Saturday, 31 October 2015

Lake Garda

I worked all day today whilst Nathan was doing a shift at the box office of the Shaftesbury theatre. It's the last night of Memphis today, which is being replaced by a show called The Illusionists.

I badly banged my knee on the corner of a table last night and have been in discomfort all day. I hit myself on the knee-like equivalent of the funny bone, and if I weren't such a hairy old bear, I reckon I'd be able to see a big old bruise there.

I watched a programme about Lake Garda on the telly earlier on. Was it just the camera work, or is that place stunningly beautiful? Has anyone reading this been there? Is it to be recommended? Are there better lakes? Is it a tourist hot spot and therefore crowded and ludicrously expensive?

The programme I watched was being presented by Michael Portillo and I'll confess to being slightly perturbed by his bright cerise trousers which clashed rather terribly with the blues and earthy terracotta hues of the Italian landscape. Someone of his age might describe the trousers as "snazzy." That's an ancient word isn't it!? Like "diggy," "wally," "prannie." And "skill." A rumour went around our school that "skill" actually meant bird crap. A "twat" by the same count was a pregnant camel!

We rushed into Muswell Hill when Nathan got back from work and bought our customary pumpkins which we carved out in front of the X Factor, marvelling at how dreadful Ollie Murs sounds when he says things like "was you happy with them judges comments?"

Hallowe'en is my favourite time of the year and, for as long as I can remember, we've carved pumpkins and had hallowe'en parties. We once set fire to an out house in our garden by lighting so many candles whilst I told ghost stories!

In catholic countries it's actually tomorrow when things get exciting. About a million years ago, I was in Poland on All Soul's Day when they light thousands (and I mean thousands) of candles in cemeteries. The tradition is for entire families to visit their departed loved ones after dark, and sit with them for a few hours, eating food and chatting.

The cemeteries literally glow with candlelight. There's not a grave which isn't illuminated by at least one candle in a red, white, green or yellow jar. I found the experience of simply wandering around the grave yards intensely moving and hugely heartwarming. So if you ever find yourself in Poland (and I suspect Italy and Spain) on November 1st, head to a cemetery after dark and you're in for a treat.


We're so tired this evening that we're not even enjoying our customary hour in front of rubbish telly before bed. Nathan tells me he's too tired to knit, which is a genuine first!

I was too busy scoring this morning to go down to Cecil Sharp House for the first audition session. I had a bit of a panic, in fact, when I woke up and realised quite how much I have to achieve in the next few months.

I got enough done in the morning to justify going down to Camden in the afternoon and arrived in a state of low-sugarness, immediately chowing down on an entire pot of Co-op hummus. It did the trick. The director of the project thought I was incredibly eccentric for having bought a jar of salt with me to sprinkle on the tomatoes I ate with the hummus. It struck me as a fairly sensible thing to do... But I guess the definition of an eccentric is one who doesn't sense his own eccentricities.

We had an interesting debate in the bar last night about sexism. As a man with very few male friends, I have always considered women as every bit my equal. There are things I acknowledge that men do better than women and vice versa. Beyond the obvious things, like the fact that, on average, men are stronger and faster and have penises, I think there are differences in the way that men and women respond to emotions. I know it's a somewhat unfashionable view...

Anyway, last night we were talking about women in the arts, and the two girls that we were with were making a very interesting point that women tend to only be allowed to excel in art forms which can be completed alone (novels, singer songwriting...) I don't know what I think of that point: it's certainly not something I recognise. The majority of my bosses have been women, but maybe I'm in one of the few industries which are more gender equal. Or maybe, as a man, I don't tend to notice gender disparity. Hmm.

Whatever the case, I asked a question, which went down like a tub of sick at a party, namely whether there are certain jobs which not many women do as a result of not many women actually wanting to do the job... Just as you don't get many gay football pundits, perhaps there are certain jobs which fewer women actually fancy. I sometimes wonder whether fewer women want to go into politics, for example. The woman I was talking to got so angry with me at that point that she immediately withdrew from the conversation and went somewhere else! Apparently just as many women as men would want to be prime minister... That was me told.

...some people are so touchy!

Friday, 30 October 2015


We've just returned from a late night drink on Charlotte Street in Central London. We were at a bar called Jerusalem, which made me feel very old indeed. As the evening progressed, the music got louder and louder, and all I wanted to do was have a sit down and a natter. I hate bars. I'd much rather sit on the street outside a cafe with a hot chocolate, watching the world go by.

We were at the bar for leaving drinks. James Hadley, who used to be in charge of musical theatre at the Arts Council, is heading on to pastures new. He's fortunately remaining in the field of musical theatre, because he is a fabulous ambassador for new writers. In fact, instead of calling it a leaving drinks do, he called it a "networking event!"

I think the area of town we were in tonight is called Fitzrovia. I don't know it well. In fact, I tend to ignore it. It's a block further north than my usual Soho hangouts and it's usually ram packed with Hooray Henrys and people who work in advertising, whatever that is. What do people in advertising actually do?

All this said, I believe my parents "courted" in Fitzrovia in the late 1960s, so it plainly hasn't always been a hang out for twats. Anyway, what I could hear of the conversation over the loud music was very interesting. It's always nice to talk to fellow writers if not just to moan about how shit things are! My voice feels hoarse from shouting, however. Nathan thinks these sorts of bars are the reason why so many people have nodules these days. He's not wrong.

We ran auditions today for our secret project. We were down at Cecil Sharp House in Camden Town, home of the British folk arts movement... Which felt a little ironic. We saw some lovely performers. And that's about all I'm allowed to say...

We've started watching series two of Catastrophe, which is every bit as funny as the last one. It's on Channel 4, and I very much recommend watching it.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Little side shuffles

We finished work at 9pm, which felt rather early by present standards. We both reached a logical place to stop and took ourselves to the local pizza place for a take away pasta which we ate with salad in front of last Sunday's X Factor, which was, just like Saturday night's episode, a true road crash. As soon as the two presenters started shouting at the camera, Nathan remarked that he'd never heard so many speech impediments in one piece to camera. Ollie Murs can't pronounce his "th's" and Caroline Flack has so much vocal damage, she can't pop into her head voice without making a squeaking sound. It's all very strange and together they feel rather low rent. Neither presenter seems capable of dealing with anything out of the ordinary. You see them glazing over when things don't go quite to plan or someone says something which isn't scripted. There's a tendency for them to drift across the stage as they talk... Pointless little side shuffles, which in the olden days Dermot would have made purposeful and realistic, despite everyone secretly
knowing he was only moving for the sake of having a bit of motion on camera.

I was thrilled to see one of the male contestants singing a Kate Bush song and dedicating it to his mother. The fact that he was also wearing a frock, without any sense of irony, sent him right up in my estimation. He's suddenly made the show worth watching again. How wonderful it is to live in a world where a man can wear a dress on prime time telly without it seeming odd? Times really are a-changing. He's doing it with panache, by the way. It was a remarkably funky frock and he looked brilliant in it.

Llio popped by for lunch today, which gave us a pleasant little break from the grindstone, but other than that, I've spent the entire day wearing headphones and sitting at the kitchen table, periodically vanishing into the loft to play the odd bar of music before returning. 

I've nothing else to say!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015


It's midnight and we haven't yet finished working for the night. As expected, Rogers and Hammerstein publishers have come back with a series of formatting issues which Nathan is very kindly addressing. This evening he's dealt with three out of the thirty files, whilst I've been writing music for the mystery project. 

My cold persists and Nathan has started to exhibit the classic symptoms of stress, with neuralgia and a face which keeps flushing red. This is no life.

Something nice did happen today, however. Our friend, Carrie, has set up a professional choir to do corporate gigs and we had our first rehearsal today.

It was a welcome respite from the other project and gave me a chance to immerse myself in music as a performer... Without worrying about organising people, or the wellbeing of the people I've brought together, or anyone panicking about things or telling me they can't make rehearsals. It didn't stop a tide of emails coming in whilst I was rehearsing, which kept pulling me away from the bliss of the rehearsal room, but for the majority of the day I was in heaven.

Llio, Abbie and Anthony from the Rebel Chorus were all there. We sang five songs, mostly from the "inspirational" pop canon. I growled away in the basses. The tessitura of the part is on the low side (and I'm a low bass), so none of us were really able to give it a massive amount of welly, but it was so much fun to be singing in a choir again. Everyone should sing in a choir.

The rehearsal was in Welwyn Garden City, in a rather curious industrial estate which reminded me of places in my home town of Higham Ferrers. We had lunch sitting on a step outside a unit which made condiments. The sun was warm. It was very relaxing. Like a lovely dream.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015


We've finally stopped for the day and are sitting in front of the X Factor on Catch Up. It's "judges' houses" but, for some ungodly reason they've decided to give it a trashy live aspect, so we no longer get to see the weepy scenes with people being told they're "going home" - which was always a bit weird, because, technically speaking, they're all going home from the judges' houses whether they're through or not.

In this incarnation of the tired-looking show, all the "acts" are shipped back from wherever the judges' houses are, and stuck in a studio where they're told the good or bad news live in front of the nation. The problem is that the studio looked really tacky and was really badly mic'd for sound, so the whole thing felt hugely shambolic. The other issue is that the two presenters are not hugely experienced when it comes to live shows, so they were cutting people off left, right and centre. It was all a bit embarrassing and very much made me think that the show is on its last legs...

We bought a printer from Friern Barnett today. It's very exciting. I can actually email it documents to print. It only cost fifty quid. In fact, a couple of ink cartridges and a packet of paper cost us more than the printer itself. It was a great relief to replace the one we've had for the last ten years, which stopped working entirely a week ago. I'm longing to throw it out of the window.

The rest of the day has been dedicated to the mystery project; contract wrangling, writing, inputting things into music software. Endless.

Anyway, that's all I can write. Anthony Ding Dong is staying in our loft tonight. He arrived at 11 and we listened to the whole of the Pepys Motet on headphones, which was fun. I'm excited about releasing that album. God knows when I'll find the time to do it, but it's all ready and waiting... I just need to generate some publicity. Any ideas? Shall I become infamous? As the son of a Coventrian, I ought to be considering some kind of Lady Godiva stunt! I wish I could ride a horse...

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Play dough and pumpkins

It's been a day of two halves which split into three, if that's not a contradiction in terms. I always find myself getting a little confused when I wake up and discover British summer time is over. It appeared to be 9am, and yet I'd woken up naturally, feeling as refreshed as a man with a cold coughing up peppermint-coloured phlegm could feel. And it wasn't until Nathan said we'd lost or gained an hour that I realised why I was feeling so chipper. I genuinely don't have the mental capacity to work out whether the clocks went forward or back last night, and whether that means we lost or gained an hour. Then again, I didn't know the difference between an up bow and a down bow until I was fifteen!

We celebrated by watching last night's Strictly Come Dancing on iPlayer. In bed. With bowls of Cornflakes and toast. Boom!

We both worked through the late morning and lunch, before heading East to Philippa's to have afternoon tea to celebrate Philippa's Mum's 70th birthday. There were fairy cakes from the Hummingbird Bakery, which were delicious, although knocked into a tin-hat by Philippa's home made chocolate and banana loaf which was heavenly.

As a birthday present for Kate, I endeavoured to take a photograph of all three generations of her family. We went into the garden and the results were predictably eccentric! Deia (goddaughter number one) wore an enormous bucket on her head whilst Silver (goddaughter number two) stood in the foreground bouncing on a trampoline. Minutes later, Deia climbed a tree onto the conservatory roof and Silver scaled a nearby wall, so the adults were forced to reposition themselves to make the photo look like it was meant to be like that!

Nathan and Dylan spent much of the afternoon learning card tricks, whilst I made a bat out of pink play dough and carved a pumpkin. Sometimes I think it must be very lovely to have children if not just so there's an excuse for intense bouts of crafting!

We came home and carried on working, giving ourselves the end time of 9pm so that we could sit down and watch some telly together. But that didn't happen.

Chicken tits!

The autumn leaves in the UK this year are quite unlike any I've previously seen. I think it may be due to the fact that we've not yet had any gales, so the leaves are shrivelling and changing colour on the trees rather than being blown away. We drove down to Brighton this morning, marvelling at the reds, golds and oranges lining the M25. Nature is certainly putting on a fine display for us!

We had a very quick lunch with Fiona. She was rushing off somewhere with David so we had a Pret sandwich sitting on a bench near The Laines, whilst a busker played a guitar (rather well as it happens.) He was, however, somewhat upstaged by a fella further up the road who was playing folk reels on a violin whilst standing on a tightrope! Only in Brighton.

Fiona reminded us of a little story she'd recently been told about an American friend of her's whose English girlfriend sent him off to a supermarket with a shopping list of things to buy. As a little flirtatious joke, at the bottom of the list, she added the word "cunnilingus." Now, the problem she didn't foresee was that the Americans don't actually use that particular word, so the poor bloke went from staff member to staff member asking them where he could find the cunnilingus. It was only after several people had shuffled away, red-faced and angry, that one of the shop staff identified the problem, asked the guy who'd written the shopping list and suggested his girlfriend might have been playing a little joke on him!

A similar thing happened to my ex partner (an MP) when, as a child, his Mum sent him to the local butcher to ask for some "chicken tits!"

Anyway, our main reason for being in Brighton was to see Meriel and help her to celebrate her birthday. It's become something of a tradition to go to the pier, play the Dolphin Derby, shove a few ha'pennies and have a quick spin on the waltzers.

Our plans were thwarted somewhat by a new "promotion" which was being tested today which effectively precludes going on just one ride. This new initiative means you have to buy a £15 wristband which enables limitless goes on the handful of rides at the end of the pier. The system is riddled with flaws... Most people stroll down to the end of the pier and think how nice it would be to spend a couple of quid on a single ride, largely for the experience of having that experience. It's not Alton Towers. The rides aren't fabulous. They're old school and a bit rough around the edges and one is often enough.

More worryingly, if a child is over about 4 foot tall, he or she is no longer classed as a child and is forced to pay full whack. We were with a nine-year old today who was "too tall" for a child's ticket, and, despite only being brave enough to go on a handful of rides was told that because she was "eligible" to ride them all, she had to be treated like an adult. Later on, my nine-year old godson, who had a child's ticket, was thrown out of the queue for the bumper cars because his ticket only allowed him access to rides in the "children's zone." When I asked where the children's zone was, I was told it was "all over." Apparently those buying a children's ticket are expected to memorise a list of the eight rides they're allowed to go on!

I was fairly staggered that nothing seemed to have been thought through by pier staff. That place will sink without trace if they don't have the foresight to offer discounts for families. A family with three kids going to the end of the pier with the sole intention of a three-minute spin on the waltzers would have to pay £75, which is insane. The organisers call it a promotion, but with nothing else being offered it becomes an ultimatum: £15 or go home!

Anyway, despite only really wanting to go on the waltzers, we decided to buy a limitless armband and vowed to get our money's worth by riding every single blessed ride (except the big scary one...) We even did the terrible ghost train, and got soaking wet on the log flume. After a couple of hours of being flung around and buffeted about on rickety rails, hydraulic lifts and undulating metal platforms, we decided, for a laugh, to accompany one of the kids on a baby ride, namely the spinning tea cups. It was the most innocuous, pedestrian-looking, tragic thing. That was until the ride's operator spotted adults and thought he'd spice things up, letting it run for at least five minutes, during which time he manually spun us at such high speeds I thought my eyes were going to burst. When we eventually stopped I couldn't even stand up. Memories of a night in Nerja came flooding back when I was so drunk I couldn't control my legs. I had motion sickness for the rest of the day. Defeated by a sodding tea cup!

All over the pier were adverts for a Hallowe'en event called "Fear on the Pier," the dress code for which was listed as "scary casual." What the f**k is scary casual? What if I wanted to dress as Dracula? That would be scary, but certainly not casual. What on earth would you get if you went to Angel's costumers and asked them to kit you out with something "scary casual?" Whoever's in charge of the pier plainly doesn't have their head screwed on effectively!

From Brighton we went to Lewes where the party continued with chilli and chatter at Uncle Bill and Rupert's house. It was also my godson, Will's birthday, so the candles on the birthday cake were blown out, relit, and blown out again as we all sang happy birthday with a new set of words.

Later in the evening Hilary and I pulled a piano apart to show Will the internal mechanisms, which would have been great fun had either of us been able to put it back together again!

Friday, 23 October 2015


I'm having a quiet night tonight. Nathan is doing a gig in Hampshire, I have a cold and got up way too early, so everything is swimming around a little. I can't say it's an unpleasant feeling. I'm rather relaxed, as it happens. I keep popping into the loft to do a bit more writing. I've had spaghetti on toast for me tea...

James Bond is on the telly. I don't know if this is the network premiere of Sky Fall, but 9pm on an ordinary Friday seems a little inauspicious as a first airing for the one of the biggest grossing films of all time. Not that I care. I absolutely hate James Bond films. They're utterly ludicrous. Everyone says this one's the best, but it seems just like all the others if you ask me. Boring car chases. Silly villains. Judy Dench being all icy. The only thing I like about James Bond is the theme tunes!

So, we were filming from 8am this morning in our loft. It wasn't the most satisfactory session in the world. We had to wade through a lot of material, much of which was fairly substandard, but there was a large glimmer of hope at the end. We're really enjoying working with our pianist, the wonderful Katharine. Actually, everyone we're working with is called either Kim, Kat, Cat or Katharine, so at least it's difficult to forget a name. We're subdividing the Cats into C-Cat and K-Kat!

It turns out that we're Talk Talk Broadband customers, which doesn't fill me an enormous sense of hope since the entire system was hacked yesterday. Quite what this means for the security of any of my online documents, I've no idea, and no one seems to have a clue what any of us should be doing. Best to do nothing, I suspect... Smile and wave sweetly whilst the world collapses and everyone goes mad!


We went to meet the director of our mystery project in central London today. We met at Brown's on St Martin's Lane and sat at a swanky table, drinking teas and hot chocolates in a shaft of dusty natural light. It was all rather Parisian. Exactly the sort of place to talk about art! Someone should have been smoking Gauloises!

We went to a play reading at lunchtime at the Arts Theatre. It was a gay play, or a "glay" as I like to call them. This one was set in Australia during the Second World War, and then on into the Cold War, when, by all accounts, it got really difficult to be gay in Sydney. The play didn't tell us why that was. It just was. Being gay was awful. We get it. It felt like quite a 1990s piece as a result: commissioned in an era when not everyone knew that gay men were chemically castrated and when, if it was gay, it was fashionable.

There were songs, which felt like improvisations, and the actors reading almost universally looked slightly uncomfortable. One of them had very tiny feet. I hugely applaud the enterprise, however. The only way that new plays are ever going to be put on is if people stage readings like this. So bravo the producers! I'm sure it will be very popular.

I sat in a cafe, finishing the song I've been writing over the last couple of days, which I've decided to sing when the television cameras enter our loft tomorrow morning... At 8am!

I went to the gym in the afternoon and chatted to my gym friend, Raj, who has lost 30lbs in the last three months, simply by giving up drinking coca cola and fizzy pop. Oh, and bread...

Fiona is here tonight. We went down to Sainsbury on the Archway Road, and bought ourselves a little evening feast of mushrooms, vegetarian sausage and halloumi which we ate in front of rubbish TV.

I've got a bit of a cold coming on. Fabulous.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The aesthete

It's been a long day. I'm trying to write a song before Friday with a series of constraints which would terrify Bach himself. It's a fairly exhausting task. I've been up and down the ladder to the loft so often I've started to feel like one of those bemused blue bottles that frantically bash against different windows in a house. It's rained all day for the first time in ages, which means water's coming through our roof again. As I sat in the loft, I could hear it drip-dropping into a couple of plastic containers Nathan hastily shoved up there before going to work. I think autumn leaves get into the guttering and then all hell breaks loose. There's a patch of mould on our sitting room ceiling. When the roof leaks, I feel like a proper bohemian! I'm not sure any man should get to 41 and have a roof with holes in it, but we keep shuffling onwards!

I went to the gym and marvelled at a young lad who could only be described as an aesthete. He entered the changing room wearing the most immaculate, yet fuddy-duddy suit, with a bow tie and braces. Everything he wore had been perfectly pressed. His shoes were shiny as glass. He couldn't have been older than 25. I was a little surprise to discover that he was Polish or of Eastern European extraction. He spoke to ask if the towel on the bench was "yours or mynce?" His demeanour, however, was utterly English... Like someone from a public school in the 1960s; the sort of lad who would have been beaten up down Rushden High Street when I was a kid. He changed into his gym gear, and I was amused to see that everything he was wearing - a perfect sky-blue-coloured football kit with knee-high socks - had been equally pressed and carefully arranged about his person. His trainers were just as shiny as his work shoes. I didn't know you could get shiny trainers. He ran like a gazelle on the tread mill. Actually I'd go as far as to say that he pranced...

I'm not sleeping much at the moment. Except for the night before last... the night after I'd stayed up all night. Nathan forced me to take a sleeping pill; a little blue thing from the States, and I entered a rather pleasant coma for about nine hours. Last night, however, I was up again in the night again... Worrying. Pacing. Going over little snippets of conversation from the day. Hearing little bits of music in the back of my mind. I fall asleep fairly speedily every night, but then, within ten minutes, I'm awake again. I've worked out that there's no point in my lying in bed wide-eyed and panicky, so I come into the sitting room, wrap myself up in a blanket on the sofa and switch the telly on, which usually does the trick. Late night telly is quite fun. Last night I got to watch an episode of the English version of Storage Hunters, which is car-crash telly in the extreme!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015


We've had a very good day on the mystery project... whilst the ghastly contract business chugs along in the background, we're getting on with the work, which today involved spending tim with a wonderful and brilliantly effervescent pianist called Katharine. We worked in our loft. I forget how lucky we are to have a loft. It's a bit too hot in the summer, and perhaps a little cold in the winter, but there's a bed up there (where Fiona and Cindy stay when they're in London), a whole library of books, all our childhood soft toys, an electric piano, an autoharp, a theremin and most of the other things you might expect to find in a loft like suitcases, boxes of photos, videos we can't play any more, a broken telly and an entirely impractical book case in primary colours that Nathan made when he was younger and which various members of his family have been kindly looking after ever since. Until they got bored of it, of course... And now it's ours. Lucky us...

I took myself to the gym in the afternoon and marvelled at the mildew on the ceiling of the showers, which is now an unbroken swirl of over-lapping black clouds. Someone had left a copy of some sort of official email in the changing rooms which informed the recipients that our gym is shortly to lose its swimming pool. Hurrah! I'm slightly beyond caring, although it is outrageous beyond words. Member consultation? Of course not. The place is sinking underneath homophobic customers, anti-Semitic graffiti, lads in the weights room who sound like they're giving birth and a group of tits who shout across the changing rooms, flick each other with towels and call each other "bro." The next time one of them addresses me, I'm going to call him "sister" in my finest Duke of Portland accent. I got so frustrated yesterday about the lack of anyone attempting to wash away the mould spores in the showers that I waited until one of the LA Fitness staff members passed by showing a potential new customer around and bounded up to her to complain and watch her face flush red (well it would have flushed red had she not been caked in a teapot-coloured foundation...) As I spoke to her, I became increasingly transfixed by her eyebrows which had entirely square edges and were surrounded by smudges of white. Her forehead looked like a piano. I walked away, feeling grateful to be alive.

Monday, 19 October 2015


We've had another dreadful day trying to negotiate contracts, whilst attempting to write at the kitchen table. I didn't sleep at all last night. In fact, I sat on the sofa, formulating emails and trying to organise my thoughts until about 5am. Boo! 

As a result, all day today, I've been knackered, hungry, and over-wrought like a five year-old. It didn't help that we had a bloke in for most of the morning fixing our sink and the central heating. Nathan and I were having all sorts of heated conversations about the writing we were doing, and the almost endless emails and phone calls we were receiving, and all the time there was a bloke with a tool box wandering around who felt the need to apologise every time I looked at him, which was, you know... disconcerting. We tried to have all of our arguments in a whisper, but it got hugely frustrating in a comic way. Every time I went out of the kitchen he seemed to be standing there, or lying on the floor looking into the fuse box. I tripped over him twice with my giant hobbit feet. And he apologised both times even though it was plainly my fault!

I withdrew to the kitchen and ate more. If in doubt. Eat.

I had a rather profound moment whilst running on the treadmill in the gym today. There was a distressing news report on the TV screens which showed a large group of Syrian refugees on the Serbian-Croatian border. It was raining and they were all shivering in matching blue kagouls which had obviously been provided by a charity. Quite how we as human beings can sit by and watch people suffering like this is beyond me. It makes me angry.

The next shots showed a young man carrying a child on his shoulders through a muddy field. The man kept slipping over and his child kept toppling off his shoulders into the mud. It was a sorry, bitterly sad sight. He'd hoist the child up onto his shoulders again and continue to stagger through the mud. I'm sure he had no idea where he was heading. I guess he simply hoped it was somewhere better...

I was listening to music on my iPod at the time, so the news footage started to resemble some sort of montage sequence from a film. As the upsetting saga of the man falling into the mud unfolded, I was listening to the second verse of the song Happy New Year by ABBA. The words were as follows:

"Sometimes I see how the brave new world arrives
And I see how it thrives in the ashes of our lives
Oh yes, man is a fool but he thinks he'll be okay
Dragging on, feet of clay, never knowing he's astray
Keeps on going anyway..."

And at that point I had to get off the treadmill and have a little weep. If anyone wants to try to tell me that ABBA wrote their lyrics on the backs of cornflakes packets I'll write a stern letter of complaint!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Conkering conquers!

I switched the telly on briefly this morning whilst I ate my cornflakes. Some Sunday-morning-dry-as-toast politics show was playing and a man was droning on about Isis. He was talking about human rights abuses and mentioned the terrible way that "gays" are treated in the middle East. I suspect, by his appearance, that he was going on to make some sort of right wing statement (Tories politicians have a definite look) but in itself the sentiment shouldn't have made me bristle. I switched over to an ancient episode of Murder She Wrote but continued to wonder why what he'd said had irritated me so much. I realised, of course, that it was his use of the word "gays" as a collective noun, where I would only ever use it as an adjective. It's the same reason why I object to people talking about the "Jews", or "blacks," except in this world people wouldn't talk about "blacks" because the black lobby has comprehensively ruled the collective noun inappropriate.

Why don't I like the use of gay as a noun? Because it implies that being gay is the only thing which defines me. Because it makes me "other" or different to the rest of society. By using the word as a collective noun, you're sending out the message that all gay people are the same, or somehow think or respond to things collectively. Being gay is just one part of my personality so I'm therefore a gay person - just as I might be described as a white person, or, as was written in this week's Jewish Chronicle "a Jewish person!"

We've been in Cheshire all day today at Sam and Julius' house, hearing all about their wedding and Route 66 adventure, which, from the photos we saw today, looks epic, magical, crazy, emotional and frankly, unforgettable...

The house was full. It's Nathan's mother's birthday this coming week, and it was Nathan's Great Niece's 3rd birthday, I think, yesterday. And yes, I did say "great" niece. At the age of 41 Nathan is a great uncle and his sister, Sam, is a Grannie. Or a Glammie. All of this meant that there were all sorts of different branches of the extended family present, including Julius' gang, and Nathan's niece's partner's parents. There was lots of party food including cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks, which, let's face it, is a heavenly treat.

The highlight of the day was the conker championship we had in the back garden. Nathan's mother had gone out and collected hundreds of conkers which she presented to us with lengths of string. Nathan's nephew, Lewis was put in charge of drilling holes in them, and we all spent much time experimenting with the best ways of threading them. Turns out I'm pretty rubbish at conkers! I've got a very good aim usually, but I found it very difficult to hit my opponent's conker with any degree of accuracy, which meant the conker would ricochet onto my wrist and cause me to bruise, and, on one occasion, actually bleed! Horrifying!

The most successful individual conker belonged to Sam and managed about seven wins before being obliterated. By the end of the championship there were little bits of mashed-up conker all over the patio. The local squirrels will be in rapture! That is, of course, if squirrels actually eat conkers. I have in the back of my mind somewhere that they don't. Are conkers poisonous to squirrels?

We did an impromptu photo shoot with Sam in the cow-filled fields behind her house. We were taking pictures of her in Nathan's glorious double-knitted shawl which he is about to release as a pattern under the name "Genesis." Sam is a natural model and I think we've got some fabulous shots of her with wonderful traffic light-coloured autumn leaves in the background.

It's 11.15pm now and we're still on the M6 heading home. It's going to be a late one!

Saturday, 17 October 2015


Nathan and I worked all afternoon today on the mystery project. The process we're going through at the moment is very tiring as it involves a huge amount of focus and concentration. I kept breaking off to clean windows and things! Our kitchen is now spotless beyond words! I even cleaned down the side of the fridge.

We went for a lovely stroll at dusk which took us through Highgate and Queens Woods. We also found ourselves walking down Cranley Gardens, stopping briefly outside number 23, which was the site of so much terror in the early 1980s, being the home of serial killer, Dennis Nilson. These days the house looks very middle class and presentable. It's full of swanky furniture and nice lighting and is obviously a family home. In fact, it's the next door property which looks run down and unkempt: the way you might expect a house of horror to appear.

I just don't know I'd be able to live in a place like that. I wouldn't worry so much about the potential dark energy lurking in the fabric of the building, but it would be impossible not to think about what happened, almost constantly. You'd look out of the window and see people staring, or rushing past, or weird and creepy gothic types taking photographs, and you'd instantly be reminded of what happened there. It would never go away. I genuinely think all buildings like that should be pulled down, as is the case with the house on the Hattersley Estate where the Moors Murderers lived.

We came home and customised a pizza for tea with mushrooms, veggie sausages, halloumi and goats' cheese. We ate it on a much-needed evening off in front of the telly, horrified when we returned from our customary Strictly Come Dancing protest walk-out to discover the gurning idiot, Jamelia had got really high marks. In fairness she appears to have got the marks for gurning like an idiot in the Charleston, but I like to think of her as being inept in every way. Exactly half of the judging panel are gay, so I suppose it shows one thing if nothing else: gay men are forgiving and don't hold grudges... Except this one!

It's weird having an evening off. We don't really know what to do with ourselves! Prolly should've gone to the pictures!

Shit Pop

We had a good meeting down in Kentish Town today which probably means we'll sleep well tonight for the first time in an age. It may just be that we've found a path through the dark, dense forest.

We took ourselves for lunch at Renoir on the High Street and were joined by the ever-luminous Anthony "Ding Dong" Harris, who kept us brilliantly entertained for an hour with tales from his Gilbert and Sullivan tour of Britain. They're off to Cardiff and then Blackpool next. God help them!

We went to a cafe to do some work before heading to the gym and then winding our way up to Highgate to sit at the kitchen table until 8pm doing more writing. There was more than a whiff of renewed vigour about the way we were working! Let's hope it lasts a little longer!

I'm watching a programme about Brit Pop right now, and marvelling at how awfully and scruffily dressed everyone was in the 1990s. People look so hideous, with their silly hair dos and "I had to try very hard to make myself look this unkempt" looks! It was very much the decade time forget. Fashion, music, the film industry... All swept under the carpet by a typically English obsession with being too cool for school, and, at the other end of the spectrum, Steps...

There was a programme earlier on about pop singles with a load of people chopsing about their memories of all aspects of the charts... Though quite how they managed to make a programme about singles without mentioning ABBA I've no idea! There was much discussion about the first single people had bought and the first single they'd "made out to." I don't believe I've ever made out to a pop song but the first single I bought was ABBA's Super Trouper. It was an "early in life" purchase. I was six, I think, but I saved up my pocket money for what seemed like a considerable number of weeks.

I'd be very interested to hear about the purchases those reading this blog made when they first became members of the single-buying public... And if anyone would like to be brave enough to admit to the first song they ever made out to, I'd be doubly interested to hear those tales!

I found myself having a little trawl on the internet today and found a film I shot in 2007, which it turns out I'm actually rather proud of. If you have a spare 3'14" at any point this weekend, please take a look.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

More anti-semitism

I turned the telly on for a bit of distraction at about 11 this morning. I looked at the planner on the set and saw that there was a lovely-looking documentary on BBC2 about Victorian Derbyshire which I assumed might be about the potteries and the Peak District in the 19th Century. I switched over and was a little confused to find someone talking about the Scottish National Party. Turns out the programme was actually a chat show hosted by a woman called Victoria Derbyshire! I was greatly disappointed... Largely because it made me feel so out of touch. There was a time when I could recite the day time telly listings like Nathan recites the Hunting of the Snark!

We're both a great deal calmer today and thank you to everyone who read last night's blog and left a message of support. Nathan was working at the box office today and I stayed at home writing a song. It was rather lovely to be able to get all the anxiety and anger of the last few days onto a piece of manuscript!

Fiona cheered me up during the morning with a series of texts about a glucose/dairy/food free loaf of bread she was making which she described as having the texture of a muffin and the taste of a cardboard box! It went into the bin five minutes after coming out of the oven.

In the midst of writing - good writing as it happens - I took myself to the gym for the first time in about two months. I am slowly attempting to reclaim my life! As usual, when I haven't worked out for a while, I got all itchy the moment I started sweating. In fact, I didn't feel very well at all. There were a load of Praire dogs on the telly which for some reason were making me feel nauseous - particularly the newborn ones which looked like pink slugs! The short-lived sickness may have been triggered by the graphic report on Radio 4 about Horror Films I'd listened to as I drove down to the gym.

When I got into the changing room, I found with horror that the entire roof of the shower room was covered in a thick layer of mould and mildew. One of the lights in there was out as well, so the whole thing looked a little like some kind of sleazy sauna. To compound my sense that the LA Fitness Highgate has gone to pot, I opened a locker to discover the same piece of deeply offensive anti-Semitic graffiti which I'd made such a fuss about on July 31st, demanding its instant removal. I am ashamed of the company for leaving that particular piece of graffiti there for THREE MONTHS!

I instantly reported the graffiti to the Jewish Chronicle, and the regional manager of LA Fitness who happened to pass me in the building whilst I was talking to the newspaper. The JC took my call very seriously and I think they're, quite rightly, going to make a big thing about it.

I came home and continued to write until Nathan finished his shift, whereupon he came up into the loft to sing through everything I'd written.

We've got the heating on for the first time this year and it's making a fearful racket around the house. In fact, earlier on, we both timorously crept into the kitchen calling "hello, is anyone there?" convinced someone had broken in whilst we were singing upstairs. It sounds like someone is inside the pipes banging on them to be let out. We're genuinely worried that one of them will explode!


I don't want to even THINK about what happened in the last couple of hours. Nathan and I took it in turns to go into absolute meltdown as a result of a series of relentlessly ludicrous conversations with various people about the mystery project throughout the day. We're now at a stage where we just want everything to go away. We feel like a pair of bullied children but are forced to keep fighting. We're on a distinctly rocky road which is tough on all parties! That said, it's beginning to feel like nothing in life is worth the misery we're presently going through. We've entirely lost the emotional capacity to deal with everything else in our lives. I received a disappointing email about another project at 11pm today, for example, which under normal circumstances would have been water off a duck's back, but it made me almost lose my mind! I'm like a walking corpse, having not slept properly for the best part of a week.

Thankfully we're on an even keel again tonight, although the occasional table in the sitting room presently looks a little worse for wear! We'll get there...

The irony is that, in the midst of this evening's mayhem, I THINK I finished Brass! I say "think" because I still have to check everything through one final time, but there is now a folder on my computer which says "material for Rogers and Hammerstein" and it's full. I ought to feel relieved beyond all words having looked forward to this moment for the best part of three months, but the timing was appalling...

On a brighter note, here's a question: Has Noel Edmunds' hair ever looked any different to the way it looks right now? In fact, has Noel Edmunds even aged since he did Multi-coloured Swap Shop? These things are important when you're losing your mind!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015


They say it never rains but it pours. I'm not altogether sure I particularly understand the saying, but I do know we are struggling a little tonight. Nathan was forced to go to a meeting this morning where he felt like he'd been shoved in front of a bus. Honestly: when you've worked really hard at something and gone out of your way to be friendly, open and conscientious at all times, it's really very rough to end up feeling scape-goated, bullied and unsupported. And when you are a freelancer there's not a union or a HR department to protect you, sign you off with exhaustion or simply check if you're ticking over. We feel lonely, undervalued and vulnerable. It seems the humanity of the project has been sucked out from all of its corners.

I guess there are tumultuous times likes these on all projects and they are usually born out of people caring. I think we probably care a little too much. We invest in things and become emotionally attached to the idea of them being good. And this isn't really an industry designed for people who care. This is an industry full of people who will happily stab you in the back, or, as Nathan described it today; stab you in the front!

There was a point at lunchtime when I simply wanted to run away and bury my head in the ground. Hiding from the sheer horror of people is sometimes a really lovely prospect.

But, as always, after much cyclic conversion between the two of us, we dusted ourselves off and started searching for more ideas to make the people stop shouting at us!

After not eating between breakfast and about eight o'clock tonight, largely as a result of stress, we treated ourselves to a pot of pasta from Papa Dels, which was a lovely treat in front of Sunday's Downton Abbey and allowed us to calm down a little!

We'll be alright. We're made of stronger stuff than most and one day we'll be able to look back on this period with great big smiles on our faces! But, as Nathan said to me today... "Remind me of today when they ask me to get involved in another television project..."

Monday, 12 October 2015

We saw a ghost

We're on our way back from Thaxted. We had quite a complicated meeting this morning which we both found emotionally draining after so many bad nights' sleep. I woke up at 5.30am this morning, for example, and couldn't get back off again, so sat, like a zombie, in the sitting room as the sun came up. I've been in something of a daze all day as a result. It's strange how little resilience one has when utterly sleep-deprived.

Anyway, we did a good afternoon's work on the secret project, slightly buoyed by the meeting, and then, as a treat, came to Thaxted for the evening for a bit of grub and an evening of telly. (We watched this weekend's episodes of Strictly...) it's become increasingly important for Nathan and me to disengage our minds. Unlike everyone else working on the project, we can't close the door on it. We're together 24/7 and have a habit of talking about nothing else to one another, winding ourselves often into little knots. So we need to be distracted...

Speaking of distractions, here's a funny tale...

When my Dad last picked us up from Bishop's Stortford train station and took us back to Thaxted, we got talking about ghosts. We mentioned our friend Abbie who loves a good spooky walk and he was telling us that he'd been on one in Thaxted itself which had been very entertaining.

One of the main sites on the Thaxted ghost walk is a spot just outside the town where the road goes around a hairpin bend and all the signs say "caution, oncoming traffic in middle of road." This spot is apparently famous for a ghostly haze which hangs over the Tarmac. Drivers passing through the mist are said to smell cigar smoke, but there's never a fire...

My Dad himself claims to have experienced the strange phenomenon several times...

So anyway, this evening, as we left the village, the pair of us suddenly turned to each other and said "can you smell smoke?" It was a very odd aroma which smelt, to all intents and purposes, like cigar smoke. "Oh my God... Do you think that was the thing my Dad was talking about?" I said. My face started to flush with excitement; "Did you see any smoke?" Nathan was driving and I'd been looking down at my phone where I'd just typed the first paragraph of this blog entry... Nathan said he didn't think there'd been smoke.

...So we decided to turn around and go back into the village, whilst I called my Dad to say we'd smelt the smell and were going back to investigate. As we went around the bend, sure enough, we smelt the smell again. It was a sweet aroma, somewhere in the cigar smoke spectrum. Sadly there didn't seem to be any actual smoke, so we turned the car around a final time and headed back home...

We turned the corner and there it was... Heading straight for our windscreen, a band of smoke hovering above the road, perhaps a metre off the floor, a metre wide and a metre thick... We passed straight through it and the smell was more intense than it had been on either of our previous passes. It was a proper heart-stopping moment and we both gasped.

I called my Dad again and he told us that the site apparently marks the spot in Thaxted where they used to do the hangings! How profoundly terrifying.

Perhaps more terrifying was what I saw on my screen when I looked down to return to my blog. If you read back, you'll notice that the second paragraph starts with the sentence "anyway, we did a good afternoon's work..." I'd reached the third word and stopped when we smelt the smell. When I looked back at the screen, the third word "did" had been autocorrected and replaced with the word "die." So the last three words I'd written were "anyway we die."

...And on that note, I'll wish you all pleasant dreams!

Return to civilisation

I spent the majority of today sitting in the front seat of our car with a computer on my lap, creating instrumental parts for Brass. In fact, I've taken every opportunity this weekend to sneak off and get another part or two in the can.

It seems a little odd to think that we were in Devon in that beautiful Tudor house this morning. Everything's a bit blurry and weird if I'm honest as we have slept very little over the last few days. We've had a lot on our minds. A few little issues on the secret project reared their heads on Friday and the pair of us have had to do a lot of soul-searching and decision-making as a result.

It was my god-daughter's 3rd birthday today, and we arrived at the party as soon as our car could get us the length of the M4, and straight through the middle of town to Columbia Road.

The party was, as you might expect, insane in all the good ways. Dylan, Little Silver's father, was running a "pin the tail on the donkey" contest, which was won by a girl who cheated like crazy by looking through her blindfold. I KNOW!! Every last fibre of my moral being screamed at the injustice! I regressed to my five year-old self and would have had a tantrum had I not found a lovely bowl of olives instead.

Moira and I discovered a little doll which cries and gurgles when you press a little button on its stomach. I have to say that it was, without doubt, the most sinister doll I have ever encountered, largely because its little shrieks weren't the cries of a hungry baby, but more the gurgling screams of a child being murdered! Heaven knows what possessed the manufacturers to go for those particular sounds. The doll also had quite a malleable head, which I managed to turn inside out at one point to create quite the most hysterically disturbing sight I've ever witnessed.

Pretty baby
A proud family...
The cake Philippa had made for her daughter was hugely delicious. It was covered in raspberries and cream and tasted like nectar. It was, Philippa confessed, saved by our friend Alex. I think it was meant as a three-layered masterpiece, but when Philippa got them out the oven, two cakes were raw and one was burned, so the end result was actually a product of the burned cake with the black stuff scraped off and a load of fairy cakes chopped up to create a bit more volume!

At a garage somewhere near Bristol earlier on, we filled up with twenty quid of petrol. We would have gone for more, but the diesel there was criminally expensive. Nathan very carefully made sure that only £20 went into the car, but as he put the pump back on the stand, the price display swung round an extra penny. Now this nonsense is happening all too often in garages these days. Some pumps make it nigh-on impossible to fill up a tank to the exact pound, knowing that most OCD people will stick in an extra quid in the tank in the process of having another shot at a read-out which has some visually satisfying zeros at the end! I've never known the extra penny to arbitrarily appear after the pump has been hung back up, however, and that feels extra specially dodgy. Of course no one will complain. They'll all assume they simply over squeezed. And what's a penny, after all? Well, if the average garage serves ten thousand people every day, that's a fair amount of extra money being diverted away from honest folk, innit?

As you might expect, Nathan refused to pay the extra penny. The lad behind the counter got sarcastic and then irate before saying he was not allowed to charge him for less petrol than he'd put in. "It's only a bloody penny" said the lad... "It's much more than that, said Nathan, it's a principle." As the queue behind Nathan grew and grew, the situation became more embarrassing and comical, with other customers offering to give Nathan the penny and the man behind the counter saying he'd call the police. Eventually he capitulated saying "you win" with an woeful lack of good grace. "Thank you" said Nathan, breezing out of the shop, "and THAT'S good service..."

For those of you who have been reading about our Cornish and Devonian adventures, here are a few snaps courtesy of Nathan...

Jamaica Inn? No she went of her own accord... 
Green men
Medieval man
Tintagel beach

Sunday, 11 October 2015


Waking up and taking a bath in a room with sunlight streaming through mullioned windows is not a bad way to start a day. I was also rather thrilled to discover whilst I ran the bath this morning, that, after carefully and systematically unsubscribing from all junk mail, I only had two spam emails in my inbox. I call that a fairly marvellous result. We had a relatively early breakfast this morning before taking ourselves off to Tintagel Castle, reportedly the birth place of the legendary King Arthur. I'll be honest and say that the Knights of the Round Table is a myth which has largely passed me by, so, I wasn't really aware of the place's mystical significance. It is, however, beautiful in an almost staggering way. It's not a place to visit, however, if you have an issue with heights, or climbing steps! For those who haven't visited the place, Tintagel castle is a sprawling Medieval ruin which clings to a pair of cliffs which are linked (these days) by a wooden bridge and the steepest stone steps I think I've possibly ever climbed. The views are tremendous. You can see as far as the South Coast of Wales. The Atlantic Ocean was indigo today and glinting and glittering majestically in the sunlight. The highlight for me was the little beach below the cliff, whose crowing glory is a tall, white frothy waterfall which drops thirty or so feet from the rocks above onto the sand. The beach has a huge cave in it which is has a second entrance on the opposite side, so from about half way in, you can see the sea bubbling hazily on both sides. It was a breathtaking spot, and an ideal day to see it; warm with a lovely breeze, and off season, so there were only a couple of other people there. We had Cornish pasties and a cheddar Ploughman's in a little restaurant in the rather tatty village at the top of the hill, where the service was lousy but the food, after the relentless climbing up and down flights of stone stairs, was delicious. We've come back to the manor house for fabulous food and a quiz about the Tudors. Everyone staying here (there are fourteen of us) is gay, which, if I'm honest, I'm struggling a little with. The majority of my closest friends are female, and find myself much happier in mixed or all female company. Gay men can get a bit noisy and trashy en masse and in these instances I rather vanish into myself despite the fact that everyone is absolutely charming. Anyway. It's time for bed again. One of our number was awoken in the night by the sound of scratching and footsteps behind his door. I saw odd lights in the night and a rather weird shadow drifted across the wall at one point... So we're convinced there's a ghost.

The beast of Bodmin

We went into Launceston today, which is a charming little town on the border of Cornwall and Devon. I'm told it was once the county town of Cornwall, which I find a little surprising, due to its proximity to its neighbouring county. It has a little, fairly well-preserved motte and bailey castle which sits on the top of a natural mound in the centre of the town. We went up to the top of the keep, obviously. As I said in the wedding (of Nathan), "if there's a tall building, he'll want to climb it because the view from the top might bring a newer perspective." The view was predictably stunning. You can see for miles: all the way to Dartmoor. And, for the record, the woman who works there is a delight. Friendly, witty, knowledgeable... One of our number, a Scottish bloke called Colin, was keen to go to a "real English moor" simply to see what one looked like, so we jumped in the cars and headed for Bodmin in search of the famous beast! We found ourselves pulling up outside the infamous Jamaica Inn, immortalised, I understand, by Daphne Du Maurier. As a non-reader, I was a little non-plussed by the location. These days it's something of a grotty cafe-cum-pub where people walk along counters helping themselves to terrible food in the style of a motorway service station circa 1983. Tucked around the place in various corners were dreadful mannequins dressed as pirates and 18th Century sleazy publicans. If you've read the book, I assume this would make perfect sense. We were deeply confused, so bid a hasty retreat, and drove further into the moors. It's sometimes rather nice to be buffeted by the wind, stopping at brown signs by the side of the road having a little look, and allowing information posted at that site to take you to the next location. It was like a giant Internet search! We stopped at the Golitha water fall, which took us on a charming walk through beautiful yellow and brown-leafed woodland. A stream winds its ways through the trees, becoming more and more excitable as it starts to drop down hill. It never really becomes a waterfall, more like a sort of mini-rapids system which are too small for anything but a toy boat! From the falls, we headed to a little village called Minions and were hugely disappointed not to find a enterprising shop selling little yellow creatures called Colin and Kevin! What was considerably less disappointing was the wonderful pair of standing stone circles called the Hurlers on bleak moorland outside the village. It's a hugely atmospheric spot, which sits underneath the ruined shell of a tin mine. A pair of bare-footed hippies were searching the grass for something, who knows what. Magic mushrooms maybe? Another woman, possibly about sixty years old and wearing a little red Mac, was hugging each stone in turn. Communing with nature and the universe and all that... We had our medieval banquet this evening. I wore a aquamarine velvet knee-length smock with fancy sleeves over a pair of black tights and Nathan wore a Shakespeare In Love-style olive green corduroy Elizabethan doublet. There were thirteen of us at the banquet and I'm pleased to say that everyone made a huge effort when it came to the costumes. We had two men in drag: one dressed as Anne Boleyn, a King Philippe of Spain, a cardinal and pair of Venetian gigolos. It was all rather good-natured and great fun. The food was brilliant.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Tudor houses

We're in a beautiful Tudor manor house in deepest, darkest (and I mean darkest) Devon. I was working in the car on the way here, so I have very little concept of where exactly we are, but we appear to be somewhere near Launceston. We're here to celebrate our friend, Tobias' 30th anniversary of coming to the UK from Brazil... And what a wonderful way to celebrate becoming English! We're convinced the house is haunted. All of us have already either seen shadows or heard voices where none should have been. Legend says that, at 2.30am, a man called William will roam the house making a right old racket. I await that event with great excitement.

We're having a very heated conversation about gun grime with an American who is talking a great deal about the need for people, above anything else, to defend their homes and property. I feel that's a particularly American argument which probably has its roots in their constitution.

On our way down here we stopped off at Nathan's father and step mother's house in Weston-Super-Mare and had a lovely mid-journey cup of tea and a chocolate muffin.

We got here at about five pm and took ourselves off on a walk into the countryside as the sun set. The air in these parts is wonderfully fresh and just before the sun vanished behind the distant hills of Exmoor the entire world seemed to turn a glorious shade of Amber.

This evening we turned all the lights off in the house and went outside to look at the stars. I've seldom seen a better, brighter display. Apart from seeing two shooting stars, we were able to see a number of constellations in an entirely new light. The Milky Way stretched in a long bright stripe right over our heads. It was an utterly magical sight.

It's too late to write any more. Whilst everyone chats and eats and has fun, I have one eye on the computer. We worked out today that the material associated with Brass which I'm delivering to Rogers and Hammerstein is composed of 850 individual files: 34 separate pieces of music, 21 instrumental parts, three whole full scores... It seems a little more reasonable to have gone mad as a result!!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


We drove into work in yet another monsoon this morning. For a minute or so it was like nothing I've ever seen. We aquaplaned our way down Highgate West Hill, past scores of reversing drains spewing yellowy-brown water all over the place. The road was like a waterfall.

The nearest shop to the office is unfortunately a Tesco Metro, which I'm quite convinced is the worst kind of shop in the UK. Unless, of course, you count the Co-ops on North England estates, which seem only to stock special offer fondant fancies and bars of Turkish Delight Dairy Milk! The Tesco stores never have anything in them that I'm remotely interested in buying. Today I wanted a fresh bread roll. They had one sort: the kind that my Grannie used to cut in half, smother in margarine and leave uneaten until it become stale and chewy. You might find something similar soaked in malt vinegar in a chip shop. Not great for soup...

As we walked past William Ellis school just along from the Heath, we became aware of scores of big fat conkers on the pavement. For old times' sake, I picked the biggest one up and stuck it in my pocket, thinking, for old times' sake, that it would be at least a nine-er!

I desperately hope that most of the people reading this blog will know what I mean when I talk about the game of conkers. In short, if you don't, it's a game little boys play in playgrounds which involves threading a piece of shoe-lace through the toughest looking conker you can find and using it to bash merry hell out of someone else's conker until the weaker of the conkers falls apart. Simple. If you win, your conker is a one-er, win two games, it becomes a two-er and so on...

A few years ago the game hit the headlines when health-and-safety-conscious head teachers started banning this "violent" game from schools, but sadly, I think, as evidenced by the sea of conkers lying in the road outside the school today, the game may have had its day, swept aside by Nintendo and Wii. When I was ten we'd travel miles for a decent horse chestnut tree and break into all sorts of orchards and things in our pursuit. Trees near the school would have long-since been stripped of fruit by bigger boys who could throw sticks higher and with more force into the branches to make the conkers drop prematurely.

The saddest sight today was possibly the countless conkers which had been trodden into the pavement by hundreds of little feet. True evidence, if any more were needed, that kids don't revere them any more.

The same, I'm afraid, seems to be true of blackberries. When I was a kid, the bushes would have been stripped of fruit long before we turned up with our Tupperware bowls. Other women on the estate where we lived were always cursed by name for getting there first. Yet, every bush I've seen this year, be they on the Heath, or Greenham Common, are positively laden with blackberries which are slowly going over. It is so sad to think about the death of folk crafts and these traditional pursuits. Why does everything we eat now come out of shrink-wrapped plastic? I'm as guilty as the next man, of course, demanding fresh bread roles and bemoaning the quality of supermarkets...

If you're reading this and you went blackberrying this year, please imagine that I am shaking you firmly by the hand!

I went to the chemist today to buy some Gaviscon, and came out laden with a whole load of soaps and smellies but without the very thing I went in for! I did, however, overhear a hysterical conversation between a woman (obviously a heavy smoker who looked years older than her age) and the Pharmacist. The Wheezey Jet woman wanted cough medicine "for bronchitis." The chemist was trying to help, but tactfully pointing out that if she actually had bronchitis, she might need some prescription medicine; "don't be stupid" said the woman "I was born with bronchitis. I know all about it..."

And I wondered if it was possible to be born with bronchitis? The pharmacist certainly looked bemused!


We worked from 10am till 10pm today, putting final touches to the first draft of the script for our secret project. I call it a draft. It's really just a splurge, and as we read it through today, we kept looking at each other embarrassedly and saying, "yeah, we'll have to revisit that..." The trouble is that important people need to read the script, and they have to know that we're making progress, so we were forced to deliver it way earlier than we might otherwise have done.

Nathan cooked tea whilst I worked and then, after we'd sent the document off to the necessary people, I did another couple of hours on Brass, slowly working my way towards the first pass of this whole new set of scores I've been asked to format. They're not the worst things to need to deliver. Essentially I've been asked to create a "vocal only" score, which is a copy of the sung music, minus any piano accompaniment. I thought everybody rehearsed new shows from a piano score, but Nathan tells me that most of the West End shows only give the cast a copy of the vocal only parts. They are, of course, cheaper to reproduce because there are far fewer pages.

So, of course, this all means that the pressure is on me to make the document look attractive. People will actually be using it! Boo!

We woke up this morning in some sort of monsoon, which basically destroyed any notion we might have had about walking to work, staggering instead to the car with a couple of flimsy umbrellas, and the rain water pouring into the ripped seams of my ruck sack.

Nathan pointed out today that we're very "make do and mend" types. All our clothes have holes in them, our crockery is all chipped and mismatching and we've recently reconstituted a ripped bath bringing it back to life as a pair of highly absorbent tea towels. I recently left a pair of boxer shorts at my parents' house which my mother actually threw away because she was so ashamed that her son was wearing them. I'm actually wondering if all of this makes us tramps...

We watched the results of Strictly this evening and I was thrilled to see the ghastly Jamelia down there in the bottom two. The look of shock on her narrow-eyed, bigoted face was well worth my not being able to reach for the remote control quickly enough to move her on. I've no idea how she danced in the dance off. Plainly I fast-forwarded that bit with a look of triumph on my face...

In the spare few moments that I've had today I've been trying to deal with my online spam problem by unsubscribing myself from email lists. The jury is out as to whether or not this exacerbates the problem by allowing the spammers to know that your email address is a valid one, but when my junk mail started to top 200 per day, and I started to miss actual emails because they were buried in piles of nonsense I had to do something. At points today I was receiving two spam emails per minute! It's horrifying.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Hell on earth

There's nothing to say about today. I've sat on the sofa from 10am this morning working on Brass. I thought today would be the day that I finished, until I checked the requirements "the materials" listed on my contract with Rogers and Hammerstein Theatricals and discovered that I needed to generate 23 more scores! No joke. Well, I mean, it IS a joke isn't it? The problem is that I've lost all concept of a sense of humour. 

I haven't put trousers on today. I haven't left the house. The most exciting thing I did was wash up some plates. 

And yet I'm still not done. 

Sunday, 4 October 2015


So, it turns out that my sister-in-law, Sam, whom we toasted earlier in the week, didn't get actually married in a wedding chapel in Las Vegas (as reported in Monday's blog), she had a much more glamorous and astonishing-sounding ceremony in the open air at the Valley of Fire, which is part of the Grand Canyon. I'm told it was just her, her new husband, a photographer and the registrar in the middle of nowhere, which sounds sounds utterly spectacular. Over the past three weeks Sam and Julius have been biking their way along the entire length of Route 66, all the way from Chicago to Santa Monica Pier in LA. They did the entire trip on Harley Davidsons, which is about as cool as you can get, and they finally completed their journey yesterday. It's curious to think of them driving along the last section of Route 66, the Santa Monica Boulevard, which was the road we spent much of our time on whilst staying with Matt in LA in July.

It's felt incredibly autumnal today. Everything was a little hazy and the sun took most of the day to break through. Heaven knows why, but the air smelt of woodsmoke when I left the house. It's a smell I associate with the countryside rather than Highgate and it's incredibly reminiscent of my childhood.

I got incredibly stressed leaving the house today after realising quite how much I've still to do on Brass. At some point along the line on this project, I let my guard down, thinking I had nearly finished, so everything I'm forced to do now feels just miserable. It doesn't help that I've had no time to keep fit. My skin is breaking out in spots. When I run for trains, I feel out of breath. In the last few days, my back has gone into spasms. I'd love to say that nothing was worth this sort of stress, but, of course, it is. It's my career and unfortunately I've realised of late that I'm one of those people who's always climbing a hill rather than sailing down the other side! Perhaps my subconscious feels something isn't actually worth doing unless I'm grinding myself unnecessarily into the ground!

Life is very complicated sometimes.

It was cake and craft this afternoon and I went down to Catford via public transport because Nathan was up in Stamford doing a gig. Fortunately the journey passed without incident and I was down there before I knew it.

Today's Craft and Cake was great fun. It was a good crowd and Julie spoilt us with raspberry eclairs, scones and a fruit cake.

I cadged a lift back to central London with Uncle Bill who was heading to the theatre. Sadly we got horribly snarled up in South London traffic (mainly jams caused by aggressive drivers) and watched the sat nav as our expected arrival time haemorrhaged from thirty minutes before the show to ten minutes after! Fortunately we were able to park up just outside the theatre, so I reckon she won't have missed too much.

The show she was seeing was at the Shaw Theatre up near Euston in the area known as Somers Town, where I once spent a term teaching singing in a very under-privileged school. It was a sad old place; a wonderful school, but because the kids were from so many different backgrounds, the school was forced to prioritise bi-lingual classroom assistants over any form of musical provision. They used to bring me in for a few lessons here and there when they could afford it.

I remember a little Bengali girl at the school who was blind. She was a lovely natured girl who used to like to sit behind the piano with me. It turned out that she had perfect pitch. Had she come from a more middle class background, or been born in the 1970s when music provision in schools was taken seriously, I'm sure she would have made a very fine musician... Or at the least, a piano tuner! It made me angry.

One of the streets in that particular area is called Polygon Road. I'm told it's named after a very curious and eccentric multi-sided building which, until the 1860s, stood in the middle of a square in the area, growing over the course of many years with people adding little bits to it whenever they felt so obliged. I imagine if it were about today, it would be a major tourist attraction. Instead, its foundations lie under a pool of concrete.

I got home and spent the evening working on Brass with Strictly on in the background. There are some lovely performers this year. I still don't know who many of them are!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The girl who flew

We did a bit of filming on Hampstead Heath this morning. I took our director, Cat and Nathan up to my latest discovery; an area of shallow ponds in a woodland, where the sun dances on the ripples of the water and is reflected in the form of hundreds of dancing, shimmering lights in the trees. It's a magical, rather powerful spot.

The weather was magnificent. We stood for some time, watching a little dog repeatedly following a stick into the water, wondering if there would be an end to his boundless energy. I mean, if you let it, would a dog just keep running until it died of over-exertion? Today's little fella certainly seemed more than happy swimming again and again through the duck weed, his excited panting getting higher and higher the nearer he got to his destination! Dogs are funny. So much more entertaining than cats. Discuss. (He pulls the pin and lobs the grenade...)

When we returned to the car park, we found the woman who'd parked up next to us in a bit of a state, and realised that two of her car's windows had been smashed. Thieves had apparently only stolen her sat nav, so quite why they felt the need to smash two windows I'm not sure. Neither am I sure how our car ended up unscathed. My laptop and my camera were both on the back seat. It was a remarkably lucky escape... But not, of course, for her. So in my relief, I felt great guilt.

We went back to Uncle Archie's in Kentish Town for lunch (a very hearty pasta salad) followed by a very heated meeting where we finally managed to open up about the issues we've been having on the secret project thus far. I shouted at everyone, somewhat unnecessarily I suspect, but the pressure of the last few days had built and built and, like all good Leos, needed to blow.

It's a funny thing, shouting. There are people who shout, and people who don't. Those who don't are very intimidated by those who do. Just as those who do are hugely intimidated by those who don't! I tend to think non-shouters bottle things up in a dangerous way, and that they will store up unnecessary antagonism towards a shouter, which they'll possibly never get out of their system. Shouters often say all sorts of awful things in the heat of the moment which are forgotten as soon as they've been said. They're like flash fires. One explosion and it's gone. A non-shouter will remind them of these things in a year's time!

I think shouting is really useful in the creative process. It shows that everyone cares!

We went to a quiz in Thaxted tonight. Our team came second albeit with vastly reduced numbers. If we'd have known, we'd have bought a few Londoners up with us. Our hopes of glory were effectively wiped out by a round about spies and a tendency for the questions to be a tad "hetty". It was, in fairness, a fund raiser for the local cricket team so art, music and literature questions were not high on the list. Slightly sad to report that, on a "name-the-countries-on-a-map-of-Europe" round, we managed to muddle up Azerbaijan and Georgia, and then Albania with Bulgaria. Brother Edward would have been horrified. Nathan did, however, spot that the question master had incorrectly labelled an annexed part of the Black Sea as a country in its own right.

We went back to Till Towers for a quick cuppa afterwards and talked about ancient memories and some of the people who had fluttered through our lives twenty or thirty years ago. We remembered a lonely French exchange student called Anne, who used to turn up at our house and play Messian on the piano like a blacksmith forging a horse shoe. She played so loudly and so relentlessly that my mother sometimes ended up sitting at the end of the garden to escape the noise. We remembered an eccentric girl called Sarah, an astro-physicist who played twelve musical instruments and once took Brother Edward on a two-man plane flight above East Northamptonshire. My mother also reminded me that, at the age of ten, I was offered a chance to see ABBA being interviewed on Wogan. A sixteen-year-old lad, whom I'd never met but vaguely knew my Mum, offered to take me down to London. The mind boggles. I said no. Unsurprisingly. Although I believe the interview was one of the last times the band appeared together. I would, of course, in retrospect, love to have been able to add that particular occasion to my pantheon of memories, though heaven knows why a sixteen-year-old would have wanted to hang out with a ten-year-old. Chatting about the past was a lovely way to end a week where the present has been so complicated. I think I shall sleep well tonight...

Friday, 2 October 2015

Question Time

We're watching Question Time. I never thought I'd find myself writing this, but I was rather impressed by Charlotte Church. She seemed well-read and articulate and, barring a couple of moments when she got a bit tongue-tied and tangential, I could have mistaken her for a competent politician. Good for her!

The other person I was surprised by on the telly tonight was Anita Rani, who was the focus of Who Do You Think You Are. She's also on Strictly. In fact, she's everywhere at the moment including Channel 4's Four Rooms and Country File. A cynic would say she was doing really well out of the new 15% BME quotas which are being introduced across television networks! I'd hitherto thought she was a little bit vapid if I'm honest, but watching her returning to her family's roots in Northern India was an extremely moving experience, one which forced me to view her in an entirely different light.

Today's been really really tough. The secret project down in Kentish Town is beginning to grind Nathan and me into the ground. Too many constraints are being thrown at us and we literally don't know if we're coming or going which is getting really depressing and very very stressful. We've spent a lot of time on the Heath today walking the mayhem out of our brains and trying to make sense of what's going on and exactly what our roles ought to be in the process. Perhaps we're taking it all a bit too seriously, but then again, what's the point of doing anything at all if you're not prepared to do it with passion?

All will, of course, become clear when the project is announced, and you'll suddenly understand what we've been doing and why we've struggled.

We walked home across the Heath and then I sat in the kitchen table and worked on Brass this evening, realising I'd made a significant mistake in a master document which, though I'm glad I spotted, meant I had to re-do two scores and about eight separate parts. A highly frustrating process. And still it continues...

Thursday, 1 October 2015

No sleep

I didn't sleep at all last night worrying about my present work load and genuinely not being able to see a way through to Christmas which doesn't involve some form of heart attack!

Every time I feel I'm getting close to finishing Brass, something else pops up. Today, for example, I discovered twenty underscore music cues which all need to be formatted. There are play-outs to orchestrate, PDFs to merge. At 11pm today, we finally finished going through the scores for the twenty two songs, comparing the texts in both the vocal scores and the full scores with the book. That particular task has taken up all our spare time for the last five days.

Our only time off today was taken whilst eating stir fry in front of the semi-final of The Great British Bake Off. We were incredibly disappointed to lose...


The lovely Flora... Who is only eighteen or something, but so graceful and luminous with such a grown up head on her shoulders. She went out tonight with great dignity. I feel sure she'll be gracing our screens again very shortly.

We love Nadia as well, though, and the soufflé challenge was beyond exciting.

Is it just me, or does the season seem to have flown by? I'm quite convinced they should have at least two more episodes per season.

Anyway. I can't believe I'm blogging about the Bake Off. I'm too tired to construct any other sentences, however, so it might be time to wish you all a wonderful night (or day, for those of you who read this blog over breakfast.)