Thursday, 30 June 2011

Abba cake

It's Nathan's birthday, and we're sitting with brother Edward and Sascha after a very successful little soirée. Nathan's family came down from Shropshire, laden with cakes an a bucket of strawberries and summer fruits. Nathan's goddaughter and her mother, and his ex partner also came, so it was a real family affair.

I spent the afternoon, like a good wife, slaving over a hot stove. I produced an astonishing amount of food, including a plate of stuffed mushrooms, which were particularly tasty. I also made a jelly, and cheese and pineapple on sticks, because Nathan wanted an old school vibe!

My mother gave him a pineapple cutter for his birthday, which was one of the most exciting things I think I've ever seen. You sort of shove this plastic thing in the top and turn a handle and hey presto, you have a spiral of pineapple, which is ready to eat. A proper party trick.

Nathan's sister made a birthday cake to look like an ABBA single, which has got to be the coolest cake I've ever seen. She opted for the English release of Waterloo, which came out in the year of his birth.

They also helped us to put a cabinet up in the bathroom, so I no longer have to store my shaving things on the floor.

I've stuffed my face and now feel a bit sick.

June 30th, 1661 was a Sunday and Pepys went to St Olave's church before heading off to Westminster to meet the Duke of York, who was still on the war path regarding the delay of the fleet of ships, which we now learn was due to the wind blowing the wrong direction.

Pepys went to Lincoln's Inn to look at the pretty ladies, who must have thought he was utterly mad as he was wondering about singing to himself, specifically practicing trills.

He returned home to find Elizabeth in a blue, which put him into a bad mood. He decided he was spending too much money on clothes and luxuries and vowed to tighten the purse strings. Other than that, he decided he was in good health, but for an almost pathological fear of getting cold, which meant that, despite the incredibly hot weather, he was wearing all manner of layers of clothes, particularly around his waist!

Which one's the cake?
It's Nathan's birthday, and we're sitting with brother Edward and Sascha after a very successful little soirée. Nathan's family came down from Shropshire, laden with cakes an a bucket of strawberries and summer fruits. Nathan's goddaughter and her mother, and his ex partner also came, so it was a real family affair. 

I spent the afternoon, like a good wife, slaving over a hot stove. I produced an astonishing amount of food, including a plate of stuffed mushrooms, which were particularly tasty. I also made a jelly, and cheese and pineapple on sticks, because Nathan wanted an old school vibe!

My mother gave him a pineapple cutter for his birthday, which was one of the most exciting things I think I've ever seen. You sort of shove this plastic thing in the top and turn a handle and hey presto, you have a spiral of pineapple, which is ready to eat. A proper party trick. 

Nathan's sister made a birthday cake to look like an ABBA single, which has got to be the coolest cake I've ever seen. She opted for the English release of Waterloo, which came out in the year of his birth.

They also helped us to put a cabinet up in the bathroom, so I no longer have to store my shaving things on the floor.

I've stuffed my face and now feel a bit sick. 

June 30th, 1661 was a Sunday and Pepys went to St Olave's church before heading off to Westminster to meet the Duke of York, who was still on the war path regarding the delay of the fleet of ships, which we now learn was due to the wind blowing the wrong direction. 

Pepys went to Lincoln's Inn to look at the pretty ladies, who must have thought he was utterly mad as he was wondering about singing to himself, specifically practicing trills.

He returned home to find Elizabeth in a blue, which put him into a bad mood. He decided he was spending too much money on clothes and luxuries and vowed to tighten the purse strings. Other than that, he decided he was in good health, but for an almost pathological fear of getting cold, which meant that, despite the incredibly hot weather, he was wearing all manner of layers of clothes, particularly around his waist! 

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Crappy Rub Sniff

So this morning, I took myself to a dentistry hospital on Gray’s Inn Road to have a lump examined on my gum. I spotted it about 4 months ago and showed it to the dentist who referred me to the hospital. It hasn’t got any larger, and it doesn’t hurt or bleed, or anything like that, but obviously my cousin’s experience with throat cancer preys heavily on my mind, and it never harms to be told that you’re a hypochondriac...

As it turns out, there is something wrong with me, but I’m pleased to report that it’s nothing serious. I have a “mandibular torus,” which is basically a sort of bone spur, which may or may not get bigger with time. If it gets enormous, I can have it removed, but at the moment it’s just a few mili-metres across. I immediately looked on line and found some horrific pictures of people with similar problems, but you’d have to look very hard to see mine, and even then you’d need to peer at my lower inside gum with a specially adapted light for a very long time.

I came home from the hospital and worked in the cafe for several hours before taking myself on a whistle stop tour of print shops in North London. The Pepys Motet and A Symphony for Yorkshire are both being entered for a major composing award, but the judges need three copies of each of the scores in order to do their thing. That’s a lot of photocopying – 300 pages in fact - as both works are pretty lengthy. I copied them at A3 size, but still each line is tiny. The judges will need magnifying glasses to glean anything useful from them, but A3 is the biggest-sized paper within any reasonable budget.

The first print place I visited quoted me £110 for the job, which instinctively felt incredibly high, particularly as they’d printed my Pepys scores last year, and done a lovely job, for a fraction of the cost. When I pointed this fact out, the man behind the counter got belligerent and said, "what happened last year is irrelevant. Times change." "Yes" I thought, "we’ve sunk even further into a recession, and if you double your prices, you’ll go out of business twice as fast." I obviously didn't say this out loud. I wasn't feeling angry enough, so I thanked him profusely for his time and told him I'd give the matter some thought. I left, went to Finchley Central, got served by a lovely chatty women, and was charged £40. Bish, bash, bosh as they say...

I’ve been running... to Finsbury Park and back. The world, his wife, their dog and their toddler were running along Parkland Walk. It’s amazing what a bit of sunshine will do!

Finsbury Park backwards is Krapy rub snif. Upton Park backwards is Krap not Pu. These thoughts amuse me when my legs feel like jelly.

350 years ago, Pepys spent the morning in Deptford, trying to work out why the fleet of ships that, one assumes, had been commissioned to pick up Catherine de Braganza had been delayed. We’re not told where they'd been delayed, or if Sandwich et al were with them, but the Duke of York was in a tizz about the situation. In the afternoon, Pepys returned to the City and went drinking at The Bell on The Strand, next to the famous maypole, which had been erected (by sailors) in readiness for May Day 1661, as a finger up to the cheery Cromwell, who’d torn it down. It was the largest maypole in London, until it was blown down by high winds in the 1670s.

Pepys was drinking with his old gang of clerk friends, many of whom he’d not seen for years. One, James Chetwind, came in for particular criticism. "Mr. Chetwind by chewing of tobacco is become very fat and sallow, whereas he was consumptive." Who knows, really why it was better to be fat and sallow than consumptive. Perhaps consumptive had a different meaning back then? I always thought fat was a good thing in the 17th Century, so perhaps the observation was actually a compliment.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Thunder shakes

The weather today is making me feel irritable. It’s hot and it’s sticky, and it’s close and over cast. It keeps raining and I’m extremely uncomfortable, and more than a little bit sulky. The rats are sulking as well. They’re lying in a little heap in their cage, trying not to move. It’s tough being hairy in the summer.

I’ve been dealing with the hospital where I had my operation today. The more I think about how I was treated post-operation, the more I realise how inappropriate it was. It’s a fairly frightening experience to wake up with a gas mask hooked to your face, whilst your arm’s attached to a drip. No one came to see if I was alright, or to tell me that the operation had been a success. It took the nurses two hours after asking what I wanted for lunch, for them to actually bring it to me, and even then the trifle was frozen solid, which couldn’t have been particularly good for me. Frankly, it was only because I’d got myself dressed and was trying to leave the hospital that they even started preparing me the food I’d asked for... or at least slamming it into the microwave. They took away my water cup, and left me drinking out of a jug. The nurses hadn’t been told that I wasn’t allowed to talk, so when anyone did come over, they asked me direct questions that I couldn’t possibly answer with a shake or nod of the head. I’d told them I was a vegetarian and they offered me fish and chips. They told Nathan I’d been given pain killers when he came to collect me. I hadn’t. They argued with each other and discussed other patients’ issues way too loudly.

I think the manager person I was speaking to today was more than a little aware that some of my complaints were fairly serious ones, and she told me at the end of our chat that a formal investigation had been launched. What upsets me most is that the majority of the people in the ward with me wouldn’t have been capable of complaining. Many were obviously very ill, or fairly infirm. How often do people end up in this situation and just suffer in silence, because they don’t want to – or don’t know how to - make a fuss? It makes me worry about the future, really. For myself. For when I’m old and when I don’t feel I have the right to complain any more.

I spent the day arranging music in the cafe, as the rain thundered down on the skylight above me. I rushed home during a break in the weather, and set up shop on the kitchen table, whilst the mother of all storms swirled around me. At one stage, a clap of thunder actually shook the house.

At some point, I received a call from the organisers of Yorkshire Day, which this year is being held somewhere like Wakefield. There’s been a call from the mayor for A Symphony for Yorkshire to be performed, which I suspect merely means the tune from the last movement. Now I know how Holst must have felt when his Planet Suite was reduced to the theme from Jupiter (which is, incidentally a hymn tune called Thaxted.) Still, I’m thrilled the melody seems to be entrenching itself in the Yorkshire consciousness. They asked me how much it would cost them to perform it, and I told them, as I tell everyone, that the music doesn’t cost; it’s simply my gift to Doreen and the people of Yorkshire.

350 years ago, Pepys spent the day practising singing, which he described as his new “great trade.” He dined with Lady Sandwich and then went to Moorfields to see a wrestling match between “the north and west countrymen,” (whoever they were.) One assumes the fight was part of the newly established Bartholomew Fair. Wrestling was no doubt banned in the interregnum, so this was something of a novelty. Pepys returned home and set up his bed in a newly decorated room that he called the nursery. Poor Pepys. He longed for children and never got them and was now sleeping in the room that they’d obviously set up for kids. That just about says it all!

Monday, 27 June 2011


I may well end up regretting my decision to run all the way to Hampstead Garden Suburb and back again on the hottest day of the year. I am now melting on my sofa, wondering if I need to be hospitalised. It is truly bonkers out there. Earlier today I walked from the dole office in Holloway (where I signed off, hurrah) to Highgate Village. It’s a steep enough hill, alright, but I sweated like a morbidly obese cow. I actually had to break my journey to buy a can of coke in Tesco, and ended up feeling utterly ashamed as the woman served me. I swear she decided there was something very wrong with me as I dripped so much sweat onto the bank note I was handing over, that she may well have thought I was about to pull out a gun and rob the joint. She’d been milling about in air-con heaven, and plainly had no concept of how hot is was outside.

I worked in Costa on the third movement of the Symphony for our O2 Award ceremony next month. The final roll call of performers is 4 singers, Circus Envy, a pianist, 4 acoustic string players, a tenor sax, a soprano sax and Ed Aleyn-Johnson on the electric fiddle. It’s a great line-up and I’m very excited.

The cafe was lovely and cool today, but filled to the rafters with lethargic, shiny people, who were trying to escape the weather. Everyone who came in had the same conversation; “it’s boiling, it’s clouding over, it’s going to rain, they say we’re in for a massive storm.” I assume “they” are the weather men, rather than the Highgate village sages. It took me back to my first year at University when the old woman who cleaned our corridor, Nancy, would often tell me “they say snow’ll be rolling off the moors tonight.” I always wondered who’d supplied Nancy with this information. It was never on the local news. I think back then, a network of wise women lived across the country. They communicated in highly mysterious ways. They knew everything, had no opinions, merely answers, and stopped society from sliding into disarray in the days before the Internet. Some were faceless and merely possessed the ability to point, others could divide and find themselves in two places at the same time to supply a particularly important piece of information. They worked as cleaners, and in lauderettes, and spent hours sitting in cafes and public libraries.

Thursday 27th June, 1661, and Pepys went with his father to Mr Starling’s bar near the Temple for their morning draught. They talked about Uncle Robert in Huntingdon, and how Pepys wanted to buy some land in the village. Pepys Senior finished his drink, and immediately left London to be with the aforementioned Uncle, who was gravely ill and needed assistance. In the afternoon, Pepys went with a bevy of ladies to the theatre to see Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair, which was, apparently, well acted.

When he returned home, he found that Mr Holden the Haberdasher had sent him a “beaver” which would set him back a grand 4l 5s. A beaver in this instance was a hat, made of beaver skin, which was considered a luxury back then.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Blood and poppies

Last night's concert was wonderful. It happened in a village outside Sheffield called High Bradfield, which featured prominently in A Symphony for Yorkshire. The organisers made a proper fuss of us when we arrived and asked me to talk to the audience about the piece before the choir performed it. It was a little terrifying to stand on a platform and improvise a speech in front of 300 people, but my mother said she was proud! I said how much I'd enjoyed the concert, how beautiful the village is, and how I think it has one of the finest views in England, before talking a little about Doreen, who wrote the lyrics for the last movement of the symphony and is about to celebrate her 100th birthday.

The Dore Male Voice choir did me proud, and took the work at exactly the right tempo; I'd written them a unique version of the song which was designed to be much slower than the original, and it worked really well, I think.

As we emerged from the church for the interval, the sun had dropped really low in the sky, and was glinting through the trees in the churchyard, making them appear to glow magically against the brooding storm clouds which were rolling into night time. I never cease to be moved by the remarkable moment when the day closes its eyes. I could stand on a thousand hill tops and beaches and never get bored of that moment.

After the concert, the sky looked even more remarkable. It was the sort of fantastical backdrop a child might paint behind an image of the nativity; midnight blue melting into a lighter blue, bleeding to a yellowy-white at the spot where the sun had dropped behind the horizon. The first stars were twinkling in the heavens, mirroring the shimmering lights of Sheffield in the distance. In front of that backdrop were the black rolling hills; the Dales colliding with the Peak District. Utterly glorious. I adore Yorkshire. It inspires me like nowhere else.

I got very little sleep. The muse descended and I wrote in my hotel room until 3am.

Driving back down the A1, somewhere just outside Grantham, we saw a field on the horizon which was bright red with poppies. I imagined a group of lunatic women, yelling lines from Macbeth, whilst wiping their blood-spattered fingers across the corn. I'm not sure why such a thought should have occurred to me on the outskirts of Grantham. Perhaps it was because we'd decided to stop off at Fortheringhay on our way home, which was, of course, the village where Mary, Queen of Scots met her gruesome end. It might also be because I've developed a rather strange hatred of Grantham of late. Margaret Thatcher and all that...

The reincarnation of Mary, Queen of Scots in Fortheringhay

I returned to a baking hot London, which is currently basking in the mother of all heat waves. Stepping off the Cambridge train was like entering an airing cupboard. I could barely breath!

The Tyndarids celebrated their first birthday  at a party this afternoon in Hackney. They met two of their brothers, their sister and their aunt. Tom had done lots of party food, and given the rats an entire table filled with lots of lovely treats, including a bowl of tiny sandwiches and a hedgehog covered in little pieces of cheese. We had to be very careful putting the boy rats with the girl rats, for fear of an incest incident, and our boys disgraced themselves, by immediately fighting with their brother, Charlie Sheen. I very much fell in love with another brother, Emilio Estefez Rabbit, who sat on my lap whilst we both had a lovely snooze.

"Monkey", the mother of all rats explores a table of goodies


350 years ago, Pepys had lunch with Lady Jemima, before being summoned by his father who had important news. Pepys' Uncle Robert was gravely ill, with a "dizziness in the head," and Pepys Senior had been called to Huntingdon to deal with things. One assumes the news was more exciting than upsetting, for Samuel. He was, after all, the main beneficiary of his uncle's estate!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Wuthering Heights

We're at the Old Horns pub in High Bradfield. We've come to watch the Dore Male Voice choir singing "Sing a Song of Yorkshire" from the Symphony for Yorkshire. I'm very much looking forward to hearing them.

We've been dodging the showers in the Dales all day, having started our journey in Leeds, where I was finally able to retrieve the shoe I left in the hotel after the RTS Awards. The shoes were very pleased to see one another again, and are looking particularly shiny and happy to be back on my feet.

We went to Haworth in the morning. My parents had never been before, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It is a beautiful place, which has some of the best views I've ever seen.

My mother showing off her 4711 purchase...

There is something highly mystical about the moors above Haworth - better known as the Wuthering Heights - particularly when the mists are swirling, as they were today. In fact, I've seldom seen such bizarre weather, because even when it was raining, and the visibility was down to just a few metres, there was a sense that the sun was still shining somewhere and bathing everything in a watery, almost impressionist light, which felt rather magical.

We then went to Hebdon Bridge; a little town in the Dales, which has become something of a Mecca for our Sapphic Sisters. I read one account on the Internet, widely discredited, which actually suggested that lesbians out number straight women by 6 to 1 in the town. Apparently, the tendency is for gay women to go there to raise children, which I find fascinating.

My mother loved the shops in the town, which are all a touch bohemian. She found herself a gorgeous bottle green, patchworky sort of skirt, and a purple top.

It's a Pepys double bill! June 24th 1661, was observed as a holiday for Midsummer. Pepys' father called in to see his son's his newly clean and painted house.

Elizabeth was still not well, in fact her stomach was so "dangerously" sore that she'd started to panic and the doctor was called.

For lunch, Pepys went to an "ordinary", which usually meant cheap grub, but this one was scandalously expensive, so much that there was a row with the manager.

The following day, Pepys started a course of singing lessons with one Mr Goodgroome. They started with an Italian song. And if you're wondering how much a 17th Century singing teacher got paid... 20 shillings a month is your answer!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Bin tennis

I'm with the parents in Yorkshire, in a pub somewhere near Barnsley. The lady in our Premier Inn recommended a place called Penistone (fnah fnah) but it turned out to be an ultra-dump, filled to the rafters with aggressive-looking young lads wearing man-made fabrics, so we made a swift exit, and found ourselves in a much nicer-looking village.

We slowly made our way up the A1 this morning, stopping at Stamford -where my mother purchased a necklace and I brought an assortment of dry cakes - and an out-of-town mall somewhere near Newark, where I bought nothing.

My mother has injured her knee and is hobbling around on crutches like a proper invalid. She is, as ever, looking on the bright side. Apparently, all manner of nice people have been stopping to chat to her. The people in Stamford seemed particularly friendly. I had a competition with a charming 70-year-old lady, to see who would be the first to throw a screwed up piece of paper into a dustbin!

After Les Mis last night, Philip, Ryan and I went out onto the streets of Soho. We had an absolute ball meeting all manner of people. Trannies, rent boys, homeless magicians, photographers, singing tailors and door men who used to be actors. All life is there. Rather hideously Philip got attacked again - fortunately this time by a tiny little drag queen with flowers in his hair, who was 80 years old and mad as a hatter. He ran up to Philip and smacked his face. Not very hard and more weird than frightening, but still...

Philip in the rubbish

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Gay Mis

It's been an incredibly busy day. I was in the cafe by about 9.30 this morning and have been writing, writing, writing. An amusing incident was triggered by my going for a quick wee. By the time I'd returned, the lady opposite had taken it upon herself to hand the jacket I'd left on the back of my chair to the cafe staff to put in their lost property bin! A tad previous!

I had a meeting after lunch in High Barnet. What a funny place. I got picked up at the station and was immediately driven into the deepest, darkest countryside to a barn filled with every conceivable percussion instrument. If I had any form of hand-eye coordination, it would have been the most exciting experience in the world. We had lunch in a pub whilst discussing ideas for corporate music projects. 

In the meantime, I had to deal with a string of unpleasant email messages regarding a paragraph in yesterday's blog, which I've subsequently removed. This is only the second time I've been asked to remove a passage from the blog. It's rather thrilling to know it's being so widely read! 

I'm off to watch Matt in Les Miserables. He's playing Thernadier, is living the dream, and I can't wait to see how he gets on. I'm also excited to see Alf playing Jean Valjean. He has one of my favourite voices in the world AND he makes the best roast dinners! I'm told, but am not at all surprised, that the show is now completely sold out for the next three months. 

After the show, I have a date with Philip Sallon, who is going to take me on a tour of underground Soho. We're hoping to make a musical film about the district, which I think could be about as exciting as it gets! 

350 years ago, Pepys was gassing his way about town. It was a Sunday. There was church. There was church again. Elizabeth was ill. There were walks in Lincoln's Inn fields to ogle the ladies. The day ended in the village of Islington of all places, with more drinks. 

Les Mis was astonishing. The cast truly breathed new life into the show. Matt was astonishingly funny, but biggest hats off to Alfie. I actually held my breath when he sang "Bring Him Home." A standing ovation mid show!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Surgically attached

I’m still writing minimalism and I’m still not convinced that the journey is going to take me anywhere other than a giant echoey cul-de-sac! I’ve been at it now for 9 hours without stopping, so it’s hardly surprising I can’t see the wood for the trees. My ears are bleeding in the key of D minor, and yet I’m almost unable to stop myself from this never ending loop... Help me....

I went to the baker’s in Highgate this morning and asked for a small cottage loaf. Actually, I asked for “the little one at the end” because I don’t actually know what a cottage loaf is! The merry Polish lady behind the counter informed me that it was the first time she’d ever seen me without my mobile phone surgically attached to my ear. (She didn't say the surgically attached bit, but I knew what she meant.) I’m horrified to think that I might be the sort of person who spends a lifetime on the telephone. I’m also horrified to think that I would be rude enough to always be on the phone when asking for bread. I apologised profusely, and in response, she kept saying “busy busy” and laughing, until it got so annoying that I vowed to be on the phone every time I saw her in the future!

Ben Cohen, the rugby player, was on the television this morning talking about his charity Stand Up, which helps people who are being homophobically bullied. He’s a very good man and a great role model; a straight man with a genuine desire to see a change in the world. We need more people like him to step up to the mic.

I’ve been asked by the BBC to rewrite the third movement of A Symphony for Yorkshire. We’re going for a very different, unplugged kind of sound. It’s being performed at the O2 Media Awards in the middle of July, somewhere in York. It’s been somewhat shambolic. The award organisers had been merrily approaching various ensembles involved in the project, asking them to play, without realising that no one ensemble played enough music to be able to magically rustle up something that would sound like a complete work in isolation. To my knowledge they’re still not aware that the composer’s a) blessing and b) MUSIC would be necessary if anything worthwhile is to be performed. I think these people genuinely think I simply asked brass bands to stand in fields and improvise. When I was finally approached (via the BBC) it was too late for any of the groups they’d approached to get involved. Quite why none of these groups thought to contact me, I’m not sure. I can, after all, be contacted in a variety of ways including email, Facebook, snail mail, smoke signals and telepathy.

Anyway, because the wonderful Circus Envy were free and willing (praise be), we’ve decided to perform the third movement instead of the fourth movement - and this makes me very happy. I'm also thrilled that Ed Alleyne Johnson has also agreed to perform, alongside a number of string players for the original symphony and the lovely John, who played the church bells originally, but will be playing piano this time.

Saturday June 22nd 1661, and Pepys had lunch with Lord Crew, who made a real fuss of him, which understandably went down well! Our hero went to the theatre in the afternoon to see Jonson’s The Alchemist, which was a most “incomparable” play. I assume this is high praise - unless it was incomparably bad. After the theatre, Pepys met up with a number of friends from the days when he was a lowly clerk. They drank themselves stupid in Lincoln’s Inn Fields on Rhenish wine. One suspects the “old pain” will come a-visiting in the morning...

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Hairy cornflakes

I’ve just returned from a run. I jogged to Muswell Hill and Finchley, and then, via the Bishop’s Avenue around the side of Hampstead Heath and back home.The Bishop’s Avenue is where people with lots of money, but no taste live. It’s full of the most ostentatious, ugly houses, many of which look like mausoleums. I love running past them, imagining the oligarchs who live there, and their grotesque, scrawny trophy wives.

This is a typical example

I woke up this morning to the news that the inspirational Burmese pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi ,was “given a lifeline” by Dave Lee Travis’ request show on the BBC World Service during the 15 or so years that she was under house arrest. The Hairy Cornflake apparently made her world “much more complete.” I don’t know why I find this news so touching. Perhaps it’s because it seems almost pathetic; that a woman of such extraordinary value should be saved by something so curiously inane. That said, my brother often talks about the importance of The World Service to ex pats, and I myself remember a very lonely period when I was living in London for the first time. I didn’t have telly, or many friends, and I used to listen to one particular show on the radio before going to bed. I found myself investing wholeheartedly in the programme, enjoying the relationship between its presenter and her producer, who never spoke. I was wildly disappointed on the nights when I tuned in and found an imposter in my favourite DJs place. That’s the power of the radio, I suppose. It fires the imagination and soothes a troubled, lonely brow.

Fortunately, the weather has been good again today, and that familiar lime green glow has descended on the trees outside, telling me that the sun is setting on the longest day. From now on the nights are slowly drawing in, which is a somewhat depressing thought for a man who feels he’s rather treading water at the moment. I’m busying myself with this Requiem, but there will come a point very soon, where I simply have to start earning money again. Part of me wonders what I’d be up to today if the symphony project had come off. It’s the first time in my life I’ve had “what if” thoughts and I don't like them.

I’ve been writing minimalism all day. When I write minimalism, I often wonder if I’m copping out. All that sitting on the same chord for bars on end. Simple, but effective? Or lazy? I guess, when the only lyric for the entire movement is “Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison” one has to wonder whether Jesus himself wouldn’t have opted for minimalism. Thank God for the gravestones!

Friday 21st June 1661, and Pepys went with his father to The Sampson in St Paul’s churchyard for their morning draught. A pub in a churchyard? Surely dear Mr Cromwell would not have approved? Pepys ate some bacon, and then pottered off to find some fabric for the curtains in his parlour, opting for some green say; a form of serge, I'm told.

Not normally one for cute shots of pets, but this is cute, right?

Monday 20th June

I forgot to do my blog yesterday for the first time in my life. I think the rain must have wiped it from my mind. It rained all day.

I wrote in the morning, and then went to Marble Arch for yet another meeting about this homophobia film. It's astonishing how much work I've done on this project purely on spec. 

My great mistake was deciding to walk the length of Oxford Street to meet Nathan out of work. In the process managed to get wetter than I've been in ages. I felt like a chamois leather.

Because I'm a fat banger, I got home and immediately went for a run. It was fairly therapeutic to run in the rain. It felt somewhat filmic with the music blaring in my ears.

I got home, had a bath and then carried on writing. Before I knew it, I was asleep on the sofa, and that was that...

350 years and one day ago, Pepys did nothing but sit at home whilst his workmen finished painting the house!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The most disabled person in the world

It's Sunday and we're on our way to the cinema to see Cameron Diaz playing a teacher. It was that or the X Men, but those high octane films give me vertigo! 

I've been writing music all day, which is a fairly tragic announcement for a day when, no doubt, everyone else was sitting in a park. 

Speaking of which, we're early for the cinema, so have found ourselves on Hampstead Heath. The recent rain has made everything smell extraordinary; a heady blend of cow parsley and damp leaves. It's the smell of my childhood; the smell of creating a camp in a hedgerow, of picking wild flowers after a summer storm. 

So, Nathan has gone back to his old job at the box office in a West End theatre. A lot of tickets get sold over the phone in an upstairs room. Yesterday, one of the girls he works with, picked up the phone to a very odd-sounding man. The voice was strained and sounded a little like a goose honking. "Hello, I'm disabled" the voice said, "can I buy tickets?" The girl assumed it was Nathan, who was downstairs at the time. She burst into peels of hysterical laughter and hung up on the caller.

Minutes later, the phone rang again and the same voice said "hello, I'm disabled, can I buy a ticket please?" Once again, the girl laughed manically and hung up. She ran down the stairs to Nathan and told him off for being so naughty. 

And that was the moment she realised it wasn't a prank call. She'd just laughed at, and hung up on a genuinely disabled caller! 

One of those stories you don't know whether to follow with gales of laughter or cascades of tears!

A typical day for Pepys 350 years ago, which found him overseeing the completion of the painting work in his house (thank the Lord), and buzzing around Westminster in pursuit of Lady Jemina. Only his final paragraph stands out:

One thing I must observe here while I think of it, that I am now become the most negligent man in the world as to matters of news, insomuch that, now-a-days, I neither can tell any, nor ask any of others! 

I know how he feels...

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Pretty witty

I am in Thaxted with my parents. I did an afternoon's work at Costa and then started to feel a bit lonely, so drove through the sheeting rain to get here. It's so bizarre to think that spring and summer have been reversed this year. We had June in April and are having April in June. What's that all about?!

Still, now that the sun has come back out, there's a beautiful rainbow in the sky. Every cloud has a silver lining. 

I've finished mapping out the Libera Me sequence in my Requiem, and it is officially the busiest piece of music I've ever written. It's also going to be very exciting, I hope... If anyone can actually play it, that is! I've used many of the gravestone quotes within the movement. They feel moving and appropriate. Personal, not generic. Humorous, sometimes tinged with anger and bitterness. Occasionally deluded or pathetic. This is how the little people down here try to deal with the dreadful pain of death. I'm  developing healthy level of contempt for the Latin words! The movement now finishes with a big statement of the Peter Pan quote I found in Brompton Cemetery, "to die will be an awfully big adventure." Ain't that the truth?  Eyes down for the ride of our lives. I certainly feel immensely inspired right now; ideas are tingling through my body and everything is slotting into space.

As the evening falls, the sky is starting to resemble a Turner painting. It looks heavy and bruised and incredibly beautiful. 

350 years ago, Pepys was in a proper pickle because his painters were taking too long to finish doing their job. At 4pm, he left them to it, and went with Elizabeth to see their friend Lieutenant Lamberth and his charming wife at their country house. They very much admired their "turret garden", one assumes a mini garden set up in the fortifications of the house. Pepys also felt that Lamberth's wife's needlework was the finest he'd ever seen. Pepys' catchphrase. She also played the Harpsicon very well. No doubt Pepys fell in love! 

As they tried to leave, one of the servant girls, who Pepys described as a "little, pretty witty" girl (a phrase he'd later use to describe Nell Gwynn), flung herself at Pepys feet and cried bitter tears to see him go. Poor thing. 

Friday, 17 June 2011

PC Third World

I went back to PC Third World this afternoon. There’s no such thing as a smooth transaction with those people. There’s always a catch, or a cock up which causes untold frustration. The computer they loaned me yesterday is faulty to the point of being unusable. The battery is broken, so the machine only works when it’s plugged into a wall. So it was back out into the miserable blue rain to Moorgate after lunch, where I’ve been presented with an alternative lap top, which is so enormous it won’t fit in my bag! It’s a monument to the 1980s. I feel quite ashamed to be seen with it in public and shan’t be whipping it out on the tube at time soon. In any case, it weighs about ten stone. I’m not even sure it’s portable.

It must be hideous to work at PC World in those grotesque little lilac branded shirts. Everyone looks so miserable. Plainly, the staff is only too aware that across town, the geeks at the Mac store are having a proper party, which they’ve not been invited to. They’re over-worked, underpaid and frighteningly odour-some in the late afternoons. A big scene kicked off whilst I was there, ‘cus all the staff in the backroom refused to come out to help the one member of staff on duty. It was apparently everyone else’s lunch hour. It wasn’t the sort of scene a customer should have been witnessing, but they plainly don’t give a stuff, or maybe I’d simply sat there so long downloading my music programme onto the new laptop, that they ceased to notice me. I’d just become part of the fixtures and fittings.

I managed a morning’s work at the cafe before all the problems kicked off. The place was buzzing. It’s Fair in the Square tomorrow, which means the good folk of Highgate will leave their 4 by 4s at home and race up to the village for an assortment of 1950s-inspired activities. No doubt there’ll be a fire engine for the kids to sit in, and 20 cake stalls being run by a revolving committee of 96 yummy mummies with way too much time on their hands. Unfortunately the weather is set for inclemency, which could mean the fancy dress competition turns into a cry-fest, because the little boy who’s been dressed from head to toe in newspaper has turned into papier-mache and the girl with the Wicked-style face has dripped green paint down her favourite bridesmaid dress.

It’s also exam season, and Channing School and Highgate School have sent their finest into the cafe to revise for various exams. A never-ending tide of posh young fillies occupied one of the sofas. Every time I looked up, a different cast of characters was cramming. “What is the national grid?” “Why is it potentially dangerous to live near an electricity pylon?” Whinnnnnyyyyy... Many were in fancy dress – probably not in readiness for the fete tomorrow, but because I suspect it might be the last day of exams today. I remember that feeling. It’s time for them to let their hair down and feel like grown-ups for the first time in their lives.

I came home from PC World and worked flat out from 4 o’clock until 9 and now my eyes have gone all watery and weird.

350 years ago, and Pepys was visited by his old friend, Charles Carter, who’d studied at Magdalene College with him. I’m informed that Carter, like me, was a Northamptonshire man, and became the rector of Irthlingborough – or Artlebrugh in 1664. 330 years later, I was regularly in that very village, revising for my dreaded A-level geography exam. Carter accompanied Pepys to Westminster, and then the latter went off for dinner with Lady Jemima at The Wardrobe. He then went home to oversee his painters, who were currently working on the stairs. In the evening, the Navy office personnel went to Sir William Pen’s house, and there stayed drinking ‘til almost midnight.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Blooms Day

And a happy Blooms Day to you all. To honour the Irish, the weather was rancid this morning. Sheets of water were screaming their way down the Archway Road, and everyone was running around looking miserable, and somewhat surprised.

I was forced to walk from Goodge Street to Great Portland Street armed with nothing but a tiny ladies’ umbrella. My feet still feel wet. I don’t know what it is about the rain that turns car drivers into dick heads. One of them, stuck in a tiny traffic jam, decided to repeatedly blast his horn, just as I was passing, which was desperately irritating. So much, in fact, that my instinct was to shout at him to stop. I didn’t shout too loudly, thankfully, but am worried that this is the sort of thing that could ruin my voice...

My meeting was with BBC London’s Inside Out team at Brock House. It looks like the film about homophobia may well happen, but will focus on the East End; the anti-gay sticker campaign, the stabbing of Oliver Hemsley and the marauding gangs of young Muslim men who aren’t exactly renowned for their tolerant behaviour. I don’t much like the idea of being accused of xenophobia, but someone’s got to say it. I recently read an article about the French government refusing to give citizenship to an Algerian with unacceptable views about women – and yet over here, we reward the man who plasters the East End with offensive homophobic leaflets quoting the Koran, with a £100 fine.

I was awoken by a telephone call this morning from the Queen’s Hotel in Leeds with the great news that my favourite patent leather shoe has turned up! Joy! I sense a turn around in fortunes on the cards.

The sad news is that my computer finally gave up the ghost today. It’s now sitting in PC (Third) World in Moorgate and I’m working on a machine that they loaned me whilst it's being repared (or thrown away.) It wiped out my day. I think I managed to do about an hour’s composing and I certainly can’t start again now or else I’ll never stop.

Nathan and I wanted to watch something at the cinema tonight, but discovered that there is absolutely nothing on – apart from aggressive boy films like X Men. What I didn’t write about in this blog was the fact that we went to see Derren Brown’s stage show on Monday. He is an absolute genius. I’m not usually one of those people who obsesses about how things are done, but some of the tricks were absolutely astonishing. We went backstage afterwards to congratulate him and sat in his dressing room with Abi Titmuss of all people; a perfectly plain young lady, by all accounts.

There’s a man at our gym who looks almost identical to Gary Linnekar. Today, as we were in the changing room next to him, Nathan casually said “Ben, do we still have those crisps at home?” For foreign readers, Gary Linnekar is an ex footballer who advertises Walker’s crisps. Nathan’s comment was as loud as it was mortifying. I told him off as we left the gym, and he tried to justify his rudeness by saying; “well he isn’t going to know what I meant.” “The man is the spitting image of Gary Linnekar” I said, “he’ll have heard every joke going about packets of crisps.” And in an instant, Nathan had become one of those blokes that goes up to Matt Lucas in the street and says; “I want that one!” assuming no one’s ever said it to him before.

June 16th 1661 and Pepys was in a proper pickle. He had bundles of expensive fabric which needed to be delivered to Lord Sandwich on his boat, but the Duke of York, who it was previously assumed would act as the carrier, had already left London in pursuit of the fleet. Pepys’ clerk, Will Hewer, was sent out and about to find a solution whilst Pepys remained at home worrying. Should he send them by land to Deal, or charter a boat? He read a play by Thomas Middleton as he mulled over his options, at last deciding to charter a Hoy (or heavy freight barge) which would hopefully be speedy enough to reach the fleet in time.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Finding my voice

Today I started talking again. I haven’t said a great deal, but it’s felt very liberating – and a tiny bit scary. I think I sound the same, but I’m worried if I talk too loudly, I might do myself some permanent damage. I’m apparently allowed to talk for five minutes in every hour, but quite how to judge that, I’m not sure. I’ve decided only to speak when I absolutely have to, and when the room is quiet so I don’t have to push my voice. That said, I’m also very conscious of not wanting to be one of those people who talks too quietly. You know the sort. They often pipe up from the audience at conferences, and seem resolutely incapable of raising their voice loud enough for anyone to be able to hear the question they’re asking. I think it’s a form of arrogance. Everyone has an almost infinite capacity to project!

I worked at Costa this morning, went for a run after lunch, and then started writing again at the kitchen table with fragrant rainy air drifting through the open window. It’s almost 11pm, and I’ve only stopped to eat a shed load of crackers and a dippy egg. I’m presently writing the Libera Me section of the Requiem, which is one of the hell, fire and damnation sequences. The lyrics are very exciting - Biblical bullshit - but the gravestone quotes somehow lend them a truth; a reality. I’ve opted to use the passage I found on a grave in the Hoop Lane cemetery about Auschwitz. There’s obviously no such thing as hell, but there is hell on earth, and I can think of nothing that illustrates this better than that particular grave.

The music I’ve written is slightly over the top at the moment. That’s nothing new for me. Nathan uses a bastardised version of the John Lewis slogan to describe my work as “never knowingly underscored.” This is definitely the case today. I’ve never written anything so dense or so fast, and actually need to have a detailed look when everything’s down to see if what I’ve written for the strings is actually possible! At the moment, I’m simply splurging, but it’s taking forever, because there are so many blinkin’ notes. I think I have about a minutes’ worth of music to show for 12 hours’ work! 95% perspiration...

June 15th 1661, and Pepys went for dinner with Lady Jemima, who was watching the purse strings in the absence of her husband, which one assumes means they hardly ate like Kings! Pepys met up with his father who’d been commissioned to select a great deal of fabric for Sandwich to take on his journey to Portugal. Yes, they’d already left, but if Pepys’ previous trip to sea was anything to go by, they’d spend days milling about the coast of England, so it was possible, one assumes, to “send things on.” Pepys and his father selected an astonishing 300l worth of fabric in scarlet, purple and black, which one assumes were the most regal and expensive colours. I love the word scarlet. So vivid. The plan was to send the fabric with the Duke of York, who was heading to the fleet the following day and it was finally delivered to Pepys at about midnight.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Yorkshire adventure

Going up to Yorkshire is always an adventure, and arriving in Leeds last night felt like coming home. The county has been very good to me over the years; from early childhood holidays, through university into the magical experience of making A Symphony for Yorkshire. I particularly love Leeds. I like the fact that it’s a bit rough around the edges. It feels like a proper city full of proper people. It feels confident and at ease with itself.

Last night’s awards were bizarre. Not being able to talk in a big social networking maze is both frustrating and eye-opening. These kinds of events can be very unforgiving, and big crowds often make me feel gauche and clumsy, wanting to shrink into the wallpaper. Winning three awards, however, means lots of people come up and say hello, so it becomes impossible to hide. Besides, I was the bloke wondering around with a white board and pen, which latterly became the notepad on my iPhone when the pen ran out.

Despite being flushed with success, it’s amazing how many people very quickly got bored of trying to communicate with me. At one point a girl actually turned her back on me as I was writing something to her, and completely blocked me out of a group of people who were standing in a circle talking. I am pleased to say that she didn’t win the award she was up for.

The experience of being mute reminds me quite how difficult it must be for disabled people who want to integrate themselves into society. It also seems to attract a certain type of woman with the sort of low self esteem, which manifests itself as domineering behaviour. I was well and truly cornered by one such creature, who went on and on about how wonderful it was to talk to a man who didn’t talk back. “I bet your wife’s grateful.” I just nodded. I really didn’t want to get into her views on gay men. She was bound to have views on that subject. She had views on everything else. I couldn’t wait to get away. When I explained that I’d had polyps on my vocal chords and was waiting for the biopsy results, she felt obliged to tell me that her step son had had the same thing and it had turned out to be throat cancer. I told her the surgeons had told me all the way along that they didn’t think it was cancer, but she said they’d said the same to her when she had breast cancer. I’m just not quite sure what makes people say these things. I’m waiting for results. It’s not like I’m burying my head in the sand and hoping things will go away.

Still, it was wonderful to win three awards. It actually became quite embarrassing to repeatedly go up on the stage. It felt like our night, alright. We won more awards than any other single piece, including This Is England 86 (which won nothing) and South Riding. I felt incredibly proud and was particularly thrilled to win the music award. We were up against the theme tune to Dick and Dom and some war documentary, which I was convinced had won when they started to read out what the judges thought about each of the entrants. The judges said that A Symphony for Yorkshire, in short, “did exactly what it said it was going to do on the tin.” So there.

Winning the music award

I sat outside the Weatherspoons at Leeds Station this morning and did about an hour’s writing. A woman came along and asked if she could share the table with me. She then proceeded to smoke her way through about 4 cigarettes. Personally, I think it’s rude to plonk yourself next to someone and do nothing but blow smoke into their face. Perhaps she should have asked if I minded. I would, of course, have told her to go ahead, and then wouldn’t have been able to whinge about it.

I’m now speeding back to London through the Yorkshire countryside, past fields filled with blood red poppies, which look just wonderful in the sunshine. Back to London. Back to the grindstone. I suppose I feel slightly deflated, not least because I’ve lost a shoe – and not just any shoe. I brought an expensive pair of patent leather shoes at Christmas which I’ve absolutely loved. One of them seems to have dropped out of my suit bag and is probably already being used as a plant pot on a canal boat somewhere.
It is times like this that the precariousness of my financial situation becomes apparent. Obviously I can’t afford to shell out £100 for another pair of shoes – especially now that my computer seems to have gone on the blink – conveniently just as my two year warranty runs out. Signing on is all very well, but when something goes wrong, it’s almost impossible to dig yourself out of the hole. Which brings me to another question: How can a triple RTS Award winning filmmaker be unemployed? Am I just really bad at selling myself? Or do I need to acknowledge that these beautiful, award-winning community pieces are just not financially viable?

Head like an aubergine

Throughout this period, I’ve been listening to a song called Lights by Ellie Goulding. It’s a deeply hypnotic piece, which seems to be about the pain and turmoil of the present against the safety and comfort of the past. It feels oddly appropriate in my little cocoon. Life can be quite a scary place, I think.

350 years ago, and Pepys had a cold, which he felt was the result of his mucking about with tights off the previous day. He went to the Wardrobe and found Sandwich’s father, Edward Montagu staying there in his son’s absence. There were things Pepys needed to send on to the Lord; a spyglass and a triangular virginal; the sorts of things we’d all forget to pack if we were going to sea...

He went home feeling ill and sorry for himself and by keeping himself warm, managed to break wind, which eased the pain somewhat. Not quite sure how farting could cure a cold. Perhaps the word “cold” was a generic term for any kind of inexplicable illness in those days.
The RTS award which now sits on my mantlepiece

Monday, 13 June 2011

RTS success

Slightly pissed. In Yorkshire. Just won three RTS awards for A Symphony for Yorkshire including best music. The other two were for best team and best multi-platform. We're still waiting for best entertainment award, but the fact that we're up against South Riding and This is England 86 means, I think, that we can all go home now, happy with our hatric, and the fact that we were singularly the most nominated piece! It will never cease to amaze me that I was signing on this morning! 

350 years ago, Pepys went out for the day wearing a White coat made from one of his wife's old petticoats. I don't know why I find that so amusing. Perhaps because I'm drunk! Lord Sandwich left London on this date to sail to Portugal to collect the King's wife-to-be.

Pepys accompanied his master as far as Erith. En route there was much merriment; singing below deck etc. At one point Pepys took his stockings off and bathed his legs in the water. On the way back he ate cherries in Woolwich.

Sunday, 12 June 2011


We're heading to my brother's house for an evening of television and wraps, but I fear it's going to be rather a long time before we get there. We are currently stranded south of the river, somewhere in the vicinity of Tower Bridge. Rotherhithe Tunnel and Blackwall Tunnel are both closed, the traffic is at a standstill, Nathan is desperate for a wee and it's raining cats and dogs. I'm feeling exceedingly ratty. The radio is annoying me. Every time I turn it on there's another auto-tuned harpie screeching through her nostrils. Even my iPod is annoying me. It took us an hour to drive down to a friend's birthday in Wandsworth, and we've now been sitting in traffic for a further hour and a half. This may well be the last time I ever go south of the river. It's just not worth it when the infrastructure breaks down like this!

The lack of talking continues to drive me to the point of distraction. Part of me feels that it's better when I'm on my own. At least then I'm not expected to talk, and don't have to put up with people either signing back at me, or talking very slowly and clearly like I'm deaf as well as mute! 

350 years ago, Pepys went to Lambeth to drink his morning draft with Captain Ferrers, at the Three Mariners, "a place noted for their ale." Perhaps unsurprisingly, because the lunatic Ferrers was present, they had a great deal of fun. On the way home they bummed a lift across the river with Captain Bun who had a boat. What a cool name! Captain Bun the boatsman. I swear that the card game Happy Families was based on Pepys' Diary.


Saturday, 11 June 2011

Dans de la noire

Today’s the first day I’ve felt a bit down since the operation. The lack of speaking is now beginning to drive me slightly mad. I got very angry with Nathan earlier. It’s horribly frustrating to have to write everything down on a white board, and I’m irritating myself by needing to click or clap simply to get someone’s attention.

Yesterday, I felt quite Zen, I suppose. Being mute had become somewhat comforting. I once went to “Dans de la Noire”, a restaurant near Farringdon which operates in absolute darkness. The waiters there are all blind, and it’s a mind altering experience. One ends up eating with one’s fingers, because it’s almost impossible to know, without being able to see, how much food has become attached to your fork! It’s initially terrifying, but quickly becomes rather relaxing as the other senses begin to work over time. I was sitting next to someone I’d never met before, and it was a curious sensation to try and work out if I liked her without being able to see her. By the end of the evening, I found myself reluctant to leave the little safe cocoon I’d established in all that darkness. Going out into the big wide world became a terrifying experience.

I thought the same thing might happen when I stopped being able to speak; that I’d somehow lull myself into a sort of safe mute space that I wouldn’t want step out of. Judging by the overwhelming frustration I felt today, however, I’d say this is not going to be the case.

The gig last night was great fun. We were right at the front of the queue, and were almost the first into the enclosure, so set up a little picnic area close to the stage. Sadly, it immediately started raining like I’ve never known it rain before. I didn’t have a waterproof, and umbrellas, randomly, were banned, so we sat underneath my poncho, like a pair of tragic hobos, and very slowly turned into mulch. 4

The warm up act was Sophie Ellis Bexter. She’d been handed the mother of all poisoned chalices. Everyone was soaked through. No one was in the mood. All her songs sound exactly the same – nursery rhymes to a disco beat. It was ever likely that they would soon begin to become indecipherable from the soggy cardboard and watery baguettes that our picnics had become. That said, she’s a deeply attractive young lady, and with a combination of charming observations, a well-timed sunset and a complete lack of ego “I’m here to warm you up for Erasure, and that’s what I’m going to try to do...” she managed to achieve the impossible. By the time she left the stage, we were all buzzing like little bees.

Watching Erasure was a treat. The rain had cleared and they performed all of their hits. I’d forgotten quite how much amazing pop music they’d brought to the table in the 80s and 90s. It was almost impossible not to sing... so I danced instead, like a deep lunatic.

Tuesday 11th June, 1661, and Pepys and Sir George Carteret, drafted a letter to send to the Duke of York which said what a state their office was in through lack of money. This was a regular theme in Pepys’ Diary. The navy was completely underfunded, and it was only going to get worse.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Curiously hettie

I'm currently standing in a queue somewhere in Thetford Forest. I'm with Helen, and we're waiting to see Erasure. It's a curiously heterosexual crowd. There are a lot of people here from Essex and Tyneside. Some of them are dressed inappropriately for a forest!

We have a little picnic with us. Helen is particularly excited about the selection pack of mini cheeses that we found in Sainsbury's. There's Boursin, Babybel, Red Leicester... All sorts. The most exciting part for Helen are the mini smoked cheese sausages.

We're hoping that it doesn't rain. I came up here via Thaxted, where it absolutely bucketed it down, much to the great joy of my parents, who haven't seen rain in months. 

Still saying nothing. I have been encouraging Helen to simply talk into a seemingly empty void. Now she knows how her clients feel. I should have got her to put her feet on my car's dashboard and tell me how she was feeling. Helen says from her perspective, the joy is that I can't answer back! 

350 years ago, Pepys was called to The Wardrobe by Lord Sandwich, and informed that the forthcoming trip to sea was actually a voyage to bring the King's future wife, Catherine de Breganza, from Portugal. Sandwich had been awarded the honour of being the British ambassador for the expedition. 

Pepys dined with Lady Sandwich, but just as he'd sat down to eat, a number of people "of condition" turned up, so Pepys and the children of the family were relegated to a different table, one assumes in a different room. Perhaps in an attempt to look on the bright side, Pepys was keen to point out how much fun he'd had! 

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Black gimp

It’s amazing how long a day can seem when you haven't been able to say a word to anyone! It’s a particularly odd experience because my throat doesn't even hurt. I’ve been given high doses of pain killers, but at the very worst I’d describe the pain as that slightly tickly sensation you get the night before coming down with a cold. Mr Rubin obviously did a very good job.

I went up into Highgate Village this morning to do a day of composing. I've written a message on the back of my little white board which says “I cannot speak as I’ve had an operation on my voice.” I'm obviously aware that it’s impossible to have an operation on your voice, but most of the staff in the Costa are Polish, and I thought the phrase “vocal chords” would freak them out. In any case, the message was clearly understood, and I managed to order myself a cup of tea and a glass of tap water without having to so much as gesticulate! It’s astonishing how the white board managed to attract so much attention. People were sauntering over at regular intervals to ask about the operation. I've never been spoken to by so many people in that cafe. A woman even offered me half of her cream tea!

I went to the gym in the afternoon for a swim. I decided it would be a softer form of exercise than running up and down countless hills and panting like a fat man. Having been weighed at the hospital, I feel it’s important to get back to the fitness regime. I was not just two kilos heavier than I was when I last weighed myself, but am 1cm shorter than I was when I was last measured! I'm turning into an aubergine again.

Back to the cafe in the late afternoon, where I worked until 7pm. A woman with dreadful greasy grey hair sat on one of the sofas opposite having a deeply inappropriate phone conversation. It became immediately apparent that she was talking to a debt charity – rather too loudly and a tad aggressively for my liking; almost as though she were blaming the person at the debt charity for her problems. I learnt that she was £40,000 in debt, that she doesn’t live anywhere at the moment, and that she’s been hiring a car for a year that she hasn’t been paying for. She asked the charity what would happen if she left the country, and whether she’d be arrested when she returned. She did sound like she was in a horrible pickle, and as the conversation continued, I felt more and more sorry for her. £40,000 of debt is no laughing matter, but I suppose these are the sorts of conversations I may hear more and more regularly as the credit crunch continues.

Our rat, Pol, seems to have left a coded message on my computer. Can anyone make it out?

, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-------------------------------------------------6ggggggggggggggg~][p;;;;


Sunday 9th March, 1661, and Elizabeth wore her black silk gown for the first day which was “laced all over with black gimp lace, as the fashion is, in which she is very pretty.” Black gimp lace sounds very kinky to me, but I'm sure she looked a picture. Pepys took his wife to The Wardrobe, where they had lunch with Lady Jemima, who treated them both with a great deal of respect. Pepys left Elizabeth at The Wardrobe, and went to Mr Pierce, the surgeon’s house and then to the Swan Tavern before returning once again to the Wardrobe where he sang in a tower with William Howe, a junior clerk in Pepys’ office and a gifted amateur musician.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


So, here I am in a hospital bed at the ENT Hospital on Gray’s Inn Road. I seem to have a drip attached to my arm, which is making typing rather difficult, as one hand feels a great deal heavier than the other. I feel pretty chipper, though even though I’m a touch light-headed and have a slightly sore throat. I’m getting a little annoyed with the nurses asking me direct questions, which I can’t answer because I’ve been told not to speak for a week! I’m also slightly offended that no one has actually asked me how I’m feeling. It’s quite a frightening experience to wake up after general anaesthetic, and these nurses don’t seem to have eaten many compassion beans. Furthermore, they promised me lunch two hours ago and it’s still not arrived, and a big fat nurse has just removed my cup, so I’m now having to drink directly from a jug. Talk about dodgy after care. Is this really what the NHS is all about?

Obviously I don’t remember anything about the operation. It’s weird to think that so much happened in my absence! I’m wearing one of those undignified paper nighties, and even more hysterically, a pair of deep vein thrombosis-bashing knee length stockings. I look pretty as a picture.
I was Mr Rubin’s first operation of the day and within seconds of arriving in the theatre, was being prepped for the op and administered with a dose of anaesthetic. “It will feel cold as it goes up your arm,” said the charming anaesthetist, “and then there’ll be a funny taste in your mouth... And within 5 seconds you’ll be asleep... Sweet dreams, Mister.” As he spoke those final, kindly words, and I felt the darkness approaching, an overwhelming sense of sadness engulfed me, which made me cry. I wonder how often he sees people drifting away with tears in their eyes.

The next thing I remember was an Asian nurse waking me up to tell me it was all over. True to form, I asked him if he was the Angel Gabriel. I sort of knew the answer was no, but asked the question anyhow. He shook his head, not seeming to be particularly surprised by the question. I guess he’s heard it all in his job.

I felt sick for a while, and don’t remember coming back up to the ward. I do remember having an oxygen mask attached to my mouth and great big clouds of smoky air surrounding my face as though I’d just stepped into a refrigerator. I think the operating theatre must have been very cold.

Mr Rubin has already been to see me, and informed me that I had a polyp, and not a cyst, which is good because he didn’t need to cut into my vocal chords. He told me what an amazing job he’d done of splicing it off and that I shouldn't expect to be in much discomfort. He was so proud of his handiwork, in fact, that he took photographs to show me. “As smooth as a baby’s bottom” he said. I can’t wait to hear the results, although I’m told speech therapy is a strong possibility.

There’s a black nurse in green who keeps coming round to test my blood pressure. I think it’s her job. She has a little trolley and she’s going from patient to patient in an never-ending cycle. She, like me, doesn’t speak, not one word, but I suspect, unlike me, she’s taciturn because she hates life. That’s not the vibe you want from a nurse.

350 years ago, Pepys went to the theatre to watch Ben Johnson’s Bartholomew Fair performed for the first time since the interregnum; “a most admirable play” wrote Pepys “well acted, but too much prophane [sic] and abusive” so there. After the theatre, he went with Mr Creed to the tobacco shop under the Temple Bar Gate. They went to the top of the house and sat drinking Lambeth Ale “a good while.” I like the idea that they were able to take in a good view of London from their elevated position as they drank.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The edge of a precipice

I’m a little bit scared. D-Day has finally arrived. I’m going into hospital tomorrow for my operation. I don’t like the idea of a general anaesthetic. I don’t like the thought of losing control. I remember the sensation from having my wisdom teeth removed; a slow backward count into oblivion. Of course my mind is filling rather with catastrophic thoughts. What if they find something more sinister? What if they give me the wrong amount of anaesthetic? What if I wake up and accuse the nurse of being the Angel Gabriel? (This happened the last time I went under.) I don’t much like the idea of waiting at the hospital, either; reading women’s magazines with sweaty palms whilst people call me David. I’m not allowed to eat, or even drink water. Torture.

I worked in Costa Coffee until about 2pm, and then went to Bethnal Green to meet the wonderful woman who runs the Lesbian and Gay Christian Group. She’s incredibly sensible and utterly inspiring and I have no idea why good Christian folk wouldn’t want to adopt the sort of Christianity that she preaches.

I came home via Muswell Hill where I bought some potatoes, some Halloumi cheese and a miniature white board to write on during the week when I’m not allowed to talk. I felt a bit pathetic carrying it home on the bus.

I made tea and put the Halloumi in herbs and bread crumbs and fried it in a pan. It was absolutely delicious.

We went for a walk on Hampstead Heath, and called in on Vera and Bob on the way. I haven’t seen them for ages, and she looked incredibly well. She used to have raven black hair, but has allowed it to go a wonderful silver colour. They’ve had a run of very bad luck of late, though. Someone stole their car and left it smashed to smithereens in Camden Town. There have been various health problems, and they lost a fair amount of money to a con man, who they rumbled, but only after he’d managed to do some damage to their house. We talked about old friends. Billie is now in a home. Sandy has moved to Spain. You turn your back for a year or so, and nothing is the same.

We found ourselves on the heath just as it got dimpsy. Kite Hill, as usual, was buzzing. A young man was teaching his girlfriend to play a tune on the ukulele. I love that place.

Friday 7th June, 1661, and Pepys had dinner with Lady Sandwich, who treated him “very kindly.” He went back to the office, and worked til late, the only interruption being from Sir William Batten, who had returned from his country estate in Chatham with a bad case of toothache.

Monday, 6 June 2011

A useless conductor

We’re in the A and E at The Whittington Hospital. I often find myself sitting here with Nathan. Today’s problem is his ankle. During a rather speedy strip in the wings of Naked Boys Singing, he managed to injure himself somehow. He’s been putting up with the pain, and the swelling for long enough, so I’ve frog-marched him down here. It’s a shame I don’t have my Mum in tow as well. She’s injured her knee rather badly and is insisting on a mere visit to the GP, which will almost certainly turn into a trip to the hospital, because the GP won’t be able to administer antibiotics to solve the problem.

I’ve been up in Highgate Village all day sitting in Costa Coffee writing music. I’d forgotten how good it feels to do a full day’s work up there. There’s an immense sense of achievement which comes from having worked, uninterrupted for at least 7 hours. Sitting at home invariably brings myriad distractions. The television goes on for a bit of company. The dishes get washed in an act of gross procrastination. I make toast. I play with the rats. The only problem with Costa is that it makes my clothes smell – like a working class family; a sort of mix of cheap coffee and chip fat. Add wee and broken biscuits to the blend, and you have the smell of many of my classmates in the 1980s.

I’ve been working on Mr Blue Sky today, and the Agnus Dei from my Requiem. Mr Blue Sky is a deceptively complicated piece of music; which features one of the most ambitious chord sequences in pop. The original track is also slightly sharp, which makes it almost impossible to transcribe – particularly towards the end of the song, when ELO, as usual, go way over the top with choirs, string sections and D flat major diminished chords. When I finally nail it, however, it will be perfect fodder for our choir.

As we drove up the Archway Road, we passed a woman standing by the side of the road who was holding a camera skywards. We strained to see what she was attempting to photograph, but could only make out a few ribbons of red light hovering just above the horizon. A few seconds later, however, we saw the joy. The setting sun was not just enormous, it was the colour of a strawberry! We often talk about a blood red sky, but usually there’s more than a splodge of orange in the mix. This sun was red. Red, red, red. Like a strawberry slush puppy. Like a chilli pepper. Like a 134 bus. Sadly, our elation was short lived. As we pulled into a petrol station, the miraculous sun disappeared forever. Five minutes later, we were moaning about the fact that a full tank of petrol had set us back £75.

We went to the Heath for a quick stroll. The rain earlier in the day had brought out all sorts of heady smells, which made the experience quite extraordinary. At the top of Kite Hill, a couple were sitting on a bench underneath a blanket, staring out across the twinkling lights of London. It's easy to forget quite what a tonic Hampstead Heath can be when you're feeling a little blue. It is a magical and deeply inspiring spot any time of the day, any time of the year.

350 years ago, and Pepys woke up with the mother of all hangovers; the product of an evening sitting under the moon drinking claret with one of the Sir Williams; “my head hath aked all night” wrote Pepys, “and all this morning, with my last night’s debauch.”

Pepys made a journey to Greenwich with Lieutenant Lambert, who told him many things about boats and Navy matters en route, which Pepys found “of good use.” The two men went to the Globe, a pub in the village, where a very early example of an automaton (a "motion") had been attached to an organ. It appears to have been a figure of a woman, we don't know how big, who held a stick in her hand, which appeared to move in time to the music. Pepys described it as “too simple,” but think about this; the earliest references to music being conducted with batons (rather than hands, or banging a staff on the floor) would appear to date from the early 18th Century, so could this wooden lady be the first reference to conducting in history? I like to think so! Judge for yourself:

There we went and eat and drank and heard musique at the Globe, and saw the simple motion that is there of a woman with a rod in her hand keeping time to the musique while it plays, which is simple, methinks.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

And we laughed and laughed and laughed

We had lunch at Cafe Rouge in Highgate today before driving down to the Southbank to celebrate our friend Ian's birthday. It was a lovely, cosmopolitan crowd. I often shy away from meeting new faces, but felt very comfortable chatting today.

What a difference a day makes when it comes to the weather. It's done nothing but tip it down all day, and we've taken a couple of proper soakings. I'm looking out of our sitting room window at hundreds of shimmering halogen needles hurtling down underneath the street lights.

I've now added up all the marks I've received for the various gravestone inscriptions. The most popular by far belongs to a person called Yasi, who died in 2000, and is buried out in Brookwood Cemetery. It simply reads "and we laughed and laughed and laughed..."

350 years ago, Pepys kicked things off by giving his wife Elizabeth 4l to spend on lace. She pottered off to the shops, no doubt with a big smile on her face, whilst he went to see his friend Robert Slingsby to play a game of bowls in an alley somewhere in the City.

Back at home, the very hot weather took Pepys out onto his roof, where he sat for hours playing the flageolet. He was joined by Sir William Penn who was in his shirt sleeves. The two men sang until midnight under the light of the moon. They drank claret and ate Bortarga (a Spanish fish delicacy) with bread and butter. Sounds idyllic.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

I'm not actually mute

I felt quite lonely today. It was boiling hot outside, and I really should have been having a picnic or something, but couldn’t think of anyone to call. Instead, I went for a run, and then strolled up into the village to do some writing in Costa. It didn’t feel like much fun to be working on a glorious Saturday, but it seemed a great deal better than sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. I started working on an arrangement of Mr Blue Sky for the choir I'm going to set up as soon as I've built up a body of music for them to perform. It’s a fabulous song, that I've known since my childhood, and I think it will work brilliantly as an a capella choral piece; a sort of encore.

At the moment I guess I'm just trying to stack up a load of composing work that I can busy myself with in the aftermath of my operation on Wednesday. I won’t be able to talk for a week, which is going to be a fairly bizarre experience. I refuse to sit and watch television, however, so have decided to bury myself in composing. I was aiming to go away and sit by the sea, silently and pale-faced like something from Death In Venice, but I guess it's not very practical to go somewhere strange, armed only with a little note pad and a laminated card that says; "I'm not actually a mute..."

Tuesday 4th June 1660, and Pepys went to look at some houses in the vicinity of the Navy Office. Comptroller, Robert Slingsby, had decided that a bit of house-swapping was in order. Pepys didn’t much like the options he was being presented with, so for the time being the verdict was that everyone would stay put. He spent the rest of the day wandering around London - at fairly high speeds by all accounts. First he was Bankside, then he was at the Temple, then he was drinking with his family at the Bear Tavern, then he was watching Henry 4th at the theatre. The day ended with a walk across the fields to Southwark - I love the idea that you could walk across fields to Southwark – and a quick strum on his lute before bed.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Opening a terrifying book

It’s boiling outside. I went for a run to Crouch End, and came back feeling like an autumn leaf. I tried my hardest to stick to the shade, but it seemed that every time I needed to run up a hill, there was no shade to be found.

This morning I went to Victoria to meet a chap who was attacked in Clapham by three homophobic thugs the same weekend as Philip. It’s deeply shocking to think that this sort of thing happens so often that two similar attacks could have taken place within 24 hours of one another. Doing this research is like opening a terrifying book or watching Bambi turn into a horror film.

I came back home via Oxford Street. Heaven knows why I got off the tube there. I guess I thought I might do a bit of window shopping, but immediately regretted my decision. Being a man in the world of the High Street is no laughing matter. The men’s department of shops are always either at the back or on the top floor. I guess women are more likely to be drawn in by window displays and such. Unfortunately, all shops are also designed to take you on a merry tour before you can get out. The exit staircases are always in an inaccessible part of the building, which you have to fight your way towards through countless aisles and rails of clothing. I assume you’re meant to be tempted into buying something else, but I was simply thrown into a claustrophobic panic!

There’s not a great deal more to say about today. I spent the afternoon composing. I think I wrote some good stuff; a nice Requiem theme amongst other little doodles. It was so hot, though, that I was desperate to sit at the piano with the window open, but the idea that anyone might be able to listen to the wails and crashes I make whilst I’m composing is utterly horrific.

350 years ago, Pepys went to see Lord Sandwich at the Wardrobe. Sandwich was off to sea, and wanted to take Pepys through all sorts of permutations regarding what would happen if various people died whilst he was away, or more importantly, if he himself died at sea. Pepys finally got an opportunity to ask him if he would consider finding a post for Pepys Senior at the Wardrobe, and Sandwich promised to do what he could.

Pepys walked Sandwich to his barge, and then went home to dine with a bewildering number of family members and friends, all of whom seemed to turn up unannounced. An afternoon of merriment ensued, which cost Pepys “a great store of wine.” In the early evening he went to the Tower of London with Mr Creed, and they walked around the grounds, which Pepys had never done before. He found the experience hugely pleasurable. He returned home and went for a pre-bed stroll with Elizabeth on the leads (the roof) of his house. The weather had obviously improved.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Socially unacceptable

Another scorching day in the capital and the tube feels like a fan-assisted oven. Thankfully a window is open somewhere, and I'm getting periodic blasts of a cooling breeze, which is just about preventing me from wanting to punch the woman who's sweating arm pit juices onto my wrist. No wonder everyone in London is grumpy.

I've been in Hoxton all day. I had a meeting this morning to discuss a Soho-based film project, which would be very exciting were it to come off. We went to the swanky Shoreditch House and sat on sofas in front of an enormous window, which seemed to look out over the world. That place is so fancy. It even has a roof-top swimming pool, which I was desperate to dive into. Unfortunately, I suspect throwing myself in would have been socially unacceptable. I suspect the pool is there simply as a glistening backdrop for preening and pouting. One is only allowed to dive in if one is an adonis involved in a photoshoot for a glossy magazine. I felt like a fish out of water, really, and it must have showed, for I was far too regularly stopped and asked if I was okay by members of staff who were plainly insinuating that I didn't belong there! "Are you okay, Sir?" [trans, "please leave this place, you're bringing it down with your shuffling, bohemian, poverty-stricken vibe. You're making cool people feel embarrassed to express their superiority.]

I went to see Philippa and Deia in the afternoon, and we did some gardening. I massacred an out-of-control sage plant, which Philippa described as her lovely sage forest. If by forest she meant a terrifying, hitherto unexplored eco-system, then she was bang on the money. It seemed to be a breeding ground for more moths and mosquitos than I could wave a pair of pinking shears at, and it absolutely had to go! Deia was particularly good company all day. One of the few benefits of being horribly unemployed is that I get to spend more time with those two.

In the early evening I visited two gay bars in Hoxton. At the moment we're attempting to either prove or disprove the idea that there might be a link between the rise in homophobia in Tower Hamlets and the questionable views of a fair number of its young Muslim residents. Sadly, no one wants to talk about the enormous elephant in the room, because by acknowledging its presence they run the risk of being called xenophobic. Scratch the surface, however, and you'll find a frightening number of gay people in the area admitting to crossing roads to avoid gangs of young Muslim lads and deliberately avoiding side streets for fear of attack. Yet they still feel uncomfortable joining up the dots, which is particularly irritating when we start to look at the double standards knocking around. The guy who stuck stickers on buildings all over the East End which said "gay free zone" whilst quoting the Koran, was today fined a mere £100.
On a totally unrelated issue, I really fancy a tomato this evening, but am worried about this E-coli outbreak. Usually us vegetarians get to feel somewhat smug when the food scares happen, because they're so often associated with meat. What is life without tomato?!

Sunday June 2nd, 1661. Whitsunday. Pepys had an early appointment with his barber, who no doubt spruced him up nicely for church. Probably just a shave and a little trim. People did wash their hair in scented water at the time, but Pepys hated getting his extremities wet. In fact, he frequently complained about the dangers of washing feet. Poor Elizabeth!

After attending church, twice, he was visited by his new buddy, Ralph Greatorex, who was expected for lunch, but obviously got his timings muddled up. Greatorex was an instrument maker and an inventor, and the two men sat in Pepys’ chamber drinking wine and eating anchovies, whilst Greatorex talked mathematics. “Among others he showed me how it comes to pass the strength that levers have, and he showed me that what is got as to matter of strength is lost by them as to matter of time.” Whatever, really. I have no idea whether this is an illuminating theory, or just 17th Century quazi-scientific clap-trap. I suspect all this was written just before Newton, or whoever, was attacked by the apple.

It had rained all day, as it had for many days, and Greatorex rather outstayed his welcome by waiting for the rain to clear before leaving. He may have had one of London’s greatest minds, but he was obviously also a crashing bore!

Thank God for cake and friends

We’re heading back from Limehouse, and I'm feeling like a very lucky man. A group of 14 of us have just gathered together for a couple of hours at Julian’s studio to form an ad hoc choir to sing through a composition I wrote about a year and a half ago. It was really nice to hear it coming to life. It’s always so exciting when a work leaps off the page for the first time. We rehearsed the song for just an hour and then spent an hour recording it. It sounds wonderful. It’s just for fun, really. Composers often have unperformed music lying around in their bottom drawers, so occasionally it’s heartening to have a root around, dust a few manuscripts off and have a bit of a play.

It’s reminded me how much I want to form a 16-voice choir. The idea would be for us to go professional very speedily, and put ourselves up for work in pop music, alongside premiering new work and performing music by other composers with a documentary twist. Various works by Berio spring to mind.

The group of singers tonight were such a talented and nice bunch. There was so much good will. Ellie came up from East Sussex, Tash came down from Northamptonshire. Sam conducted. A lot of the others were involved in the Pepys project, but there were some new faces as well. We went drinking afterwards in a lovely pub by the river and one of the singers, Nigel, kept us more than entertained with various impersonations and a bluffers guide to British sign language.

This morning I had a meeting at the BBC to talk about the homophobia film, which frustratingly still hasn’t been commissioned. We’re going away to look at a few extra avenues of research. There’s no point in doing this film unless we do it properly and I’m glad that BBC London are being thorough.

I laughed a lot this morning whilst watching BBC Breakfast, when a very pregnant Kate Silverton almost vomited whilst smelling and scratch and sniff book by David Walliams. Sam suggested I might find it on You Tube, and sure enough, here it is...

350 years ago and Pepys was also in the East End of London, first in Deptford, and then in Rotherhithe, which was known as Redriffe in those days. They stopped at the Halfway House, a pub which was exactly half way between Deptford and London Bridge, where they found a room “where there was infinite of new cakes placed that are made against Whitsuntide.” Pepys, Penn and one Mr Gauden were very merry there, apparently. Come to think of it, I too have eaten nothing but cake today and have been very merry. Thank God cake never goes out of fashion!