Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Jerry Jerry

I learned today that Jerry Springer was born on the platform of Highgate tube during the blitz. I consider this to be an interesting fact. Highgate Station celebrated its 70th birthday earlier on this year and there was a little poster on display with all sorts of (mostly semi) interesting facts which I'd not noticed before. If only I'd've known. I'd have written something celebratory!

I spent much of the today rushing around London. I went to St Mary's Church to return the keys, and thank them for having us, before meeting Rupert at Victoria Station to return a suitcase which Hilary had left in the church after the gig. 

The suitcase obviously wanted to live in the church, because I managed to leave it there a second time. I was back on the tube before I noticed, and had to do the mother of all detours. I was terrified that I'd return to find the bag fenced off, about to be detonated by an anti-terrorism squad! 

I had a meeting with James Davey in Victoria about the project I'm doing with the Fleet Singers in Belsize Park. We now have a much clearer sense of what's going to happen. The commission celebrates the Diamond Jubilee, and we're going to look at some of the memories the choir have collected over the last 60 years, which I think could be charming. 

We're now off to Thaxted, essentially to borrow my parents' car. I have a gig in Birmingham teaching people to sing on Friday, and Nathan needs the car, so, yet again, my parents have stepped up to the plate. 

Philippa just 'phoned to say she's had every last piece of jewellery stolen by her cleaner, who's subsequently vanished off the face of the earth. She apparently cleaned houses for a large number of the mothers Philippa hangs out with, and many of them were robbed in the same week. It's an horrific thought. This woman cleaned houses for some of them for over two years and had come hugely recommended. It seems very strange that she would suddenly go off the rails so dramatically. I can only think she had some major life crisis which, required a large injection of cash and couldn't think what else to do. Very sad for everyone, really. 

350 years ago, Pepys reported that various coins that had been issued and used during the Interregnum had been taken out of official circulation. In one of his regular end-of-month summing ups, he reported to be in good health (but for a little cold) yet still worried that he was "vainly" spending too much money. 
It's 11.30pm, and I'm on my way back from the BBC in White City, wondering if I'll make it above ground in time to post this blog before midnight. I've been at Television Centre doing autocue for Matt Lucas' new TV chat show. It's one of the last comedy programmes they're ever going to make within this iconic building; a fact which makes me feel a little sad. What child of the 1970s doesn't remember Roy Castle tap-dancing around the doughnut in the middle of the complex, or Terry Wogan whinging about the BBC canteen food. I remember sitting there as a teenager, about to perform with the Northamptonshire Youth Orchestra on Blue Peter, my stomach knotted with excitement. 

Yet soon the place will be nothing but a few listed buildings rented out by all sorts of non-BBC organisations. Children's telly and sport have already migrated to Salford, and everything else is moving to newer premises down the road within the next few months. 

I feel quite honoured to be doing the job. It was my first day today. I was fairly nervous this morning, but  got into my stride relatively quickly and everything went smoothly. I feel tired, having been too excited to sleep, for many reasons, last night, but elated after a good day's work. 

Guests on Matt's show included Maureen Lipman and Julian Clary, who was in the cast of Taboo, so it was lovely to see him again. He seemed confused to find me running the autocue, as he would no doubt also have been to discover I was a composer! I was very firmly wearing my director's hat when we last worked together. 

I forget how much I like doing autocue. It's quite an adrenaline-fuelled experience. If you disengage your brain for even a second, you end up making terrible mistakes  and potentially making the presenter look like a fool. I've done some terrible things in the past, which include royally shafting Jeremy Vine on an outside broadcast for an episode of Newsnight from the Tory Party conference in Blackpool. In my defence, the equipment broke down. That particular disaster wasn't a lapse of judgement on my part, but there have been plenty more where I was guilty as hell.  I once did Charles Kennedy's autocue and wrote Mrs Quim instead of Mrs Quinn.

Ten years ago, I did this kind of work a fair amount, and I can even claim to have been in demand! I've done autocue for all sorts of people including Brucie and Tony Blair (at Downing Street of all places.)  

So much for my week of doing nothing. I have countless meetings tomorrow, am working on Thursday and Friday, and then am off to Manchester next week to start my next film project up there. 

Talk about a roller coaster!

350 years ago, Pepys went to wait on the Duke of York, but ended up feeling ignored and useless, unable to make much impact on the conversation or offer any advice to help the Navy situation. Typical Pepys immediately went to buy books to improve his mind.

He also went to the theatre. The cheap seats were so crowded, however, that he was forced to shell out for a box... And a very rubbish play!!!


It's 11.30pm, and I'm on my way back from the BBC in White City, wondering if I'll make it above ground in time to post this blog before midnight. I've been at Television Centre doing autocue for Matt Lucas' new TV chat show. It's one of the last comedy programmes they're ever going to make within this iconic building; a fact which makes me feel a little sad. What child of the 1970s doesn't remember Roy Castle tap-dancing around the doughnut in the middle of the complex, or Terry Wogan whinging about the BBC canteen food. I remember sitting there as a teenager, about to perform with the Northamptonshire Youth Orchestra on Blue Peter, my stomach knotted with excitement. 

Yet soon the place will be nothing but a few listed buildings rented out by all sorts of non-BBC organisations. Children's telly and sport have already migrated to Salford, and everything else is moving to newer premises down the road within the next few months. 

I feel quite honoured to be doing the job. It was my first day today. I was fairly nervous this morning, but  got into my stride relatively quickly and everything went smoothly. I feel tired, having been too excited to sleep, for many reasons, last night, but elated after a good day's work. 

Guests on Matt's show included Maureen Lipman and Julian Clary, who was in the cast of Taboo, so it was lovely to see him again. He seemed confused to find me running the autocue, as he would no doubt also have been to discover I was a composer! I was very firmly wearing my director's hat when we last worked together. 

I forget how much I like doing autocue. It's quite an adrenaline-fuelled experience. If you disengage your brain for even a second, you end up making terrible mistakes  and potentially making the presenter look like a fool. I've done some terrible things in the past, which include royally shafting Jeremy Vine on an outside broadcast for an episode of Newsnight from the Tory Party conference in Blackpool. In my defence, the equipment broke down. That particular disaster wasn't a lapse of judgement on my part, but there have been plenty more where I was guilty as hell.  I once did Charles Kennedy's autocue and wrote Mrs Quim instead of Mrs Quinn.

Ten years ago, I did this kind of work a fair amount, and I can even claim to have been in demand! I've done autocue for all sorts of people including Brucie and Tony Blair (at Downing Street of all places.)  

So much for my week of doing nothing. I have countless meetings tomorrow, am working on Thursday and Friday, and then am off to Manchester next week to start my next film project up there. 

Talk about a roller coaster! 

Monday, 28 November 2011

A cut above

I've wanted to curl up on the sofa all day and do nothing but watch telly, but ever since the briefest of brief celebratory lie-ins, I've been out and about in London. I've had various meetings about the Requiem, I've wandered around Soho with my brother and John, and this evening, we went to the press night of La Soirée, which has just started a short run at the Roundhouse. It's a kind of burlesque-meets-circus experience and it's really very good; a fabulous mix of laugh-out-loud slapstick and awe-inspiring and often quite moving trapeze and balancing acts. Throw in a few songs performed by an enormous black drag queen, add a bit of sparkle from a hoola-hooper, and you have a show which is well-worth seeing.

I'm still in a bit of a haze after yesterday. I'm thrilled that things went so well, although I've been told off by a number of people for being so self-deprecating in my little talks between numbers. I'm not really one for banging my own drum, and stories of disaster and failure are surely always more interesting and amusing than someone saying "and then I won 3 RTS awards and was invited to play the 'cello in front of the queen." 

The truth is that I'm utterly proud of all the music I write, I think it sounds bloomin' lovely, but it's more interesting when heard in context. The musical Blast for example, from which many of the songs we performed came from, has never been performed, which can hardly be described as successful, and much of the music I wrote in the early days came out of a place of genuine struggle.

I'd much rather an audience be astonished by the quality of a body of work which has essentially been ignored, than bored to tears by a man patting himself on the back for his far more successful forays into film and TV! Maybe I'm just way too English...

I've just opened a card which came from Meriel, Tanya, Hilary, Fiona and Meriel with a cheque inside, which has turned me into a quivering wreck. I am a lucky, lucky 
man with extraordinary friends. I've no idea what I've done to garner such an astonishing amount of love and generosity, but I feel blessed. Actually blessed. 

350 years ago the Pepyses took delivery of a new maid, one Sarah, who was tall and "very well favoured", but not destined to last very long as a servant in Seething Lane. Elizabeth seemed to argue very badly with all of her wenches. I think she'd suddenly started viewing herself as a cut above the rest... 

Sunday, 27 November 2011


Floating on air. The concert was extraordinary. Very emotional. Katina sang Shone With the Sun and brought me to tears. Requiem beautiful. I cried when I introduced it. The whole thing felt like This Is Your Life. My friends, my whole family. I felt loved and talented. The Lincolnshire commission went down a storm. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Sally Brown! 

I finally know what it feels like to have my ego massaged by an extraordinary choir. It feels wonderful! The pain is over and I can finally move on. 

350 years ago Pepys' wife parted with her made Dorothea. Tragique! 

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Cock II

We're on the Jubilee line heading from Canary Wharf to Waterloo. It's been the longest day in the world and still it continues...

I was up with the lark preparing for the concert before rehearsing  Em Brûlée at noon, who's come down from Leeds to sing the theme from A Symphony for Yorkshire.

Tim, John and I then trundled into town, and I had my hair cut at Mr Toppers, which means I now have annoying little half hairs prickling on my neck. I'm not really keen on the whole thing of sitting in a hairdresser's chair staring at myself in a giant mirror lit by fluorescent light. It's times like this when you start to realise how old you're beginning to look. There are now grey hairs all over my head, which I rather like, but my eyes looked like dough balls and my forehead was like a ridge and furrow field! I once had a nightmare that cress was growing in the deep lines in my forehead. They've always been the cause of much embarrassment and have now gone way beyond anything I can describe as "characterful"! 

We lunched in Stock Pot, the only place to eat if you work in theatre, but are out of work. The moment you get a gig in a long running show, it's fancy restaurants all the way! 

We met my parents on the Southbank, and then Edward and Sascha cooked a meal for us all. It was a shame Nathan was at work because I don't think there's ever been a time that my Mum and Dad, two brothers and all associated gay lovers have been together in a room.

Tim, John and I are now going to Naked Boys Singing to admire and laugh at Nathan's penis! What a life I live!

350 years ago, Pepys woke up feeling very poorly (a hangover plainly not helped by his wife falling out with her maid.) When he finally emerged from his bedroom after lunch, there was nothing for it but to start drinking again, and he drank like a fish. Do fish drink?

Friday, 25 November 2011


Another day of frantic preparations for the concert, which included a full hour spent sellotaping orchestra parts together, and about 5 hours’ organ practice. I kept gluing the wrong pages together and then having to rip them apart. I feel quite ashamed to hand the music to the players because I've managed to sellotape various pubic hairs and bits of food into it.  I’m still struggling with the organ parts - things are improving, but I'm terrified I’ll sit down to play the tomorrow and find myself back at square one. There’s something about a keyboard that is so much less forgiving than a piano. Maybe it's because there's a great deal less control when it comes to the volume. The merest scuff of a wrong note reverberates like a squeaky clarinet in a school orchestra.

My brother Tim arrived from Manchester at about 8pm with his partner, John. They’re staying with me this weekend. In fact, many of my friends and relatives are arriving in London for the concert. I'm beginning to feel excited. We went up into the village and had a drink at the Flask with Fiona’s parents. I always feel very proud of Highgate when we have visitors – it radiates middle class charm! All of our guests seemed particularly impressed by the open air notice boards which are scattered about in these parts. I suppose it is rather bizarre that no one has tried to set them on fire, or covered them in grafitti or excrement. It's also rather nice to see how much stuff is going on up here; yoga classes, singing lessons, film and book clubs, music concerts... You name it.

Tim was very keen to go to the top of Parliament Hill because it was the first place we visited after finding each other. Tim is my half brother. He was taken away from my mother after he was born in Liverpool in the 1960s. I knew of his existence from my early twenties, but it took me the best part of ten years to finally track him down. It’s a long, and very wonderful story, filled with so many co-incidences that co-incidence eventually turned into fate. When I found him, he was living in Holland, and within days of my contacting him, he came back to England to meet his birth family.

I picked him up from Stansted airport. We were both incredibly nervous and I couldn’t think of anything else to do other than take him to my favourite place in the world. We walked onto the Heath, climbed the hill and stood and looked down across the twinkling lights of London, aware that life would never be the same for either of us again.

The lights looked very beautiful this evening as well. The sky was dark and clear and they seemed to be shimmering. The Shard of Glass looked particularly impressive. It’s the first time I’ve seen it from that angle at night time. It’s entirely changed the shape of the horizon in the city... very much for the better, I feel.

Today is the year anniversary of the first performance of The Pepys Motet. It seems like a lifetime ago.

350 years ago, Pepys attended a "foy", which I'm told is a final meal thrown by a navy man before he goes to sea - one assumes to make peace with the world in case he didn't return. Today's foy was a meal of wine and oysters. Pepys went to the theatre... twice, the second time to make up for the fact that he hadn't enjoyed the first.

He then went drinking with mates. He drank too much - and was hoarse by the time he got home, no doubt because he'd shouted like an alcoholic all night. He'd also spent much of the night drinking toasts to the memory of a beautiful woman he'd admired whist studying at Cambridge university. That would make anyone hoarse.

Thursday, 24 November 2011


I’ve been getting in a bit of a state today... For no other reason than the sudden realisation that there’s an enormous amount for me to do before Sunday’s concert. I have to work out what to say between numbers, I have to learn the bass parts in the songs where I’m singing in the choir, I have to learn Hannah’s song in case she can’t perform it, I have to learn piano parts – but worst of all, I have to play the bleedin’ organ in the Requiem... I can deal with most of this, but the moment I start to play the organ part, I go into melt-down, and then imagine the rehearsal on Sunday, with my face buried in the music, being unable to either appreciate what I’ve written or offer constructive notes to the other musicians – and then I start to panic all over again...

Still, we’re slowly ticking things off the list. We made the programmes today, and copied 200 of them at the print shop. We thought about doing them in colour, but that was going to cost £100.

The rest of the day has been spent sitting on a sofa in front of a computer screen, trying to sort everything out, but because I’m panicking, it’s taking even longer than I have. This blog is even starting to take longer than I have. “Dear Jim’ll, please can you fix it for me to have an extra day this week, so that I can relax a bit before the concert? Thank you. From Ben (mental age) 4 ½.” Now then, now then...

November 24th 1661, was a Sunday, and Pepys went to St Clement Eastcheap church, which is the church that gave its name to the famous nursery rhyme. Obviously Pepys doesn’t mention this fact, but I often wonder whether Oranges and Lemons was a known poem in his day.

It was one of the churches that gave me my all time most spine-tingling moment. In 2009, I wrote a version of Oranges and Lemons which featured every church bell mentioned in the longer version of the rhyme, which includes all sorts of City and East End churches, and rhymes like; “two sticks and an apple say the bells of Whitechapel.” Every bell in every church was recorded separately. 200 bells in 17 churches. I then wrote a piece of music that would include them all – ringing in harmony. I wanted to feature a choir in the piece, and because I’m slightly insane, I decided they all needed to either work or live within earshot of one of the sets of bells. This meant that the standard of singing varied wildly, which made for a very long day of recording in the studio, which lasted until 1am.

I missed the last DLR and had to walk from Limehouse to Bank to find a bus. I was absolutely exhausted, and as I got into the City, my legs gave way, and I collapsed in a pathetic heap. The City at night is a wonderful place, however. It’s utterly silent and completely empty. I sat in a crumpled mess for a minute or two and suddenly, all the bells across the city started to chime in unison. It must have been 1am, or 2 am. But the place went from being utterly silent, to being filled with the sound of bells. At that very moment, someone, a total stranger, cycled past me. He was the only person I’d seen for at least 2 minutes – and he was singing. He was singing Oranges and Lemons. There are some moments that you wouldn’t believe if you saw them in a film, but for just a few seconds I wondered if God was looking down at me and grinning!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


I woke up this morning to find Highgate sitting in a pool of the most beautiful sunshine. I say a pool, because the news was filled with stories about the heavy mists across London. The roving weather girl was in Kew Gardens and you could barely see her for the fog. She’s a funny girl, that weather girl. She takes a very audible gulp of air before every sentence and always makes me want to hold my throat. Anyway, the rather peculiar weather was creating traffic chaos all over the place, including locations less than 400 meters from where our house is. It was very confusing to look out of the window and see nothing but sunshine.

I left the house and immediately saw that the mist was moving incredibly quickly and I’d been engulfed by the time I reached Highgate Village. It was cold and, to quote Topsy and Tim, “it smelt like old ashtrays.”

Rehearsals for me today started at 10am in Kilburn (with two sopranos) and then continued throughout the day back in Highgate. There were one-on-ones, duets, quartets, and then, at the end of the very long day, a full choir rehearsal. At some point I even managed to feed everyone. I’m not sure how. I ran about like a mad thing, adrenaline pumping through my body for most of the day. I now stink – and my head is kind of spinning. I don’t know if I’ve dedicated enough rehearsal time to everything. I don’t know what sounds good. I don’t know what’s ready. I don’t know if the music I’ve written is any good. I’m absolutely full to bursting and just want to go to bed and sleep forever!

350 years ago, Pepys went to see an artist by the name of Mr Savill (I’ll call him Jimmy.) Pepys wanted to commission him to paint a portrait of himself and his wife. In the evening, various people called Sir William (and someone called Captain Cock) appeared in the house to drink, eat and play cards. Captain Cock! Tee hee...


We appear to be in Epsom of Epsom Derby fame. It's the middle of the night, the streets are empty and mist-shrouded. Everything looks very romantic.

We've just spent the evening with Hannah Waddingham rehearsing for the concert on Sunday. She's singing a song I wrote for Blast called The Most Deluded Dream, which has only ever been sung in public once. We hope she'll be able to perform the song. It's looking like she might be called up to film an episode of Doctor's, which obviously she can't turn down. 

She was on good form tonight and we did a lot of laughing, which brought on one or two coughing fits. I think the change in weather hasn't been great for my whooping cough recovery process. All this dampness in the air is no good for a Victorian ague. I wish it would just go away!

The rest of the day has been spent sending countless emails, printing pages of music, writing programme notes, practising the piano and generally faffing about the concert. I can't really tell if I'm excited or just terrified...

350 years ago, and a group of Pepys' work colleagues and their families congregated at The Dolphin pub. They ate, drank, sang, danced, flirted, played games, gambled and had a whale of a time, and we're astonished to be landed with a bill of well oven 4l, including tips for the musicians. 

Pepys returned home to find his wife had hired a new maid, one Sarah, who was described by our hero as "pretty." I fear for her...

Monday, 21 November 2011

The tan that tanked

For much of the day, London has been sitting underneath a rather thick mist, which is currently swirling around Highgate like smoke in a war-time pub. I read a Facebook entry from my brother, Edward, which said the mist was so thick he couldn't see the other side of the Thames from where he was standing. 

I picked Nathan up from Heathrow this morning, who arrived with hundreds of exciting tales about South Africa. He seems to have been genuinely affected and inspired by the experience. Some of the photos that he took at the top of Table Mountain, with clouds cascading down the sides of great big ravines are utterly astonishing. He's seen circular rainbows, penguins, sharks, ostriches and baboons, and performed at a massive concert in aid of one of Desmond Tutu's pet charities. 

Fiona and I met Nathan in the arrivals lounge holding a sign with his name on it which we'd made out of a paper bag. He arrived looking tanned from a distance, but peeling like a glue on a child's finger on closer inspection. The poor bloke had badly burned his face and neck at the top of Table Mountain and the damaged skin had started to go a comic shade of mahogany.  He had a bath back at home, rubbed a flannel across his face and immediately removed all traces of his ever having been in a lovely hot country!

This evening I went to listen to the Fleet Singers; a community choir based in Gospel Oak. They've asked me to write some music to help them celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and I'm very excited at the prospect of working with them. 

Poor Nathan has spent 18 of the last 36 hours in aeroplanes and doesn't appear to have slept at all since leaving Africa. He is absolutely exhausted. He's currently trying to get our new router working, but I'm wondering how long it's going to be before the eyes close and he sinks into the deepest, most satisfying sleep...

350 years ago, and parliament voted in favour of over a million pounds being given to the king to pay off his debts. An astonishing figure! Perhaps the tradition of governments bailing out the unworthy is older than I thought! What is it they say? History never repeats itself, man always does...

Pepys purchased a copy of "Camden's Britannia" from his mate, Mr Moore and immediately took it to St Paul's churchyard to be bound by one of the many booksellers who hung out in the area. 

William Camden's Britannia was a major historical/geographical account of England, Scotland and Ireland (no mention of Wales), which was written in Queen Elizabeth I's time. It was a "must have" for any aspiring collector of books, and Pepys was very definitely one of them!!

Matchsticks in my eyes

For the past three nights I've forgotten to post this blog before midnight, which is a strong indication about how busy I've been. 

Today went by in something of a blur. Michelle stayed the night in our attic and we had breakfast together. I woke up with about two hours' sleep left in me but needed to get up with enough time to tidy the house for a day of rehearsals and prepare two enormous lasagnes for everyone to eat. 

Michelle and I had a quick sing through some of her parts and then Kurt, the tenor arrived to do some work on his.

The rest of the choir arrived at noon. We were three short of a full house. I suspect we'll never all be in the same space until Sunday, which is a shame because there's so much that I'd like to finesse - particularly when it comes to balancing the singers. 

Still, things went incredibly well and the tenor section is particularly strong. There were moments when I felt very excited, and am fairly convinced that everyone else felt the same way. 

I sort of collapsed in front of the telly  when everyone had gone before becoming engrossed in Barbara Windsor's autobiography. I'm so exhausted now that I suspect there are shopping lists and letters to Jimmy Saville that are more interesting and better written than this blog. 

Pepys went by water to Westminster first thing on this day 350 years ago. He saw the King in his glitzy royal barge on his way to open Parliament. 

I'm sorry, but my eyes just won't stay open any more...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Three Pepyses and a cheese and tomato baguette

I went to the local baker this morning to buy a sandwich for lunch and asked the girl behind the counter for "a baguette with cheese and tomato." She smiled the winsome grimace of a Pole, and immediately put something in the microwave, which I assumed was a baguette. It was a strange thing to do, but I thought perhaps she was trying to make it toasty in a damp, microwaved kind of manner. She then held out her hand for payment. "How much is that?" I asked. She looked confused, shrugged in a sort of "I can't speak English" kind of way, and pointed at the other girl behind the counter, who sauntered over and asked if she could help. I asked for a baguette with cheese and tomato and she got to work, whilst the first girl took a random pasty out of the microwave, stuck it in a paper bag and put it on the counter. "Who's that for?" I asked. She pointed at me and smiled a sarcastic Eastern European smile. "But I didn't ask for a pasty." She shrugged, put the heated pasty back on the shelf, took a different, random pasty from the display, and carried it to the microwave. "Is that for me too?" I asked, somewhat incredulously. She nodded. "But I don't want a pasty." She smiled. I left the shop.

We went to a music quiz in Bishop’s Stortford tonight; me, Philippa, Dylan, my parents and Michelle from the choir. We travelled to Thaxted beforehand, but got stuck in dreadful jams on the A12 somewhere near Stratford. Yet again, London’s infrastructure finds itself creaking under the weight of so-called improvements. We sat in stationary traffic for 30 minutes because they’d closed an underpass for what seemed like no reason. There were certainly no workmen present... just lots of red and white flashing cones.

When we finally reached Thaxted, my mother had created the most astonishing spread of food. The only thing missing was my parents' customary open fire. Apparently the last time they “lit up”, an entire room of people had to be evacuated, because the whole thing started smoking so badly. The chimney sweep can’t fir them in for a full month, so we’re all keeping our fingers crossed there’s not a cold snap before Christmas this year! I think, perhaps, in Thaxted there's an opening for another chimney sweep, although my Mum swears that no one in the village would ever turn their back on the one they already have.  

The quiz was excellent. We came second, but lost to a team who can only have got about five questions wrong in the whole evening. Perhaps they were autistic... or robots. We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that they’d had one person more on their team, so if you divide the end scores by the number of players, we beat them hands down! We sang all the way home. ELO mostly. My whooping cough still gives me a bit of gip, but it's so lovely to be able to sing again!

Back at the ranch, our mad rat, Pol has just bitten Michelle in an incident which has got to rank as one of the more embarrassing pet experiences of my life. We had a mad dog when I was a child who used to bite joggers. She was a bit embarrassing – especially when she started to bite children’s faces as well.

350 years ago, Pepys returned home from work to find his wife in an upstairs chamber alone with his friend John Hunt. He was initially troubled, but his mind was somewhat eased by the fact that it was washing day, very cold and that the upstairs chamber was only place where Elizabeth could entertain in front of an open fire. Pepys then went to the christening of his cousin Judith’s child. Rather confusingly, Pepys had been chosen as a godfather along with his cousin Samuel Pepys of Ireland. In those days, a godfather was often allowed to chose the name of the child, and Pepys picked the name... Samuel. Three Samuel Pepyses in one room!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Them and us

I've just been to BAFTA on Piccadilly to see a reading of the first episode of Carol's new TV drama series. The purpose of the reading was to bring the collective attention of a large number of industry types both to Carol's wonderful writing and the fact that there are way too few British dramas being authored by black writers.

The head of drama commissioning for the BBC was part of the panel and I very much liked him. I thought he coped admirably with the slight "them and us" situation that developed in the room. He gave Carol some very useful constructive criticism, but unfortunately, the first person from the audience to put their hand up, came across as rather aggressively defensive. Worse than that, she gave the impression she was an over-zealous friend of Carol’s, who was talking slightly out of turn. The subtext of what she said seemed to be something along the lines of, "don't you white bullying people criticise my black friend." Perhaps she didn't realise that the entertainment industry thrives on constructive criticism, which is usually considerably harsher than what we'd heard! She didn't exactly win any supporters by admitting she'd been late for the reading and missed the first half of it, particularly as much of the criticism was about the first part of the screenplay. Off the soap box, lady! That's not how to win the war! Sometimes it’s important to acknowledge that everyone’s on the same side and that not all white people are racist.

Slightly uncomfortable moments aside, the intended point of the evening came across loud and clear. We need to invest in television which allows black people to be seen as more than stereotypes, and in order to do this, we need to invest in black writers. I was very proud of Carol. She handled herself brilliantly and her work was terrific.

Over the course of the next month, my diary is going to go bananas and I’ll need to start managing my time with a form of military precision which sort of started today. In amongst sending out music for the concert to all the players, I found the time to start practising my own parts and also to make two lasagnes for Sunday's rehearsal. I kept splitting the roux, however, which I don't understand. I wondered if the flour I used was a bit old. It's rare for me to muck up a white sauce.

When I returned home this evening I found a set of brownies on the kitchen table which Fiona had made and left for me tied up with a little red bow. They were high quality brownies and I ate four. Who cares? I've been running every day this week, I deserve a treat.

And what of Pepys? Well, 350 years ago, he went to St Paul’s to watch the choristers doing their thing. He was sad to see how few people had bothered to turn up to watch them - just a cluster of street boys and vagrants. He then borrowed 100l off a colleague and had dinner with a  young parson who got drunk. Pepys thought the show very unpleasant.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


I spent the morning in the cafe formatting scores. I've pages and pages of music now to print out for the players. Heaven knows how much it’s all going to cost in ink and paper! Whilst I was there, I talked to Nathan on Skype. The internet in the little guesthouse he's staying in is unreliable and seems to be sending him into something of a paddy. It's not a great deal of fun to look forward to talking to someone so much but to have them sound so horribly anxious. It's strange how we've all become so unbelievably reliant on the internet and I'm sure if he were there with someone else he wouldn't feel so cut off from the rest of the world. (He said that travelling isn't as much fun when there's no one there to share it with and I know what he means.) I'm equally sure that when he's not grappling with technology, he's having a lovely time. He was due to go to the top of Table Mountain today and I'm excited to hear how that went.

I went to visit the church where we'll be performing in ten days time, and it's a very special place. St Mary At Hill is a Wren church, situated just off Eastcheap, which is a stone's throw from where Pepys lived in Seething Lane. It had all of its pews removed following a devastating fire in the 1980s, so has a rather barn-like "puritan" vibe. Its walls are merely whitewashed and there’s a distinct lack of clutter in the shape of religious icons, probably because the space is also used as for karate once a week! It’s only drawback are the enormous curtains hanging behind the alter, which are a touch on the Laura-Ashley-circa-1986 side. They’re the sort of curtains which could pull you in and haunt you forever, like the Yellow Wallpaper... except they’re green.

What struck me most of all about the space was its positive atmosphere. I often walk into churches expecting the hackles to go up on the back of my neck, but it feels incredibly vibrant and quite electrifying; a very unexpected church atmosphere.  

I came home and went for a run on Hampstead Heath as the sun melted into a deep blue sky. I felt very privileged to be there. Everything at the moment feels a little magical. I often feel optimistic in autumn, but there’s something else going on that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s like things have come into focus. I’m intensely aware of the past, but simultaneously hopeful for the future. Perhaps it’s because I’m about to start proper work again. Perhaps I’m excited about the concert. The heath smelt incredible; a mix of wood smoke, and the dark green odour of rotting leaves and wet undergrowth.

Sunday 17th November, 1661, and Pepys went to church - twice - but slept through the second sitting. The sermon focussed on the praise of religious music, and the preacher’s objection to men wearing hats in church. I’ve never understood why it seems perfectly acceptable for women to wear hats whilst worshipping. I can only assume it’s religious people, once again, looking on women as second –class citizens. It doesn’t matter what they do, as long as they look pretty and keep quiet. Ghastly.

I think Pepys was mortified to have slept his way through the service, but he didn’t remain embarrassed for long and was soon back at the house, eating, drinking heavily and being merry. Puritan who?

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Marching penguins

The doctor finally phoned me today to tell me that I’d officially had whooping cough. He said there wasn’t much else he could do, but hoped that the information would at least put my mind at rest. I suggested that the other doctors in the surgery – primarily the one who’d told me that my inability to breathe after coughing attacks was psychosomatic – would be informed that they’d missed a corker of a diagnosis. “It’s a very rare condition” said the doctor. “Which they instantly spotted with my brother- in-law.” I said, “I just think, if it’s out there, it might be worth doctors considering it as an option when patients come into the surgery with the same symptoms in the future. After all, how many times can you tell a patient to come back in 2 weeks, before it becomes clear that something very bad is wrong?” At that instant I was reminded of my visit to the same surgery just after Christmas this year to say that I was worried about my voice because it felt gravelly. “I assume you're worrying that you have something like cancer?" Said the doctor, "you don’t look like someone with cancer.” As it happened, I had a polyp – which needed to be tested for cancer. It frightens me what GPs miss...

Anyway, the doctor I spoke to said he’d pass on my comments, and sure enough, within about 20 minutes, the doctor who'd misdiagnosed me called me up. She might as well not have bothered. Her voice bristled with passive aggression. “Thank you for letting me know about your diagnosis,” she said, through clenched teeth, trying to find a smile in her voice, “it’s so kind of you to keep me up to date.” No word of apology, of course. She waffled on for a while about how rare the disease is. “But it’s out there, isn’t it?” I said. “It looks like my partner, my brother-in-law, and possibly my father have all had the same thing. It might just be worth adding the illness to the list of things you look for when someone comes in with a bad cough.” Frankly, I couldn’t wait to get her off the line, and I think the feeling was fairly mutual.

Fiona and I went to the colourless business park at the bottom of Colney Hatch Lane this afternoon. It was a fairly revolting experience. Fiona said it reminded her of countless out-of-town malls in Texas, and we laughed at how little we could think of to buy there. I went essentially to buy a new bulb for the rear light of our car and a very nice gentleman even fitted it for me for a ludicrously low fee of £3. The bulbs themselves were only £2. I thought the whole thing was going to set me back at least £30!

We took the opportunity to look around Currys and various electrical appliances stores, which made me feel weirdly claustrophobic. I loathe looking at rows and rows of things made in China. I hate that our entire world is cluttered up with cheap items of tat made in a country with such a grotesque human rights record. I bought an iron to replace the one that exploded a few weeks ago and was horrified at the level of customer service. I waited about five minutes to be served, and then, just as I reached the front of the queue, another member of staff interrupted, and without apologising, asked the bloke serving me if he could help her with another transaction. He duly obliged, I twiddled my thumbs for another two minutes, and then, just as the man started serving me again, he was interrupted once more by the same (plainly incompetent) member of staff. Still no apology. He eventually returned and started some spiel about a special offer. I rudely snapped at him, telling him I felt like walking out without paying. My comments were neither witty nor charming, and Fiona immediately told me she was horrified at my rudeness, which rightly made me feel ashamed. I’m just on a bit of a soap box at the moment. I think, with so many people out of work at the moment, those of us with jobs, should be polite, hardworking and above all, effective. Readers will be unsurprised to know that all of this happened in Comet, which is currently losing most of its branches. Good riddence to them, I say...

The highlight of my day was undoubtedly a Skype call from Nathan in South Africa. I was even able to see his face on my camera phone, and he showed me the room he’s staying in, with its little twin beds and red cushions with pretty African ladies drawn all over them. He went out onto the balcony and a glorious orange sun immediately lit his face. It is, of course, the height of summer over there. I wonder what he’ll think of the stars. Everyone says that the southern hemisphere stars are the most extraordinary things.

The 16th November, 1661, yielded a three sentence entry from Mr Pepys. He worked at the office in the morning, had lunch at home, and then went to the Temple to do some business. Nothing like as interesting as the penguins I’m watching on telly!!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Beaten and whipped

Nathan left London this evening for a week's work in the sun of South Africa. The poor lamb is flying with Emirates, so has to go via Dubai, which will add eight hours to his journey time. A visit to the Middle East is fine, I assume, if you can have a bit of time to explore the place, but if you’re just sitting in a departure lounge at shit o'clock in the morning feeling exhausted, the idea becomes considerably less appealing.

I dropped him off at Heathrow. I say dropped him off; I mean that I battled through broken London's appalling traffic chaos for 3 hours and nearly got us killed on the M25. To add insult to injury, we were even stopped by police, because one of our car’s back lights wasn’t working. It was a horrifying journey which has left me feeling both shaken and stirred.  Our goodbyes to one another were fairly fraught as a result, and the whole experience has left a rather bad taste in my mouth.

I came home, feeling dejected and missing Nathan, but fortunately Fiona was on hand with baked potatoes, and we had a good natter.

My blood test results came back today. I was passing the surgery, so popped my head in on the off chance. Quite how long they'd have left it before telling me I’d tested positive for Pertussis (Whooping cough) I don't know, and the receptionist couldn't make any sense of the report that had been sent, so merely printed it out and handed it over. Frankly, I could have been anyone! She didn’t ask for any identification. Still, I’m very pleased to officially know what's been so dreadfully wrong with me, but slightly angry at the same time that it took the doctors so long to spot it. It’s doesn't bode well for future diagnoses!

350 years ago, Pepys and Elizabeth called in on Lady Sandwich to show her the very handsome handkerchief that had been made out of the lace she insisted Pepys bought for his wife. In the afternoon they went to the theatre to see the second act of Davenant’s, The Siege of Rhodes. The journey home was something of an adventure, which I’ll leave Pepys himself to describe:

"The coach driving down the hill through Thames Street, which I think never any coach did before from that place to the bridge- foot, but going up Fish Street Hill, his horses were so tired, that they could not be got to go up the hill, though all the street boys and men did beat and whip them. At last I was fain to send my boy for a link, and so light out of the coach till we got to another at the corner of Fenchurch Street Fenchurch Street, and so home, and to bed."

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Magnificent Seven

Today is one of those days that I wish I could have spent indoors. London has been engulfed by a gloomy, dank mizzle which seems intent on permeating every last fibre of my body. It doesn't help that I'm not feeling too good. General aches and pains, no doubt caused by the weather, but also slightly tender skin, coupled with the odd shooting pain coursing along the line of a nerve. I'm definitely doing too much.

I visited Abney Park in Stoke Newington this morning with my friend Penny. We're looking into the idea of premiering the requiem in a cemetery, and this is probably the most atmospheric graveyard  in London. 

It's one of The Magnificent Seven; a suite of mega-cemeteries built in early Victorian times as a response to the dangerous over-crowding in City churchyards. The most famous of The Magnificent Seven is probably Highgate. Others include Brompton and Kensal Green. They were built on the outskirts of the then city and are all filled with extraordinary tombs, catacombs, icons and monuments. The Victorians were nothing if not totally over-the-top when it came to responding to death.

Anyway, these days Abney  is classed as a "closed" cemetery, which means no one can buy a plot there, even though burials still happen from time to time with those who purchased family plots some years ago. It's actually classed as a nature reserve, and is the home of many unusual species of birds, bats and fluffier creatures. 

The people who run the place are refreshingly laid-back, and keen to get involved in our project. I think it would be the perfect back-drop for a Requiem, particularly as it looks like it might be possible to perform the piece at dusk by lantern light. Almost too exciting for words, I feel! 

(There's a girl on the tube opposite with a bruise and bump on her head which is the size of an egg. She doesn't seem to be too bothered it, but it looks like an alien is about to crawl out of it...)

I went from Stoke Newington to Catford via the new, bright orange East London Line... Or is it the North London line? It's the new line which links Highbury in the North to New Cross and Croydon in the South, and its trains are remarkably wide, like barns on wheels... And totally empty! 

I was rehearsing at Julie's house; an impromptu alto sectional, but as I staggered my way through the bleak south east London streets, I wondered why anyone would actually choose to live there. I called in at the post office and was confused to find that there were no envelopes for sale. There were no postcards either, or shelves collapsing under the weight of piles of stationery,  like in our little post office up here in Highgate. The Catford post office is merely an enormous empty room, with a series of rather frightened-looking individuals skulking behind bullet-proof glass counters. All the envelopes and things were hidden behind the glass with the staff. I assume the sad truth is that anything displayed in front of the glass would be in danger of being nicked in an area like Catford.

350 years ago, Pepys ate his lunch in The Sun on Fish Street. He was thrilled with the food, commenting on "a pie of such pleasant variety of good things, as in all my life I never tasted." He loved his food. And his superlatives. And his strange uses of negatives to imply positives. 

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Green Chamber

Philip’s party last night was great fun. It was held at his friend, Sarah Loftus', who lives in a stunning house overlooking an enormous secret private garden. Hidden London is an endlessly fascinating place.

The theme of the party was old people, and everyone went to town on the costumes. It never ceases to amaze me how much money people seem to spend on fancy dress. Some people were even wearing fake prosthetics! Others remained in character for the entire evening, which felt incredibly tragic. I tried to ignore them. The weirdest creature was a 6’5” man, thinner than a pencil, dressed from top to toe in beige-coloured latex. He kept appearing in my peripheral vision like a sort of shiny cipher.

I was surprised by how many people I knew. Many had been at the midnight parade we organised after Philip was attacked in Soho. I was also pleased to see a whole set of my friends there who I hadn’t seen for a bit, including Matt, whose presence was particularly strange, because I’d dreamt about him the previous night.

Today featured an epic 6-hour choir rehearsal at our house. We got up early to make the place look nice and tidy, and to prepare food for 12 hungry singers. Rehearsals went well, but we only have two more sessions, and some of the choir have yet to join us. Fingers crossed they’ll have done their homework and will slot right in, so we don’t have to waste any more time note-bashing and can focus on finessing the sound we make, which is always the exciting bit.

350 years ago, Pepys and a crew of his colleagues went to wait on the Duke of York. They hung about in the duke’s bedroom whilst he put on a riding suit in preparation for a journey to sea. I think it’s really weird to want to sit and watch whilst someone puts clothes on. I’m surprised the Duke didn’t tell them all to sling their hooks, especially when they handed him a letter requesting more funds for the Navy. He said he’d look at it when he returned from his journey.

Pepys went to the theatre in the afternoon and then spent the evening worrying about how much he was spending on life’s great fripperies – like fancy clothes for his wife.

Maybe as a way of saving fuel bills, he decided to move his bed into “the little green chamber, where the maids lie.” It’s not clear why he decided to bunk in with the servants, wife and all... The servants weren’t too happy about the business either. Poor Nell, the maid with no known surname, was told if she didn’t put up and shut up, she’d have to sleep in a chair.

Saturday, 12 November 2011


I looked at myself in the mirror yesterday and decided it was time to put the whooping cough behind me and get fit again. I don’t like being a big blob and am craving some facial definition, so I went running this morning. I ran to Finsbury Park and back along the Parkland Walk. I have to say, it didn’t feel very good – and I was particularly horrified to be overtaken by a fat girl... twice. I was also unfortunate enough to have run past a group of men from the council as they emptied dustbins designed for dog poo. I've seldom smelt a more disgusting pong and because I was taking great big unhealthy gulps of air as I ran, I got an absolute face full! Imagine doing that job for a living, and smelling that rancid stench all day long? I can’t imagine anything worse.

Unfortunately, I’ve had to work all day, formatting scores and things for the concert on the 27th. Nathan called me in the afternoon, and urged me to take an hour off before I went out this evening, more than anything else to put a bit of down time between a day of silence and an evening where I’ll be surrounded by loud people with rather large personalities. I’m going to Philip Sallon’s 60th birthday party. The theme is old aged pensioners, so I’m going as an undertaker, because I go to all fancy dress parties dressed in the same clothes. It will be lovely to see Philip, and celebrate such an important event, but I’m slightly worried I’m going to end up feeling a little bit like a plonker. I’m going on my own, which means I'll need to make small talk. I find meeting people for the first time cripplingly embarrassing, particularly if they’re constantly looking over their shoulders for more interesting people in the room. Still, I suppose if I get there and can’t shake off the agoraphobic tendencies, I can always come home and have a hot bath! Prematurely elderly? Me? That said, I do seem to have allowed my potatoes to boil dry for the past two nights running, so perhaps I’m actually going senile.

350 years ago, Pepys went to watch Ben Johnson’s Bartholomew Fair acted by puppets. He liked the play. He’d seen it many times before, but he didn’t like the puppets. I know how he felt. I’ve hated puppets ever since I was asked to improvise with a dirty sock with little eyes attached to it when I auditioned for a drama school in the mid 90s. A bohemian woman called Penny appeared in the room carrying a bucket full of puppets which she handed out to us all. Everyone else got something which resembled a proper puppet, but I was given the sock. I’m not an actor, I’m not an improviser and I’m certainly not a puppeteer, so the experience was one of abject humiliation. For some reason I pretended to be a giraffe and walked around trying to nibble the rest of the puppets from above like the reincarnation of emu. At one stage I nipped one of the other puppets so hard that one of its strings broke and its arm fell off and the girl operating it called me a bastard. I'm still not sure why someone applying for a director’s course in a drama school was expected to do that kind of rubbish, but there we go.

Pepys had raspberry wine and sausages for tea, which made him feel very merry, apparently.

Friday, 11 November 2011

At 11am on 11.11.2011, Nathan and I switched the television on, and watched images of people in train stations, schools and various cenotaphs marking a two minutes' silence. The children in the school were delightful. One of them was playing "rock, paper, scissors" with herself. You can hardly blame her. When you're five, two seconds is a long time to stay sitting still! Every year, I vow to be standing somewhere more interesting when the clock strikes 11, but every year I forget. One year I was still asleep! I was particularly annoyed at myself on this occasion, however, because I like the notion of a palindromic date. I looked out of the window to see if anyone on the Archway Road had stopped what they were doing for a moment of private thought, and immediately called Nathan over in a rush of excitement; "the cars!" I shouted "they've all stopped in the street!" Nathan looked at me and rolled his eyes; "that's because the traffic light is on red!" #shameful.

The rest of the day was spent working – firstly in the cafe, and latterly at home on the kitchen table. We lost a tenor from the choir last night. I’d rehearsed him on his own, right at the start of the process, but then not heard anything from him. I kept texting and sending emails, but there was an eerie silence. Last night I decided he must have gone AWOL and sent a text saying; “I really shouldn’t have to chase you like this. Please can you let me know what’s going on?” Of course, I then received a stroppy email from him saying; “I don’t like your tone, and because of that, I’m going to pull out of your project," which was a disappointing response. Quite why he wasn’t brave enough to simply say he didn't want to be involved any more is anyone's guess. It's plain his radio silence was a product of his trying to think up an excuse, and I was annoyed to have provided him with one! There are far too few people in this world who are prepared to accept their own failings. Simply saying "no" or acknowledging that something isn't working is much fairer on everyone in the long term.  Being left in the lurch with a quarter of the rehearsal time already gone is a very different experience from being left in the lurch two weeks before full-scale rehearsals have commenced when there's plenty of time to find a replacement. Still, we seem to have found a new tenor, so I guess all's well that ends well and I certainly don't want anyone to go through the hell of learning music that they just don't have the time to learn.

So, as of about 6pm this evening, I have a full complement of players and singers for the gig on the 27th. Fingers crossed that this glorious situation will continue. I'm counting down the days...

I rehearsed Carmen, the delicious top sop today, who was totally on the ball and seemed to know the music backwards... Well obviously not backwards. I once told a community choir they needed to know the work we were singing backwards, and someone actually asked if I meant they had to be able to sing it starting at the end...

November 11th, 1661, and Pepys called in on Lady Sandwich, to find his wife looking at different types of lace. Pepys had promised to buy her a length, and the two women were deciding which sort was the prettiest. The two women opted for something which cost a whopping 6l. (£600 in today's money!) Pepys pretended not to be shocked – but he was horrified.

Captain Ferrers, the rogue, took Pepys to his very first “gaming house” in the afternoon, which I assume was an early form of casino. It was in Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Pepys wrote that it was strange to see "the folly of men to lay and lose so much money, and very glad I was to see the manner of a gamester’s life, which I see is very miserable, and poor, and unmanly."

Ferrers, ever the man about town, then took Pepys to a dance school in Fleet Street, where they saw "a company of pretty girls dance." Pepys added that he didn't "like to have young girls exposed to so much vanity."

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Go East!

Whichever route you pick, the journey down to Lewes is a horrible one, which is never less than three hours long, despite being less than 100 miles away from Highgate as the crow flies. You have three options. Either you go the most direct route, straight through the middle of central London where you risk getting caught in every traffic jam the world chooses to throw at you. Or you go West, past the infamous Hangar Lane gyratory and onto the hell of the M25 near Heathrow. Or you go East where you're likely to get stranded in the Blackwall tunnel approach. You’re basicially screwed whichever route you take, but my preferred option is always to go East. I don't really know why. Unbelievably, I was through the Blackwall Tunnel this morning like a dose of salts with a big smile plastered across my face... But then I hit the M25, where I ended up in stationary traffic for about half an hour. I took a fancy detour on a cross country route which snaked its way through Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, but with every town and village I drove through, the traffic seemed to get worse. For the final 5-mile stretch, I got caught behind a learner driver who was terrified to go faster than 30 miles per hour...

Anyway, I was in Lewes for three rehearsals; two with our pianist, Rachel, and one with our soloist, Hilary. Rachel teaches in a college in Lewes, so we had to split the session in half to work around her lessons. We were at university together and I’d forgotten what an astonishing pianist she is. She was pretty much sight-reading, but has an extraordinary musicality.

Hilary, similarly, is an exquisite singer, and I urged her today not to allow motherhood to take her away from performing forever. It was wonderful to see her and her brilliantly chubby baby, Jago. I’ve missed her over the last couple of months, and it was fabulous to get the opportunity to catch up. We had lunch in a cafe, and then took a walk through the sometimes-misty, sometimes-sunny autumnal streets of Lewes.

Sometime in the middle of all of this, I caught up with Mez for a quick mineral water in a pub by the station. Mez brought her little puppy, Berry, who is terribly cute. He or she (I think it’s a she) looks like a tiny little black and white mop, and did nothing but lick my fingers, and sit in a little heap on Mez’ lap like a glorified merkin!

Sunday 10th November, 1661, and Pepys heard Mr Mills preaching at St Olave’s Church before zipping down to the Wardrobe for lunch, where Lady Sandwich continued with her mission to get him to spend more money on his wife. Pepys was very troubled to discover that a fair number of people he associated with were dropping dead of dropsy, an old school name for excess amounts of water, usually in the legs.

Pepys went to the pub in the evening and ordered a couple of bottles of strong wine from the Canary Islands, which made him feel extremely ill (possibly read drunk), so much that evenings prayers in front of all his household staff, was a fairly excruciating experience!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

It's like magic

It's been another day of tiring rehearsals at Julie and Sam's house in Catford. The drive down here took me through Hackney and the Blackwall Tunnel and seemed to last forever. My back was aching by the time I pulled up outside their house.

We rehearsed with an orange and chocolate cake sitting on the table, which was obviously a very useful incentive, because everyone sang very beautifully. We were working largely on solo material, and I have to say that there are some extraordinary voices singing my music. I feel blessed. It's times like this I have to smile to myself at the thought that someone in the Lincolnshire choir actually wrote in a court document that I'd only wanted to work with them to have my ego massaged by the sound of a brilliant choir singing my music. Sadly, I never got to discover whether there was any truth in her claim, but I finally know how it feels to have my ego massaged by brilliant singers! 

We've also just had a very lovely pasta dish for tea whilst watching reality TV, so all in all I'm feeling pretty good.  

Pepys spent the afternoon and much of the evening with Lady Sandwich. They talked about many things, but Lady Sandwich put much effort into urging Pepys to lavish his wife with more gifts. Pepys took her point and resolved to treat Elizabeth to a bit of lace the next time he went shopping. Bless him! (I think...)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Nellie takes her bow

I’ve spent the day very slowly working my way through an enormously long list of things to do. None of what I’m doing is particularly interesting, but it all needs to be done. I’ve created a mini list of things I need to do before I can settle down for the night, so this blog is going to be a short one...

I see that the pranny, Frankie Cocozza has been thrown off the X-Factor, for apparently “breaking the rules of the show.” I’m sure tomorrow’s red tops will be filled with sordid stories, but I’m just glad I don’t have to watch the berk strutting about any more. The very fact that I’m mentioning this extraordinarily dull occurance reminds me of quite how little I have to say today. I only hope that the show's producers will replace him with lovely little Jonnie, who was voted off on Saturday, much to my great chagrin, though God knows, I hardly bothered to vote.

The Roy Harper gig has received some lovely reviews in the press. A few of them said what wonderful musicians the band all were, but I can’t seem to find one of those for this blog, so you’ll have to make do with what the EveningStandard said.

Friday 8th November, 1661 found Pepys hanging out with Sir Edward Hyde, the Lord Chancellor. By all accounts the great man resembled a fish (my words, not Pepys’) but Pepys was just thrilled to be spoken to kindly by the great statesman and grandfather of two future monarchs.

Pepys spent the rest of the day dining, drinking copiously and searching for a clerk who would draw up yet another set of papers pertaining to Uncle Robert’s will. Dull dull dull.


Ooh, I had a lovely piece of cod for tea...

Monday, 7 November 2011

I see the autumn rain

Ah! Columbia Road on a misty, murky Autumnal evening. There's something highly atmospheric about the East End of London on evenings like this. I wasn't at all surprised to find a film crew shooting a period drama when I emerged from the end of Philippa's street earlier. I've filmed on Columbia Road. It feels timeless. 

I've had a lovely day. It was a deliberate attempt at something resembling a weekend, because I worked so hard over the last couple of days. 

The day started with a rehearsal in Crouch End for my concert on the 27th. It didn't feel like work. We were with the wonderful actress, Sara Kestelman. She's joining Nathan on stage to sing a song I wrote called The Morning Always Comes. The piece is really about moving on in life, but has very sad connotations for us all, being one of the songs chosen for the memorial concert of our good friend, Kevin. Sara and Nathan sang it on that occasion as well, and as they remembered their way through the song, I very much felt the ghost of Kev was with us. He always used to do impressions of Sara's unfeasibly low voice singing the song, and I heard him again this morning. 

The rest of the day was spent with Philippa, Deia, Gob and Kate. God-daughter, Deia, was in a singular mood, and she tied me to door handles on two occasions before pointing at me and mockingly saying "silly Uncle Benjy!" She's also started doing impressions of a local man who can only say "uh-uh."

It was Kate's birthday last week, and Philippa had made an enormous three-tiered cake out of beetroot. I was slightly confused as to why it wasn't bright red, but it tasted very good. 

350 years ago, Pepys was visited by a musician called Roger Hill, who'd been engaged to give him lessons on the theorbo. Sadly, Pepys wasn't at all impressed by either his singing or his playing, so found an excuse to send him on his way. 

He received a letter from his patron, Lord Sandwich, who was still in Lisbon making arrangements for the future queen of England's journey to London. He wrote about the Portuguese court, and Pepys was fascinated to read of a bull fight, or Juego de Toro, which Sandwich had been invited to attend. 

Sunday, 6 November 2011

In her veil of tears she sees no rainbow...

We're in Tooting Bec. God knows what this place is other than a nasty hole filled to the brim with all sorts of undesirables and inadequates! 

We've been doing another alto sectional for my concert on the 27th  November. We were rehearsing two great singers who aren't music readers, so they sailed through the music I wrote for the Lincolnshire choir, which is now called Four Colours, and then started to slow down when it came to the behemoth which is known only as Busker III. It's a sort of Swingle-Singers-meets-Bach number, which was written and recorded as part of thr Busker Symphony. Heaven knows what possessed me to write something quite so complicated, but it's one of those pieces which will be an absolute showstopper if we can nail it. 

I am still on a high from last night, although I woke up this morning in floods of tears! It's a rare phenomenon, but from time to time, I dream of something so sad and empty that I wake up with tears steaming down my face. Usually I've been crying in the dream. This morning was no different. I don't actually know why I felt so sad in the dream, but my friend Lisa was cradling me as I wept; ironic, really, after the dreadful year she's been having. I woke up at 8.40am, wondering if anything was wrong with the world, but ten hours later, I'm consoling myself with the hope that I would have heard if there was a problem with one of my loved ones.

Pepys started drinking wine at breakfast time 350 years ago, and was drunk as a skunk by mid day. He was invited out for lunch by his friend Luellin, and they ate more marrowbones and neat tongues and other substances, no doubt, too minging to mention. 

Saturday, 5 November 2011

My orders are to sit here and watch...

Well, it's not often you get to conduct a sell-out gig at the Royal Festival Hall, share a stage with Jimmy Page and Joanna Newson, and become the living ghost of the late great David Bedford. I have done all three tonight and I am buzzing! 

One of the highlights of my life will undoubtedly be conducting Me and My Woman this evening. They'd sold seats in the "choir" area, which is behind the stage itself, and because I was facing the musicians upstage, I had my own private audience of revellers who were conducting the music with me! 

Everything went incredibly smoothly, but for a terrible moment in the song Commune, where Roy's fingers started playing very bizarre notes. At the end of the song, he waved to me, and said "Can we do the last verse again?" "Of course," I said. "Where shall we go from?" Asked Roy. "The Black Cap?" I suggested, laughing, because we'd discussed in rehearsals that it was not just a beautiful bird, but also an infamous gay pub in Camden. So we did the final verse again, and everything was perfect. 

Brava Fiona for doing such extraordinary arrangements, for choosing such inspiring players and for being 37 years old today! They're lighting fireworks across London in your honour... At least I THINK that's why they're lighting fireworks...

Pepys spent much of the day drinking in pubs 350 years ago. They were already celebrating November 5th by 1661. At one stage, he reports that he was "seeing the boys in the street flying their crackers." Good old Pepys!  

Friday, 4 November 2011

Everybody smiles

I am utterly exhausted! My feet have literally not touched the ground since I woke up at 9am. That's a lie. Of course they've touched the ground. They've done nothing but pound the gound. What I mean to say is that I haven't yet sat down... Apart from in front of a piano, which therefore means I have sat down today. It's just my brain hasn't stopped. Well, a brain never stops, until you die in any case, but you get the general impression of a man who is so tired he's become slightly manic. I’ve been formatting scores, sending letters, taking phone calls, ignoring phonecalls. My rehearsals started at 1pm, and went through til 10. Individuals first, and then the first rehearsal with all of the choir – well, half of them, because some were ill, others were away on holiday. I haven’t had lunch, or an evening meal. I’ve had 50 cups of tea, 3 slices of toast and 4 biscuits. I am hoarse. I’m buzzing and probably won’t sleep tonight.
I guess the rehearsal today made it all seem very real. There were eight of us – two on each part – and at times I had a glorious sense of what this group of people could become. We’ll need a few gigs to get ourselves sorted and for the sound to blend, but the singers are so utterly versatile. I can ask the women to belt, and they open up their lungs like proper gospel singers, and then I can ask for the sound to be go much more church-like and mellow, and they all oblige. Sure, it’s rough around the edges, and in a 3 hour rehearsal, we only made our way through about half of the material, but I am excited. There’s a seed of something very special in the offing.

I can’t write too much else. I’ll fall over.

350 years ago, and Pepys ate a chine of beef and a dish of marrowbones. What was he? A dog?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Standing in the rain

I spent the morning formatting music for my concert on the 27th, and then dashed off to the Royal Festival Hall for two rehearsal sessions with Roy Harper and the guys. I suppose what I’m appreciating most about this particular job is that I can focus on conducting Roy’s music whilst making sure that all the players are sounding as good as they can. I spend so much of the rest of my time carrying enormous weights on my shoulders. I’ll enter a space as composer, a director, a conductor, a producer, a peace-keeper, a note-basher and tea-maker, and it can be an excessively draining experience! There’s often a sense that if I leave the room, the cogs will immediately stop turning, and everyone will enter a state of anarchy until I return!
I’m not saying that my role in this particular gig is unimportant – far from it - but I rather like the fact that the success of the end product doesn’t largely  hinge on me. There are many more important people, doing many more important things; and more importantly, we all have a good sense of how our skills fit into the over-all puzzle. I guess this is how most people feel when they walk into work. I often have to take a deep breath before entering a rehearsal room!

That said, today's rehearsals were tiring, but they were also great fun. The atmosphere is upbeat. Occasionally a childish remark, or a double entendre will send everyone into fits of giggles for a few minutes, before we knuckle down to work again. We share food. We share jokes. I encourage Roy to share his extraordinary anecdotes. No one feels rushed. No one feels pressured. This is exactly as everything should be and a great deal of thanks have to go to Fiona for setting things up with such a sense of OCD!

Funny story. The 'cellist in our ensemble is a relatively new mum, and just before she started to play, she felt something in her bra. She rooted around for a bit, and was utterly horrified to discover that the discomfort was being caused by a piece of ham! Her son's lunch, apparently!

I didn’t realise how exhausted I was until I walked from the South Bank to Goodge Street. It struck me that I’d been in a room with no natural light for the best part of 7 hours, so it felt important to walk for a while, whilst filling my lungs with gritty smog and the smell of rain. It had obviously properly pissed it down whilst we were rehearsing. I walked up through Soho to avoid the busy streets, and then into Fitzrovia. Does anyone still call the area around Charlotte Street Fitzrovia? Every time I’m in that area, I remember that all the new Romantics; Boy George, Philip Sallon et al, lived in a row of squats close to Goodge Street in the early 1980s. The houses in that part of town are now worth eye-watering sums of money, and yet, back then, you could live in them for nothing, sign on, do a few jobs on the side, walk everywhere, and live like bohemian kings. Sometimes I think it’s no wonder that such a huge amount of creativity emerged in that era. It was somehow still possible to “have a bash” at creativity without the realities of the outside world crushing your spirit.

I look back to those days with a slight feeling of envy, but then realise that ¾ of them either died of HIV related illnesses or drugs overdoses, so feel rather grateful to have been born a decade too late!

I returned home to be told by Nathan that I have panda eyes. Poor me. Pee.

350 years ago, Pepys took “physic,” which meant he was feeling poorly and had decided to stay at home all day. It was a Sunday, so he was basically merely skiving church. He spent the afternoon reading books, and, oddly, composing music, writing that he "did try to make a song in the praise of a liberal genius (as I take my own to be) to all studies and pleasures." I thought the default in those days was to write music in praise of God, rather than liberal genius. Still, it's always good to have a nice high opinion of yourself...

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

I'm so tired I wanna go home

I’m utterly exhausted. I have a cold and my day seems to have lasted forever. It didn’t help that I couldn’t sleep a wink last night. I was awake until at least 4am with hundreds of little thoughts darting around my head like a game of space invaders. I got out of bed. Put the telly on. Got back into bed. Got out of bed again. Bashed my knee against a piano stool. Trod on something hard and plastic. I ended up in the kitchen going through all the drawers to find some kind of sleeping tablet. I don’t like pills and potions, but I like insomnia even less.

My morning started in the cafe. I sat with a pot of tea, a pile of tissues, and my scores for the Roy Harper gig, which I studied like an A-level student. As I left the cafe, the owner called me over and wrote “timbre” on a piece of paper. He said he’d been arguing about the word's pronunciation and meaning all morning and thought I was the man to provide the answers. He was right, and I bored him silly with my response.

The rehearsal with Roy happened in the Blue Room at the Royal Festival Hall. It sounds rather fancy, but it's really just an airless room with no windows and a table with a coffee pot on it. The RFH (as I like to call it) is a venue that most classical musicians have played in. I've never performed there, which is hardly surprising as I'm not a performer. I did have a dressing room there once when I was helping ballet dancers to act (an impossible task), but I couldn’t find the stage door for toffee. I kept rushing up to people who looked like staff members, and asking where it was, but they all said they didn’t think there was one. It was only when one person said; “oh you mean the artistes entrance” that I understood the error of my ways. A bit of a fancy-schmanzy name for a stage door, if you ask me...

We had a very good session. Fiona has booked some remarkable players. I was hugely impressed by the standard of their musicianship, particularly as they’re having to play in some properly bizarre keys with more flats and sharps than I think it's healthy for a string player to deal with. Roy was incredible. I think we all felt rather privileged to be in his company.

I returned home to find 4 basses and a tenor sitting in my bedroom ready for a choir sectional/ note-bashing session. We certainly have a large amount of music to learn – and some of it is not at all easy... But the rehearsal went well, despite the fact that I could barely talk by the end of it. There’s a great amount of good will within the choir, and people seem particularly excited to be singing the requiem. It seems to bring out the best in them, which is a particularly lovely feeling for a composer.

So that’s about all from me. If I don’t stop working now, I’ll end up a quivering wreck. My glands feel like apples on my neck!

Pepys’ boy servant, the wonderfully named Wayneman, got himself into a rather peculiar situation on this date 350 years ago. It would seem that he’d found some gunpowder, stuck it in his pocket, forgotten about it, lit a match, and set off a mini explosion! Pepys went to see what had caused the loudish bang, and found Wayneman in a cloud of smoke, with burns on his legs and hands from reaching down to his trouser pocket to put the fire out. Pepys quizzed Wayneman about the origins of the gunpowder and was unsatisfied with the response he received. He therefore beat the lad “extremely”, which “troubled him” even though it was "necessary." So the third degree burns weren’t punishment enough?

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Sun is shining in the sky

The sun shone brilliantly across London today. I found myself, at about 2pm, in Earl’s Court, walking across a canal bridge. Roy Harper was playing on my headphones. The sun was warming my face. The white art deco buildings were glowing yellow. I made a note to myself to remember how lovely that moment felt.  
I’ve done nothing today but listen to Roy Harper songs. Rehearsals begin tomorrow and I think it’s my duty both to him, and my dear friend Fiona (who did the arrangements for the gig) to know exactly what I’m doing and at any given moment. I’m also aware what big shoes I’m having to step into. The last person who sat behind Roy, and subtly waved his arms about, was the great David Bedford, who sadly died a few months ago. He did the orchestrations on more seminal albums than I’ve probably ever listened to! I think it’s going to be a very emotional concert, not just for Roy, but for all of his followers.

Speaking of Roy Harper songs, I'd love to bring your collective attention to this Peter Gabriel/ Kate Bush duet, which I didn't know existed until very recently. There's something about the wall of sound vocals in the second verse that makes me feel so excited I want to scream!

I went to the brand new offices at Decca today to talk about my Requiem. I very much liked the guy I met. He spoke candidly, which I appreciated. I can sense a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario brewing, however, as it’s pretty clear that the requiem works much better if listened to with an awareness of the story behind it. Afterall, what's the use of a wonderful quote from a gravestone if you don't know it's from a gravestone. And that requires help from TV people, which ought to be my zone of expertise, but there’s so little money in telly right now, that I almost don't want to ask! Afterall, every time another TV exec says no, a little piece of hope in my soul splinters off and stabs whichever organ it is that sits beneath the soul!

I guess there was that slight sinking feeling as I left the offices. At the back of any creative person’s mind is the glimmer of hope that someone will scream; “Get the contract department up here. I wanna sign this genius before he walks out the building!” No such exclamations happened today, but I did go away with a genuine sense that the guy I met enjoyed my music and was captivated by the concept of the work. What else could he have said after listening to just three of the movements played on nasty computerised sounds? He urged me to develop the piece, so I'm sensing the need for a pared-down premier of the work in the new year. As ever, with these grand plans, there are many mountains to climb before Xanadu appears on the horizon!

I went back to Highgate via central London and met Nathan for a late lunch in a pizzeria. On top of my whooping cough, I now seem to have a cold. It’s a fairly grotesque irony to be tripping off my tits on anti-biotics whilst merrily developing a second illness. I now seem to have a bacterial infection AND a virus. Oh Jubuilate! I think 2011 has to be the year of great sickness. Everyone I know has been ill in some way at east five times!

Right. Back to the scores. Or maybe Glee. I’m tired and hungry. What do they say? Feed a cold, starve a fever? I was so delirious this afternoon as we walked to lunch that this particular quote dripped out of my mouth as “feed a cold, starve a pizza.”

Is it me, or does this blog have no flow to it?

The pumpkin that Nathan carved two days ago has entirely caved in and now looks like a Venus Fly Trap.

350 years ago, Pepys met Sir William Penn’s eldest son, who was also called William. He'd just finished his studies at Oxford and was invited to spend the evening with the two Sir Williams and Pepys at Pepys’ house. By all accounts they had a lot of fun. William Penn, the younger would soon leave London, and keep heading West until he reached America. More specifically, Pennsylvania... which was named after him!

The pumpkins in their prime!

Oh dear...