Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Repiano

There's not much to be said for yesterday. I sat at the kitchen table with the window wide open, the rain pouring down through the tree outside. The smell of rain on a summer's day is quite intoxicating. It's one of my favourite smells in the world. The tree's branches come right up to the window, and we've mooted the idea of hanging bags of nuts there to attract little birds. I would like to become Mary Poppins and feel I must be encouraged in my endeavours.

I worked solidly from 9 to 9 on my Nene composition. I was focussing on the Brass Band parts, trying to make sure that they all made sense. I sent about ten texts to my mate Harrison, who understands brass bands far better than me, to check I was on the right lines. I've always slightly fudged my brass band writing. It's taken me quite some time to understand the concept of a repiano cornet... and its point in a 21st Century composition.

At 9 o'clock I realised I'd become depressed. Sitting under headphones has a limited shelf life and my back was hurting. We decided therefore to take a trip to the large Tesco on Colney Hatch road, essentially to buy buttons, but also to buy something for our tea. We bought a cheap pizza base and covered it with feta, halloumi and mushrooms, and it tasted delicious. I took a photograph of it, I was so proud. I then took a picture of the bucket collecting rain water in our sitting room and felt a little sad again.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

New beginnings

Nathan's lovely Mum and her wonderful partner Ron came down yesterday. They knew Nathan was poorly, and furthermore that we were sinking in a mire of our own creation, so came to help us tidy the house. As Celia said, "it's always easier to clean when other people are about." She wasn't wrong. There was a bit of a party atmosphere. I had a thoroughly lovely time. Everything got spruced up. Ron focussed on the sitting room and spent hours polishing. Celia and I did the kitchen and bathroom. White goods got pulled out and cleaned behind. We mopped floors. I threw away stacks of food...

When I was about ten, I remember going into my Nana's pantry (yes, she had a proper pantry) and my brother and I taking great delight in finding out of date items on the shelves. We thought it was hysterical that she had tins of Carnation with best before dates in the eighties and couldn't believe that she'd allowed that to happen. We took it as a sign of decrepitude... Cut to me, yesterday, finding a bag of lentils with a best before date from 2010!

Nathan's Mum has a Bounty Bar from the 1960s in her freezer. It's apparently the first thing that David (Nathan's Dad) ever gave to her, and she's kept it all these years. Isn't that romantic? I can't wait to see it.

In the mid afternoon, Nathan was called by the doctor, and to cut a very long story short, there were more tests which needed to be done, so we schlepped down to the Whittington and spent a good few hours queuing. Ironically, Nathan was feeling rather well by the time we emerged. In the meantime, we'd given Islington Council a tenner in parking fees.

The feeling you get in a hospital these days is that all the doctors and nurses think the NHS is falling apart. They talk endlessly about things being restructured and entire departments closing down. It might be time for that dick splat May to realise that the majority of people who voted Brexit did so, not because they wanted Brexit, but because they wanted to save the NHS. That was, after all what the mop-haired cringe-pot Boris promised. Take Europe AND the NHS away from us and we're left with neither of the two things which, in my view, have contributed most in the last fifty years to the greatness of our nation. 

On retuning from the hospital, we discovered a lovely meal in the oven, courtesy of Nathan's Mum, which we ate hungrily. At that point I decided I needed to commune a little with nature, and, largely because I'd read that a cold front was coming in today, I took myself across Hampstead Heath as the sun set, marvelling at the sliver of a new moon hanging in a mackerel sky. I made a little private toast to new beginnings. A new job for me, please, an end to Nathan's poor health and true happiness for those I love.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Hampstead

Our house is catastrophe. I had an anxiety attack in the kitchen today. Every surface - ironing board included - is covered in unwashed mugs and crockery. The floor is liberally coated in a mix of dirty laundry and "clean" stuff which has been pulled out of the tumble drier and dumped. I opened the fridge and instantly realised that it was chock full of mouldy vegetables. I entered a cucumber with my finger. Tins of sweet corn and pears with a fine film of white fluffy mould on the top sat on one shelf. A vegetable tray with a rancid layer of petrified liquid at the bottom greeted me at one point. A pot on the stove was full of dried up pasta. It was all so depressing. The combination of Nathan being ill, me being busy and then ultra lazy and a heatwave has been almost catastrophic for the house. Nathan is at least now feeling a little better. He even managed to go out for a bit last night so he's certainly reached a point where his body has started to fight back. Baby steps...

We went to see Hampstead at the wonderful Everyman Cinema in Muswell Hill last night. Going to the Everyman is such a lovely night out. You sit on sofas to watch the films and there are even little footrests to make the experience as decadent as possible.

Hampstead is a charming little film which has plainly been made with an American audience in mind. I could hear them, over the pond, screeching, "oh my God, how quaint!" The thing is, Hampstead Village IS quaint, preposterously so. So actually the film makers weren't that far off the truth. Obviously, a North London Heathite like me was always going to love seeing anything which was shot in my gaff, and there wasn't a single location featured that I didn't know intimately.

The story is based on the tale of Harry Hallowes, who lived in a shack on Hampstead Heath. I always thought he lived on the Highgate side of the open space rather than the Hampstead side, but I guess artistic license has to come into these things. Hallowes was able to prove that he'd lived on the plot for more than twelve years and was therefore given squatters rights which effectively made him a millionaire over night. That's about the sum total of where truth and fiction collide in this particular film. I'm not sure Hallowes had an affair with a local American widow and I'm certainly not sure he exchanged his land for a boat in a crazy "deus ex machina" plot device. I also remember locals being incredibly supportive of Hallowes when a development firm tried to evict him, so to suggest otherwise feels a little divisive.

Nevertheless, aside from the ludicrous ending, the film ticks along at a a gloriously slow English pace and is filled with wonderful acting performances headed by Brendan Gleason and Diane Keaton. If it's not a story that actually happened, it's a story that ought to have happened!


Saturday, 24 June 2017

Vera

I ended up at my old friend Vera's house today. I'd been on something of an epic journey which involved a trip to Primrose Hill which is a very lovely part of London. It's one of those fancy bits of town which is almost exclusively the reserve of pop musicians. Its beautiful Georgian streets hum with happening privilege! It's very cut off from its surroundings, "protected" by a railway line to the north, Camden Market to the east and Regents Park to the south. No one passes through Primrose Hill. It's a bit like Dartmouth Park in that regard. You go there if you live there or if you're the right sort of person to visit one of its fancy pubs or bars.

Vera suddenly popped into my head and it struck me that I was close enough to her house to pop in. I last saw her at Arnold's funeral last year and it was the first time I'd seen her in an age. I promised to visit her more regularly and have felt bad for some time for not yet popping by. I didn't want to drop in unannounced, so spent the longest time trying to dredge up her phone number from the dark recesses of my mind. A number sprung to mind and I decided that I'd call it. I wasn't at all convinced it would be the right one.

I was fairly astonished therefore when Vera's husband Bob answered and I immediately organised to pop in. Bob said that he'd talked about me only that morning, so I felt as though I'd made the right decision.

He opened the door. He looks fantastic. He must be way over 90, but he's incredibly upright and vital. If anything I think he looked younger than he had when I last saw him. Vera also looks well, but she doesn't talk much. I think she understands everything. She seemed thrilled to see me. Sometimes you get the impression that she's struggling a little to follow the gist of the conversation. Other times I felt perhaps that talking was just a bit too much effort. And God knows we've all been there!

We were joined by a very pleasant Chatty Cathy called Doris for the second half of the visit. She was a German journalist who'd know Vera since 1980 and didn't seem at all impressed that I'd known her for "just" 22 years!

The time flew. We had a cup of tea, and then I felt it was time to go home. I left the house with past memories crashing through my mind. It was at Vera's house that I first met my idol, Billie Whitelaw. I remember trying to tie knots in cherry stalks there with my partner Stephen Twigg. I remember learning the word "kedgeree"' there, and watching poor Nathan eating tripe, and reading poetry with Sam Becker. Days with Arnold and Dusty Wesker. And Hedi. And Fritz. And Sandy Lean. There was always something going on. Highbrow conversations. Wonderful roast dinners.

Whilst I'm in a wistful mood, I discovered yesterday that Doreen Brigham has died at the astonishingly ripe old age of 105. Yorkshire folk in particular will know Doreen as the wonderful Harrogate woman who provided lyrics for Sing a Song of Yorkshire, the last movement of my Symphony for Yorkshire. She was 98 at the time, and the good folk of the county absolutely took her to their hearts on account of the moving third verse of her poem, which I leave as a tribute to her:

"And when I’ve done my roaming, and when my step grows slow;
When heart and mind assure me that will soon be time to go,
Then let me rest in Yorkshire, for it’s there I want to lie
‘Neath the sun and the wind and the heather… and a gleaming Yorkshire sky."

Sleep well under the Yorkshire sky, Doreen.

Friday, 23 June 2017

A day away

I saw the front cover of the Guardian newspaper today which showed a group of lads at a school in the south west who'd decided to beat the heatwave by turning up to school in regulation skirts because they weren't allowed to wear shorts. The skirts actually looked quite woolly and probably, as a result, not the coolest items of clothing in the world, but they were making a protest, so the point was made. The story heartened me greatly. Obviously it would have been a far more glorious statement had the lads been supporting a trans girl or fighting for gender equality rather than simply putting a finger up to teachers, but certainly, in my day, no school boy would have been seen dead in a skirt, whatever beef he had with his teachers. We are entering an era, I hope, where men can express themselves visually however they choose. Young lads who want to wear skirts, either for comfort reasons or because they're not that bothered by gender stereotyping, should be free to do so, just as women should be able to wear trousers as and when it suits them.

I saw a young trans-woman on the tube yesterday who looked so fabulous I felt the need to congratulate her. She had a mountain of glorious, blonde, naturally-curly hair piled high on the top of her head, and was wearing a floor length black dress, cut daringly enough to accentuate the fact that she hadn't yet gone down the surgery or hormone route. Perhaps she never will. Part of me hopes she'll always feel happy with a gender fluid identity. The more androgynous that some people opt to look, the less pressure others will feel to be at the polarised ends of the gender spectrum. I personally want to live in a world where ten percent of people are hyper-masculine, ten percent are hyper-feminine and everyone else is happily somewhere in the middle. And one day, I suspect, the same will be true of sexuality.

I spent the entire day today out of the house. I had a meeting first with Wendy at Central School to talk about Em, before heading to Shepherds Bush where I met Michael. We had a gloriously long walk along the south side of the Thames from Hammersmith Bridge all the way to Chiswick and then back along the north side. We stopped for a drink in Barnes and had a little picnic on some steps leading down to the river. The Thames was incredibly high today and as we ate our picnic, a boat came past which created waves which came right over the bank, almost carrying our food back to Central London!

Some of the houses along that stretch of the river are to die for. I spent ages staring at them in awe, wishing I lived there. "You better get writing" said Michael, helpfully!

I took the North London line to Hampstead Heath from Shepherd's Bush. The train takes you right past the Grenfell Tower, which has become so iconic in the last week or so. We all know the shape that the fire made as it cut through the building. Seeing it in the flesh through a train window was a little like seeing it on a television screen: I was somehow still one step removed. But it's certainly a deeply chilling sight, one which I suspect West Londoners will need to get used to because I can't see them knocking it down any time soon.

I met Philippa in a Turkish restaurant in South End Green. We worked out that it was the first time we'd been out,just the two of us, since before her second daughter Silver was born. I suggested we get pissed and then did magic mushrooms on Hampstead Heath but in the end we had a lovely two course meal, Philippa drank rosé, I had a sparkling mineral water and then we went for a lovely walk, at a nice slow pace because Philippa was wearing wedge heels.

We met a young woman, lost and wandering aimlessly by the tree with a hole in it. It was getting dark and I'm not sure it was a very good place to be lost. She was trying to find friends. They'd dropped a pin to show their location and sent it to her phone, but when she tried to put it in Google maps everything went wrong. In the end I asked to speak to her friend to ascertain what he could see in order to establish where he was, "grass, trees..." he said. Useless. "What can you see on the horizon?" I asked. "More grass and trees..." In the end, I managed to work out where he was from the dropped pin and, because I know the place so well, was able to take her to him. Turns out he hadn't noticed he was sitting next to Boudicca's Mount - an ancient tumulus surrounded by a fence. He'd also not noticed a pond at the bottom of the hill, or Highgate church looming large on the horizon. Frankly, he didn't deserve to be found!

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Terrorism?

I read a report yesterday, which I'm sadly unable to find again, which said that a rather large percentage of British people didn't think the attack at Finsbury Park was an act of terrorism. There's been some sort of survey. God knows who these people are that provide the statistic-hungry media with figures they can spin for their own advantage. I've never been asked my views on anything like this. Anyway, the figures are being held up by left wing press as an indication that the British public are inherently Islamophobic. And, of course, this could well be true. The feeling is that the media almost immediately reported Manchester and London Bridge as terrorist attacks but that it took them way too long to report Finsbury Park in the same way. I'm not sure I entirely agree. I've not heard it described as anything other than terrorism. Almost pointedly so.

Islamophobia is undeniably a huge issue in the U.K. at the moment. But I believe we've mistakenly started to use the word "terrorism" as a catch-all to define anything which causes terror, rather than as the word was intended to be used.

It's a little unclear, but there does seem to be a basic universal definition of the word terrorism:

"Terrorism is the use of violence or threat of violence especially against civilians in the pursuit of political aims, religious, or ideological change."

By this definition, I would struggle to call Finsbury Park a terrorist attack. As previously stated in this blog, I believe we need to define it as a hate crime. This makes it no less terrifying. No less unacceptable. And, in fact, by describing it as a hate crime against Muslim people, I believe we're sending out a much clearer message that there's a specific problem with Islamophobia in this country.

I previously mentioned Orlando as an example of a crime against my own community which, in my view, people were too fast to describe as terrorism. By defining it this way, it somehow becomes a universal attack on us - an attack on Western values - and homophobia gets swept under the carpet. Yes the gunman may well have pledged allegiance to Isis. Isis merely gave him an excuse. The fact was that he was closeted gay, in deep turmoil, and took everything out on a community which he'd loosely been a member of. There was nothing remotely ideological about his actions.

Journalist Owen Jones famously walked away from a Sky News interview when the anchorwoman started to claim that this particular attacker could have chosen any bar, and just "happened" to pick a gay one. It was extremely insulting because it effectively denied that there was a specific issue with homo and trans phobia in the US.

So, look, I have every sympathy for those who want to call Finsbury Park a terrorist attack because they think it's a way of making this a universal issue. But actually, Finsbury Park was simply an attack on Muslim people by a white man with a grudge. And we have to remember that. There was nothing remotely ideological about his actions.


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Audra and Billie

There is nothing like hot weather to zap every inch of energy out of a person. I woke up with chronic shoulder pain as a result of my pillow becoming so laden with sweat that I was forced to prop it up with my hand all night.

Nathan continues to be ill. We went to A and E yesterday and were, mercifully, told there was nothing untoward going on, so I suspect he's just going to have to sit it out and wait for the hell to pass. He seemed rather chipper this morning, but retired to bed this afternoon.

We seem to have an enormous problem with fly-tipping in the alleyway leading to our house. About a week ago, twenty black bin bags were dumped on the path, entirely blocking our way. Most are filled with leaves. Some are filled with masonry. There are no lights in the alley, so, at night, we trip over the bin bags and they split. Their contents have spilled out all over the pathway. Unfortunately for us, the footpath is privately owned by the owners of the properties which back onto it, none of whom actually live there because they're all rented out as shops and flats. Because it's not a public right of way, Haringey council refuses to help us. Today I spent hours trying to get through to the health and safety people. My neighbour tried yesterday and was held in a queue for an hour. When I phoned today, a recorded message informed me that the call volume was too high even for me to be placed in a queue. I'm not altogether sure how a Heath and Safety department in a council can operate like that. It's all very curious and incredibly frustrating.

This evening I came into town to meet Matt. The poor bloke couldn't get more than a few feet without being stopped and asked for a selfie. I'm not sure I'd ever have the gall to walk up to a complete stranger and ask for their photo, but I guess it's all part of the circus attached to stardom. Matt is always so gracious. I guess if you get snippy, people instantly call you a diva and take your picture anyway.

We were in town to see Audra McDonald's blistering performance as Billy Holiday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill." The show has transferred from Broadway where it won McDonald her sixth (count them) Tony award and there is no doubt in my mind that this particular award wasn't wholly deserved. The show is brutally painful and portrays Holiday in the last few months of her life: a nervous shell, high, drunk and not coping with life.

I didn't know much about Billie Holiday but didn't need to to enjoy the piece. All the information I needed was there. She had a pretty desperate life. She went to jail, she was raped as a child, she had a succession of bad egg husbands, she suffered untold prejudice. As a "coloured" performer, she was banned from going to the loo at one gig because there was only one loo in the building for black people, and that was for male staff members. We none of us know that we're born.

We went backstage to meet Audra afterwards, and she told us that Holiday used to really like coming to the UK because people treated her so much better over here. It was a real treat to meet her. She's a Broadway icon, one of the world's greatest singers, and this is the first time she's come to the West End to do a run of theatre shows. This was only her second preview. She's such a lovely woman. Warm. Interested. Intelligent. Her love and respect for Holiday shines through.

I wholeheartedly recommend this show. Move heaven and earth to see McDonald perform.