and started chowing down on some kind of herbal tea. A few minutes later a stage manager popped into the room and asked if she'd mind stepping into the rehearsal space. She looked appalled: "You want me ten minutes early? I'm not called for ten minutes..." "Well, we thought we'd crack on." "Well if I'm coming in now, I'll have to leave the rehearsal ten minutes early. No, I mean it. I need my rest." Poor love.

Over the course of the morning, I heard a veritable litany of complaints from the opera singers. None of them seemed to want to actually rehearse. I'm sure they're simply happy to park and bark centre stage, thinking only about their vocal projection without any of the pesky extra hassle of actually acting. It was almost as though they were wearing their diva behaviour as a badge of honour: As though stroppiness was part and parcel of being taken seriously as an artist. The shirtier you are, the better singer they'll think you are.

Later still I overheard one of the male singers chewing the ear off one of the stage managers; "the director can't do that. He really can't. For my sanity." He wasn't joking.

Of course I remember all this nonsense from my time in opera in the late '90s. I remember working on a production of Madam Butterfly and rehearsing in deepest, darkest East London on a Saturday. We had two tin pot Asian divas alternating the title role, and they used to compete for the spotlight. On one occasion, we were auditioning children to play the role of Sorrow, Madam Butterfly's son. The children were aged about five and the audition entailed Butterfly singing to them full out so that we could tell if the loud noises were going to freak them out. One poor lad arrived on set only to be told that the Butterfly wasn't prepared to sing to him. "He's too ugly to be my child" she shouted. Then she stormed away.

The stage manager asked if she'd like a sandwich for lunch. "I want sushi" she demanded. Let's bear in mind that this was 1998, and Sushi wasn't exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to buy in a sandwich shop in the East End on a Saturday. "I'm not sure I'll be able to find any sushi around here" said the stage manager, "then I go home" said the tin pot diva. He sighed, and went up to the other Madam Butterfly to ask if she was hungry. She said she wasn't. So he trekked off to Liverpool Street station, and, an hour later, reappeared with sushi for the soprano. She barely thanked him. At that moment, the other Butterfly appeared. "I am hungry now." The stage manager smiled politely, "okay, what can I get you?" "Sushi..." So off he trudged to Liverpool Street... Again.

Opera singers can be really quite horrible people!

Friday, 2 June 2017

Crashing into the Groucho

God I hate opera! They're rehearsing opera in the next door room to us, and whenever I pass, I get a chilly blast of what's going on. It's always slightly out of tune. Huge wavering vibrato covers up any sense of an actual pitch and there's a desperate over-the-topness about it. Terrible terrible acting: like in the silent movies, with performers papering their faces with emotion, showing their feelings rather than convincing me that they're feeling those feelings...

I went to Pam Gilby's funeral yesterday afternoon up at the beautiful crematorium in Hampstead Garden Suburb. I was very pleased to have gone. Lots of the Fleet Singers were there. I hadn't realised that she'd actually formed the choir, so I'm really hoping they'll be able to carry on in her absence. I was incredibly moved to be introduced to Pam's son, Robin. He gave me a big hug and said "Pam thought so highly of you." It was rather wonderful to be able to tell him that I'd thought just as highly of her.

After the service, as the doors opened, and we filed out into the gloriously beautiful garden behind the chapel, the wind whipped up and thousands of pieces of thistle down started dancing in the air, to the extent that I wondered for a spilt second if it was snowing. At the same moment, a fox sauntered its way across the lawn and sat, no more than fifteen meters away from us, happily minding its own business, seemingly completely unconcerned about the groups of people milling around near by.

I went home to continue to orchestrate, but the mother of all computer crashes meant I catastrophically and irreparably lost three hours work. Just like that. Bam. Under normal circumstances I'm almost obsessive about saving my work, but the system was glitchy, and I must have been so focussed on working around the problems I was encountering that I simply forgot. Just what you need.

I ended up at the Groucho Club last night with Philip Sallon, Michael and a truck-load of Jewish people. It's a long story, which would be way too boring to put in print but it was a fun night and a much-needed bit of time off.

I was a little perturbed to pass through Soho Square en route to find it teaming with straight people. The Edge is no longer a gay bar and the square itself no longer seems to be a place where gay folk sit on summer nights. It's not so much a shame as simply something this old man needs to get used to. Soho is just not a gay Mecca any more. With the advent of online chat rooms and the growth of social media, gay men no longer need to hang out in gay bars. It's probably also the case that young gay men no longer want to be pigeon-holed in this manner and would rather drink in mixed establishments. Fair play to them. The usualisation of homosexuality is, after all, the thing we all fought for and a bi-product of that has to be the loss of ghettoisation.

I suppose my sadness is associated with The Edge being the first gay bar I ever visited. I went there with Philippa and Moira in 1994 and met the curiously-named Maximilian William Flowers. The fact that I still remember the (albeit unusual) name of someone I met in passing on that particular night shows quite how much of an impact it had on me. It was profoundly exciting. I was in the legendary Soho. The place I'd read about. And I was surrounded by people like me! I could be myself without worrying about getting beaten up. Ah! The good old days!

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Groundhog

It's all feeling a little like Groundhog Day at the moment. All the days are bleeding into one another. I'm in and out of pairs of headphones. Half my mind is on the task of orchestration, the other half is in the rehearsal room, trying to focus on what's going on there. I suspect I'm not doing either particularly well, but I chug onwards regardless. I have now completed twelve of the seventeen songs. Well, at least, I have done the first pass of twelve arrangements. I am excruciatingly bored of working until eleven most evenings. I think the first band call is in seven days, and, at the moment, I'm finishing one orchestration per day. I have five left. I'm right up to the wire!

The fact that the weather is so nice at the moment is making me feel a little like the world is sort of passing me by. I haven't seen friends for ages, or sat on the Heath. The little area where we work is full of cafes and lovely spots to while away the hours, but we're always indoors. And I'm always under headphones! It's a harsh old life!

I didn't watch the election TV debate last night. In general I've absolutely no interest in watching a bunch of bad actors posturing and squabbling. I don't have any interest in what any of them are saying, largely, I think, because they don't have any interest in what I or any of us have to say, unless it's going to have an effect on their electability. It's terrible. What is, of course, even more desperate is that Theresa May was too "busy" (read arrogant... or scared) to turn up and fight her corner. I genuinely don't know what kind of a message she's trying to send out, but I'm sure the baby boomers will find it in their hearts to forgive her. She reminds them all of Thatcher. Those good old days of divide and conquer where people could lord it over their own relatives and where the perverts, the poor and the scroungers got their just desserts. Yeah, let's called Corbyn "comrade" and tragically try to make everyone really scared of the left.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

I'm a-living in a box, I'm a-living in a cardboard box

Hannah pointed something out to me yesterday which made me feel sad and angry in equal measure. Underneath an awning, just up from our rehearsal room, a man lives in a cardboard box. At first glance you'd think his house was just a heap of rubbish, waiting for a bin man, but on closer inspection you realise that it's actually quite a well-made den. I saw him, at the end of last week, fiddling with some tarpaulin and assumed that he was some sort of stage manager creating a prop for one of the many theatre companies who rehearse in the area. He didn't look homeless. But what does homeless actually look like these days? He was actually rather smartly-dressed.

It turns out he has a job. He changes into decent clothes to go into work. He probably has gym membership and showers there every morning. The people he works with probably have no idea that he lives in a cardboard box. And he's not the only one. This is a fairly regular sight in London these days. I hear these kind of stories all the time. Wages are plummeting and because Theresa May and her ghastly right-wing cronies refuse to fund new housing, or provide council properties, rents are getting higher and higher. And because most of the baby boomers have this appalling "we're alright, Jack" attitude about the fact that they all got to buy their council houses, and, as a result can't see beyond their leathery, orange-tanned noses to notice the pain their children and grandchildren are in, the underclass in the UK continues to grow.

...And there but for the grace of god go we all. Nathan and I can barely afford the rent we pay, and it's really cheap by London standards. If we lose our present property, we will have to move out of London. And then what?

What's brewing is major, and I mean major civil disobedience. Mark my words; there will be large-scale riots in the UK within five years. If the government won't listen to anything else, let them feel the bullets flying over the ballot box.

Imagine how vulnerable it must feel to live in a box? Imagine going to sleep at night, wondering if drunks will kick your house down for a laugh, or a car will do some dodgy manoeuvre and back into you? It is an awful, awful thing.

Speaking of awful things: a show is rehearsing at the moment in the same space as us which has child actors in it. They're a rare breed, child actors. They've often got CVs which their adult peers would die for. They also tend to have rather ghastly mothers. The mothers came to pick up their kids yesterday and sat, waiting in the cafe, swapping anecdotes about Henry and Clara and myriad other middle class names. The conversations focussed on work their children had done at top London venues. They were pretending to be pleased for each other, but you could tell there was some serious oneupmanship going on which was leading to bristling resentment. These were the original pushy ballet mums. They were, at once, showing off and feeling deeply intimidated to have met their match. It was uncomfortable to watch two people living their lives so vicariously through their children.

After rehearsals, I went to meet a young actor called Rob Peacock who is singing my song Brass in the Stiles and Drewe Best Song competition. I thought it would be good to introduce myself and put the piece in context for him. Brass is one of those songs which, if you've got the pipes to sing it, can be beautiful and impressive. With some careful acting choices, however, it has the potential to be absolutely devastating. It is, after all, about a First World War soldier who is so distressed he doesn't even know whether he's alive or dead! At the same time it's a song of hope and hiraeth.

Rob is a truly wonderful singer. Great intonation, and, crucially, he has the top pipes to smash the end section of the song. I busked the piano part, apologising profusely for being so cack-handed, and we worked a little on the acting side of the piece. Adding colours. Working our way through the complex and conflicting thoughts which dart through the mind of Alf, the character who sings it. I was very pleased with the way that he responded. He's going to do me proud.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Blunder Woman

Yesterday was a day just like any other day, really. Bank holidays mean very little to people in the arts, so, whilst the cast had their Centrally-imposed day off, which I'm afraid I still don't quite understand, I sat underneath a pair of headphones, orchestrating.

There was a pretty major thunderstorm during the night. I was sleeping with the window open and could hear the roar of the rain, accompanied by a pretty heady smell, which could only be described as one of ionisation. It's a word which I recently heard used in association with the richly perfumed smell of water hurtling over a weir and, whilst I'm sure there's a very specific scientific definition of ionisation which has nothing to do with waterfalls and lightning, it feels like an appropriate word to use here.

I woke up to the news that Pam Gilby, the driving force behind the Fleet Singers, had died. The news made me feel incredibly sad. Pam is responsible for commissioning two oratorios by me: Songs About The Weather and The Man In The Straw Hat. She ran the choir with a rod of iron. Woe betide anyone who didn't pay their subs or come prepared to wash-up when it was their turn! I was fairly terrified of her when I first met her, but soon realised that her somewhat spiky, jobsworth exterior protected a deeply loyal heart, which cared passionately about the choir, and the little corner of North West London which she'd adopted as her home after moving here from South Africa in the early 1950s. She will be sorely missed.

I've been somewhat horrified to read about some of the merchandise which is being brought out for the release of the new Wonder Woman film. Wonder Woman, as we all know, is a kick-ass Amazonian. She has a well-etched moral compass and super powers to die for. Who doesn't want a lasso of truth? She's so kick-ass, that she was asked to become a UN ambassador in one of the most eccentric decisions ever made. Apparently, we're so short on female kick-ass role models that we have to dredge the world of fictional comics.

But what is the central piece of merchandise attached to this film about a strong kick-ass woman? A new line of lipstick. That's right: a woman needs to remember to look fabulous when she's dispatching the bad guys.

We watched the first of the live semi-finals of Britain's Got Talent last night. I don't yet know the results, but there was a gloriously awful moment at the start of the show, when the children's choir from Ireland had to start all over again because they "couldn't hear their backing track." In reality it seemed that the track had started midway through, so the choir merely stood like lemons waiting to find their way into a gin and tonic whilst Ant and Dec were forced to run on and mark time whilst everything got reset. The most bizarre aspect was that the backing track clearly had vocals on it, an indication that the choir were either miming or that the sound they make was so weedy and thin, that they needed to sing along to a recording of themselves. And let's hope it was actually their own voices! Ah! The artifice of TV.

Because I haven't heard the results, I don't want to go online searching for the reactions to this particular blunder, but I'd be intrigued to know how ITV attempts to smooth that one over!

Monday, 29 May 2017

Symposiums, Stoneleigh and Gaveston

I had a whole day off from Em yesterday. Rather perfectly, I'd been booked to go up to Northampton to talk about careers in music as part of a symposium organised by the Northamptonshire Music Service. For some astonishing reason I managed to convinced my new friend Michael from UK Jewish Film to come with me because I thought, as proved to be the case, he might have expertise in the realm of film which he might be able to impart.

We started out early and the car journey up to Northampton was speedy. We couldn't park in the music school itself, which was overrun with parents coming to pick their kids up from the various ensembles which rehearse in the morning. We drove up the Kettering Road instead and parked up on one of the streets leading up to the football ground where there are no discernible regulations.

As it happened, we pulled up outside a little artisan bakery called Magee's which turned out to be one of the best bakeries I've ever visited. It's run by a set of lovely young people, and it makes glorious breads and cakes. I devoured a chocolate tart with a layer of salted caramel and a great big blob of honeycomb on the top. It was, in short, magnificent.

Tash appeared as if by magic and took us to another cafe, behind the music school which had something of a Speak Easy quality. It's some kind of former Boot and Shoe factory, and to visit, you have to go up a twisting staircase. It doesn't seem to have much of a sign, so, one assumes, it's very much a spot for those in the know! Northampton would appear to be getting its act together and, later on, upon returning to the original cafe, we bumped into my lovely friend and former desk partner Helen from music school days. She was in there with her wife and baby and told me that there are indeed one or two places like it opening in the town.

The symposium went well. I got to catch up with Beth and Peter I was fairly mobbed, largely by young singers who had been in the Northants Youth Choir when they performed I Miss The Music from Brass. They were all keen to tell me what a great and moving song it was and I felt enormously touched.

You never know who you're inspiring at these sorts of events. The right thing said at the right moment in time can be absolutely vital when it comes to shaping the career paths of young people. The bottom line is that careers in the arts are really difficult, but it's not for me to say that. If you're tenacious and you work hard enough, you might just scrape a living. Who am I to kill dreams? Many of the young people, as you might expect for Midlanders, were under-confident and painfully shy. It makes me want to weep. I wondered how some managed to function on a day-to-day basis. I hope a few of them will have taken something away with them. A little pearl of wisdom which changes their outlook somehow. 

The symposium finished at 5, and I took Michael off to Warwickshire to buy him dinner to say thank you, but also to take him on a little tour of Em locations which I wanted to take pictures of to show the cast.

We went first to Stoneleigh, visited my grandparents graves and had a glorious early evening walk across the windy hilltop which looks down on the village. I was sort of hoping the bluebells might have been out in the woods up there but it's too late in the season. Em has basically stolen my spring from me!

From Stoneleigh we drove to the Saxon Mill, which features in one of the lyrics. It's where I'd chosen for us to eat. We had a little time to kill before our reservation, so decided to go in search of a curious monument in a nearby wood which marks the spot where Piers Gaveston, lover of Edward II was murdered by barons. I remembered visiting the place about 25 years ago, on a frosty Boxing Day with my brother and his girlfriend at the time. There's a picture of me there, in a great big, somewhat pretentious cap, taking everything incredibly seriously. Attempting to commune with God knows whom. 

Anyway, it was always a little bit hard to find the monument, but these days it's almost impossible. The wood is essentially surrounded by a barbed wire fence, and the only access to it is through a field which is marked as private property in enormous letters. I actually think it's quite a shame. It's an important monument for the LGBT community and I would have thought local villagers might at least have wanted to create a designated path through the field so that people can take a look.

It's also quite an unusual monument in that is was created by Victorians, seemingly as a sort of warning to people who might be getting ideas above their station. "In the hollow of this rock was beheaded on the 1st Day of July 1312, by barons lawless as himself Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, the minion of a hateful king, in life and death a memorable instance of misrule."

It's a curious thing. It's a very large monument, perhaps twenty feet high, with a huge cross on the top of it. But why spend so much money on a monument to a hated person? And then why let it fester, unvisited, in a wood. Nothing makes sense...

The approach to the monument is deeply eerie. You walk through dark trees and a curiously heavy atmosphere hovers above the ground. It's very surreal. We were both really affected by the place. It has really dark energy surrounding it.

We ate at the Saxon Mill, taking a little stroll towards the spooky ruined house at Guy's Cliff as the sun set. A little bit of Googling reveals that the house was built in the 18th Century on the proceeds of slavery. It's the most amazingly ornate building with Juliet balconies overlooking the dusty Warwickshire countryside. The house was used as a hospital in the First World War and a children's home in the Second one. It then fell into disrepair and was badly damaged by fire when filming on a Sherlock Holmes movie went pear-shaped. These days its ghostly form merely hovers over the river so the likes of me can dream about what we'd do to it if we had all the money in the world!

We went home via a darkened Leamington Spa, where I took a picture of a house on the corner of Gas Street, where I imagine one of my characters to have come from...

And just like that we were on the M1 again and the little trip to Warwickshire was but a golden memory.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Pigeon whisperer

I saved a pigeon yesterday morning. I arrived at rehearsals and found something of a commotion going on in the reception area. The man who lives opposite the studios feeds the local pigeons with bread, and huge numbers of them congregate on the street outside. One of them must have been spooked, flown into the reception area, and, when everyone started panicking, darted away to the darkest place he could find to hide, which was was the tray in the photocopier above where the paper is stored. The poor thing was terrified.

Now I have great form when it comes to pigeon whispering. I tend to think that animals just want you to stay calm and maintain eye contact, so I went up to the photocopier and chatted with my new friend until he seemed calmer, at which point I gently put my hand into the tray area and started to stroke him gently. He responded well and went into some sort of torpor, which meant I could gently cajole him out of the confined space, eventually to a point at which he sat on my finger and I was able to carry him to the door and let him flap away to the relative safety of the harsh streets of Borough.

Rehearsals went really well yesterday, but for an awful moment at 5pm when we were suddenly informed by the powers that be that we weren't allowed to rehearse on the coming bank holiday, which is a huge set back. Finding out so late, when we'd decided not to rehearse on a Saturday knowing we were doing Monday was enormously frustrating. We ended up being made to feel a little like naughty school children for calling the rehearsal in the first place. The weirdest thing of all is that no one has actually explained to me why we can't rehearse. The theatre industry, in my experience, never stops for anything as pesky as a bank holiday. 

Still. Onwards and upwards. Perhaps three days off will be good for the cast.

Friday, 26 May 2017

PRS saviours

I'm sightly running out of things to write about in my blog at the moment, because, as we sink further into rehearsals, the days have started to meld into one another. I get up, way too early. I take the tube down to Borough Station. I buy a ringed doughnut. I walk to the rehearsal rooms. The creative team work. I sit at a variety of tables, headphones clamped to my ears, half in the world of orchestration, half in the business of the room.

I think the hot weather melted everyone's brains yesterday. Rehearsals were incredibly slow going and, on the tube, everyone seemed particularly grumpy, crammed in like sardines to the boiling hot carriages. An all-pervading smell of damp clothes and anger wafted through the carriages. It was so intense that it seemed to take on the form of a visible haze.

I am thrilled to finally be able to announce that the PRS Foundation have saved the day and offered me a grant to maintain me financially as we rehearse Em. Words can't really express how grateful I am to them. Readers of this blog will know that I have struggled enormously for the past year whilst writing Em with absolutely no help from any one. Fund application after fund application was rejected and the savings dwindled. It reached a crisis point about a month ago when I thought I was going to have to get a part-time job simply to fund being in rehearsals. Of course, now that we're into rehearsals I realise how utterly impossible it would have been for me to have been simultaneously working another job, so I can say, without a word of a lie, that the PRS Foundation has absolutely saved my bacon. When I found out, I actually cried. With absolute relief. Obviously it's a relatively humble grant, but it gets me out of trouble for now.


Thursday, 25 May 2017

You can't win!

I'm becoming increasingly exhausted, which means I'm alternately finding things hysterically funny and then really not funny at all! There is just no time off and it seemed yesterday that every time I put my headphones on to do another few bars of orchestration someone was nudging me or calling me over. It was all hugely important stuff, but it doesn't exactly help the writing process. I've woken up today with a hot face and a tickly cough which tells me it's eyes down for another bout of illness. Hurrah.

We're still hurtling our way through Em and yesterday we set another production number with choreographer, Matt, who is lightning quick. I think the cast are at a stage where they're panicking about the steady supply of new musical material they're being handed. Sadly, it's part and parcel of working on a new show. Nobody knows the nature of the beast. I was asked to write an ensemble-heavy piece so that everyone has plenty to do and, in a musical, having a busy show usually involves singing! At the same time I've got people coming up to me asking for more to do and complaining about periods of rehearsals where they're not being used. You just can't win with actors!

I overheard two older ladies on the tube talking about the Manchester attack and one of them uttered the quite outrageous comment that she felt the authorities should "lock these terror suspects up first and then find the evidence." Great to know that people have such a fabulously clear understanding of Western democracy! The bottom line is that everyone wants the justice system to suit their own purposes. The death penalty is bad! Except for dirty paedophiles. All immigrants should leave the UK! Except the nice man who does my dry cleaning. We hate the Muslims! Let's kick out the European people from our country...

It's very very hot in London at the moment. I just walked past a woman who was wearing an enormous pair of mirrored sunglasses. I can't imagine how irritating talking to her would be. You'd just end up looking at your own reflection. I bet she attracts a shed load of narcissists.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Trapped in an alley!

I was astonished to wake up this morning to the news that, in the wake of the dreadful events in Manchester, people are taking to twitter and inventing relatives who were in the MEN Arena last night simply to get social media hits. I'm somewhat ashamed to live in a society where people would value social media so much, that the truth of what they're writing becomes of less concern than the number of hits they're generating. What is the point of fake news? What makes someone want to make news up? It all seems very bizarre to me.

I tried to leave my house this morning, but, ever since the bastard at the other end of my terrace decided that one of the entrances to the alleyway we use to access our flats was his to fence off, we've had to deal with the fact that there's actually only one way out. I'd always imagined how awful it would be if one of the houses further up the hill caught fire, or if there was some sort of gas explosion, because if anything blocked off the very small entrance to our end of the alleyway, we'd be royally shafted.

And so, this morning, I came to understand quite how shafted that was, when, at 8.30am, I stumbled upon a set of comically awful builders who were trying to get some sort of heavy machinery down the footpath. The machinery had become stuck and access to the street was entirely blocked off. "How long will you be?" I asked. They shrugged, "ten minutes?" "But I have to get to work!" I said. Another shrug.

I stood, somewhat helplessly, for some time, until a man came sauntering up the alleyway behind me. "Do you want to come through my shop?" He asked. He then led me back down the alleyway and into the garden of our next door neighbour's house before ushering me though his shop, which, incidentally, sells baths.

The commute into rehearsals seems to be getting worse. I think perhaps I'm leaving later every day, and therefore making myself more and more likely to encounter the rush hour crush. It's hot, smelly and sweaty, and commuters are brutal to one another. There's rage just underneath the surface in all of them. And on the days after terrorist attacks it feels so profoundly counter-intuitive to be shoved in cattle trucks darting underground like that.

A homeless man passed through the carriage this morning. Begging in this manner has become quite the fashion in the last ten or so years. In the olden days it was passive, doe-eyed Romanian women with cardboard signs or curious little packets of tissues, but these days, people are far more confrontational. They get on the tube and make announcements, pleading for compassion, usually asking for a few pence for the cost of a hostel for the night. It's always incredibly sad but also such a regular occurrence that it becomes utterly impossible to engage with. I, like most of the other people on the train, bury myself in a newspaper or a computer and fundamentally reenforce the homeless person's lack of self worth. One of the dreadful things about living in a city is that you're often forced to leave your compassion at the front door because the energy you require simply to remain sane in the dog-eat-dog world requires every last drop of energy. Engage with those around you and you become furious, so most simply attempt to zone out.

I was, however, somewhat surprised to see today's homeless person attempting to beg in a carriage which was so full that he was physically having to push people aside in order to pass through. Surely, there are more productive times of the day to beg?

Rehearsals for Em took off big time this week after the arrival of our choreographer and our new musical director, Ben, who worked with me on the original production of Brass. It's been such a thrill to have him back in the space, and he's been making all the right noises about the score, which, I realised today, is such an important thing for a writer to hear. There's always the little voice in the back of one's head which tries to tell a writer that he's not very good.

It's a very happy rehearsal space. Hannah is a brilliant leader and the only tensions so far have been inconsequential and about silly things like photocopying. It turns out that our choreographer's partner actually knew my Grandmother. Rather well as it happens. They lived in the same tiny Warwickshire village. In fact, I vaguely remember him from my distant childhood. It's these sorts of coincidences which remind me that this is a project worth doing and a piece which will have great meaning to people.

Today I worked as an accent coach, teaching two of the cast how to speak in a Northants/ Warwickshire accent. Apparently the vocal coach had told them they could just speak with a posh "neutral" voice to represent Midlands-based characters, which made my blood boil so much, that I stepped in and delivered a little master class of my own. It struck me today quite how bizarre some of the vowel sounds are in that part of the world. They always seem so natural to me, but when you start trying to get someone saying the "u" in words like Rugby and funny or the "i" sound in "like", you realise there is nothing similar anywhere else in the UK. Unfortunately, once I start talking like that, I find it quite difficult to stop! I was hugely impressed by the ears of the girls working with me. Lizzie in particular, did a sterling job and we have a New Zealander called Niamh whom I think is also going to crack it. I keep meaning to tell them what good stead it will set them in when they audition for Kinky Boots. Which is set in Northampton, by the way. Not that you'd notice by listening the accents most of the cast choose to talk in!

Stay safe

I'm afraid I don't much feel like blogging tonight after hearing the news from Manchester. There really are no words to be said after an event like that other than that one day good will prevail over evil. 

My husband is in Manchester. He is safe. Many others will still be panicking about loved ones. I am yet to hear from my brother. I doubt he would have been at that concert but you just never know. I don't think I know much about the world any more.

Night night.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Chi

It's funny how our bodies have an innate sense of time isn't it? For the past week, I've been setting my alarm for 7.15am, and, every day so far, I've woken up naturally just before the alarm goes off. Yesterday morning, I was lucky enough to be able to sleep in until the ripe old time of 8.45am, but, when I woke up naturally, I glanced down at my phone and was not entirely surprised to see that it was exactly 7.15am. How does a brain do that? The implication here is that our subconscious always knows exactly what time it is. It's something I find utterly fascinating because it makes me wonder what other wisdom or instincts we're storing in there without actually realising.

I went to see a show at Chichester Festival Theatre yesterday. It was called Forty Years On, it starred Richard Wilson and it was written by Alan Bennett exactly fifty years ago. It's a funny old show which feels very didactic, somewhat agit-prop, formless, and, in short, quite 1960s. I'm not exactly sure there's a place for it in 2017, but it was certainly a fascinating piece, exquisitely performed, beautifully directed and hugely enhanced by brilliant music which had been adeptly arranged by Tom Brady whom I met beforehand.

I drove down with Matt Lucas. We got stuck in terrible traffic near Guildford so it all took rather longer than we'd hoped. We had lunch with, amongst others, the charming Daniel Evans (artistic director of the theatre) and actress Sam Spiro, whom I last saw at dear Arnold Wesker's memorial service.

The audience was full of the great and the good, as often happens towards the end of a run of theatre. At one point I was introduced to "another Ben" who turned out to be Ben Wishaw.

The play was set within a boys school and employed the somewhat tired formula of presenting itself as a play within the play. The theatre had opted to use an enormous ensemble of local lads who were probably aged from 11-18. There seemed to be an infinite number. Thirty perhaps. But I'm very proud to report that, often centre stage, and fed quite a number of lines, was our Spin from Brass. Obviously he shone brightly. It was wonderful to see him.

I drove Matt back to London and then spent the evening cocooned on my sofa in a sort of exhausted, yet blissful haze. My first bit of time off in what seems an age.

There's nothing to write about today. Nothing. I worked. I went into Muswell Hill for a walk because I was going stir crazy under headphones. Then I worked again. That was my day.





Saturday, 20 May 2017

Wonderful London Mozart Players

I read an article this morning about Miranda Hart, who is about to play Miss Hannigan in a new production of Annie. I'm actually quite a fan of Miranda's. I like her warm, bumbling, jovial, English energy. What I can't for the life of me imagine is her playing the brash, sardonic, belting, Bronxy Miss Hannigan. I'm not altogether sure she has the pipes to deliver a decent vocal performance, and the interview I read with her hardly put my mind at rest. If she turns out to be rubbish, she informs us, we're to blame the musical director, who assured her that he'd be able to get her singing well. That's okay then. As long as being shit is not her fault.

Look, I'm aware that this particular production of Annie is not about getting my particular bum on a seat in that particular theatre. I'm really not in the market for seeing that show... again. I've directed it. I've sat through a million amateur performances of it and seen both films. I'm equally aware that Hannigan has become one of those roles you stunt cast. Paul O'Grady, Kathy Bates and Craig Revel Horwood have all been there. It's one of those roles like Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors which people mistakenly think they can reinterpret without paling into insignificance when compared to the original film interpretation.

Of course, Miranda should be able to take her turn as the grotesque Madame of the orphanage without old theatre queens like me condemning her before she gets out onto the stage. I hope she's absolutely amazing and wins an Olivier. And if she does, I'll applaud her. I guess I simply feel that her casting is indicative of everything which is going wrong in the British musical theatre industry right now. Whether dealing with writers or actors, it seems the risk-averse money people are shying away from those who can actually do the job, in favour of those they think are more likely to put bums on seats. It's just not the same Stateside. There are scores of musical theatre stars on Broadway, who fill houses night after night based on the fact that they are genuine triple threat performers. If Annie were being performed over there, I can almost guarantee a producer would simply open the door to a huge stable of Broadway actresses who'd be able to sing and act the shit out of the role. Linda Eder. Bebe Neuwirth. Joanna Gleason. Bernadette. Patti. I could go on for days. And yet, in the UK, when it comes to musical theatre, we invariably settle for second best.

It's like that in no other UK art form.

We all know that Bucks Fizz star Cheryl Baker did ever so well when she trained her voice to sound operatic on Pop Star to Opera Star, but are they going to invite her to sing Tosca at the Royal Opera House? We know that Katie Derham plays the violin to an okay standard, but would they book her to play the Bruch at the Proms? Of course not. And yet my industry gets watered down in this fairly obscene manner on a daily basis. We don't allow specific musical theatre stars to emerge any more. And, I suppose, that just makes me feel a little sad.

Speaking of opera, we're sharing our rehearsal space with a professional opera company at the moment and the differences between our world and theirs are noticeable. We don't really have a budget for a set on our production of Em, but money doesn't seem to be an issue for the opera lot. We sat and listened to all sorts of bizarre conversations in the kitchen today, one of which involved someone refusing to play anything other than a harp which was made in Romania, and another which involved a man, perhaps the director, asking for an armourer to be brought into rehearsals!

We're meant to have the rehearsal rooms booked until 9pm, but, the young girl who works behind the counter regularly throws me out of the building if I'm the last one left inside. Usually I'm sitting at a table orchestrating music. It obviously doesn't look like work to her. It was particularly frustrating tonight as I had three hours to kill in the London Bridge area whilst waiting for a train to take me to Croydon. I thought how nice it would be to stay in the venue and write, but the woman had different ideas. I think it was when she appeared with a giant padlock on a chain and switched the burglar alarm on that I realised I was no longer welcome! I wouldn't mind if she'd come up to me and said, "you know what, if you leave now, I can be paid for two hours' extra work and get home nice and early." I tend to think if you've paid for exclusive use of a space from 9am until 9pm, you really ought to be able to use it as you wish. In the end I went to a cafe near the station where they were doing a promotion involving free coffee (which was no good for this tea drinker.) I sat down to write and discovered instantly, and to my great chagrin, that they were playing songs on the sound system which all mentioned coffee in some way. Turns out there aren't many decent songs about coffee. It was an excruciating wait!

I went to Croydon to see the world premiere of Fiona's composition, Relationships. It was being performed by the London Mozart Players who have literally just leapt to the top of my all-time favourite ensembles. I have seldom been to a gig which felt better suited to my taste in music. Shostakovich. Brice. Piazolla. I spent the night with a massive grin on my face, feeling proud of Fiona for writing such an epically wonderful piece and feeling the joy radiating from the players who included my friend Anna who played at my wedding and on the requiem. It was a twelve-piece string ensemble, but they made the sound of twenty players. Really brutal, aggressive, theatrical musicianship. The Piazolla Four Seasons is a supreme piece of music and it was so exquisitely performed that, at the end, the audience spontaneously jumped to their feet. There was such a brilliant interaction between the players and us. The concert took place in a bar. The ensemble want to get music out of the concert hall environment, so it meant there were no more than sixty lucky people crammed into the space. I felt genuinely privileged to have been there. It's the most fun I have EVER had watching classical music. Bravos all round.

Croydon's a bit of a mess isn't it? From what I could gather, most of the city centre is derelict or boarded over and filled with a tangled mesh of piss-stinking concrete underpasses and dodgy-looking shopping centres. It feels like a place in trouble. A place with no identity. A place where everyone feels a little on edge. A place which the world conveniently ignores. It is no surprise at all that it was the scene of such dreadful rioting five or so years ago.

But enough negativity. I've had a great night. And I go home a happy, yet shattered man.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Two day more

One mega day down, three more to go! Much as I'm having a fabulous time, my eyes are firmly planted on Saturday night when I have a date with the telly. No one and nothing is going to stop that from happening! Today's rehearsal started at 9am, as they have all week. I usually get up at about 9 o'clock, so waking up at 7 feels unnatural in the extreme. My eyes sting. I sort of stumble around, wondering what's hit me. I know people reading this will be queueing up to say how much earlier than 7am they get up, the implication being that I'm somehow lazy, but early risers hit the sack considerably earlier than I do. In fact, everything in my life starts and ends just that little bit later. I go to bed at 1am. I finish work at 8pm...

I've sat under headphones for much of the day, and still don't feel like I've made the slightest dent in the orchestration I need to do. Fiona is on a similar orchestration deadline, so we're in regular whinging contact by phone. The panic is definitely rising slightly.

I've been in a suit all day on account of the fact that I was booked in to run a quiz this evening. The venue for the quiz wasn't actually a million miles away from where we are rehearsing. It should have been a joyful thirty-minute walk, but the weather was so shocking that I was forced to take a bus instead, literally running like a loon to the stop and then to the quiz venue when I got to the other side of the river.

I was terrified about the quiz. I didn't get to prep any of the questions and was nervous at the prospect of making a fool of myself. I always become utterly dyspraxic when I get in front of a large crowd, and can get very tongue-tied as a result. As it happened I needn't have worried. The quiz was being run by the LGBT group within a major bank, and so I was very much amongst family. I could camp it up a bit. I could be a bit cheeky. I could crack gay jokes. At one point I actually got a round of applause for telling them about my experience of voting for the first time in a general election. It was 1997 and I was the partner of the person I was voting for. Obviously it was Stephen who actually took Michael Portillo's seat and in the process became the first openly gay man to be elected to Parliament, but I'm always rather proud to have played the tiniest part in that story. I think they really liked the anecdote and liked my honesty, and, really, it's easy to forget that there are industries in this country where it's not as possible to be honest and open about sexuality. I was perhaps quite refreshing in that regard. 

So the quiz went rather well, actually only marred slightly by the fact that, half way through the evening, the elastic went in my boxer shorts and they immediately dropped half way down my leg. Obviously I was wearing trousers, so no one would have noticed, but it was a very curious sensation! I kept subtly trying to pull them up again. Abbie went into hysterics when I told her what had been going on!


Wisdom

We're rehearsing in a really quiet corner of Borough. The area is full of old Victorian terraces and tenements but is some distance from any major road. It's almost eerily quiet out on the street. Cats sit silently in the open windows of ground floor flats. A squirrel was tottering about yesterday, despite there being no trees anywhere in the vicinity. The little fella seemed rather inquisitive. I've always entertained a little fantasy which features a random squirrel coming and sitting on my shoulder and being so tame and needy that I have to take him home with me, where he lives in the kitchen and hops out onto the tree outside the window whenever he feels the need to reconnect with nature. Is this maybe a little odd?

We're in full-time rehearsals for Em now. Hannah spent the day yesterday introducing the young cast to themes from the show and encouraging them to open up about their lives and feelings on various associated themes. In the meantime I'm trying to get cracking on the show's orchestrations, but over the next few days I'm dealing with a variety of social and quiz engagements which I arranged to do before realising quite how up against it I was going to be. None of them are things I can, or even want to cancel. In fact, the two social things are things I'm really excited about. The problem is that they're all adding to the growing stress levels. As the pressures sink down, what I'm finding myself entirely unable to deal with is anything even remotely resembling faff. More than two emails, texts or conversations about the same subject make me panic, particularly if there's nothing I can do about the situation.

At the same time I think one of my wisdom teeth is coming through! I actually thought I'd had all my wisdom teeth removed in my early twenties, but, over the last couple of years, it's become apparent that the top two have either grown back or were never actually removed. Though the latter is more likely, the former would make a cracking case study in Orthodontics Now! Whatever the case, I periodically get a sense that there's some activity going on, as the one on the left tries to introduce itself to the world, whilst simultaneously pushing all of his friends in curious directions. It's just what you want when you're over-worked. All I actually want to do is eat doughnuts and sleep.


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Cathy Come Home

At the moment I'm exhausted. There are no other words to describe it. Rehearsals are in full flight, but, as a one-man-band writer and composer, this is the time at which I start to feel stretched like an old piece of knicker elastic. I have to orchestrate the show but I also need to be on hand to make changes to the script and score. Sometimes all I actually want to do is sit at the back of a rehearsal room and observe Hannah and the team adeptly overseeing the birth of my child. Instead, I suspect I'm going to be spending much of the coming week in the kitchen of our rehearsal space with headphones on. Beyond the Fence flashbacks!

We had a read-through of the script this morning with the full cast. If any of them were angry or sad not to get a particular role, they certainly didn't let it show. Thing is, there's no such thing as a small role in a Hannah Chissick show, and Em is a very ensemble-heavy show, so everyone's gonna have something they can get their teeth into.

This afternoon we watched the seminal 1966 BBC film, Cathy Come Home. Though essentially a piece about homelessness set in the south of England, there are story strands which link it to Em. Ken Loach, who directed the film, is actually a Midlander. In fact, he was one of my father's neighbours in Nuneaton.

Em is a great deal more lighthearted than Cathy Come Home, which, though a masterpiece, is a brutal and relentlessly bleak one. It must have had the most astounding impact when it was aired in the mid 1960s. Hannah and I spent the evening tonight texting each other about haunting images from the film. I learned today that the homeless charity, Shelter, was set up as a result of the film.

What worries me greatly, however, is that I can sense this country heading back to those brutal days. We still have a major housing crisis, and, with the government intent on destroying the NHS and our benefits system, we could well end up with an underclass of people who are helpless to pick themselves up out of the mire. Frankly, there but for the grace of God go we all. I actually spend a lot of time worrying about my old age for this very reason. I just don't think the state will look after me when I've stopped being able to look after myself.