Friday, 31 March 2017

Local news for local people...

I had a meeting at Trinity School yesterday, which involved getting up slightly earlier than I probably would have done after a mega-day like Wednesday. I was pretty tired all day as a result, but I've realised that if life isn't about adventures and new experiences, you're utterly lost. The moment you start to fear tiredness is the moment you need to start reappraising life itself.

I reached Greenwich a bit early, so took myself down to the River Thames to see if it would inspire my Nene composition. Obviously the Thames pales into deep insignificance when compared to the Nene, but it is a sweepingly beautiful and deeply epic river, especially up towards Greenwich. It was a beautiful day, the tide was out, and a great beach on the southern bank revealed the wooden and stone foundations of long gone piers and jetties. I sat on a bench writing in the soft spring air, the smell of freshly mown grass filling my nostrils, and the sound of a trumpeter at the academy echoing in the distance.

The meeting was fine. We were talking about the mentoring project I did with the Trinity students some weeks back. Various other mentors were there, and we were all crammed around a giant table in a tiny room. It was very hot in there. As I left, I realised that there was a thin film of sweat on my forehead.

On my way home, I read a couple of articles in the Metro, somewhat amused by a new journalistic phrase which appears to be reserved for non London-centric stories. So, for example, if someone in Birmingham has been stabbed and killed, they'll talk about, "the victim, named locally, as John Smith." Named locally? It strikes me that the word "locally" is entirely irrelevant in this context. Are "local" people so profoundly stupid that they can't be relied on to tell the truth when it comes to someone's name? If it's possible to be named locally, can one also be named nationally? Or globally? Will someone's name change under different naming circumstances? If the truth is simply that some of the neighbours have suggested a name which hasn't yet been confirmed by police, a) don't name him in the bloody press and run the risk of relatives hearing devastating news in the cruelest manner or b) say "the victim, said to be John Smith..." I read two articles and both used this somewhat bizarre turn of phrase. This is local news for local people...

I worked through the afternoon and into the evening, forcing myself to stop for a bath and my tea at 8.30pm. The forensic work on the Nene piece seems to be taking forever!

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The longest day in the world

Today was very much the day that kept on giving. In the background the whole nonsense of Theresa May triggering Article 50 has been somewhat kept at bay by my being entirely unable to look at a television or even check my emails. I'm not going to dwell on it. It's too depressing a thought, largely because it's also our third wedding anniversary. What I will say is that, exactly three years ago, when I walked down the (theatre) aisle with my husband, I felt like I was living in a country which had turned the corner towards openness. Three years on, I feel like we've reversed back round it at top speed. I shall eternally hate Theresa May for choosing my wedding anniversary as the day to do her wicked deed.

Our day started at 5am. 5am! Imagine that! We jumped into the car and drove to a fancy hotel right next to Heathrow Airport. It was one of those curiously laid-out hotels where the car park is miles underground and the reception is in the middle of a shopping mall!

Nathan and I had been booked to do some work with a hugely important charity called the "Buddy Bag Foundation" who create little ruck sacks filled with gifts for young people who end up in women and children refuges across the UK. These kids often turn up in these frightening places in the middle of the night, at very short notice, in nothing but the clothes they're standing up in. The bags are filled with age and gender appropriate things which might cheer them up a little. Colouring crayons. Note pads. A toothbrush and toothpaste. A little photo frame for a special picture which might have been hastily shoved in a bag in the process of escaping a scene of domestic violence. The bags are all topped with a teddy bear, so when the kids open them, it's the first thing they see.

Delegates at the conference we were working on were helping to pack the bags, and seeing the piles of teddies and crayons on trestle tables was heart-breaking. Such simple, inexpensive little things. A smile distilled. The thought that those bags would be opened by potentially terrified children was a great deal more than I could deal with and I had to disappear for a little cry. It's such an important charity. I urge all readers to look into it.

We finished work at noon and leapt into the car. The next port of call was the New Ambassadors Theatre in Central London for the graduation showcase of third year students at Trinity School. I knew three of them: Tom and Jack from the original cast of Brass, and Emyl who was one of the writers I mentored recently. All of them did themselves proud. In fact, I was pretty impressed by the entire year. I have a strong suspicion that Trinity is on the up as a training ground for musical theatre performers. It was a well-timed, well-put-together lunchtime of entertainment which served as a great showcase for all the students. It was rather fun being back at the New Ambassadors theatre. I worked there as the stage door keeper for three years in the late 90s, and know the space like the back of my hand. The stories I can tell you about that place will be reserved for my memoirs on a day when I'm feeling particularly brave and know my parents aren't reading!

We literally ran out of the theatre, jumped into a cab (I don't think I've been in a black cab for five years) and hot-footed it to St James' Theatre in Victoria, which has been recently re-named as "The Other Palace" on account of its proximity to Buckingham Palace and its new-found association with Lord Lloyd Webber, king of musical theatre.

We were there to see a rehearsed reading of Dougal Irvine's new show, Angry Birds, which is a sort of rocky retelling of the story of the Pankhurst Women, imagining all of the suffragettes as actual birds. It shouldn't have worked but I think there's a captivating show in there which really ought to be performed by all sorts of youth groups, if for no other reason than to remind young women about the importance of using their vote.

Dougal writes such interesting music. I think perhaps it's because he's a guitarist that the sonic choices he makes can often be really daring and unusual. He's certainly one of the leading lights of the group of British writers who, like me, are fighting like mad to break through the glass ceiling on top of which Gary Barlow presently sits so smugly!

The piece was performed by highly-talented students on the Mountview Foundation course and directed with subtlety by the incomparable Hannah Chissick.

There was a lovely bunch of characters in the theatre bar afterwards including producers Danielle Taranto and Katie Lipson, Jezza from NYMT, Han, Chris and Maeve (who have variously performed material from Em), Ben from the pop group A1 and the actor Mike Jibson. We sat around for so long that we realised it would only be polite to stay in the theatre and watch their evening show, namely The Wild Party. That would be our third show of the day!

And what a show! I was blown away by its energy and sexual voracity. Drew McOnie's choreography is world class. In fact, it felt somewhat appropriate to be watching his handiwork on the anniversary of our wedding, which he also choreographed.

The cast were superb. It was almost as though Drew had said "your previous ten is our new one and you have to build your characters from there up." Frances Ruffelle was extreme, brave, majestic and actually really moving as Queenie, but the entire cast was hugely committed to the loucheness and decadence of the era. The entire piece felt incredibly authentic and I was really proud to see former NYMT-er Gloria Obianyo delivering a virtuoso performance as Phil. It's a great, great show which I heartily recommend.

As though our day hadn't lasted long enough, we returned to Highgate via the tube, jumped in the car and drove up to Alexandra Palace. It's a little ritual we've developed over the years.

It's such a bizarre place at night. I've written about it in this blog before, but tonight has convinced me that it's a hot-bed for dogging. We pulled up in front of a car which was entirely steamed over and behind a car which had no-one in the front seat but the headlights on. As we walked away from our car, we heard a thud, which turned out to be said car gently rolling into the car in front. A minute or so later, two flush-faced people got out of the back of the car to survey the damage! One assumes that a certain type of activity in the back seat caused the car to start rolling!

Speaking of rolling, as we stood in front of the rose window to pose for our customary anniversary selfie, we were almost engulfed by clouds of dope! Ah! The young people of North London!

We walked back to the car via the road, revelling in the rich, dusty smell of blossom trees. They were in similar full bloom this time three years ago, but for the past two years bad weather has delayed their appearance.

A long, beautiful day! Largely because I've avoided the news!

Brexit vs Legsit

I worked most of the morning and early afternoon in Costa Coffee. I'm now doing forensic work on the Nene composition, which involves diving into the piece and looking at it section by section, part by part. It's the sort of work you can sit and do for long periods of time without coming up for breath, and it was 3pm before I realised I had to stop for lunch.

At a certain point I found my eyes drifting over to the rack of newspapers they have in the cafe and saw, to my great disgust and horror, the Daily Mail's lead story. It showed a picture of Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May, photographed from below with their legs on display. The headline read "never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it?" The article, one assumes, discusses the merits of each woman's legs. I don't even understand the pun.

It is offensive for so many reasons. Aside from being hideously sexist in a Bernard Manning kind of way, what the paper singularly fails to recognise by publishing that piece is the pain that Brexit has caused our country and continues to cause, regardless of which side we're on. Denigrating and trivialising it like this hugely belittles the collective feelings of the nation. I immediately ripped the front cover off the paper and threw it in the bin. Someone I know has removed all the copies of the newspaper from her shop. I went up to the poor (Spanish) bloke behind the counter at Costa and asked whose choice the newspapers were. He looked worried: "Mine. Have I done something wrong?" My heart melted slightly: "What criteria do you use for buying them?" "I buy the two most popular. If you tell me which one to buy, I'll buy that next time." I couldn't bring myself to be the cliche and say "The Guardian." I don't even read the Guardian and although I suspect the good folk of Highgate are more likely to read the Guardian than the Mail, it's not the sort of comic-like paper you want to dip into whilst you sip. The barista's willingness to help had been so disarming that I simply said, "anything but that paper." And that's really how I feel, if I'm honest...

Only the Mail would publish something so offensive on the eve of the day that Theresa May triggers Article 50, which could mean the break up of, not just the European Union but the precious Union of of United Kingdom.

I know they do it for effect. In this respect the Mail is no different to Katie Hopkins or Milo Yiannopoulis. Even talking about the horror I'm feeling is playing right into their hands. But I can't help it. I hate sexism and I feel sad: Losing Europe makes me feel illegitimate. It takes away a huge part of my identity. It's a very bleak day.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Listen to ABBA

It's been a rather frustrating day. Every time I sat down to do some work, something else happened to prevent me from doing it. Phone calls. Emails. A whole heap of washing up. Things I had to attend to. By the time I left the house this evening I'd achieved nothing that I actually wanted to achieve and was a hideous sweaty mess.

This is going to be a deeply pointless blog post as I haven't got enough time to construct a set of views about anything important and I can't write anything about what I was doing tonight because it's all top secret. This itself sounds far more interesting than it actually is. Don't worry; I'm not about to get married in another TV musical or write a composition for Sky Arts using only computer technology. I've simply been on a judging panel. I can't say what I was judging, but I can say that the rest of the panel were lovely people and that I had a very entertaining night. 

I returned to Highgate this evening to find thick, swirling mists rolling up and down the A1. There had been clear skies in Central London, so I actually initially wondered if it was smoke that I was seeing. I even found myself sniffing the air to discover whether Archway Road was ablaze! It turns out that Autumn has returned to these parts, which is strange because I thought the weather was meant to be rather spring-like for the next few days. The fact that I'm attempting to discuss the weather means that it's really time for this blog post to end! Pleasant dreams, blogger pals, and if you're reading this over breakfast, your mission today (should you chose to accept it) is to smile at everyone you pass on your journey to work, to drink a pint of water before you leave the house and to listen to at least one ABBA song. All three things will make you feel much happier.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Mothering Sunday

We woke up rather early this morning after losing an hour with the clocks going forward. I've managed to get to the ripe old age of 42 without ever really knowing whether the clocks go forward or back at this time of year, or even what the concept of going forward does to the actual time. Sometimes I think I must be really rather stupid.

We were on the road by ten, I guess. Quite early on in our journey, we hit a rather large piece of metal which had been deposited in the outside lane on the M1. It was about the size of a bumper. We didn't have time to swerve to avoid it, so made the choice to go straight over the top of it. It made a terrible crunching noise on the bottom of our car which forced us to pull over onto the hard shoulder to check for damage. Fortunately we could see none, but an ever-growing number of people were hitting the obstruction and instantly grinding to a halt. I made the decision to call the police and dialled the non-emergency police number. A pre-recorded voice informed me that there would be a five-minute wait before I'd be able to talk to anyone, so I decided to call the big boys on 999.

Calling 999 is always a bit of a weird experience. There's always a palpable sense that you're wasting someone's time, or that you're somehow tarnishing yourself by being pulled into the murky, dirty world of crime. I was astounded to find myself in a queue for this service as well. A recorded message might as well have informed me that my call was important to them and that they'd answer as soon as a member of staff became available. It took almost five minutes for someone to answer. I imagined how I'd feel if my life was in danger. If I was choking. If someone was in the process of breaking into my house. If I was a woman being followed by someone down an empty street. It's quite horrifying to think that there aren't enough staff to answer these vitally important calls.

I was sent a very charming video today of a group of young children from West Yorkshire singing my "Sing a Song of Yorkshire" composition as part of a medley of songs from that part of the world which included Scarborough Fair and, of course, Ilkley Moor Bar T'at. It's perhaps interesting, and a little sad, to note that none of these deeply patriotic songs were actually written by card-carrying Yorkshire folk. Ilkley Moor, for example, was written by a shoe-maker from Canterbury. I think, having lived in the county for three years, I probably come closest to being legitimate! Anyway, the performance was stunning, the kids were bang on in tune, and my heart broke when one of them pulled out a giant Yorkshire flag at the end and started waving it in the style of Les Miserables. I blinking love everything about Yorkshire!

It's Mothering Sunday today. I refuse to acknowledge the term "Mother's Day" as it feels somewhat American. We drove up to Nathan's Mum for a glorious lunch with his close family. I'm thrilled to report that Nathan's four-year old great niece is developing a glorious Lancashire accent. A northern accent is the best gift you can give to a child, after music and a second language! We crammed ourselves around the kitchen table to eat. I think I was sitting on an occasional table. Poor Ron was forced to sit on his own, on a stool against the side board. It felt like we were ostracising him. I was instantly reminded of the tales my Mum tells of the days when she was courting my dad. My Welsh Nana didn't approve of my Mum in the slightest, so, whilst she, my Grandad and my Dad ate their food in the dining room by the patio windows, my mother was forced to sit in the garden on a little bench eating sandwiches she'd brought from home with her! It's one of the most tragic stories I've ever heard!

Facebook was filled today with my terribly conscientious friends attempting to wish each other a happy Mothering Sunday whilst being deeply inclusive to those without children or mothers. It all got a little bit ludicrous if you ask me. It's not as though Mothering Sunday was invented to deliberately exclude people. I realise that it's a very sad day for some people, and my heart absolutely goes out to anyone reading this who has recently lost a child or a mother, but at the same time, if we're hell-bent on investing energy in celebrating these peculiarly manufactured days, I do think we ought to be able to celebrate the positive without worrying about causing offence. I enjoy celebrating my birthday without feeling the need to wish everyone else a happy unbirthday. Humpty Dumpty I am not!

Before we left Shropshire, I was introduced to a word I'd never heard before. Seersucker. It's a type of slightly-ruched fabric which was popular in the 1950s for dresses and tablecloths. Nathan's Mum showed me a table cloth made from seersucker which had once belonged to her Mam.

We went home via Thaxted. My Mum sounded very glum on the phone when I called her after lunch, so we thought a little surprise visit was called-for. It actually only added about an hour onto our journey time and it was so nice to see the parents and have a few cheese crackers for the road.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Waves of dust

Fiona has one of the most comfortable beds I've ever slept in. Her bedroom in Hove has enormous windows and the rising sun pours in in waves of dusty light. We always sleep with the curtains firmly closed at home, in a South West-facing room, so it's a while since I've been awoken by a rising sun. Actually, because the clocks went forward last night, it strikes me that it will also be a while before the sun rises at such an early hour again. I lay for some time in the glorious shaft of light wondering whether to get up or fall asleep again. I fell asleep again...

Before returning to London, I took a final walk along the seafront from Hove to Brighton. It was a glorious day: Blue skies and fluffy white vapour trails thrusting vertically towards the heavens. The sun was reflecting on the surface of the sea so dazzlingly that it burned into my retinas.

I had breakfast behind a giant wind break at one of the little cafes on the seafront. Full vegetarian. Orange juice. Nice cup of tea. I didn't rate the tomatoes, which were served them raw. I like cooked tomatoes at breakfast time, so I gave mine to a passing seagull. I watched the doggies jumping excitedly on the heaped pebbles of the beach, and children stumbling barefooted down to the water's edge.

I got to the train station only to learn that a rail replacement bus was randomly going to be taking me to Three Bridges, where I'd need to catch my train to London. I genuinely don't know how anyone lives on the god forsaken Southeastern train line without experiencing depression on a daily basis.

This evening we went down to Limehouse to a party at Nathan's friend's Francine's house. It was a fabulous occasion. I met a potter from Hastings and a fabulous woman who's turned her recidivist tendency to write letters of complaint into a book.

We always have to remember to call the host Francine with a soft c. The registrar at our wedding was also Francine, but she pronounced it with a harsher "ch" sound. I'm reminded of the story of a friend of mine called Marc, who went into a Starbucks where they write your name on the paper coffee cups and told them that his name was "Marc with a c." Imagine his horror, therefore, when the cup came back with the word "Cark" scrawled across it!

I learned today that UKIPs only MP, Douglas Carswell, has now left the party. Twat. That piece of information cheered me up almost as much as Donald Trump's recent political catastrophes.

Saturday, 25 March 2017


I was very frustrated this morning to hear an Imam on television talking about his anger at the phrase "Islamic terrorism." His point was that terrorism is always a response to the political situation in the Middle East rather than a man's personal religion. Obviously I have a degree of sympathy for what he's saying - we mustn't tar everyone with the same brush - but, at the same time, religious leaders within the Muslim community can't completely wash their hands of responsibility for what is going on within their own religious community. The fact remains that, whether these people are nutty or not, and whether their actions are triggered by world politics, the terrorists doing these deeds are linked by an interest in Islam. It's an unavoidable fact. You can blame the West intervening in Iraq and Afghanistan as much as you like but there is something implicit, or at least something which can be interpreted as implicit within the Muslim faith which justifies violence being committed against those who don't share the same beliefs.

I think if there's one general problem with Western Liberalism, it's that we tend to excuse or justify dreadful behaviour in our rush to find a reason for why it's happening. The "Hug a Hoodie" campaign was probably the most extreme and tragic example of this particular tendency. I personally believe that bad behaviour is bad behaviour. There's always an excuse. Actually, the fact is that some people are just nasty.

Bizarrely, it strikes me that one of the only communities which regularly finds itself criticised without anyone feeling the need to view its members' behaviour through a wider lens is the Jewish community. No discussion about the Jewish people in the UK seems to be complete without some sort of Israel-bashing. If we're not allowed to blanket criticise all Muslims, we certainly shouldn't presume that all Jewish people are somehow implicit in the decisions the leaders of Israel make.

What I would say is that if all of England's annexed neighbours - Scotland and Wales etc - were vowing to wipe us off the face of the earth, whilst the rest of our neighbours were different shades of hostile or indifferent, I think we'd probably be behaving a little bit more aggressively ourselves.

I spent the day in a single cafe today. It was heavenly. The sun was shining and warming my neck. The sea breeze was blowing. I got all the work done that I needed to do. Brighton is certainly a good place to visit if you need to knuckle down and do a bit of work.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Je ne suis pas London

I sat in the Bandstand Cafe in Hove today listening into a conversation between two Dads. They had four children between them and were having exactly the sort of conversation I overhear amongst the yummy mummies of Highgate. It was very strange. Somewhat emasculating. They were talking about their children's physical and mental development in that "I'm pretending to listen, but actually I now just want to tell you how amazing my child is because you're making me feel inadequate" sort of way.

It's a little weird being in Brighton whilst my beloved home town comes to terms with what happened yesterday. Obviously I've been thinking a great deal about. I've been doing the thing I think we all do and imagining what would have happened if I'd been in Westminster witnessing those awful events. Would I have run away like a little frightened animal? Probably. If I'd have been carrying a pack of bacon from Tesco, would I have smeared it all over the attacker as he lay dying? I like to think so.

I found myself instinctively moving away from the edge of the road at one point. I realised I was waiting for a vehicle to mount the pavement. At that point it occurred to me that the most important thing Londoners can do is to try to put a little perspective on the event. The media is not exactly helping, with its insatiable appetite for dogma, hyperbole and generally emotional reporting. The fact is that it's been ten years since London was last attacked in this nature, and the loss of life on this occasion was relatively small. I don't feel the event merits an hysterical "Je Suis London" response. Dangerous drivers cause far more death and destruction on our motorways, and we haven't yet entered a moral panic about drink driving. Yes, it's terrible that a religious ideology exists that would think it okay to kill indiscriminately like this, but we're not going to change that fact by assuming the role of the victim. Actually, I tend to think that the more we collectively grieve, the more we play into the hands of IS, making it all the more likely that some other religious dick will do something similar in the near future. Until we recognise religion as a form of mental illness, people will continue to legitimise war. 

It was incredibly cold in Brighton this afternoon in a brutally surprising way! Great arctic winds blasted their way down the avenues, freezing everyone's skin to the bones and ruining the carefully quaffed bouffants of the good burgers of Brighton.

I walked from Hove to Brighton to meet Hilary, who'd hopped on a train from Lewes to have tea with me. We walked along the sea front and then ate in an Italian restaurant, chatting about vocal cords and the state of music education in both state and private education, which is usually where the conversation ends up when the two of us hook up! It was so lovely to see her although I ate way too much.

I have done a lot of work on Em today. I rather like being down here. My mind feels sharper. More focussed.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Victoria meeting

I had a meeting in Victoria today in a tall concrete building, not dissimilar to Centre Point. We were up on the 13th floor in a room with commanding views across a wet and windy city. It's been a ghastly day today. London turned a dark shade of grey and everyone was in a terrible rush to be, well, anywhere else! Someone knocked my mobile phone clean out of my hand at the tube station. He was in such a hurry, that the force of him bashing into me sent the phone spiralling out of my hand and across the ticket hall where it came to rest underneath the legs of a little old lady. She gave me such a look as I grappled to pick it up. As though I were some kind of gerontophile, trying to get a look up her skirt!

After the meeting I went to a little cafe to do some work, and, somewhat momentously, joined the two halves of my Nene composition together. The piece needs to be 12 minutes long, so I was somewhat astonished to discover that the two halves together were running at exactly 12 minutes! The piece still needs more space to breathe, however, so I might have to lift out a section and reserve it for the longer version which is being performed next year. It feels like a really important moment, however, in the time line of the composition. Obviously, there's a multitude of work to do on the piece in terms of fine-tuning, but to be at this stage already feels like a huge achievement.

I feel slightly blessed to have left Victoria some twenty minutes before the terrorist attack happened in Westminster, which was just a five-minute walk from the cafe in which I was sitting. My original plan had been to stay there until my train to Brighton this evening, but I was scuppered by my tumble drier deciding not to dry my clothes properly. I ended up needing to return home to pack before heading out. Quite where I would have been otherwise, I dread to think. My heart goes out to anyone who was caught up in the mayhem. It must have been deeply terrifying. But we have to do the British thing of keeping calm and carrying on. Those bastards will not prevent democracy or liberty.

I don't know what I was expecting by getting a 5.40pm train to Brighton on a week day, or in fact, why the was selling cheap tickets on this particular train, but it was standing room only. I ended up crammed into a corner by the door, barely able to breathe without choking on halitosic fumes, whilst the man next to me listened to the Fine Young Cannibals singing Good Thing on his headphones. I joined in at one point. He was plainly playing the music so loud that he didn't notice.

At Croydon, there was enough of an exodus for me to be able to sit on the floor in the train's vestibule. The stale stench of the sticky carpet serenaded my nostrils. I could see the glimmer of a beautiful pink sunset through the flickering trees in the window above me.

I finally got to sit down on a proper seat at Hassocks. I had a blissful five minutes' of composing time before arriving at Brighton Station.

I walked to Fiona's house in Hove via a series of back streets. I've eaten some pasta tonight, watched some films and composed some more music. I think it's going to rain for the rest of the week, which rather dashes my hopes of sitting by the sea with a manuscript, all tragic and pale, like something from Death In Venice.

I'm up late trying to upload something onto iTunes, but it keeps failing. It's only three minutes long. I'm plainly doing something wrong. Just call me Grampa!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Too much news

I've done a fair amount of driving today: all the way down to Bexleyheath and back to Highgate. As a result, I've listened to a lot of Radio 4, and can only conclude that too much news gets broadcast these days. Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm trying to avoid news at the moment. It seems pointless. Unnecessarily bleak. Divisive. And yet, for my entire hour's journey there and back I heard nothing but news. In fact, I heard the same reports over and over again, to the extent that I was hearing the exact same words coming over the airways at the exact same point on both journeys. It was excessively dull, particularly as most of the airtime was dedicated to Northern Irish people going on about the death of Martin McGuinness. Whenever I hear that accent, I tend to hear the squelch of homophobia.

Yeah. I get it: we can't take laptops on planes from Turkey any more, Colin Dexter has died (he started writing crime novels on a wet holiday in Wales, woopie doo) and Nicola Sturgeon hates Theresa May. Radio 4 have told me these facts repeatedly. I would rather have heard Poetry Please, or, let's face it, the Shipping Forecast.

I was in the curious concrete jungle known as Bexleyheath for a meeting with Hannah, where we essentially unstitched the whole of the first act of Em. It was a hugely productive evening. I got to hang out with Hannah's delightful son and we had a lovely meal. We worked hard and I left feeling pretty exhausted!

This morning I had a meeting at Central with a chap called Chris who's MD-ing Em. We worked our way through the show's music, bar by bar and I think he's feeling fairly enthused about the show as a result. Just like policemen, MDs are getting younger by the minute! I don't yet think I've worked with one in musical theatre over the age of 25!

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Em day

Today's been a day of Em which started with a lunchtime meeting at Central School with our director Hannah, and the head of the musical theatre course there, Wendy. I was profoundly scared about going in. Handing over a baby which has been gestating for years is a really brave thing to do, and, all too often, directors and producers can be overly cutting and brutal, which simply has the effect of kicking a writer in the guts when he's at his most vulnerable. I don't really care how harsh a set of notes are, as long as the person giving feedback is coming from a place where they think the piece has at least the potential to be wonderful.

I needn't have worried. Hannah and Wendy gave brilliant notes, which very much came from a place of love for the show. There's a lot more work to do, which terrifies me in terms of my not having any earnings coming in, but their input on the reading was both insightful and terribly useful. The main message was clear: the show has authenticity and heart in abundance, which is 50% of the journey covered. What it now needs is more craft. They're focussing mainly on the show's script. There's a somewhat relieving belief that I'm a highly competent songwriter who doesn't need a huge amount of guidance in that field. What they're after is character development, primarily to enhance the journey of the Central character, Em, and to allow the decisions that she makes to seem more believable.

I'm going to Hannah's house tomorrow night to really get inside the script.

There's a lot of work to do, and I'm taking myself to Brighton at the end of the week to write another draft without the distractions of anything but the roaring, yellow sea.

We had a production meeting which slightly turned into one of those moments when everyone asks us what we want before telling us what we want is impossible. Actually, I think Em would have great impact with just a beautiful set of costumes and some tasteful lighting and sound. We already know that the actors at Central are right at the tops of their games. The production team seem very jolly and hugely capable as well, to the extent that I felt the need to gushingly thank them for helping me to bring the story to life. 

The Em vibe continued this evening at the MMD new writers' cabaret, which, I was thrilled to discover, was being compèred by the ever-adorable and deeply-talented Jake and Pippa. They sang a song from their Adrian Mole show which was really very special. That said, I always thought Adrian Mole was set in Leicester, so was a little surprised to hear Pippa saying she couldn't do a "northern" accent. If this blog achieves nothing else, it will reclaim the Midlands in the brains of those who read it regularly! That said, wasn't the Mum played by Lulu in the TV series in a broad Scottish accent? I may have made that up.

As usual, a good variety of songs were performed, including an excellent piece by Michelle Hutchins, bravely and beautifully sung by Sévan Stephan from Stratford East. Other highlights included Lauren Hillier singing from her show Nursery Crimes sans her partner-in-(nursery)-crime, Ryan, and a fabulous song by a 16 year-old girl, who plainly has a big future ahead of her, maybe more as a singer-songwriter than as a musical theatre writer, but her talent will out.

Once again many of the songs were too long. In my view there has to be a very good reason for a musical theatre song to top four minutes, and it's most likely to be that it's a massive all-singing-all-dancing show-stopper. I want to sit down with some of the writers and introduce them to form, musical structure and narrative drive. The audience started clapping early during one song. It was a great song, but it had started to outstay its welcome. I hope the writer took on board the subconscious collective note that the audience was giving him at that point.

Abbie sang the song from Em with panache and great beauty. I really love her lower range. So round and chocolaty.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Em reading

We had our read through for Em today. We were very kindly donated a most beautiful space in the Bishopsgate Institute, which is an astounding and surprisingly enormous building opposite Liverpool Street station. The complex is filled with grand halls and an ornate library. When we got into the room it had been set out with a keyboard and a huge table which we all sat around.

The crowd of actors who read for us were a wonderful and hugely talented bunch. On one side of the table sat two actresses, Nicola and Annabelle, whom I'd done student drama with, and on the other sat Laura, Andrew and Adam who were all in the NYMT productions of Brass. It was like looking into a giant mirror and seeing two generations of the same group of people.

It was such a treat to have Nic and Annabelle with us. Both are hugely well-respected actresses. Annabelle actually plays Kirsty in the Archers, which, as I get older, becomes something that seems to excite more and more of my friends! She's a genuine Scouser as well, so hearing her reading a series of cameo roles in the genuine accent was hugely gratifying.

I focussed on finding actors who came from the place where the characters were from so that they were able to give me the heads up if there was an issue with dialect or believability. Llio, for example, read the role of the Welsh girl, Bron, but because she's a proper Welshie, was able to tell me that the language and style of the character I've written is more South Walean than the girl from North Wales I'd initially imagined, so I feel like I'm on an almost constant learning curve.

During the read-through, we sang some of the songs. Top marks went to Laura and Llio who performed Warwickshire and Delusion with breathtaking beauty. Nathan's rendition of You Will Be Loved was similarly heart-stopping. I had to sing three of the songs. Heaven knows how I did. I get so tongue-tied and nervous doing anything like that, that I can end up completely freezing over. I genuinely don't have the mentality of a performer.

Hannah brought two wonderful young actors into the fold in the shape of an Irish lass called Maeve and a Scottish lad called Steven.

We were also joined by the luminous Clare Chandler from Edge Hill university, who's been advising on Em from the beginning, and Llio's Mum, Silvia, who happened to be down for the weekend, so I was thrilled to be able to invite her along. She always finds a way of saying exactly the right thing about my projects. She talks from the heart and was hugely touched by the story and music.

The rest of the crowd were all very friendly people from Central who will be working on the production in various different behind the scenes guises.

We went for a drink afterwards in the Weatherspoons next to Liverpool Street Station. We sat outside in an area which turns out to be a Mecca for homeless people. We were joined for some time by a somewhat volatile young man, who told me he was from "Michigan in Flint." "Do you mean Flint in Michigan?" I asked. "I am Marshall Mathers" he said; a rather strong Eastern European accent cutting through. It was all rather strange. Nothing he said made any sense whatsoever but he seemed quite happy simply to be sitting with us, periodically making bizarre interruptions which felt like a small child sticking crayons in a bicycle wheel.

We all get told off for being snobbish Londoners and completely ignoring homeless people when they approach us, but the sad truth is that being friendly can occasionally backfire. Our friend today suddenly stood up, yelled at the top of his lungs, grabbed the first thing he could from the table, and started brandishing it aggressively. Fortunately, his weapon of choice was a plastic water bottle, but he could easily have chosen one of the glass beer bottles which were sitting next to the water. He then grabbed my nose and pulled incredibly hard. He was plainly off his face on alcohol and completely out of control. Bouncers arrived and he was escorted away from the bar. He looked really sad as they marched out. I felt a sense of great relief. Five minutes later he was trying to kiss a young woman who was waiting for a friend at the top of the escalators into the station. It was all so desperately sad. I wondered how anyone could get into such a desperately sorry state. He was young as well. It's such a waste.


I wrote the first minute of music for the Nene composition yesterday. The first incarnation of the composition, the one which will be performed at the Albert Hall, needs to be twelve minutes long, and, for some reason, I started writing it at the three minute mark. I've staggered through to the end, and am now back at the beginning, terrified that it will be like that famous bridge, which they started building at the two ends, which ended up not meeting in the middle. I'm presently cruising along in E major at a fast four four tempo, yet, within a minute, I'll have to have worked my way towards D flat major and a 9/8 time signature. I think this is what Nathan would call backward engineering!

My Coventry Market film continues to go a bit viral after Harry Hill's fabulous parody of it last week. Rufus Hound, Lorraine Kelly, Jennifer Saunders and him off of Muse have all tweeted about it. I think the majority of people still think it was made in the 1980s as some sort of advert for the market, and are probably slightly unaware of the tongue-in-cheek nature of the original film, which was only ever made as a celebration of eccentricity. My attention was drawn to a tweet today from a woman who simply wrote, "my husband has made the Coventry Market song his ring tone." She'd included a meme of someone bashing his head in a sort of "doh" way. The film has had about 30 thousand extra views in the past week. Perhaps it will catch up with his sister film, Tyne and Wear Metro the Musical.

I spent the day today doing admin. We have a read through of Em tomorrow afternoon and it's been a veritable nightmare to organise. Hannah Chiswick (the director) and I are pulling in all sorts of favours to make it happen, and people are bending over backwards to help us, but it's a heck of a lot of work. I was so frantically busy that I realised, at 4pm today, I was still half-dressed, hadn't eaten anything, and smelt of fear! I instantly had my second bath of the day.

This evening I did my third quiz as a quiz master. This one was in a school in Woking, and, after a bit of a nervy start, I felt it went rather well. I think these things are all about finding the sort of quiz master you want to be. There are all sorts of options. You can be schoolmarmish, authoritative, one of the lads, smarmy, charismatic, charming, geeky. I think my schtick is more likely to be on the sardonic spectrum. I enjoy the work enormously. The people I work for are all exceptionally charming and right at the tops of their games within the quizzing fraternity.

Friday, 17 March 2017

There's a bird!

It all got a bit French bohemian literary salon at Till-Taylor Towers last night. Fiona was on the sofa, supping red wine, whilst we listened to the mixes from the studio sessions she's been doing this week, which are remarkably atmospheric. Nathan was knitting socks. The bohemian garret vibe was entirely wrecked, however, when we suddenly found ourselves taking pictures on Snapchat which made us laugh so much that the neighbours must have thought we were getting stoned.

Last night we went up to Tally Ho Corner in Finchley to the charming Arts Depot theatre where we watched an amateur production of the musical version of The Full Monty. It's a peculiar piece. The writers, in their American wisdom, decided to take Sheffield out of the original story, and set the piece in Buffalo, which was, by all accounts, the steel-working capital of the United States until the manufacturing base dropped out of the country. The parallel is a good one and the story works well in its new setting, but it's bit of a non-show, musically speaking. The writer, whose work I'm fairly familiar with, is a groove-meister, who places a great deal of emphasis on riffs and bass lines, whilst seemingly ignoring the concept of melody! It's not a road crash of a show by any means. The songs are thoroughly pleasant and the grooves work well for dance breaks. I just think if we're performing American musicals over here, they have to be amazing, or we might as well keep it British. The irony, of course, about farming out a musical about the death of British industry to the Americans is not lost on me. The Chinese steel our steal industry. The Americans steel our stories. We import their musical theatre. British musical theatre writers starve.

The cast did very well, all things considered. There were one or two vocal squawks, which were very occasionally matched by strange noises from clarinets in the pit, but with all the nudity and stuff in the show, it's a really brave piece for amateurs to performers. I was very impressed.

I took a rest from the Nene yesterday, and focussed instead on a song from Em, which the lovely Abbie is going to be singing at the MMD cabaret on Monday. The cabaret has slightly taken me by surprise this month. I was coasting along thinking I'd get around to asking Abbie if she'd sing for me at some point, looked at my diary yesterday and realised it was suddenly upon us. So I spent the day whipping that particular song into shape, creating a little backing track, and tidying up the lyrics.

George Michael's shrine is still going strong up in the village. They've moved it from the pavement directly outside his old house to the little triangle of municipally-owned grass about ten meters away. It's a really very lovely, peaceful spot. People have hung beautiful hearts, ribbons and candles on the trees, and there are flags from all over the world draped on the fences. It feels like its become an important location for his fans, and I'm really proud of Highgate residents for not demanding the shrine's removal. It's probably creating a bit of a tourism boom, so I say let's keep it! Every time I've been past it, it's been full of people.

I forgot to post this last night, which is possibly just as well, because this morning we were awoken by the sound of Fiona screaming "there's a bird! Oh my God, there's a bird." It seems that a little blue tit had come in through the kitchen window, flown the length of our corridor and up into the loft where she was sleeping. Actually the most important thing is to remain calm at all times with birds. Talk very gently to them, open the window, and they'll soon find the way out... as our little fella duly did. He stopped for a moment on the window ledge as though to say "thank you" or "sorry to panic you..." and then flew off into the big wide world.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Little teapots

I was horrified to learn today that there are now primary state schools in Haringey where parents are being asked to "make donations" towards music, drama and sports classes, because there's no longer any money available from the state to fund it. The same is true, apparently, in schools all over London. Surely the point of state education is that it's free? The moment you get into parents paying for any aspect of education, you run the risk that people will be able to "buy" their children places in over-subscribed or high-performing schools. Yet again, it just shows how foolishly ignorant the government is when it comes to seeing the importance of "extra curricular" activities.

Speaking of our titwank government, I understand the whole issue with self-employed people being brutalised by NI contributions has now gone away. Own goal. Right in the back of the net. Theresa May is a dick.

I've nothing else to write. I'm still reeling from a hugely unpleasant incident which involved an entire room of people being encouraged to make "gay teapot gestures" by a man who repeatedly told them to "gay it up some more and show how effeminate you can look." I'm not in a position to go into detail. Everyone thought it was so so funny. Except me. I can guarantee I was the only gay man in the room. It instantly threw me back to the 1980s when people used to throw the limp-wristed gesture at me on an almost daily basis and I had to pretend it didn't bother me. This evening I felt both incredibly angry and desperately uncomfortable to the extent that I left the room.

My community still has such a long way to go...

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Huge moon

I sat in a cafe today listening to a poor bloke from Australia who'd plainly just moved to the UK with his family. He was on the phone to Haringey Council trying to get a place in a school for his child. Plainly they were being completely useless, as always, asking him for stuff he simply couldn't provide, and I could hear the terrible stress and misery in his voice. "In Australia" he said, "you just turn up to admissions with your kid, and they do the rest. I'm never gonna drop mud on the Australian system again... and I'm a school teacher!"

Anyone who thinks immigrants have it easy in this country should be forced to listen to recordings of the conversations he was having. Frankly, I don't know why anyone would want to come to this country right now. I don't even know that this country exists any more. Plainly, there will be some godforsaken catastrophe in Brexit negotiations which will lead to Scotland bailing out of the UK, and then we'll just be left with the dry husk of our once, great, unified nation.

It was another crazy spring-like day today. I went to the gym in the early evening and was immediately struck by the glorious sound of birds singing. It's obviously mating season because they were having a marvellous time. The air was ripe with the scent or flowers. I didn't know spring flowers could be so pungent.

I had lunch in Camden Market today with young Harrison. He'd never seen the place before, so it was a privilege to give him his first taste. It's still quite some location. I reckon you can pretty much find any type of street food there, and if you're looking for a slightly eccentric or alternative gift, that's the place to find it. Of course, like all of the things I write about in my blog, it was a lot more of an adventure in the days before the hipsters and the truck loads of tourists took over. It felt like a proper hidden gem back in the 90s.

The moon was enormous earlier, like a giant peach dangling behind a frayed net curtain. It was almost full. I couldn't tell if it was waxing or waining. It's good to know these things because Nathan always goes a little nutty in a full moon. Fiona does the same thing. It's hardly surprising, I guess, when you consider the effect the moon's cycles has on the tides, and the fact that humans are up to something like 75% water. So basically we're all potentially dealing with our own internal tides.

When I looked at the moon later this evening it was happily sitting next to Venus, which itself was tartishly bright. I'm wondering if the cosmos is trying to tell us something.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Playing chess

I walked into Highgate in stunning early spring sunshine this morning. It was a great thrill simply to be out and about. I stood in the queue at Costa Coffee, texting Philippa about the fact that Björn from ABBA had made a guest appearance at the Women of the World Festival. When I reached the front of the queue, I put my phone down and looked at the man behind the counter. "£2, please" he said. I looked behind me to see if he was talking to someone else. He thrust a tray towards me: "a pot of tea and a tap water," he said, "it's what you usually have." Bless him. He'd seen me in the queue and processed my order without my even having to ask! I was both hugely impressed and very touched. I'd actually only been in there twice last week, and on both occasions I was served by a lady. Heaven knows how he'd remembered my order. I think it's what comes from having a large moustache. People remember me as the one that looks like a walrus. If I shaved it off, I'm sure I'd instantly become invisible!

But back to Björn. Much as I admire anyone with the taste to book an ABBA for any form of event, I'm not altogether sure that a male songwriter is what you might imagine the Women of the World festival wanting to celebrate. Particularly a songwriter who walked out on his wife and made her sing a song about the divorce!

A man sat opposite me in the cafe playing himself at chess. He seemed perfectly happy, and I've subsequently realised how patronising I was being when I realised the sight was making me feel a little sad. I imagined, of course, that he was playing chess against himself because he had no friends, but then I realised that most of us spend hours by ourselves, reading or playing silly games online. What is the difference? The only difference is that he's not nuking himself with radio waves or whatever powers our mobile phones. He was reading a book called Cunningham Bandit, which appeared to be a sort of chess equivalent of the musician's dreaded "Rudiments of Theory."

I worked in the cafe without stopping for five straight hours, went to the gym, and then came home and worked until my ears felt like they were bleeding Nene water! I've reached the end stages of the composition, where the river flows out into the sea, which plainly has to be the moment when the entire ensemble plays together for the first time. Writing for such an enormous number of musicians is hideously daunting. I basically spent most of the day merely focussing on the brass band (a quarter of the ensemble) in a two-minute sequence. I counted the staves earlier. There are 45 of the blighters, and I'm presently throwing all the doubling instruments onto the same lines. Ludicrous.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Bad grading

Today was meant to be all about R and R. Is that the phrase? Rest and relaxation? It doesn't matter, really, because I didn't do a great deal of it. I used the day instead to do admin, completing yet another application for funding. You'd think I'd be getting good at them by now, but I still find them a nightmare. I got incredibly confused this afternoon trying to crunch numbers. I don't know why I was finding it all so confusing. Nothing seemed to be making sense, until I realised that one of the numbers I'd inputted into the online form hadn't registered properly. It's probably something to do with being so exhausted after so much driving at the end of last week.

Speaking of exhaustion, Nathan returned today from the Edinburgh Yarn Festival where he's been surrounded by giddy, over-excited knitters for the past four days. He seems to have developed some kind of dreadful chest infection whilst up there because he sounds like he's been swallowing pieces of sandpaper. We've been communicating via hand gestures.

We spent the night watching telly, eating pizza and getting to know this year's Eurovision Song Contest entries. We also watched The Voice, and were astonished by how badly the show had been graded - which for the telly un-savvy is the process where an editor uses contrast, curves and saturation to make the colours on the screen either pop, or tie together more appropriately. Editors will usually start from the perspective that anything which looks like it should be white ought to be bright white, and that anything approaching black needs to be pitch black. The result is a very glitzy, shiny, well-defined corporate look. The problem, of course, is that the majority of whites are actually dirty creams, and most blacks are shades of grey, so if you start forcing these extreme hues into polarised boxes, the colours in between can start to look very weird - and this is particularly noticeable when it comes to skin tone. Judge Gavin spent the entire show with bright yellow cheeks, and one of the black girls ended up with a bright green forehead. I don't know why people don't spot these things.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Grand Hotel and Melodifestivalen

I'm sitting with Brother Edward in Canary Wharf watching Eurovision Song Contest entries for this year. Early doors predictions suggests that Italy will win, with an incredibly charismatic singer and a man in a gorilla suit! Eyes down for some hard-core yodelling from Romania, a woman with an incredibly low voice singing dark synth pop from Belgium, and a really catchy song from Estonia. Speaking purely from my heart, however, for me it's still all about Finland's deeply touching entry, Blackbird, which has made me cry every time I've heard it so far.

The big draw this evening, however, was the final of Melodifestivalen, which is the Swedish mega-search for their Eurovision entry. They take it incredibly seriously, which is probably one of the reasons why they've placed in the top five for the last ten years. In fact, they take Eurovision so seriously, that they always have an international jury at their internal competition. It is not enough for the Swedes to know they've chosen a song which their nation loves, they also need to know that the rest of Europe will "get it." Melodifestivalen lasts for weeks, with a series of heats slowly whittling the songs down. It's the biggest show on Swedish telly. If the BBC didn't whittle their songs down behind closed doors, it might be that we too could have a winning song.

The Melodifestivalen winning psong is brilliant. It could well win the whole contest. It's got a gimmick, a good looking performer with sparking blue eyes, and a catchy chorus. The gimmick involves the five performers doing choreography on running machines. Nothing new, there, but it's plenty enough to get the Eurovision voters excited.

This afternoon I went to Central School to see this year's third year musical theatre performers in Maury Yeston's Grand Hotel. It was really rather odd to think that this very bunch of kids will be performing Em in a few months' time. Of course, it was really hard to watch them without casting the show in my head, but I doubt I shall have much say in those sorts of decisions.

The production was wonderful. The set was fabulous. The band sounded brilliant. And the cast acted their socks off. I saw them kîuihin Sunday In the Park with George at the end of their last academic year, and they've all improved greatly. I got quite excited to think about them doing Em.

Grand Hotel is a slightly odd show. Musically, it's pretty good. I have a huge amount of respect for Maury Yeston as a composer. Nine, for example, is one of my all-time favourite scores. Yeston, however, in my view, never opts to set the most interesting stories to music. Nine, from a purely dramatic perspective, is about as entertaining as pubic lice, and Grand Hotel rather limps along, featuring an ensemble of characters, none of whom are particularly likeable, have any form of redemption, or really feature enough in the piece for an audience to get to know them. But it was certainly a good choice for the drama school because it gave a good number of the kids a big chunk of material to sink their teeth into.

I feel I may sleep forever tonight...

Hampshire Coast

It's 10.55am and I've only just woken up! Yesterday was a long old day, which involved much driving, and saw me getting back to Highgate finally at almost 2am.

The day started in our Farnham hotel, with a walk down to breakfast through the corridor with the really peculiar atmosphere. I eventually asked our waitress if anyone else had reported ghostly sightings in the passageway. She nodded profusely. "Many times. By the bar there, and up in room 2." Fortunately I hadn't been staying in room two. Mind you, go to any ancient coaching house in the U.K. and someone will tell you it's haunted, so I don't think anyone should feel the need to sack Derek Acorah on my part.

We had a little wander about the charity shops in the town centre before jumping in the car and driving down to Lymington, where we were due to run a second quiz. Abbie made my day by mistakenly calling it "Lymington Spa." There's a joke in Em where someone confuses Leamington and Lymington, and, funnily enough, when my Mum went down to the Isle of Wight for holidays with her grandparents, she went from Leamington to Lymington, so the names of both towns are firmly engraved in my family's consciousness.

We had most of the day off and really wanted to see the sea. Neither of us get an opportunity to see it very often. Lymington is at the top of an estuary but isn't really very beachy, so we continued down to what, on a map, looked like it might be the nearest seaside town: Milford on Sea.

It was hugely romantic and misty down there. It was rather odd to think that, on any other day, we'd have had extraordinary views of the Isle of Wight from down there, but, instead, the light grey waves vanished into a pure white echoey haze. We walked along the steep pebble beach for a while, taking in huge gulps of the bracing, yet enriching sea air.

We both had work to do, so stationed ourselves in the corner of a little seaside cafe, where a pot of tea and an enormous slice of cake cost just £2.80. I suppose we worked for three or so hours. I continued my Nene composition, periodically looking out of the window at the sea for watery inspiration. As it happens, I was writing the sequence where the Nene becomes tidal and ultimately flows into the sea, so it couldn't have been more appropriate.

Whilst in the cafe, I caught up on Twitter, and realised that Harry Hill's ode to Coventry Market The Musical on his Alien Fun Capsule programme has caused a bit of a social media stir. We'd known for some time that Hill was going to be parodying my film on his show and had obviously been delighted by the prospect because he's a great fan of wackiness and is never cruel when he takes the pee. As with all of the musical films I created for the BBC regions, the entire Coventry Market film was made with its tongue very firmly planted in the side of its cheek, and we knew Hill knew that. I'm told he's been watching the film for years.

I haven't yet watched the piece, but I know Cathy Burke, Ainsley Harriott and Lorraine Kelly are singing lines in an updated version of my song, so, really, one could argue that my work on this planet is done!

There's also been a spike in visits to my other films on YouTube. The Metro film now has 114k views.

Just like Coventry Market, the cafe in Milford on Sea was filled to the brim with characters, many rather old and infirm. We watched people shuffling in with sticks and strollers, each footstep seemingly causing them more pain than the last. But they were still there. Still going to the cafe every day. Still keeping their minds alive. The conversations were wonderful, "ooh, look, Peter, that painting on the wall's finally been sold." "I wonder if John's going to put jam in his hot chocolate..."

Our quiz was in a beautiful school which apparently has grounds which feature majestic views of the island. When it's not misty! 

The quiz went well. It was a lovely, boisterous crowd, all of whom seemed to be genuinely up for it.

The journey home took us through the New Forest, which was deeply eerie. Putting the car headlights on full beam was a really bizarre experience. They reflected on the mist and made it look somehow like an alien aircraft had its landing lights pointing down on us. I half expected to see the Black Shug or some mystical white horse rearing up in the middle of the road.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Quizzy Rascal

So it appears that the f**king Tories have clobbered self-employed people in the recent budget by raising national insurance levels to the extent that the average self-employed person will be £240 a year worse off. Brilliant. As if we weren't being clobbered enough by those evil bastards. I would have thought a money-grabbing set of slags like that would traditionally favour the self-employed, but it seems this is not the case. Their point appears to be that they want to bring the rates that self-employed people pay in NI in line with regularly employed people. But let's make one thing clear. Self employed people do not get sickness pay, or maternity pay, or pensions. I've already been reading accounts from some of my friends, who teach a few singing or piano classes a week, who are saying that they simply can't afford to give lessons anymore, if, by giving them, they're going to be clobbered by these extra charges. It's hopeless.

What of course will happen is that low earning, self-employed people will start disappearing under the radar, or simply deciding not to declare certain earnings. I hate the fact that low-earning, hard-working people are being clobbered like this, whilst the multi-nationals continue to pay what they fancy in tax. Personally speaking, if I were trying to raise money to pay for Brexit, I'd halve the pensions of all the baby boomers whose selfish, unthinking behaviour caused this mess in the first place. Frankly, you guys have done alright out of successive governments. You want Brexit? It's time to stop forcing other people to pay for it.

I'm in Farnham in Surrey, in a very charming and ancient hotel which has very peculiar vibes in one of its corridors! I'm going to ask the owners if ghosts have been spotted in those there parts, because I've had mega-doses of the heebie-geebies every time I've walked along it.

To make matters more peculiar, I don't believe I've ever been to Farnham before, but I have dreamed about it. Bizarrely, and don't ask me how this can be the case, I have a recurring dream about being on my way somewhere, with someone, and pulling up in a market town because I have to buy something very urgently from a shop. In the dream I run through the market town on market day. There are people everywhere whom I'm fighting to get through. Eventually, I turn into a side street and find the shop I'm looking for. But that's it. I never find out what I'm so desperate to buy. And yet today, I found out that the place I'm running through is Farnham. Right down to the layout of the streets and the types of shop! How weird is that? I must have been here as a child.

It was a beautiful, spring-like day yesterday. Abbie and I are down in Farnham to do a quiz. In fact, Abbie is actually training me up as a quiz master, and I had my first shift behind the mic yesterday night.

We checked into the hotel in the late afternoon and were able to sit in the garden with a cup of tea, working a little whilst listening to the birds. I'm writing a sequence in the Nene composition which involves church bells. I had my headphones on and was inputting a crazy sequence involving tubular bells but kept hearing somewhat confusing dissonance. It was only when I took my headphones off that I realised a carrillon was ringing not far from where we were sitting. Bizarrely, it sounded almost identical to my computer's sample!

The quiz went well. Obviously these things get better the more confident you are with the material. I probably waffled a bit too much and have to work a bit on my banter, but as of yesterday night I am now a professional quiz master! I wonder how this fact will enhance my quizzing skills?

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Sports quiz

I'm drowning in admin! I realised today that I was exhausted and stressed out of my tiny skull. I have resorted to writing lists of things I need to achieve and am using tube journeys to beaver away at my computer, ticking off as many items as I can. My inbox is a sea of unanswered emails. When the phone rings, I panic. I am presently dedicating 4 hours in the morning to Nene and then more in the dead of the night. Anything more and I'll go cross-eyed. I'm maintaining my goal of writing the first draft of about a minute of music a day.

Here's a fun fact: it's almost impossible to get your way out of Bank Station. On two attempts the "way out" signposts merely took me to a different tube line. One of the signposts was actually hand-written, which added a whole new level of Krypton Factor to the experience and proved to me that they've recognised the problem in the station. And then there's the wave of city slickers desperate to get home. I felt like Kate Bush rushing against a sea of Kate Bushes in the Running Up That Hill video. If you get that reference, I love you! If you don't, this link will reinvigorate your soul

I was in the City of London for a quiz which was a big, glamorous fundraiser for a sports charity. It was a lengthy night, but they raised a staggering amount of money. Rugby player, Mike Tindall is one of the charity's ambassadors. He got up on the stage and said he was going nowhere until £20,000 extra had been raised. People were donating money via tablets and there was a brilliant and natty piece of technology which enabled us all to see, not just what people were donating, but who the donors actually were. Within about five minutes of Tindall opening his mouth, the £20k had been pledged. I was left wondering whether people would have been so remarkably generous with an arts-based charity.

The tube carriage home smelt of vodka. People think that they can drink vodka without anyone smelling it, but vodka has a strong and very specific smell on someone's breath.

Happy International Women's Day. Do women party today? Is it the equivalent of Eurovision for gay men?

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Strange dreams

I woke up this morning after a series of somewhat cataclysmic dreams, one of which was about the World Trade Centre. The other involved my mother picking me up from school and taking me back to our old family home where she promptly went to bed and fell asleep. At that moment a huge storm brewed up which started rattling the windows so violently that I thought the house was going to fall down. Very strange.

I walked up to Highgate in really crisp air and was at the cafe working by 9am. The views across London were simply stunning today. I could see right across to the Olympic Park and the hills behind, which Google tells me are a good ten miles away.

I read an article in the Guardian this morning about the need to get more women into composing. Sound and Music, the national organisation for new music, are determined to make sure "at least" fifty percent of the composers they work with "identify" as women. To illustrate their point, the article ran a picture of a young girl playing the flute. No gender stereotyping there then!

If the young people's composition competition I judged recently was representative of what's actually going on in schools right now, I'd say that it's actually young male composers who need to be attracted into the industry. To me, it feels like Sound and Music have blithely missed the far larger looming crisis: namely that it's the lottery of social background and the area where you're brought up which is actually denoting whether or not you're allowed to participate in music. Viewing anything in polar terms is fraught with issues these days.

I personally feel that equality needs to shift in both directions. I understand the view that sexism is about power and that men are the ones in power, but worry that if we take this to an extreme, we'll end up neglecting groups of men who don't want to behave in the way that the heterosexual masculine great order of things deems acceptable. Surely these men are held back from achieving their dreams as much as many women?

...But then you get the hard core feminists who argue that a gay man could never understand what it's like to be a woman. Jenny Murray, from Women's Hour, has apparently recently talked about trans women having the "privilege" of a male upbringing and therefore never understanding how it feels to be a "proper" woman. It's the sort of talk which makes my blood boil. Whatever you think about the issue, that kind of talk is the unacceptable face of feminism.

It may be awful to be a female composer at the moment, but imagine being a member of 5 to 5, the band which was chosen on BBC TV's Let It Shine? Rumours are now circulating that the lads will merely be backing vocalists in the show, and the producers have hardly quashed the chat by "refusing to comment" on whether the boys would be speaking any lines! "When asked whether or not the group would ever be singing or dancing completely on their own in the show, the team behind the show didn't comment," says the BBC, who might well be feeling somewhat bruised right now after promoting the show on prime time telly for five weeks.

It's raining tonight. I can hear the water coming through the roof and splashing onto the step ladder into our loft.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017


It's been one of those incredibly bitty days, where I've permanently felt like I'm behind the pace, rushing about, yet frantically unable to catch up. There's always been something else to do, and I feel as though I've achieved very little. I worked through the morning on the Nene project up in Highgate Village. I've found a new favourite seat in the cafe, which is right by the window, but tucked away in the corner, far away from the hustle and bustle of the main part of the cafe. Peering out of the window onto Pond Square is a real treat. Whilst searching for inspiration, I can look at people on the street rushing to and fro. There are many characters in the villages and the spring flowers have come to Highgate. The crocuses and daffodils were a riot of colour in today's watery sunlight.

I met Julie at Finsbury Park for a coffee and catch up in the afternoon and then, because it's very difficult to travel in an East-West direction across the North of London, was forced to come all the way into town to change onto a tube line that would take me back out again. It probably would have been quicker to walk.

I decided to venture into Soho to do some work in a cafe on Wardour Street. I ordered a cup of tea, but the music was playing really loudly, to the extent that I couldn't focus on the task in hand. I was planning then to go to the gym, but I'd promised myself to stop my day at 8pm to spend a much-needed night at home with my husband, so that too went out of the window. I've got all sorts of nonsense bashing about in my head at the moment like a cheap arcade game. I have applications to fill in, references to write. I've also been asked to be a judge for a prestigious award, and this involves a great amount of ground work, so things feel like they're stacking up, and I'm panicking a little.

I'm also having a spot of bother thinking of anything for the clarinets or oboes to play in the Nene composition. Funnily enough, having slammed flutes as horrible things played by little vapid, blonde girls, I have to acknowledge they have their uses. The squawking of oboes and the fruity, bowl-like awfulness of clarinets, however, continue to elude me. I am trying desperately to remedy the situation. Of course the fault is all mine. I'm not a wind specialist and know there are timbres and amazing effects which these instruments can achieve. I can think of plenty of uses for a clarinet in jazz and big band, but I'm not writing in those styles. People are always shocked by my hatred of the oboe. They always cite the cor anglais solo in Dvorak's New World Symphony, and the moment the barricade revolves in Les Mis, but for me the beauty of these moments has led to the oboe becoming a somewhat cliched one-trick pony!

Meanwhile, of course, I'm loving writing for percussion, strings and brass. I'm working on a giant steam train sequence at the moment to represent the Nene Valley Railway, which became such a strong presence in my fourth day of walking. In terms of the timeline of the piece, I've just crossed the border between Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire. I'm about to start the sequence which represents the moody, echoey fens.

I still have no idea how the piece starts!

Monday, 6 March 2017

Hindu Hen do

I've been in Northampton again today, checking out how the Northamptonshire Youth Orchestra is developing this year. This particular ensemble is going to be bearing the brunt of the Nene composition, so I wanted to see where the overall strengths and weaknesses were. They're a really good orchestra and were tackling a programme of incredibly tricky music which included the fiendish but wonderful Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.

My date for the evening was Tash, my old bestie from Youth Orchestra days. Tash played the double bass in pretty much every ensemble going at the music school.

The concert tonight featured the three county youth orchestras. As a young player, you work your way up through the ensembles, starting with the junior orchestra. The fact that there are three orchestras gives everyone, particularly the young ones, something to aspire to. I remember watching the Youth Orchestra at concerts at the Derngate, and thinking, "one day I'll be just like them..." In fact, I remember watching them playing the symphonic dances from West Side Story and thinking how glamorous they all seemed. It's funny how the repertoire doesn't change. The only thing which seems to be different is the decor at the Derngate, which used to be 1970s orange and brown but is now a sort of tatty-looking range of purples.

Tash and I ate cheese after the concert at the little cafe-cum-bar attached to the Derngate. It's actually a really lovely idea. They have a cheese counter in the pub, and you can select either three, five or seven cheeses which come with delicious breads, pickles, grapes and biscuits.

At Matt's birthday last night, I spent some time talking to my good friend Sultana, a young Muslim woman who has a solo line in our wedding film. The line she sings is "I've blown off a hen-do" based on the fact that she cancelled plans to go to a friend's hen do so that she could come to our wedding. She does have quite a strong London accent, however, and we learned last night that she's had the piss mercilessly ripped out of her ever since the show was broadcast because people misheard "I've blown off a hen-do" as "I've blown off a Hindu!"

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Shakespeare and stuff

I heard a devastating interview on Radio 4 today with a young Syrian lad who'd fled the civil war in his homeland and spent two years in the migrant jungle at Calais before finally being given the chance to come to the UK under a scheme which allowed unaccompanied young people asylum if they already had family here. His dream was to enrol in English classes, but couldn't do so until he was granted the right to remain, which took many months.

The poor lad was desperate to learn English and contacted scores of people on MSN, whom he deduced, from their names, were English nationals. The messages said that he was a Syrian refugee and that he was looking for friends who would help him to practice English. Not a single person replied. I was driving at the time and had to pull over because I was weeping so much.

On the tube on the way home last night I found myself suddenly surrounded by a gang of young men. I instantly found myself feeling a little vulnerable, but instead of running into another carriage, decided to hold my ground and sit it out. Actually, by staying, I leaned a great lesson in not judging a book by its cover. The lad who'd plonked himself next to me nudged me and told me how much he liked my moustache. He then asked where I was from. "You mean where in the world, or where in London?" It's a question most Londoners ask when asked where they're from. "Where in the world" he said, "you don't look English..." So I gave my stock response about being a bit Welsh and having all sorts of Jewish and non-specific European blood floating about in my veins. "Guess where I'm from" he said. It was obvious. "Somalia" I said. His face lit up and he held out his hand for a fist pump. I obliged. "How did you know I was from Somalia? When I ask that question to most people they say Africa, like Africa is a country." I explained that I'd done some work with the Somalian community whilst working on a BBC film. He held his hand up for another fist pump. I obliged, neglecting to reveal that the film I was making was about female genital mutilation. I felt that was perhaps a little outside the terrain of small talk! So I asked him instead where he was off to. He was going clubbing in Camden. Another fist pump. I wasn't sure what that one was about. He complimented me on my moustache again and we chatted for a while about his childhood. He was born in Sweden and had come to the UK at the age of one. He was a very friendly young man and I felt terrible for ever having thought he might be trouble. I think perhaps from now on I shall endeavour to be less judgemental about the young gangs I encounter.

This evening, we went to see an evening of Shakespeare at St Cuthbert's Church in Earls Court. It's a really interesting, very dark and gloomy space, with dark, intricate carved woodwork panels stretching high into the roof. It's the perfect setting for theatre. Abbie had directed the show, and I was incredibly proud of her for pulling such a complicated programme together with such extraordinary panache. Half of the material had been filmed and projected onto a giant screen, and there were some genuinely marvellous moments which included a male rendition of Lady MacBeth's "out damned spot" monologue and a very dark interpretation of "now is the winter of our discontent" from Richard III. I was staggered to learn afterwards that the actor who'd done this particular speech was actually blind.

We had to leave fairly hastily after the show to get to Maida Vale where my friend Matt was celebrating his birthday. It was a veritable gathering of the old crowd. Until Kevin's death we were almost constantly in each other's pockets but in recent years haven't had the chance to get together very often. That said, I spent most of the evening talking to a lovely lass called Clare who had recently found the mother who'd given her up for adoption in the early 70s. It's all very new ground for her, and I sensed a fair amount of fear and trepidation. Obviously it's a subject I'm very familiar with, and I was able to provide her with a bit of a sounding board and offer a few insights into the sorts of emotions which might be bombarding her birth mother as the two of them discover each other once again.

We stayed out much later than perhaps we should have done, but we were having way too much fun to leave at a sensible time.

Friday, 3 March 2017

The kindness of friends

I went into Shoreditch today to work with Philippa at the painfully swanky Ace Hotel, which has a dining room which can only accessed via a flower shop. The restaurant is called Hoi Polloi, but judging by its Speak Easy vibe, it's certainly not designed to be enjoyed by the many. You have to be in the know to appreciate that place. In fact, you have to be in the know to know that the place is called Hoi Polloi! There isn't a sign in the building. Just a tasteful set of cards at the payment desk. Only in Shoreditch!

I've traditionally been a bit down on Shoreditch, largely because it becomes such a hetty hell-hole on weekend evenings, but I can't help myself from being drawn to its hipster-laden charm during the days. Of course it's all a bit try hard and industrial chic. It presents itself as a bohemian Mecca, but only the most successful artists can live in the area these days. The majority of its residents are millionaires and city slickers who whip their suits off, get their tattoos out and chow down on organic kebabs as soon as they leave the Square Mile. But I do like to sit in cafes listening to people wearing tight jeans pitching film projects and talking pretentiously about conceptual art. (I hear ya! How else are you expected to talk about conceptual art?) There's more facial hair per square metre in Hoxton than anywhere else in the world baring the Castro in the 1970s. Fact.

Philippa and I worked. We got a bit distracted catching up. And then I'd think of something else to say every time she knuckled down to work, but by lunchtime I'd finished checking the latest draft of Em.

Lunch was a delicious halloumi salad in a cafe on the Bethnal Green Road. It was another one of those Shoreditch standards: a shambolic smattering of mismatched tables and super-food dishes served by French women with nose rings who would love to be Lesbian. I asked for some vinegar to pour on my salad. The waitress looked blankly. "I'll see if we've got some." It turns out that there are even trendy versions of bog standard condiments in Shoreditch. She came back with coconut vinegar. COCONUT VINEGAR! One wonders how far in the world of psued one needs to travel before that particular delicacy jumps off the shelf and lodges itself in the mind of the purchaser as a good idea. It tasted fairly abrasive, but did the trick and I left the cafe feeling like I'd saved some pandas.

Sometimes the love which one's friends are capable of generating can be overwhelming. Philippa reached out to me today with a gesture of generosity I shall never forget. I wept openly in the Speak Easy.

On my way into Old Street, I found myself deeply troubled by a young child who was standing right in front of me, pointing at me and saying, "I want to sit there" to his Mum. For some time the accusatory comments continued, "he's sitting in my chair, Mummy." To my surprise the mother seemed entirely unfazed by her son's blatant rudeness. Had my son been pointing at a complete stranger and whinging like a twat, I'd have immediately told him to stop, or at least apologised to the stranger in question with one of those looks which says, "my child is a work in progress." But no, the tirade went on for some minutes until I felt incredibly embarrassed and wanted to stand up and give the little blighter my seat.

Now and Nene

I've been thinking it was March 1st all day today. I even managed to send out St David's Day greetings to some of my Welshie friends. It just goes to prove what a washout yesterday was!

Today found me throwing myself head first into the Nene. I've been making little musical notes for the piece for the last two months, but realised today that I simply needed to get on with it, so lined up a massive manuscript and started free-styling. I'm writing for an obscenely large orchestral ensemble and I sat and stared at the empty staves for some time, terrified about what I was about to do.

It turns out that I was ripe and ready to write, because the music flew out of me like water from a garden tap. I have set myself a target of writing one minute of fully-orchestrated music a day for the entire month, which means, by the end of March I should have a first draft of the piece to put away for a bit before going back in with a mallet, then a chisel, then a scalpel knife to make it shine like a thing of great sonic intricacy and beauty. That's the theory anyway!

I started about two fifths of the way through the composition, at the point where the river runs through the marshes at Denford in Northamptonshire. I started by scoring a melody I'd sung into my phone as I walked along the river in that area. Oddly, it was just after my accident, so I was limping like a tragic inadequate. I remember a woman walking past me as I was singing. She plainly thought I was a homeless person, shuffling along, talking to myself. Half-way through the recording, I break off from singing and say, "hello there." The woman doesn't reply. Plainly she thought her life was in danger and that she'd end up being dredged out of the river at Oundle.

I've been using oboes to sound like geese in the composition. It's not a difficult task. That's all oboes are actually good for, but, in a composition about a river, that's no bad thing.

Speaking of my epic walk, I'm proud to announce that my big toe nail has just dropped off. It got profoundly bruised, and never really recovered. It dropped off whilst I was watching the Gilmore Girls this evening. Rock and roll.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Cardboard chips

Yesterday was a bit of a wash-out. It turns out that I needed another morning to mope and generally feel a bit sorry for myself before spending the entire afternoon and evening resubmitting my application to the Arts Council. I've tried to up the number of times I use words like "edgy" and "innovative" and answered "prefer not to say" when asked about my gender. Desperate. It all felt so futile, as though I were pouring my passion and well-considered words into a giant vacuum. It was nothing but pride which made me check and double check the meaning of every sentence, but, I guess, as they say with all lotteries, you've got to be in it to win it.

The day was genuinely not worth anything more than that. I went down the road to buy some chips for my tea from the fancy place on the corner opposite the Murugan Temple, and was horrified when the woman poured oven chips into her "healthy low GI vegetable oil." By the time I'd carried them back to the house and boiled some peas, they'd become sticks of cardboard. I crumbled some feta over the top in an attempt to give the illusion of a classy meal, but in reality I'd merely recreated one of Fiona's famous experimental gluten-free brick cakes! I had to eat the chips with a glass of water in my right hand. Five chips in, they started backing up and I got chronic hiccups. Twenty chips and I was done!

I went up to the loft late in the evening and did some work on my Nene composition. This month is all about Nene. It's nice to enter a sonic world where I can explore subtle dissonance and elements of minimalism and folk music. The slight panic I have about Nene is that, because a river by its nature is linear, and I'm writing a work which represents my experience of walking along it, I'm not altogether sure how I'm going to inject much-needed form and structure into the piece. I may have to embrace the episodic nature of what I've written so far and allow the leitmotif to become my best friend.