Monday, 30 September 2013

From Here to Eternity

I went to the old people's film club on the Uxbridge Road this afternoon to watch a screening of Tales of the White City. It was a moving experience to watch my piece alongside several of its "stars" plus about 40 other local people.

The film club is a very special enterprise. Pensioners from White City and Shepherd's Bush turn up every Monday lunchtime for a lovely buffet and a two-hour film programme projected on a large screen. My piece was followed by a Marx Brothers film.

It was standing room only today. The group meets at vicar Bob's church hall. Bob, of course, features prominently in the film singing about his struggle with epilepsy. I'd visited the group in late February in the process of recruiting people to take part. We played 100 Faces and Songs From Hattersley and a number of key people came forward as a result.

Bob stood up  today and spoke passionately to the group. The poor bloke has had another seizure whilst out jogging and was sporting the most horrendous tick-shaped gash on his forehead. He said the words to his song were going through his head throughout the ordeal. He's always said how important he feels it is to use the misery of his condition for the greater good. He spoke to the group today about the importance of asking for help, be it from friends, religious leaders or professionals, proudly announcing that he'd decided to go to see a counsellor to help him to come to terms with his epilepsy, which I thought was incredibly brave. He spoke honestly and openly and had the group in the palm of his hand. He's obviously a very fine vicar. 

There were sighs and laughs all the way through the film itself. I'm not sure the crowd would have been able to hear every word as the hall has a very odd acoustic which rather swallows up dialogue, but there were certainly plenty of coos of recognition as people noticed obscure corners of the estate which had significance to them, and friends and family members who they hadn't realised had also been a part of the film. 

My films might not reach the largest audiences in the world, but they certainly seem to touch those they do. I felt very proud. And anyone wanting to see Tales of the White City can do so here:

I spent the afternoon working in a cafe in Soho and then went with Nathan to see the first preview of From Here to Eternity, Tim Rice's new musical about the WW2 attack on Pearl Harbour. I was pleasantly surprised. The music was sumptuous and beautifully orchestrated and the performances were strong across the board. It could do with a little trim in act 2, and one of the story threads in act 1 seemed somewhat confusing, but I'm sure all of that will be sorted before the press night. 

I personally think we should be celebrating anything modern and British in the field of musical theatre particularly something which has had a bit of money thrown at it in the shape of a large pit orchestra, a big ensemble of actors and some good-looking sets. It was brave and it was dignified. Congratulations Messrs Rice and Brayson.

In the interval, I overheard two ghastly old theatre queens laying into the show. "Yes, that actor needs to get himself to the gym, doesn't he?Yes, it was really dull wasn't it? What was it that the stage manager you met said about the show? That's right, from here to February! Pnah, Pnah, Pnah..." Mincey, mincey, gay, gay. On and on they went, and I thought, "come on, you nasty homs, this is the interval of this show's first preview performance. How DARE you take great delight in the concept of any theatre piece closing after a four-month run. People have worked incredibly hard to bring it to the stage. It might not be your cup of tea, but don't hope for failure, because if it DOES fail, it will signify another nail in the coffin of the British musical theatre industry and in no time at all there won't be any shows in the West End left for you to slag off, you rancid turd." That's what I thought... And I wished I'd said it to him, and then bitch-slapped him across his fake-tanned face. I hate arm chair critics. I just hope he paid for a full-price ticket! I half expected to see him in the little drinks reception afterward telling Tim Rice what a smash hit he'd written! 

And anyone 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Coming back to earth

We went to the Museum of the Great War in Peronne today. It was informative and clean and in the stunning setting of a castle by a lake  but I've known better museums. I had a strong sense that the place was determined to tell me the story of the war from the perspective of the French, which, particularly in the room dedicated to the Battle of the Somme (where French losses were relatively light) felt a little insulting, particularly when we consider that quite a lot of bloodshed was brought about by French military decisions. It was the French, for example, who insisted the offensive happened in broad daylight. Yeah, yeah, shoot me down, I've developed the true mentality of a Brit abroad. Next I'll be donning a pair of stillies and asking Nathan to hold my hair whilst I vomit. 

Peronne itself is a charming enough town with a lovely market place and a smattering of shops, all of which were closed because today is a Sunday. Yawn. That said, Picardy seems to be empty most of the time. The shops close at any opportunity and, with the exception of Amiens which was buzzing, there never seems to be anyone wandering about in the streets give or take the odd old lady holding an obligatory French stick. It would seem that this is one French cliche which was born out of absolute truth! They also serve frogs legs and snails in the restaurants. I thought this would prove to be another myth. That said, I've not yet seen a French person actually eating any of that crap, and wonder if they fill the menus with these "delicacies" so that they can laugh at the silly tourists who want to do things the Gallic way! 

From Peronne we travelled north-west to Arras, one of those French towns with a name that makes you shudder. Those Pals who survived The Somme ended up here, where they were subjected to another absolute blood bath in the great battle of 1917. The object of our stop in this particular town was really just to have a spot of lunch in a pleasant environment, and we sat in a lovely square eating an omelette. I have, as ever, struggled to find vegetarian food here. In fact, I've struggled to find anything which isn't hugely rich. They love their butter and cream and I'm craving simple, rather plain food like soup and pastas.

The weather has been fabulous every single day. The forecasts have always told us to expect rain in one way or another, but, apart from the gloriously misty mornings, we've had nothing but sunshine and powder blue skies. 

We treated ourselves to patisseries from a shop just behind the square in Arras. I had a rather disappointing eclair whilst the others went for more adventurous-sounding things with totally unpronounceable names. 

We ate them at Calais whilst waiting for the ferry to arrive. An uneventful ride across the channel brought us safely home to the UK, and, as ever, I was stirred by the sight of the White Cliffs of Dover. I'm sure most of the First World War "Tommies" returned home via Southampton, but there's something so romantic and welcoming about these particular cliffs. They do welcome the Brits home rather brilliantly. 

So what have I learned from my magical trip to Flanders? Well, I now know there's an artistic community who farm an area of marshland in Amiens. I know how to play bar billiards on account of a brilliant games corner in our hotel bar. I know that British soldiers carved their names on church walls in the villages where they were billeted. We've learned that shell holes weren't always used for killing purposes, but often used as a form of defence and protection (particularly when attacking up hill.) 

I've driven through villages like Corbie where my heroes Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon penned some of their finest poems. I've heard ghostly sounds being carried through electric fences and gusts of wind. I've walked into no-man's-land and stood in shell holes and trenches. I've explored man-made tunnels and recorded the sounds of bells tolling, trees whispering and cathedrals weeping. I can safely say I would never have expected to see, experience, feel and learn so much in such a short period of time, and return to England absolutely ready to write a very fine musical! Wish me luck! 

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Nessun dorma

It's been another magical day, much of which was spent in the glorious city of Amiens, the capital of the Picardy Region of France. Amiens was a strategic place in both world wars, and as a result was damaged very badly. Twice. For most of the First World war it was tucked firmly behind the front line, miles away from the danger zone. It was however, hugely significant as the place where trains bringing Allied soldiers to the front lines terminated. Nearly all British soldiers passed through Amiens.

There are hundreds of accounts of the city buzzing with soldiers from all over the world, all trying to buy war souvenirs from locals lads determined to make a fast buck, many asleep under the trees in the Cathedral square. The cathedral itself was a Mecca for soldiers arriving at the front for the first time. Some had never seen a building so impressive. It remains one of the largest Cathedrals in the world. After nightfall Amiens' dark streets were lined with dodgy taverns and  good time girls all ready to offer a sex and booze-starved soldier the chance to spend his King's shilling. 

We headed straight for the cathedral, a hugely impressive place, which was made a little more atmospheric by a British chorus practising for a concert this evening. Elgar and Faure buzzed around the building, drifted to the roof and floated down to the floor a few seconds later, creating the most remarkable tonal clashes. 

From the cathedral we disappeared into the Medieval Quarter, which is a network of ramshackle buildings and bridges climbing over and clinging to tiny canals which flow into the infamous River Somme.

We took a hugely eccentric excursion into the "Hortillonnages," which can only be described as a series of allotments floating on marshland. A chirpy local took us through a network of tiny river channels on an electric punt.  We floated past hundreds of gardens 
lined with the brightest flowers and the biggest vegetable patches. I have seldom seen such large pumpkins! The place is filled with wildlife. We saw kingfishers, herons, cormorants and scores of butterflies. I'm genuinely not doing the place justice. The experience was deeply calming and green, oh so green. 

We came back to the hotel and Nathan and I went on a little adventure to find Bus-L'es-Artois, the village just north of Albert where the Leeds Pals were billeted in the weeks before they went over the top. I'm not sure what I was expecting from the place. A few old buildings. A little monument to the Pals which I knew had been erected somewhere in the village...

We headed for the church. I'm not quite sure what prompted us to walk around the back - sometimes, it seems, I have a homing instinct for these sorts of things - but we found, scrawled into the walls, ancient graffiti, most of which was in English and marked with that magical date, 1916. Some of the graffiti listed a name and a regiment. Some names were simply marked with the letters "RIP."

As we emerged, somewhat stunned, from the churchyard, a man appeared from the house opposite and came running over. He didn't speak a word of English. We have a pitifully small French vocabulary. We asked him where the Pals memorial was. He told us it was down the road on the tiny village green. We explained that we had a great interest in the Leeds Pals. He asked if we had five minutes and indicated for us to follow him into his house. He led us through the front room, past his wife and a son and a strange yappy dog who tried to jump into my arms and into the garden where he unlocked a little shed. 

...And what magic met us inside. At first glance I saw that the walls were lined with hundreds of shell cases, machine gun magazines and curious pieces of rusty metal no doubt dug out of local fields... But then my eyes became accustomed to the place. There were tins everyone. The first that caught my eye was a large Tate and Lyles golden syrup jar on a shelf with an empty pot of Mackintosh toffees and load of biscuit boxes. There were cigarette tins, porcelain jars, empty Guiness bottles, Sheffield-made spoons, forks and knives, empty mess tins and little pill boxes. These were the little things which the Pals had left behind. No more than bits of rubbish to them, but of deep significance to me. I felt so privileged to be picking them up, running the objects through my fingers and trying to feel their energy. 

We left the little shed almost shaking. The man asked if we'd like to see something else and we followed him like love-struck puppies. 

He led us next door and opened the door to an enormous barn. "Dormir" he said, "Leeds Pals dormir." And there it was, the place where some of the Leeds Pals had slept 100 years before, and it had plainly barely changed. A hayloft, ancient wooden beams, ladders and barrels against the walls, straw on the floor. 

This felt like the most important by far of all the sites I've had the pleasure of visiting over the last few days. For the first time I'd made a truly human connection; a connection which felt every bit as momentous as the time I got to hold Pepys' diary at Magdalene College in Cambridge. The experience of standing in that barn this evening will never leave me. 

As the sun set, we drove back to Serre to say goodbye to the Pals and my Great Uncle. We walked into the field behind cemetery number 3, the spot where the Pals clambered into no-man's-land, and we watched the sky darken. Crows and starlings flew around. Lights on a distant wind farm flashed and twinkled. The occasional sound of a gun, or perhaps a bird-scarer, echoed from the dark trees, and then, as we re-entered Queen's cemetery, a curious sound was carried to us on the air. The sound was like a blast of heavy gun fire. Neither of us could work out where it had come from. It wasn't so loud that we ran screaming from the spot, but it was significant enough for us both to say "what the hell was that?" Perhaps it was an ancient memory. A time slip. An endless echo of the incomparable din of the Somme. 

At the same time the sound of very distance traffic (I think) sent a pitched whistle to me on the breeze; an A. A few seconds later I heard a C... The start of an A minor chord. For a few perfect, magical seconds, the two notes oscillated and then sounded briefly together. I would be utterly foolish not to use what nature delivered to me in such an awe-inspiring package, so watch out for a sequence in A minor! 

As we left Serre, Nathan called out to the men lying in the graveyard that I was going to honour them with some very beautiful music. Gosh, I hope he's right... 

Friday, 27 September 2013


Today started with the Simpsons in French! I switched the telly on very briefly whilst waiting for Nathan to shower and was highly amused to hear a passable impression of Madge - chronic nodules and all - Speaking French! 

I looked out of the window and saw that it was surprisingly misty, which felt so appropriate that I began to get impatient to leave the hotel before the sun burnt through.

We went first to a place called Lochnager Crater, an enormous shell hole, just East of Albert, which was created by the Brits two minutes before they charged over the top on July 1st. The explosion was the work of British miners who carefully tunnelled underneath the German front line, and detonated a tonne of explosives. At the time it was the loudest sound ever created by mankind and it blew the Germans to kingdom come. 

The men going over the top in that area were the Grimsby chums, who have the distinction of being the only Pals regiment to use a different suffix. They reached the enormous shell hole and dived inside for cover, in the process becoming sitting ducks for friendly fire. Like many other Pals battalions, they were more than decimated in just a few hours. 

The place looked sad and desolate in the mist. We parked next to an enormous pile of turnips. The farmers here tend to trustingly leave their root vegetable crops by the sides of roads. Since arriving here we've seen countless heaps of turnips and potatoes. 

Perhaps it was the weather - the mist, the watery sun - but this was the first place we've seen in France which seemed to buzz with an atmosphere. It was felt almost heavy with sadness, a sort of hopeless anger, which 100 years hasn't quite dissipated. Inside the crater, thousands of paper poppy leaves flapped in the early morning breeze, tossed in over the years, no doubt, by relatives of the hundreds of men who died here. 

If anything the mist became more intense as we drove along the single track roads towards the village of Serre. It was like some kind of dream sequence; a half-world of ghosts and daemons. Periodically a grey shape would loom out of the whiteness. Sometimes it would reveal itself as a monument or the tall cross of a British cemetery. Other times a farm building would appear instead. Here a tractor. There a car. The spiky maize crops which fill most of the flanders fields flashed past in silhouette on both sides of the road. 

Serre is the reason I'm here. This is where the majority of Pals regiments, including my men from Leeds, went over the top on 1st July, 1916. I'd studied the maps. I knew where their front line trench was. I knew what it looked like in 1916. I'd imagined what it might look like in 2013. As we parked up outside Serre cemetery number 2, and walked up the footpath towards the 3rd cemetery (where the Pals went "over the lid") all that remained was for me to process all the information I'd consumed and relate it to the bleached-out landscape which was confronting me. 

Standing on the edge of a field, staring up the hill towards the village of Serre (their destination on that fateful day) it immediately became clear that they didn't stand a hope in hell. You don't need to be a First World War general to realise it's absolutely nonsensical to attack up hill. My father became hugely angry. My mother became sad. Nathan experienced horror. I felt a mixture of all of the above. 

In a wood, which used to be four copses named after the apostles, there's a memorial park to all of the Pals battalions, many of whom were stationed in this part of the front line. The Accrington Pals have an enormous monument. The Sheffield Pals have a brick-built shed-like structure. The Barnsley Pals and the Bradford Pals are both represented with plaques, but no monument to the Leeds Pals exists. This makes me angry. Hugely angry. And it's something I WILL change if I achieve nothing else in my life. 

I took myself to the Queen's cemetery, a tiny little English cemetery in the middle of what would have been no-man's-land. It is here that Lieutenant Morris Bickersteth is buried, one of my favourite Pals, if such a thing is possible. Bickersteth kept a diary and wrote many letters to his parents, so it is through him that I have learned much about the way things were. I stood at his grave and read the letter he wrote to his parents "in the event of his death." In the letter he tells them that he doesn't fear death and that he'd be waiting for them and loving them as they read his letter. My mother cried. 

I sat on a bench and stared at a spider's web covered in a thousand tiny droplets of dew, which looked like beautiful jewels. Jewels, I guess, which mirrored the tears dripping down my cheeks.

As we drifted around, we'd periodically find ourselves in the middle of a guided tour, usually a British school group. One hears all sorts of snippets of conversation in these instances. Standing in the beautiful Luke Copse cemetery, for example, we heard the story of a group of Pals who'd been dug up and reinterred in one of the official cemeteries. When they were uncovered, it was discovered they'd been buried arm in arm; a whole group of men. Pals in both life and death.  

A curious thing happened at Serre cemetery number two. I'd taken the family in to see the graves of some more of the Leeds Pals. My Dad disappeared for a while to commune with the graves of men from the Warwickshire Regiment. My Dad is Warwickshire through and through (with the exception of a large dose of Welshness) and walked through the graves looking for people with familial names he recognised. 

Curiously, on our way through Northern France yesterday, my mother had turned to my Dad and asked him if he'd had a chance to look up one William Mabberley on the online army records. My dad had forgotten about it, but it seems my mother's Great Uncle, who was never really spoken about, had been in the army and was posted to India just before the First World War. The assumption was that he'd probably died during the course of the First World War. Mabberley is, of course, a somewhat unusual name.

Imagine our shock, therefore, when my father found the grave of a W Mabberley in one corner of the cemetery. He was part of the Warwickshire regiment. Surely, it wasn't possibly that we'd stumbled upon my mother's Great Uncle purely by chance? 

We typed W Mabberley into a military graves website search engine and were rather surprised to discover that only one W Mabberley had been killed in the First World War. He was, indeed, buried in Serre Cemetery Number Two, and the W stood for William. With the Warwickshire link, it is almost tantalisingly conceivable that this grave, which we found purely by chance, in one of many thousands of British cemeteries, could belong to my Great Great Uncle. How astonishing is that?

From Serre we travelled to Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland memorial. This is the spot where a huge number of Canadian troops lost their lives on July 1st, 1916. The trenches have been left almost exactly as they were during the war. Nature has taken her course, of course. The barbed wire and war detritus has long since decayed or been removed and the trenches themselves are now covered in grass. Yellow and cream butterflies drift in pairs across no-man's-land, birds sing charming songs from the poplar trees. It's all rather tranquil, but there's a strange kind of electricity floating around the place. My mother commented on it first. It gave her a strong sense of being at one with the universe. It made me want to cry! 

What has struck us all is the complete, or seeming complete lack of German war graves. They must be somewhere. Millions of Germans died in France. They were all given decent burials. There must have been huge numbers of relatives wanting to see their loved ones, but where did they go? Where DO they go? Where are their loved ones buried?  

After lunch we took ourselves to the Thiepval Memorial, which is to men who were registered missing during the Battle of the Somme. 72,000 men were never found. That's 72,000 men whose relatives waited in vain for their return. 

We watched a little film in the associated visitors' centre and they showed a roll call of photos of some of the men who never returned. Their images were accompanied by Elgar's Nimrod. Perhaps it was the music - when I hear Nimrod I instantly feel sad at the thought that I'll probably never  be able to write music of such astonishing beauty - but I think seeing the actual faces of those who went to war and simply disappeared  had a very profound effect on me. You could see their characters; the jokers, the intellectuals, the artistic ones. Men who, like our friend Ali's Great Grandfather, Richard Snodgrass, never fulfilled their potential. 

Back at the hotel, Nathan created mayhem with a group of Dutch tourists by knitting his Sanquhar scarf on the terrace. Surprisingly for Dutch people they couldn't speak a word of English, but they knew good knitting when they saw it, and everyone wanted to have their photo taken with him.. And it! 

We went into Albert for supper and found the place almost deserted. And on a Friday night? Where do the good folk of this town go of an evening? Plainly the answer is "somewhere else"! Perhaps they're all ghosts! 

Thursday, 26 September 2013

French letters

Today has been an extraordinary day, which started in North London and seems to have ended in a little market town in Picardy called Albert. 

It's been a day of beautiful weather. A day of ambitions fulfilled, wonderful food and heart-stopping sights.

The trip down to Dover was surprisingly uneventful. We picked the parents up from Liverpool Street, just as the City was turning from an eerie ghost town into a hustling, thrusting, get-out-of-my-waying money making machine. 

We had hot chocolate at Medway services and literally sailed straight onto the ferry, just as the sun burst through the clouds. 

Full marks to the P & O staff who went out of their way to help my Mother in her quest to find a watch she'd fallen in love with which had a lovely blue strap but didn't seem to be in stock. It's a long story, but  it ended with the manager of the duty free shop searching the ferry to find my mother to tell her, if she wanted it, she could have the display model. That kind of customer service requires big thanks and I spent ages filling in a form with the suggestion that all the members of staff be given bonuses!

As we drifted into Calais, we were lucky enough to catch an impromptu performance (in the Horizon Lounge) of a Kent-based barber shop choir on their way to some kind of festival in Holland. They sang three cheery numbers and were really very good. As I stood watching them, their faces filled with an absolute love for singing, I thought what a pleasant start to the holiday we'd had.

We blasted through northern France and within seconds were picking up signs for some of the places whose names would turn the most healthy heart to stone. Bethune. Arras. Amentieres. The site of indescribably awful battles. 

Our first stop was Vimy Ridge. I'd been there before, with Fiona, funnily enough the day before I met Nathan. I was surprised at how little I remembered...

I think we were all shocked at our first sight of shell craters. 100 years on. Covered in grass and grazing sheep and healthy-looking trees, but so very obviously a scene of absolutely carnage and devastation. An autumn breeze rustled the trees. The trees murmured tales; rumours even they didn't want to acknowledge. 

At the top of the hill, an enormous,  gleaming white monument stretched into the powder blue sky, so brilliantly white that it made my eyes ache in the bright sun. It is a monument to the 60,000 Canadians who lost their lives in the war. A monument to a country which was somehow born in the conflict. We stood at the top of the ridge and stared out towards Belgium. The horizon was lined with triangular slag heaps.

Human beings will never be able to walk through those forests again. There are still too many unexploded bombs nestling just under the surface . Sheep wander through the trees, munching at the lime green grass, tidying up the mess that man created but is too frightened to reverse.

Electric fences keep us out. Modern day barbed wire. I sat for some time listening to the sound of electricity passing through one particular section of fence. It was a spooky, barely audible rat-a-tatting. A distant sound, like something far away being carried towards me on a mysterious breeze. The sound suddenly sent a shiver through my body. It frightened me and I couldn't work out why until I realised that the noise I was hearing could easily have been the ghostly whisper of First World War machine gun fire. 

We took one of the official tours of the site which are provided by a gaggle of energetic Canadian university students. They're free and hugely informative and include a trip into some of the highly atmospheric tunnels underneath the battle field, which were dug by Welsh miners as a means of transporting troops, providing a safe haven during bombardment and as a starting point for much deeper tunnels underneath the German front line which were filled with bombs and exploded to devastating effect. 

We then had an opportunity to look at some reconstructed trenches in a section of the battlefield where no-man's-land was only 20 meters wide. It was stirring stuff, but, perhaps because the battle was considered successful for the allies, and perhaps because the entire site had been reconstructed, I didn't feel overcome with any sense of atmosphere. The place felt very much  at peace with itself. 

We left Vimy, headed further south, came off the motorway, circled around Bapaume and started heading along the B roads to Albert. And here the scores of cemeteries started appearing. Most of them are surrounded by carefully topiered  hedges and filled with standard issue white headstones in neat little rows. There are staggeringly large numbers of them. Every one made me shudder. 

Here and there, by the side of the road, patches of pock-marked grass remind us where we are. Brown signs read "ligne de front" (line of the front) and give the dates when the Allied front line occupied a particular area of land. The most devastating sign for me was the one which read "ligne de front, 1er Juli 1916", the day the Pals died...

We checked into our hotel, which has an enormous statue of a British soldier outside, labelled "Le Tommie." You can buy all sorts of ghastly things inside, including a snow globe featuring a young British soldier going over the top. The relationship between tourism and horror is a peculiar one! 

We had food in Albert and sat outside a cafe in a beautiful square watched over by the famous golden statue of the Madonna and child which sits on top of the tall church tower. As it got darker, the flood lighting made the statue appear to glow more and more until it began to resemble some kind of heavenly golden angel in the night sky. And you can see her for miles...

And then it occurred to me... This was the very statue which greeted the Pals as they marched into the war zone for the first time. Albert was the first town they encountered which had been badly damaged. There are accounts of them coming across an old clothing factory, covered in broken sewing machines and seeing the church for the first time, which was something of a legend to all First World War soldiers. A shell had dislodged the statue of the Madonna and child and left it hanging at a 45 degree angle from the top of the tower, almost as though Mary were flinging the baby Jesus at the ruined town below. As the war progressed, the statue seemed to hang at an increasingly  gravity-defying angle and a myth built up that when the statue finally fell, the war would end. And to my knowledge, this is exactly what happened! 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Gay Dunkers

I had a meeting this morning at the Musicians Union. Fiona and I are both members of the writers' committee, which means, periodically, we attend events, which involve a group of us sitting around an enormous table whinging about the music business and occasionally cracking inappropriate jokes. The inappropriate jokes are almost exclusively my terrain. Things just pour out of my mouth. Heaven help me when I'm old. Today, for example, an old timer was talking excitedly about an accordion recital. My mind thought, "that sounds a bit dull, I wonder how she made it so exciting?" My mouth said, "was she performing naked?"  Out of the blue. Just like that. Mortifying. 

In my defence I was actually recovering from the shock of eating meat for the first time in my life. A number of boxes of sandwiches and wraps arrived for our lunch and I overheard someone pointing at a box and saying, "the veggie ones are all here..." I chose one at random from the box and ate it without thinking anything apart from that it tasted a bit smoky and weird. At the same time a group of us were discussing how long we'd been vegetarian and I was proudly saying that I'd converted to the dark side in 1982. I realised with horror that it was only the wraps with little green flags sticking out of them that were veggie and that I'd been chowing down on some kind of smoked pig. I laughed it off, of course, saying that I felt like a new man, but secretly I felt sick and sad and my tummy immediately started looping the loop.  

En route to the meeting (which was in Oval) Fiona and I noticed a circular, very tall building on the horizon which neither of us had ever seen before! It's astonishing that a building could suddenly appear which two, generally observant people, would fail to notice going up. After much conversation we decided it was the lighthouse-shaped building in Vauxhall, the one which the helicopter collided into in fog a year or so ago. I'm used to seeing it from the river, which provides a very different vista. I plainly don't venture into the south very often! 

This evening I went to BAFTA to see Carol and Julie's rehearsed reading. Their organisation sets out to promote the work of black and Asian writers in film and television and they do so with great aplomb. I wondered why there wasn't something similar for LGBT people but then remembered that it's the norm to be gay in the Arts! 

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Sloppy gussets

I woke up and looked out of the sitting room window to find London in thick fog. Visibility in Highgate couldn't have been more than a couple of metres. It all looked rather romantic. 

Gasping for a cup of tea, I drove up the M1 towards Northampton. The sun was threatening to burn through the mist at every stage of the journey but by the time I'd reached my destination she was still struggling to be seen. 

I walked across Midsommer Common in an autumnal haze, listening to Lana Del Ray. One of the canal boats on the river obviously had a wood-burning stove, because the sweet smell of wood smoke was filling the air so that you couldn't tell where the swirling mist ended and the smoke began. 

The interview with Bernie Keith on Radio Northampton went very well. I was thrilled that he played both Yellow and Blue from the EP - in full - and we must have chatted for a good fifteen minutes. He's very easy to talk to. Very well informed. And he encouraged me to talk about some of my childhood experiences in the county. I found myself recalling a rather traumatic encounter with a group of teenaged lads from when I was about 7 or 8. I'd gone down our little lane on a pair of roller skates, fallen over and grazed my knee. A group of lads, they were probably 15 or 16, came and stood in a circle around me and took it in turns to spit at me and call me gay. I went home feeling reserved. I wanted to tell my parents what had happened, but was sacred that somehow if I acknowledged the cause of the name calling, they might tell me to behave in a more masculine way, which was what the teachers at school said I should do, shortly after I was banned from playing with girls! 

People, of course, will always be scared of homosexuality. Anything different is frightening, but unless there are laws preventing homophobia we'll never be able to change hearts and minds because people will always be able to say that if it's wrong in the eyes of the law, LGTB people can't expect equality. 

By the time I'd emerged from the darkened corridors of the radio station, the sun had burned through and created a rather lovely hazy day. I sat in a cafe for an hour with my old mate, Anna B, who produced my film about Watford Gap. It was so lovely to see her. We talked about her son, Harry, and dreamed up ideas for new films. I had to rush back to London, which felt a shame. I'd quite like to have hung about and caught up with a number of other old faces. 

Monday, 23 September 2013

Anal Cream Pie

Being the partner of a knitter, or a wool-widower as I prefer to call it, can have its ups and downs. On the bright side, I get to look at lots of lovely, brightly patterned scarves and socks and get to sit and marvel at the extreme cleverness of my partner.  Top of the list of downs, however, is the fact that our freezer is now stuffed full of wool! We're reliably informed that freezing yarn kills moths dead. Fact! But it also means I can't find the frozen peas and don't know if there are any nut cutlets for tea tonight! Hoo!

I went back to the gym today. I always know that I'm dangerously unfit when I become a little allergic to my own sweat and end up getting all itchy on the tread mill! Still, the feeling you get afterwards is worth the scratching and mind-numbing boredom. I feel alive I tell you. Alive! 

From the gym I trundled off to Dalston for a meeting with Alistair from the Kaleidoscope Trust. The subject of conversation was the release of our charity single. I'm being interviewed on Radio
Northampton about it tomorrow morning and Alastair was giving me a set of briefing notes. All very exciting. 

We returned home from Hackney and went to get our car washed by a group of fabulously chirpy Albanians on the A1. They washed the outside rather beautifully and diligently hoovered and polished inside... All done with beaming smiles and for the same cost as a drive-through car wash in an Esso garage. Now our car squeaks when it drives. And who'd have thought it was that shade of blue?

On the way home the elastic went in my boxer shorts, and I realised they'd dropped down to my knees underneath my trousers. Seconds later I realised that they dropped so far down either side of the gusset of said trousers that I found I'd lost the ability to walk up the stairs to my flat, so had to sort of jump. It was mortifying, really. 

Here's my problem. I can't find proper boxer shorts any more. If I wear these new-fangled, figure-hugging jockey trunk things, I end up getting really claustrophobic. The same sort of panic you get when your head gets stuck in a jumper or between the railings of a garden fence. So until I can find something a bit more old school, I shall be wondering around North London looking like I've had a little accident! 

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Double penetration

I'm in Catford. We've just had a marvellously relaxing afternoon watching television with Julie. Nathan's knitting an enormous olive green blanket, and Julie appears to be making a rust-coloured shawl. Nathan's run out of yarn, so there's a full-scale panic going on involving a wool website and two knitters atteto find something identical with which to finish said blankie.

We've watched the X Factor and Downton Abbey. It's good to know my weekend telly is sorted for the next three months! 

I did a morning's work and then got in a panic because I'd not eaten and wanted to tidy the house before we left. I mopped, scrubbed, washed and polished like a dervish in a frenzy before breaking into an awful sweat which made me feel stupidly emotional. I shouted a bit and then was whisked away in a car.

I arrived at Julie's and ate a plate of salad like some kind of rabbity addict... Going low blood sugar without food is such a nonsense! Maybe I shouldn't allow myself to give into it.

Here's an interesting thing. About two weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry entitled "porn songs and ice cream." On a normal day, I would expect about 100 people to read this blog. If I've been doing something interesting, or saying something outrageous perhaps as many as 200 will "tune in", but on that day, almost a thousand people clicked on the link, thereby indicating the power of filth! I find this hugely amusing and, as a result, the keen-eyed amongst you will notice, for the next few days, a little experiment taking place within my blog's titles. This may, or may not bring the reading figures up. 

Of course these new readers will be almost exclusively perverted, and won't bother to read the blog once they realise they're not going to click on it and find rows of lesbian dwarves wearing PVC aprons, but I shall, of course, keep my more loyal readers up to date with the numbers I'm generating.

What fun!

Any suggestions for filthy blog titles will be considered, so feel free to get in touch! 

Saturday, 21 September 2013


I had a wonderful email today from a lady in Leeds who was writing on behalf of her next door neighbour who'd seen me in the Yorkshire Post. The next door neighbour (whom I've still not managed to talk to her in person) wanted me to know that she had relatives who'd been in the Leeds Pals, and that she had a bugle which had been played by one of them in France which she wanted me to have. She thinks her own relatives would be likely to throw it away if she bequeathed it to them. The thought of seeing and touching a musical instrument with that sort of extraordinary heritage is obviously beyond exciting for me, and if I am able to look after it on her behalf, I shall be utterly honoured to do so.

I decided to wake up when I woke up this morning, and was both horrified and astonished to find myself getting out of bed just before noon. Noon! How slutty is that? I think the last time I got up at noon was when I was a student! I must have been tired.

Sadly I've done nothing but work ever since. I managed to consolidate another 30 pages of notes before my eyes went completely gaga. At least I now feel there's light at the end of this particularly long and dark tunnel.

In the process of consolidation, I came across a letter which I found in the Yorkshire Evening Press archives from 1916. I wrote about it a few weeks ago in this blog, but it touched me so completely, that I thought it might be nice to publish it in full:
To kindly disposed friends - I am taking what may seem a liberty in writing this letter to you, I am afraid, but the need justifies the deed, so here goes. I and a few bosom pals are greatly in need of a few musical instruments to make the hours that we are not on duty pass more pleasantly. No one knows except perhaps those who have experienced long, lonely spells how much music in these cases is appreciated. Out here in the firing line, away from all civilians, it is impossible to buy even the most crude instrument, and up to the present, the only music that has greeted our ears has been the whine of a shell or the crash of one of our guns. It is the ambition of my friends and myself to form a small string band, and instruments suitable for the same would be greatly appreciated by us, for we have at least six violinists with us now who are anxious to put their talents to use to make the “hour of waiting” pass more pleasantly. Dear friend, in reading this appeal, if you have anything to offer in the shape of fiddles, banjos, mandolins or any other stringed instruments, will you please remember the boys of one of your batteries. Trusting that some good result will come of this letter, and a few instruments will be the practical answer. Yours sincerely Yorkite.
I would love to know what happened to this group of musicians, whether they were sent any instruments, and moreover, if any of them survived the war. I don't suppose I'll ever know.

Another curious article appeared on Monday 27th December 1915:

During the past few months an Ashford (Kent) ferret dealer has sent no fewer than 500 ferrets to the troops in Flanders to assist the men in hunting the hordes of rats in the trenches. Rat-catching has become quite a sport with the troops, and in consequence for the great demand for ferrets, the price of them has gone up in the Ashford district from 1s to 5s each.

How bizarre is that?

Friday, 20 September 2013


Fiona's been with us all day today. She sat with Nathan in the sitting room, the pair of them under blankets in a semi-comatose state, watching telly whilst talking about knitting and iPhones. I joined them in the later afternoon but sat, like a good boy, all morning in the kitchen doing my research. At the moment I'm trying to transfer all the First World War notes I've made into a single, logical document which will enable me to find the information I need when I start to write the piece. For some reason the process is taking forever. 120 pages of text read, re-read, edited and placed under fifty or so individual headings. Dull, dull, dull... 

We had lunch in the greasy spoon and then took a lovely walk along Parkland Walk towards Crouch End. The sun's back this week, early enough in the year for it to still feel like summer. The trees are still green.  I think we may have a few weeks before the leaves start to change colour. 

There's not much else to say, really. We dropped Fiona off at St Pancras, came home for some pasta, and I now intend on melting into a sofa and going into hibernation! 

It's been a long old week. 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Women of Iceland

We've got Fiona staying with us at the moment. She's come straight off the train from Paris, which strikes me as being a little too glamorous for words!

I've just been to an exhibition of photographs by my friend Gaby. It was in a beautiful gallery with white washed walls just off Brick Lane, and the whole thing, which was sponsored by Olympus, felt incredibly swanky. There were fancy hors d'oeuvres, glasses of champagne and a slightly eccentric display of parkour.  

The pictures themselves were of inspiring Icelandic women; leading figures from the arts and science living in a country which I'm sure intrigues most of us. The portraits themselves were stunning, but the tantalising views of the landscape in the background behind were something else.

Gabs is a wonderful photographer and I'm thrilled things seem to be going so well for her.

Women of Iceland is at the Loading Bay, Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, E1 6NJ

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Landing with a bump

I landed back in London last night with something of a bump. Everyone who walked past me at King's Cross station seemed to be either angry or depressed, and I realised that grumpiness is really part of the make-up of London. In fact, I started to think what an impossible task the manager of that Tesco store in Hackney will have trying to get his staff to give decent customer service.  The majority of Londoners are in such a hurry to be somewhere - anywhere - else that everything else goes out of the window!

So today I've been formatting and sifting through the notes I made in Leeds, whilst simultaneously trying to empty my suitcase, do my washing, and make a start on the last two Pepys Motet linking sequences. For some reason, my hands smell of bleach.

I've also been transcribing a 90-year old Leeds woman singing a song about the Barnbow Lassies, recorded in the early 90s
about six months before she died. It's apparently the song the women used to sing as they filled shells in the factory. I'm astounded she remembered it for the best part of 80 years. Transcribing it was complicated and involved a lot of guess work. It didn't seem to scan particularly well and there were sections where she'd plainly forgotten the melody and opted to make something rather tuneless up whilst focussing on the words. But what a treat it was to hear her voice - her wonderful West Riding accent lilting through.  Just lovely. 

Nathan arrived home from Coventry an hour ago, clasping a manuscript pad from our friend Carrie, who he's been working with for the last couple of days. Carrie had seen the book whilst shopping in Newquay and thought of me. How touching is that? It's a lovely thing and I've decided to use it the very next time I put pen to paper. I could have done with it today, actually. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Yellow flowers

I am remembering with horror an incident at the premier of my film last Friday when the (female) mayor of the borough (whom I'd been speaking to earlier in the evening) came over to congratulate me after seeing the show. Unfortunately I'd only been introduced to her as "the mayor" and as a result, had no idea of a) her name or b) how to formally address a mayor.

"Alright, Misses?" I said. Like some kind of insane cheeky Cockney. Calling people "Misses" was something I picked up from Shaheen Baig when I used to cast films with her.

"Did you just call me Misses?" Said the mayor?

"Gosh, I'm sorry," I replied, "I assume I should have called you Lady Mayoress."

"Ah no!" she said "Lady Mayoress" would be how you would have addressed my wife if I were a man..."

"So what would I call your husband?" I asked.

"Dead!" she said, with a twinkle. "But otherwise, he'd be my consort."

And out of embarrassment I launched into a monologue about the Clintons, wondering if Bill Clinton would become the "First Man" if Hillary were elected as president. Fortunately I stopped myself from asking what her lover would be known as if she were a lesbian. She plainly already thought she was speaking to an imbecile! 

In my embarrassment, I never thought to ask how tradition dictates that we greet a female mayor. Lady Mayor? Mrs Mayor? Shirley?!

Answers on a postcard, please...

I breakfasted in a little greasy spoon near the market. I've yet to find a cafe in Leeds where I can find a poached egg or somewhere I can sit and write whilst slowly sinking cups of tea. Cafes in Leeds seem to be about the practical aspect of eating rather than relaxing... Or pretending to be a screenwriter.

I spent the morning at the library in the Leeds Armouries museum, looking through an enormous file of material on the Barnbow munitions factory, which proved hugely useful. I think research is always more enjoyable when you already know a fair amount about what you're reading. Very soon I reckon, I'll be an expert! 

I called my Mum, who's actually in York, and discovered that they've already run the piece about the musical in the Yorkshire Post. I can't for the life of me find a copy, but I've already had a couple of emails about it, so someone must be reading! 

From Central Leeds, I took the York train to Crossgates and walked a few miles to the site of the munitions factory on Barnbow Common to meet another local historian called Doug.

The walk was incredibly pleasant and took me right out into the countryside and down a little lane. I stopped for a while outside a kennels, listening to a dog howling what seemed to be the tune to Mission Impossible. The wind was rustling the trees and periodically a train heading to York would sound its horn to indicate it was passing through a nearby level crossing. It was all rather bleak and lonely in a hugely atmospheric way.

It started to rain just as Doug got out of his car, and so our walk around the old factory site was soggy to say the least! 

It's quite an amazing place, however. The factory occupied some 300 acres of land, which has now been returned to nature. Periodically we'd come across half a wall, or a piece of shattered concrete, and Doug would say, "that's where the canteens used to be" or "the single gage train track followed the line of that little brook over there." We'd find the odd twist of ancient barbed wire wrapped around a tree and here and there the evidence of some kind of pavement or earth work.  As we walked, it struck me that there would probably be little difference between this site and what's left of the trenches in Flanders. Nature will always win whatever wars we decide to wage.

The most intriguing and perhaps upsetting part of our walk was visiting the site of the room where 38 women were killed when a shell exploded. Filling room 42 has taken on an almost a mythical status with people who know about Barnbow. A local housing estate, for example, has roads named after the women who were killed, and yet today, the place where they all died is merely scrubland; entirely unmarked and almost inaccessible. I'm not sure I picked up any specific atmosphere there - the entire place feels rather eerie if you ask me - but what struck me were the yellow wild flowers everywhere. I didn't even know what half of them were, but there were lots of different types of flower and all were yellow. Yellow as far as the eye could see. 

And why should this strike me as unusual? Well, the women who died in that room were known as the canaries. All were badly jaundiced as a result of TNT poisoning and their faces were bright yellow. Maybe it's just a coincidence. Maybe the ground itself is still laced with TNT, which I'm told is a yellow colour and that has somehow attracted yellow flowers. Or maybe, just maybe, this is mother nature's way of honouring those brave women  who did so much for their country. 

Monday, 16 September 2013

The nicest folk on t'planet

Well, it's official. The Yorkshire folk are friendlier than ALL other people. All day today people have gone out of their way to help me, from the lady in Gregg's who practically walked me to the nearest Post Office this morning to the woman in the train station who just printed me out a train timetable for trips to Crossgates tomorrow. Politeness beyond the call of duty!

I am wandering the streets of Leeds this evening whilst listening to the London Requiem. It's a remarkably filmic experience. There's a bit of a gale blowing, and a light mizzle means the street lights and neon shop signs are reflecting on the dark Tarmac in a quite breathtaking manner. Like sparkling jewels in the darkness. Here a smudge of garish pink, there a deep purple ellipse. The traffic lights change and suddenly the world is green. 

My little hotel, The Discovery Inn, displays its name to the word outside the train station in beautifully illuminated letters. Sadly the first few have blown a fuse, so it would appear I'm now staying at the Overy Inn. Oh for the little "a" that would make it the Ovary Inn!!

So, this morning, I took myself to Leeds Minster to look at the plaques to the Leeds Pals in the lady chapel there. Later in the day I had a meeting with staff at BBC Yorkshire  to talk about the musical project. It reminded me of the first meeting we had about A Symphony for Yorkshire. It was even in the same room with many of the same people and the very same ratio of women to men, namely 8 to 1! 

The rest of the day has been about pottering. Reminding myself why I love Leeds and its people. 

It's so nice to hear the Requiem again and to have it blasting in headphones in my ear. It's a bloody good piece of music, you know. Obviously it's a little difficult for any composer to be objective about his or her work. We write what sounds good to our ears; what we find musically exciting or moving, however bizarre, old-fashioned, or dull it sounds to other ears. I can only say that I'm glad I wrote The London Requiem because it means I can listen to it on dark autumnal nights like tonight and feel proud! 


So here I am in the cheapest hotel in Leeds having had a marvellous day! The train journey was, unsurprisingly  awful. I don't know what it is with me and trains but lots of fat people got on with me at Kings Cross, and then one of them sat next to me, and properly hemmed me in. He sweated. I sweated. It was like being in a sauna. He got prayer beads out and started muttering. I didn't know where to look. The train came to a halt outside Peterborough and only dislodged itself 40 minutes later. Every announcement started "once again we apologise for the delay..." I heard every excuse from "heavy traffic on the rail diversion" to "planned engineering work lasting longer than expected..." (surely thereby making the planned engineering works unplanned engineering works?)

Anyway, we got there soon enough, I met Jeremy Walker, head of the National Youth Music Theatre, and we went to look at the Leeds Varieties Music Hall which has to be one of the most beautiful theatres I've ever seen. I instantly fell in love.

I checked into my hotel - just opposite the train station - which happens to have the most beautiful deep bath in it, thereby not just making it the cheapest hotel in Leeds but very much the answer to my prayers! Until the Internet, which cost £8 for 24 hours refused to work! 

A lovely lady called Carole picked me up from the train station at about 4pm and we drove out to the fields around Crossgates, which once housed an enormous munitions factory called Barnbow, where the infamous Barnbow Lassies hung out.  The weather threw everything at us; torrential rain, heavy wind, brooding purple and brown clouds and then beautiful sunshine as we got out of the car.

The Barnbow factory site was demolished in the 1920s and has slowly returned to nature. It's really very pretty. Rolling farmland for miles. A photographer from the Yorkshire Evening Post met us to take our photograph. The hope is that the good folk of Leeds will get behind my search for information about the Leeds Pals and the Barnbow Lassies. 

As we drove away from the site, I saw my first ever hare lolloping along the side of the road. It had unexpectedly large ears and didn't seem to be at all frightened of the car! 

We went back to Carole's house. She cooked me a wonderful omelette and a mushroom soup and I raided her mind for every piece of information I thought I might need. She also had maps and all sorts of things about the site itself. I liked her enormously.

I came back to my hotel, had a hot bath and am now exhausted. Time for bed.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Chip butties

We spent the day in Catford crafting and caking, with a HUGE emphasis on the caking! Julie produced an enormous caramel and orange thing which looked like the Cookie Monster until it collapsed under the weight of its own decadence! 

We chatted about ping pong, allotments, pear tarts, Russian homophobes, cabarets and jam. We ate incredibly tart blackberries and I tried not to pull my famous lemon face. Nathan span some wool, Julie's friend Cathy made a tapestry kneeler for church and the rest knitted waistcoats, blankets, cardies, phone socks and shawls. I watched on, smiling like my Grandmother in the early stages of Alzheimer's. 

On route to Catford, we stopped off in Hackney at the Tesco store where I'd had my bothersome incident a few weeks ago. I was met by the store manager, a bubbly Brummie called Stuart, who gave me a little envelope with a "gesture of good will" inside. I now consider the matter to be closed. Tesco's customer service department have been highly organised and polite throughout and I was hugely impressed by the friendliness of staff in the Morning Lane branch today. Hats off to a lovely girl in the bakery department, who, not knowing I was the shirty bugger who'd complained about their store, went out of her way to find me a lovely hot baguette, straight out of the oven, because I'd asked if there was any fresh bread. She very much brightened my day. The difference between good and bad customer service is minuscule and often merely comes down to a smile, as the charming lass on the checkouts comprehensively proved. 

Today's divine laziness ended with chip butties in front of the X Factor. Piles of chips were stuffed between slabs of buttered sliced white bread. Sometimes, as Tina tweeted, there's very little better than sharing chips with good friends. 

Friday, 13 September 2013


Today feels like it's lasted longer than any other day in my life. My feet ache, I'm soaking wet, but I feel very happy.

I was up with the lark and on the tube heading south before I'd worked out why I was awake at such a time. I was heading into town to meet my parents and we were going to the Pompeii and Herculanium exhibit at the British Museum, and what a sensational exhibition it is. Everything was decked out in the shape of a Roman villa and filled to the rafters with the most extraordinary artefacts which had been discovered in those tragic towns. Intricate glass vases, items of gold jewellery which shone like the sun, highly-coloured mosaics, extraordinarily erotic wall paintings. Everything took my breath away, in fact, I got rather tired of having to look so carefully at everything!

Of course, close up, it's the bodies which are the most moving things of all. Perhaps it's the knowledge that they are actually plaster casts of the space in earth where bodies had once been made them quite so distressing. Some hold their hands to their faces to protect themselves from the noxious gases and scorching air which killed them.  Those in Herculaneum literally evaporated as the hot air hit them. All died in agony. An entire family was found cowering in an alcove. There are no words.

So, from the British Museum, we went for chips and then wandered around the shops in Covent Garden. I found a jacket I liked. It cost £900. I put the jacket back. 

At 2pm we went to see Nathan in a workshop performance of a new musical, written by the guy who wrote the iconic theme tune to Rainbow. How glorious to be able to say that was you! 

The show was very well performed by the five cast members and very professionally presented, but something of a rough sketch which will need an overhaul if it's to go further. It was great to see Nathan sinking his teeth into a bit of serious acting though, and the 13-year old who played his daughter was remarkable. That's right! My boyfriend now plays fathers! 

We darted away from Covent Garden and hot-footed it, in ghastly rain, to White City for the premier of my film, which had been so beautifully organised by the team at BBC Outreach. There was a red carpet, a fire-eater, canopies, lovely trays of drinks, and the film's contributors were treated like the stars they are. 

The film went down incredibly well. Lots of cheering and clapping and laughter. My family came with Mo... and Philippa. Dear Nathan popped in on his way to his show tonight, which touched me hugely. Helen was there from Newcastle and people in the higher echelons of the BBC said lovely things about my work. Tick. Tick. Tick. I felt proud.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The deafening Thames

I did a long morning's work today, which found me putting finishing touches to this draft of the Pepys Motet, and writing a couple of the linking sequences which will go between the six movements. It struck me, when I listened back to the rather frenetic fourth movement, that I needed a few moments of static contemplation in the piece; a few solo sequences which sit in a very calm, simplistic space, both musically and in terms of focussing on one single, extended passage of writing. The key to these sequences  is stripping back, something for which I'm not exactly renowned. Today I wrote an entire sequence for two singers simply singing in thirds and fourths. I added a third voice to fill out the harmonies but something was wrong and I realised that I'd said everything I needed to say with just two of the 20 voices at my disposal. I saw this as evidence of maturity in my writing! 

To celebrate achieving everything I was hoping to achieve in half the time I expected to achieve it in, I decided to find my parents who were already in London to celebrate my brother's birthday this evening. 

I found them by the Cutty Sark in Greenwich and we strolled around the market together. It's a nice place to wander, if a little expensive, but I was horrified to find that my favourite cafe had been turned into one of the now ubiquitous Jamie's Italian restaurants. We ended up drinking a pot of tea in a pub in the absence of anything which looked like a decent cafe, which felt rather criminal for a place as pretty as Greenwich. I suspect it's the trouble with being south of the river. They're a distinctly rougher bunch down there, with less interest in noble pursuits like tea drinking. 

We walked through the acoustically surreal Greenwich foot tunnel under the Thames, before wending our way up the Isle of Dogs to Canary Wharf, which is where brother Edward both works and lives.

As we walked around the shiny, plastic-coated underground shopping malls, I found myself feeling a little panicky. I've never really liked that part of town. It feels soulless and more than a little over-crowded. When I worked there making corporate films, I always felt over-looked and over-heard. If I wanted to make a call to Nathan, for example, or have a row with a fellow film maker, there was always someone within earshot; someone who felt different to my tribe, someone who somehow wouldn't understand my need to run across Hampstead Heath, or swear, or refuse to wear a tie, or behave in an un-corporate manner. 

All these feelings came back to me as I wondered how far I'd be able to skid across the over-polished floor of one of esplanades. Yes, this place was not designed for the likes of me...

Still, on arriving at Edward and Sascha's house over-looking the beautiful Thames, I realised there was a very large up side to life on the Isle of Dogs. When the traders and bankers and the insurance specialists go home, a silence descends, and the sound of the river lapping against the Thames wall becomes almost deafeningly romantic. 

Sascha cooked a three course meal of exquisite beauty; halloumi wrapped in filo pastry with figs, a Thai curry and a blueberry soufflĂ©. Decadent in the extreme! Perfect fodder. Happy Birthday Ted! 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Chips with everything

I've just had a lovely dinner with Ellie in Soho, after an equally lovely pot of tea for two followed by a walk with Fiona. The two over-lapped briefly as we picked Ellie up from Old Broadcasting House. Fiona was heading off to a rehearsal with Placebo. We ate in an Italian in restaurant on Old Compton Street. Ellie had pizza, I had pasta, and we shared a bowl of chips, a salad and a lemon tart!

It's raining and my feet are soaking wet. It seems I must embrace the concept of always having soggy feet, as I don't possess a pair of shoes without holes. I don't think I ever will, as it seems no matter how much money I spend on footwear, I've trashed whatever I buy within days. I walk funny and have wide, flat feet: what more can I say?

I got up even earlier than normal today, determined to do a full morning's work on the Pepys Motet. The mornings are cold at the moment, however, and the boiler had stopped working, which meant there was no hot water. On the bright side, I found a tenner in my dressing gown, so felt fairly pleased with myself as my gnashers chattered! 

I'm taking a few days away from researching the musical so that what I've learned so far can begin to sink and thoughts about the show itself can start to surface. These thoughts  might lead me in a specific direction for the last few days of information gathering. I feel I have a firm grounding in the subject, however, and will be more than ready to start the writing process in early October when I'm back from the trenches. 

Our war against the moths continues. Nathan, in a fit of pique, has now boiled all of his socks. Sadly some of the colours have run, but there's not going to be eggs or nasty larvae anywhere in sight. He's made little pockets for the drawers, soaked in a blend of lavender, cedar and rosemary oils - which we're told the moths hate - and his stash of yarn has been stuck in bags and put in the freezer. Boil em. Freeze em. Drown em. Suffocate em. Smoke em out. These moths must die!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Wood Shame

I’ve worked excessively hard all day today and can’t wait to sit down in front of the Great British Bake Off on iPlayer. I had a very interesting chat with my friend Shannon about this particular show at Jem’s party yesterday. She isn’t enjoying this series as much, because she claims it’s already “left her behind.” She reckons in the first few weeks of the last series everything that they gave the contestants to do was achievable by any amateur baker across the country. We enjoyed watching the early stages because we could imagine being able to do what they were doing ourselves. This year they went in with weird egg-shaped meringues, floating in god-knows what and covered in towers of spun sugar and she simply threw her hands in the air and went “as if!” I kind of see her point, although nothing would stop me from enjoying that brilliant show, and I wouldn’t know how to bake even a basic sponge, so I watch the contestants in awe whatever they’re making.

I drove Nathan to Wood Green this afternoon to deliver something to the council office there, and had a bit of a nostalgia fest walking through the Morrison’s, which was our cut-through from the tube to Mountview Drama School. I was there for a year in the mid-90s, which seems like a phenomenally long time ago. I wonder if people look at me yet and think I look like an old man.

Anyway, Wood Green is absolutely horrific these days; really rough around the edges and filled with sad-faced, angry-looking people who shuffle around the shops miserably.

I’m rather relieved to discover that Michael Le Vell has been found innocent of child sex offenses  because I think it will make people think twice before jumping on this “a celebrity abused me when I was 12” band wagon. I think it’s got to a stage now when anyone who can prove they were alone with a famous person at some point in their youth is eligible to have a go at getting a bit of compensation. It makes it very complicated for children who genuinely have been abused by adults, but we must not enter a world where the stories that young people tell are believed as a matter of course, or because somebody thinks it’s inappropriate for them to be cross-questioned. I also feel that the identities of those who are accused of these sorts of crimes should be protected until a verdict is reached. Michael Le Vell’s private life was smeared all over the media and ripped apart in court, and this is simply not fair.