Thursday, 15 March 2018

The minging generation

I saw a poster today for a cleaning product (at least I assume that’s what it was for) which simply said “microwave ming?” I assume the poster was asking passers by if we felt that our microwave ovens were smelly, dirty, or, as we might have said when I was at university, “minging.” I haven’t heard the word shortened to “ming” for many years. “That thing mings!” we’d say, or “that is ming!” If you were feeling particularly fancy, you might have said, “that’s ming-de-mong-de-wacky-de-honky.” Don’t ask me why! 

Anyway, it suddenly struck me that I’d never seen the word “ming” written down in any other context than Chinese dynasties and fancy vases. Seeing it on the billboard really took me back. But do the kids still refer to things as ming? Or is this an example of an advertising person trying to hit on a wave of nostalgia from the much-maligned and utterly inconsequential Generation X, who have had their babies now and are now obsessing about the mess their soon-to-be-teenaged-children are leaving everywhere?

I’m ashamed to admit that my generation hasn’t really offered a great deal to the world. Our talented people were silenced by moguls like Simon Cowell and replaced with pretty people who briefly captured the zeitgeist, generated money for the generation above and then disappeared from sight. Our politicians created Brexit and then pretended nothing was wrong. We can’t afford houses of our own. We don’t have proper pensions. All we’ve really got to offer the world is a mass market for cleaning produce! Perfect.

God bothering

A woman approached me at Borough tube yesterday. As she walked towards me I was thinking what a lovely scarf she was wearing and wondering if it was hand-knitted. The nearer she got, the more I realised she was a proselytising Christian. She had that glazed-look which I’ve come to associate with people who stand on street corners promoting the word of Christ. And sure enough, she handed me a small, square piece of paper and told me that Jesus loved me. “Oh, no” I said, as politely as possible, “please don’t hand me one of them.” The paper felt dirty in my hand. I tried to hand it back, but she wouldn’t take it, so I threw it on the floor. There followed a fairly unpleasant scene which involved her informing me that I was a sinner, which made me see red: “I don’t think it’s your place to call a stranger a sinner. You shouldn’t be doing this. The fairy tales you believe in are entirely your own choice, but it’s not for you to tell me how to live my life. I’m a gay man...” “that explains it” she said. So I shouted at her and she started shouting back in a strange high-pitched voice. I didn’t like it at all.

I genuinely think any attempt to convert someone to religion should be viewed as grooming. Worship whichever deity you feel like worshiping but it is wholly inappropriate to approach a stranger in a public place. Time and time again it’s vulnerable people who are attracted to religion, pulled in by unscrupulous people who then turn lives upside down by making moral judgements about lifestyles. I have no idea why anyone would consider the practices of certain religious people any more appropriate than abusers. Yes, to me, these street preachers are simply irritating and tragic, but to someone with mental health issues, depression, or those who are grieving or in trouble, they can be deeply dangerous and I personally believe we need laws to stop them.

Yes, the majority of Christians across the world are good, kind, loving people, but religion is also twisted and used as an excuse for persecution and highly dubious behaviour on many levels from war-mongering to subtle mind games. I am convinced, for example, that Tony Blair’s religious conviction played a part in the questionable decisions he made to take action in the Middle East. I also believe it’s highly dangerous that Theresa May prays to God for answers to our country’s troubles.

When I was a teenager coming to terms with my sexuality, a very close friend of mind told me, just after I’d had a car accident and turned to her for emotional support, that she was “really pleased I didn’t die” because she “wouldn’t have been able to deal with the fact that I’d gone to hell.” Now if that statement was in line with the teachings of Christ, I’ll find a bible and eat it! Using hell as a threat is nothing but abuse.

By chance, I came home and watched a programme about Roman Britain from the air. An expert was talking about Roman religious worship and the fascinating number of deities and rituals associated with that ancient people. At the end of the segment, the presenter, Christine Bleakley, felt the need to say, “I’m not keen on Roman religion. It sounds a bit like black magic to me.” And I thought, “sod you! I’m watching this programme to learn about the Romans. I don’t need your modern day religious judgements.” Can you imagine if the continuity announcer after Songs of Praise said “I don’t like these God botherers. That church feels like a cult?”

Why is it that we feel we can openly condemn paganism, ufology or Wicca whilst turning a blind eye to the horrors associated with organised religion? Because God is Love? Pull the other one!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Mary Magdalene

Last night saw me attending a screening of Philippa’s stupendous Mary Magdalene film. I had hitherto thought that I’d be the quintessential anti-audient when it came to a film about Jesus, but it I found the experience utterly transporting. The story, as you might guess from its title, is told entirely from the perspective of Magdalene, a figure whose fundamental importance has been suppressed by Catholicism for the best part of two thousand years. It’s only relatively recently that revisionism has taken place. I actually had no idea that, within the last two years, the Vatican had actually upgraded her status to that of an apostle/ disciple, which strikes me as pretty big news. I don’t know a great deal about Christianity, but it’s always fascinated me that an entire religion can be based on the concept of resurrection without whole-heartedly celebrating the person who Jesus first appeared to in his zombie state. Surely, this fact alone makes Mary Magdalene of crucial importance to the faith?

The other thing which I’ve never been able to reconcile is the role that Judas plays within the religion. Judas, it strikes me, did only what he was destined to do. Without Judas, there would have been no crucifixion and because Jesus needed to die in order to be resurrected, anyone, from Herod to Pilate, who played a part in the great order of things, should, by rights, be up there in heaven with the main man. For this reason, I was hugely impressed by the portrayal of Judas within Philippa’s film. They gave him a back story which offered a reason for his fanaticism and ultimate betrayal, and he was really sensitively played by a North African actor with a luminous, kind face, which was a million miles away from the brooding nonsense we tend to associate with portrayals of that man.

The film was exquisitely shot with a massive emphasis on faces and eyes. It also felt surprisingly wintry, with rolling mists sliding down hillsides, and dark, brutal winds rustling hair and scarves.
Philippa’s writing is moving and self-assured, and I sat in the audience, a really proud man.

I took Abbie with me, as I felt, of all of my friends, she was likely to get the most out of it. I’m therefore very pleased to report that she loved it as well.

There was a Q and A afterwards with Philippa in one of the hot seats. The audience, many of whom were religious scholars, were very warm, although I got a bit angry when one of them started banging on about her issues with a white actress playing “a woman of colour.” Mary Magdalene was Jewish and Middle Eastern, which, as far as I’m concerned, means she could have been anywhere from very pale skinned to North African in appearance. It is as legitimate to have her played by a white woman as it is to have her played by a black woman. If the actress chosen had looked like Agnetha from ABBA, I might have taken issue with the casting, but I was really happy with the way that the actress looked. Actually, a much more interesting debate might have been about the visual authenticity of Jewish and Palestinian actors being cast in central roles, against the barriers that opposing personal faiths might have generated in this regard.

There’s little else to say about yesterday, as I spent the entire day packaging up CDs to send off to people who had preordered copies of Em. I walked into the post office with ninety padded envelopes and I could see the woman behind the counter mentally preparing herself for a long haul! Largely as a result of Nathan’s knitting fans getting behind the project, I was hugely excited to be sending packages to USA, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Germany, Spain, Iceland, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and Switzerland. What a small world we live in!

Sunday, 11 March 2018


We went to Raily and Iain’s house today to pay homage to their new baby, Lola, who seems to be a rather happy little tyke. She’s got a fine head of hair on her, which always makes for an interesting looking child. The majority of babies look like slugs at her age.

We took ourselves to a little collection of farm buildings on the outskirts of Aylesbury which have been turned over to a series of artists’ studios. Most were closed, sadly, including a big yarn and fibre craft centre, but we had a good look around a shop which sold paintings and all kinds of lovely things made from glass and metal. In these instances, I always find myself looking for cufflinks. There were a pair, but they were made from miniature books - and paper cufflinks have about as much practical use as cakes made of concrete.

We came home and ate lovely food. There were home-made veggie burgers for lunch, with a delicious pomegranate and tomato salad, and garlic potatoes for tea with halloumi. Word seems to have escaped within my friends that I am addicted to halloumi. People even send me pictures of battered halloumi. It’s like porn for me!

It was, as always, a delight to spend time with Raily and Iain and their brood. Jeannie has grown up massively recently. I think having a baby sister will do that to someone. She’s become very conscientious and spent ages in the car coming up with ingenious ways of stopping Lola from crying.

We came home and Nathan called his mother for Mother’s Day. I appeared in the room and sat next to him and overheard a brilliant interchange: “I’m going to Yoevil tomorrow” said Nathan (who genuinely is off to Yoevil tomorrow for a photoshoot.) I heard his mother’s response, however, “you’re going to yodel, tomorrow?”

It wasn’t that weird a retort: Nathan is a keen and rathe fine yodeller, but it made me howl with laughter, almost as much as my learning today that my godson has someone in his form called “Shitaj” whom everyone has to called Neil. I haven’t laughed so much since a good friend told me he had a friend at school called Fuquanisha. Her name was actually banned. Everyone had to called her Nisha! Beats my old mate Sue Perbe into a cocked hat!

Friday, 9 March 2018

Lazy snorers

We had the workshop showing of our new musical at Mountview this afternoon. We spent the day doing last-minute rehearsals, which included a full run of the piece this morning. We’ve achieved so much in two weeks. We walked into rehearsals with almost no material prepared and, this afternoon, presented 45 minutes of material, which the students had learned by heart. Everyone bought lots of imaginative bits of costume from home, and they all looked utterly tremendous.

There’s some real talent in that room, including, I’m proud to say, three Midlanders (one from Leicester and two from Northamptonshire). Emily in the cast actually comes from Irthlingborough which was just over the Nene from Higham Ferrers. She went to Huxlow School, where I was taught A-level Geography. Her accent is so familiar to me. There’s a moment in the piece when she calls Mr Gum a “lazy snorer” and the way she said it took me right back to my childhood. She doesn’t even think she has an accent!

The audience consisted of the students on the foundation course at Mountview who had been working on an altogether different piece of musical theatre, written, in part, by this year’s British Eurovision hopeful (which I still haven’t heard.) Their piece was very dark and emotional and was the absolute antithesis to the profound silliness and subversiveness of ours.

It feels a little bit odd that it’s now all over. I shall miss my little walks to Mountview every morning, and the feeling of camaraderie in the rehearsal room. It is, I realise, when I’m in a space like that, inspiring young people, that I’m at my happiest.

Thursday, 8 March 2018


I watched a tiny bit of breakfast news this morning and was horrified to see that Theresa May has got into bed with Saudi Arabia as part of her post-Brexit-let’s-make-Britain-great-again strategy. This strategy will, of course, see her doing similar deals with countless other countries in the world with ghastly human rights records.

I woke up yesterday with giant black smudges under my eyes. This morning, after only four hours’ sleep, I’ve progressed from fight victim to panda.

I was rather pleased to have turned the telly on, however, as I got to see Zoë Ball talking about her cycle ride from Blackpool to Brighton for Comic Relief. I’ve always liked Zoë Ball: she’s such a consummate professional, and seems to specialise in remembering people’s names. She also talked about the fact that she’s specifically fundraising for vulnerable men, and, in a world where men are increasingly demonised by women, I find that profoundly moving. Men are vulnerable too... Even on International Women’s day...

It’s been an insane week. Utterly manic. I’ve had rehearsals at Mountview from

10-5 every day, and major events every single evening, which have been followed by long evenings of writing into the very wee smalls. I am craving a lie in...

In the mid afternoon, Danny-Boy Carter and Nathan picked me up from Mountview and drove me up to Northampton. We were heading to the Derngate theatre to hear the premiere of my Nene composition. We popped into the rehearsal briefly to say hello to Beth and Peter, before heading to ASK pizza for a bit of food.

We were met at the theatre in the evening by Michael, Fiona and her Mum, Barbara. I was amazed by how many people in the audience seemed to recognise me as they came in. This was undoubtedly as a result of the film they recently screened about the piece on the BBC.

The performance was tremendous. They’d shifted half the seats in the auditorium back so that seven hundred or so performers could fit on the stage. It was an extraordinary sight.

I was interviewed by the presenter beforehand. I have no idea what I said, although I’m pretty sure I came across as endearingly clumsy. I also got a bit political about the need for music in schools. #GiveTheManAPlatform

I was hugely happy with the new sequences I’d written for the piece. The section evoking a ghostly hunt rampaging through Peterborough Abney, was particularly exciting and there were stunning solos by Zoë Eaves, who was singing the last poem written by Mary Queen of Scots on the banks of the river, and Freja Leveritt, who reprised her role singing the sad story of Molly. They were stationed in spot lights high in the roof of the building. But it was Michael Needle’s solo as a gay First World War soldier singing a folk lyric from Woodford which broke my heart. It broke my heart for many reasons, firstly because he took what he was singing very seriously, performing the music with great dignity and love, when he could have made it horribly tongue-in-cheek to show us all that he wasn’t necessarily feeling the emotions he was singing about. It was also very emotional to think that, when I was young Michael’s age, Clause 28 would actually have meant that it was illegal for a young male performer to sing a love song to another man within an educational framework.

I walked away feeling proud and immensely grateful to NMPAT for commissioning the piece, and for continuing with the extraordinary work they do in inspiring young musicians in an era where music has dropped to the bottom of everyone else’s agenda.

I drank two gin and tonics this evening. #alcoholic

Monday, 5 March 2018

Time for a cuppa

Having worked non-stop all weekend - writing, quizzing, writing - I have woken up this morning utterly shattered without the strength to face another ludicrously busy week. I also seem to have a cold. Fiona, who’s staying with us at the moment, appears to be similarly afflicted. My mood was not helped by a small child’s decision to ram raid the suitcase I drag to work with his silly little scooter. His ineffectual, “my-child’s-the-centre-of-everyone’s-universe” mother didn’t see fit to apologise to me, opting instead to attempt to reason with the child as I limped away. Honestly: bring your child up however you please, but when they injure a complete stranger, you have got to go in hard - with your apology if nothing else!

So, by the end of this week I will have 

- Watched to the premiere of the longer version of my Nene composition at the Derngate Theatre in Northampton
- Recorded a new song as part of a pitching process for a new musical
- Workshopped material at Mountview from a new children’s musical
- Sung in shul
- Run another quiz
- Pitched for a big film project
- Written three new songs
- Passed out

Time for a cup of tea!