Wednesday, 28 February 2018


It’s the Jewish festival of Purim today, which is, essentially, the equivalent of Hallowe’en, in that there’s an “anything goes”, somewhat rebellious vibe in the air, which sees people arriving at shul in fancy dress. Our rabbi was dressed as a penguin, for example...

During the service, which was held by a sister synagogue in Great Portland Street, the story of Esther is intoned in Hebrew. The fun part is that every time the name of Haman is mentioned (he’s the dude in the story who tried to commit genocide against the Jewish people in Persia,) the congregation are set the task of drowning his name out with hooters, rattles, boos and yells. It’s all highly theatrical and a great deal of fun.

After the service, we went downstairs into the hall, and performed a parody of Kiss Me Kate, replacing the original words with funny puns about being Jewish. “Brush up your Torah” etc.

Having made it abundantly clear that I was there to make up numbers only, I received the script to discover I’d been given two large solos, one in Brush Up Your Torah, which (in its original version) is the song I hate more than any other in the world! The tune is ghatsly, the lyrics can only be described as “rapey” and it goes on forever! Actually, the more I studied the music for the whole musical, the more I realised what a huge pile of dross it is!

That said, Marc and Felicity had written wonderfully clever alternative lyrics which were great fun to sing, despite the acoustics in the hall being ludicrous. The audience was highly appreciate and actually included an old university friend of mine, Gawain, whose girlfriend, it turns out, is affiliated to the New West End synagogue where I sing. Small world.

The evening ended with some lovely food and the rabbi yodelling, which I’m not sure anyone could have predicted. 

I was surprised the crowd was as large as it was as London was hit by a blizzard today. It’s such a rare occurrence. I walked into Mountview this morning in glorious sunlight, two inches of snow under my feet. And then, at about lunchtime, it started tipping it down. The streets around Warren Street were pure white, this evening, which is a sight you almost never see these days in central London. I found it all rather exciting if I’m honest but hope it doesn’t affect people coming to BEAM tomorrow and Friday.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018


I watched a tiny bit of breakfast television this morning. They seemed to be at the Sage in Gateshead with the “next generation of inventors.” Loads of local children were holding up placards with pictures of their handiwork. I was a little confused that none of them seemed to have local accents. Plainly, the next generation of inventors are all from public schools...

I have to say: I find the tragic artifice of television utterly laughable. The idea that, at 7 in the morning, a whole circus troupe might be warming up and jumping about in the background of the shot whilst the presenter does a piece to camera is just a nonsense. The desperation people show to be on telly never ceases to amaze me. An all-woman choir had turned up to the Sage this morning simply to sing Rock Around the Clock. The sum total of their involvement seemed to be to provide three seconds of music whilst the presenter said “back to the studio.” It’s just all so fake, and the less you watch telly, the more you realise how rubbish it is when you do. We take so much nonsense for granted. 

For the next two weeks I’m working at Mountview, which is actually the drama school where I did my training. It’s a real treat to be back in the old building especially as it’s moving to Peckham at the end of this year. For me it’s very sad that the place is not remaining in Haringey. The borough was apparently simply not that fussed about keeping one of London’s premier education institutions. Mountview was always North London’s drama school, and it’s very much the reason why I settled in this part of the city.

Still, I am making the most of walking to work. It’s a 40-minute journey and I pass through all manner of woods and parks on route. It has been freezing cold, however. It snowed throughout my journey yesterday. This morning, the ground was rock solid with a hoar frost which glinted magically in the sunshine. Parakeets were sitting on the trees in Highgate Wood. Those fellas never used to live near us but seem to be everywhere now. Their green coats were literally glowing in the sun against the grey winter trees. It was almost as though they’d lined themselves up in a pocket of sunlight for a photo. Tarts. The rise of parakeets in north London is an extraordinary phenomenon. I remember the first time I saw one on Hampstead Heath. A group of strangers stood, looking up at a tree, gasping and saying “but what on Earth is it doing here?” A few years later, the heath was full of little green flashes. It was only three years ago that I heard that all-too familiar squawk and saw a flock of them flying over my house, and now the local woods are full of them.

I’m at Mountview School working with the foundation year and a writer called Sam Potter on a musical adaptation of a children’s book. We’re really just having a bit of fun for two weeks to get a feel for whether the somewhat esoteric material lends itself to a musical treatment. We’re doing lots of improvisation and I’m throwing out a few songs here and there. The students are brilliant: really experimental and up for it. There’s a good atmosphere in the rehearsal room.

I have to stop writing. It’s too cold not to have my hands in my pockets.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Present continuous

I’m afraid I was rather rude to an evangelical Christian yesterday, as I rushed from a rehearsal in Notting Hill to another rehearsal back in Highgate. He was handing out fliers at the tube whilst saying “Christ the Lord has risen” or something ghastly like that, so I looked him in the eye and said “shut up.” Yes, of course, I could have been considerably ruder, but I was fairly shocked at myself for the anger he made me feel. With all the desperate problems we have in the world at the moment, I think it’s time we started trying to work out how we can unite, rather than wasting time handing our fliers at tube stations which tell us how we should behave. It’s incendiary. I have no objections to anyone with religious faith - my friend Abbie has taught me that not all Christians are anti gay - but I strongly feel that religion needs to be a personal thing: it should not be inflicted on anyone and people must not be either frightened or cajoled into getting involved.

I have very much enjoyed watching the Winter Olympics on telly and shall miss them now they’re over. I’m quite a sucker for an Olympic Games and will happily sit and watch almost any sport - with the exception of team games, which I hate. For some time, I’ve tried to work out what it is about team games which irritate me. I find them utterly boring. Football, rugby, cricket, hockey. Dull. Dull. Dull. Dull.

Football is, without question, the most loathsome game of them all. My least favourite part is the after-match analysis and interviews. Quite why everyone feel the need to talk in the present continuous, I’ve no idea. The match is over. We can help all viewers to acknowledge this fact by talking in the past tense, which is, after all, what it was invented for. I feel the same about the very same trait in historians: “so Henry the Eighth is fighting with all his might to suppress his feelings for Boleyn.” In what world is this still actually happening?!! It’s an affectation and I simply don’t understand the reason for it. Just as I don’t understand why midwives talk about “baby” without using “your” or “the.”

So who have I offended today? Christians, footballers, historians and midwives? Not a bad roll call.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

And just like busses...

If your day’s routine involves reading one of my blog’s over breakfast, I feel I must apologise for my apparent inactivity of late. I’ve been wary of writing too many posts which say, “I was really busy, I had a cup of tea and I went to the gym.” And have, instead, tried only to blog when there’s something interesting to say, lest you all decide I’m a terribly dull person.

Over the last three days, I’ve worked on three quizzes. Last night’s was at a school in Guildford. I sat on the most uncomfortable chair. It was made of bendy plastic and leaned perilously so that my bottom was pushed to the back, whilst some awful ridge dug into my back. I couldn’t imagine being a student at the school and finding myself sitting, for long hours, on a chair like that.

I drove home in the dead of night, after dropping the quiz master off at the town’s train station. I had forgotten quite what a delight the Arts and Crafts, brick-built cathedral is, especially at night when it gets lit up in a fabulous, eerie manner. I just confused myself by calling Guildford a town and yet describing its iconic religious building as a cathedral. I thought the definition of a city was an urbanisation with a cathedral. Northampton’s lack of one has always been cited as the reason for that particular place not being granted city status. Apparently not. Guildford is defined as a large town. To make matters more confusing, it is sometimes described as the county town of Surrey, but this seems to be in dispute. Kingston Upon Thames also has some sort of claim to the title, but has been swallowed up by Greater London, which possibly means it’s no longer in Surrey. Curiouser and curiouser...

It has been hectic over the past few days. I sang in shul this morning, which seems like a lifetime ago. It was a very early start. It went well. The choir blended really well and we sang material which both excited and moved me. There is something rather special about singing in an all-male choir. It’s a very specific, rather gutsy sound. I think it must activate my Welshie roots.

There are posters everywhere on the tube for Mary Magdalene, a film which Philippa wrote. As I got off the tube at Highgate this evening, I walked through a tunnel of them and felt a burning sense of pride. I’m very excited to see it.

It’s blinking cold. I’m exhausted. I haven’t drunk enough water and my lips feel all chapped. That must mean it’s time for bed!

Tolerance is not a one way street

I avoid the news as often as I can these days. It’s always full of people getting outraged on other people’s behalves whilst shrilly demanding retribution: “Make him resign!” “Boycott his work!” “Cut their funding!” It’s just noise, and lots of it.

...And then there’s the BBC’s special approach to reporting which seems to involve being so terrified of being accused of bias that they go around the houses to express every side of an argument without actually giving a sense of what percentage of people ascribe to which view. Unless, that is, the powers-that-be view this view as potentially contentious, at which point it’s ruthlessly cast aside. Free speech, it seems, is defined merely as what what the BBC defines as acceptable, which, itself, is pinned to the well-tuned moral compasses of the liberal elite. And what would we do without patronising wealthy urbanites telling us how to live our lives?

I understand why it happens. We need to address the awful things which have happened in the past and the huge imbalances in society today, and, in fairness, the pendulum always has to swing in the other direction in order to find its equilibrium. And no one, of course, could be expected to turn a blind eye to prejudice and intolerance...

Or could they?

Last night, the BBC Radio 4 News led with the story that a group of men in Newcastle have been preying on “vulnerable” young women. It is, apparently, fairly likely that many other similar networks exist in towns and cities across the UK. So what do we know about these men? Well, according to the reporter, “the majority are of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian origin, but others come from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Albania and parts of Eastern Europe.” She was basically too terrified to say that they were all Muslims and, instead, spent thirty seconds of airtime going around the houses to imply this fact without offending the fragile sensitivities of the Liberal elite whom she could hear in the background sharpening their knives to accuse her of Islamophobia. We’re told that the men in question showed arrogantly little remorse for their actions, with most merely talking about Western women and their loose sexual morals. These men aren’t brutally misogynistic because they’re from Bangladesh. Where they’re from is actually irrelevant. The one thing which links all of these men is their religion. Regardless of whether they are misappropriating what they’re taught, religion has given them an excuse or a reason to dehumanise non-Muslim women.

Of course, by wanting to raise this fact, I’m not trying to argue that all Muslims hold these views. Far from it. We’re talking about a tiny minority. But we will never be able to solve a problem which has affected thousands of young women, without being able to find out what makes some young Muslim men behave like this. Shying away from identifying the single factor which links these men is putting more young people at risk.

Only when we identify the root of the issue can we take appropriate action, by which I mean careful education programmes assisted by religious leaders which attempt to reverse dangerously-ingrained views.

Tolerance is something which has to work both ways. If it doesn’t, we’re lost.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018


I went to Luton on Sunday night. It was a last-minute decision based on not wanting to get up at shite o’clock just to get stuck in rush hour traffic. I stayed in a Travelodge. A Luton Travelodge. I’m not sure it gets any more glamorous than that. I sat and watched the BAFTAs in my hotel room whilst children in the room across the corridor literally screamed their little lungs out. I think they were screaming out of excitement rather than because they were being slaughtered, but I’m no real expert, and it was Luton.

The BAFTAs felt self-conscious and a little arch. Everyone wore black and all the speakers felt obliged to distance themselves from anything that anyone might have found offensive in the last twelve months. Joanna Lumley, however, was, as you might expect, her usual charming, classy, glorious self, and made for a wonderful host. The list of dead people was nothing compared last year’s roll call, prompting me to think that 2016 was a particularly grim year.

It rained through the night and was raining heavily when I woke up. The rain added a certain something to my joyous experience. I bought my own breakfast. I didn’t fancy paying extra for a bowl of Shreddies. My only complaint was that the milk had warmed up through the night, in my excessively stuffy room. 

I was in Luton to speak to drama and music students at the Chalk Hill Academy, a secondary state school in the town. I listened to GCSE compositions and gave the students as much feedback as I thought constructive and inspiring, before being whisked into the school’s lecture hall to work with drama students on their upcoming assessed performances. I was asked to talk about my career for a few minutes, and the kids seemed particularly keen to discuss Our Gay Wedding: The Musical. I think they were genuinely interested in the project, although, for some reason, I felt a little gauche and self-conscious talking about it. I think all gay men have an in-built valve which makes them a little embarrassed about or wary of outing themselves to young people. Until Clause 28 was repealed in the early naughties, it would have been illegal for me to even mention it in a school, so I guess the roots of my reticence were fed by that particular dung heap. Of course, it’s vital that we usualise LGBT issues in schools. It is highly likely that at least one student in the group considers themselves to be sitting somewhere underneath the rainbow umbrella and I may have offered them a bit of hope or inspiration.

The students did incredibly well and there are one or two kids within them whom I think are super-talented. I was, however, really upset to learn that none of the composing students had computers at home, a fact which is plainly born out of poverty. How can a kid learn his craft if he doesn’t have the equipment to practice it at home? Yet again I find myself profoundly irritated that we’re not looking at location and social background as key reasons for why students are held back in their early lives.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Weddings and misty mountains

We’re currently on a rail replacement bus. Deeply irritating and relentlessly tinny music is playing over the sound system. It is climbing into my ears like a miniature pneumatic drill. It’s a little irritating that they always choose Sundays to disrupt the travel in this country. It strikes me that Sunday is the one day you want to get home speedily. They invariably try to pretend that the failure isn’t planned, but it invariably is, or else it wouldn’t always happen on a Sunday. I would far rather be told about this sort of nonsense when I buy my (hideously expensive) ticket, so I can make the decision whether or not to take another mode of transport. We’re told this bus ride is going to add an hour and a half to our overall journey. Can you imagine what a panic you’d be in if you had a plane to catch the other end?

We’re presently trundling through the outskirts of Glasgow, which turns out to be a very lovely city indeed. The architecture is wonderful. We were staying in the West End district, which is filled with long, red and blond sand stone, grand Victorian terraces. The shops in the area are a bit alternative and it’s full of cafes which seem to place an emphasis on vegetarian and vegan cuisine.

Our day yesterday started with a walk around the Botanic Gardens, which were handily just opposite our hotel. I’m sure, in the spring and summer, they’re absolutely stunning. They looked a little windswept yesterday, but the glasshouses were a treat to stroll around. One room was full of potted flowers. The scents were utterly over-powering.

We took Fiona’s advice and walked down Byres Road and along the charming Ashton Lane, with its retro cinema and hipster bars, before returning to the hotel to get our glad rags on.

We were in Glasgow to attend Nathan’s friend Jason’s wedding to his lovely fella, Gary. It was a charming occasion spent with very lovely people. It’s still rather special to see two blokes getting married. I haven’t been to enough same sex marriages yet for it to feel commonplace. And, of course, the older I get, the fewer marriages I get to attend in general.

There was a ceilidh in the evening. A three-piece folk band put guests through their paces. I was rather proud to have been part of an eight-man reel. It just so happened that all the people who stood up to take part in the dance were men. At first, it didn’t feel particularly strange, but it was so noteworthy to the leader of the band, that he asked if he could take our picture. We danced that reel with great gay pride, suddenly aware of how the eyes of the room were upon us! Society really has changed so much for the better in this respect.

There was a tinge of sadness underlying the day, however. Life can be cruel and unfair and I see a lot of people around me struggling to make sense of the cards they’re presently being dealt. A lot of people have loved ones who are getting ill. Others seem to be going through painful breakups which they can’t understand.

Bizarrely, as I write this sentence, and we charge over misty, snow-covered Southern Scottish mountains, the tinny radio is playing Don’t Give Up by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. There’s a message in there for us all...

Friday, 16 February 2018

Open? Or exposed?

We’re in Glasgow. This is only my third time in the city, and I’ve never been here for more than a couple of hours before. It’s raining. I suspect it may rain a fair amount in these parts. I’d like it to be snowing.

We came up by train. I love train journeys. We had our own table and were able to work and wander about, stretching our legs whilst buying cups of tasteless tea from the buffet car. I hate those little cups of UHT milk. And the splintery wooden stirrers you get instead of spoons.

I was similarly under-impressed by the Virgin loos. When you close the door, a ghastly little recorded voice pipes up: “Hello, it’s me, the toilet. I just wanted to ask you not to flush sanitary towels and nappies down me. The usual stuff’s totally cool. I knew what I was getting into...” And so it goes on, with a dreadful stand up routine which would make even the most confident kidney seize up. When she’d finally shut up, I had a wee, and tried to work out whose idea it was to have a talking loo. Which shocking ad agency was paid a massive wad of money to conceptualise and script that nonsense?

It wasn’t raining when we arrived, so we were able to see some of the city centre as we walked to the subway. The architecture is fairly reminiscent of the Wall Street area of New York. I like the colour of the stone. It’s sort of orangey.

The subway is super cool. It’s a circle of two tracks. The inner loop goes in one direction and the outer loop goes the other way, so you can decide which track will get you to your destination most speedily. The trains themselves are rather dinky. A tall person would definitely not be able to stand up inside. I did a little bit of reading about the Glasgow subway earlier and discovered that it was opened in 1896. It’s the third oldest underground network in the world after London and Budapest.

We’ve also been travelling on the busses. Based on two journeys, I feel equipped to make two sweeping statements. 1) Busses in Glasgow smell. 2) All Glaswegians are incredibly friendly. They’ll chat to anyone and seem to want to do nothing but help. The bus driver was a rude fella, however. Rude, or possibly simple. He greeted every question with a blank stare and refused to stop the bus when we pressed the bell.

We spent the evening with our friends Tanya and Paul, and their three kids, Tomas, Lily and Ivy. They live in a beautiful Edwardian house on the outskirts of the city, with glorious exposed wooden floorboards. We had tortilla wraps for tea and the kids kept us merrily entertained. We don’t see them nearly often enough. I’m ashamed to say that this is the first time we’ve ever visited them on their home turf. A lovely, relaxing evening.

We’re staying at the Hilton. I have an earache.

ps - I wrote “exposed” floorboards because Nathan told me that no one calls them “open” floorboards, which was my instinct. Have I gone mad? Is “open floorboards” a term? We had them when I was a kid, and Nathan had shag-pile carpets, so I’m hoping he’s wrong. Which is rare.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

The importance of unions

There’s very little to say about the last few days. I’ve been busy doing applications, writing songs and creating synopses for future projects. So much of my work is speculative. A noticeable proportion of my time is spent creating pitching documents and ball-park budgets for projects. It’s all horrifically dull, and there’s a continual sensation that you’re pissing into the wind. Bj√∂rk expressed the sensation in a much more erudite way, with her song about the person standing at the top of a mountain throwing things into the void, watching them bouncing and smashing on rocks on the way down. That’s how pitching a project feels! And yet, you have to throw your heart and soul into it because if you don’t, the pitch will never be successful.

I read about an initiative today which made me feel a little angry. A dance company is planning to run a course which enables composers and choreographers to get together with dancers and musicians to explore contemporary dance. It sounds like a fabulous idea where lots of expertise and knowledge-sharing could ping around a space, although the images they used from last year’s project confirmed my belief that most contemporary dancers don’t dance TO the music, they dance IN SPITE of it!

Sadly, a little more digging revealed that only the musicians and the dancers were actually going to be paid to take part in the project. Choreographers and composers are expected to do it for the learning experience, and some expenses whilst they’re on the course. Despite this, the people running the initiative are saying that student composers cannot apply, and that only professionals are welcome. As far as I’m concerned the ONLY definition of professional is that you’re paid to write. I am not at all against the idea of doing something creative for free. I do that all the time, and many, many actors, singers and musicians have worked for me for nothing in the past. But I have never made money out of them. As far as I’m concerned, either nobody or everybody should make money out of an arts-based project. Even the tiniest budgets should be shared out equally amongst everyone taking part. That’s always been my philosophy.

I have slightly different views when it comes to paying people who are not members of unions. I’m a strong believer in unions. They are there to protect creative people and make sure they’re paid properly. If you can’t be bothered to join one, you can’t always expect to take advantage of the work they do. When I made A Symphony for Yorkshire, I actually decided to define professional musicians as those who were members of the MU. I was quite brutal about it, to the point where all the musicians who were featured in the film and were members of the MU were paid, and all those who weren’t, were not. And I feel no guilt about this fact!

So if you’re reading this, and you’re a performer, go out and join a union. Or quit whinging about pay!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Edge Hill

I reckon I spent much of yesterday enduring a terribly rainy car journey down the M6 from Edge Hill University where I was delivering a lecture to the students about my experiences working on Beyond The Fence. It’s still a little bizarre talking about that particular project, although Clare Chandler, who brought me up to do the same thing last year, commented on how much more comfortable I’d seemed this time. I certainly feel like I’ve finally accepted how damaging the experience was and gained an understanding about why things went the way they did, which implies I’m moving on! It was interesting to talk about how de-humanising the project had been and whether this particular aspect was caused or exasperated by the computers we were working with. I certainly think that people felt they could be a great deal crueller to us about our work than ever they would have been had there been no mention of artificial intelligence. It’s understandable. I think, deep down, people are genuinely terrified at the thought of computers taking over the world and walked into Beyond the Fence without a clear understanding of the actual processes we’d used and quite how much human beings need to cherry pick and curate “computer creativity” for anything meaningful to come out. It was almost tragic that most of the critics came out with a sense that the actors and director had somehow saved the day by breathing vitality and meaning into the facile nonsense which had come out of computers. The bottom line is that they saw a West End show which had been written, in a highly unorthodox manner, in five months, by an incredibly stressed married couple who were being pursued relentlessly by television cameras and bullied by lawyers and execs. Under normal circumstances a show wouldn’t have been ready even for workshopping by this stage. One of the greatest sadnesses in my life is that I think, given a proper amount of time, a good number of re-writes (and the ability to take out all the rubbish generated by computer systems which were plainly not yet good enough) Beyond the Fence could have been a very wonderful and successful show.

I do love being at Edge Hill University. Claire and the team have created such a wonderful learning environment up there. The students don’t know how lucky they are to have a tutor with such great knowledge of musical theatre and such a keen ear to the ground when it comes to what’s going on within the industry.

The news is full of this Oxfam scandal. It strikes me that we’re in a very odd place when it comes to the reporting of news. In this particular instance no one seems to be able to report what has actually happened. We’re apparently meant to feel entirely outraged that someone or some people who work or worked for a charity might have employed prostitutes whilst working in Haiti and that this information wasn’t dealt with very well by a woman called Penny who has now resigned. I’m sure it’s far more complicated than that, and that this is just the tip of the iceberg in yet another desperately worrying crisis which will cut to the heart of every charity which has ever been formed, but as we’re not actually being told the full story, it’s very hard to feel any form of emotion. And yet, at the same time, we’re being told that Oxfam might have its funding withdrawn so we’re all assuming that something terrible has happened and have gone into moral panic mode claiming Oxfam is the new Jimmy Savile. I wish we’d all just stop panicking, take a deep breath and allow those in power to work out what’s going on without being influenced by yet another media-whipped-up witch hunt.

Monday, 12 February 2018


Yesterday found us in Thaxted again where we experienced bright wintry sun, hail, snow and ice. I think everyone is ready for spring now. I got chatting to the lovely woman in the flower shop in Highgate village who told me she’d had a surprising run on tulips. “People are fed up with winter.” She explained.

We had a very lovely time in Thaxted. I hadn’t seen the parents since Christmas, so it was fabulous to be back in front of an open fire, putting the world to rights. At one point we were talking about my Dad’s work as a WEA lecturer. WEA stands for the Workers’ Educational Association, and it was set up so that older people could continue to challenge and educate themselves, within their own communities, by attending lectures on a smorgasbord of subjects by visiting specialists. My Dad is an historian and lectures on a variety of things including the hell-raising, Boudicca. His work takes him around Suffolk, Rural Essex and Cambridgeshire, and, therefore, those who attend his lectures tend to be old, white and middle class. Imagine his surprise, therefore, when he was sent on a course to spot the early warning signs of people who have been radicalised! I just love the idea of a 90 year old Grannie thinking “If I’m gonna go and blow up some infidels, I better learn terrorism Boudicca-style!”’

We had a lengthy discussion about the amazing recent advances in medical science. Apparently there’s work being done in the field of cancer which could save my generation. That would be nice. We’ve been forgotten by everyone else! We talked about other diseases. They’re kicking HIV to touch. The conversation, however, ended in hysterical laughter when my Mum chipped in with: “and there was something about Alzheimer’s... but I can’t remember what it was...”

We were visited by my cousin Simon’s daughter and step daughter in the late evening. They were taking a very early flight to Badapest from Stansted, so came to stay the night with my parents because they live so close to the airport. I’ve always been highly fond of both girls. They’re such witty, well-mannered, well-bought up people, and their relationship with each other is inspiring. They are so close. They’re now 22 and 23. How many step sisters would be so fond of each other that they decide to go on holiday together as adults?

Sunday, 11 February 2018


I went to a delightful Shabbat meal on Friday night in Notting Hill. The host was fairly orthodox, so there were all sorts of rules and rituals which needed to be observed, including washing our hands with a jug of water three times and not talking until the bread was broken. I, of course, felt like a hick from the sticks: I forgot to put my kippah into my jacket pocket and, upon arriving at the house, immediately rang the doorbell, rather than knocking. I also came with both a bag, and flowers for the host. Carrying anything on the sabbath is frowned upon.

It got me thinking about the day of rest and wondering when and why Christian people started opting for Sunday instead of Saturday? Jesus was, after all, Jewish, and very keen that people observed the sabbath. His tantrum in the temple was surely about this very subject: “My temple should be a house of prayer and you have made it a den of thieves. Get out. Get out.” He was so passionate about the subject that he sang the last phrase in rock-setto.

(Never let it be said that my only knowledge of the bible comes from Jesus Christ Superstar!)

Sticking to the Jewish theme, Saturday morning was spent singing in synagogue. The choir was a little ropey. Some had colds. Some were deps. Some were underprepared. When things start to go badly, the fear takes over and the house of cards comes tumbling down. I had a little solo in one of the numbers and was aware that everything around me was unraveling at a fairy fast pace. It was a terrible shame. We’re usually an astounding choir.

We took Michael (our choir leader) for some food afterwards to drown our sorrows (and apologise) before heading, in the driving rain, to Portobello Road where we’ve discovered a little vintage shop with a massive selection of cufflinks. I’ve now started to collect vintage cufflinks. They’re a great thing to collect because they don’t take up any room, and what with the quizzing and the singing, I’m rarely out of a suit these days. It’s rather nice to make a point of trying to find a decent pair of cufflinks whenever you’re somewhere you want to remember. I have pairs from San Francisco, Florence and Tel Aviv and a pair which once belonged to my Grandfather.

I woke up this morning to an email which made me feel incredibly sad. It came from the mother of one of the kids who sang in Nene at the Albert Hall. Her daughter, who is apparently very bright, had done well in the entrance exam for a local public school and been offered a music scholarship. Unfortunately, even with a scholarship, the fees were beyond anything which the mother could afford. She wrote to me in something of a state: “I feel I’m begging as I’m a person who’s never asked anyone ever for help before. I’m desperate as seeing my daughter’s dreams fade away in her eyes and it’s heartbreaking to watch her cry. I feel guilty I cant give her the start she needs but we just cant find another way but to ask for help.”

The tragedy is multi-layered. State schools just aren’t offering musical and creative kids the education they need, so kids who can’t afford to go to private schools are just not going to have the opportunity to develop as well-rounded people. The other upsetting aspect is that there’s an assumption that someone who’s done relatively well in the arts like me would have the kind of money needed to help someone in despair. I only wish I could. If I had money, I would immediately set up a fund to help young kids from the Midlands realise their dreams. But I don’t. And this makes me so sad.

Thursday, 8 February 2018


I’ve been working very hard in the gym of late, and am feeling the benefit. I feel lighter. I bounce again as I walk. I don’t get tired or breathless. I think all people who are actively losing weight should be encouraged to hold bags of sugar representing the weight they have lost, and wonder how amazing it must be not to carry that around any more.

My indoor plants have mealy bugs. A horrible white sticky, fluffy substance has attached itself to the bits where the leaves meet the stalks. I noticed the first infestation some months ago and left it. I thought it was a spider’s egg sack, and because I love spiders, I was quite pleased. Now I feel like a bad dad because one of the plants has plainly been damaged. This must be what it feels like when you get a phone call from the school saying “little Walter is coming to school dirty and we’re concerned.”

I went to the garden centre first thing, showed a lovely bloke a photograph of the hideousness and he confirmed the diagnosis, prescribing me a spray which he said would get rid of them fairly quickly. “I assume they’re not eating the leaves yet?” I looked at him guiltily as I remembered a leaf falling off in my hand. He looked at me like a bad dad and said I might need to use the spray a few times.

The plants have now been sprayed and I await to see whether I’ve managed to save them.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The ghosts of ‘95

It’s freezing cold. It’s actually really rare for me to get cold, but sometimes, once I’ve started feeling the sensation, I can get quite obsessive about it. Today I actually wished I had a coat. I might have a look in my wardrobe to see if there’s one in there. I should look for a jumper as well. There’s never really a point in my having either of these garments because I only ever need them for about four days a year and when I do wear them, I instantly over heat and end up leaving them at people’s houses and in cafes and things. I also think that coats can look quite horrible. Especially those big puffy modern things made of shiny man-made fabrics with logos all over them.

I went into Spitalfields yesterday evening to meet Philippa for tea. For some reason, as I walked from Moorgate, through Liverpool Street Station, I found myself transported to that same area in the 1990s when I first moved London. It was a very different place in those days. Once out of the station, the further East you walked, the darker and emptier the world became. These are the streets where Jack the Ripper once roamed, and, in those days, his ghost seemed very apparent. The area around Brick Lane, which is now a swanky haven for wannabe hipsters, was a complete no-go zone back then.

At the time, I was living even further East, near Mile End, in an equally shabby district which these days hums with yummy mummies.

Spitalfields Market was just an empty barn of a building with a leaky roof. It had a few indoor football courts on Astro turf, but was largely a deserted brick shell. At one point, when they started to understand the resource they were sitting on, they built a pop-up mini opera house within the space. It was a giant, white fabric cube. I think they were trying to attract a few city workers off the beaten track, because it was never going to be popular with the local Bengali kids.

We performed Berio’s A Ronne there in 1995. It was my first paid gig as a performer. We had to learn the highly complex piece off by heart, which was quite a feat. It was all weird shrieks, extended vocal techniques and strings of made-up words sung at unfathomable pitches. There were five performers, two of whom were my tutors at university. We did a tour of some very unusual Northern Towns and I loved every minute.

Anyway, perhaps because it was so cold, and a Monday night, there were very few people hanging about in the market yesterday evening. In fact, it seemed eerily quiet, which is possibly why the ghosts of 1995 were out in force.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Being social

Blimey, it’s turned cold! I have just walked from my house down to the tube. The air feels like little daggers. Surely snow is forecast?

It’s been a weekend of work for me. Bank holidays, evenings and weekends cease to have any form of meaning for a freelancer. We can try to force ourselves into 9 to 5 regimes, but at the end of the day, we tend to work when everyone else is at play! (Often because we’re generating the play for others.)

On Saturday, I spent the morning singing in shul. It was a last-minute booking: sadly one of the other basses has a dad who is ill. It was rather good practice for me because it meant I couldn’t obsess about the material and had to rely a little more on my sight-singing skills, which I guess I’ve never really trusted before. I genuinely recommend regular singing for everyone. It’s such a joyous experience to sing in harmony, really one of life’s great pleasures. It all went very smoothly and I think the quartet blended particularly well and made a very nice sound. 

Saturday evening found me quiz mastering at a very charming tennis club in Holland Park. I deduced from the clientele that it must be a fairly exclusive club, and I was really thrilled that its members were so cosmopolitan. I doubt there were more than a handful of native Brits in the room. Fortunately, I’d been given this information before setting the quiz, so I was able to choose questions with an international flavour. Scores were very high, and very close. There was just one point between the winners and the two teams who came joint second. Everyone seemed to have a very jolly time. 

I had a meeting at lunchtime today with a charming chap from Leeds. I love chatting to creative Yorkshire folk. They never seem to have the jadedness of arts professionals in London. There’s always a can-do attitude and a sense of wanting to get in there to get their hands dirty.

This evening is about watching crappy telly at Julie’s house which I’m very much looking forward to. I’m not having a great time of it at the moment. I feel I just don’t understand the world any more. Every time I switch on the news these days it feels like someone’s being morally outraged on behalf of someone who we’re repeatedly told it’s really awful to be at the moment. The problem I have is that it doesn’t really feel very nice to be ME right now. I’m beginning to feel invisible, like I’m being sent to the back of every sodding queue I arrive at. I used to feel that way when I went to the shops as a child. I’d often be made to wait until there were no more adults left in the building before being served even if people came in after me! Sometimes this makes me want to hide. Sometimes it’s nice to be forced to be a bit social.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Car crash BBC interview

Hmm. I’ve just seen a rather disturbing interview on Newsnight with Kirsty Wark attempting to rip Tommy Robinson limb from limb. Now in my view, Robinson, who used to be the spokesman for the English Defence League, is a deeply unpleasant character. He comes across as a garrulous bully, and I think his views are ghastly, but, he royally spanked Wark’s arse this evening! It was hideous, car crash television. Wark obviously felt like some sort of moral champion with right on her side, and was therefore hideously under-prepared. She wanted Robinson to take responsibility for the attack on the mosque in Finsbury Park last year, because Darren Osbourne, who drove his white van into a group of innocent Muslims, had apparently googled speeches by Robinson countless times in the weeks running up to the attack. The online material which Wark was attempting to pin onto Robinson was factually flawed. She spoke obsessively about the “speedy radicalisation of the far right” but refused to see that three Muslim terrorist attacks in short succession (one in Manchester and two in London) had played any part in Osbourne’s growing anger. She quoted texts out of context for the sake of sensational telly, and then sat, mortified, as Robinson reminded her that it was actually watching a BBC documentary about Rochdale which had sewn the attack’s initial seed. He then was able to freely claim the the BBC had systematically refused to report any stories pertaining to right wing demonstrations. Wark, I’m afraid, came across as smug and then utterly flustered when her spurious line of questioning was entirely undermined. We deserve much better journalism than that - particularly in these deeply sensitive times.

The problem is that, in order to maintain a sense of democracy in this country, we actively need far right leaders and spokespeople, just as we need the so-called “loony left” and the myriad politicians whose views sit somewhere in between. Those are the uncomfortable facts. Or maybe they’re the facts we need to celebrate? Someone will alway stand up to express or fathom the inner thoughts of people in this county, and by attempting to silence anyone, you run the risk of turning them into martyrs. Unless you can, by law, prove that someone is practicing hate crime, there’s actually nothing you can do to silence his or her opinion. And there shouldn’t be. The joy about living in the UK is that we have freedom of speech. I don’t agree with a great deal of what I read in the Daily Mail, or watch on that ghastly Loose Women show (which I’m now boycotting). I regularly, and sometimes angrily challenge the nonsense which gets spouted, just as many people who read this blog will disagree with what I write, and may well contact me to tell me so. But we can’t and must not silence views that we simply don’t agree with, or else those views go underground where they seethe and expand. By all means attempt to change someone’s mind. By all means rail and rant about what they say, but do not hide behind the smug firewall which tells you that everything is black and white, and that anyone whose beliefs don’t fit into a narrow, Liberal viewpoint is evil and must be silenced. This is what, I fear, Wark was doing this evening. And because of this, she royally lost, and many people with far right views in this country did a little celebratory dance.