Saturday, 31 January 2015

Grid lock!

It was craft and cake today and, because Nathan was doing a morning shift at the theatre, I drove alone to Catford. It was about as bad a journey as I could ever have imagined. There'd been a lot of sleety rain throughout the morning which had caused drains to reverse all over London, and as a result, traffic was gridlocked everywhere. The situation was so bad that I became almost insulted by the speed cameras on the Holloway Road which, at the best of times force drivers to crawl along at 20 miles per hour. Today the chance would have been a fine thing. Furthermore, everywhere I went, there seemed to be a myriad other hazards; pedestrians stepping out from between parked cars, every traffic light on red, enormous puddles everywhere which sent great waves of water up the side of the car.

When I got to the South of London, the bus drivers turned into Kamikazi missionaries. In fact all drivers are rubbish in the South of London.

...And as the minutes turned into hours, and my foot started twitching on the clutch, I found myself increasingly desperate for a wee. It was horrifying. Truly horrifying.

It was much more pleasant at Julie's. Sam was ill, and spent the afternoon sleeping, so there were just a few of us there. Julie had made scones and a sort of apricot cake, which was most pleasant. I did crafting for the first time ever, and decoupaged the front of an enormous card which all the Brass cast had signed to say thank you to Cameron Mackintosh who gave us a generous donation towards the recording. Nearly everyone else was knitting. Nathan worked on the beautiful shawl he's been developing for the past six months. It's a stunning piece in variegated shades of orange and green. Very pleasing to look at. Every bit a work of art...

We came home via Canary Wharf and Bank, where we deposited first Tina and then Abbie.

I had a bit of a panic on my way home about money, wondering how I'm going to deal with being unable to claim benefits. We talked a lot about the sorts of things I could do to earn enough to pay the rent. Nathan suggested working as an usher in a theatre because it would free the days up for me to write, but the thought of going back to a job I did exactly half a lifetime ago is almost too horrifying to contemplate. I wonder whether it's worth contacting a few universities and colleges and offering my services as a teacher of musical theatre composition, but I wouldn't know where to start. The problem is that working as a composer and film maker hasn't provided me with a great number of transferable skills. I'm even wondering if it might be time to acknowledge that a career like mine is impossible for an older bloke to maintain. No 40-year old should be without a mortgage, or a pension, or enough savings to see him to the end of next month! Maybe I should be entering some sort of Arts administration position where I can use my expertise and understanding of creative minds to help the younger generation of writers... Lots to think about tonight.

I better eat some food!

Friday, 30 January 2015

Applying make up in the car

The day started painfully! I overslept and by the time I woke up there was only five minutes to get myself down to Holloway for my first interview at the job centre. Fortunately, Nathan was prepared to be late for his own job, and drove me down the hill so speedily that I only ended up ten minutes late. I had, however, not had my breakfast, and after one round of form-filling started to get the shakes. It turns out there's a bewildering amount of information which I'll need to bring in for them to see. Accounts. Proof of work over the last twelve months... It's all a little intimidating.

I sat with a bunch of people, all of us signing on for the first time. I'd like to point out that not a single person with me was an immigrant. I feel that's an important thing to know if you're thinking of voting UKIP. All of the spongers there were home-grown. Apart from an Irish bloke.

We were ushered into a room where a woman talked to us about claiming for the first time. The Irish bloke, who was maybe my age, said he didn't know how to use the internet, which surprised me a little. An unbelievable stench of dope was coming off someone else in the room. I can't imagine why pot heads don't think the stench of drugs sticks to them like glue. Imagine going to a job interview stinking of pot?! Imagine interviewing someone who smelt of pot? You just wouldn't offer the job would you? Unless they had MS.

My one-on-one interview turned out to be somewhat hopeless. The man behind the desk was absolutely lovely, and vowed to leave me alone to find my own jobs, but it does look like, as a result of being married, I might struggle to get any benefits at all. The problem with the benefits system is that everyone's jobs are so specific that no one understands the bigger picture. When I asked whether my marital status was a problem, the only answer I received was that my information would be sent off for someone else to make that decision. But sadly, all the evidence suggests that, until I find a job, Nathan's pitiful salary may well have to serve us both, which seems criminal. Can any one tell me why, in this country, until we pop our clogs, there are no financial incentives whatsoever for getting married? There are no tax benefits, just huge gaping holes to fall into.

I went into Highgate in the mid afternoon to meet Philippa in cafe Nero. Except we went to Costa instead, which was full of school girls in brown uniforms screaming posh words. I decided to go there en route to the gym, so made the futile decision to drive up. I went round and round in circles until I was forced to acknowledge that the nearest parking space to Highgate Village was actually the one outside my house which I'd just vacated! So I re-parked the car and walked back up the hill!

It was lovely to see Philippa. She'd had dentistry in the village, so looked like a stroke victim and was dribbling out of the corner of her mouth. I think there was sympathy in my laughter. We did some writing sitting opposite one another, although actually what we did was gossip. I drove her down to Gospel Oak in time for her to get a train to Dalston. She applied make up in the car, as we bounced our way over the sleeping policemen on Highgate West Hill, and then wondered why she felt car sick!

For the rest of the day, I worked on a synopsis for a new stage musical. It's going rather well. I'd really like to get the chance to write this one in full.


Don't laugh, but I've spent the entire day crafting! I wasn't exactly doing it for fun, although it turns out that crafting can be a lot of fun... until the back starts to ache because you're crawling around with bits of newspaper on the floor. I'm trying to conceptualise the front cover of the Pepys Motet CD and have decided to make a series of twenty little boards onto which I'm going to write shorthand characters based on the very first page of Pepys' Diary. I'm then going to photograph choir members peering out from behind the placards. 20 individual portraits. It's going to look amazing.

I went to the art shop in Muswell Hill and emerged carrying twenty foam mount boards, a vat of PVA glue and a shed load of tissue paper, which I used to cover the boards in 17th Century-style papier-mâché, which I bolstered with manuscript paper covered in scores from both Pepys and Oranges and Lemons. The results are charming, but I'm pretty sure I don't have the artistic skills to paint the shorthand onto the cards once they're dry. Pepys had very distinctive writing, and I want everything to look highly authentic, so, Little Welsh Natalie, if you're reading this, I may be heading downstairs in a few days' time with a paintbrush!

Today's calamity was almost certainly dropping my iPhone as I returned from the shops. I've dropped it from much greater heights before, but this time the entire screen smashed into thousands of terrible splinters, which made it impossible to use without cutting my fingers to shreds.

So back to Muswell Hill I went, to visit the dodgy little Turkish man whose convenience store has a sideline in finding solutions for these sorts of disaster. £50, a visit to the gym and another trip up to Muswell Hill later, and I had a brand new screen. But £50?! When I start signing on, that'll be the sum total of my weekly allowance.

I subsequently found out that Nathan's sister had her iPhone stolen today as well. What's that all about? I dunno, Apple discovers it's the wealthiest company the world has ever known, and all hell beaks loose!

Speaking of ludicrous wealth, I sold another Requiem today, thus proving that you wait six months for one sale to come along, and then two come at once. Fortunately this one wasn't going off to France, so a few extra quid will go into the coffers to be split between investors.

Thursday, 29 January 2015


I started the day a little demotivated. I've just started trying to re-score the third movement of a Symphony for Yorkshire for brass band and it's very slow going. I've been putting it off if I'm honest because there's almost nothing about the original movement - all rappers, rock bands and folk singers - which naturally lends itself to the dulcet warble of a brass band. Really, I have to start from scratch, but that's a deeply daunting thought. Shame. The first drafts of the other movements flew off the page...

There's actually only one cure for writers' block, and that's hard graft. You've simply got to start writing, even if you're writing rubbish. You can always go back and rewrite what's bad, but the key to writing is flow, and you'll never find flow if you're not writing...

I chatted to the man from the Arts Council today, who basically had to tell me - in the nicest possible way - that the application I was working on didn't really stand a chance of success. He then said lots of things in a language I didn't understand, which turned out to be the language of funding bids. He was highly apologetic, but I was actually genuinely grateful to him for nipping things in the bud. The Arts Council genuinely couldn't function if it didn't have strict guidelines about the sorts of things it funds. On this occasion we've fallen through a crack. The next time we'll be lucky.

I had another contre temps with an impatient driver today; this time in Dartmouth Park, with a man who beeped his horn four times at me (in a residential area) because he thought I should be driving more quickly. The last straw was when he sounded his horn as I went, rather slowly, through the middle of a pair of bollards which are renowned in the area as being way too close together. I got bored, and stopped my car for enough time for him to pass. Instead of passing, he simply beeped his horn again, so I got out of the car, approached him menacingly, and shouted, "if you think I'm driving too slowly, just drive around me, you silly  tit." It's amazing the vocabulary that decides to pour out of your mouth at times like this!

I then drove down the street as slowly as I could, with him behind throwing his arms in the air. He'll learn.

I got home and decided to pay my tax bill online. Unfortunately I couldn't find my tax code, so was forced to call the inland revenue. Their website is an absolute mess, especially when it comes to working out which of their hidden phone numbers is the right one to call. I entered a hell-zone of automated messages. At one point, I was asked to say, in a sentence, why I was phoning, "for example, you might want to say, 'I am having a baby.'" Why would you phone the tax office to say that? I wondered at that stage if I was actually dreaming!

Eventually the option came up for me to "press 5 to talk to one of our advisors..." And that's when the hell began. Some incredibly loud cheap 1980s funk came on as hold music. An 8-bar phrase was looped over and over again. Over and over. I waited for five minutes. I then put the phone on loud speaker and carried on with my work whilst waiting another five, the looped music going round and round in circles until my brain felt like it had been whisked. A few minutes later, I turned the volume right down. At 28 minutes... 28 minutes... I gave up.

And that was my day really. That, and doing a complete written transcript of Our Gay Wedding the Musical, for yet another award entry. It's amazing how many different awards one film can be entered for. Not that I'm complaining. Sometimes it feels like an honour to just be considered. I know that's what you're meant to say in these instances, but, certainly with the Grierson, I was just happy to have my name read out by Sue Perkins!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Sur le pont...

I sold a copy of the London Requiem today... to someone in France. It's exciting to think of the album
being played in the city of Avingnon, but a little distressing to think that I parted with £3.70 just to post it there! The CD price was, I believe, about £8, so even my basic maths informs me that I'm not exactly making money hand over fist here! Still, everyone who buys it represents another person whom my music is touching; something which can only be celebrated. If only lawyers and plumbers had the same attitude towards their work!

Today's sale - or lack there of - is a reminder that there's something of a crisis going on in the record industry at the moment. No one wants to buy CDs, or even pay for downloads any more. It's a very sad state of affairs. The delight with which I hear some people talking about how they managed to rip a CD for nothing sends daggers through my heart. If you're reading this, and you're partial to downloading music for nothing... Do think twice. It's people like me you're ripping off. Not just huge record labels! Perhaps Bob Geldof's next charity release can be on behalf of artists in the British music industry!

I took the first steps towards signing on today, which made me feel a little ashamed and sad. It turns out you can't actually pay rent with the awards on your mantlepiece, which I feel is a very sorry state of affairs! It's obviously dented my pride a little bit, but I always use these periods of signing on mega-productively. The last time I claimed benefits was in 2011, and during that time, I wrote The London Requiem. My only worry is that, now I'm married, signing on will involve Nathan's finances being raked over as well. It's hard enough to make sense of one self employed person's finances, let alone his husband's, who never earns the same amount two weeks running. I suspect I'm in for a bumpy ride!

I initially tried to log my details online, but my application was instantly rejected. I assumed this had something to do with my marital status, but when I spoke to someone official, in somewhere like Liverpool, I was informed that I'd been rejected due to a ludicrous glitch in their system, which meant if you ticked the box which said you also intended to apply for housing benefits, you were instantly turned down. The man on the phone then informed me that I'd need to reapply online, ticking the "no" box when asked about housing benefits. "But I DO want housing benefits," I argued. "The form has a glitch," I was told, bluntly. "So, because there's a problem with your software, I'm expected to lie? Can we not sort things out on the phone?" "Your age group is expected to be computer-literate, so I'm not permitted to give you telephone assistance with the filling in of forms." "But your system doesn't work, and I don't feel comfortable lying on an official form..." I then told him I was recording the conversation, and that he'd need to confirm to me that he was asking me to lie on a governmental form... At this point he hung up on me, telling me that if I was recording the call, it was his right to terminate it. I'm not sure there's a great deal of logic or truth in that. After all, how many times are we told the calls we make "may be recorded for training purposes...?" Ho hum. I try ever so hard to play the game when it comes to collecting benefits, but every so often you encounter such illogical behaviour, the only option is to raise a metaphorical eyebrow!

There was a delightful exchange between two middle-aged Italian blokes in the gym today. They obviously knew each other rather well, and immediately burst into animated conversation. Strangely, one was talking in Italian whilst the other spoke in English. Plainly both were understanding each other, but mid-way through the chat, the one speaking Italian suddenly said, "why are you speaking English?" At which point the one speaking English dissolved into hysterics and started speaking Italian. I suppose he's lived here for so long and become so used to speaking English that he hadn't realised he was doing so to a fellow country man! It made me chuckle.

The rest of the day was spent, you guessed it, filling in application forms for the Arts Council. That's four full days and counting...

In the early evening I ventured into central London to meet Nathan in his lunch break, before heading to The Farm edit suite in Soho Square to cut together an edit of Our Gay Wedding for another award entry. The journey involved alighting at the new Tottenham Court Road station which is rather disappointing if I'm honest; all clad in cheap metal and shiny blue plastic panels, with all of those delightful and iconic 1980s Edualdo Paolozzi murals gone. I couldn't help but think I was witnessing change for the sake of change! This was a real opportunity for the powers-that-be to breathe new life into a really grubby corner of London. Said to be permanently cursed, and once one of the most gruesome and lawless slums in the world, the area around Centre Point has always struggled to find an identity. Shops and bars open and close like flowers in the summer. It always feels just a little bit dowdy and sleazy, and I don't think the new tube is going to help the situation.

Monday, 26 January 2015


We walked down Highgate West Hill to Kentish Town this morning in driving drizzle, which made us very wet and very ratty. We were walking down the hill for a meeting with Uncle Archie, which was followed by a somewhat pleasurable trip to the gym. I felt strong, and ran fast, imagining I was a fit, lithe gazelle skipping through the Veldt. Then I looked at myself in the mirror and saw Captain Caveman peering back, and my wonderful fantasy came crashing down around me!

I had beans on toast for lunch in a local spoon and took the bus back up the hill to Highgate Village where I worked in another cafe for a while.

As I wandered through Pond Square, I stumbled upon on highly un-Highgate-like sight, namely an undercover policeman putting on a stab-proof vest, and then covering it over with a puffer jacket. It was a little unnerving, if I'm honest. I wondered where he was heading and why he needed that sort of protection in Highgate of all places! People don't carry knives in Highgate: they carry copies of the Guardian. And dachshunds.

I rehearsed the Fleet Singers tonight, and spent a great deal of time in a sectional rehearsal with the tenors and basses, somewhat perturbed by the periodic bleep of hearing aids, which I initially mistook for the sound of my own tinnitus! I was reminded of a cabaret which I attended with Julie Clare's dear old Mum, who was obviously having a dreadful time with her hearing aid judging by the terrible noises it seemed to be making whilst the poor girl on stage tore herself apart in a deeply emotional rendition of a Sondheim song. The irony, of course, is that a deaf person is unlikely to be able to hear the sound of a hearing aid in crisis! When I am old and deaf, I'm going to bring back the ear trumpet. Much more bohemian... Much more "me."

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Witch finder general

We've been at my parents' house for much of the day, and are currently driving along the North Essex country lanes on our way back to London. It is these very roads where you occasionally witness a peculiar semi-paranormal phenomenon, which involves little spumes of white mist dancing about above the white lines in the centre of the road. On several occasions I've swerved to avoid them, thinking they were rabbits or white cats. It's a little unnerving, but then again, this area will always be associated with witchcraft, having been the stamping ground of Matthew Hopkins, the Witch finder general, who was responsible for the deaths of over 300 innocent women in the mid 17th Century.

The day started at Philippa's house in Columbia Road, an area of London which literally buzzes on a Sunday. There are street markets all over the place, stretching from the famous Petticoat Lane, via Spitalfields and Brick Lane, up to Columbia Road itself, with its extraordinary Sunday morning flower market.

We had tea with Philippa, her two daughters and her mother, Kate. Deia showed me some of her writing from school. It turns out she's left-handed, but that her writing is really rather neat. She's obviously a very clever little girl. #proudgodfather

We drove from East London to Thaxted, where my Mum had thrown together a delicious roast dinner complete with a cherry and plum crumble, which we had with both cream and custard. Why go for 'or' when 'and' will do?

After dinner, Nathan and I took advantage of the fact that a vacuum cleaner could be attached to a extension lead and dragged out to the front drive. Our car has been a shocking mess for months now, and we spent a good hour filling two bin bags with detritus, some of which was absolutely disgusting. Half sucked sweets, a whole packet of mince pies and a Tupperware box in the boot filled with something indescribable which had turned liquid and gone rancid. There were five slate tiles from Sanquhar in Scotland in the boot, four umbrellas, three mugs, a couple of quid under the front seat and a roll of Christmas wrapping paper (not from this year...) If we hadn't been so disgusted with ourselves, we would probably have found the whole thing quite amusing!

We did a FaceTime chat with Brother Edward and Sascha, who were making their customary Sunday night wraps. I love the fact that they make wraps every Sunday evening. In fact I love anything which involves routine. I was taking about that to Fiona the other day. Neither of us has any stability or regularity in our lives so we both tend to cling like glue to anything which even resembles routine. I have my day of writing in cafés after attending the osteopath, and the monthly craft and cake, and my yearly birthday and Eurovision celebrations... Seeing Sascha making the wraps made me want to be there about to eat them! They're always delicious.

Saturday, 24 January 2015


...So, I appear to have spent the entire day working on an application to the Arts Council, and I'm still not done!

The one positive aspect in this is that the form-filling is focussing my mind, and making me determined to make the project happen.

That said, when I tried to read out everything I'd written to Nathan, I suddenly became engulfed by a wave of utter futility. I think there's officially a one in four chance of receiving a grant, and because our contact at the Arts Council is away until the end of the month, there's no one to advise us on the content of the application form before we're forced to sling it in. I should have thought to do this before Christmas... They take six weeks to make a decision.

I guess I'm just knackered and bored... and wishing I could have spent the day doing, well, anything else...

It's been freezing cold today, and a brief excursion to the local cafe for a plate of beans on toast was a somewhat frosty affair. I rushed home and buried myself under a blanket.

Aside from this, I've nothing else to report. Is the very definition of narcissism persisting in writing about yourself even when you have nothing to say?! Actually, don't answer that question. I know the answer...

Friday, 23 January 2015


The walk up to Hove Station from Fiona's flat was wonderful this morning. Crisp, wintry sunlight made the stucco-fronted buildings glow a mysterious shade of yellow and the sea resembled a Monet painting, all pastel shades with chalky accents.

Today has been exhausting. We focussed on two songs; Barnbow Lassies, and the show's title song, Brass, which is a curiously fragile piece, which needed a great deal more sonic help than I'd initially expected. Brass had the slowest incubation period of any of the songs from the musical. So many of the others came ready formed in my mind, but Brass required an almost painstaking amount of care and attention. It was like creating a statuette out of soap stone; a little nip here, a tuck there. I'd put it away, return to it a week later and thin out an orchestration or make a chord more subtle or impressionist. We were still tinkering with it on the last day of rehearsals. I think all of this has made it less robust than the other numbers. Bad intonation really shows up and there were some painful moments when we listened back to some of the orchestral takes. I continue to insist on hearing the music we've recorded without any reverb or equalising. That just masks the problems which need to be solved

Barnbow Lassies, by comparison, is a mega-barnstormer, which was clearly a great favourite with the performers. It flies off the page and was already sounding fabulous by the time I left this evening.

I treated PK to a fry-up for lunch, and we went to a greasy spoon run by a dour-faced Scottish man in sub-zero temperatures. We sat and ate with our costs buttoned up. The food was delicious, but he did nothing to turn the Scottish surly, austerity-loving stereotype on its head.

By contrast, as I walked through St Pancras International station on my way home, I was confronted by two stereotype-busting young black men who were playing classical music on two of the pianos they leave around the station for passers by to tinkle on. I've always approved of those pianos - particularly when they're being played well, and not thumped at by some small child whose mother has run out of ways to otherwise entertain him. They used to be all over London, many were outside in squares, and, in some instances, on the street. I think they're a genuine way of bringing music to the masses. They cheer me up every time I pass one.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

West Worthing

A man vomited on the train this morning. He had the decency to do so into a dustbin, but the sound and smell was overwhelming. I had very little sympathy for him: he was obviously rancid from a night of heavy drinking, and no innocent person should have to put up with that. Think of the children...

I bumped into Ellie at Victoria station who had just got off the train I was getting on to go to West Worthing. It was lovely, if not a little surreal, to see her.

Fiona was staying with us last night, and sat up 'til late in our sitting room, doing a string arrangement of a track in E flat minor, which is about as awful as keys get for string players. As Nathan puts it, "just think of it as playing in one natural!" A general discussion about string music led to the sharing of viola player jokes. For those who don't know, viola players are the butt of many jokes, largely because the majority of them are failed violinists and because the instrument is a hybrid which is too small to play low notes and subsequently often ends up sounding like elastic bands stretched across a shoe box.

Examples of viola jokes are as follows:

Q - "How do you make a viola play in tune?"

A - "Chop it up and make a xylophone."

Q - "How is lightning like a viola players fingers?"

A - "Neither one strikes the same place twice."

And so it goes on...

I did a day with PK in his West Worthing attic, taking the first tentative steps into the mixes of the songs Keighley and Billy Whistle from Brass... And so far, so good. There were a couple of rather terrifying moments. One of the lads singing tenor in one sequence had got a little over-zealous with his rhythms, and the brass players were a tad over-ripe with their ensemble pitching in places. That said, what they lack in general tuning is almost certainly made up for in exciting, dramatic playing. Ask yourself what you'd rather have on the recording of a musical...

Olivia, PK's wife, made the most exquisite puff pastry, feta cheese tart for lunch, which excited me so much I couldn't couldn't concentrate until I knew I'd secured a second slice!

We wrapped things up at 8pm, and just as I was making my way along the High Street, I saw the road barriers coming down, and the lights of a distant train coming into the station. I made a dash for it, but managed to miss it by a second, largely because a jogger decided she was going to systematically run in front of me at half the speed that I wanted to run. It was as though she had a hell-raising sixth sense, which told her exactly where I wanted to be at any given moment. Every time I tried to run around her, the silly moo changed direction, seemingly oblivious to my existence, and my growing levels of panic.

When I finally got on a train I decided to look for a guard to check if my train ticket worked for the short hop I was making from West Worthing to Hove. I went up to a bloke in uniform who was standing next to the train door and started to speak. It was only then that I realised I was talking to a Mormon, and that the badge which I'd assumed was his Southern Trains identity tag, was actually something which read "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." He seemed a little surprised. I burbled and extracted myself from the hideous situation by heading into the adjacent carriage as speedily as possible. I wasn't going to get into a chat with a Mormon. That would only ever have ended with some kind of defenestration.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Car wash

We went to a car wash today. It was Nathan's idea. We were about to take our car into the garage to have its brake pads replaced, but he was so embarrassed by its level of dirtiness that he insisted we went to have it cleaned first! Talk about keeping up with the Joneses. In fairness it was horrifyingly mucky. So rancid, in fact, that we went to an automated car wash, rather than the lovely Polish men in wellies down the road who do it by hand, because it felt too dirty to be cleaned by anything other than machine.

As we sat in the car wash, with those enormously terrifying roaring spinning balls of chamois flying over the car's bonnet, we shared a Cadbury's Cream Egg. I've been keen to have a taste of one of the new recipe eggs to see if they're as awful as everyone suggests. The decision to change the traditional taste of Easter was apparently made as a result of Cadbury being sold to the American company, Kraft, and, we're told, the rising cost of cocoa beans. Scandalous! And the new eggs are genuinely not that nice. The chocolate is far too sweet, and there's a strange aftertaste, which made me feel very sad. What are we all going to eat on Easter Sunday?

We went to the gym this afternoon and I ran six kilometres, fairly quickly by my standards. The joy about losing weight is that, the lighter you become, the easier it is to jump up and down on a treadmill.

I've been working on my brass band arrangement of A Symphony for
Yorkshire today. That, and trying to apply to the Arts Council for some Brass recording-related funding. Filling in applications for the Arts Council is a lengthy old process, one which I don't begrudge because I firmly believe that public arts funding shouldn't be given out to anything ill-conceived or cynical, but it doesn't half take it out of you! I'd become so cross-eyed by tea time that I had to throw in the towel and watch episodes of QI on BBC iPlayer.

A thousand pounds

We tackled my lack of sleep issue on all fronts yesterday night. Our dear neighbour, Nathalie read my blog, and instantly left some lavender and chamomile oils outside our front door, which Nathan warmed in a terracotta oil burner. I played some Vaughan Williams, and we both took an American sleeping tablet. I subsequently have no memory of anything having happened between 10.30pm last night and 11am this morning when I finally woke up!

I'm not sure I can claim to have woken up feeling refreshed. That's what all these sleeping pill commercials try to claim isn't it? Instead, I woke up in something of a haze. The journey to my osteopath was a dream-like affair. I was trying to write music, and found myself drifting off into the manuscript. I kept missing my connections and getting on the wrong trains.

There was a fabulously comic moment when a middle-aged Asian man got onto my carriage practising beat-boxing; a more surreal sight I'm struggling to remember ever seeing. I looked around for someone in the carriage to exchange a smile with, but sadly everyone else was under headphones. When the train pulled into the relative silence of a station, I realised the man's beat-boxing was rather neatly blending in with the tinny sounds of drum beats escaping from ten pairs of headphones!

When I arrived at the osteopath, a man was standing at the counter saying, "I think my wife, Debbie Jones, is being seen by one of your osteopaths at the moment. Can you tell me if this is the case?" The man behind the counter was understandably wary. "I'm afraid I can't tell you any information about our patients... Have you tried calling her on her mobile?" "Yes, she's not answering. I know she has an appointment today. I just don't know what time..." Fortunately, the man behind the counter refused to budge and I think the entire waiting room wondered what on earth might have been going on. When the man decided to sit down and wait for his "wife" I don't think I was the only person thinking we might be about to witness some kind of brutal attack. As I went in, Debbie appeared through the front door and there were smiles of relief all round, when it became clear that she knew the man, and was very pleased to see him!

We went to the gym on my way home and swam fifty lengths in the pool there. I think there was too much chlorine in the pool as my eyes are still stinging. I think they've been adding curious chemicals to the water ever since they started using the pool as a teaching pool for young kids. Those little bastards wee everywhere!

Fiona came to stay this evening, and because Nathan had found a special meal deal token for Strada, we went up the hill to a freezing cold Highgate Village and gorged ourselves on pastas and pizzas. We stopped outside an estate agent and looked longingly at some of the properties for sale. The irony is they're both nicer and cheaper in this part of London than the crap you get in "up and coming" districts like Columbia Road. That said, I had to keep reminding myself that, although one million pounds for a gorgeous flat is not dreadful by London standards, it's still one million pounds more than I possess. I am, however, thanks to a change in the taxation law, about a grand better off than I thought I was, having received my tax bill today. Can I buy a house for a grand, I wonder? This is when a hundred people from my parents generation step forward to say their first house cost a thousand pounds!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Baton down

Today found us finally putting the proverbial baton down on Brass recording sessions (well, that is, of course, until we have to pick it up again to do vocal drop-ins on one of the songs).

It's been an extraordinary roller-coaster with scores of death-defying highs and thankfully only a few passages of track needing serious maintenance work!

We were recording within the über-familiar surroundings of Sonica in Clapham. This is where we recorded the Pepys Motet, Songs From Hattersley, Four Colours and overdubs for the London Requiem, including Tanita Tikaram's haunting solo in the Offertory. At one point today, I asked Rosie to sigh into the microphone at the end of one of her numbers, as a sort of ode to Tanita. Those who appreciate the slightly quirky sound-world of the Requiem's Offertory will often mention the sigh which signifies the end of the track. It was something we simply threw in at the end of the session and I think it works rather well.

We were focussing on solos today. Starting with Ruby, and then oscillating between Ben, Rosie and Laura for the rest of the day. All four made me cry. I was already exhausted by the time I entered the studio, so had no cynical reserves to deal with the emotional tumble drier of hearing my music sung back to me the way I'd written it.  Ben's interpretation of Brass, which is a song I specifically wrote for him, made me particularly proud. His commitment to detailed work was way beyond the level of all but the very best session musicians I've worked with in my career. Rosie's Shone with the Sun will kill all but the most heartless listeners, and Laura's I Make the Shells will get people feeling excited beyond words. Ruby dazzles with virtuoso coloratura singing.

The best compliment I can offer any of them is that I stopped listening to what they were recording and simply started to enjoy the experience of hearing the music caressing my eardrums!

We finished the day doing overdubs on tuba and trombone, which, on a show called Brass, feels somewhat appropriate, and now we're heading home for a night of pasta and telly. Actually, we're going to pop in on the Fleet Singers en route who are performing The Man in the Straw Hat at the end of March. It's their second rehearsal on the piece and I was hoping to go in today and run a sectional rehearsal, but I hope they'll not mind too much if my visit is fleeting because my head is genuinely not functioning tonight.

I haven't slept properly for a few days now. I'm dealing with a psychological drama which is as dull as it is perplexing. Essentially, as soon as I fall asleep, a bolt of energy passes through my body, which immediately wakes me up, and makes it impossible to fall asleep for another ten minutes. To make matters worse, in the dead of the night, the issues I've been having with tinnitus suddenly kick in again, so, as I lie there trying to will myself to fall asleep again, I start to hear a super high E flat, which occasionally dips down to a D. It's beyond infuriating. In the middle of the night last night I found myself standing in the centre of the bedroom, genuinely not knowing where to put myself. The only explanation is a mixture of stress and too much caffeine in the studio, following a period of illness. With any luck a sleeping tablet this evening will break the cycle. Something has to. I simply can't function on this little sleep!

The Leeds Pals

It's nearly midnight on an icy January night, and we're only just leaving the recording studio after a twelve-hour day spent reining in hundreds of male vocals on the Brass recording. It's been both amazing and horrendous, utterly exhilarating, yet shattering in the extreme. I started the day with three pages of lists of sequences we needed to record and ended it with just one number yet to do, which is pretty good going, all things considered. We'll need to record the missing vocals at some point in the near future, because the thought of one of the most beloved songs from the show not making it onto the album is troubling beyond words.

Still, the majority of stuff we recorded today was beyond exquisite, and as yesterday, there wasn't a single person who didn't achieve something utterly spectacular, from Andrew Smith, Harry Hickey and Huon barking their military commands in perfect three-part harmony, to Andrew Nance's pinging top F sharp in Letters. Jack McNeil kept everyone laughing and Alex Cardall's fruity baritone voice shone it's way through the session like a chocolatey Brummie beacon.

Every now and again we'd hear something in the general mix which we'd recorded at a previous session, some of which seemed like forever ago! I heard a wonderful 'cello swoop today which was recorded before New Year, and then, soaring like a young Olivia Newton John over the roof of one of the songs, the dulcet tones of Hannah Lawson. When I auditioned her exactly a year ago I wrote on her notes that she was "one catch away from perfection" hardly knowing what a journey we were about to embark upon. And because of me, she'll always have the word Titty written on her CV!

One of my favourite moments today was hearing Robin duetting with the vocals his show-sister and homophone name-sake, Robyn, had recorded in the same tiny booth exactly 24 hours before. I love that the magic of recording technology can allow that to happen.

Just like yesterday, we were visited by many NYMT friends, including Victoria Bracey and Hilary Williams; two of the company's most generous supporters, a host of fabulous parents, Julie Clare and Little Michelle. Towards the end of the day I got a little fractious, and then a entirely delirious... but we got there. Well almost... And now we're heading home.

As we drove across Tower Bridge tonight, we saw a fox, as brazen as you like, trotting along the pavement to god knows where. Foxes on Tower Bridge? Whatever next?

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Barnbow Lassies

Another extraordinary long day in the studio. 10 til 10. Dry lips. Weirdly buzzing. We're driving home through Shoreditch where everyone is so cool I don't know what gender they are.

We worked with the girls today. I think there were thirteen of them. Plus Ben Holder and Nick Barstow, who did vocal coaching.

The morning was remarkably calm. There was a bit of faffing. A bit of warning up. A bit of setting up of mics and then we got stuck into some seriously beautiful harmony-creation. Some of the stuff we recorded sounded epic. Some of it made me tearful. There were one or two winces along the way; one or two moments of temporary loss of focus and one or two voices which got a little tight, and needed to be gently massaged into a more relaxed timbre.

Robyn, whose been so poorly over the last few days, was an absolute trooper and managed to record all her sequences with serious aplomb, nearly collapsing for her art on numerous occasions.

Everyone had their special moment, from Erika's sweet trumpet playing last thing tonight, to lovely Emily Keston, arriving with her crazy and jaunty internal harmonies so note-perfect that they seemed to make perfect sense. Emma B made the hairs on my neck stand up, simply by singing the word William three times, and Ruby sang one sequence so like Kate Bush I wanted to run up and hug her!

Abbie very kindly came along to bolster the vocal sound in the afternoon, and it was rather lovely to occasionally hear her voice poking through the dense harmonies; an sunny immigrant from another one of my worlds!

We were visited by a few old friends. Four of the male cast popped in. Uncle Jeremy was there after lunch. Philip Carne, who made a ludicrously generous donation to the project, spent the morning in the control room with me. He showed me one of the letters that the cast had sent him to thank him for his kindness, and I instantly felt proud of them all. As he put it, "you sometimes find yourself worrying about the younger generation, and then you find a fabulous bunch of kids like this..." What's the gay male equivalent of a mother hen? Father cock? Christ, that sounds so wrong! Joan Littlewood used to describe the actors in her company as "her little fragile eggs" or words to that effect, and I can quite see what she meant. I end up feeling highly protective over all the people I work with.

Can't string another sentence together. Must sleep. Night night all.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Golden tipped trifle

It's bitterly cold tonight, in a really crisp and magical sort of way. There's not a hint of that milky, halogen glow that you often get hanging like a dishcloth over London. The sky is velvet black and filled with twinkling stars. Wonderful.

And I feel better! How good does it feel to finally be able to say that? Today at the gym I was able to run without collapsing, and my stomach feels like a calm sea once again... I did wake up with tinnitus again this morning, but it was quieter than before, and I didn't hear it at all yesterday, so am hoping my body is still processing bits of displaced wax in my ears.

I had a long list of things to achieve today, but ticked very few off the list, which made me a little frustrated. Instead it took me four hours to get my head around the last three days of recording sessions on Brass, which run from tomorrow. There is much to achieve, and I will need to run the tightest of ships. Sunday is the day we'll all need to bring our absolute A games to. It's one of those sessions where no one is going to be able to stop to draw breath. It's terrifying. Truly terrifying...

Much of the other issues from yesterday have now been sorted, but dear Josh now finds himself stuck oop North, having lost his wallet with his travel pass inside. A truly terrible thing to have happened. The path to perfection is littered with mini-soap operas.

I'm proud to see the images today of people in London queuing round the block for copies of Charli Hebdo, and a little confused that religious leaders, including the Pope, are queuing up to say things like "if someone criticised your Mum, you'd punch them on the nose, wouldn't you?" I think he was trying to convince those who poke fun at religion to give it a rest to avoid causing offence, but what he actually said was those who denigrated religion should somehow accept that there might be a violent retaliation to their action. But how about turning the other cheek? And how about these religious leaders learn the difference between the spoken and written word and physical bloody violence! So, no, Mr Pope, if someone criticised my Mum, I wouldn't punch them in the face. I'd think of something witty or sarcastic to say in response. If they punched her in the face, however, I'd go ape! Violence, in my view, is what unintelligent people use instead of words.

Here's what I've never understood. If you're a Muslim, you make the choice not to draw images of Mohammed, just as a Jewish person might abstain from pork. But this is a personal choice, which brings you closer to your God and, one assumes, makes you more likely to live long and prosper in the after life. So what do you care what non-believers do? If the profit Mohammed is offended by a cartoon, he'll make damned sure the perpetrator goes straight to the other place (and I don't mean Oxford University!)

When I was a kid, on the very few occasions I'd managed to behave myself but my brother had got himself into trouble, I always felt a great sense of pride and smugness. When you're behaving really well, and you're brother's being a little shit, you'll always look that little bit more angelic in your parents' eyes, and therefore much more likely to be rewarded by Santa Claus or, better still, a trifle. A Muslim's ability to eat golden-tipped trifle in perpetuity is simply not effected by the bad behaviour of his infidel brother. Surely that's just common sense...?

Or perhaps common sense is the one thing which is lacking in all of this?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Next to normal

I can feel myself almost back to normal. Almost. Not quite. There's still something not quite right. I've eased myself back into normal life. I did half a day's work, some form filling, a half-arsed gym workout and then came home and entered a peaceful coma whilst emails and Facebook messages poured in about this weekend's sessions. As usual with these things, it's a mixture of people with genuine problems, and those who are just faffing. I know people process things in different ways, but it is quite astonishing how high-maintenance and slightly lacking in initiative some people can be when faced with a series of rather simple instructions - and I know Ben the MD and Jeremy are kindly shielding me from all sorts of quibbles!

That said, poor Robyn in the cast messaged me today to say she was currently on a drip in hospital. That's what I call a problem! Astonishingly, she's still expecting to attend the session on Saturday, but is slightly worried she might faint or collapse!

On the other hand, I heard today that someone else might not be able to attend a session because he doesn't want to miss a double lesson at school... So you can see the breadth of issue that's been cropping up of late! There have also been issues with one of the studios dragging its heels over headphones, so all things considered, I'm sort of keeping my fingers crossed that things won't get any more complicated tomorrow. I'm certainly hoping Robyn feels a great deal better when she wakes up in the morning. Poor wee thing.

Fiona came to see us tonight, and I cooked another casserole, which she and Nathan had with chorizo fried in honey. I must say, I'm very much enjoying the concept of casserole at the moment. It's good for my tender tummy, and rather lovely for the time of year. I'm told chorizo is something which all vegetarians should try, although it looks absolutely horrifying.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015


I shuffled out of the house for the first time in two days today and felt my pale face drinking in the sunlight like a ghastly parody of a scene from Death In Venice!

It was only a visit to our local Sainsbury, but the trip was made a little more interesting when I passed the sylph-like figure of Chris Moyles in the street, and then narrowly avoided a workman as he vomited on the pavement right next to me. The two events weren't linked. I'm not suggesting the workman vomited because he thought how thin Chris Moyles was. I'm sure he simply vomited because he has the same stomach bug that the world seems to have right now. But how smug did I feel to be two days ahead of him?!

There are certain foods I can't stand to look at right now, top of the list of which are crisps, which seems a bit weird. I think my body must know they include a type of fat which it wouldn't be able to digest in my somewhat sensitive state.

I drifted into a mini-coma at the till in Sainsbury's. The lass behind the counter asked me a question which took me an age to process. It was all rather embarrassing. She looked at me like I was a freak.

My brain is definitely not functioning quite as well as it ought to. I went to bed ludicrously early last night and lay there, wide awake, trying to work out why I could hear a faint electrical buzzing. I got out of bed and tried to work out where the sound was coming from, but it always seemed to be at the same volume. It was when I put my hands over my ears that I realised the sound was actually inside my head.

Tinnitus is not something a composer ought to have, and I genuinely can't imagine having to deal with that particular noise for the rest of my life. I sat in the sitting room and watched television until about 4am, trying to sleep with the sound on, so I didn't have to hear the strange noise.

I woke up with the sound continuing, and couldn't get back off to sleep again. I phoned the tinnitus society, who were delightful, and told me that it could well be a product of the illness and that I wasn't to worry unduly. I was glad I'd told her I was a composer, else she'd have thought I was very odd. My Mum also put my mind at rest by telling me she has the odd similar incident.

I read today that a French comedian has been arrested for tweeting a sort of play on words which could be viewed as a defence of one of last week's terrorists. That he's been arrested concerns me gravely. Freedom of speech is freedom of speech, and must work both ways. If we can publish pictures of Mohammed, we must also be able to make jokes which defend the other side. We must not pick and chose what we deem correct for people to say. There's a huge gulf between making a joke and inciting terrorism.

This evening we battled our way through London gales to the cinema on Holloway Road where we saw Into The Woods, which I very much enjoyed, with the possible exception of James Corden who lacks the emotional range, and, in fact the charisma to play The Baker. The female cast, however, was stunning. Little Red Riding Hood lacked some of the sarcastic New York sassiness I've come to expect from the role. I didn't understand a word Jack said. And why did the princes bother with the terrible English accents? Sometimes I wonder on a film like this why one of the English cast didn't go up to the director and suggest perhaps a different accent might be chosen!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Soup and potatoes

There's really nothing interesting to say about today. I have stayed indoors without heading out all day. I slept in until 11am. I watched telly. I managed to eat some boiled potatoes with a couple of peas at 4pm. I boiled some more potatoes at 6pm. I realised I was incredibly dehydrated at 9pm, so ate some soup. I haven't been sick today. That's a bonus. I've also started to feel hungry, which I see as a good sign. I have been aching all over, however. My neck, my chest, my legs. Aching like a little old man. In fact, reading back over this blog entry I wonder whether this is what being very old is like for many people. I saw an old codger on telly today who had two carers patronisingly applauding her for managing to stand up from an arm chair. Surely at that stage, when your friends are all dead and you feel like shit on a permanent basis, you must wonder why you carry on?

Fortunately my pain is temporary and another day's rest should have me feeling right as rain again.

I feel less optimistic about Ken Morley who seems to have made a bit of a tit of himself in the celebrity Big Brother house. Nathan worked with him on the Rocky Horror Show, and says he's a genuinely lovely person, a true live wire and a wonderfully funny man. Morley is accused of racism. Actually, from my perspective, I'd say he was guilty of nothing more than being a bit theatrical, a bit of an old duffer, and someone the media has decided to rip apart for the pleasure of blood-thirsty viewers and readers across the UK. I'm actually quite bored of these displays of fake moral outrage. Less than a week ago, 17 people were murdered in Paris by people who were entirely against freedom of speech. Yet, the irony is that, in our country, we've created a more underhand way of murdering those who take advantage of free speech, but say things we don't necessarily want to hear...


Apologies for the tardiness of this blog. I fell asleep at 9pm yesterday and have only just woken up! Like all periods of illness, the hours tend to roll into one, so I was incredibly grateful to my husband for taking the initiative and writing something on Sunday night whilst I shivered and hallucinated on a little make-shift bed in the sitting room formed from some sofa cushions and a couple of blankets.

It's amazing what an poorly brain will come up with whilst a fever is surging through its body. One part of my brain was bombarding me with numbers and little stubs of sentences which made no sense whatsoever, whilst another part tried to make sense of what was happening. It was exhausting beyond words. I was so angry that all of this was going on during a day which ought to have been so special. The Rebel Chorus had sung so beautifully all day, and I always feel immensely proud when I have the team gathered around me. We really ought to do more as a choir. There's the makings of something immensely special there. Perhaps we should enter the choir of the year contest...

I felt pretty lousy when I eventually woke up yesterday. Every part of me ached, and I was forced to knock back the Imodium like it was going out of fashion. I really wanted to stay at home, tucked neatly under a duvet watching MGM films, but instead I had to drive to a rainy Coventry for a meeting with Hamish Glen, the marvellous artistic director at the equally marvellous Belgrade Theatre. The Belgrade is named after the capital of Serbia who donated the timber which allowed the theatre to rise out of the post Second World War ashes of Coventry. As a theatre, it's always had huge significance for me. My parents were both young stagers there in the late 1950s, and my mentor, the great Sir Arnold Wesker, had his first shows performed there in, I think, 1958.

Hamish and I had a lovely chat about an idea I've had for another stage musical, one which would perhaps be even more personal to me than Brass. It would be remarkably exciting to do. I've decided my 40s are going to be about writing stage musicals.

Hamish Glen is the brother of the actor Ian Glen. I learned that fact during the meeting, and it might have to suffice for my "learn something new every day" mission. When you're barely able to function, the ability to take in any new information is entirely compromised. I may have learned lots of new things today! Who knows? Actually, I also learned that only five volcanoes in the world have lava lakes, that is to say an actual swirling bed of fire and molten rock that you see in the Indiana Jones films. I learned that watching a fascinating documentary where the divine Kate Humble actually abseiled into a volcano crater.

The traffic on the way home from Cov was beyond awful. I think I must have been following a weather front as it headed in a South-Easterly direction because It was raining solidly with ghastly high winds. Everyone seemed to be driving like imbeciles. I tried to maintain a sensible, solid speed, but people kept coming up behind me, flashing their headlights. One particularly aggressive bastard came dangerously close, so, as a warning, I gently put my foot down on the brake to suggest he pull back a little. His response was to overtake me and then slam on his own breaks so violently that I came within a few inches of crashing into him.

Driving with a gastric bug is no laughing matter!

I came home, ate a plate of spaghetti on toast, immediately vomited said plate of spaghetti on toast, and fell asleep...

Monday, 12 January 2015

Orange Jizz


Hello everyone in Pepys Motet Blogworld, this is Nathan, Ben's husband, and I've hacked into his blogspot account, unbeknownst to him, in order to bring you this evenings episode in the story.

The reason I'm the one writing this, is that poor Ben is currently lying on the living room floor, wrapped in blankets, fast asleep!  He's really not well, at all, poor devil, and seems to have succumbed to whatever nasty bug that I've been suffering/recovering from this week.  Some of you may have read about my plight here over the past few days, but if not, it's not been a great deal of fun.

Last Monday, just as we were coming to the end of the day in which we had recorded the brass players for the Brass soundtrack, I started to feel unwell, and by the time I got home, I was running a fever, sweating, and shivering.  It was a very unpleasant night, and by the morning, with sheets drenched, thing s got altogether a little more gastric!  Upshot was, I've spent most of the week recovering.  A couple of days off work, and couple of days not eating, and I was a wobbly wreck by the end of it all, but the silver lining was that I managed to get my tax return sorted while I was off work, which was a great pressure off my mind!

It seems that nearly everyone I know has been ill over the Christmas/New Year season, and I never know if that is because more people get stressed and run down over this period, and the fact that it's int he Winter, or that we hear about it, and think it matters more, because it's a time when everyone wants to be well and enjoy themselves, so it somehow seems worse, and therefore sticks in our minds more...  I don't know.  I muse on these things quite a lot of the time.  It's just the way my head works, and it keeps me amused, and while I'm amused, people around me don't have to be bothered with the nonsense that would otherwise be dribbling from my mouth without stopping, so it's probably a good thing that these ideas pop into my head!


Last night, Ben started to complain that he didn't feel too good, and from what he described, the alarm bells started to ring, and I recognised all too well a lot of the symptoms that I had experienced last week.

Ben was worried, as he has a busy few days coming up, with important things happening that he a) can't afford to miss, and b) can't rearrange, but we determined to just dig down, and find the strength to get through, whatever happened.

The first of those important things was another studio session today.  This time, not for the Brass soundtrack, but for Ben's composition, Oranges and Lemons, with the Rebel Chorus.

For those not in the know, it's a piece that Ben wrote about five years ago, and it has actually been recorded before, but Ben has long felt that the time had come to do a new version, and today was the day!

Most people reading this blog will know the old nursery rhyme, Oranges and Lemons.  What you may not know, is that there is a longer version of the rhyme, with reference to seventeen London churches.  Ben recorded every single bell in every single one of these churches, and a good few more besides, in order to create a track where all the bells could play together for the first time in their history.  It's marvellous stuff, and was a huge undertaking, sending poor Julian, the recording producer completely mad, as every single one of more than 4000 bells strikes had to be individually placed, manually, into the score in order to create the music.  Utter madness, but very Ben!

Some of the bells no longer had working mechanisms to make them sound, so Ben crawled around duty belfries with a rubber mallet, striking the bells by hand, and in some cases, being the first person to hear them make any noise since VE day.

So that's the history of the piece, which Ben may have already shared with you, so I won't dwell on it any more.

We used the original bell track for the recording today, but the voices were (nearly) all new.  One or two of the Rebel Chorus sang O&L last time round, but hardly any.

It was lovely to have the Rebel Chorus back together again.  Over the past few years, there has been a certain fluidity to the roll call, but it always manages to feel like the same group.  We've got to know each other really well, new friendships have been formed, and we all really enjoy singing together.  It was lovely to welcome back Emma, Andrew and Ben, who joined the choir for our wedding last year, and we had two new members as well, Rosie and Josh, who together with Emma are people that were in the company of Brass for the NYMT.  There's always a lot of crossover with Ben's projects.  We were once again under the masterful baton of Sam, who kept us all together, and did so with aplomb.  Good word, aplomb.  Always makes me think of something heavy dropping into a deep pool...

We were back at Livingston Studios today, and I have to say, the choir did an amazing job.  O&L is nowhere near as complex as the London Requiem, and certainly not a fraction as hard as the Pepys Motet, but there are some tricky corners, so we all had to be on our game, and focus really hard.  The day went really well - it was the first recording session I've been to in a while that didn't overrun, which must have pleased our engineer, Joseph, who has had a couple of late nights on our behalf, but he is a wonderful human being, who never seems to get grumpy, never complains, and was rewarded today with beers and an early night.  (It's all money in the bank, as he's doing our sessions with the Brass cast next weekend - watch this space...)

We had a lot of fun deciding on the exact pronunciation of certain words.  Should we, for example, sing, "O-ran-jez" or "O-ran-jiz"?  After much mirth, and childish knob gags, we decided upon the latter, based not he fact that that is how Ben's Gran would have said it.  She then became the guru for all other word-related question.  "What would Ben's Gran have said?" became an oft-asked refrain.

It was also a sad occasion.  Our dear, dear friends, Ian and Jem, who have lent their not inconsiderable vocal talents to many projects over the past four years, and been a very important presence in both of our lives since I first met Ian when we did a production of Just So, at the Tabard Theatre in Chiswick, are leaving our shores in a couple of months, to embark on a new chapter of their lives in the US.  That means that O&L is the last recording they will be able to do with us as members of the Rebel Chorus, at least for now.  We toasted their future with a few sips of champagne after the session, and it felt very right to mark the occasion in such a way.  Abbie had made a fabulous lavender cake, which we all munched our way through in the pool room upstairs at the studio, causing much hilarity when she said it was her wedding cake - meaning that it was the same recipe as one of the layers in her wedding cake, but I thought it was her actual wedding cake, which a) would have been an odd thing to bring to a recording session, and b) was a few months ago, so would have been hard as brick!  It was baked fresh yesterday, s it turned, out, and was delicious.

Ben was fading fast but this point, and it was time to bring him home.  He'd done a wonderful job of hiding his discomfort, but the cracks were beginning to show.  As soon as we got in the car, the uncontrollable shivering started, and as we pulled away from the carpark, he burst into tears.  I asked him if he needed me to stop for a hug, but he just wanted to get home, as he was feeling so awful.  Then it all came tumbling out, and the tears were also because he was going to miss Jem and Ian so much.  I feel exactly the same way.  Bon voyage, gentlemen, but please don't be strangers.

So that brings us up to the current moment.

Ben is now snoring gently on the floor in front of me.  He asked for a bucket, which he has made full use of, which was fun, and now I shall, as kindly as I can, decant him from the living room into bed, where I hope he'll sleep as soundly as he needs to and wake up refreshed and ready to face a trip to Coventry in the morning.  I'll leave it to him to tell you what for tomorrow.

So with that, I'll bid you all a good night, and reassure you that normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Cow pox

I've been running around like a blue-arsed fly all day today. Literally. And rather appropriately, the day started with a run through Highgate and Queen's woods. I've been very good at going to the gym recently and didn't want to fall out of the habit because I'd had a busy weekend.

In the late morning I headed East to Columbia Road for my goddaughter, Deia's birthday party. Our task was to decorate the community centre as a sort of magical grotto, and we did so with huge strips of crepe paper, shiny streamers and lots of glittery stars, which Philippa had home made and varnished with something which made me feel a little high when I sniffed it!

The six year old in me was very pleased with the results of our decorating committee and the party seemed to go extremely well. Children can be rather strange creatures; and it struck me, looking at sixteen six year olds and their associated brothers and sisters, how very much they can be the product of their upbringings. There were the laid-back ones with Mums and Dads wearing sandals and covered in facial hair, the painfully shy ones, who spent the entire party pulled into their mothers' breasts, faces turned away from what was going on in the room, and the ones with food allergies who, dare I say, had parents who seemed emaciated and just that little bit highly strung! Philippa accuses me of being both a child and a parent hater. I think of myself more as an observer! It is lovely to have godchildren, though, because there will always be children in the world whom I'll adore without reservation. (When they become little people that is. I've never seen the point of babies!)

I drove back through the Brick Lane area and was slightly horrified to note an entire lack of "Je Suis Charli" signs in windows, or in fact, any evidence that the large Muslim community in that part of London were as appalled by what has happened in France as one or two Muslim leaders would have us believe. I've always been a great believer in community responsibility. If something odd were happening on the nutty fringes of the gay lobby, I would be the first to stand up and say it wasn't happening in my name. In fact, I'd go out of my way to prove it. It is not enough to angrily stamp one's little feet when one's community is stereotyped by those who don't fully understand it. The Muslim community have a great opportunity here to tackle Islamaphobia head on; to prove that they have as much respect for us as they would like us to have for them. Sadly, I believe the tendency will be for them to retreat into their somewhat insular communities, which itself will fuel more stereotyping.

I hot-footed it from the East End back to Highgate where I met Michelle and Rosie to run through the soprano line for Oranges and Lemons. We sailed through the music. Both were brilliantly well-prepared and their voices blended beautifully.

This evening I met the lovely Josh at Euston train station and the two of us walked through Bloomsbury to the Shaftesbury Theatre where we picked Nathan up, bought chips and then walked through Covent Garden, over Waterloo Bridge and then all the way to London Bridge via Southwark where Tina was celebrating her birthday in the George Inn, an ancient 17th century coaching inn which is tucked away in a courtyard in the metaphorical shadow of The Shard.

We had a lovely chat about Tina's love of the colour red and about the fact that she has over 2000 balls of red yarn. Nathan taught me my fact for the day; that the vaccine for small pox was taken across to South America via a ship load of cow-pox-infected orphan boys. Apparently the only way they could keep the vaccine alive was by continually infecting the children in a sort of cow pox relay. Talk about thinking out of the box!

Friday, 9 January 2015

The haunted stereo

We had a wonderful rehearsal for Oranges and Lemons last night, a piece which The Rebel Chorus is recording on Sunday. It turns out recordings are like buses, you wait a year and a half for one, and then two come along at once! Anyway, about half the choir was there, and we all crammed into our bedroom (where the piano lives) and went through the piece in quite a lot of detail. Everyone was really well-prepared so we were able to make all kinds of performance-related decisions. The work was last performed about 5 years ago, so it felt quite nostalgic to dust it off and hear it sung again. It all came flooding back. All those intricate internal parts which I'd spent hours teaching to the first choir who performed it. I was also able to tell the choir some of the stories relating to the creation of the piece. The soundtrack features 200 actual bells, recorded in 16 real-life churches which are mentioned in a lesser-known longer-version of the famous nursery rhyme. Some of the bells in some of the churches had fallen into disrepair and not been rung since VE Day, so on one or two instances, the sound recordist and I would have to crawl into dusty belfries and manually strike a bell with a rubber mallet. My foot went through at least one floorboard, and I very nearly fell 20 feet onto concrete floor in, I think, Shoreditch church, which where they film the sit-com Rev. I'm inherently clumsy and have always thought it's conceivable that I might badly injure myself one day simply by getting over-excited in the wrong location!

The choir hung around after the rehearsal for tea and biscuits in the sitting room. We're so rock and roll!

Three was a very peculiar occurrence in the night. Some time after 5am, I was awoken by the sound of distant string music. Moments later I recognised what I was hearing as the opening to the ABBA song, As Good As New, which is the first track on the Voulez Vous album. As the track kicked in, the volume got considerably louder and I realised the sound was actually coming from our kitchen. Plainly the little stereo we have in there had randomly decided to start playing, which, in the middle of the night, is not necessarily a sound you want to hear. I got out of bed, and crept along the hallway, half-expecting to find a masked intruder trying to shut the sound system down. The nearer I got to the kitchen, the louder I realised the track was playing to the extent that it seemed quite deafening as I reached the room itself. In the darkness I couldn't find the off switch, or the eject button, or in fact anything useless, and in a panic to make the noise stop, I pulled the plug out at the wall, and was rewarded with an electric shock.  Exciting biting, as my Dad would say...

I stumbled back to bed and lay there for some time wondering how freaked out I'd be if the music started again. The incident was genuinely like something from a horror movie.

Speaking of which it's been rather muggy today. There's a very strong wind blowing, but between gusts it's positively balmy in a deeply sinister way. It reminds me of a quote from Pepys' Diary. We think of Pepysian winters as being all about the second ice age and snowy fairs on the Thames, but in the early 1660s, London winters were unseasonably mild. This worried everyone immensely as there was a known link between mild winters and the arrival of the plague. In fact, Parliament ordered a day of fasting and prayer for colder weather. On January 21st, 1661, Pepys wrote, "it is strange what weather we have had all this winter. No cold at all. But the ways are dusty and the flyes fly up and down and the rose buds are full of leaves. Such a time if year as was never known in this world before here." And if you like that quote you can hear it sung by the lovely Llio Millward (who I was rehearsing with this evening) on the Pepys Motet, which is being released on the same CD as Oranges and Lemons. How cyclic life can be!?

Thursday, 8 January 2015

My response to Miliband

It would appear that the beleaguered Labour Party has got itself into another shit storm this week involving yet another group of its natural allies. To me this proves what I've been feeling for some time; that, in a desperate rush to steal Tory votes, Ed Miliband is actually turning his back on his natural supporters. He's done it with the party faithful (his handling of the Emily Thornberry case was tragic) and now he's focussing on the Arts community, tweeting:

"Page 44 of Tory dossier says Labour will cancel cuts to the arts budget. We won't."

Well, at least my community now knows where it stands, and none of us will need to feel at all guilty about not voting Labour this time round. The Twittersphere has unsurprisingly gone mad, and a series of witty, pithy, droll, dry and damn right rude tweets have been sent back to the labour press office, my favourite of which was;

"That really is deserving of the slowest handclap I can muster, you clueless crypto-Tory claque of cuntfuttocks."

But whilst Miliband whinges like a petulant schoolboy about the NHS from the fortress-like safety of the Palace of Westminster, the rest of Europe is on the streets, waving pencils and notebooks, defending our freedom of speech; the very ground-rock of western political ideology.

It turns out that the brave people putting their lives at risk to defend our values isn't the western politicians after all. No! They just do what they can to stay in power. The true heroes right now are the artists; the cartoonists, the photographers, the film-makers, the actors, the directors, and the writers who regularly put themselves in the gravest of danger to question the insanity of the world. When an artist speaks, the world listens...

Politicians know this. And when it suits them, they jump on the bandwagon, attending big concerts, backing artist-led movements which they realise have become too wildly popular with the general population to ignore, and yet at the first opportunity, they cut our funding. And the first art to die is always the thought-provoking non-profit making stuff which cannot exist without subsidy.

As a coda to this piece, I feel compelled to say that we saw the cynical Miliband at his worst when we got married last March. There he was, in an arts film, wishing us all the best for our life together, knowing that a million people would see him doing so. Did he privately write to any of the other gay couples who got married that day? I very much doubt it. I didn't want him in the film. The only Westminster politician who genuinely stuck her neck on the line to help gay people was our constituency MP, Lynne Featherstone, who instigated the bill. Miliband's inclusion in the film got in the way of a perfectly good song which I would much rather have had viewers hear. But that's politicians for you isn't it? Standing in the way of art as and when it suits them.

This blog is therefore dedicated with gratitude and love to the cartoonists who were killed yesterday and all the other brave artists around the world who will be killed fighting for our liberty.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015


I went up into the attic yesterday to put the Christmas decorations away for another year. During the summer months, the ladder leading up there is permanently in place, but when it gets particularly cold, we tend to seal the loft up, which means going through the rigmarole of using a metal stick to open the hatch and pull the ladder down every time we want to go up there. Anyway, as I pulled it down last night, there was some sort of freakish malfunction, and the ladder came careering down at the speed of light, smashing into my thumb. It hurt like hell and instantly turned into a massive blood blister. It's still rather tender and there are all sorts of things I've been struggling to do today... It turns out that texting is incredibly left-thumb heavy, as is doing up a pair of trousers and putting on shoes!

Everyone around me is ill at the moment. Brother Edward has been terribly poorly, and Nathan is currently suffering from some kind of dreadful stomach bug. Edward phoned 111 and was immediately told to go into A and E, which does rather add grist to today's news story which blamed NHS hotlines and the like for over-crowding in A and E departments. Of course the phone operators play it safe. They're not medically trained and in today's litigious society, no one wants to end up being accused of not catching a serious illness in time.

Today, between trips to the loo, Nathan showed me the rudiments of double-knitting. I was attempting to learn about it as part of my "learn something knew every day" regime, but I've only managed to glean that the process involves knitting the front piece of yarn and purling the back one. It is, however, rather mesmerising to watch.

I put in eight hours on my new brass band arrangement of A Symphony for Yorkshire today. I've been working on the second movement. It's incredibly slow-going, but as with all new manuscripts, it's all about taking one baby step at a time.

I also went to the gym and ran six kilometres and swam twenty lengths in a frenzy of self-loathing. Christmas has turned me into a fat chocolate-froozler and I'm determined to become sylph-like and glorious before I'm too old for that sort of thing to matter! If anyone sees me stuffing my face with saturated fats, please do your best to stop me.

The dreadful news from Paris has upset me greatly, largely because the sorts of people who were effected by it felt like people I would have known if the same thing happened over here. A lot of the companies which shared the magazine's offices worked in television production. I genuinely don't know what the answer is to all of this. What I feel absolutely sure about is that we shouldn't be moderating our behaviour as a result. My Mum feels that the magazine publishers were a little silly for being so rude about Islam, but if we can't question religion because we don't want to offend religious people, what does that make us? Should women all start wearing the hijab in this country because we're frightened about the fall out which might be caused by offending British Muslims? Now, more than ever, we must defend our right to freedom of speech, and if those twisted bastards want anything else, then there are plenty of countries in the world where they can f**k off to! I am proud of the people of France (and indeed of London) heading out onto the streets, placing pencils on the pavements and waving notepads in the air as a way of showing their defiance and their belief in the importance of being able to write whatever they choose.

As I write this, I'm watching a report about Ebola on the news. There's really not a great deal to be merry about at the moment, is there?

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Squashed car

...And so the public's desire to destroy Ched Evans continues. The desperate David Milliband has even got in on the act and is currently urging Oldham Athletic not to sign the troubled footballer. Milliband (and the ghastly curtain-twitching moral majority of this country) criticise Evans for refusing to "show remorse" for the crime he still claims he didn't commit, despite the fact that he's been to jail, and served his time. It seems any form of sensible debate on this issue is impossible. Those who support Evans, or at least suggest he should be allowed to re-integrate himself into society,  are accused of being misogynistic, and not giving a damn about the large number of women who are raped in this country every year.

I'm not altogether sure what difference it would make if Evans issued an apology for his actions. In fact, someone calling for him to do so on the Channel 4 news this evening had to admit it wouldn't make the blindest bit of difference. So Evans is damned if he does and damned if doesn't, in true Salem witchcraft style.

If Evans honestly believes that he's innocent, can someone explain why on earth he should show remorse? Judges get things wrong. I of all people ought to know this, having been utterly shafted by one four years ago. If Evans genuinely thinks he's innocent, even after serving four years in prison, I actually feel great sadness for him. Just imagine how that must feel? Refusing to acknowledge guilt is very different to not showing remorse...

It would appear that the great moral majority are simply taking umbrage because someone they've decided to hate isn't playing their game. As long as Evans claims he's innocent he maintains a degree of dignity, which the general public don't like. I'm pretty convinced that the missing piece in this particular jigsaw is a grovelling apology from Evans so that the public can all say "I told you I could spot a wrong un" and throw rotten cabbages at him to prove that his punishment wasn't big enough the first time around! As long as he refuses to acknowledge guilt, he somehow has the upper hand, and the great moral majority will have to keep talking about the safety of children so that we're all shocked into agreeing with them. Someone on the telly tonight even claimed that Evans' return to football would send out a message that rape was acceptable. No. Evans' four years in prison proved that this is not the case. His return to the football pitch would mean we lived in a forgiving society which believes in its justice system.

Today was the worst sort of weather for an hairy man. Wet and mild. My biggest mistake was wearing a winter coat which soaked in external moisture and simultaneously trapped anything I was sweating inside. I've seldom felt so uncomfortable as I trudged to the osteopath.

What was lovely, however, was meeting Michelle of the Turkie for lunch at Somerset House. We caught up on at least six months of gossip over a toasted goats cheese bap!

I have decided to make a rather late New Year's Resolution to learn something new every day. Yesterday I learned about castanets. Today I learned (on Countdown) a new word: Farouche, which means shy.

I went for a swim at the gym this evening and stumbled upon a nasty-looking accident as I drove along the West Heath. A woman's car had been squashed between two buses. The fireman who stopped me, fortunately also told me that though the friend had been injured, she'd not been killed. In fact she was sitting by the side of the road as I drove past. Her car had been squashed to about half of its size, however, and its bonnet had completely disappeared. What a terrible start for a year. For her, 2015 will always be the year when she had that awful accident.

We took the Christmas tree down tonight. It was rather odd to wonder what we'll be feeling when we take it out of its box again in 11 1/2 months' time. What will have happened in the year? Will everyone we know still be happy and healthy? These are the sorts of thoughts which increasingly occur to me the older I get.

Peppercorns and horns

Peppercorns don't half travel when they get dropped. We sat down for a plate of baked beans on toast last night and as I tried to grind some pepper on top, the unthinkable happened, the bottom of the mill dropped out, and hundreds of peppercorns exploded across the kitchen. I immediately pretended it hadn't happened. Sometimes you've got to just close a door and deal with a problem as and when you have the head space! I went into the kitchen this morning and saw them all rolling about like tiny rabbit poos. I had a quick sweep, but they're still there. Tormenting me.

We did another 12-hour day in the studio and I am, as ever, knackered, dehydrated, hungry and buzzing like a caffeine-addicted bee.

Today was perhaps the maddest day yet on the Brass soundtrack. It started calmly enough, with two of our keyboard players coming in to do sessions on the wonderful Hammond organ which is resident at Livingstone studios. It's the first time I've ever recorded a real Hammond and it was a treat to do so. Those organs were built to last in the 1960s, and they still work as well today as they ever did.

We pottered our way through the morning, recording pianos,  xylophones and glockenspiels.  They say that you learn something new every day, and I learned today that a castanet has a male and a female half. That's quite cool isn't it? One has a lower pitch than the other. I've no idea which. I wouldn't be sexist enough to assume that the lower-pitched one was the male.

I had lunch in a cafe: a mushroom omelette with a salad, which turned out to be just what the doctor ordered...

The afternoon saw a return of the Brass boys, and at that point, predictably, all hell broke loose! For the next nine hours those poor lads toiled, grafted and sweated in the name of music... And they did a remarkable job. I sent them away safe in the knowledge that they would never again experience such a gruelling session, but that we've infinitely well prepared them for anything a future professional recording might throw at them!

Fiona popped into the studio at some point in the afternoon, which was great fun, because I was able to introduce her to our keyboard player, Archie, who is currently studying on the same university course that Fiona did some years ago. I think it's really important, when studying an arts degree, to meet people who went out into the big wide world and made decent vocational careers for themselves.

We came home and caught a late-night repeat of the Graham Norton show which featured Conchita singing Rise Like A Phoenix, which won this year's Eurovision Song Contest. It made me a little tearful, mostly because I'm tired, but a little because it's a wonderful song, beautifully sung, and it somehow feels inextricably bound to our wedding. Conchita is a bearded lady and a proud member of the LGBT community whose Eurovision win was every bit as important to British gay people as our being given the collective right to marry each other but a few months earlier.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Wood Green Brass

We've just returned home after an exhausting twelve-hour day in the recording studio, which was made considerably more gruelling by the fact that I barely slept a wink last night. What's that all about? You know you have to be up at 8am, so your body tells you to stay alert at all costs. My nose was running like a tap as well. I thought it was a cold coming on, but it turns out it was some kind of allergic reaction to something because one Piriton in the morning made me as right as rain.

Today's session was a slightly peculiar mixture of a brass septet and timpani drums! The timps were in a separate booth, but from lunch time both groups performed at the same time. It was all rather surreal.

Every time I think we might be on for a relatively easy session I'm proved entirely wrong! Trying to get seven brass players to play together in perfect tune is no mean feat. Brass instruments, with their peculiar bells, are notoriously hard to tune. Even a perfectly in tune instrument might have the odd note which plays a little sharp or flat!

The players were absolutely brilliant, however, and bantered like pros between the takes. I'm quite convinced that there's a gene which gives brass players the ability to do laddish banter. That, or they learn it at college whilst the 'cellists are doing classes in du Pre hair-flicking. They also coped rather manfully when I had a mini melt-down in the afternoon... although the less said about that the better!

Our principle trumpeter, the remarkable Zak, did some extraordinary playing in the opening number, and every member of the ensemble had a moment when they shone very brightly. I was particularly pleased with young Josef, who is singing the role of Tom on the recording, but stepped in to play euphonium on the recording when one of the trombonists from the original band couldn't make today's session. He slotted into the ensemble brilliantly. I guess there are very few actors who can claim to have accompanied themselves on an original cast album!

Today's studio was in Wood Green, literally just around the corner from my old drama school, Mountview. It's situated in an incredibly grotty part of town, nestling in a sort of industrial wasteland between Alexandra Palace park and the infamous and ghastly Shopping City, but as we wandered off to Morrison's for lunch, it struck me that I'm actually rather fond of the area. Yes, it's full of very odd people and corners heaped with piles of drifting rubbish flapping against angry metal fences, but it's also a place which makes me feel curiously optimistic. It was only today that it stuck me this is due to my having been to drama school in the area. This was my first experience of London; a place where I felt on top of the world. Everyone feels invincible at drama school. Ours was the year group who were all destined to win Oscars (trade mark). Some other poor group of drama school-leavers would be part of the horrific 90 percent of trained actors who would never act professionally.

Livingstone is a very wonderful studio, which holds special memories for us both because it's where we did many of the studio sessions for our wedding. I guess that might also explain today's happiness. That, and a huge sense of excitement for the album we're recording.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Pot painting

It's done nothing but rain today. Horrible great vats of water were dropping from the sky all day. It was my goddaughter, Deia's 6th birthday, so I went into Muswell Hill to buy her a gift. I settled on a little kit which enables a young person to make their name in sequins! It seemed a suitably camp and theatrical gift for a goddaughter of mine. I was also pleased to see that the entire pack was designed and made in Britain. I'm trying to boycott the rubbish which comes out of China. It invariably falls apart before it's opened, and it's invariably created by children who oughtn't to be doing such work. I genuinely believe we have a responsibly in the West to stop looking for cheap bargains, and to start supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs in our own countries. There's very little which actually has to come from China.

I went from Muswell Hill to Kingsland Road where I met Deia and Silver, Philippa and her dad, Dylan, and Gaby and her lovely girlfriend, Thorunn, who's from Iceland. It turns out that we have a friend in common. The world, it seems, is a tiny, tiny place.

We went from Dalston to Victoria Park where we sat for a few hours in one of those cafés where you paint and glaze your own plates and bowls. It turns out that pot-painting is a deeply therapeutic experience. I opted to paint a little ceramic money box in the shape of an elephant, and spent ages covering it in little dots of grey, blue and mauve. Dylan decorated a mug in beautiful intricate flowers whilst Deia painted a penguin. Our masterpieces will be sent off to be fired in a kiln, where the paints we used will apparently become darker and richer. We get to see the final results in a week's time.

I went back to Philippa's briefly, where we iced and ate a walnut cake, before it was time to pick Nathan up from work. We did an evening with a plate of pasta in front of the telly, watching ball-tingling programmes on Channel 4 about dangerous bridges and roads. I shall have nightmares about falling out of aeroplanes all night tonight!

Friday, 2 January 2015

Shuffle and smash

Leaving the house today felt a little odd. I stayed indoors for a full 24 hours yesterday and the outside world felt very noisy and confusing. I completely understand how some people get into a place where they become scared of leaving a house. If I stopped doing it for long enough, I could well see myself developing some sort of hermit complex. I speedily resolved today's issue, however, by listening to music on the iPod Nathan very kindly bought me for Christmas. The world turns into an epic and beautiful film when the right music is blasting into your ears.

The new iPod seems to work very well. It's good and loud, and the headphones go into my ears without immediately falling out. It took me a few minutes to work out that the iPod factory settings include a "shake to shuffle" feature, which means when the iPod is jolted, the blessed song suddenly changes. Can you imagine anything more irritating when you're having a lovely post New Year jog at the gym than an iPod which changes to a random song every time it gets shaken. To make matters worse, before the track changes, the iPod emits a rather chemical little sound which alerts you to the horror coming your way! To begin with, I had no idea what was causing the seemingly random phenomenon. I was beginning to wonder whether I'd developed narcolepsy or entered a modern-day JB Priestley time-slip drama! In the end, I went into settings and de-activated the function. I can't for the life of me work out why anyone would want it. If walking is enough to set it off, an iPod suddenly becomes a useless object. Apple really does seem to be moving away from its famous user-friendly focus. Has anyone tried to use iTunes lately? I must keep reminding myself that, however bad Mac gets, nothing in the world can be worse than Windows 8. That system will probably go down as the biggest own goal in the history of technology!

I was determined to take it easy today, but did make a very basic start on the process of scoring A Symphony for Yorkshire for brass band. In the wake of Brass, quite a number of people are asking what else I've written for brass band and the answer "a few bits and bobs" is plainly unsatisfactory! It was actually the saw player from the symphony who suggested the piece would work well if scored for band. There are, after all, countless brass bands in Yorkshire, and a whole heap of love for the county in the rest of the world. The symphony was one of my most successful compositions, but because it was scored for 270 individual musicians, it's never been written in a form which can be reproduced for live performance. I am determined this year to make my music more future-proof so it can have a life outside film and very specific never-to-be-reformed ensembles!

I had lunch with Nathan at Stock Pot and created a terrible scene when I stood up to go to the loo and knocked Nathan's glass of coke onto the floor where it smashed and went all over his trousers and hand-knitted work-of-art scarf. It was horrifying; the cafe owner came running over with a dustpan and brush and then a bucket and mop and it took him an age to clear everything up. Meanwhile, the entire cafe stared at me. Nathan went back to work with sticky jeans, and I felt suitably ashamed.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Busy doing nothing!

I've literally done nothing all day. In fact, I'm still wearing my dressing gown! I am not very good at doing nothing. I feel terribly guilty, to the extent that I'm not actually enjoying myself a great deal. There's a little voice in the back of my head telling me that this is no way to start a year.

Still, I've watched a phenomenal number of the sorts of films you might expect me to have seen on New Year's Day. Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz, Sister Act... Mary Poppins was a particular treat. I'd forgotten what a beautiful song Feed The Birds is, and how much it has followed me around since I was a very young child. We learnt how to sing it at my drama club when I was about 8. And then, of course, Nathan was in the original cast of the show when it went into the West End.

Last night's party was a fine affair. I cooked a little too much food, so we shall be eating baked potatoes and slightly curled-up salads for months to come.

We played the Name Game, or "Meryl", as my friends tend to call it. It's a game where you take it in turns to pull a famous name out of a hat and describe the person without using their name. During the second round, the same names go into the hat and the players are only allowed one word to describe the person whose name they pull out. The last round is essentially a game of charades. You mime the names...

My team did brilliantly badly, and we laughed like drains all night as a result. At midnight, we switched the telly on, and watched the fireworks in central London with the sound turned down whilst all ten of us sang ABBA's Happy New Year at the tops of our lungs. It's a tradition. I must have listened to that song every year since it was released in 1980.

It made me realise how few other tunes there are which celebrate New Year. Auld Lang Sine aside, the only other song I can think of is that infernally dull number in Sunset Boulevard. I think it's called A Perfect Year. Can anyone think of another New Year's Eve song?

Someone has grafittid the alleyway wall behind our house. It's the first time I've ever seen graffiti there, and I'm a little annoyed that I didn't catch the culprit red-handed. It is, after all, right outside my house. I tend to think that graffiti breeds graffiti, so worry that the alleyway is suddenly going to start attracting all sorts of undesirables. Irritatingly, the graffiti is shocking pink. That wall is over 100 years old; it genuinely doesn't deserve to be vandalised so tastelessly! Where's Banksy when you need one? I'm hoping my neighbour Nathalie, who's an artist, will pop out there and create a masterpiece to cover it up!

The alleyway has also recently become a bit of a dumping ground. Someone started semi-grouting the wall about a month before Christmas and has left a load of bags of sand which we keep tripping over in the dark. I pulled two of them out onto the street with the rest of our rubbish but they were replaced a day or so later, right at the bottom of the three steps which lead down into the alleyway. Just about the most dangerous place to find a bag of sand!