Thursday, 21 June 2018

Oliver and the Foxes

I was awoken last night by a sound which I can only think was cats shagging. It was the most unearthly noise, but one which I found somewhat mesmerising. The two animals sounded a bit like babies crying, but the extraordinary thing was that they were matching each other in pitch. One would let out a sort of strangulated moan and the other would copy it. As the first’s cries rose in pitch, so the other’s would, to the extent that the noises started to sound like the wails of pleasure rather than pain.

We went to see Abbie playing Nancy in a production of Oliver in a garden in Earls Court last night. She was great. The role suits her enormously and I was very excited to hear her singing As Long As He Needs Me, which she did with moving panache.

Oliver is a bit of a weak show if I’m honest. It’s musically very entertaining and there are some amazing songs, but it’s dramatically frustrating. We never really find out anything about the characters, and most burst into song before we know anything about them.

The production wasn’t without its issues either, many of which were sound-related. An open air show is always going to be a challenge in this respect but there WERE a smattering of head mics so it should have been a lot better than it was. Sadly, the sound man didn’t seem to know who was wearing them at any given time, so much of the ensemble scenes took place in silence. In fact, to make matters a little more comic, we’d periodically hear people whispering off stage - “come off this way.”

In one of the songs, the only mic which was on, was being worn by someone singing hugely out of tune, so you could see thirty people singing, but only hear a sort of squawking noise, which was a shame.

During Abbie’s big solo, a man with Alzheimer’s walked onto the stage and walked right up to her, peering into her face. Quite how Abbie managed to stay composed, I’m not sure, but she didn’t come out of character or miss a note. There’s a pro for you! Eventually the bloke playing Fagin appeared and escorted the man off the stage, not before his wife had also sauntered into the action. Just after they’d disappeared behind a hedge, a huge gust of wind dislodged a massive sign on the back wall which subsequently blew away - all whilst Abbie bravely continued. I was very proud of her.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Gummy Brass

Back to the grindstone. For the next three days I’ll be back at Mountview School, resurrecting our children’s musical so that Andy Stanton, the writer of the original book, can come and have a look at what we’ve been doing. Apart from being utterly knackered as a result of really caning it on 100 Faces, I’m going to try to make the most of my last ever days in a building where I studied for a year in the mid 1990s. Mountview, the quintessential North London drama school, is moving to Peckham. I never thought I’d ever hear myself saying that! When I next work there, I won’t be able to walk there through the woods.

As I set off this morning, I could see a massive crowd of commuters walking purposely towards the tube. They get off busses in their droves at the top of Muswell Hill Road and swarm down like a sea of glistening angry wasps. I felt a great relief not to be joining them.

On the subject of Mountview, I think now is as good a time as any to announce that I shall be directing a production of Brass there in November. I was keeping the information under my hat until the creative team had been assembled, but I’m pretty sure we’re there now. Obviously I’m very excited, not just to be directing theatre again after an almost two-decade hiatus in TV, but also to breathe life into a new production of my over-sized baby!

Obviously, I have big shoes to follow after Sara Kestelman and Hannah Chissick, but I can’t wait to get inside the material and show the world exactly how I imagined piece. I am something of a slave-driver in a rehearsal room. I’m not sure the cast will be ready for the emotional roller-coaster they’re about to go on!

In the meantime, however, we head from the sublime to the sublimely ridiculous in the shape of Mr Gum, which will keep me busy for the next three days. I believe we have some of the original cast coming back. I’m excited to see who they will be. I can only apologise to the newbies! It’s the baddest maddest piece written since Mad Joe McBaddy adapted Cats for the Macclesfield Amateur Dramatic Society!

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Be safe

A somewhat sobering end to a very pleasant day came this evening when I was witness to a girl being hit by a car in Shepherd’s Bush. It’s difficult to know exactly what happened. She was in the middle of the road. I’m not sure the car was moving particularly quickly but the impact was enough to smash its windscreen. I think she might have hit it with her head because she was lying on the ground, not moving. A massive crowd of people immediately gathered around, peering and cooing. There was very little point in my staying. Some people were closer when it happened and would have seen more detail. It was certainly a fairly chilling sight and I sincerely hope she’s okay.

It instantly took me back to my childhood when we were often witness to people being hit by cars on the busy A6, which hurtled through the town where we lived. Some were killed. A huge piece of graffiti down the local rec read “The Greatest Greg” in tribute to a lad who was hit by a motorbike. I myself was once run over. I was returning from a fair, holding a goldfish in a plastic bag. I still remember the sensation of flying through the air. I still have a scar on the back of my ankle. I don’t know what happened to the gold fish!

It’s a Saturday, which means I was up with the lark, and away to the synagogue. It’s genuinely something I relish, particularly on a summer’s morning. I stroll down to the tube in my suit and kippah, buy myself a lovely cup of tea from the little kiosk, and spend the journey to Queensway going over my music, whilst gently warming up my pipes.

The singing was a little scrappy today. We were without a conductor so had no one to keep us in time, and, crucially, no one with a tuning fork to give us our starting notes! That particular role fell to me because I have a good internal pitching mechanism, but, it turns out, under pressure, I’m likely to start things a tone too low. We had an absolute catastrophe at one point when our tenors set off a fourth lower than my starting note, which caused such mayhem that I spent much of the number giggling. Not singing made me realise for the first time that the congregation sing along with us, which was rather nice to hear. Perhaps they were singing extra loudly to show their support... or to cover our shame!

Singing without a conductor is an odd experience. On one hand there’s a tendency to listen to each other more acutely, which is good for pitching, but, on the other, a choir will get slower and slower!

After shul I took myself to a cafe in Holland Park and worked, for five solid hours on the music for 100 Faces. It was an intense experience. I only came out from under the headphones on one occasion and that was only to buy myself another cup of tea!

I had a pizza with Michael in the evening to fill him in on how comically bad the choir had been in his absence, and, it was as I arrived at the tube to start my journey home that I witnessed the accident.

...And now I feel sad again.

To those reading this blog who know they like to drink quite heavily on an evening out, please be extra careful when crossing roads. Even if the traffic is moving at a slow pace. Even if you assume a car is going to stop because you’ve smiled and waved at the driver. Even if you’re chancing it and think he’ll slam on his breaks because he doesn’t want to hit you...






Be safe.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Sloane Square carnage

I hit rush hour at London Bridge tube today and edged, ever further underground, in a swamp of people, wondering what would happen if a terrorist decided to blow himself up in such an over-crowded, confined space. I guess the thought of terrorism is never far from the mind of a Londoner, however much we try to project a “Keep Calm and Carry On” exterior.

I’ve been out and about all day today, latterly at a workshop performance of a musical called Henry by my friends Michelle and Lawrence. It was actually me who introduced them to each other and encouraged them to team up as writers. I was thanked profusely in the programme, which touched me greatly. I am very proud to announce that their writing partnership has yielded very rich rewards. The show, though in its relative infancy, plainly has legs. It’s atmospheric, musically inventive, yet very mature, and deeply intriguing. I’m very excited to see how the work develops.

Leading the cast was young Jack Reitman, a Brass family member, and also one of my 100 Faces. He did a great job and I had another proud Dad moment.

I sat on Sloane Square this morning waiting for Philippa. A strange warm, damp wind was circling around me. I sat and watched London pigeons limping and strutting ineffectually around me. There’s nothing more tragic than London pigeons. They always seem to have half their feathers missing, and their claws usually resemble gnarly stumps.

My mind drifted away, to perhaps the last time I’d been on the square itself. It was 1996. I was still at drama school and working as an usher at the Royal Court Theatre. This was about a month before the place closed down for a lengthy refurbishment and we were all dispatched to the New Ambassadors Theatre in the West End.

After the show one night, the ushers were offered overtime to work on an art installation which was due to happen on Sloane Square. Our job would be to usher audience members out of the theatre, across the road, and onto the square itself, where a giant paddling pool had been set up and filled with sand and gallons of water.

The whole area was surrounded by wires to enable the paddling pool to be floodlit and a weird atmospheric, experimental, electronic sound track to be piped into the ether. You know the sort of thing? Curious subtonic rumbles and weird synthy beeps and bleeps.

I don’t remember much about the installation. I remember there being some somewhat self-conscious actors, and a giant canon thing which was spewing little white feathers into the air which were falling onto the audience like snow. I knew it was pretentious. I remember feeling shame.

The audience had to sit on the floor, on some sort of plastic matting. There was a general sense of non-plussedness.

Suddenly, and I can’t remember how it happened, the paddling pool burst and a cascade of water and sand flooded the area where the poor audience was sitting. Initially we thought it was part of the piece, but then it became obvious that something terrible was happening! I still remember the screams as people realised they were soaked through. People started standing up. Others started laughing uncontrollably.

At that point, the installation’s technical manager started yelling, “every body off the tarpaulin. There are live cables. You’ll be electrocuted.”

Panic ensued. The audience started running about. People were tripping over each other, bumping into one another, falling on the cables. The ushers, who were completely ill-equipped to deal with such an incident, stood helplessly, wondering whether their own lives were more important than those of the audience. I howled with laughter, more relieved than anything that the terrible installation was over.

The audience kept running. No one waited around to find out what had happened. In the space of three minutes the entire square was empty, but for a few rather damp-looking actors, some ushers, red-faced organisers and a scene of profound carnage. Sand. Water. Tarpaulin. Feathers.

Perfect!

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Last of the huskies

It was one of those days today when they get the frequency of trains going along the Bank branch wrong. I ended up taking a near-empty Charing Cross train to Camden before attempting the “Camden hop” (up the stairs and back down the other side) in a sweltering clump of angry commuter. I am always astounded by what people consider to be appropriate behaviour during moments like that. A train was waiting at the station, which meant there was a huge pile up of people, half of whom were getting off the train, whilst the rest, realising there were precious few Bank trains, were suddenly running down the stairs pushing people out of the way like a bad game of skittles.

...And then, just as the situation couldn’t have got more dangerous, a small child appeared on one of those irritating pink neon scooters (the ones which always end up being carried by parents because the kids who ride them get bored and want to go home). This particular little bogey-flicker was using the platform as a lovely smooth surface to scoot on, blissfully unaware of the rush of people heading down the stairs towards him. Carnage. One man slipped whilst trying, last minute, to avoid the little brat. Another stopped in his tracks and created a pile-up. My bag fell off my shoulder and the husky mug I’d bought in Canada in 1992, which I’ve been trying to use to avoid wasting paper cups, smashed on the floor into a thousand dangerous shards.

The train doors closed in slow motion and none of us made it onto the train. When the Dad of the child kicked off and told us all to watch what we were doing, I wondered if he deserved to be throttled! It’s one thing to bring up your child to think it’s the centre of everyone’s world, but quite something else to believe it yourself!

Yes, yes, I know children need to be able to stretch their legs and express themselves, but it’s vital, for the safety of the world, that parents assess risks properly.

I waited for the crowd to disperse, before carefully picking up the pieces of my 26-year old Canadian companion, which I wrapped in the newspaper I’d been reading. It was the last of a little set, including a bowl, a plate and two mugs, which I bought when our youth orchestra went on tour to Canada. Every time I got one out of the cupboard, a little memory of that golden time would pop into my head. But one by one they broke.

As I dropped the shards of the last one into the bin, I could have sworn I heard a husky dog crying...

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Stiles and Drewe Award

Another weekend and another Saturday morning spent in shul. I was singing with a chorister called Joey, whom we worked out, I’d met in the late ‘90s when I was going out with Stephen Twigg, Joey’s MP at the time. I didn’t quite know how to process the information that Joey was ten at the time! I feel that many people are being placed on the earth these days simply to make me feel like an old man! 

It was a good choir. Our voices blended very well and the pitching felt relatively precise. I had a bit of a brain fart in one of the numbers, but, fortunately, was standing next to Gabriel, who seems to have a permanent ear fixed on what’s going on around him. If you make a mistake, you can rely on him to point it out, which is, of course, a double-edge sword! There’s a slightly odd tradition within choristers which involves raising a hand in rehearsals when you make an error to show everyone else that you’re aware of it, and that they don’t need to point it out. It’s never something I got into, largely because I don’t come from a choral tradition, but also because I worry that if I got into raising my hand every time I made a mistake, I’d not be able to prevent myself from doing it in performance! Anyway, Gabriel’s third ear was very useful today as he immediately realised I’d sung myself into a musical cul-de-sac, and was able to briefly sing my part until I was able to reverse out of it again! 

I strolled down Old Compton Street for the first time in an age on Saturday afternoon and was rather thrilled to see two large rainbow flags billowing outside one of the gay pubs. It must be Pride Season because, I’ve been rather horrified at the complete lack of rainbow flags being displayed on on London’s gayest street in recent years. It’s absolutely indicative of the death of Soho, and the fact that the area has become a grotesque theme park for heterosexuals wanting a taste of something a little bit naughty. One assumes that rainbow flags might dissuade punters from parting with the vast sums of money required to pay astronomical rents in the district and this makes me really sad. I loved those streets when they were seedy. When tourists were too scared to come in, and they belonged to us. There were no edit suites or fancy chocolatiers. There were sex shops, brothels, jazz venues, theatres and anything-goes-gay-bars. And the place thronged with a remarkably special energy. 

I spent yesterday night at a quiz in Thaxted. I have now been a professional quiz master for a year, but am not sure my general quizzing knowledge has improved.  I pulled a few astonishing facts out of my arse, but actually, it was Helen and Sascha’s random knowledge of fashion which brought the largest reward. Ten out of ten! We scored five on the history round, and two of our team are history teachers! In the end what did for us was the picture round, worth a quarter of the overall marks, which featured nothing but images of male sporting captains from the twentieth century. It was one of those rounds which made me want to cry. Six members of our team immediately disengaged, leaving my Dad and Stuart to cobble the answers together. I was hugely proud of them for getting 26 out of the forty answers correct. One of the other teams - a mass of middle-aged testosterone - scored 38. How can you compete with that?! 

I drove Helen back to London in a weird, somewhat spooky, muggy mist, which had been generated by a brief rainfall whilst we were quizzing.

Today saw Nathan and me trekking down to the Savoy Theatre for the Stiles and Drewe Best New Song competition. The song Brass was highly commended last year, and this year, Shone with the Sun, met a similar fate. I would love it to have won, largely for Arnold Wesker, who championed the song from the moment we wrote it in 1998. He even picked it as one of his Desert Island Discs on Radio 4, but sadly never got to see it in its home in Brass, and didn’t live long enough to know that people sing the song in auditions and cabarets across the country. 

It was performed in the contest by Amara Okeredo, an Arts Ed graduate, who’s just gone into Les Mis playing Cosette. Not a bad first job, I’d say! It wasn’t a surprise for me to learn that she’d landed such a big role. The girl is profoundly talented, both as a singer and as an actress, and she sang Shone with such profoundly and panache, creating an incredibly special moment, which made me brim with pride. 

There was an empty seat next to Nathan, in an otherwise packed theatre. I wondered at one point whether Arnold was sitting there, smiling, every bit as proud as me. He said on his Desert Island Discs that he’d “included the song, to remind himself that he had a talent.” 

Not a day goes by when I don’t think about that man, desperately grateful for everything he gave me. He encouraged me to be a composer when all I wanted to do was direct, and he taught me the importance of loyalty and integrity. 


Thank you, Arnold. And thank you Amara. 

The student singer of the yet award went to Alex Cardall, who was in the original cast of Brass. He has turned into a remarkably fine performer

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Death of Maida Vale

I sat in the bedroom yesterday, composing at the piano, whilst, next door, Nathan rehearsed his “Broadway and Beyond” show with a pianist and another actor. It was somewhat surreal to hear the sounds of 76 Trombones and Lullaby of Broadway floating down the hallway from the lounge. I realised at that moment that I live a somewhat eccentric existence. Our neighbours must be utterly perplexed by the sounds which float down into their flats!

I read with horror yesterday that the BBC is due to close its iconic Maida Vale studios. Yet again, the BBC’s quest to modernise and save money blithely sweeps away the past.

I was greatly saddened when Television Centre in White City was sold off, not just because of the building’s architectural value, which was great, but because the building hummed with creativity. You couldn’t enter that building without immediately getting a sense of its importance and the extraordinary amount of incredible television which had been commissioned, written, filmed and edited there.

The BBC’s decision to sell-up, and build ghastly, shiny atrium-based buildings in Salford and Central London, where there were no offices and all business had to happen on ridiculous primary-coloured chairs, in open spaces, was indicative, in my view, of a corporation losing both its heart and its way.

Maida Vale was around before TVC. In fact, it’s pretty much the oldest surviving BBC building which alone has to give it some weight. Of course the BBC has described it as “wholly unsuitable for the 20th Century.” But then, they would, wouldn’t they?

A quick history of the place. Wikipedia informs me that it was built at the turn of the 20th Century as a roller skating rink! Who’d have thought roller skates even existed in 1908, let alone were enough of a crave to merit a giant building in their honour. One assumes roller skating went out of fashion, because the BBC acquired the building and had it refurbished as a series of seven studios which opened in the mid-1930s.

It immediately became the home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Studio MV1, within the complex, is the largest classical music studio in London, with space for 150 orchestral musicians.

From 1958 to 1998, the building also held the BBC’s seminal Radiophonic Workshop, who used cutting edge electronic technology to create sonic adventures, including the theme tune for Doctor Who. And if you’re looking for an important woman who fought off gender prejudice to become a pivotal figure in this brave new world, look no further than Delia Derbyshire.

An almost bewildering number of artists have recorded sessions at Maida Vale, from The Beatles and Led Zep to Bax, Bliss and Sir Adrian Boult.

The BBC has announced that they’re moving what goes on in the building to the Olympic Park in Stratford, no doubt at great cost into building utterly devoid of atmosphere, which doesn’t quite work the way it’s meant to.

Maybe I’m a bit of an old fart. I’m sure there were heavy running costs associated with a building like Maida Vale. Perhaps it genuinely wasn’t working, but for creative people, there’s so much importance in standing on the shoulders (or in the shadows) of giants. Every time I walk into a studio and see what else has been recorded there, I feel inspired. I want to raise my game. It’s almost as though the energy of the genius minds who have worked in a space continues to reverberate somehow. And I feel losing this is a heavy price to pay.

Monday, 4 June 2018

The widening gap

It seems I can’t switch the television or radio on these days without listening to a woman being interviewed, usually by another woman, about how it feels to be a woman. I’ve written about this fairly recently, but, as the summer heats up, it seems like this phenomenon is reaching fever pitch. It used to be the terrain of Women’s Hour - and it was interesting and thought-provoking for a concentrated period of time. It now feels like Women’s Hour has escaped and started charging all over the BBC. I switched the radio on on Friday night and was informed that, within the next hour, I could expect a documentary about the post #MeToo world, before hearing an interview with the winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, which would happen after Lucy Catherine’s epic radio play about a female Viking Warrior.

Yesterday, during my car journey, I listened to a piece about how difficult it is for women in the record industry, before a piece about the Women’s Power List. There was talk about inappropriate male touching, then we heard about ovarian cancer. One woman said the word “woman” sixteen times in a minute. I counted.

I switched the telly on Saturday night to be told by the announcer that “to celebrate the Year of the Woman” the BBC was showing an all-women version of “From The Apollo.” Then I watched “There’s Nothing Like a Dame” - a documentary about four well-known female actresses, which I would have wholeheartedly enjoyed, without prejudice, had I not started to wonder whether it had simply been commissioned to tick the apparently insatiable need at the BBC for material about women.

This evening, I watched a programme about Suffragettes which was followed by a trailer for a programme called “The Trouble with Women - with Anne Robinson.”

Maybe I’m just noticing it more. Maybe this is some sort of frequency bias in action. Maybe the pendulum has to swing the other way before we can ever find equilibrium.

But why do we continue to ask women how it feels to be women instead of allowing them to talk about the art they make, or the jobs they do?

No one has ever asked me how it feels to be a man. I’ve barely been asked how it feels to be gay, which is far more relevant to what I do. Being gay - and not having children as a result - is a great driving force for me, because it means I’m working towards a legacy of music rather than children.

Funnily enough, I actually think in today’s climate it might be quite interesting to ask a man how it feels to be a man: to ask him what #MeToo has done to his perception of women, and the perception of himself and his own value. I never used to feel any different to women, but, in the last few months, I’ve learned that I’m an entirely different breed of person...

I feel a gap widening between men and women which I never felt before and I don’t like it very much.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

The green belt

It’s Saturday and I’ve spent the morning having a much-needed laze around. It’s been a heck of a week. I don’t really have much to say about it because I’ve had my head down, working flat out on 100 Faces. I spent much of my time in the offices at UK Jewish Film. I have most of my faces now, but am still looking to find Jewish people born in about ten separate years. I’m pretty sure the more recent ones will be okay, but I am struggling to find someone born in 1920, 1926, 1933 and 1940. I’m not sure that my blog has a particularly sizeable Jewish readership, but if anyone reading knows of a Jewish person based in the UK who is born in one of these years, please, please get in touch!

The rest of my time has been spent composing. I’ve made a start on the piece of music which will form the basis of the film. To say I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself is the understatement of the year! I feel an extreme weight of responsibility. I absolutely have to get it right. So, I’m taking things very slowly... which is very unlike me. I have blocked out the composition so I now know how the melody twists and turns throughout the piece. It’s a complicated jigsaw because some of the 100 faces are singers and others aren’t, so I have to take all of that into consideration. New phrases of music have to start with people born in certain years. I’ve always considered myself a hopeless mathematician but actually rather a lot of music is maths. Especially when you’re working to such specific timings.

Nathan has been in Rhodes since Monday, teaching people how to knit. He was meant to be there all week, but he managed to double book himself, so had to return on Thursday night. The poor bloke’s plane was delayed by four hours, so instead of arriving home in the wee smalls, he got home at 7am yesterday, so exhausted, he was physically shaking.

He was off again early this morning to a gig somewhere in Wales!

This afternoon I ventured out to the very Northern tip of London for a walk in the countryside with Michael. It’s easy to forget how astoundingly rural the green belt is. We were up towards Elstree, which is only a 25-minute drive from Highgate, but it’s like another world, filled with charming, ancient cottages, village ponds, common ground and corn fields. The walk was a little wet under foot at times, but after the spectacular storms in the early part of the week, I was pleasantly surprised by the weather. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was a great pleasure to be out and about, although the air was thick with pollens. I never thought I’d become the sort of person who is sensitive to pollens. I’ve no idea how this has come to pass.

I’ve come home and am watching the TV Soap Awards, which is about as excruciating as it gets, not just because of the weird screams from the audience, but because I haven’t watched a soap in ages so have no idea who they’re screaming at!


Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Diamond structures

I saw an advert today for a “diamond structure” school, which seems to be a co-educational school where boys and girls are taught separately. As a bloke who went to a co-educational comp, whose friends were almost exclusively female, I can’t imagine anything much more soul-destroying than this.

On one hand, I’m aware that there’s some evidence to suggest that girls tend to flourish in single sex learning environments, but, in an era of gender fluidity and redefinition, I’m not sure there should be a place for single-sex teaching. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that single sex schools possibly exacerbate some of the issues which young people have with gender and sexuality. Girls become exotic to lads in a boys’ school and they can develop unhealthy and unrealistic interests in them if they don’t have the opportunity to view them as peers or equals. It is also surely exponentially more complicated to discover that you’re trans in a single sex environment. Or, for that matter, gay. In my experience, young gay men are often drawn to the company of women.

The news has been filled with stories about the gender pay gap in the NHS. Women, on average, earn less than men, despite there being more women working in the NHS. My first issue with this headline is that I can’t see how the two halves of the statement are linked. It may well be, for example, that there are more top level male surgeons working in the NHS, so by saying that, because more women work for the NHS, their average salaries should be the same, we’re entering a land of nonsense. These sorts of figures can only work if we compare like with like - and, even then, there are issues. Bruce Forsyth had fifty years more experience of fronting light entertainment shows than Tess Daly when they started presenting Strictly together. Should they have been paid the same wage for doing the same job? I don’t personally think so. Of course it would have been utterly outrageous if they’d replaced Brucie with a young male presenter who’d still earned more than Tess, but even then, it might just turn out that the new lad had a better agent!

In my view, experience has to count for something. In this respect, I get rather depressed when I see actors with twenty years’ experience working in the ensembles of West End shows on the same wage as drama school leavers. I get frustrated for my own career that my experience as a composer never seems to be taken into account when it comes to negotiating pay. My weekly rate as a freelancer has never exceeded what I was paid in 2006 and yet, since that point, I’ve been nominated for, or won, more than twenty major awards!
If the news report I was watching is to be believed, the real-terms pay gap issues in the NHS appear to boil down to women taking time off to raise children. One female GP actually had me shouting at the TV when she started complaining that, by taking three years out to have babies, she’d effectively earned £100,000 less than her husband who is also a GP. But here’s the question? Why should someone who takes three years out of a job, and has three years less experience than someone else (regardless of gender) be paid the same? It just doesn’t make sense to me. No one puts a gun to someone’s head and tells them they have to have children. If you decide to have children, you end up with a financial hit of some description. The angry GP on telly could have opted to go back to work herself and expected her husband to take the three year pay hit instead.

Look, I know we’re not there yet. Despite my argument, there are still dodgy things at play here. Men still get promotions over women, women can still be be under-confident when it comes to even putting themselves up for more senior roles, and I’m sure there are plenty of instances where women with the same amount of experience as men end up with lower pay. All of this is wrong. But these are the things we need to be turning our attention to instead of throwing misleading statistics and headlines about, which makes the problem seem utterly insurmountable. Good things are happening across the board in terms of equality. And yes, we need to keep chipping away at the corners, but let’s keep a simultaneous eye on the big picture.

And the big picture, in my view, is Northern Ireland and the fact that we now have a single corner of the British Isles (including the Republic of Ireland) which doesn’t allow abortion and doesn’t allow same sex marriage. Both rights are being blocked by the DUP, who are holding the rest of the UK to ransom as a result of Theresa May’s repugnant decision to get into bed with them to protect her tenuous grasp on power. It’s probably not relevant that two women are responsible for blocking full equality, but it is noteworthy, particularly as Theresa May - when it suits her - makes much of her feminist credentials. She was all over #MeToo, largely, one assumes, because it was a safe campaign which no one in their right mind would have been critical of.

I don’t suppose I’m asking for much more than a little perspective. I think the world would be a much better place if we took a deep breath and realigned ourselves.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Badby and Leamington

I was in the Midlands all day yesterday. The older I get, the more of a sense of belonging I feel when I’m in Northamptonshire and Warwickshire. The accents are recognisable. The landscapes feel right. The houses are built from familiar stone. I can overhear the names of towns and villages and have a clear sense of what they look like. I can drive without a map...

The day started at Daily Bread in Northampton, which is a sort of whole food warehouse. It used to strike fear into my heart as a child because it meant my mother was buying wheat germ and carob and all the healthy things I used to hate eating. These days, of course, it’s an absolute Mecca. I was able to buy vats of smoked paprika, garlic powder and dried cherries and cranberries. Nothing has changed about the place: not even the smell, or the yellow price labels on all of the produce.

I met my parents there before taking them on a whistle stop tour of my favourite Northampton haunts including the amazing Magee bakery up near the football ground and the Vintage shop down towards the Mount.

We lunched in the village of Badby, famous (to me at least) as the source of the River Nene. We were somewhat surprised to note that the landlord of the pub we were in was Merlin, the cocktail waiter, from Channel 4’s First Dates.

Badby is a beautiful, red sandstone-built village which nestles in the stunning, undulating West Northamptonshire countryside. As my Mum pointed out, “it’s every bit as beautiful as the Cotswolds, but you don’t have to share it with anyone!”

Badby is well-known locally for its ancient woodland, a site of special scientific interest. It is one of the most lovely spots. Pools of silvery, dappled light glowed on fields and fields of blue bells which were just going over, but wonderful enough to realise that, a week ago, they would have been spectacular.

We walked through the woods and stared for some time at the mysterious ruins of a Tudor dowager house in parkland beyond, highly frustrated that we weren’t able to get closer to properly explore.

From Badby, I travelled to Leamington, listening to the Film Programme on Radio 4, which was presented by a woman and featured lengthy interviews with a female critic, a female director and a female screen writer. A lone man’s voice appeared at the end of the show - to talk about the sorts of perfumes that Femme Fatales would have worn in the golden era of Hollywood! If I’m honest, it felt a little arch. But then I wondered if this is how women always used to feel when radio programmes featured nothing but men’s voices. I am a great believer in equality, so I would like to have heard a few more men and, if honest, fewer questions about how it feels to be a woman working in the film industry. Having listened to Woman’s Hour on the way up to Northampton, I rather felt I was being bashed over the head with female interviewers asking women how it felt to be a women, when I’m pretty sure most of the women I know who write screenplays and compose music would far rather talk about the things they’ve written.

I was in Leamington to assist on a quiz at law firm where my dear Auntie Gill had worked in the 1960s. You see: you go back to the Midlands and immediately become subject to these sorts of coincidences! The first person I spoke to from the firm had attended the same school as my Mum.

The quiz took place in a marquee and was fairly uneventful until the sun started setting. It melted into the most glorious, bright orange fire. As it dropped, I suddenly became aware that it was perfectly lightning the face of our quiz master, Lesley, who has red hair which began to glow majestically. It was one of those moments which felt suspended in time, the sort of wistful, nostalgic light which somehow took me straight back to my childhood in the 1970s. Rather wonderfully, it also suddenly started raining. I don’t know how this was possible because the sun was shining so intensely, but the smell of rain filled our nostrils and we could hear a pattering on the roof, followed by a distant clap of thunder.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Brighton

I met someone last night who’d been to school with a girl called Philippa Bucket. Say it out loud. It struck me what a fabulous drag queen name hers would have made. 

...Speaking of bad drag queens, Nathan and I are presently on our way back from Brighton, where we’ve been watching Philip and Daryl performing in a play called Another Fine Mess, which is essentially the story of a Laurel and Hardy tribute act. The piece was written thirty-two years ago and touches on issues relating to HIV and AIDS. It’s rather intriguing to see a piece which was written in an era where being HIV positive was a death sentence. Things have moved on so much in that regard that the story occasionally felt like it was lacking bite. It does, however, stand as a stark reminder of those dark days in the 1980s which should never be forgotten. It was beautifully acted by all three performers.

We were treated to an open mic night in the pub afterwards from a gaggle of ancient LGBT-ers, each, seemingly, more decrepit than the one before! One old gent performed with a Zimmer frame. (No joke!)

We had a terrible car journey down to Brighton. We left at about 3pm, so should have got there with hours to spare. As it happened, we rushed into the theatre almost as the actors appeared on stage, and I’d driven like a boy racer down the M23! The problem was that they’d closed a section of the M25, so, as a result, we spent hours seemingly crawling in ever-decreasing circles in places like Uxbridge. It was deeply depressing, and it further enhanced my belief that London’s infrastructure is entirely broken. One little adverse gust of wind and the house of cards tumbles.

It was great to be in Brighton, though. The weather was balmy and the Fringe Festival was in full swing, so everyone seemed very jolly. We got a couple of bags of chips and wandered down to the sea front, staring at the moon’s reflection in the velvet black water.

We drove home listening to Imogen Heap’s 2014 album, Sparks, which is a fairly magnificent sonic adventure, perfect for a long car journey, with halogen motorway lights flashing overhead and stretching into the distance like giant dragon tails.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Shavuot

Today marks the second and last day of the Jewish festival of Shavuot. Shavuot is a fairly minor festival which celebrates one of the milestones in the story of Moses. In Israel, it’s celebrated on a single day, but in the diaspora, for some reason, it’s a two-day festival, which means, after taking Shabbat into consideration, we managed to poll three days of singing on the trot in the synagogue. And once we get into those choir stalls, we basically never shut up, so there’s been a phenomenal amount of material to learn! Today’s service was particularly epic. We were in the building for four solid hours! I don’t mind in the slightest, however. It’s always great fun and it’s wonderful to be able to turn up and simply sing without having to worry about organising people.

I was horrifically late to the rehearsal, however. London ceases to work when a simple thing goes wrong. This morning “points failure in the North Acton area” meant I had to abort my tube journey and literally run, in a suit, to Queensway from Lancaster Gate. I arrived looking like I’d fallen into the Serpentine.

The great news about Shavuot is that it’s traditionally celebrated through the consumption of cheese. Any festival, in my view, which allows a person to gorge himself silly on cheese has to be a good thing. Quite whether kosher cheese has much to write home about, however, is another matter. I asked the rabbi if they made kosher halloumi and was assured they did, but I’m fairly convinced it would turn out to be pretty tasteless!

Because meat and dairy can’t be cooked together, you can always be assured that a pescatarian won’t find any nasty surprises in a quiche served up on Shavuot. A veggie has to be a bit more careful, however, because Jewish people tend to love their fish, and fish IS allowed to be cooked with dairy. There’s even a kosher tradition of eating salmon lasagne, which sounds profoundly minging if you ask me!

Magpies

I saw something rather extraordinary on Friday morning. I had a meeting in Hampstead, near the Royal Free, and was walking along Fleet Road, when I became very aware of a large amount of squawking and screeching in the trees above my head. I looked up to see two magpies in deep distress...

I’ve traditionally had fairly complicated feelings about magpies, largely, I assume, because I’ve always been a little bit superstitious. One for sorrow and all that. I can’t bring myself to entirely listen to the rational side of my brain which mocks me, saying, “you’re entirely cynical and critical when it comes to religion, but you won’t walk under a ladder, have peacock feathers in the house, or see a single magpie without saying, “hello Mr Magpie, where’s your wife?!” So, I suppose any bird capable of making a grown man nervous, should be respected, and, furthermore, I’ve always quite liked the fact that magpies mate for life. I think they’re known as being supremely intelligent animals as well. 

Anyway, yesterday, these two magpies were in a state of high distress. I’ve actually not seen anything like it before. It was really quite painful to watch. They seemed to be dive-bombing a man on the other side of the street - flying really close to his head, before landing on the window ledges of nearby houses, hissing, spitting and yelling.

I crossed over the road to see if the man needed any assistance. It was starting to resemble a Hitchcock horror movie.

On reaching the other side of the road, I realised the man was holding a fledgling magpie. He had his hands cupped protectively around the bird. It turns out that the bird had tried to leave its nest, taken a dive into the unknown and promptly dropped like a stone onto the street below. The man had stopped the traffic, picked up the creature and carried it to relative safety.

But then what? He wouldn’t have been able to get the poor bird back into its nest and bird’s parents wouldn’t have been able to pick it up from the pavement and make it fly, regardless of how stressed they were. In the end, the man decided to put the baby magpie in a nearby bush: elevated enough to keep it away from foxes, but heaven knows if it would have been enough to save its life. I sincerely hope so.

The parental instinct is so deeply powerful. I knew long before I’d seen the cause, that those two birds were in a state of desperation and panic and it’s really made me think about animal welfare. When it suits us, it’s easy to ignore the uncomfortable fact that animals have the capacity to feel - physically and emotionally. Of course, as a life long vegetarian, I can feel smugger than most on this subject, but I’m not vegan, and the dairy industry, in particular, can be a very cruel one. Cows have their babies taken away from them way too early, so that the milk starts flowing and our insatiable need for milk is satisfied. 

My breakfast cereal didn’t taste so good this morning...

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Loud noise

As I get older, I find myself dealing less well with loud noises. I’m not sure I’m alone in this regard. When I’m quizzing, it’s always the very oldest quizzers who shout that the music’s too loud. I’ve never quite understood how someone can be half deaf and still find a noise too loud.

I sincerely hope that the same thing isn’t happening to be because I was always a little bit sensitive to noise. My days of going to loud gigs and clubs and things are well behind me, thankfully, but, in my day, I have shoved large quantities of tissue paper into my ears to protect myself from songs being played so loudly I want to vomit. I suppose composers are likely to be a little more noise sensitive, aware of the catastrophe which would be caused by their gong deaf. I can’t imagine how bewildering it must be not to be able to hear.

Anyway, somewhere between Camden and Euston, there lies a section of track which the tube trains literally squeal their way over. It’s a metallic, grating noise. The sound becomes louder the longer it lasts - and it always lasts a good ten seconds longer than my ears can deal with - to the extent that I’m usually forced to cover them, whilst silently screaming. As the noise happened today, I looked around me. Most people looked completely unconcerned. A young couple opposite were still talking to one another, which I found absolutely astounding. It was only the little old lady in the next door carriage who, I could see through the window, was recoiling in horror.

I wonder if that’s a thing?

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

A day of two halves

My life today was split into two sections which really couldn’t have been any more contrasting. The first part was spent visiting Holocaust survivors, all of whom had gathered for an afternoon of tea, cakes and klezmer music, stunningly and authentically performed by the London Klezmer Quartet. The band is fronted by the coolest singer with the deepest voice, who performs in Yiddish whilst playing an upright bass. It doesn’t get much better than that! I think she might have been Australian.

My new friend, Ivor, who’s in his late 80s, took me aside and said “what do you think the future holds? It doesn’t matter for me. I’m reconciled to that. I’ve only got a few years left. But what sort of world am I leaving behind?”

I thought for a while, before telling him that I felt the world worked in 100-year cycles and that, sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if another world war might be around the corner. If I’ve learned nothing else from survivors it’s that they don’t feel the need to sugar-coat anything. Vera used to routinely describe herself as a victim rather than a survivor. Sometimes I think a war is the only way that we’ll learn genuine compassion again and discover the difference between that which we want and that which we need. Another chap told me he’d arrived in the UK after the war with “a blanket and a cardboard box.”

Chillingly, I also saw my first concentration camp tattoo today. I was chatting merrily to a woman about music, and she suddenly raised her sleeve and showed it to me. It was faded like an old bruise. An ancient scar which had somehow never managed to heal. I don’t quite know why the moment hit me so hard, but it sent me into something of a spin.

The second half of my day was spent in the shiny, soulless surroundings of Canary Wharf, where I was running a quiz on the top floor of one of the skyscrapers there. The views, as you might imagine, were astonishing. The sun slowly set as I asked my questions. I remember looking across at one of the teams who were sitting in a glorious pool of late evening sunlight, and glancing behind me to see the sun sinking behind a building. And then it was dark. I’m not sure I was aware of anyone turning the lights on. I delivered the quiz in front of a floor-to-ceiling window, periodically losing my balance, and peering down on the matchbox DLR trains snaking along Meccano tracks, whilst waiting for the blast of vertigo to cease.

The two worlds couldn’t have been more different. There I was, surrounded by besuited city slickers, nibbling on olives and fancy, purple carrot sticks, when, just two hours before, I’d been drinking tea from a mug in a 1960s community centre talking to people who’d literally witnessed the worst things that human beings are capable of doing to one another.

Why don’t we learn?


Leam and Cable Street

Yesterday was a hugely inspiring day, most of which was spent back in the Midlands. I was up at shit o’clock to do a telephone radio interview about the Em album. I wasn’t sure the presenter had been particularly well briefed, despite my speaking to a researcher for the best part of an hour the day before. She opened by announcing that I’d written a musical about meeting my brother for the first time, and then, when I pointed out that the musical was actually about my Mum’s experience of having a baby out of wedlock in 1965, she said “and I’m right in thinking that your Mum is no longer with us?” I was so surprised I started burbling, “no... she’s here. Very much so. Well not actually here on the phone...” hysterical!

I was in the car by 8.30am and on the road to Coventry in glorious morning sunshine.

I met brother Tim from the train station and we had a lovely baked potato for lunch in a dive of a cafe just round the corner. It was there or the local Harvester (which, it turns out, is no longer a Harvester - my Grannie will be turning in her grave!)

We went to Stoneleigh where we were met by a very lovely film crew from the BBC’s Midlands Today programme. Stoneleigh is the village where my Grannie and Grampa lived for thirty or so years and are now buried. Tim met my (his) Grannie just once. I’m told that she was never aware of his existence. My mother went to Liverpool to give birth in secret. Only her father, apparently knew. Anyway, Tim met our Grandmother for the first time when she was in the latter stages of dementia, and the conversation was apparently going round and round in circles before my Grannie suddenly grabbed Tim’s hand and said “I know who you are, you know...” Perhaps she did know after all.

Anyway, Tim had never seen their grave before, so I took him there and we did a little interview with the telly people. It must have been a very curious experience for Tim, staring at the grave of two people he’d never known but who’d given him half of his DNA.

From Stoneleigh we went to Leamington to look at the house where my Mother was living when she found out she was pregnant with Tim. We then did a longer interview in the square where they filmed the new version of Upstairs Downstairs. I’m told Napoleon also lived on the same square during the winter of 1838/9.

The crew vanished in a puff of virtual celluloid and Tim and I had a wander around the town in the raging sunshine, ending up on a bench by a lovely fountain by the sparkling river Leam.

I dropped Tim off at the station in Cov before driving to Northampton where I met a wonderful old fellow who I’m hoping will appear in 100 Faces. His name is Sidney and he fought at the Battle

Of Cable Street in 1936, when a group of Jewish people, communists and dockers prevented Oswald Mosley and his brown shirts marching through the streets of the East End of London. It is a legendary event and I have a large, framed John Allin print depicting the riot on the wall in our sitting room. I have been searching for someone who was there since starting on the project and always been unsuccessful to the extent that I actually wondered today whether Sidney was the last man standing... Just meeting him was a treat and hearing his stories filled me with great joy. As I left, I grabbed his hand, and thanked him profusely for what he’d done for our country. He seemed genuinely moved. I was overcome with a sense of how tragic my generation is for getting all uptight on Twitter, and thinking we’ve made a massive political statement by signing an online petition, whilst men like him, 80 years ago, were risking their lives apparently just so that we could sit on our arses and whinge about being offended.








Friday, 11 May 2018

Eurovision

It’s funny what we tell our kids, isn’t it? It must be very difficult as a child to work out fact from fiction. That said, I’m always telling my friends off for not bringing their children up to believe in magic. “What is life without Santa Claus?” I ask them, remembering the magic of Christmas morning and the complicated narratives I created when I’d started to realise Santa didn’t exist but was desperate not to let him go! I’d even managed to convince myself that there must be a local committee of people who selected a Santa each year to represent the town. This was still somehow more believable than the idea that my parents were spending huge sums of money on me altruistically.

As I walked down to the tube this morning, I passed a mother talking to her son: “no darling, giants live forever...” And I wondered at which point her son would realise that she was talking bull shit! Actually, I think children already know. You see them looking at their parents with that “I know you’re lying, but I really want this to be true” sort of look. It’s all harmless enough... Cut to the child having night terrors twelve hours later! When it’s dark, those charming fantasy conversations suddenly take on a far more sinister quality, when the shadows of the trees outside seem to caress your window and the house begins to groan and rattle as it settles down for the night!

Complicated things: the minds of children.

It’s Eurovision week this week. Gay men all over the world are dusting off their collections of flags, and chopping crudités. Llio asked me last night why Eurovision was so popular with gay people and I had to really think about my answer. Gay men love escapism and glamour, and I guess Eurovision has become a thing that gay men “do”. But it goes far deeper than that. Eurovision is OUR contest. I don’t just blithely call it the gay men’s World Cup. Yes, we know it’s silly, and camp, and it’s certainly not high art, but it matters deeply to us, because it carries an important message: namely that it’s okay to be different. And it’s this core message which hits us at a very young age, long before we realise WHY we’re different.

I am one of three gay brothers, only one of whom I grew up with, and the one thing which unites us all is Eurovision. All three of us loved the contest, long before we realised we were gay.

And, of course, Eurovision has been a platform for LGBT grand statements for many years, from Paul Oscar and Dana International in the 90s, to Conchita Wurst in 2014, and now, of course, Ireland, who have chosen to accompany this year’s entry with two gay lads dancing out a charming love story. I was a little horrified to hear, therefore, that rainbow flags were being confiscated at the stadium on Thursday’s semi final, although very grateful to the EBU for removing China’s right to broadcast the contest after they tried to censor Ireland’s song.

The China issue proves that Eurovision is still surprisingly powerful and not afraid to flex its muscles and, as a result, its fiercely-guarded message of unity, hope and love can be deeply threatening to oppressive regimes. It was the one thing which terrified Russia during the Cold War, to the extent that they organised their own competition for communist countries.

Long may it last!


Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Low bassy rumbles

I walked along Parkland Walk yesterday to Julian’s studio. I’m told it was the second hottest day of the year and it certainly had that glorious, dusty, 1970s vibe. The last few weeks have been perfect growing conditions for flowers and plants. We had a shock of hot weather after all the snow, and then some serious rain, followed by this patch of sunshine. Everything, from nettles to cow parsley, is therefore incredibly tall.

I went to see my parents in Thaxted on Saturday and the oil seed rape was head high. We had the most delightful stroll around the fields behind the village, amazed that it was still light at 8pm. There’s a sudden tipping point at this time of year where you realise that the days are endless. It always makes me panic a little. It forces me to look back on the year and wonder what I’ve achieved and whether it’s enough. Enough by my standards? Anyone else’s standards? Welcome to the world of the freelancer. 

We went to Julie’s on Sunday, to help her plant strawberries and tomatoes in her allotment. There’s something incredibly therapeutic about digging earth. It not only gives your muscles a work out, but, whilst creating life for plants, you become incredibly aware of other life. Worms. Butterflies. Spiders. Woodlice. Centipedes. Snails. Insects I didn’t know the name of and haven’t seen since my childhood. All playing their important role in the fragile ecosystem. I refused gloves in favour of getting my hands truly mucky. At one with the earth which will eventually swallow me up.

It was a joy to see Parkland Walk being used by so many people yesterday. Old people in canvas hats, striped T-shirts and ill-fitting canvas shorts, joggers wearing luminous running gear, which glowed violently under the sun, families with kids on bikes, the fathers barking orders about not going out of sight on the long path. All the while, the birds whistled and chirped down on us all. They knew it was an idyllic scene and wanted in!

I can’t think of many journeys to friends’ houses which are this nice. I didn’t see or hear a car for 40 minutes.

I was recording low bassy rumbles on Fiona’s new album, which I’m predicting will be a hypnotic masterpiece full of drones, chants, loops, mantras and suspended 9ths. It was an honour to be part of it.

I was thrilled to discover that Julian’s wife, Carla is Preggers Plays Pop, and, if the old wives’ tales are correct, I’d say she was carrying a girl. We had a picnic of cheese and bread in the garden with Vic Matthews, who arrived in the afternoon to record some ‘cello.

After Fiona had finished in the studio, Nathan and I went back to Crouch End to meet up with the gang, and James Fortune, of whom, it strikes me, I don’t see nearly enough. He’s working on a musical at the moment at the National, a place I’m resigned to never working! When all the reviews came in for Brass, suggesting that the show ought to be done by the National, I duly sent the CD in to Rufus Norris, who said he’d pass it on. I was fairly embarrassed, therefore, a few months later to receive an email thanking me for the “script” of my “play” and saying that they couldn’t give me feedback, but that the “play” didn’t quite work for the National and had I thought about sending it to the Royal Court or the Bush Theatre instead? For those who don’t know the ins and outs of British Theatre, the Bush and the Royal Court are exponents of new British theatre rather than musical theatre! I give up!

Friday, 4 May 2018

Low maintenance

I think hot weather brings out somewhat bizarre behaviour in people. This evening, whilst waiting for a tube, an elderly gentleman wearing a bowler hat and a high viz jacket, moonwalked his way down the platform to the tube map. He did it without any form of ceremony, which made everyone who saw it out of the corner of their eye wonder if they’d actually seen it at all!

I received three hugely bizarre emails as well today from Jewish people wanting to be involved in 100 Faces, one of which came from someone who was plainly having a psychotic episode, which I found very sad. I’d asked him which year he was born in, to which he responded, “I can't remember but computer says 1931. We settled at Buda in 1385.” Some time later in the email, it got even more peculiar, “A well-known member of my Family inspired Mr Till to name his son Benjamin (what you know well) When Queen Victoria was dying, Her Majesty beautifully praised him.”

It’s so difficult to know how to respond to an email like that. It’s probably more harmful to engage but at the same time I really want to know that whoever sent it is okay and not suffering in some way.
The rest of my silly emails came from people who plainly hadn’t properly read the emails I’d sent to them. There’s a limit to the number of times you can repeat yourself in writing. I often hear Nathan huffing and sighing from his desk when he reads emails from people who are being similarly nonsensical. He gets scores of emails every day asking for pattern support, many of which come from people who simply haven’t read his emails or knitting patterns properly. One woman even emailed him to ask for help on a piece of knitwear designed by someone else! It makes me continually tell myself to be as low-maintenance as possible.


Dangenham Polling Booth Quizzes

I walked into the polling booth yesterday without any sense of who to vote for. Obviously there was never any risk of my voting Tory, but choosing between Labour and the Lib Dems was like a vegetarian being asked to chose between chicken and fish. Homophobe or anti-Semite? And yes, I appreciate that the Lib Dems no longer have a homophobic leader, but I’ve never really forgiven them for having one in the first place, and there is that sense that by voting for them, even in a seat where they’ve traditionally done well, you’re sort of chucking your vote away. In the end they felt like the lesser of two evils, so I went Lib Dem across the board. What clinched it was a video which did the rounds yesterday of Corbyn talking with such vitriol about Israel that I felt it would be almost impossible for him to convincingly claim to be anything other than a massive anti-Semite.

A Lib Dem and a Labour activist were sitting, like gnomes, on deckchairs outside the polling station. I was rather pleased there were no Tories sitting there. Tories don’t bother to come round here. They know better...

I’ve seen two plays in two days. The first, on Wednesday night, was at the Noël Coward theatre, and was called, rather simply, Quiz. Written by James Graham, it tells the story of the Who Wants to be a Millionaire “coughing” scandal, where Major Charles Ingram and his wife Dianna “cheated” the show out of £1,000,000. It’s a very cleverly written piece which examines the court case: the first half, from the prosecution’s perspective and, the second, focussing on the defence. The audience actually gets to vote, twice, on whether they think the pair are guilty. There are keypads for everyone to press and the results come up on screens behind.

It’s a deeply thought-provoking piece and one has to assume that it’s based on truth. I had no idea, for example, that ITV had edited their own evidence tape and then destroyed all the original footage. There are also a series of moral questions which crop up throughout the play. If ITV are happy to create a lottery system where scores of ordinary people are spending thousands and thousands of pounds phoning up the hotline number to become contestants on the show, is it really so bad that a syndicate of people came up with a way to cheat the system? I felt very similarly about Nasty Nick on Big Brother. At the end of the day, you’re playing a game, for good telly, and, actually, the scandal brought a huge amount of publicity to the show when its ratings were flagging. Even if the Ingrams HAD meant to cheat (and the jury is out on that question) was it really any worse than any of the stuff which was going on behind the scenes on the show?

Last night, I went with Ben Mabberley to see Made In Dagenham, performed by third year students from Mountview School at the Bernie Grant theatre in Seven Sisters, which turns out to be a rather charming space. The show was being performed, rather well actually, by a mix of actor-musician students and people on the “straight” actors’ course (as opposed to the musical theatre course - I have no idea whether they were gay or straight, although straight acting students are probably more likely to be straight!)

It was a great production of what I consider to be a deeply flawed show. I felt that it was a missed opportunity when I saw it in the West End. The central character doesn’t sing enough. We never get the impression that the story is actually being told through her eyes. Cameo characters appear, sing songs, and then vanish again. There’s a whole sequence with the Prime Minister which really shouldn’t be there (despite the lad who played the role last night being supremely talented) and even the death of a central character lacks impact.

Worst of all, however, is the way the lyrics scan. It is unacceptable to have lyrics which stress all the wrong syllables. It’s almost impossible for actors (and audiences) to make sense of sentences where the stressed syllables of the word land on soft beats of music... and vice versa. It’s rule number one about song writing and it shows laziness, or worse still, arrogance or lack of awareness, on behalf of the writers. It’s something I don’t always spot in my own writing, so, every time I write a song, I get Nathan to check it over, to iron out the words which don’t stress properly. And whilst Brass languishes without a West End run, and hastily written nonsense like Made In Dagenham gets performed by amateur groups across the country, that makes me incredibly angry!

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

The story of Shone!

I am rather pleased to announce that Shone with the Sun has been nominated for the Stiles and Drewe Best New Song Award. Readers of this blog will possibly remember that the song Brass made the shortlist last year. It didn’t win, but it did receive a commendation. I trust it’s not always going to be a case of “always the bridesmaid and never the bride” but, even if it is, I’m rather proud that the same show has spawned two nominees.

I’m also rather proud to report that playwright Arnold Wesker is listed as an official writer on this particular song. He loved Shone with the Sun and actually played a demo of it on his Desert Island discs in Radio 4. The song was also sung by Rosie Archer at his memorial.

It was actually first written in 1998. Twenty whole years ago. We wrote it as an entry for Eurovision, but it was deemed “too classical” to make it to the final selection. Arnold’s original lyrics was called “Came with the Sun,” but I got into my head that this sounded a bit smutty, so suggested “shone” instead!

A year or so later, the song was picked up by a record label who wanted to explore the idea of Arnold and me being offered a publishing deal, but at the time, I secretly knew that we weren’t the right combination of writers to turn out convincing pop tunes. Arnold’s lyrics tended towards poetry and what I wrote was always too theatrical. Predictably, the deal fell through, and Shone languished on a bottom shelf, feeling a bit sorry, for itself for more than ten years.

I dusted it off again in 2010, under pretty awful circumstances when I lost a court case which was triggered by an unscrupulous choir mistress refusing to pay me for a set of songs I’d written. She claimed they were “unperformable” which was short hand for the fact that she didn’t have the skills to teach the songs to her choir. Sadly, the judge - who turned out to be an amateur drummer in a pub band - agreed with her. It was genuinely one of the bleakest days of my life, and, in order to pay my court fees, I was forced to organise a concert. It was a somewhat humbling experience.

When Arnold found out about the court ruling, he immediately sent me a cheque for £250, and, at the concert, we performed several of the songs I’d written with him, including Shone, which was sung with great beauty by Katina Kangaris, who’d done the original demo.

We also performed the whole of Four Colours, the work which that neurotic choir mistress had so blithely said was “unperformable.” Four Colours was subsequently released as a successful charity EP, and the song Yellow gets performed by choirs all over the place. It was even performed - by Ali Jiear - at our wedding. Unperformable? My arse!

When it came to writing the show Brass in 2014, I knew I wanted to include Shone. The song is about the death of a relationship, and therefore could easily have been about the death of a loved one, so I actually built the story of the show around the song, imagining the singer to be a woman who’d just lost her husband in action.

After writing the full show, I asked Nathan to have a play with the words of Shone, just to bring them into focus a little and make them specific to the character and the story I was telling. I then re-worked the song to give it more theatrical and dramatic bite. I didn’t want it to feel like a juke box show number, crow-barred into the piece.

And that is the story of Shone with the Sun. It’s funny how one song can trigger a life-time of memories, and I’m so relieved that it finally found its place. It’s still my best selling piece of sheet music on my website. I’m told it occasionally turns up at auditions for drama schools, which makes me very happy.

Arnold Wesker, of course, was nominated for countless awards as a playwright during his life time, but never as a lyricist, so I’m rather thrilled to have facilitated his first nomination in this respect. When it gets performed at the ceremony, I know he will be looking down at us, smiling proudly. To quote him on Desert Island Discs talking about the song, “I’ve included it because it reminds me that I had a talent...”

The other great song writing news, of course, is the fact that ABBA are back in the recording studio and that, by the end of the year, there will be two brand new songs by the band to enjoy. I find the news almost too exciting for words. First Kate Bush performed live for the first time since 1979. Then ELO went on tour. And now, the third part of the holy trinity arrives!

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Our first film

It was a busy old day yesterday, which found me up with the lark, and driving to Northampton to speak to the lovely Bernie Keith on the radio up there. It’s always a real treat to go in and chat to him in the studio. He’s very witty and easy to talk to, and he always does his research. He’s from that older school of regional radio presenters who care passionate about their patch. I’ve always thought that this is one of the things which used to make the BBC great, and I was horrified when this particular regional pride seemed to be being slowly whittled away in favour of news gathering, which itself was becoming increasingly sensationalist and always negative. Celebrate what unites a community rather than what divides it, and we’ll find a future beyond Brexit.

I was talking to Bernie about the Em album which is available to download now from all the usual places. It would also have been available for physical sales via my website had my entire online life not vanished in a puff of smoke as a result of someone hacking into our server! Releasing an album without email is challenging to say the least. What I would say is that we now have an Em Facebook page, under “Em: The Musical” and I will be putting all sorts of cool films and things up on that. So if you’re interested, hit “like” or, better still, “follow.”

From Northampton, I went further and further north, ending my journey at Edge Hill university in Ormskirk where we released our official single from Em in the shape of their musical theatre students’ version of The Pool, which is also available as a download from all the usual places.

I did a bit of a Q and A with the students beforehand, talking to them about my career whilst trying to give them all the advice I could about working in the arts. The best advice, of course, is to work hard and be enthusiastic, but above all it’s to expect nothing. It’s hard to give this advice without sounding negative, but unless you go in with open eyes, knowing how unstable the industry is, you’re absolutely lost. The sad truth is that an actor is no more employable at the age of 40 than he or she is at 20, regardless of how many West End shows they’ve done in the meantime. I suppose the headline is that there’s no continuity in a career in the arts. My earnings have fluctuated wildly over the last twenty years. Sadly, I haven’t been aware of a particular upward trajectory!

In the early evening, we had a lovely screening of the three promotional films we’ve made for Em, in front of an audience of the students who’d worked with me on The Pool. Keith the cameraman came, as did Alice, who’d choreographed the piece, and Clare Chandler organised for Chloe and Reuben from the cast to sing two other songs from the musical live, which they did excellently.

It’s a thrill to watch a film with a large number of its cast. There’s always great howls and appreciative guffaws.

My journey home was meant to be broken at a Days Inn just off the M6 in Stafford. Imagine my surprise, and horror, therefore, when I was diverted off the motorway just one junction north of the hotel, and sent on an excruciating 45-minute diversion which brought me back to the motorway a junction further south. It was utterly impossible to reach it, so I had to phone up and book myself into a different hotel nearer Birmingham. I arrived there feeling exhausted and hugely irritable but thankfully the woman behind the counter was all smiles and kind words, so the bad mood evaporated.

If anyone wants to see our first film, please check it out at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1rTf3ow8iRk

It’s an upbeat ode to Liverpool in the 1960s, shot entirely on location in the city, including, I’m proud to say, at the famous Cavern Club.





Thursday, 26 April 2018

The Holocaust Survivors’ Group

I spent the day yesterday with scores of utterly delightful people. First up was a trip down to Clapham to visit Nightingale House, a home for elderly Jewish people, where I met a very warm and affable Scottish chap called Alistair. I was there to tell him all about 100 Faces in the hope that he’d give me a hand in my seemingly endless search for people. I’m relieved to say that he was very taken by the idea and has offered to support the project. I jokingly told him about the 1925 problem: namely that, seemingly every wonderful elderly person I meet, turns out to be born in 1925! I have found almost no-one born in any of the years running up to 1925, and very few in the next two or three years, but 1925? Chockablock!

Later on, Alistair was telling me all about a particularly lovely lady who lives at Nightingale House, who loves to sing and is a wonderful character. A few minutes later, we could hear a chirpy voice singing Wouldn’t It Be Lovely from down the corridor and said lady appeared as if by magic, almost as though fate were demanding that she appear in the film! Alistair called her over and asked the year that she was born. “1925” she said, proudly. My heart sank!

From Clapham, I headed to North West London to visit the holocaust survivors support group who were having a class called Yiddish and Kiddish, followed by a little tea party to celebrate the coming royal wedding. There’s no group as patriotic and quintessentially English as the Jewish community. All the old ladies arrived in hats, looking fabulously summery and smart.

Yiddish and Kiddish gives some of the survivors (all of whom are over 80), an important opportunity to listen to, and speak the language of their childhood. About twenty people were crowded round a giant table, listening to a middle-aged gentleman telling a tall story in this beautiful, expressive, yet almost dead language. I can’t begin to explain how moving I found the experience. Sitting in a room filled with people who survived the Holocaust is awe-inspiring enough, but listening to them interacting in a language which was basically murdered along with six million Jewish people was thought-provoking and devastatingly beautiful. They sat, like school children, listening intently, and with great excitement, to the story their teacher was telling and, with their enthusiasm, and beaming smiles, the age simply fell from their faces. Occasionally one of them would chip in to crack a joke, unsure as to whether they’d perhaps be told off for interrupting. Of course, it’s Yiddish which reminds them of the parents they never saw again after becoming separated in some of the most brutal scenes which have ever been described to me. But Yiddish takes them back to the happier, carefree, pre-war days. I think the only way that I can find to explain the importance of the language is by quoting one old gent who said “Yiddish kept me alive... As we pulled into Auschwitz in our cattle train, I could see men in prison uniforms digging weeds by the side of the tracks. They shouted as the train passed ‘if they offer you food. Eat it. Don’t try to save it. And they said ‘and if you’re younger than 16, whatever you do, lie about your age.’”

He went on to tell me that he was just 12 at the time, but because he inherently trusted anyone who spoke Yiddish, when it came to everyone being lined up and asked their age, he lied and said he was sixteen. Had he told the truth, he would immediately have been gassed.

I walked all the way home, deep in thought, trying to comprehend the beauty of what I’d seen against the horror of the stories I’d been told. And, almost as though to mirror my internal quandary, the sky, which had been a glorious cornflower blue, turned pitch black, and it suddenly started hailing.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Oswestry

I went up to Oswestry on Monday to run a quiz. Actually, I wasn’t quite in Oswestry: I was in one of those conference-venues-cum-wedding-factories between Oswestry and Wrecsam. You know the ones? They’re always new, but built to look a bit oldie-worldie. They’re often associated with golf, but everyone knows they’re actually there so that couples getting married can be fleeced out of thousands of pounds because they’ve got the capacity to put pretty ties on the back of all of the chairs...

I was actually born in Oswestry and my Nana came from Rhosllanerchrugog, just outside Wrecsam, but my experience of the area on Monday was restricted to what I could see through my car windows whilst driving along a series of A roads and bypasses. I therefore didn’t get a great gulp of the soft Welsh air which first filled my lungs.

I don’t think many, if any of the people doing the quiz came from Oswestry. They were all conference delegates, so when I announced that I was born there, there was a bit of a tumbleweed moment. I got a far bigger cheer for mentioning Essex!

My assistant for the quiz was Nathan’s sister, Sam. There was all sorts of to-ing and fro-ing beforehand, and at one point, I was due to go up with Abbie, but then I got a call asking if I knew anyone who might be able to assist in the actual area, and, of course, I immediately thought of Sam, who’s lived on the borders for twenty years. What better way to hang out with your sister-in-law? 

I picked her up at her house near Market Drayton on my way through, and got to say a quick hello to Nathan’s Mum, Celia at the same time, so it was double whammies all round!

The quiz went brilliantly and Sam turned out to be a highly-skilled marker of papers. I wasn’t at all surprised. She is an accountant!

We had to take a diversion on the way home, which meant a rather lovely opportunity to snake our way through a series of little Welsh villages. The skies are very dark at night in that part of the world, which means well-lit houses and petrol stations seem to almost float in the gloom. I always love the sight of a starkly-lit petrol station at night. They always look so effortlessly retro. I suppose they haven’t really changed their basic shape since the 1950s, which gives them a somewhat romantic quality, which is, I’m sure, further aided by their being little oases of life in wildernesses and a welcome sight for the weary traveler.

We got a chance to drive past Sam’s old house in Penley, which has been massively tinkered with since she moved out about six years ago. It must be very odd to return to a house you knew so well to find it looking entirely different. The same thing happened to Sam Becker when I took him back to his old house in Kettering.

I stayed the night in a hotel in Coventry, which broke the back of the long journey home. I like staying in hotels. If I can have a bath, a nice cup of tea and an evening watching telly in bed, I’m a very happy camper. Sadly, it was well past 1am when I arrived, so I didn’t get to have fun. I tried to watch telly, propped up against the wall behind the bed, but I reckon the floor was made of ice, because the bed kept sliding away from the wall, causing me to repeatedly fall off the back, vanishing into a yawning chasm of dust and pillows.

Yesterday morning, I popped to my Grannie’s grave in Stoneleigh. I always try to leave a stone to say I’ve been, but, frustratingly, people keep removing them! There was still one there from my last visit, and now that there are two, I’m hoping people will start to view them as somehow significant. I called my Mum so I had someone to talk to to as I walked around the village. It was important for me to be able to say, “I’m walking towards the kissing gate, past the little wooden walkways they built along the footpath for when the river flooded...” and have someone know what I was talking about. I probably should have taken a trek up to the bluebell woods on the top of the hill, but it started to rain and I was keen to get home.

I always come away thinking what a remarkably beautiful place Stoneleigh is. It’s not just that it has emotional significance for me: I’m pretty sure it’s objectively one of the prettiest villages in the country.

The journey home felt somewhat arduous. I stopped at Toddington because I thought I was in danger of falling asleep.

The day ended back in London, in Mayfair, which is a place I very rarely find myself visiting. It all a bit shiny round those parts for my liking. I find myself longing to see a bit of rubbish rustling down the street, or a pithy, politicised piece of graffiti, otherwise things start to look like a film set. Everyone in Mayfair looks well-fed and beautifully turned out and the chemists have adverts for lip fillers in their windows.

I was running another quiz in a pub where the staff astounded me with their rudeness! I introduced myself to the French man behind the bar who so staggeringly surly, I thought I was in Paris! He begrudgingly showed me to an upstairs room where a second member of staff deigned to fetch me the portable speaker system, whilst mumbling “I’m actually on a break!” Talk about creating a bad first impression of a space! She actually turned out to be rather lovely, and had probably just had a really bad day, filled with rude costumers, but I guess it’s important for us all to avoid carrying the energy from unpleasant encounters into new encounters. I’m sure I’m guiltier than most of doing just that, but I’ve recently tried to meet new people with the belief that anyone has the power to change a mood. A well-timed act of kindness can enrich, or even save a life.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

The mini heatwave

It’s been very hot in the South East over the last fee days. We went to Aylesbury on Thursday to speak to an LGBT group in a girls’ school where our friend Iain teaches. Being LGBT in 2018 is, thankfully, a million miles away from how it was in my day, when Clause 28 meant that a teacher like Iain would actually have risked being arrested for running a group like that.

The issues affecting LGBT kids are also rather different. Yes, some of the students had had those age-old, somewhat traumatising experiences of trying to discuss issues of “otherness” with their parents, but the debate on Thursday was much more focussed around gender and the use of personal pronouns. Each of the young people we met had a badge with their name on it, followed by the pronoun they wanted everyone to use when talking about them. Some were he. Some were she. Some were they. I was slightly confused by the person whose pronoun was written down as “she” followed by a question mark. I wondered whether I needed to make sure all of my conversations with her had upward inflections!

It made me realise that the concept of gender fluidity is one of the ways that the young generation are presently rebelling against old duffers. It’s their equivalent of “oh my God, you don’t know who Duran Duran are!” Of course, it is everyone’s absolute right to be as fluid as they like with the way they feel or present themselves, but it remains to be seen what percentage of these youngsters are still demanding they’re referred to as “they” whilst breastfeeding at the age of 35. It’s therefore their generation’s task to teach people like me that being gender fluid is more than just a transient, young person’s indulgence. I am certainly open minded about the subject because I’d love to think we could live in a world where there was far less difference between men and women, both in the way that we dress and the way that we feel the need to behave. I’m just not sure we’re quite in the space yet where young people can angrily tell the older generation that they’re “wrong” for simply having more binary views on gender.

We watched a film which showed clips of LGBT and gender queer people throughout the twentieth century, and something which really stuck out was a rather elderly, very charming psychiatrist in the 1970s who specialised in gender dysphoria. She summed everything up for me by saying “to be a transsexual, you need to have courage, integrity... and a sense of humour.” 

It suddenly struck me that the sense of humour has been the missing ingredient in much of the noise which has been radiating from social networking sites of late on all issues of gender and sexuality. And it’s this lack of humour which is actually having the effect of making me disengage from the plight of those who yell the loudest and angriest - particularly when they do so anonymously. If we can bring a bit of humour back into the debate, then I think we’re golden.

On Friday, I visited a Jewish community centre for old people in Stepney where I met some delightful women whom I could have talked to for years. It turned out that one of them knew my old mate Joan Rose, who had provided me with an ever-lasting supply of wonderful East End memories when I made Oranges and Lemons. Joan, and my new bezzie, Miriam, had been best friends and next-door-neighbours in Arnold Circus in the 1920s and 30s, despite one being Jewish and one being Huguenot. Miriam, it seemed, had just as many memories of that somewhat golden interwar period. She’s also the sister of the man who wrote Save All Your Kisses for Me, so she was Eurovision royalty to boot!

In the afternoon, I bought myself some beigels from Brick Lane and went to Philippa’s house to work, which is a stone’s throw away from the area I’d been talking to Miriam about. We were joined by Julie Clare and ended up sitting out on Jesus Green with a whole group of their neighbours. The area where Philippa, Dylan and the kids live is a sort of glorious, peaceful oasis within the aggression and fumes of Hackney. There are very few cars, so the kids play out on the streets, chalking hopscotch pitches on the pavements. There are lots of areas of green, and lots of initiatives for the kids, including a city farm within a ten minute walk and places where you can go scrumping for plums and have all sorts of wonderful childhood adventures. The whole area feels like it’s been suspended in time. The streets are cobbled, and the houses are all beautifully kept Victorian terraces which regularly end up being used for filming. All of that community’s children will surely look back on their childhoods as particularly golden.

Yesterday found me in Finsbury Park attending the shul there, which was quite the experience. I’m rather interested in that particular shul’s community because of its unbelievable diversity. However, as soon as I arrived, I realised how I’ve become incredibly used to the formal ways of the New West End synagogue, so found the Finsbury Park service bewildering, fascinating and wonderful in equal measure. I also had my first experience of being “called up” during the Torah reading, which was heart-stopping. Feel free to call me Benyamin Ben Ro’i from now on!!

I spent the afternoon yomping across Hampstead Heath with Michael. Everything in nature has suddenly burst to life and the whole of London has started dressing in shorts and skimpy tops in a desperate attempt to enjoy the sunshine. The place was rammed with little clusters of people having picnics. We took a walk around the less-popular West Heath and stumbled upon a large number of people in red T-shirts and bright orange hi-vis jackets standing in long a row. Assuming they were stewards for some sort of sporting event, I approached one of them and said “is there a race?” He looked at me sternly: “no. We’re searching for a missing person.” And, despite the glorious sunshine, a chill descended. Plainly this person was missing, presumed dead. How awful for their family.

Nathan returned from Holland last night just in time for a whopping thunderstorm. The curtains billowed like something from a Meat Loaf video and there were all manner of flashes in the sky above Ali Pali. I hope the hot weather stays a little longer.


Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Drag-phobia

I read the terrible story yesterday that Eurovision winner, Conchita Wurst, has been forced to publicly reveal her HIV status as a result of a former partner threatening her with blackmail. It is a story which makes me feel incredibly angry. The fact that we still live in a world where an HIV positive person can be blackmailed makes me sick to my stomach. Can you imagine the outrage people would feel if someone with cancer was forced to out themselves because a wounded ex felt like earning a bit of Judas money?

When are we going to get a grip on the facts of HIV? Undetectable now means untransmittable. If someone is on effective HIV medication, the illness cannot affect them and they are physically unable to pass it on to someone else. As such, someone’s HIV status is not something which anyone else has the right or need to know. It is every HIV positive person’s right to declare themselves positive when or IF they feel ready.

What further horrified me, however, was the Terrence Higgins Trust’s Facebook page, which reported the story but was instantly hijacked by a load of trolls using emoticons of people vomiting and someone writing “Conchita: more like Godzilla,” which was so random, it wasn’t even worth an angry reply.

The thing which really bothered me, was the response of a trans man, who felt the need to ignore the sickening tragedy of the story, and, instead of showing compassion, chose to use the story as a platform for his own beef against what he perceives as a transphobic world. His issue, it seems, was with the Terrence Higgins Trust using feminine pronouns in relation to Conchita. Because Conchita Wurst identifies as a gay man when she’s not in drag, using “she” to describe “her” is apparently offensive (there’s that word again.)

Okay. Stop! Just stop with the assumption that the world is transphobic, and, furthermore, have a bit of sensitivity towards other people in this world who are suffering pain.

Point one: choose your moments and choose your targets. The Terrence Higgins Trust is a hugely well-respected organisation within the LGBT community, who entirely understand the plight of trans-people and have been working with the LGBT community for many, many years. To assume an organisation like that would wittingly or unwittingly slight the trans community is utterly preposterous.

Point two: Conchita Wurst uses the female pronoun to describe herself when she is in her drag persona. The man behind the character, Thomas Neuwirth, would use male pronouns to describe himself when he’s not in drag. If we’re to respect everyone’s right to choose the pronouns they think best describe themselves, then we have to accept Neuwirth’s wish to be referred to as a she when he’s dressed as Conchita.

Point three: there is an ancient tradition of drag and female impersonation in the world which must not be undermined or swept aside as a result of modern-day sensitivities about gender. Even Ru Paul, the world’s most famous drag queen, has caved into pressure to change his Drag Race show because words like “shemail” are suddenly deemed offensive.

Point Four: Please remember that gay rights would not have happened without drag queens. Drag queens were on the front row during the Stonewall Riots. They fought in their high heels. To do drag is one of the bravest things it’s possible to do. Conchita’s win at Eurovision was deeply significant to the LGBT community and I will not stand by and watch drag queens being described as the enemy.

I’ve heard it said quite a lot recently that the trans movement is where the gay movement was in the 1980s, and I have a great deal of sympathy with this particular analogy. What I would say, however, is that, certainly in the UK, transpeople now have the law on their side. We live in an era where we know it is unacceptable to express transphobia and those who do can and should be punished. This doesn’t, of course, stop it from happening, and God knows it’s not easy to be trans, but in the 1980s, gay men were viewed as utterly toxic. Not only was the community dealing with HIV, and the absolute decimation of its people, but it was living in an era of state-sponsored homophobia. With Clause 28 gripping education, no marriage or pension rights, instant dismissal from the army and institutionalised homophobia in the press and the police, the LGBT community back then had to pick their battles because to stand up against homophobia often meant losing ones job, ones status or being outed by the press.

Successive governments were extremely slow to respond to our lobby, so, to change these draconian anti-gay laws, we were forced to win the hearts and minds of the UK public. We reached full equality by showing people that they couldn’t pigeon hole gay men, that we didn’t always conform to the stereotypes which scared people. That we weren’t scary at all. And it was a long fight.

Sometimes I wish people would take a breath, realise how lucky we all are to live in the West, and only pick the fights which feel genuine and significant. Trolling around on the internet for perceived slights will only serve to alienate your allies. A great deal has changed in the last few years. It takes a while for people to catch up and you cannot whip someone into open-mindedness.

Thank you for reading.