Friday, 16 November 2018

The end of an era

Sometimes it’s wise not to let your guard down too much. I have had a really wonderful time of late. I’ve had great reviews. Great successes. Good health.

On Monday afternoon, I went to Patisserie Valerie on Old Compton Street to toast the success of 100 Faces with a pain au chocolat and a cup of tea. I actually wanted a cream tea, but they’d run out of scones and the pastry they gave me instead was miserably stale. Nevertheless, I was very much looking forward to having a relaxed natter, knowing the pressure was finally off.

Nathan called from America in a complete tizzy, “we’ve been evicted!” That’s about all I could hear. My mobile phone (like my computer) is broken, so I can’t hear what anyone is saying unless I put the call on loud speaker, press the phone right to my ear and find an entirely quiet corner.

After a while I ascertained that we were losing our flat. We’ve been given two months to get out. After everything the landlord has put us through whilst simultaneously promising that our long-term tenancy was assured, we are out on our ear. We’ve endured floods. Rats. Broken windows. Black mould all over the ceiling. Promises to fix kitchen cabinets which turned into someone tying all of our draws together with bits of string. We’ve put up with all of that because we knew our rent was low, and we wanted to be no-fuss tenants. And just as we finally find ourselves living in a dry house with a proper roof, we’ve been evicted.

To make matters worse, we have to live out our tenancy in a house covered in dust, with filthy carpets, a wrecked loo and no paint on the walls.

The greatest sadness to me is that our leaving Highgate signifies our being forced to leave London. There’s no way on earth we can afford to stay. Obviously there’s lots to think about. We have discussed the possible idea of going to Hove which feels like the lesser of all evils. It’s horrifying, really, because I feel like a Londoner, and can’t imagine living anywhere else, but this country is going to hell in a hand basket at the moment. We cannot rely on a steady income, and have nothing spare right now to spend on rent. Nathan’s burgeoning career as a knitting guru is hugely dependent on his being able to teach in European countries, and I know we won’t be able to rely on that income stream post-Brexit, particularly after yesterday’s news.

So the situation is bleak, and I am terribly depressed. I feel an emptiness creeping into my body.

As a result of all of this, I won’t be writing this blog for a while. I need to feel upbeat to write, and I don’t much want to be one of those people who does nothing but whinge about the world. We’re all suffering enough at the moment.

Stay safe everyone. We’re in for a rocky ride. Those who voted Brexit now have a particular responsibility to look after people in trouble, so keep your eyes peeled and get those food parcels ready.

Lots of love, and many thanks for reading. It’s been quite the ride, hasn’t it?

Love Benjamin

Monday, 12 November 2018


...And breathe! It’s 11am, and I’m still in bed after a fiendishly busy and exhausting week. Today is my first lie-in for what seems an age, and I decided to wake up naturally to see how tired I actually was.

There is something rather special about being awoken by sunlight. I could feel it on my face, streaming through the windows, and when I opened my eyes I was almost blinded by dusty shafts of light.

It has been a hugely successful week, but one which has moved so quickly I’ve barely been able to drink anything in.

The house is a mess, largely because the sitting room has now been re-plastered and we don’t know whether we can expect someone to come in and paint the walls, so all of our belongings are stacked up in piles in our bedroom, like some terrible scene from one of those programmes about recidivist hoarders.

This week saw the opening of my production of Brass at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Seven Sisters. Having seen a weekend of shows, I’m pinning my colours to the mast and saying I would like as many people to come along as possible. It’s two whole years since the last fully-staged production of Brass, so please don’t simply imagine you’ll catch it when it’s on again. I can’t believe I will have many opportunities to direct the show again, so this genuinely is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

It is a stunning production. It looks wonderful. The cast are absolutely amazing. The band sound great. What we’ve created is both life-affirming and deeply moving. Audiences weep openly. I can’t tell you how proud I am of everyone who has had involvement in the show. I have a wonderful family around me of hard-working, dedicated, kind, talented people, all of whom seem to genuinely love the show. The good folk of Mountview have treated me like a prince. It has been one of the happiest periods of my entire life. So, in short, you now have a week to see the fruits of our labours. Please come.

Whilst we toiled away in tech and dress rehearsals for Brass, the production of the same musical at the Union Theatre opened and started busily collecting reviews. It’s done brilliantly. From what I can gather it’s received nothing but four and five star reviews. The quotes have been quite astounding. Michael Arditti in the Express said, "Till's rich, melodious score, its influences, ranging from Marie Lloyd to Vaughan Williams, powerfully conveys the fervour, horror and heartbreak both in the trenches and at home." wrote “The raison d’etre for this version of the story is the powerful and beautiful music that threads throughout as a conduit for truth and depth of emotions. Till has written a score that pulses with musicality and shines from the opening bravura phrases.”

The musical theatre review went one step further and stated “Benjamin Till has created one of the finest ever pieces of British musical theatre.”

All good.

To add a comic level to the proceedings, whilst the two productions of Brass have been bursting onto the London scene, my 100 Faces Film was premiered, officially last night at the wonderful Phoenix Theatre, literally just up the road from me in Finchley, and unofficially at the opening Gala for the UK Jewish Film Festival on the giant screen at the BFI on the South Bank last Thursday. It is a huge treat to see the film as it was designed to be watched, and a little strange, because so much of my work has been for telly, so I’m used to seeing everything on a smaller screen.

100 Faces seems to have been going down as well as Brass. There have been lots of tears. Lots of laughter. Lots of people telling me it’s made them proud to be Jewish. Perhaps the nicest comment came today from one of the 100 faces:

“I feel a new sense of 'jewish' energy today and feel creative and buzzing.”

Exactly as it should be.

Apologies for the radio silence over the last week. I promise to write more often!

Friday, 2 November 2018


We had the sitz probe for Brass tonight. The band is good but I think there was some sort of mix up which meant none of the appropriate sound equipment was delivered to the theatre, so when I arrived our poor M.D. was tearing his hair out!

Fortunately, we have a very good sound designer who managed to rig up a fairly decent sound system which was actually more similar to the usual set up of a sitz, with a line of stand mics at the front of the stage which the singers walk to when they have a line. I think the original plan had been for the cast to wear their head mics and wander about the stage, standing in the places where they would be singing in the actual show: a “bummel probe,” if you like. I actually think this approach would have taken something away from the rather lovely ceremony associated with the cast sitting on chairs and standing to sing, so I wasn’t too fussed, although it would have been good to hear the instruments properly. My careful orchestrations turned into a bit of a wash of sound. It was reverb city up in the band balcony, and the drums weren’t miked.

I left the rehearsal and traveled back on a late night Friday night tube, forgetting how awful drunk people can be. One older woman was so drunk, that, as the doors opened at Kings Cross, she sort of fell out and got her head trapped as they closed again. She literally couldn’t function. I pulled her back into the carriage and asked where she needed to go, and she told me she was going to a place called “Fuck Off”, which I don’t know. I assume it’s on the same line as “Ungrateful Cow.”

Lots of revellers we’re celebrating Hallowe’en, their faces covered in black, red and white makeup. People don’t seem to dress as witches and ghosts with sheets on their heads any more. I think this is a terrible shame. Nathan and I hollowed out pumpkins on Sunday. I thought they were rather good, until I saw a tweet from my choreographer, Simon, who had created the most astounding pieces of art with his pumpkins. He told me that he liked the way I’d used the natural contours of my pumpkin, which was code for “try a little harder next time.”

Sitz ahoy

It’s been a long old week. Yesterday was our last day in the rehearsal studio, so, from now on, everything happens at the Bernie Grant Theatre. The cast are ready and raring to go, so I gave them all a day off before the “sitz” tonight. Sitz is short for “sitzprobe” and it’s one of the most exciting parts of any theatrical voyage, as it’s the first time the cast get to hear the musicians. It’s obviously more scary than exciting for me personally, because these are all new orchestrations, which I’ve not heard before. The band are rehearsing as I write but I’m staying away. No MD wants the composer breathing down his neck in band rehearsals, even if the composer is the director!

I had another nasty-ish accident last night. I was a little shocked and have a few cuts and grazes on my hands, arms and legs but I’m fine. The workmen, who have literally turned the house upside down, managed to break one of the wooden steps running up to the entrance to our flat on account of using the staircase as a basis for a whole scaffolding rig which gives them access to our roof.

The step has essentially broken in half, but instead of replacing it, they’ve got a 2” plank of wood and placed it over the damaged step, thereby making one of the steps 2 inches taller than the rest. Obviously we’re more than used to the feel of our steps, but because we don’t have a motion-sensor light, the staircase suddenly became a health and safety catastrophe last night. In the process of preparing myself to squeeze through the scaffolding on the steps, I lost my footing on the broken step and stacked it big time. It really was most unpleasant. It’s amazing how many parts of your body hit the deck when you go down in that manner!!

I went to see the first preview of Brass at the Union Theatre on Thursday night. It was a little mean of me to go to that performance, but my mate Matt was going and I realised there were limited options for me to see it before my own production kicks off.

The cast were wonderful. There are some brilliant performances and some lovely touches. It’s a difficult and long piece, however, and I think perhaps the creative team underestimated how long they’d need to get things together. I was a little surprised by some of the cuts they’d made, some of the tempi they’d opted for, and some of the parts of the story they’d omitted or not coaxed out of the material. The problem with Brass is that it tells a love story which is quite deliberately underwritten, so unless actors commit to the subtext and you find visual beats to bring these aspects out, you can get half way through act two before you realise what’s going on! The joy about a set of previews is that you have time to hone the material a little, so there’s more time to play. I remember the previews for Taboo. We were changing things all the time. Songs and lines were being cut and coming back in left, right and centre. It was all go.

I’m currently making my way down to Southwark to do a radio interview about Brass, before heading back north to Tottenham. Call me a yo-yo.

It was the tenth anniversary of Coventry Market The Musical yesterday and I did a quick interview on BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire. I still remember the premiere like it was yesterday. They’d put out an enormous red carpet so that everyone could walk from the indoor market itself to the place where they were showing the film. It felt like the whole of Cov had turned out to cheer us all on. It was one of the proudest moments of my life, and I only wish my Grandparents, both Coventrians, had still been alive to see me celebrating the city which had meant so much to them. Harry Hill, who regularly parodies the film on his shows, did an interview before me. He is, apparently, really fond of it. I rather like that the film has followed me about through my life and that people continue to discover its tatty, tongue-in-cheek magic!

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

A meat pastie and a bomb scare

Yesterday was something of a day! Rehearsals went well. We’ve been running the show for the last couple of weeks now, but yesterday morning was the last time we’d have props and bits of set in the rehearsal room. At lunch time, they were all packed up and put onto a lorry to be taken to the venue, so, for the rest of the week, until our tech begins on Sunday, we’re back to using plastic chairs and our imaginations! It’s good for us.

There was quite a todo at lunchtime, when I took myself off to Greggs for soup and a pastie. I asked the lady behind the counter if they had a vegetarian soup and she said they had tomato, so I asked for a cup of that and a cheese and onion pastie. As I placed the soup in the carrier bag, I could see that there was a suspiciously meaty looking blob on the side of the pot, so immediately looked inside and found, to my great dismay, that she’d given me some kind of chicken broth.

I immediately went back to the counter, but the girl who’d served me had gone into the back room. The man who’d replaced her looked quite appalled and, after searching for the girl for way longer than it would have taken to simply replace my soup, he returned and gave me a pot of tomato soup, and I took myself back to Mountview.

I saved the pastie till last. There are few people in the world who don’t love a Greggs cheese and onion pastie and I was really looking forward to it. I took a bite. It tasted weird. There was something gritty and fibrous in my mouth which I pulled out. She’d given me a chicken bake...

I didn’t actually know whether to feel sick or furious. I opted for both. It’s deeply traumatic for any vegetarian to eat meat by mistake, let alone one, like me, who has been a strict vegetarian for 37 years.

I took myself back to Greggs to complain.

The girl behind the counter seemed altogether not bothered. “Oh,” she said, “I’m sorry. It must have been because you were on the phone whilst you were ordering that the order got mixed up...” And in saying this, she told me all I needed to know. She’d plainly taken umbrage at the fact that I was on the phone whilst ordering and had, very deliberately, decided to punish me by giving me two portions of meat as punishment. I told her I was disgusted. “What do you want me to do about it? I’ve apologised.” “I want you to give me a full refund. I want you to give me a proper pastie and I want you to look like you’re sorry...” She walked away...

Cue some rough fucker in the queue stepping forward, “here, you have no right to talk to a lady like that. Would you talk to your wife like that?” “I’m gay” I said. “Would you talk to your boyfriend like that?” “Husband” I said, “and yes, if my husband fed me meat without telling me, I would talk to him like that... in fact, I’d be a great deal more shouty.” This was a red rag to his bull and he rounded on me, “get out of the shop. You’re not welcome here.”

I felt threatened enough to heed his advice and left the shop without the refund or a cheese and onion pastie. The incident was witnessed by a Mountview student who found me later in the day to ask if I was alright and say how shocked she’d been by the way I was treated.

Obviously I instantly took the matter up with Greggs customer services and had to get pretty heavy-handed with them to make them understand that feeding meat to a life-long veggie was a fairly outrageous act. Some serious retraining of that staff member needs to happen. Greggs have subsequently offered me compensation. And so they should. It was a horrible experience all round.

After rehearsals, I went to London Bridge to see my dear friend Nat performing in a play, Pack Of Lies, directed by another dear friend, Hannah Chissick. It was actually dear friends all round because I went to see the play with Anabelle (who plays Kirsty off of the Archers) and Nic (another stunning actress.) We also met up with Tom beforehand who was meant to be seeing the show with us, but, well, that’s a long story...

Anyway, the play, which was at the Menier Chocolate Factory, was wonderfully acted and, of course, directed. It’s a thought-provoking, gently funny piece about a pair of communist spies in Suburbia, which, I discovered afterwards, was actually a true story. Natalie was brilliant, as ever, in the piece. She’s such an intelligent actress.

It was exciting biting (as my dad would say) when a stage manager came onto the stage, asked the actors to leave, and then informed us that we ALL had to leave the theatre, specifically NOT via the entrance we’d come in by. A flustered usher ran out as we were leaving via an emergency exit and started saying “this way out, please, ladies and gentlemen.”

We ended up in an alleyway behind the theatre, actors and audience both in the cold, autumnal air. Nat sidled over and told us that we were in the midst of a bomb scare, and that a bag had been found front of house with wires sticking out of it. It was a surreal experience. The actors weren’t sure whether they ought to be hiding, or somehow maintaining that sense of aloofness, but, in the end, everyone adopted a war time spirit and we all giggled, and huddled like nervous penguins, waiting for the explosion.

The Boys in Blue arrived very swiftly, and stormed dramatically into the building, and rather soon after that point we were told that everything was okay. One of the audience had left his bag in the bar with a phone attached to a charger of some kind. So we all went back into the theatre and the play continued where it had been paused.

I rushed home afterwards after a quick hug with Nat. It was gone 11 and I have another big day today. It did, however, serve to remind me that we’re living in jumpy times and furthermore that places, like theatres, where large numbers of people gather together in small spaces, are vulnerable when it comes to potential acts of terrorism. So the next time someone asks to check your bag as you enter a theatre, hand it over willingly!

Monday, 29 October 2018

Society disintegrates

I wore a jacket this morning for the first time since about last March. It’s funny: I’ve not really noticed Autumn creeping in this year. I haven’t been for nearly enough walks on the heath and the tree outside our kitchen window is always the last to shed its leaves. It was back-lit by the sun this morning and looked lush and tropical. It might have been the height of summer. But, when I stepped outside, there was a distinct chill in the air.

Of course my jacket made me sweat profusely on the crowded underground, which seemed even more crowded than usual this morning. I find myself going very still and withdrawn during my morning commutes. I’ve found it’s best to pretend you don’t exist when things get stressful!

Shul went by without too many hitches on Saturday. That said, on one occasion, we sang a long and somewhat elaborate Amen rather brutally out of tune. I don’t think any of us knew how to remedy the problem, so we all adjusted our tuning in different directions, which meant, as the Amen continued, it became more and more catastrophic. Ah! The joys of singing unaccompanied!

It was Saturday night before I found out what had happened in the synagogue in Pittsburgh. It took me a long time to process the information, largely, I suspect, because there’s still something in me that doesn’t understand anti-semitism and, as a result, don’t quite believe that someone could hate Jewish people enough to do something so grotesquely inhuman. Knowing that he chose a baby-naming ceremony and that an elderly married couple and a 97-year-old holocaust survivor were among the people killed reenforces my belief that there’s a disconnect in society at the moment. The dual-headed beasts of Trump and Brexit have legitimised these extreme, xenophobic views. Listening to Trump blithely describing himself as a Nationalist was chilling in the extreme. “It’s an old-fashioned word,” he said, “which doesn’t get used any more.” More chilling, of course, are the faces in the crowds at his rallies, gurning and grinning like he’s the answer to their prayers. Not a thought between their ears.

Of course, the terrifying thing is that these sorts of attacks have the nasty habit of generating copycats. The shooting at my school when I was 14 was a direct response to the Hungerford massacre. I can guarantee that there will be someone out there, bolstered by Trump or Brexit - or possibly even Corbyn - who believes some convoluted, nonsensical conspiracy theory about Jewish people and decides to have a pop. Of course he may have similarly bizarre views about another minority group. He may not attack a synagogue. He might choose a mosque. A gay bar. A women’s refuge. The frightening thing is that it’s not a matter of “if”, it’s a matter of “when” and “where.”

Friday, 26 October 2018

No roof

You know when you realise you’ve reached the end of your tether? The feeling when you wake up without having caught up on enough sleep? When you walk down to the tube in the morning, dreading getting on a train because you know you’ll have to stand for an hour when you could be sitting down, having a little sleep? The absolute inability to be anything other than deeply ratty and irritable in the face of the tiniest problem? The feeling when your bones creak, your eyes are bloodshot and your mouth is full of ulcers? That!

This year has suddenly caught up on me. My body is screaming for a break. My brain just wants to shut down. I realised there was a problem last night when we went to Julie and Sam’s after rehearsals. Nathan wanted to give them both copies of his book on account of them being the people who got him into knitting. We’d apparently last met up on my birthday, just before Nathan went off on his round-the-world odyssey. I wracked my brain and realised I couldn’t actually remember what we’d done on my birthday this year! It took me a long time to bring the memory back into my head. That is surely the sign of a brain which is over-full!

I guess it never serves one well to complain, because the universe has a habit of really getting stuck in when you whinge! This afternoon, as I left rehearsals, feeling tired and sorry for myself, I had a call from Nathan to say they’d ripped the roof off our house and that our loft was now open to the elements! In a way it’s a good thing because it means the house is finally being fixed, but the photos Nathan sent are surreal - made even stranger by the deep blue sky which was showing through the giant gaps between wooden slats.

They’ve simultaneously also re-plastered the sitting room roof, which is great news, but for half a tonne of dust which has apparently appeared in the process. So when I get home, we better start digging!

I just hope we haven’t got more cowboys coming in.

Monday, 22 October 2018

The Subway Game

My job at Mountview would be perfect if Mountview weren’t in Peckham, or even if Peckham were a tad closer to Highgate. There is something horrific about needing to get up at 7.30am for a job which starts at 10am. I have a bath, eat my breakfast, take a deep breath and then head down to the tube.

I have not yet manage to reach the rehearsal room in anything other than a mega-sweaty mess. There is something deeply dehumanising about being crammed into a boiling hot, moving metal box, filled with passive aggressive people. If I hear one more person saying “could you move down a little bit please?” to a person whose only crime is not to wanting to spend a journey locked in an embrace with a stranger, violence could erupt.

It is, of course, a great deal worse when you have a cold and you really just want a lovely lie-in! I spent much of my journey this morning trying to remind myself that London’s transport infrastructure problems were not the fault of the woman sharpening her elbows to my right. We were both in the same boat, and it was sinking fast. Best to blame Europe!

The dot matrix machine displaying much-needed information about tube trains leaving London Bridge station is presently broken, so every time I stand waiting for the Northern Line, I’m accompanied by some poor LU staff member, talking into a mini-tannoy, telling people which type of train is coming next. The woman who was there tonight was plainly incredibly bored of having conversations with irate customers, so opted to deliver a non-stop monologue:

“Customers are asked to check the destination on the front of the train. As you can see, the sign is broken. We have no idea when it will be fixed. It’s been like this for three weeks, so I’m not holding my breath. I’ll probably be old and on crutches by the time it’s fixed. And I’ll probably still be here delivering this message. Once again, only God himself knows when this sign will be fixed...”

She riffed a bit on the theme and then started all over again.

I was introduced to the Subway Sandwich game by Teri, one of my cast members, a few weeks ago. This won’t appeal to anyone who is not familiar with this particular fast food chain, but, in a nutshell, customers are always met with a bewildering number of questions when they reach the counter. “What sort of bread do you want that sandwich on?” “Do you want a 6” sub or a foot long one?” “Would you like the bread toasted?” “Which salad vegetables would you like with that?” “Can I offer you any sauces or dressings?” “Do you want the meal deal?” “Which drink would you like with that?” And so it goes on...

Anyway, the Subway Sandwich game involves predicting every question you’re going to be asked and ordering your entire meal without once being asked one by the person behind the counter. Believe me: it is far more difficult than it sounds. They always sneak in a little question which blindsides you.

I tried it last week and lost when the server asked if I wanted a single or double portion of cheese. You’ve got to be on it like a bonnet to win the Subway Sandwich game. Try it one day...

Sunday, 21 October 2018

ELO again...

I have just been to see the Electric Light Orchestra playing at the O2, which means I’m in a crush of very happy people trying to leave North Greenwich tube station.

It was a last-minute offer from Philippa, who texted at about noon to ask if I was free because her friend Vanessa had a spare ticket. Obviously I said yes without a second thought!

I did manage to catch ELO playing here a couple of years ago. It was Nathan’s Christmas present to me and I thought at the time I would never get another chance to see a band performing live who had played such an important role in my childhood and teenaged sound worlds.

I knew the band was touring again, and my friend Julie had offered to go with me, but the tickets were very expensive and I decided to ring fence my extraordinary experience with Nathan as a never-to-be-repeated chink of joy.

...until today!

...And how thrilled was I to be back in that space hearing all those tunes again? The ELO back catalogue is astonishing by any standard. Philippa and Vanessa couldn’t quite believe how many songs they either recognised or loved on hearing for the first time.

I, of course, was in seventh heaven. I knew every word. Every vocal lick. Every string riff. Every harmony. And, of course, every song has a memory for me, mostly associated with sitting with my brother in my bedroom listening to albums on my little record player, or driving around the Midlands countryside as teenagers with Fiona and Ted Thornhill looking for places to busk. Sweet Talking Woman and Last Train to London remind me of driving up the M1 with the aforementioned and Fiona laughing at me because I used to drive at the speed of the songs!

Wild West Hero reminds me of my Dad. I can see him now, sitting on the sofa at Hind Style, eyes closed, nodding his head appreciatively to the beat. And Telephone Line reminds me of my Mum. I can see her dancing to the song in that same living room. I cried during both songs, remembering the person I was.

The band play brilliantly and Jeff Lynne still has a full set of pipes. He occasionally hands the odd verse over to a highly charismatic backing vocalist, but, otherwise, his voice is no different to the voice which recorded those legendary albums over 40 years ago. There were about twelve band members in total and I was trying to work out how much was being played on click track. The songs sounded remarkably similar to the album tracks. For a long time I thought the symphonic string sound was pre-recorded, until I noticed a keyboard player at the back sitting in front of the three live string players, doubling everything they were doing with highly nimble fingers, so it’s possible that considerably more than I’d initially thought was happening live.

Sadly, I’ve come down with a cold. Something’s been doing the rounds in the Brass company, as is always the case when actors rehearse a play. It started at lunch time with a hot face and an itchy throat, and, by the time I’d reached the O2, I was curiously hungry, my nose was running like a tap and I was sneezing every couple of seconds.

But hey, I went to see ELO playing live tonight! Who cares about having a cold?!

Demos and Patti Lupone

Yesterday started, as Saturdays so often do these days, at 7am with an alarm which made me jump out of my skin. I am rather grateful to the days when I’m singing at shul because they stop me from a languishing start to my weekends.

I love the journey in. The tubes are always very quiet, and, I can sit, looking through my music, with a lovely cup of tea.

The ensemble yesterday was a good one, and featured young Jack Reitman, who, it happens, is also in the cast of Brass at the Union. Probably as a result of being engulfed by rehearsals for a 3 hour epic, he was a little underprepared for shul, and spent the service looking a little like a rabbit in headlights! I personally breezed through the material until the very last number, when a badly-written-out setting of the Adon Olam caught me entirely off guard. The words were a million miles away from the bass part and the moment I opened my mouth, I realised I didn’t have a chance of sight singing it effectively. The noises I was making were so awful that I instantly had a fit of hysterical laughter, the sort of uncontrollable, inappropriate giggling which is usually reserved for school assemblies and funerals!

Michael and I walked across Hyde Park in glorious sunshine after the service, carrying the wonderful anti-Brexit placard which Little Welsh Nathalie had painted for me so beautifully and left on the stairs up to my flat. She couldn’t make the march herself but wanted to do her bit, so asked me what slogan I’d most want written. I considered all sorts of angry, sweary phrases and puns based on the idea that EU sounds a bit like “you”, but in the end, shot from the heart and asked for it to merely say “musicians love Europe.” I don’t know any that don’t.

The march itself was a major event. We’re told some 800,000 people headed for central London, all, seemingly, with good-natured, kind, attractive faces. I very much felt as though we were marching with our tribe. Nathalie’s placard went down brilliantly. Scores of people came up to me to ask if they could take my picture. She’d painted it in appropriate blues, whites and yellows, so I wore my royal blue suit.

We met Brother Edward, Sasch, Sylvia and two of their Eurovision friends on the corner of Piccadilly. They all looked utterly resplendent in blue and yellow feather boas. I always feel particularly proud when marching alongside my brother. My parents also nearly joined us, but my father is ill with the flu. The four of us wouldn’t have marched together since CND marches in the early 1980s. I know Brother Tim would have been marching with us in spirit as well. Having an entirely pro-European family means so much to me.

The most moving sight on the march was an old woman staggering along on a pair of crutches. Even if it took her forever, she was going to show her solidarity.

We broke off the march at Jermyn Street. The rallies which follow these marches are always for the politicos. You can never hear anything which is being said.

Michael and I instead went window shopping. For a suit lover like me, Jermyn Street is something of a punishment. If I could, I would have bought something in every shop. But I’m not a millionaire. We can but dream.

We went to the Groucho club and sat in a pair of very comfortable leather arm chairs and both of us immediately fell asleep like a pair of old men. I don’t know how long we were asleep for. All I know is that I was awoken by someone gently tapping my leg and saying my name. It was Philippa. I think she was a little confused because people don’t usually go to the Groucho for a shluf, but it was delightful to see her. I always bump int someone I know at the Groucho Club. Usually Philip Sallon. Yesterday I also bumped into Richard Le Coq and the wonderful singing impressionist, Christine Bianco.

Less delightful was the phone-call I received from Little Welsh Nathalie telling me that her bedroom ceiling had caved in. That’ll be the bedroom ceiling directly below the floor of our bedroom. The photos looked dreadful. Huge chunks of plaster had fallen from the roof onto her bed. Had she been asleep in there, she could have been badly injured. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

I had to spend the rest of the day wondering whether her ceiling had caved in as a result of something awful happening in our flat, but it turns out it was the product of a build up of water coming through our roof, seeping down the walls of our flat and being sucked into the floor boards. Our entire building is a mess. It’s a massive lesson for our landlord in the “stitch in time saves nine” philosophy.

The yo-yo went flying back up this evening with a trip to see Company in the West End, in the most amazing seats, curtesy of wonderful Felicity. It was so so exciting to be there, and see Patti LuPone singing Ladies Who Lunch: a treat I’m very unlikely to forget. This, of course, is the gender-bending production of Company where Bobby is being played by a woman. I saw the show with Adrian Lester playing the title role about twenty years ago, and have to say it works remarkably well done this new way.

The production is exquisite. The set is remarkable. The cast is brilliant. If it doesn’t transfer to Broadway, I’ll eat my hat. It’s not my favourite Sondheim musical. It’s somewhat flawed in my view, largely because you don’t really get much of a sense of Bobby going on a journey. The piece feels a touch vignettey, almost review-like. The songs are, of course, cracking. But some feel a tad crow-barred into the script. But these are small things in the light of such an epic production which I was pleased as punch to see.

Friday, 19 October 2018

The blue book

I had a fairly delightful day away from the intensity of the Brass rehearsal room yesterday. I left Simon, our wonderful choreographer, in charge, and headed to New West End synagogue to spend the day recording music.

The afternoon session was spent working on three pieces written by Trevor Toube, who is one of the stalwarts of the community there. He’s actually a very interesting composer and one of the pieces, dedicated to his grandson, Josh, was absolutely exquisite. It had an Eastern vibe, and yet it was somehow imbued with the expansiveness of Copland. Very impressive.

He didn’t half test us, though, in the piece he’d written for his grandson, Ben, which had a Microcosmos quality with octotonic runs alternating from tone to semi-tone. It took us a while to buffer that particular sequence up, but we got there, and I hope we’ve done him proud.

The evening session was spent recording four final tracks for our Blue Book album, one of which was a re-recording of a song we’d done in slightly too much haste in the studio in July. Was it July? It was very hot whenever it was!

It is an absolute joy to record in the synagogue. The acoustic there is second to none. If you stand in the middle of the space, performers can hear each other perfectly, and the sound wafts up into the ceiling, and then parachutes back down like a cascade of butterflies!

There is nothing like the sensation of performing with a group of top-notch singers. There are eight of us, and we sing two-per-part. My “desk partner” is James Mawson, who’s basically the fruitiest bass in the world. He thinks nothing of popping down to a bottom A - which I personally find deeply emasculating! Our voices blend together very well, however, largely because I am more than happy to play second fiddle and make it my primary objective to provide him with tonal re-enforcement!

I think it’s going to be a rather fine album.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018


I have to say, I am loving being at Mountview directing again. Directing theatre was always my great passion. It was what I wanted to do, and what I spent the first ten years of my career actually doing. At some point along the way, I fell into making films, and then the composing work slightly took over, but there’s something exciting and hugely meaningful about being in a rehearsal room, leading a team of people, all of whom have the same goal.

Obviously it helps that we’re breathing life into my own material. It is such a huge privilege to be able to enthuse young people with material I’ve crafted myself. And I have a joyously playful cast who are committing to every aspect of the process. We’ve done the majority of the technical work on the show. We’ve choreographed 95% of the dances, most know the music, the words and their characters, so we’re free now to play and work in minute detail. The girls, who, in fairness, probably have a slightly easier track in the show on account of having fewer massive production numbers, feel like they’re slightly further ahead. They are really enjoying the freedom that being on top of material brings. They almost feel like they’re beginning to think collectively. One of them bowls a googly into the group and the rest go with it. It’s massively gratifying to see them growing in confidence every day. I feel like a proud dad.

It’s a very emotional story, and not a day goes past when the entire room doesn’t get flooded by a swimming pool of tears. Catharsis is good, and as the cast commit more and more, I find myself increasingly emotionally effected. There is much of me in that show. Sometimes it feels like my soul will live on through it. There are so many lines which remind me of friends and family members, and transport me to different moments in my life. Today, as we dealt with the death of one of the characters, I remembered my Grandmother. In other scenes, I see the faces of previous Brassers. I’m frequently reminded of the magical day when we took the 2016 cast to the trenches in France. I remember the laughter we had in the boarding houses whilst rehearsing the NYMT productions, the dreadful sound of the fire alarm at 6am and the sight of choreographer, Matt Flint, wrapped in a duvet, waiting to be allowed back into the boarding house after a fire drill. I think of Sara Kestelman telling a cast member that he really was a wanker, and Hannah Chissick saying “that’s literally my favourite moment in the show” ...every five minutes! I think of the day that Ben Mabberley auditioned for the show by playing “Orange Juice” on the cornet, and feeling so profoundly moved that I wrote the song Brass especially for him and remember the day we went to Birmingham to see young Harrison conducting the show with exquisite precision.

At each stage of the journey, people feel like they’ve fallen deeply in love with the show. Only today, one of the actresses in the production tweeted “I've honestly never loved a show as much as I love Brass.”

Crumbs, I feel proud to have brought it to the world.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018


I hosted the MMD new writers’ cabaret last night, which is a monthly event for new writers of British musical theatre. The evening gives writers the chance to try out new material in front of a supportive audience. I attended every session for a full year whilst writing Em. It was a fabulous way to force myself not to write “also ran” music. I tried my hardest to write a song each month which topped the last one, and I would learn a great deal each time about what I’d written based on the audience’s collective response.

The evenings were always well-attended and very lively, and, although I haven’t attended myself for a year or so, I was thrilled to be asked to compere last night’s.

It was a bit of a flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants scenario, as I had no time to prepare any schtick, so was essentially merely saying, “this is x, who’s written a song called x, which comes from a show called x...” I decided to keep the writers on stage afterwards to ask them a little bit about themselves and what they were hoping for. Occasionally I’d try to throw in a bit of advice, as I was aware that I was perhaps a little bit further on in my career than most of the others... and I think we all have a duty in the industry to support each other where we can. Largely, my message was for them to keep on writing. There were lots of young writers there - and our industry’s future sits firmly in their hands.

The set up in the UK is not geared towards the nurturing of musical theatre talent. There’s an amazing 18 year-old writer called Charli who would benefit enormously from studying on a high-quality musical theatre writing degree course. There are many such courses in the States, where amazing musical theatre writers like William Finn and Stephen Schwartz regularly teach. You literally learn from the best. The UK doesn’t have any such courses, however. The only option for a wannabe musical theatre composer is either to train as a performer and learn his or her craft by osmosis, or to study composing as part of a classical music degree, where musical theatre is often looked down on. There are song writing courses for pop music and jazz in some institutions, but, so far, in this country, the only courses specifically for musical theatre writers, I believe, are very part time or postgraduate courses, and you can count them on the fingers of one hand. There’s one at Goldsmiths, but, when I last discussed it with someone who’d been on it, I was somewhat horrified to learn that it wasn’t recognised by the music department, which meant the students couldn’t use equipment or university practise rooms. The musical theatre writers apparently wandered aimlessly from classroom to classroom, carrying the course keyboard on a trolley. It sounded bleak and undignified. I’m sure things will have improved. They have to have!

Anyway, my great sadness last night was that there weren’t more people in the audience. This was not the bustling event I remember from the past, where sometimes I’d worry that there might not be a slot left for me to perform my song in. I think perhaps only 8 people performed, and very few writers had turned up merely to support. It’s made me resolve to go more often because I feel it’s such an important event. And if any musical theatre writers are reading this blog. Go. Attend. Show solidarity. Us musical theatre writers need to raise our heads above the parapet.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Magic of the ancestors

There was an all-too-familiar, last-minute panic this morning as Nathan set sail for New York. His phone had somehow managed not to charge overnight, his 6.30am alarm hadn’t gone off, and he was woken instead by my 7.45am soothing iPhone arpeggios on a fake harp. The taxi he’d booked for the airport had come and gone, and there was much rushing about and cursing. This time last year, when heading off to the same Rhinebeck Yarn Festival, he left his passport at home and I had to drive like a maniac to Hangar Lane to get it to him.

I guess no one could be entirely blamed for messing up an alarm call after the night we’d had. We went to bed at about midnight. It was a muggy night as a result of a sort of misty, moisty mizzle in the air, so the window was open. I was drifting off to sleep to the sound of the Tallis Fantasia and rain trickling over the roof tops, when my ears tuned into a sickeningly familiar sound within our flat... namely the dull thud of water dripping onto our living room carpet.

We leapt out of bed and ran around in a mad whirl, moving furniture and sticking buckets underneath the places where the water was coming through - which, it turned out, was absolutely everywhere. We ran out of buckets and quickly moved on to dustbins, fruit bowls and towels. I’m not sure anyone should be expected to live in these conditions, let alone pay rent to do so.

I spent the weekend in Thaxted at another quiz. Did I ever mention in this blog that I’m quite partial to a quiz? This one happened in a village hall on the winding country road towards Great Dunmow where, on some nights, a strange optical illusion involving light and mist occurs, which makes drivers on the road think there are ghostly hares dancing on the tarmac.

One of the things I love most about Thaxted is the way that it wears its folklore on its sleeve: whether that’s its thriving Morris Dance and folk music scene, curious pentagrams scratched into the doors of local churches to ward off witches, or talk of strange, lingering fingers of smoke hovering over the lanes. Life would be very dull indeed without the promise of magic. I am a rationalist, but there are things which, in my view, shouldn’t be swept aside or undermined with brutal logic. I would not compose music, or write stories if I didn’t believe in certain myths or the all-encompassing power of nature. I certainly think there are skills and perceptions which human beings have lost as we’ve evolved. Apparently we used to be able to smell water from great distances. How we know this, I’ve no idea. I think we were probably able to sense different types of energy as well. I have nothing to back this theory up apart from the extraordinary pyramids, monoliths and perfect stone circles built by our ancestors.

...We came second in the quiz. By one-and-a-half points. Beaten by our mortal quizzing enemies. If Sally had been more certain that the song had been sung by Credence Clearwater Revival, and I’d have remembered that Carol Lee Scott had played Grotbags in the Pink Windmill, we’d have won. Actually, if Nathan had been on the team, we would have won, but he banged his head in the loo of a local yarn store, so was dispatched back to London for a much-needed night of r and r!

Saturday, 13 October 2018


“This is your Northern Line via Bank train,” says the announcer at Highgate Station. As it happened it WAS the train I wanted to take, but that still didn’t make it MY train, and fifty per cent of people waiting on the platform were waiting for the Charing Cross branch. What’s wrong with “this is A Northern Line via Bank train?”

This sort of ghastly misappropriation of the English language is plainly part of an attempt to make official or formal language seem more cozy. Sadly, to my ears, it’s just as jolting as someone using “myself” to sound fancy when they simply mean “me.” “Who can I talk to about this problem?” “You can talk to myself.”

A rather unpleasant woman decided to squeeze herself into the tube carriage behind me as I made my hour-and-a-half commute to Peckham yesterday morning. She seemed entirely unaware that the space in front of me was being filled by my suitcase, but clearly felt I ought to be standing further forward, so kept thrusting her belly into my back and bum, which I found highly aggressive and, actually, a bit repulsive. I wondered how she would have responded to a man standing behind her doing what she was doing to me. Police have been contacted for lesser issues...

One of the things that #meToo has triggered in me is a desperate desire for parity in the way that we respond to issues relating to gender. These things have to work both ways. Yes, men CAN behave terribly, but, despite being pretty sure the woman’s motives yesterday morning were aggressive rather than sexual, I still felt a little violated by what she was doing.

Women can also be bullies and, in fact, throughout my career, I can pinpoint several times when I’ve been bullied by women, and actually fewer times where I’ve been bullied by men. I remember, on one occasion, a female executive producer literally screaming at me on the phone as I was trying to enter a recording session for the film we were working on. She shouted so viciously that I entered the studio shaking so much I had to sit down. The same person was thrown out of our sound edit for violently throwing books at the equipment when she didn’t get her way.

Strangely enough, I’m not sure I recognised that I was being bullied back then. I knew it was unreasonable behaviour and I knew it made me very distressed, but I don’t think it would have occurred to me that women even COULD have bullied men. In fact, I think many people, women included, still believe it’s impossible for a woman to bully a man. Men don’t have feelings, after all...

Within the last few months I experienced another dose of bullying from a woman, and, for the first time in my life, I called her out on it. She was utterly incensed, but, rather tellingly, instead of apologising, or asking what specifically she was doing which made me feel bullied, she instantly went on the attack and played the gender card: “if a man had said the same to you, would you have accused HIM of bullying?” Did my comments stop the bullying? No. They made it considerably worse.

And that’s how the viscous circle begins. A man is told that he can’t possibly feel bullied, and the bullying continues until he can bear it no more, and he puffs himself up to full size and growls like a lion. At which point he is instantly told he’s a bully!

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Brass, brass, still more brass

Peckham is a very Christian area. There are several shops in the area which blare out religious songs on tannoy systems and there’s a newsagent with a banner on it which says “Jesus is Lord, Phil. 2:1.” I’m not sure who Phil is, but, then again, I often feel that Christians talk in code to feel like part of an exclusive club. There’s all sort of stuff about the Lamb of God and phrases like “accepting Jesus into your life” which I find very bizarre.

That said, I quite like being able to travel across London and find myself in an area which feels so very other worldly. The deep, rich aromas of Caribbean and African cuisine fill the streets. People sit in little kiosks selling off-cuts of fabric, hair weaves and curious fruit and vegetables. I’m not sure the area is quite ready for the high octane energy of a musical theatre drama school! The Mountview students stand out. You can smell them a mile off!

The area is obviously changing rapidly, and it’s rather sad to think that, in a few years’ time, a lot of its quirkiness will have been swept aside by rising rents. They’re already building stacks of fancy-looking flats along the high road, and the area around Queens Road station is full of artisan bakeries and fancy bars selling micro brewery beer.

It’s probably about time. I remember going to Julie’s house on the train about fifteen years ago, and passing through Queens Road Peckham and being absolutely horrified by the state of the station, which was covered in graffiti and metal grills. It felt like something from the Bronx in the 1970s: the sort of thing which would periodically turn up on an episode of Cagney and Lacy when a homeless man gets murdered in a cardboard box.

The production of Brass at the Union Theatre was announced yesterday, which means I can now talk openly about something which has been brewing for the last month or so. I was in a production meeting for the Mountview version of the show when my publisher got in touch to say that the rights had been requested and, as ever with these things, you smile and wave, thinking that it’s entirely unlikely anything will ever get off the ground. Particularly with such a short lead time.

But in fairness to them, they’ve got it together, and rehearsals for their version started on Monday with, I’m rather pleased to say, young Jack Reitman in the cast.

It is entirely surreal to not have anything to do with this particular production. I just have to trust that they’ll get on with it, work hard, be truthful to the characters and play them with love, great affection and a huge dose of Yorkshire wit, grit and pride.

The fact that there are two productions running simultaneously in London is, of course, more than a little exciting. Add to this the news that a choir in Red Hill are singing three songs from the show in a major concert down there and it starts to feel like this precious child of mine, which I’ve nurtured for four years, is finally learning to walk unaided. The path I’ve chosen for myself in life has often felt like a brutal, uphill climb, but, just occasionally, it all seems worth it. Perhaps most gratifying of all is the sheer number of people who are coming forward to say what a profound effect Brass had on them when they saw it, or performed in it before.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Wounded soldier

I injured my head yesterday. We were part way through our customary Monday morning run of the show and I realised I was desperate for the loo, so bolted upstairs to the staff toilets. I’m not entirely sure I know what happened, but as I pushed the door to the staff corridor open, my forehead was greeted by something hard, sharp and wooden. I immediately realised I had done something silly because I could see blood on the doorpost. I did the thing they do on movies and brought my hand up to my face to realise I was, indeed, bleeding, just above my left eye.

It’s funny the things that go through your head when you injure yourself and go into slight shock. I took myself first to a loo cubical. I wanted to hide away whilst I worked out what was wrong. It’s an animal instinct. What you don’t want in these instances is someone fussing or panicking. I had my wee, but suddenly noticed I’d started to wee on my foot, which made me realise I wasn’t entirely firing on all cylinders! 

I remember pressing loo paper against my head and realising there was a fair amount of blood, but that it wasn’t gushing from me, so I decided the best thing to do was to make a cup of sweet tea whilst I formulated a plan which didn’t involve staggering into a rehearsal room and freaking out my cast.

As I walked away from the kitchen and into the giant fancy atrium at Mountview, I was hugely relieved to see our company manager. I pointed at my head and told him I’d hurt myself, and he instantly whisked me into the staff room to apply first aid. It turns out that he’s a designated first aider.

It took about five minutes to clean me up and stick a couple of plasters on my face. The wounds are fairly superficial. I’ve taken a chunk of skin off in a few places but I didn’t feel woozy, so probably didn’t have concussion of any sort. As the adrenaline drained from my body, I started to feel a little shaky and the wounds started to sting a bit, but I consider myself to be rather lucky not to have taken a considerably bigger hit.

I took the plaster off this morning, and it’s not the most attractive sight. A flap of skin is hanging off which I don’t want to pull at. I equally feel the wound needs to dry out in the air rather than fester behind a plaster.

So, the wounded soldier limps on. And so I should. In a show with a body count as high as the one in Brass, I merely count my lucky stars not to have been born 100 years earlier.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Country air

The tubes were all broken when I reached the underground this morning. There’s a horrible moment, as the tube doors open, when you realise you’re in for a rough journey. A haze of sweat rolls out of the carriage and it becomes obvious that the group of individuals within have become an amorphous mass, with faces and arms crammed into every single corner. It’s a terribly depressing way to start the week.

The weekend was rather relaxing. It kicked off with a synagogue service. Michael is away in Italy at the moment, so we were without a conductor, but it was an experienced bunch of singers and we blended well. We always have such wonderfully erudite conversations whilst we’re on our tea break. We regularly talk about religion, culture, politics and the murky world of gender and sexuality. On Saturday, we discussed generational divides in the way that people perceive, and respond to, mental health issues. There is a Jewish tradition of debating in synagogues. We may not be discussing the finer points of the Torah, but we always do our bit when it comes to talking about the big issues.

I went home for a while and entered a sort of reverie, staring at the television, wondering if I should have a sleep. Nathan was due to arrive back from Northern Ireland on a late night flight into Stansted, so I called the parents to see if they were free to take a visitor whilst I waited to pick him up. As it happened, they weren’t, but they were planning to go to a quiz, and didn’t have enough people on their team, so I jumped into a car and joined them at the Thaxted bowls club, which is actually in the middle of a darkened field with no discernible front door.

The quiz itself was aimed at a different demographic, with the music round dedicated to songs from the 50s and 60s.

Despite not being a massively useful team member, it was hugely gratifying to look around and see that I was the youngest person in the room. That doesn’t happen very often these days! The quiz master was somewhat lacking in charisma, and showed such personal bias in his questions, that the team with his wife on ended up winning, but it’s easy to underestimate how difficult and thankless writing and running a quiz can be. Simply for getting off his harris and doing it, he deserved a hearty round of applause.

Nathan was kind enough to take an Uber from Stansted to the bowls club to enable me to keep quizzing, and when everything was over, and we’d come a miserable third out of five, we headed back to the parents’ house to watch Strictly. Obviously I’m still supporting the iconic Faye off of Steps, so it was pleasing to me that she did so well.

We ended up staying the night in Thaxted. I went out like a light and slept like the dead and we managed a Sunday pub lunch before heading back to London. I worked the entire afternoon and evening putting final touches to the new orchestrations for Brass, which I finally sent off at about midnight, feeling as relieved to have finished as I felt resentful that they’d taken so long!

Friday, 5 October 2018

Week two

It’s the end of the second week of rehearsals for Brass, and I am very pleased with the direction we’re heading in. There’s still a veritable mountain to climb, but we’ve put a lot of layers down. We’ve had a few little blips during the week, a few panics, a few people losing confidence, but I don’t think anyone is scared of the show any more, which, for a piece the size of Brass is fairly surprising. My task for next week is to slowly chip away at the unexplored edges, so, by the time we run the piece a week on Monday, everyone is aware of what they at least should be doing at every stage of their journey.

One of the slightly eccentric aspects of Brass is that most of the big production numbers are performed by the men, with the women baring the brunt of the solo work. Perhaps if I had my time again, I’d have shoved a big, upbeat showstopper into Act II for the girls to perform which mirrors Barnbow Lassies. And yes, I’m aware the show is plenty long enough already, so no one should feel the need to write in!

We have a dead rat in our kitchen. (There’s a rat in me kitchen what am I gonna do...) She is wrapped in a towel, bless her, and I basically need to work out how and where to bury her. She needs to have dignity in death, so I refuse to throw her casually into a dustbin. As a rat fancier, the irony hasn’t escaped me that we have chosen to kill this little lass, after sharing our lives very happily with similar-shaped creatures in the past.

This weekend, after shul, is all about a) relaxing and b) tackling a veritable mountain of admin relating to Brass. I have to invite industry types to see the show. I have to invite my friends to see it. If you’re reading this blog, and you don’t yet have the dates and such, here’s the science:

Shows are all at the Bernie Grant theatre in Tottenham and I urge you to book because it WILL sell out.

Thursday, 4 October 2018


The first mists of autumn were swirling this morning. It’s a strange old time of year. The evenings are closing in at a fast rate of knots. We get a little reprieve when the clocks go forward... or back... or whatever it is that happens in a few weeks’ time, and then it’s the slow march towards winter and we all wonder where on earth the year went and why we suddenly feel so cold. (Unless you’re a hairy old bear like me of course, when you start to feel an ordinary temperature!)

I find Autumn a very inspiring time, which almost certainly has its roots in going back to school and the fresh beginnings and opportunities a new term always promised.

But re-birth also carries the weight of death.

I had a rather distressing phone call from Nathan yesterday, who told me that he’d seen the rat. Actually, the news came in stages, over a series of phone calls. Firstly he’d seen a loaf of bread which looked like it had been gnawed at by a rat. Then he saw the rat scuttling about in the dustbins. Then he called to say that the rat wasn’t running away from him any more and that she’d started to get sluggish. It soon became clear that the rat had eaten the poison which the man from Rentakill had put down earlier in the week. 

It is hugely distressing to see an animal suffering, particularly when you know it’s something you’ve sanctioned. Nathan decided to wrap the creature in a towel to make her as comfortable as possible in her last few hours. When I got back from rehearsals, her little head was poking out of the towel. She plainly couldn’t move, but her eyes were alert, staring up at me. It was awful.

I don’t think she made it through the night. She’d disappeared into the towel by the time I woke up. I could see a patch of her back, a little flash of her grey, silky coat, but it didn’t seem to be moving.

I am officially a murderer.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Code 5!

I’ve really got too much going on at the moment. I should be coming home from rehearsals and getting on with an ever-growing list of non-Brass-related things, but life keeps getting in the way.

On Monday night, I just wanted to spend a bit of time with Nathan, watching Strictly and catching up on Bake Off. I feel everyone’s entitled to a night like that sometimes. We ordered pizza and I slowly drifted into a coma, truly knackered after my weekend in Belgium.

Last night I went for dinner with Michael in Liverpool Street. We caught up on everything relating to the world of 100 Faces, and I realised, with great horror, how many terrible clashes I have coming up in the next month or so. You know what they say about busses? Well, it’s that and some!

Rehearsals for Brass are ticking along nicely. For shits and giggles, I did a run of the show on Monday morning. We haven’t done any blocking, really, or very much choreography, but I wanted to stand the show on its feet to see how everything felt. They’ve done all the character work now, so the opportunity to put everything into context turned out to be rewarding for everyone, including me. I, personally, was able to see the areas of the show where energy starts to sag, and therefore where we’re going to need to work that bit harder to keep the audience engaged.

Six of the roles in the show are double cast so that everyone gets a fair crack at the Bosch (to use an appropriate metaphor.) For some time they’ve known which dates “cast 1” and “cast 2” are performing, they just haven’t know who is in which cast, which means their family and potential agents can’t book tickets. I’ve been watching them over the last week to see where the chemistry sits and have spent a long time thinking about the combinations which would best allow individual actors to shine. I hope I’ve got it right. I think I have.

A double-cast show is incredibly tiring to rehearse. You crack it with one cast, and then the work starts all over again with the other, just as you let your guard down and start to think you’re motoring forward.

The commute to Peckham is pretty full-on, and involves quite a lot of rush hour shenanigans, including a change from underground to overground at a highly-crowded London Bridge, which is the part I hate. They’ve obviously updated the “Mr Sloane” language they use over the tannoys to describe suspicious packages, suspected fires and the like. This morning I heard talk of one “Norman Gates” reporting to such-and-such a location “urgently.” Until the word urgently was used, I didn’t think anything of it, but the announcer sealed the deal by calmly adding, “this is a code 5.” Hysterical. I wonder how serious code 5 actually is...

Monday, 1 October 2018

Broken infrastructure

As predicted, we arrived in the UK last night and were instantly subjected to the sort of travel chaos in which the Brits seem to absolutely specialise.

The plan had been for Fiona to drop me off, where she picked me up, at Maidstone East, but when I started looking into train times, it immediately became apparent that rail replacement services were being operated, that there didn’t seem much hope of my reaching the capital before 1am, and that I would be arriving at Victoria Station at said time, which isn’t exactly a breeze to get to Highgate from at shit o’clock in the morning. Yawn.

Anyway, one of the reasons that the rail replacement service was destined to take so long was that the busses were taking passengers in the opposite direction from London so that they could pick up Eurostar connections from Ashfield International.

Fiona and I therefore decided that the best option was to drop me off at Ashfield, in the process circumventing the need for a rail replacement bus and an extra two hours on my journey. Our Chunnel train got into Folkestone at 9.50pm, the last train to Kings Cross from Ashfield left at 10.43pm, the estimated journey time was 20 minutes. What could possibly go wrong?

I’ll tell you what could go wrong. The UK’s astoundingly shitty roads, and our government’s complete inability to outsource repair work to private companies who actually give a stuff about ordinary people.

So, about two miles shy of the M20 turn off for Ashfield, we got stuck in completely stationary traffic, and watched helplessly as the sat nav’s estimated time of arrival got later and later, and eventually went spinning off into the world of “ain’t never gonna happen.”

We investigated half a dozen plan Bs. Fiona could drive me to Croydon, perhaps? That journey would take 1 hour and 48 minutes, which would mean taking the last train from Croydon to Blackfriars, where I would find myself at 1am without any other option than to walk half an hour to a 43 night bus, or an Uber back to Highgate. 

All the other potential options led us into a similar cul-de-sac of frustration. Our only option, genuinely, was for me to go back home to Hove with Fiona, and take an early train into London for rehearsals.

With all other options taken away, we hit that sort of calm space where you just have to accept the situation, so we stopped at a Motorway Service Station on the M25 for some late night food. Sadly the only food available was at MacDonalds.

We sat, eating our cardboard libations to multinationalism, trying to comprehend the ineptitude of the British transport network, wondering how the Brexiteers could blame this shit on Europe, and whether making Britain “great” again would include ploughing any extra money into transport, and furthermore, whether any of said extra money would be spent on anything other than lining the pockets of hopeless fat cats who run the ludicrous companies who couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery.

MacDonald’s decided to add an extra layer of hideousness to the proceedings. I don’t know whether anyone reading this has ever sat in a MacDonald’s late at night, when the bustle of life subsides into relative silence, but behind the counters in a MacDonald’s all you can hear is beeping. One assumes the different beeps inform staff that various bits of inedible shite have finished “cooking.” Or maybe they’re designed simply to keep the members of staff awake, but the beeping never ends. High pitched beeps. Low pitched beeps. Beeps which change in pitch. Long beeps. Short beeps. Loud beeps. Quiet beeps. Beeps in rhythmical patterns. Fast. Slow. Fast again. It was, without a shadow of doubt, the most stressful attempt at unwinding I have ever embarked on. All because of the beeps...

We reached Hove at about 12.30, I assume. The moment my head hit the pillow, I fell asleep. Deep sleep.

And actually, this morning, my journey into London was good. I had a seat. I did some work. I made my connections. Perhaps there is a travel God after all!

I did, however, have to jump the barriers at Queens Road Peckham, on account of my ticket not working and no members of staff being around to talk to. I felt a rush of adrenaline. I rather liked it. I might become the sort of old man who shop lifts for shits and giggles! 

Sunday, 30 September 2018

The monastery

We had an amazing breakfast this morning, which was lucky because the beds in our hotel rooms were not great. I don’t quite know why mainland Europeans seem to think that two single beds pushed together, sliding about on the floor, with silly little thin duvets on the top, constitute anything worth sleeping on! Fiona pulled her duvet off the bed and slept on the floor!

But the breakfast... Oh, the joy of a European breakfast with its crusty baguettes, freshly-baked pastries, racks of preserves, curious plates of meat and cheese, and amazing herb-crusted baked tomatoes. We ate keenly, and without control!

A post-prandial constitutional took us back into the old town, to see, by day, what had made us so happy by night. The sky was deep blue, and the moon, which had been enormous and low in the sky as we turned in yesterday, was still visible. 

The city was just waking up. We’re told it’s a very socialist part of Belgium, but that it’s also quite catholic, so none of the shops were open, apart from the odd bakery or tabac. There were a few confused-looking people milling around who, one assumes, had been drinking through the night. We were stopped by an Irish fella who told us that he DID have a house to go back to, but wasn’t sure which direction it was in. He then quizzed us about Brexit and seemed very confused when we said that neither of us had voted for it.

The rest of the day was spent in a monastery in the middle of Leuven, where Fiona was doing two sets of material from her album, Postcards. She’s found a way to interpret the tracks by using loops and samples, which means she can perform them live. Each one of her postcards is inspired by another place in the world. Moscow, Brighton, Antwerp, Denton, Dallas, Paris... they’re amazingly trance-like, and, in places, somewhat soporific. I drifted off into a rather glorious dream-world during one number!

It was a little strange to be in a room filled to the brim with images of Jesus. Neither of us are friends with that particular chap and Fiona was forced to perform right underneath a crucifix, complete with the big fella screaming in agony. Nice.

There was an extended break between sets, which gave us time to chill in the cloisters and I had a lovely nap by a lavender bush. I’m not sure there’s a monastery in the world which doesn’t have lavender in it. Or mead.

Fiona’s second set went down a storm. It was standing room only, and many of the people who had seen her first set returned. She played beautifully.

I was particularly proud when she apologised to the audience for Brexit: “I promise you that no musician voted for it.” Her voice cracked with emotion as she said the words, and I felt her pain. In fact, my eyes began to prickle with the shame. In a post-Brexit world, will Fiona and I be able to pop over to mainland Europe to play at a music festival? Like hell will we. Will Nathan be able to pop over to mainland Europe and be paid to run knitting classes? Like hell will he. He already can’t be paid to work in the USA. It makes me feel so sad.

Returning to the UK this evening I have no idea if I am able to get from Kent back to London because of various train lines being closed down for “planned engineering works.” So we cut ourselves off from Europe, yet we can’t even get around our own country? We’re such desperate twats.


I am in Belgium! I don’t really feel like I’m here. We came on the Chunnel, so I have neither flown, nor been on a ferry.

We’re in a beautiful medieval city called Leuven, which is west of Brussels, very much in the middle of the country. I’m here to accompany Fiona who is playing in a festival. It’s actually a violin festival, which I find almost too intriguing. Will the majority of the music be classical? Will Fiona’s esoteric electric violin set be considered avant guarde?

The journey here was incredibly speedy. I took the train from Victoria to Maidstone where Fiona picked me up in the car.

The Chunnel is a surreal experience. You effectively drive onto a train, and sit there, in the car itself, as the train hurtles underneath the sea. You know you’re stationary, but at the same time, you’re also aware that you’re moving, so it can be quite bewildering when you actually start driving again.

The north of France is a fairly underwhelming place. It’s essentially flat and full of factories and farms. The motorway hugs the coast, passing between places with deep military significance, like Dunkirk and Ypres. I’ve never been to either. One day I will. It strikes me that you can’t call yourself a true First World War nut until you’ve experienced the Last Post at the Menin Gate.

Our journey to Leuven took us around the edge of various Belgian cities, which I suddenly realised I wanted to visit: Bruges, Ghent, Brussels... We were apparently within a stone’s throw of the famous Atomium, which I would have liked to have seen again for old time’s sake. I remember going there as a child and being really rather impressed. It’s a giant metal stainless steel structure shaped like some sort of atom. A quick google reveals it’s actually “the unit cell of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times.” Because I don’t know what any of those words mean in context, I’m gonna have to take Wikipedia’s word for it.

Upon arriving at our hotel, we were informed by the man behind the counter that there had been a computer system malfunction and that the hotel was over-booked. He was way too chirpy as he told us that the solution was going to be for one of us to stay in his hotel and the other to stay in another hotel which they would organise for us. Obviously we kicked off and explained that we would both be staying in the SAME hotel, that they should have told us in advance that there was a problem, that this new hotel would have to be comparable and that they were basically very stupid if they expected us to schlep across town and check into another hotel without any form of reimbursement.

So, five minutes later, we were back in the car looking for the new hotel, which, it turned out, was next to the train station. Leuven, it seems, is fairly ethnically diverse. I don’t know why it surprised me to discover this fact. I think I’d always thought of Belgium as being one of those whiter-than-white places. I think I may well have assumed that the Walloon-Flemish dichotomy would deter wide-scale immigration, which is, of course, a fairly spurious argument.

Our new hotel turned out to be rather lovely, with a fabulous woman at reception who spoke very good English, which is somewhat atypical in these parts. 50 miles north, in Holland, English is practically an official language.

We dropped our bags off and headed into the historic city centre, which is charming. There’s a glorious, ancient town hall with some of the most ornate stone carving I think I’ve seen since visiting Notre Dame.

Leuven was “sacked” by the Germans at the start of the First World War. Buildings were damaged and destroyed and 200 people were killed. The university library was burned down, and hundreds of thousands of precious books were lost. One wonders what the point was. Did orders come down from above telling the troops to behave as appallingly as possible? It’s strange, I’ve always felt that the German invasion of Belgium was rather “hammed up” by the British powers-that-be to get the people behind the war effort. When you start to read about 200 people being murdered in one city alone and the mindless destruction of art and books, the stories of priests being strung up and used as bell clappers start to sound more plausible.

We had some food in an Italian restaurant on a street the lady at the hotel reception recommended. It was pleasant enough although it took me a long time before the waiter understood that I was asking for vinegar. I managed the word in three languages, which I thought ought to have been plenty. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when he went away and returned with a napkin!

There was a slightly surreal encounter at the end of the meal as well, when the waitress came up to us, smiling sweetly, handed us the bill and said “I hope you don’t need a receipt.” “Actually, yes I do” answered Fiona. She looked a bit non-plussed, disappeared and, seconds later, returned with a receipt. We couldn’t work out whether we’d just had a lost-in-translation moment, or whether she was telling us that she couldn’t be bothered to press the receipt button, or walk across the restaurant to the till!

Meanwhile, three English women had appeared in the place. “Ooh it’s a bit quiet”, said one, “never mind” said another, “we can make it louder!” As I left the restaurant, I could hear them shouting at one another, and, once again, I felt ashamed to be British. It’s a sleepy little Belgian city. What on Earth were they expecting? And frankly, on mainland Europe, us Brits have got a duty to keep quiet and be charming.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Award ceremonies

I’ll tell you what I hate... those awards that are nothing more than popularity contests. A couple of years ago now, Beyond The Fence was nominated for an award in the category of “best underrated musical.” I was rather pleased to discover that such a category existed. There are so many pieces of art which, through lack of publicity or due to a critical mauling, don’t get to raise their heads above the parapet. As a result, I was rather chuffed with the nomination... until I realised that the winner was being decided by public vote. So, in short, the most over-rated of the under-rated shows was going to get the award! In order to win, we’d need to get all of our friends to tell all of their friends to vote for us - regardless of whether they’d actually seen the show! Our production had a limited run of just two weeks. Even if everyone who’d seen it voted for us, we still wouldn’t have been able to win. The entire thing instantly felt ludicrous, so I politely declined my invitation to attend the ceremony. I’m too old for the footle of pretending to be pleased for a winner who’s done nothing more than play a PR game more effectively than I have.

I now see these sorts of silly awards, particularly in theatre, all over the place. An email arrives, asking me to vote for such-and-such in the category of best something-or-other, because whoever-it-is needs the validation of winning an award. And of course we all know that the shows with the big followings, like Wicked, will always win hands down, although I remember, on one occasion, an actor in an NYMT production almost winning a fairly major award because he’d galvanised the fabulously loyal community associated with that particular organisation.

But, as we all know, vanity comes with a price, and the companies and organisations running these awards can hardly be described as altruistic. Fairly regularly, when voting for your mate, you’re told you can’t register an opinion unless you sign up to be on a mailing list.

I find myself feeling even more irritated when these ludicrous competitions get played out on the telly: “And this category is special, because it’s voted for by you, the audience.” Special? My foot! Patronising? Deeply. Flawed? Not ‘arf! Live shows like This Morning will have made aggressive public appeals for people to vote for them, in a way that BBC shows aren’t allowed to do, so when the presenters appear on screen the day after the awards, looking as bleary-eyed as they are pleased with themselves, you wonder what they’re actually celebrating.

In my view, no one is qualified to vote for anything unless they can honestly say they’ve seen or heard everything else in the category. Eurovision is laced with voting bias, but at least everyone is subject to the same parameters (6 performers on stage, three minutes long etc...) and everyone who votes can be assumed to have watched all the other songs. In the majority cases, I much prefer a proper industry jury full of people with expert opinions. When I judged the TV BAFTAs, we really considered the merits of the nominated shows and spent hours, with a highly diverse panel, talking about them. We were forced to see everything on the shortlist, and the viewing figures and popularity of the show didn’t even get discussed in passing.

So, in the future, you can expect never to receive an email from me asking for your vote if I’m lucky enough to be nominated for a lovely award. I think the price is considerably too high.

Friday, 28 September 2018


Nathan returns to London today, which means my shambolic life of late can calm down a little. I can go to bed at a decent hour. I won’t stay up late watching episodes of Eight Out of Ten Cats Does Countdown. I’ll eat at sensible hours. It’s all good.

Rehearsals are going brilliantly and some of the actors in my cohort are really quite remarkable; focussed, subtle, nuanced, well-researched. We’re mainly doing table readings and character work whilst the music gets learned in the main rehearsal space. It’s actually a very good show when it comes to maximising rehearsal time because the lads and lassies are rarely in the same scene. This means that whilst our MD, Andrew, is teaching harmonies with the girls in one space, I can be in another with the boys, and vice versa. As a result, I think we all feel quite on top of things, although I’m pretty sure the actors’ brains will quite swiftly start to drip out of their ears because they are being overloaded with so much information. We’ve done some amazing work. Our choreographer, Simon, even got a chance to dip his toe into the murky waters of Barnbow Lassies yesterday.

It’s a happy environment and I feel very well looked after. The building itself is wonderful and doesn’t seem to have any of the teething problems normally associated with new buildings - apart from the dust, of course, which gets everywhere. It’s absolutely enormous. There are four floors of studios and work rooms, all with enormous windows looking out over London. The atrium is a riot of noise - largely the sound of several hundred excited drama school students - but you can easily find a quiet little corner to have lunch in, or a chat about production. I feel very privileged to be there.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018


I was up most of the night, listening to the rat running about in my house. I kept thinking she was in my room, but the door was shut and I’m pretty sure she was actually behind the sofa in the living room. It’s most disconcerting. It really shouldn’t be - I had pet rats, I love the creatures - but that all-too-familiar pitter-patter of a rat lolloping along the floor is a little sinister when you don’t know the creature in question.

I saw her in the flesh last night, crawling about in the airing cupboard. She’s obviously made a nest for herself under the floorboards, using bits of carrier bag which she’s chewed up and pulled down there. I feel quite sorry for her. The man from Rentakill is coming today to ensure she had a lingering and painful death. Her only crime is trying to go about her life and I’m not altogether sure that I have the right to decide she has to die, purely because I don’t want to co-habit.

The tube was heaving on my way down to Peckham this morning, filled to the rafters with people who tut when you lose your balance, or, in my case, try to put a computer away in a suitcase. Londoners have this rather nasty habit of making you feel like you’re deliberately trying to be obstreperous when you get into a pickle on the tube. I’m sure I can be as guilty as the next man in this regard. How many times have I huffed at someone who stops in their tracks to read a tube map, or got irritable at someone talking too loudly?

I reckon the tubes themselves are getting louder. I wrote a blog post recently where I was beginning to wonder if my decrepitude was making me more sensitive to noise, but I spoke to a musician a couple of weeks ago who said that tests had been done and that underground trains regularly topped the decibel level where extended periods of exposure could lead to permanent damage. And they wonder why we’re all ratty down here.

Perhaps we all need to remember the quote I once found written on a gravestone, “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

First day of Brass

This morning, I got up with the lark in order to take myself down to Peckham for the first day of rehearsals on Brass.

And what a double treat it is to be back at Mountview directing my (somewhat grown up) baby.

The new Mountview building is stunning. It feels like it belongs to a confident and classy institution with its eyes very firmly fixed on the future. It’s all industrial chic atriums and state-of-the-arc rehearsal studios.

Of course all the staff were rushing about like headless chickens. Today was the first time students had entered the space, and only last week the place was still a hard-hat-only zone. We had the obligatory fire alarm test, which meant we all had to traipse out into the square outside the school. I’m told we need to expect more of the same whilst those who care about these things are fully convinced that it’s a building which works.

The new cast of Brass are utterly fabulous. They’d all done a hell of a lot of research about the era and the show’s themes. I explained to them that they were entering an incredible family of people associated with the show. Protecting the memory of the Leeds Pals and the Barnbow Lassies feels like a responsibility that successive casts have taken really seriously, and I have no doubt that this new cohort will do their bit. I could feel the show getting under their skin more and more as the day went on and the great pride I feel to have written Brass came flooding back.

We didn’t do a great deal more than you might expect on a first day of rehearsals. I did a meet and greet, and spent an hour or so talking about the show. We had a read through of the script, had a Subway sandwich for lunch and then, in the afternoon, we talked in more depth about the show, before learning the song, Letters.

My creative and stage management teams are wonderful. They all feel like hard workers, yes people, kind people and very good at their jobs. So watch this space. Let the immersive experience begin!

Life can be a funny creature sometimes. I was in a bit of a miserable mood yesterday. I had a much-needed lie in, and finally hauled myself out of bed at about 11am. I could hear the rain throwing itself down outside. I probably should have stayed hidden for the whole day because, as I walked into the living room, I was confronted by a scene of absolute carnage. It seems the workmen who spent much of last month “fixing” the roof, were actually destroying it. Water was pouring through the ceiling. Literally flowing like a waterfall. The printer was submerged, as was the Little Victorian box piano we were given as a wedding present, three lamps and the whole area where the phone plugs in. I rushed about throwing buckets down, but not quickly enough, it seems, to stop the water sinking through our carpet and down into Little Welsh Natalie’s flat below. It was so horrifying that I actually ended up becoming quite zen. I kept telling myself that the mayhem was just for now, and, that, aside from trying to save the things that were being destroyed by water, there was nothing I could actually do. So, I sat for a day in the half of the room which didn’t have a soggy carpet and pretended that I lived in a functioning flat with a proper roof and no rats.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Kol Nidrei

I’m presently sitting in a MacDonalds after the Kol Nidrei service at the New West End Synagogue. It’s a big old sing! We started at six o’clock and basically didn’t stop until 10.30pm.

I am actually fasting. I’m not doing it for religious reasons. I’m doing it as an act of solidarity after experiencing my first dose of anti-semitism. On Sunday, as I came out of Highgate tube, someone on the A1 unwound his car window and shouted “yid” at me, simply because I was wearing my kippah after returning from a rehearsal at the shul. I wasn’t really upset. I was more confused. Had I been with children, or anyone who had been frightened by the incident, however, I would have been irate.

It felt like such a peculiarly old school thing to shout, and I was instantly transported back to the Midlands in the 1980s, when words like “poof” were casually thrown out of the windows of passing cars. In those days, those occurrences made me feel shame because being gay was my dirty little secret. I wondered how the people shouting knew. Was it my slight lisp? Was it my shambolic gait? I felt like a failure for not covering my tracks properly, almost as though I deserved the homophobic abuse because I wasn’t a proper man.

I feel no such shame about my sexuality these days, in fact, I am hugely grateful to be gay. I feel the same about my Jewish blood and have always worn my kippah proudly to and from services in the shul. My general ambivalence towards religion, of course, allows me the luxury of taking the kippah off as and when I choose, but I’ve always felt that the least I can do is wear it to and from the synagogue when I’m going there to facilitate worship. I feel uncomfortable when I see Jewish people guiltily (or out of fear) removing their kippahs as soon as they leave a synagogue to blend back into the community at large. There’s actually a school of thought which suggests antisemitism only happens when the community isn’t visible.

And of course we’re all reading a great deal about antisemitism at the moment. We’re told it’s seething beneath the surface on the far right and the far left. Perhaps Sunday’s incident proves that there’s still a fight to be fought, and if I’m supposed to be in the battle, I’m happy to report for action.

So why, if I’m fasting, am I in a MacDonalds? Well, I wanted somewhere quiet to sit for starters. The Kol Nidrei service was ever likely to be an emotional roller coaster for me. When I was a teenager, my theme tune, if you like, as a ‘cellist, was Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei. I loved playing the piece. It engulfed me emotionally and touched my soul. What I didn’t realise is that Bruch’s composition was based on an ancient Jewish melody which was exclusively performed at Kol Nidrei, the eve of the day of atonement. So the first thing our choir sang tonight was that very melody and I was instantly transported into that seventeen-year-old self. Once again, I was that young lad who was so terrified of being gay. It was a curiously cyclic and highly emotional moment.

The other reason why I was sitting in a MacDonalds was that I needed a cup of tea. It would be damaging for me to sing for four hours today and seven hours tomorrow without taking on liquids, so, even though I’m fasting, I am drinking water and tea.

Sunday, 16 September 2018


There was a bar mitzvah at shul yesterday morning. The lad centre stage was a young chap called Todd who talked about the Holocaust during his speech to the congregation. He actually made me aware that Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Israel, regularly “twins” young Jewish people up with one of the 1.5m children who were killed in the concentration camps during the war. The idea is to give living people the responsibility of protecting the memory of the dead. So if the bar mitzvah boy from today takes his responsibility seriously, then the memory of at least one child gassed at Auschwitz, is cherished for another 80 years. In this case, a 13-year-old Romanian boy called Shalom Tesler.

A staggering and chilling fact, which was brought to our attention by the rabbi today, is that, if Todd lives until he’s 93, the 6 million Jewish people who were killed in the holocaust could be seen in context as 200 people being killed every day for the rest of his life.

There’s always a kiddish meal after the Shabbat service. Sometimes it’s a rather simple affair - a few crisps, some pickles, fruit, olives and pastries. On special occasions, however, like yesterday, they can be rather lavish affairs...

The interesting thing, of course, is that kosher food can only be either meat or dairy-based. It would be impossible for food to be prepared in a kitchen with both food types present. Kosher restaurants will therefore typically declare which of the two they are. Cafes, bakeries and Italian-inspired restaurants will tend towards being dairy-focussed, for obvious reasons. The rules for dealing with dairy are far less stringent, but, unless you’re happy to serve only vegetarian cuisine, you have to get really imaginative with fish. It’s why you often end up with somewhat bizarre-sounding things like salmon lasagne! The rules regarding meat are much more complicated, which is why someone who keeps kosher is most likely to eat vegetarian food if they can’t be sure how something has been prepared. I think I’m right in saying that someone who keeps kosher has to wait four hours if he or she wants to switch from meat to dairy.

As a result of all of this, our kiddishes are usually dairy-based, but yesterday’s was meat-based, and, as a result, the entire shul got turned upside down. All the kitchen surfaces had been carefully covered in tin foil and all milk had been removed from the building, which was a desperate nightmare because the choir is basically fuelled by lovely cups of tea!

Thursday, 13 September 2018


Another hideous commute this morning. I thought leaving the house at 9am would mean I’d miss the rush hour, but actually, as I crossed the road to Highgate tube, I could see a backlog of people jostling at the top of the causeway which snakes down the dell to the station itself. I’ve made Highgate sound very un-London by talking about a dell. Highgate Station is actually situated at the bottom of a very charming wooded hillside which could be in the middle of the countryside. I remember coming to the station in 1993, and being terribly confused, but very charmed. There’s an abandoned overground station from the 1920s in the midst of all the trees which was part of a line which, for a few glorious inter-war years, linked Finsbury Park (and therefore the Piccadilly and Victoria Lines) to the Northern Line at Highgate via Crouch End. It went on up to Muswell Hill and Ally Pally, which, I think would have given those places a very different feel. Part of me wonders how much easier life would have been with that handy little line. The larger part of me is hugely grateful for the nature reserve, Parkland Walk, which runs the full length of the old line.

I have got to get used to this commute, as I will soon be starting rehearsals for Brass at Mountview School, which has been relocated from Haringey to Peckham of all places. Aside from being a little miffed that I can’t walk to work, as I was able to earlier in the year, I am also rather disappointed that North London has lost its drama school. Mountview was utterly synonymous with Crouch End and Wood Green and its students partially defined those areas. They bought energy, glamour and more than a whiff of Bohemianism to the borough. After graduating, they hung about because it was the bit of London they knew. Having studied there myself, I am more than aware that the drama school is the reason why I chose to make North London my home.

Mountview was forced to move to Peckham due to the short-sightedness and ineptitude of Haringey Council, who have to be one of the most self-serving and shambolic councils in the UK. On so many occasions, the drama school, lacking in space at its premises, attempted to purchase new buildings in Haringey. At one stage they wanted to take over a wing at Ally Pally, but this was blocked. Then, for the longest time, they were going to move into the iconic town hall in Crouch End. It happened with other premises as well. In all instances they were kept dangling on the end of a rope by Haringey Council, who would take them on a merry dance before announcing that the building was needed for housing stock and that they couldn’t justify a drama school being there. It’s a terrible shame.

So, Mountview has moved to Peckham, where the council welcomed them with friendly open arms. It’s very sad to think that London’s home of musical theatre is no longer on my doorstep.