Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Never grow up

Nathan finally arrived home at about 1am yesterday, after waiting for the AA for a full four hours. Unfortunately, and probably necessarily, the single female drivers take priority, so if you're a bloke, you'll probably wait a great deal longer, particularly if you've managed to crawl your way to a lay-by. The clutch-less car was deposited at the Kwik Fit garage in Kentish Town, and the breakdown truck driver kindly dropped Nathan back home afterwards, which apparently isn't AA policy: they'd rather leave you at a dodgy garage in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

The saga turned into a farce this morning when Kwik Fit announced they didn't fix clutches and that our car would need to be instantly removed from the forecourt or they’d be forced to have it towed away. According to Kwik Fit, the AA is perfectly aware of their policy on broken clutches, and should never have left the car with them. The situation became ludicrous when the AA claimed it was now our responsibility to have the car towed to a more appropriate garage. Their policy, they told Nathan, is to only allow one tow per breakdown.  Nathan eventually sorted things out but everything happened with terrible grace, which is deeply disappointing. I would have thought the AA ought to be used to dealing with worried drivers, and would at least feign compassion.

I left the house about ten minutes after I should have done and found myself running late all day as a result. It was well beyond rush hour  when I arrived at Highgate tube but I still found myself pressed up against a man who looked like a cockatiel and a woman who smelt of Marmite in a ridiculously crowded tube which was being "regulated", a process which seemed to involve a great deal of waiting on platforms. Meanwhile, something ghastly was happening to the deodorant under my right arm which had started to feel like honey. Sticky armpits are about as nasty a way to start a day as it gets, with the possible exception of waking up and finding a dead person in your bed on Christmas morning, or discovering you pitched your tent in the middle of a river. Oddly, both of these things have happened to people I've met, which forces me to somewhat downgrade my comment about sticky arm pits.

I spent much of the day in White City speaking to more extraordinary people with astonishing tales to tell. It's always when you least expect it that a story pops out which knocks you sideways. I won't elaborate. You'll have to wait to see the film!

I came home and had tea and cake with Fiona and lovely Vicky 'cello at Jackson's Lane. We talked about grown-up things like houses and children in a completely un-grown-up sort of way. I have no intention of ever growing up, and don’t see much evidence of many of my friends doing so either. It would be nice to own a house, however. One day...

Tuesday, 26 February 2013


I woke up this morning feeling like death warmed up. I hadn’t slept nearly long enough the night before, and was awoken in the night by a curious alarm and flashing light coming from under the curtains in the bedroom. Unbeknownst to me, Nathan had taken possession of some kind of smart phone, which had been given to him in rehearsals as lost property. He’d very kindly decided to take it home and charge it up to find out who it belonged to, but what he didn’t realise is that it was set to ring some kind of bizarre wake-up alarm at shit o’clock in the morning. The thing made me jump out of my skin and in my half-sleeping state I couldn’t work out how to switch it off. I took a look at it earlier actually, and still don't know. It seemed to stop of its own accord, but went off again some ten minutes later, freaking me out all over again. I wanted to throw it at a wall like an alarm clock in a cartoon.

I feel rather like I’ve wasted today. I’ve been working, but at a lethargic kind of pace. I’m in a No-man’s-land between commissions and can’t start writing the White City musical until we’ve found all our contributors in another few weeks. I’ve just put the final touches to the latest draft of the Pepys Motet, and need to turn my attention now to the Four Colours songs, but have that “standing on the edge of a diving board” feeling, where the thought of jumping off and getting embroiled in yet another world of tiny dots on a page is not exactly thrilling. Of course, it’s fine once I’ve started. I just need to take the plunge.

Nathan has just phoned to say that the car’s broken down, which is about the last thing we could do with right now. He’s stuck in a lay-by near the M25, somewhere close to Weybridge, and is terribly hungry. The AA say they might be as long as two hours. Apparently the clutch has stopped working, which sounds horribly expensive and what neither of us has right now is money; certainly not the sort of money it might cost to repair our car. I can’t begin to imagine what kind of a knock-on effect this is going to have. Still, I know of so many people who are having it much worse at the moment, so there’s sod all point in complaining. We all had the option of studying maths at school and going into banking! I don’t think I’d be any happier with lots of money anyhow. I’d just be worrying about a different set of problems. The wealthiest people I know are undoubtedly the most miserable.
Incidentally, can someone tell me what a "classically trained" chef is? I'm often described as a classically trained composer, but surely all composers have learnt a classical instrument at some point, even if it's just the recorder? Would anyone call themselves an "un-classically trained" composer? I remember hearing about a bloke who wrote musicals, once, who made a big thing about the fact that he didn't read music. Music was, according to him, "too constraining." I just laughed. That's like a poet saying they don't know how to hold a pen.

Monday, 25 February 2013


We paid Julie and Carol a surprise visit last night and sat up until 3am watching the Oscars with them in Lewisham. We left before the best actress fell flat on her face whilst collecting her award, and missed Barbra Streisand and Adele, which I was sorry about, but sleep was beckoning. We did see Shirley Bassey, however, and applauded her wildly. She's almost 80 and can still chest a C! Legendary. 

Of course, when you go to bed at 3.30am, you wake up feeling exhausted and somewhat disorientated and I had a day of meetings at the MU to attend. We were trying to think of ways to encourage some of the larger funding arts organisations in this country to invest in recordings. It's so important these days for composers to have recordings of their music; particularly as the art of score reading seems to have passed into legend. The music industry is changing all the time and it's our duty as the MU writers' committee to keep on top of things. 

We were given fancy sandwiches and boxes of fruit for lunch, which I slightly overdid.  I have an intolerance to kiwi fruit and melon, and after chowing down on a whole plate of the latter, my throat started to feel very itchy and my voice started sounded curiously silky. Fortunately Fiona was on hand with an antihistamine, but this is definitely an allergy I need to watch. I think avoiding melon and kiwi for the last few years has possibly exacerbated the problem.

From the MU in Oval, we went to Soho, and sat in my favourite spot, downstairs at Leon on Old Compton Street where Nathan met us for a bite to eat. He's just cast on another sock. Another masterpiece, no doubt. 

Sunday, 24 February 2013


It’s been a ridiculously quiet Sunday, and it strikes me that I’ve spoken to no one all day, apart from a rather curious lady in the gym. Nathan has been rehearsing a show and got up preposterously early to do so. I lay, like Lady Muck, in bed for most of the morning. I did a bit of writing and then got sucked into a Carry On film; something about Henry VIII. They’re all the same, but it made a pleasant enough distraction.

I went to the gym and met a woman in the steam room with a face full of shampoo bubbles. Who shampoos their hair in a steam room? She was obviously in a great deal of pain because the bubbles were dripping into her eyes and was running towards the shower. She returned to the steam room some two minutes later, and apologised for her behaviour; “there was something in my eye. It felt like shampoo,” she said rather quizzically. FELT like shampoo? Her face was literally covered in bubbles. Surely she could remember putting that much shampoo in her hair before getting in the steam room? It’s not like shampoo remains in a latent state in one’s hair, waiting to turn into sea foam the moment it senses moisture!  And furthermore, if it wasn’t shampoo, what on earth was it? I was horrified.

I came home from the gym and sent out a load of emails about our music quiz. A date for your diaries: Saturday April 27th, 2013. Nathan and I are writing a quiz to raise some funds for the Rebel Chorus’ recording of Four Colours, which is going to be released for the Kaleidoscope Trust. It’s very important to me that every penny which the recording makes is able to go to the charity, so we need to raise about £600 to pay for a specialist recording studio where the choir can all sing with headphones on.

The quiz promises to be a rather genteel occasion. It’s an afternoon event, right next to Hampstead Heath, which means that people can spend the morning walking their dogs and the evening doing whatever they might feel like doing. The quiz will be accompanied by tea and fine cake. What more could anyone want?

To reserve a place contact Bring a team, or come on your own. We will allocate you a seat on a table with like-minded souls.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

A natural fortress

As I walked from the Northern Line to the Central Line at Tottenham Court Road this morning I could hear an amazing violinist playing Grapelliesque jazz music. I reached for my wallet. 3p in coins. Insulting. Should I give him a fiver to celebrate his excellence? Bit indulgent, maybe? As I got nearer, I could only see a keyboard player, which confused me, until I realised, with horror, that this amazing violinist was actually a really good sample on a keyboard - for the first time in my life I'd been duped by modern technology. Oh the shame...

Penny and I have just spent a long day on the White City Estate and have met a string of absolutely fascinating people. 

The estate itself feels like something of an oasis; a fortress nestling between the metaphorical (and in some cases actual) walls of the West Way overpass, Queen's Park Rangers and the BBC buildings. 

QPR were playing at home today, and the estate echoed and shook with the sounds of the match. The roads were closed to traffic. On every corner, a hastily erected stall sold programmes, blue and white scarves and burgers made of horse meat. The local cafes were rammed from 10 o'clock in the morning.

We met a calypso-loving bandana-wearing Trinidadian who describes himself as "Indo-Caribbean." A card carrying Hindu with his own bedroom temple, he speaks with a strong Caribbean accent, is bearded like a Rastafarian, yet his parents were Indian Christian missionaries. Go fathom! 

We went to a support group for black and Asian people with HIV. I was overwhelmed by their friendliness and very touched to be invited to join them for a meal. More excitingly I got to eat my first ever plantain. I genuinely thought it was going to be disgusting: like a sickly fried banana, but it was actually more like sweet potato and a rather wonderful accompaniment for the hot spinach curry which it accompanied. 

If I needed six or seven souls brave and interesting enough to tell an individual story through song, I reckon I'm already half way towards my goal, which is an exciting place to be at this early stage. 

In a week's time I'm going to go full time on the piece and won't be coming up for air until July. Wish me luck! 

Friday, 22 February 2013


We seem to be watching Mastermind. Is it just me, or has the standard dropped? In the olden days, people would regularly score up to 30 points, yet only one of today's competitors scored more than 20. And this was some kind of quarter final. This begs a simple question; are we 33% less intelligent than we were in the 1980s, or do they have 33% less time to answer the questions?The boiler in our flat is working again, thankfully, and a strange pair of men turned up this afternoon to repair the guttering outside our bedroom window, which has been making the wall below our bathroom damp, and drenching us every time we’ve tried to open the front door, apparently even when it’s not raining!

A curious Polish man turned up first, and asked me what I wanted him to do. “I assume you’re here about the guttering?” I asked, “I don’t know” he said, “someone else is coming, but he’s fifteen minutes away.” There was a long silence as both of us tried to think of things to say. He ended up waiting in the garden out of politeness. Frankly I’d have been more likely to offer him a sit down and a cup of tea if he’d seemed to know why he was standing in my house. The idea of making small talk for fifteen minutes whilst I had work to do was horrendous. As he left the house, he handed me a newspaper, "in case you want to read it..." "Don't you want to read it?" I asked. "No," he said, "I thought you might..." I thanked him keenly, wondering if I'd entered a Pinter play without realising.

His entirely spherical side-kick arrived fifteen minutes later informing me that a car “or van” had exploded on the Archway Road and that there were hundreds of emergency service personnel trying to deal with an enormous fire. I glanced out of the front window. The traffic wasn’t moving, and there seemed to be some blue flashing lights beyond the junction with Southwood Lane, but I couldn’t see any smoke. I was more irritated to have knocked a plant over as I tried to open the window and also that all these curiously-shaped workmen were preventing me from going to the gym.

There’s not a lot else to say about today. It’s freeing cold and it’s been trying to snow all afternoon. They say arctic winds are heading this way, making it seem even colder, which is a fairly terrifying thought. The weather seems to be all that people want to talk about; in the gym, in the cafe... I'm on the White City Estate all day tomorrow. Someone's going to return me to Nathan as a block of ice.

I'm going to stop writing now, because I’ve been sitting in front of this computer solidly since 9am and I want to have a couple of hours’ rest before bed. I should probably eat something as well.

Have a lovely weekend, readers!

The last post

Our boiler is still broken! The landlord continues to promise he'll sort things out, yet I've sat all day freezing to death underneath a blanket in the sitting room. Unacceptable. I was a dachshund and a packet of parma violets short of being a little old lady.  No one can be expected to live for more than a day without hot water or any form of heating in these sub-zero temperatures.

I had the misfortune of having to take the Victoria Line in the rush hour this evening. What's that all about? People were literally screaming at each other; "move down the carriage, you twat, people are trying to get on this train." "Alright! Keep your hair on, you wanker..." The packed carriage echoed with the sound of general tutting and elbows being jabbed into ribs by frustrated, claustrophobes. It was hell on toast. London transport brings out the very worst in people. 

What brings out the best in people however, is a sad story. This afternoon, 250 people in Southsea turned up to the funeral of Jimmy McConnell, a former marine, who'd died alone, without family or friends in a nursing home. His prized possession was a red beret, and the nurses who'd been with him at the end used twitter to urge people to turn up to his funeral so that he had the dignity in death that had eluded him in life. People came forward in their droves. He even ended up with a set of buglers playing the last post. 

His death sends out an important message. It sounds cliched but we all need to think a little more about the plight of old people. No one should expect to die alone, feeling like a burden, but as the population grows progressively older, the likelihood of this happening to us increases. 

So come on, everyone. Stop worrying about how many followers you have on twitter, and go out there in the world attempting to make a very real difference.

We went to the Pheasantry tonight to see Julie and Abbie performing cabaret sets. I was deeply proud of them both. Abbie's low chest range is simply stunning. The room held its collective breath as she performed Send In The Clowns. I always feel pangs of sadness when I hear that song, wondering if I can ever hope to write something so beautiful. Julie performed Piaf numbers exquisitely, and in French, which was a real treat. I've got some deeply talented friends. The evening made me want to play more 'cello!

Speaking of small London theatres. Do take a look at this link (suggested by Venta) which discusses how the London Mayor might help small theatres to overcome the fundamental problems which go hand in hand with, well being a small theatre; lack of investment, lack of money to publicise events or pay performers. They are vital training grounds, particularly for writers and directors, and we must all do our bit to help them to thrive.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013


Raily's boiler broke down yesterday and I returned home at the end of the day to find the same thing had happened to ours. What is it with boilers packing up on the coldest days of the year? The very same thing happened twelve months ago. My friend in the cafe says we're expecting snow tonight! 

To make matters slightly worse, I'm told by our land lord that the boiler engineer can't get to us until tomorrow, so we're going to have to do a lot of shivering. 

The older I get, the more I find myself resenting reverse sexism on telly. I was talking to my mother about the subject this morning, specifically the hordes of glamorous women, now presenting sports shows, whose only claim to fame is that someone has schooled them in the correct answer to give when asked if they understand the off-side rule

I'm not referring to gems like Sue Barker and Clare Balding, who can do no wrong in my books, but rather these vacuous and vapid young blondes who pout and gurn when the cameras start rolling, and have CVs which include presenting the weather on ITV and doing a stint on that shitty roulette show which is always a mind-numbing option when I can't sleep. These women, in my view, are single-handedly convincing the world that women are not equal; they're silly things who talk nonsense, but no one cares because they look pretty. 

My biggest bug-bear right now is the way that men and women are stereotyped in advertising. It doesn't matter what they're trying to sell; the man is always depicted as the sex-crazed, slightly dim Neanderthal whilst the woman rushes about, multi-tasking like a saint, without a hair out of place, solving everyone's problems even when she's on her period. To show a woman with even a whiff of neurosis would be advertising suicide. 

I'm bored of it. Equality should mean equality and true equality can only happen when we're advanced enough to acknowledge that there are key differences between men and women and that stereotypes exist, however much we'd like them not to. Men are, in the most part, stronger. Women are more likely to want to feel protected. In the latter stages of pregnancy and first few months of child-rearing, a woman's brain turns to mush. Women are no better at multitasking than men. Men like football. Women like chick flicks. Men are pretty bad at expressing emotions but far more likely to be direct when it comes to fact. A woman is more likely to nag. For the most part, however, we're just trying to stumble our way through life as best we can, whilst attempting to understand the eccentricities of life.  Showing women in adverts as supercilious super-heroes doesn't help the cause. 

Why don't adverts show men and women creating teams which complement one another and play to each others' strengths?

In my mind the advert which demonstrates most clearly how bad things have got is the one where the older married couple wave goodbye to their children, shut the door and breathe a sigh of relief. The man looks at his wife, gestures upstairs and says, lasciviously, "well, by my calculation, we've got 45 minutes."  The woman follows his gaze to the ceiling, "I like the way your mind works. You get the ladder and I'll get the poly filler." The camera cuts to a crack in the ceiling and the woman gives her husband a withering glance which says, "it's wrong to think about sex. You know I loathe you and frankly if it weren't for me and my astonishing patience, the world would end."

Frankly, I'd appreciate the advert a whole heap more if the woman said, "look, I don't like sex anymore. Three children have ravaged my body. I feel dowdy and miserable and every time I've tried to look nice recently, you've barely noticed, so really all I want to do right now is eat cake and call my mate, Jen who always tells me what I want to hear which is basically that everything's your fault!" 

Come on, people. It's 2013. We gotta work this stuff out!

Crimson and straw

I've been in Aylesbury all day, basking in glorious straw-coloured winter sunlight with my godson, Will and his mother, Raily. 

We had a splendid day. We ate baked potatoes, played with Lego, went to an amazing lake for a walk, watched birds - including a red kite - from a proper hide, visited Raily's allotment where we dug Jerusalem artichokes out of the ground (who knew that's how they grow?), and then, as the sun melted into a glorious crimson orb, pottered about the area around the church in Aylesbury, which is one of the loveliest spots I've encountered for some time. A square of ramshackle Georgian houses surrounds the church yard. There's no room for cars. You could film a period drama there tomorrow. 

I came back home to find Fiona - and a pizza - in my front room. A glorious end to a very special day. 

Monday, 18 February 2013

Bitter Ruin

I just played a gig with the wonderful band, Bitter Ruin. I've not eaten anything this evening and my head is spinning a little as a result of the adrenaline which performing again has generated. It was a tiny little gig at Blacks club on Dean Street, in a curiously decadent room, lined with sofas and fabrics in bohemian colours. I only played one song, a stunning track called Brand New Me. There's really nothing like making music with high quality players, especially when the song you're performing makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. I felt genuinely proud to be part of the line-up. 

I think it went well. It's not always easy to tell very when you can't hear yourself that clearly, but I enjoyed the experience and didn't feel at all nervous, which is, I've no doubt, a good thing.

Playing the 'cello is a painful business, however. Apart from my finger tips being covered in little blisters, the instrument itself is intensely heavy and the walk from Soho to Leicester Square was excruciating; the shoulder strap digging into my neck like nothing I've ever experienced, with the possible exception of the last time I carried my 'cello on the tube (!), although I'm pretty sure one builds up a tolerance to these things. 

On the plus side, lugging a 'cello about in Soho seems to attract an enormous amount of attention. Everywhere I looked, I was aware of people trying to catch my eye, and three people tried to chat me up. Everyone wants to date a 'cellist. Maybe it's the hat, or the shirt I'm wearing, but I haven't felt like such a belle of the ball since my mid 20s! I must remember this in the future, as its quite a morale boost for a man on the slow march to forty...

I've just caught my reflection in the tube window. I look like a Parisian from the 1950s. Like someone in a Doisneau photograph. If I carry this case for much longer, however, I'm gonna end up looking like Quasi Modo! 

Sunday, 17 February 2013


We received a hand-written card through the post yesterday from the animal hospital who'd dealt with Cas towards the end of his life, saying how sorry they were that he'd died. It was such a  nice touch, but somehow unsurprising; they were brilliant all the way through Cas' illness. They never gave us the impression that Cas was just a rat. They treated him like one of our family. 

Fiona is here at the moment. She's been with her parents in Northampton this weekend and is currently talking about Pete Townsend and Roy Harper, which is making me want to be a 1970s prog rocker! 

Nathan's been rehearsing a play all day and I've been playing the 'cello pretty solidly holed up in the bedroom. The sound's definitely coming back although heaven knows what will happen when I get nervous, or can't hear myself playing!

I went to a party on Upper Street tonight where I met one of the people who reads the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4. How cool is that? It's a sound I associate with my childhood. It's the sound of returning from my Grannie's house on Christmas Day, snuggled up in a sleeping bag surrounded by a thousand colouring books. "Sailing By" followed by all those mystical sounding places like Dogger, Valentia, Portland Bill and St Catherine's Point automatic. Whenever I hear it from now on, I will always wonder if it's my new friend reading. Even if it's a woman! Apparently they have to read it at a very specific pace because people transcribe the information as they hear it. Fascinating. 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

A brand new me

Nathan and I have just been for a belated Valentine's Day dinner at a vegetarian restaurant in Smithfield Market. Nathan had wanted to take me to a place in Angel, but it was fully booked. He seemed genuinely sad that we hadn't been able to go somewhere nice, so instead of going home with a pizza, or eating in Highgate, I suggested we ventured further towards the City. 

The area around Smithfields is incredibly beautiful, and very still and dark on a Saturday night. The twisting labyrinth of alleyways and lanes around the ornate Victorian market building offer a snapshot of 17th Century London. People appear from gloomy doorways like shadowy ghosts. I half expected to see Mr Samuel Pepys himself bustling past on his way to Seething Lane from an appointment with a lawyer in the Temple. 

I've always wanted to visit Smithfields early on a week day morning, to see all the pubs still open and the greasy spoons filled with workers from the meat market. Not the ideal location perhaps, for a card carrying vegetarian, but I'm intrigued. 

I've spent the day playing the 'cello. Yes, the beast has been brought out of his case and I'm willing the callouses to return to my finger tips to ease the pain of playing on blisters  (which is the current situation!) Various muscles in my upper arms and hands are hurting like hell. There are plainly contortions involved in cello playing which I used to take for granted! 

It also makes me acutely aware that modern day living will one mean render most of our fingers obsolete. Computer work relies so heavily on our thumbs and forefingers that it now hurts me to write with conventional pen and paper for too long; something to do with the pressure on my middle finger, which I don't use a great deal these days. 

Anyway the 'cello is out for a reason. I may or may not have a gig (imagine me doing a gig?) on Monday night. We're rehearsing in the afternoon and the band is under the strictest instructions to immediately sack me if it sounds horrible. I have to say, however, that playing the 'cello is deeply therapeutic. It makes me feel a little sad and wistful sometimes - chiefly because it reminds me so much of being young and idealistic; that long hot summer after we'd taken our A-levels when we busked every day - but it's a real tension beater, so it's great to be doing it again. I'm slowly coaxing the old sound out again! 

Friday, 15 February 2013

Pubs and mosques

I spent the entire day today on the White City Estate. We walked for miles and miles and met some hugely interesting people including two street dancers who refuse to charge kids for the classes they run, a woman who works for an HIV drop-in centre, an astonishing Somali woman who campaigns against female genital mutilation and a man who runs a music programme in a homeless shelter in Goldhawk Road: saints, the lot of them.

This is turning into another one of those projects that it’s a privilege to be part of. The White City estate is genuinely home to a community who knows how to look after itself. I suspect much of this is due to adversity. Many are unemployed, there have been issues in the past with drugs and racism, and the buildings they live in are damp, which has caused a great many health problems with the estate’s residents.

We spent the morning speaking to a set of "community champions" to get suggestions from them on the sort of film they’d like us to make; the stories they feel we should be telling, the question we should be asking and the tone of the piece in general. There’s a call for quite an urban, “grimy” sound to the music, which will pose an interesting challenge for me.

The most fascinating part of the day was a visit to the Egyptian cafe, which sits in a grand Edwardian Pub in the middle of the estate. When Mostafah, its owner, purchased the building, it was boarded over. It had been a den of iniquity, fashionable with drug pushers and petty criminals, who even used its garden as the venue for sex parties! The building was a wreck with holes in the ceiling, but unfortunately the powers that be insisted that it remained – at least partially – as a pub. Mostafah had created a fine Middle Eastern restaurant and a wonderful Egyptian-style cafe, where local people could play Backgammon whilst smoking hookahs, but the powers refused to budge, so he begrudgingly installed a bar in a corner of the building, which he leased out to another landlord. Within a short period of time, however, the pub had started to attract drug dealers again, and was (unsurprisingly) closed down – again – by authorities. Mostafah has now turned the bar into a prayer room for local progressive Muslims, and we met the Imam as we were shown around. I’d love to see the authorities trying to argue with that! How many other pubs have been turned into mosques, I wonder?  I can’t wait to tell this particular story in song!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Nessun Dorma

I didn’t sleep at all last night. I kept needing to go into the sitting room to watch the television, just to drive a host of busy thoughts out of my mind. It’s amazing the little snippets of television that you see when you’re having a restless night; shows about strange parasites that people end up with after going abroad and little bits of news, like the extraordinary story that Oscar Pistorius, the darling of the London Paralympic games, has been charged with the murder of his wife. At one point in the night I woke Nathan up, temporarily convinced that I was actually losing my mind. It was so full of little stubs of conversation, and half-formed thoughts, that all I felt I wanted to do was open up the top of my head and allow all the nonsense to pour out like the pieces of a jigsaw.  As a result of all this nocturnal activity, I found myself in something of a surreal haze all day. I’m staring at the telly, but have no idea what’s actually on!

I had a meeting at New Broadcasting House earlier, which is the BBC’s hugely impressive atrium-building behind Old Broadcasting House just up from Oxford Circus. The building reminded me very much of the BBC’s Salford Quays development; an extraordinary amount of natural light pouring down from the glass ceiling, countless floors of activity, lots splashes of reds and oranges in the shape of enormous lampshades and ergonomic chairs.  There was a buzz; lots of people huddling together, discussing news developments, and little pieces of internal BBC gossip. Every day brings more changes in that institution.

After my meeting, I went next door to old Broadcasting House to have a cup of tea and a natter with Ellie in her Radio 3 office. As you’d probably imagine, it was all very sedate, quiet and grown up in there. In newsrooms, everyone rushes around like ants in a spilt glass of Ribena, but at Radio 3 they waltz around the office as though dancing to a silent Mahler symphony.

Of course there’s nothing else to say. There’s another documentary series about trains on the telly tonight. Sometimes I think it’s the only subject the BBC is capable of programming. “People love trains,” says the commissioning editor with her finger on the pulse, “you can never have too many trains on telly...” She is, of course, wrong.

Acrylic yarn

I hate the south of London! Here we are at midnight in Catford. The last train has gone, there are no tubes anywhere in this vicinity, none of the buses go anywhere either of us have heard of and there's a sort of listless energy on the streets. It's always a bit scary to be somewhere you don't know this late at night. 

We've been at Julie's this evening, celebrating her birthday with a series of ridiculous parlour games. It was a near perfect evening of food and laughter. 

My day started at the Musician's Union head quarters in The Oval, with a top secret meeting with the designers of a new piece of music software. It wasn't quite as exciting as I'm trying to make it sound. A group of us had been invited to chat about the sorts of features that might encourage us to invest in a new computer programme, and it became a fabulous opportunity to whinge about what's already on the market. It's always good to meet fellow composers and swap notes about the different ways we approach our craft.

From Oval, I went to the West End to meet an agent about a singer we're hoping will front the Four Colours EP we're recording for the Kaleidoscope Trust in May. The agent liked the track. Everyone likes the track, which is a great relief to me, having had it so viciously insulted in a courtroom by a curious woman determined to prove a brilliantly audacious point. It's amazing how British law could make it possible to prove a work is "unperformable" without said piece ever being performed! Ah, the joys of finally being able to see your work used for the purpose for which it was written. 

We're now in Lewisham on a night bus heading north. The driver very kindly allowed me to get on without paying. To cap it all, my oyster card has run out of credit. Always the way when you're in a part of town with no topping-up mechanisms.

I bought Julie yarn for her birthday. Well, what else do you buy a keen knitter, even one with a stash which well exceeds her life expectancy? The trouble is, I know nothing about knitting, and the woman who served me in the haberdashery department of John Lewis was next to useless. Most of the people who work in wool shops live for the experience of recommending yarn to a customer holding a debit card. I asked her to take me to something special and she pointed at a ball of bright pink acrylic for £4 and said, "that'ld make a good pair of socks." And with that, she was gone...

Can anyone suggest any stress-beating techniques? I'm a proper ball of tension right now! 

The next question of course is how to get home from London Bridge. It's 1am, and the breeze coming off the Thames is terrifyingly cold! 

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Pancake mayhem

It’s Pancake Day and we’ve just royally stuffed ourselves with Delia’s finest, covered with currents, lime juice, maple syrup and sugar.  They were absolutely delicious, although I’ve seriously lost the ability to toss a pancake. Mine all ended up like little chamois leathers in the corner of the pan.

It’s been a day of mayhem. I’ve been desperately trying all week to get the Rebel Chorus into a recording studio to start the process of recording the Pepys Motet. It’s been two steps forward and one step back all the way. Every time I think we’ve got somewhere, something else goes wrong. On two occasions the recording studio has fallen through just as I confirm with all the singers that we’re on. I’ve now sorted the women and the basses, but the tenors are driving me insane. Literally insane. I lost it whilst eating lunch this afternoon just after reading that the recording studio booking had collapsed... again. One moment I was tucking into a plate of beans on toast, and the next a curious moaning sound was coming from the pit of my stomach and Nathan was physically having to hold me down! Deeply tragic.

I guess I spend so much of my life doing admin, trying, sometimes it feels against hope, to get my music out there and find opportunities for the choir to do what they do so beautifully. It’s nobody’s fault other than fate. The will is there on all sides, we just need the planets to start aligning. I’ve never been hugely lucky with the planet thing - probably because I don't believe in bunkum.

The over-reaction to the problem is definitely an indication that too much is going on in my life at the moment. I can’t think about anything without realising that my mind is littered with things I need to do. Before we can record the Four Colours songs for the Kaleidoscope Trust, we need to write and organise a quiz. I have two ridiculously complicated funding applications to fill in. I have scores to write. Every time I send an email asking for vital information, it takes a day or so to be returned. Meanwhile I’ve started working on the White City project with perhaps slightly less support than I would normally receive.

As a result of all of this I’m a little shaky and achy tonight. It’s nothing a good night’s sleep and a bath won’t sort. I’ll be right as rain tomorrow.

Still, the pancakes were lovely. Things must be on the up!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Foxy Bingo

Lying in bed last night was a really surreal experience. In fact, it took me some time to fall asleep. A blizzard was raging outside and the white snow was reflecting the halogen lights in the alleyway behind us. A milky orange glow was peering through the gaps in the curtains. More curious was the fact that all the city sounds seemed to be being amplified tenfold by the stillness of the snow. I heard the most curious sound, like a little like a puppy being stamped on, but lasting six times as long. I peered out of the window to see a ragged-looking fox, which had obviously just had a fight, limping its way down our garden path.

Much is being made of urban foxes at the moment. A baby got “mauled” by one in South London a couple of days ago. You'd think the media was reporting the escape of a psychopath from a high security jail. One woman, a neighbour (there’s always a neighbour), said she felt lucky to be alive; "that fox could easily have attacked me after that poor baby..."

All sorts of people, including Boris Johnson, are now coming out of the woodwork to demand we start culling foxes. A friend of mine (who’ll remain anonymous) suggested the rise in urban foxes is actually due to the fox hunting ban. At first we thought she was suggesting that foxes are now so bored in the wild, they're rushing to London for a spot of adventure tourism, but after much ragging, she admitted that she thought there were so many foxes in rural locations these days that they were being forced to move to the cities! A vulpine re-enactment of the Grapes of Wrath!

I’ve spent this evening on the White City estate with a group of women playing bingo in a community centre. I met some wonderful characters, who shared all sorts of memories with me. I’ve never played bingo, but always longed to. I’m hoping if I hang around with these ladies often enough, they might invite me to join them!

Sunday, 10 February 2013


It was craft and cake today, and we've been holed up all afternoon at Sam and Julie's house whilst the wintry rain pounded at the windows. 

Today's food offerings included tea tree muffins, a boozy fruit cake and a pile of chocolate brownies. I think the group is going to set me up with a beginners quilting kit so that I finally have my own craft, although I'm such an obsessive workaholic that just doing nothing is probably better for me than anything! Everyone seemed astonished that I'd not brought my computer with me today, which probably says as much as you need to know... 

There's not a great deal else to say. Sam and I plotted how we're going to take over the world with the Rebel Chorus, whilst Nathan tried his hand at double knitting (by all accounts a deeply frustrating activity), Abbie knitted a tank top and Tina made red crochet squares for a blanket.  We watched Dancing on Ice and drank too many cups of tea. We're so blinking rock and roll! Next week someone's gonna have a sip of sherry and then our descent into debauchery will be complete! 


Saturday, 9 February 2013

Chelmsford or Colchester?

I've just been to Chelmsford, the capital of Essex, where the women wear plastic skirts and the men don't wear coats. Nathan was singing a suite of songs at the cathedral, which is more like a parish church, but delightful nonetheless. 

He actually told me that the concert was in Colchester, and it was only when my brother (who was also coming) phoned to say that there wasn't a cathedral in Colchester, that we realised Nathan hadn't read his emails properly! 

It turns out that Chelmsford is a great deal nearer to London than Colchester, and even closer to my parents' house in Thaxted. Sadly they were in the Midlands watering their roots, so we weren't able to turn the day into a family occasion. 

The concert was fabulous. It was a Rotary Club fundraiser for two local hospices and featured a wonderful male voice choir conducted by our mate, John, and a gaggle of glorious girls with pre-Raphaelite hair from the local school for posh people. There's something uniquely stirring about a male voice choir, and John writes wonderful arrangements, which really show them off. The girls were singing and playing the most extraordinary repertoire for a school which included Purcell, Schubert and Vivaldi. They were hugely impressive, but made me feel incredibly sad. 

Music is definitely becoming the terrain of the privileged. Michael Gove's policies will mean that music will all but disappear in state schools within a generation and kids with inherent talent will never have the opportunity to enjoy the thrill of music-making. My mate Debbie is already teaching GCSE music as an after school club. How can this be possible? If it weren't for the county music service in Northamptonshire which provided free instruments and my wonderful state junior school, which placed music right at the top of the teaching agenda, I would not be composing now. It's as simple as that. My family were not in a position to be able to buy me my own cello until my Nana died when I was a teenager. Without music in schools I would be nothing. I hate Gove. I hate him. Ironically, my ex partner is his opposite number in parliament, but I don't know that his policies would be any better. 

I've just had a row with Nathan about my awful driving. It seems every time I get behind the wheel next to him I start to panic because I know he's going to criticise what I'm doing. The panic causes me to drive like an imbecile, which puts him on edge and there it is: the perfect viscous cycle. Can anyone think of a way to break this, other than my simply refusing to drive? 

Answers on a post card. 

Friday, 8 February 2013

A tonne of bricks

I've been troubled of late by adverts for pharmaceuticals with names which I consider to be slightly too graphic. I don’t know why we need our medicines and creams to be portmanteaus of words which instantly reveal the graphic truth of the patient’s condition. I’m talking about fixodent, anusol, normacol, vagisil. Going into the chemist and asking for one of these little tubes is surely tantamount to screaming; “I have terrible piles – please help!” And that's surely embarrassing for everyone. I don’t know why this sort of thing should bother me. I’ve not actually got piles, or anything that would need any of the above substances... but I might in the future.

It was a beautiful day in London today. The sky was powder blue and streaked with enormous fluffy vapour trails. The watery sun reminded me a little of the light you get in the East Village in New York. I felt very content as I strode towards the cafe, as I always do these days when it’s not raining. It’s so rare for it to stay dry for 24 hours however, and sure enough, the rain started pelting down just after dark.

I continue to eat healthily and go to the gym on a daily basis. My osteopath yesterday commented on my weight loss, which made me feel very happy indeed. My face looks tidier somehow, which is a great relief every time I look in a mirror. The true catalyst for this new regime came after seeing myself in an in-house BBC documentary about the 100 Faces project. My face looked like a hairy beach ball. I was bloated, old and weird-looking. I barely recognised the person staring back at me.

The rest of the day seems to have been spent filling in application forms and trying to pin down dates where all my choir are available to record the charity EP we’re going to be releasing in June. Trying to get 20 people all together in the same place is almost impossible, but it looks like we’ve nailed a date just before Eurovision this year. May seems such a long way off, however.

The Rebel Chorus are going to be recording Four Colours, which is the set of songs which was commissioned and then decommissioned by the Choir Invisible in Lincolnshire. It’s had a troubled past, much documented in this blog, which included a number of trips to Leicester Crown Court, so it feels wonderfully appropriate for it to be finally being used for the greater good; finally coming out, as it were. The charity we’re working with, appropriately enough, is the Kaleidoscope Trust, who are fighting homophobia on a global level. The more testimonies I read about the treatment of LGBT people, particularly in Commonwealth Countries, the more angry and helpless I feel. The president of The Gambia, for example, suggested that all gay men should be decapitated in 2008, and even in South Africa, where laws are actually very forward-thinking, lesbian women have been known to be raped by people who think they simply need to be shown what a proper man feels like. It’s barbaric and wholly unacceptable behaviour and we need it to change. Quite why black people don’t see homophobia as simply the other side of the racist coin, I’ve no idea. Until we understand that no one actually chooses to be gay, we’re simply treading water. The world came down like a tonne of bricks on South Africa in its apartheid days...

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Missing you already

Just after I wrote yesterday's blog entry, we took little Cas the rat to his appointment with the vet. He was very subdued and his little eyes, which are usually like two shiny black currents, were glazed over and sad-looking. 

The vet diagnosed kidney failure and told us it was time to let him go, so the little tyke was carried out of the room in his cage, and returned to us, still warm, and looking terribly handsome, but no longer with us. 

It's something that sits so uncomfortably with me: the idea that we as humans get to choose whether an animal lives or dies. It's basically the reason why I'm vegetarian.  Was Cas ready to go? Who gave us the right to make that decision on his behalf? 

Any way, we carried him home, and made him a little bed out of the box which had been his shelter ever since his brother, Pol had died. Usually rats will chew anything made of cardboard into pieces within weeks, and we always thought it was rather lovely that he seemed to be hanging on to the one thing that still smelt of his brother.  

We wrapped the box in a little blanket and took it to Highgate Woods to the spot where Pol was buried, under a tree covered in green lichen. 

We lit a candle and Nathan played the In Paradisum from the London Requiem. The words were astonishingly apt; "always in our hearts little man." And as the last lines struck up, "you weathered the storm, reached harbour safely", an enormous gust of wind rattled through the woods getting more and more powerful, and then disappearing with the last chord. It felt like the little chap was passing by somehow. Like the wind had come to collect him. I imagined Pol coming to collect his brother, saying "you took your time" and the two of them dancing off into the wind to share a new adventure.

Of course, as we walked away, leaving the candle to keep Cas company, we realised we'd buried him under a different tree to his brother. It didn't matter. The wind had carried his soul away. 

It's astonishing how much impact one tiny fella can have on a life, but I guess he was with us for 2 1/2 years, which is a long time by anyone's standard. Cas, mate, you did brilliantly well. Thank you for joining us on our journey. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2013


We're in Camden at the animal hospital. Cas the rat is in for his post-operative check-up. He's still incredibly unsteady and doesn't seem to be cleaning himself very well; neither of which bodes well for the long term, but we're doing our best. Why on earth do people have pets? 

Today has been about condensing the Pepys Motet for twenty voices whilst simultaneously ticking admin jobs off an ever-growing list. They say if you want something doing properly it's best to ask a busy man, and I've been like an efficiency machine all day. 

The Commons voted heavily in favour of introducing gay marriage in the UK last night, which felt like a mini-victory against bigotry. Our local MP, the wonderful Lynne Featherstone was very active in bringing the bill to parliament and seemed to be on an absolute high last night. The majority was 225, which is high by pretty much any standard. 

Sadly, there are still 175 (apparently) intelligent MPs who plainly still believe that society will collapse if same sex couples are allowed to express their love in the same way as heterosexuals, which begs a single question; has society collapsed in Holland or Sweden where gay marriage has been legal for some time?

Let's turn our attentions now to the countries who treat their gay people really badly. Russia. Uganda. Sri Lanka. Iran. Fabulously well-ordered, peaceful countries. Thank God they're keeping the gays in check.

The only Labour MP who voted against the bill in London was Stephen Pound, who I genuinely thought was dead. It's good to know the old git's still with us. I'm sure God will now welcome him with open arms when he finally shuffles into the proverbial subset. 

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Richard the Turd

I'm in White City, in a residents' association meeting, at the end of a freezing cold day which has found me popping up in all manner of corners of London. 

I stood directly underneath the Shard of Glass this morning. It's an awe-inspiring building close up, which I found almost impossible to look up at whilst walking along. The clouds were moving at high speed and created such a peculiar optical illusion that I lost my balance and ended up bumping into a rather unimpressed communter. 

Bermondsey is an impressive part of town. In the shadow of the Shard, a network of Victorian buildings and railway arches house art galleries, cafes, little theatres and some rather funky-looking shops. The area is full of media types and creative people and reminded me of parts of the East Village in New York. 

I watched the programme about the discovery of Richard III's body last night, glued to the telly like a child watching Scooby Doo. For those people reading this who've been living in a barn for the last few days, the body of England's most controversial king has been found underneath a car park in Leicester. He was previously thought to have been unceremoniously dumped in a river after being slain at Bosworth and his remains were considered lost. Their discovery is historically important and deeply fascinating. 

Last night's Channel 4 documentary featured an astonishing  woman from the Richard III society who had almost single-handedly peddled the search for his remains. Her combination of pig-headedness, belief in omens and seemingly endless capacity to be led by her emotions  left the scientists embarrassed and angry but her instincts were remarkable. Her decision to start the dig underneath a painted letter R on the car park Tarmac, prompted much mickey-taking, but the architects humoured her and immediately struck gold: proof positive that luck and portents are often as likely to succeed as science itself when searching for a needle in a haystack! 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

40th plans

I'm currently feeling a bit itchy, achey, glandy, bilious and ratty. The cold is rattling around at a low level and I'm about ready for it to go. I have woken up two nights running with a dreadful tickly cough which has forced me to get out of bed in the wee smalls to prevent any unneccesary discomfort for Nathan. 

That said, we just had the most delightful evening celebrating Philippa's birthday. What joy! Four lesbians, three bisexuals, two gay men, and a heterosexual. We glowed every colour of the equality rainbow! We sat around the big table in the conservatory eating curry and laughing hysterically whilst planning Moira and Philippa's joint 40th birthday party next year. It's very much at the brainstorming stage, but Philippa has written all the ideas which emerged today in a lovely book.  Thoughts so far include a beauty pageant, a hot tub, a midnight feast and a petting zoo featuring an actual Phoenix. You gotta aim high, but I guess the hope that the party might coincide with the rapture might be pushing it a bit! 

The rest of the day has been spent in something of a haze working on the Pepys Motet. Cas the rat still battles on, although he seems to have almost entirely lost the use of his back legs and is walking sideways like a crab as a result. I guess the next stage is to attach him to a little pair of wheels! Poor lad. 

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Socks and rocks

Nathan and I went with Matt to Kingston this evening, to see the National Youth Music Theatre's performance of Howard Goodall's "Dreaming", which is a musical adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which Pepys once described as "a most insipid, ridiculous play." 

The music was utterly charming, the performances universally brilliant and I left with a strong sense of the importance of the NYMT. I also got a chance to meet Howard Goodall before the show, which was quite a thrill. We talked about requiems and he seemed genuinely fascinated by the concept of the London Requiem. I told him I was looking forward to hearing his and explained that I'd tried to avoid listening to other requiems whilst writing mine. 

We slept until noon today. I'm not quite sure how that happened. I think the cold, and my refusal to acknowledge it, has been taking its toll.  

By the time we left Highgate for South West London I'd only managed to do an hour's composing. I don't really know where the rest of the afternoon went, aside from the half hour we spent taking photos of Nathan's latest sock designs whilst standing on a rock on the corner of Muswell Hill Road. 

...It's a curious, eccentric life I lead! 

Friday, 1 February 2013

Spam off!

Am I the only one to have noticed a recent and rather worrying upturn in the number of spam emails in my inbox? In the last day, I've been offered viagra, kamagra, $500k from a lovely Christian in Nigeria with terminal cancer, jewellery from the Czech republic, a "gay loan," a short course in classical music, a great rate on home insurance by someone called Gaylord, an affordable walk-in bath, a "Keranique" free trial (for male paten baldness) and an "unexpected perk," which I initially read as an "unexpected perm," which would have been much more exciting - and probably more unexpected! 

But where's this shit suddenly coming from? Which fucker initially sold my email address to a Chinese industrialist or a Russian cyber geek? And more crucially, what can I do about the situation? I'm getting so much spam that I've started deleting legitimate emails because my eyes go all skewy every morning with all the rubbish that's sent when I'm asleep. 

But spam sending must work, mustn't it, or these freaks wouldn't send this random crap. There must be people, God knows who, who fall for the scams, and open up the attachments to see the time share holiday they've won or the  lovely pictures of Justin Timberlake naked.  We only have ourselves to blame. 

The spam email which makes my blood boil is the one which offers a "degree" for no work and a hell of a lot of money. I  got my degree the hard way. Of course these things come from the US where pretty much everything is for sale! 

I once met a woman who taught a choir once a week at an American university over here. She was able to call herself a professor because, apparently, any member of "teaching staff" in an American university gets to call themselves a professor - even in the UK, or so she said! My mate Migs, who has a doctorate and is head of music at City University STILL can't call himself professor. 

How does that work?

Am I the only one who worries that nothing is real anymore? One day soon, when everything I value has gone virtual or entirely evaporated, when everyone's forgotten how to write and speak, I'm going to wake up in a cave, and tell Nathan that I had a crazy dream which seemed to last a life time! 


I’ve just got back from an evening in Soho with Julie, Abbie and Tim who’d all been to see the new musical Lift at the Soho Theatre which was produced by our good friend, Jim. I was very jealous not to have been able to join them, but it was fun to meet them out of the show, and sit in a dingy all-night cafe on Old Compton Street eating wraps and drinking mugs of tea. Conversation kept drifting back to the recession. Everyone’s struggling at the moment. I was horrified to hear talk of people not being able to afford their NHS prescriptions. What on earth is the world coming to?

Earlier this evening I was at BBC Television Centre launching our White City musical project to a room full of the great and the good from the West of London at a drinks reception. I had to deliver a little speech about the project, which I did entirely on the hoof, but it was well received. In fact, a charming 13-year old Russian girl from one of the local schools who’d been playing the piano in a corner of the room all evening came up to me afterwards to say that my speech was “deeply inspiring.” Lots of people wanted to talk to me, in fact, and some shared really delightful memories with me. The crux of my speech was that no-one should ever feel that their stories are boring or irrelevant. I think the same about life in general. We learn so much by listening to others – particularly those with wisdom and age on their side. Furthermore, the most successful set pieces in the films I make have often come from the people who’ve prefaced talking to me by saying; “oh, I’m not interesting enough for your film.” June in Songs from Hattersley who sang Everything Replaces, and Janet, the “Upside Down” woman in my A1 film both thought their beautiful and inspiring tales were common place.

Anyway, as I chatted to the room, I realised how important networking is, and how I very rarely put myself in a position where it can happen. Perhaps if I was a better networker I wouldn’t have holes in all my clothes!