Saturday, 30 July 2016

A sunset adventure

It's been the last full day of our holiday and, all day, I've been gearing up for a return to London. I did some admin in the youth hostel this morning whilst everyone wafted about around me. I've officially reached the place now where I need a bit of space away from noise. I adore young people, but, after a while, their boundless energy can drain me of mine.

After lunch, we were met by a few old friends of Raily's and we all went off to the place where we'd found the amazing network of natural stepping stones underneath a bridge in a local ravine. It was a brilliant decision. Everyone had a great adventure, inching ever-further along the river, daring each other to jump onto stones which seemed preposterously small, or slippery or were balancing beneath fast-moving water. It was like a lottery. One wrong step and you're on your arse in a pool of water!

The sun came out and shone on the river like a spot light wrapped in a straw gel. The water surging over the stones was brown. So brown, in fact, that the kids called it the Coca-cola river. The sun caught the surface of the water and it suddenly looked as though someone had sprinkled Jersey Milk bottle tops everywhere. A foamy sediment had gathered in some of the slower moving sections of the river and I was instantly reminded of a Coke Float from the Wimpy in 1981!

From the river we headed to Allen Banks, which ought to have been a walk along another river but, due to winter erosion, all the paths had been rerouted into the hills and we didn't get to go anywhere near the river itself which we could hear roaring along in the valley below us. I'm not altogether surprised about the winter erosion thing. When I made 100 Faces back in 2012, we used to drive along the A69 from Newcastle to Carlisle. I remember looking down from the road onto the very river where we were today and thinking how swollen, angry and terrifying it looked. The lack of river walk wasn't a big deal today. We've walked along a lot of rivers on this holiday and I t was great to stroll beneath the dark pines. Rather fortunately, we were under the trees during the one rain storm that briefly came our way.

We picked wild raspberries and then headed back home. One wonders how raspberries end up growing by a river in Northumberland!

This evening Tanya and Paul cooked an early curry for tea which we managed to finish eating by about 7pm. At that point, a little group of us jumped into two cars and sped up to Sycamore Gap, which I think has officially become my favourite place in the North of England with the possible exception of Spurn Point. It had been my plan all week to kidnap Hilary (who'd always missed going there on our previous trips) and take her to he magical place as the sun went down. The heavens were providing us with a glorious treacly light that I felt certain was going to sink into a glorious sunset. I was right.

We walked all the way along the top of the cragg where Hadrian's Wall travels majestically in the direction of Newcastle. The light was beautiful: yellow, then orange, then red. The grasses on the top of the wall were glowing like little flecks of fire.

Sycamore Gap is a thirty-minute walk up and down the ridges, and we arrived there as the sun was about to set. It looked rather stunning against the darkening sky, and I took photos of everyone silhouetted like little Lowry matchstick figures. The sun seemed to go down rather rapidly, and we watched it disappearing behind a hillside from underneath the tree and then again from the top of the hill next door, racing up the steep footpath like maniacs to catch the last red rays for a second time.

As we walked back to the car park, Nathan phoned from Riga in Latvia. It seemed so strange to me that I'd walked down that very path with him less than a week ago, and, whilst for me very little has changed, he's been back to London on a train, taken a plane to Paris and then flown to Latvia! The world we live in gets smaller by the minute, doesn't it?

At the bottom of the cragg, there's an amazing echo. The kids had a fabulous time shouting, and Hilary sang some opera...

Little Tomas and Lily were immensely keen to see bats for the first time and we were utterly blessed with a proper fly by when we arrived at the car park. I swear one bat was looping the loop for us! The kids got very excited. I don't know whether there are more bats about these days. As a child I was absolutely desperate to see a bat and never caught one flapping about.

It was the journey home, however, which got the kids almost hysterical with excitement. We went across the moors and must have done an emergency stop for almost every animal in carnation. I think the end tally was several rabbits, a silly number of hares, two lambs, three pheasants, a weird bird which seemed to be nesting in the middle of the road, a sheep and a hedgehog! We were screaming with laughter by the time we pulled up outside the Youth Hostel. I'm proud to say I didn't hit a single animal.


We went to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne today which has to be one of the most magical places in the world. I first went there in about 1985, when I was ten, which is the age of my Godson Will who was with us today. It had a massive impact on me back then and I fought incredibly hard to get the entire group to brave the long drive to come there with me today. 31 years ago, my family stayed in a guest house on Lindisfarne and I was really inspired by the idea of a causeway from the mainland disappearing into the sea at high tide and creating an island.

It was a long old drive from our youth hostel and we decided to break the journey at Bamburgh, which was a revelation to us all. Mile upon mile of white sandy beach and stunning grass-covered sand dunes underneath a perfectly preserved Norman castle. It's very difficult to imagine anything more perfect if I'm honest! The kids had a whale of a time surfing the waves and building enormous sand castles. Will and Tomas dug a very deep hole which they named the "Pit of Doom."

The Northumbrian coast in that part of the county feels incredibly isolated somehow. I can't really explain why. The North Sea is never more than a few miles from the A1 road, but visiting any of the little villages scattered along its intricate inlets and headlands is like stepping back to the 1980s. As a result, it seems to attract a rather genteel type of tourist. The parking is free, the shops are curiously old-fashioned and the beaches are largely empty.

Driving a car across the causeway to Lindesfarne was every bit as exhilarating as it was in 1985. I still felt that frisson of fear, wondering if the tide times were wrong and my car was likely to be swept away into a tidal abyss. I'm pretty sure, when I came here as a child, rusty cars and vehicles were strewn along the side of the road, left, perhaps, as a warning to have-a-go-hero drivers that the tides move in very fast. If deserted cars WERE there back in 1985, they weren't there today, but there were posters all over the place displaying the image of a half-submerged Land Rover with massive letters spelling out the words, "check the tide times!"

We parked up and bought lollipops from an ice cream van in the corner of the car park. Meriel noticed that he sold cups of tea, and, because she was feeling a bit car sick and frozen solid from her swim in the North Sea at Bambrugh, asked if he sold mint tea. It was one of those cringingly middle class requests, and it fell on rather dead ears: "look, love, I'm an ice cream man stuck in the corner of a field on Holy Island... Now what do you think the answer to that question is?!"

I was instantly reminded of the occasion I took my celiac, somewhat brassy American friend to a greasy spoon in Leeds and was forced to hide behind a pillar whilst she brusquely asked "what have you got that is wheat free and dairy free?" The question was answered with a long pause and two simple words, "chips, love."

At 3pm, I left everyone at the priory on Lindesfarne and drove Hilary to a dentist in Berwick-Upon-Tweed for an emergency appointment. Her tooth has been killing her since we arrived and, as she arrived at Bamburgh this morning and knocked back a pain killer like some sort of addict, I could tell she'd reached the end of her tether. I spent an hour or so phoning round dentists in the area, begging them to offer us an emergency appointment.

It's funny how, when you reach Berwick, you suddenly start hearing those wonderful Scottish accents, despite technically still being in England. The woman in the pharmacy was particularly chirpy and sounded like something from Balamory, or Lorraine Kelly on helium: "have you got a wee abscess?" She asked. "Now I'm only going to give you enough of these for three days as they can get a wee bit addictive..." Like a little bird, she was.

By the time we'd arrived back in Holy Island the majority of tourists were leaving, so I encouraged everyone to come down to the castle with me, and we hung about for some time as the light faded, sitting by the crab nets, and clumps of poppies and houses made out of upturned boats in a somewhat rundown little harbour. It was a really still, peaceful moment. I looked around at the kids playing on the mud flats and wondered how many of them would take the memory into their adult years. A number of similar long summer evenings from my childhood have lodged themselves very firmly in my brain.

We went home via the wonderfully named seaside village of Sea Houses, which I kept wanting to call Sea Horses. All of us sat on the harbour wall eating chips from Pinnacles, which the Hairy Bikers have apparently hailed as the best chippie in the UK. A rather brave baby starling and a gaggle of seagulls watched us eating and waited for the leftovers.

We drove home along the A1, past signs for the unfortunately-named village of Shilbottle, which some local comedian had doctored to read "Shit Bottle." As we drove, we became aware of an astounding sunset brewing and, over the course of about half an hour, and with the aid of a little rain and a strategically-placed hot air balloon, the sky went from impressionist through Turneresque to apocalyptic! As we turned onto the A69 at Gateshead the entire experience became mesmeric. We were listening to the Concerto for a Rainy Day from ELO's Out of the Blue album and it was as though the sound track and visuals had been edited together for some kind of Hollywood epic. At one stage Sam gasped, "oh my God, there's a rainbow" and, sure enough, behind us, a giant golden rainbow was filling the sky. And when I say golden, I mean golden. The sun by this stage was crimson red and so the rainbow appeared in sepia. The only thing that was more perfect than the symbiosis of music and sunset was Sam's running commentary describing, in deeply florid terms, what he was looking at: "It's like lilacs softly blushing," he said at one point, and then later, "it's a burnished bronze..."

Friday, 29 July 2016


We went to Durham today. It's about an hour away from where we are. Everything seems to be about an hour's drive away from where we are. This is because we are very much in the middle of nowhere, which is something I discovered to my great chagrin when I ran low on petrol this afternoon and discovered the nearest petrol station was 20 miles away! Flying. By. The. Seat...

It's rained through most of the day today but it turns out that Durham in the rain is not such bad place to be. There are plenty of shops and covered markets to duck into, and the mother of all cathedrals to shuffle around.

We spent some time in the Woolley Workshop, Durham's premiere yarn store. Nathan chatted to the lovely owner and we asked if she had many male customers: "Oh yes!" She said proudly, "we have a lot of students. In fact, one of our regulars is a maths PHD student." My mind instantly did a shedload of processing. "Is his name Matthew?" She looked confused, "yes..." "does he knit animals?" "Yes, he knitted the spider hanging above your head..."

Matthew Elliot-Ripley was in the first cast of Brass. I knew he was a PHD student at Durham, and a very keen knitter, so I instantly Facebooked him a photograph of the spider and asked if he could think of anyone warped enough to knit it! He immediately responded, "are you in Durham?" And to cut a long story short, he dropped everything, met us for lunch and it was incredibly lovely to see him...

Lunch was at the Jumping Bean vegetarian Cafe. I had a toasted sandwich with veggie sausages, Marmite and cheddar cheese. Looking through a menu in a veggie restaurant is always catastrophic if you're vegetarian and not used to any form of choice. The words start swimming about on the page as you try to locate the little green v sign, and when you realise there isn't one, because everything on the menu is fair game, there's nothing for it but meltdown!

We walked along the west side of the river, deep in the ravine underneath the castle and the cathedral. It's such an extraordinary place. The river flows over a weir and then gently meanders around the castle mount. It's so still and green down there and today, perhaps because of rain, huge fish were jumping clean out of the water, diving back in and creating enormous ripples which stretched in ever-increasing circles all the way to the river banks.

We crossed the ancient foot bridge to the castle side of the river, and wound our way up the cobbled streets to the Cathedral, which is an utterly stunning building.

I was very moved to see the "Butte de Warlencourt" Battlefield crosses, which date from November 1916. The three crosses are made from wood and were placed on one of the Somme battlefields to mark the spot where 200 members of the Durham Light Infantry were killed. The crosses were brought home in 1926 when the Commonwealth Grave Committee standardised the way that the graves of those who had fallen in the Great War were presented. One went to Durham, one to Bishop Auckland and one to Chester-le-Street but they were brought back together in Durham Cathedral for the 100th anniversary of the Somme.

I think we were all a little surprised to find the Venerable Bede's tomb in the cathedral. I was so surprised, in fact, that I decided to light a candle to his memory. I wish I hadn't bothered, really, because in the process of doing so, I managed to drop mine on the floor, and put several other candles out. It was really very embarrassing. I felt like Terry from Terry and June.

Down behind the alter was a very stirring wooden sculpture called The Pietà by Fenwick Lawson. I didn't know the word Pietà, but I think it's a thing which has something to do with Mary the Muv, and her son, Jesus after he'd be brought down from the cross. The sculpture was enormous and very definitely carved from two simple tree trunks. I wasn't that fussed about the Christ, but the Mary figure was incredibly moving. It had that somewhat crude, 1970s primitive vibe which I've always rather enjoyed. And if that sounds pretentious, I apologise. I can't think of another way to describe it. Anyway, it turns out that the sculptor is the godfather of one of Sam's friends, so I was rather please to be able to report that it had moved me so much.

The sculpture was apparently in York Minster when it went up in flames in the mid 1980s, and it got spattered with molten lead. I think everyone was a little surprised when the sculptor said he felt that the disaster had added something quite important to the piece.

At just before 5pm I drove Nathan to the train station where he headed back to London. He's singing on a cruise ship next week and had to get back home to sort things out. I keep calling the cruise ship a ferry by mistake. I'll confess: I didn't much like saying goodbye to him. I'd like him here for the rest of the holiday, please.

Sam and I drove back to Nine Banks together, which was when the petrol incident happened. It was also when I ran over a pheasant. They are, without question, the stupidest creatures. As we drove up to the hostel, one of the silly things flew up from the road and proceeded to fly just in front of the windscreen for about 50 meters, seemingly not at all aware that if it flew just a metre higher, it would be out of our way. It was royally shitting itself out of fear as it flew. A desperate, somewhat tragic sight!

Thursday, 28 July 2016


We took ourselves off to Wallington today, which is a National Trust property out towards Morpeth. It's an unassuming sort of a place which doesn't have the grandeur or pretentiousness of some of the NT's other properties. It is, nevertheless, a deeply charming place, and well-worth a little visit if you're ever in the area.

The house itself is fairly standard in terms of these sorts of places, with lots of Victorian and early 20th century tapestries, a few William Morris paintings and a couple of rooms set out to look like they would have looked in the olden days. There were a couple of charming architectural features including a "cabinet of curiosities" on a mezzanine floor where all sorts of curios including a wall of stuffed bird were stored, and a room full of enormous dolls' houses which had a tiny little attic space where adults were only allowed if "accompanied by a responsible child."

My responsible child was little Jeanie, sister of my godson Will, whom I very much view as one of my own (as it were!) Jeanie was great company and we spent an hour or so searching for the ten small toy squirrels which the National Trust staff had hidden in various rooms around the house.

We had a picnic in the garden. It's been a nice day, good and warm when the sun was out but a bit chilly in the shade, but friends in Leeds and London have told me it's been mega-hot elsewhere, which is not necessarily what I wanted to hear. This is our ninth camping holiday with this particular group of friends and we've never been lucky with the weather. Generally speaking it's always lovely the day we arrive and the day we leave!! The forecast for the rest of the week is dreadful...

Wallington has a beautiful walled garden which is planted in the English cottage garden style, with glorious flowers of every colour of the rainbow shambolically bursting from the beds.

We had ice cream at 5pm, and then jumped into cars to head back to the Youth Hostel.

My car-share companions for the week have been Meriel, Sam and Nathan and we're all child-free and fancy-free, meaning it's possible to drop everything and spontaneously stop-off anywhere on any of our journeys. On many occasions I've told Nathan to stop the car so that we can get out to sample a view, and on our way home today we crossed over a river which I thought might be a good place to get out for a wander. My instant was good. Underneath the bridge the river was shallow and ran over a series of giant, flat stones which stretched like a granite chess board as far as the eye could see. The stones created an almost perfect maze of natural stepping stones. Some were above water. Others were slightly under the surface, so that, as you stood on them, you could feel the water rushing over your feet. There were fresh water rock pools, tiny waterfalls, and little platforms where you could sit in the middle of the river without getting anything but your feet wet. It was a truly magical experience. The sun was low in the sky, painting our faces orange, glinting like copper on the water and casting long shadows towards the river banks. The trees in the ravine above us were the darkest green, the sky was blue, peppered with brown clouds and the tall bridge over the river glowed like honeycomb.

Tonight's communal food was cooked by Raily and Iain. Mexican. Tapas. Re-fried beans. Rice. Delicious.

We went for a night walk at 11pm to look at the stars on the first clear night we've had since coming here. We walked for about a mile along the country lanes with the bats fluttering about above us, and the stars getting brighter and brighter. At that sort of time, all the senses seem to sharpen. We could hear the sound of people talking across the valley, the sound of a stream from half a mile away. We could smell the aniseed-meets-Germolene scent of Meadow Sweet in the hedgerows and feel the dew forming in our moustaches. As we returned to the Youth Hostel, the stars started glowing like never before. We could see the great cloud-like mists of the Milky Way, and then, as a reward for staying up late, nature presented us with a little meteor shower. Meriel saw her first shooting star! Perfect.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

High force. Low force. Medium force?

We went to a very special waterfall called High Force today. I'm not sure if it's in County Durham, Northumberland or Cumbria as we seem to be in an area which straddles all three counties.

The day started at Low Force, which is a slightly less impressive waterfall down stream from his similarly-named brother. There's a rather charming visitors' centre there which is funded by the European Union. It's got a very charming cafe, and a little art gallery selling prints and paintings by local artists. I bought a very beautiful print of an inviting-looking stile for £25, which felt like a bargain. The stiles in these parts often look like the entrances to Neolithic tombs. Two great slabs of stone which you have to squeeze yourself through. This particular painting made me want to find the stile, if for no other reason than to see what what behind it, which seemed so inviting in the picture. Imagine my excitement, therefore, when I left the visitors' centre and immediately found myself passing through said stile. The print hadn't lied: Beyond the stile was an ancient pedestrian suspension bridge, and from the bridge the views of Low Force were quite remarkable. It was a rickety old thing with wooden foot boards which seemed to bow and bend as we made our way across. Our minds weren't hugely put at rest by the sign post on the bridge which suggested we could only cross one at a time.

When we returned to the bridge later in the day we witnessed a family scattering the ashes of a loved one. The ashes billowed like a giant, beautiful cloud and disappeared into the wind. It made me feel a little sad.

The earth in these parts is incredibly peaty which means all the rivers round here are the colour of copper. The water frothing, foaming and bursting over the rocks at Low Force seemed to stripe. Fluffy white, then tea brown, then a bright orange which looked like a Tartrazine-infused Sodastream!

We walked along the winding river for two miles. Nathan and I fulfilled our Godfathery duties by creating a magical treasure hunt for the two little girls in our group. I had bought them both a little glass bottle with a number of tiny rubbers shaped like bees inside. As we walked along the river Nathan, Raily, Sam and I would periodically run ahead and chalk little clues on gates and large stones. The girls were brilliantly enthusiastic and entranced by the stories we concocted. I even managed to get complete strangers to deliver cryptic clues to them!

High Force itself is a hugely impressive waterfall which is actually 21 meters tall. It's certainly the highest waterfall I've visited in the UK (although, I'll be honest: I've not visited a great many!)

On our way back, we went wild swimming and paddling in a gentle stretch of the river. I paddled. Nathan swam. It was, he said, the coldest water he'd ever swum in. Drying himself with a towel afterwards was apparently like running sandpaper across his body.

We have identified the birds which we've seen en masse around our Youth Hostel. They're pheasants. I'm told that, at this time of year, they release scores of juvenile pheasants into the fields so that there's loads of them to kill when the hunting season begins. They're plainly bred to be stupid, or to have a mega death wish. The ones we saw plainly haven't yet understood that cars don't feel very good when they hit you. There are pheasant carcasses all the way along the road to the hostel. In fact, all the roads around here are road-kill heaven. Bunny massacres.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Sycamore Gap

The young people in our group have opened a massage parlour in one of the Youth Hostel dormitories! It costs 50p, and for that you get a ten-minute shoulder rub. It's a very professional concern, right down to the John Grant music they were playing in the parlour. I'm trying to encourage them to branch out into aromatherapy!

This morning we went to Vindolanda, a Roman fort very close to Hadrian's Wall and a site of enormous archeological importance probably best known for its "letters", a set of wooden tablets with all sorts of material handwritten in Latin on them. The letters were obviously thrown out and partially burned on a bonfire before a rainstorm put the fire out and no one bothered to light it again. They are particularly important because they're real letters which give us a genuine sense of what ordinary Roman people were saying and thinking. The most famous, and my personal favourite is a birthday invitation from a woman called Claudia Severa to a female friend: "I send you a warm invitation to come to us on September 11th." It's particularly important because it is the earliest example of a woman's handwriting in Roman history.

Perhaps even more fascinating is the fact that a shoe belonging to the woman she was writing to has also been dug up, and it is almost perfectly preserved even down to the maker's stamp! More than that, it is incredibly pretty. The leather work is stunning, and would not have looked out of place on a modern woman's foot.

Going to Vindolanda gave me such a strong sense of how advanced the Roman civilisation actually was. These people weren't just surviving. They were aesthetes. They wore highly intricate items of jewellery. They painted glasses with extraordinarily colourful scenes. They were fastidiously clean. They even had birthday parties!

From Vindolanda we went to Sycamore Gap, that wonderful spot where Hadrian's Wall plummets down one hillside, and sharply ascends the next with the most perfectly shaped sycamore tree sitting in the ravine between the two. It's best known for having appeared in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, and, as a result has taken on an almost mystical significance. We'd all been there before - together, in fact - but the walk along the crag from Steel Rigg is breathtaking and worth doing any number of times. You can see for miles from up there. Hadrian's Wall clings proudly to the landscape and, on the tops of the wall, thousands of wild flowers and grasses billow and rustle in the wind. It has to be one of the most magical places in the world.

I lined up the sound of random singing on my iPhone to encourage young Jeanie that the tree at Sycamore Gap had magical powers. If only I could rediscover that childhood sense of awe in the world. Watching her wide-eyed expression as she pressed her ear to the tree trunk and listened for the singing was infectious and highly moving. Everyone, in my view, should remain open to the possibility of magic in the world.

The crag also provides a rather special echo, which we spent some time exploring with whistles and shouts. We did the same the last time we visited. The experience never grows old!

This evening Tanya, Paul and their kids arrived at the Youth Hostel, and Sam cooked us all a wonderful stew for tea, followed by strawberries with cream and meringues.

And that was the end of the day, really. Meriel has made herself a little window seat from where she can look out over the valley opposite. The sun shone brightly this evening and the fields on the side of the hills started glowing golden yellow and lime green. We may well sleep well tonight!

North Pennines

It feels like we're a million miles away from civilisation right now. A group of us have hired a whole youth hostel in the North Pennines and it's literally in the middle of nowhere. It's been something of a revelation to discover that you can take over an entire youth hostel for a week, and it's more than half the cost of a cottage.

Our hostel has six rooms. Some are dormitories with bunk beds, which suit the families, and others, like ours, have double beds in them. The building was formally a set of cottages belonging to miners and it sits on the edge of a glorious hillside in what's known as a "dark sky region" which means the stars here are something else because there's absolutely no light pollution.

The day started in Essex with breakfast at my parents' kitchen table. We piled in the car at about 9, and sped off down the county lanes, marvelling at how colourful the verges look at this time of the year with thousands of glorious wild flowers strobing past the windows.

The journey up north was incredibly speedy. Straight up the A1: past the cool Art Deco building at Wanstead, past RAF Wittering with its harrier jump jet, and up into Nottinghamshire via the series of little road side "attractions" which make the A1 so much more entertaining than the major motorways.

Sadly, more and more of these special landmarks are disappearing, including the rickety mining chute on the hillside at Blyth which featured so prominently in my film about the A1. It was here where we filmed a choir of miners singing about the strike in the 1980s. It was on the borders of Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire where so much of the fighting happened. Nottinghamshire miners didn't strike, so the Yorkshire chaps drove down the A1 to picket. I always felt the chute should be left as a monument to those troubled times. But today I learned that it has gone. It made me feel very sad, but somehow proud that I'd made the A1 film and captured the old mining equipment forever on celluloid.

We stopped off in Darlington where Nathan met a pair of fellow knitting podcasters for the first time. Dan and Kay Jones present the Bakery Bears podcast and, on many occasions, I have fallen asleep to their dulcet tones. We tend to watch/ listen to ten minutes of pod cast before going to sleep most nights, so meeting such a familiar pair of faces in the flesh was a little bit strange. They are so nice, however, and Kay had made us all sorts of fabulous cakes.

The people in Darlington are all incredibly friendly. Sam and I went shopping in the local Asda and got talking to a very charming woman behind the tills. We had a lovely chat about he grandmother who lives in Suffolk.

The journey from Darlington to the Northern Pennines was entirely cross country, and took us through some of the most beautiful scenery I think I've ever seen. The sky was heavy: dark, brooding, misty, but with the odd shard of sunlight bursting through the clouds and lighting little areas of field and moorland. We were accompanied on our journey by the sounds of ABBA: The Album. The soaring mysticism of Eagle seemed profoundly appropriate for some reason.

On a whim we stopped off to look at the Roman Bridge at Pierce Bridge. It's a fascinating spot. The river has moved since the bridge was built and all that remains are the foundations - a set of rather modern-looking square blocks - which sit in a little grassy dell next to the river. There was a beautiful tree-lined hollow way which led us from the main road along the side of the river.

As we pulled off the main road and started heading for Nine Banks, we were astounded by the sheer number of quails which were hanging out by the side of the road. I don't think I've ever seen a quail in the wild before. Now I've seen about eighty.

I made tea for everyone tonight. We had pasta with mushrooms, courgette, Halloumi, Parmesan and olive oil. My godson Will is currently limbering up to do his 11+, so he's in the midst of doing scores and scores of tests. The conversation over dinner turned to Oscar Wilde, for some reason, and Meriel mentioned The Little Match Girl, which we all decided was one of the saddest stories ever told. Will chipped in: "I liked the Little Match Girl. I thought it was sad, but I was in the middle of a test so I couldn't care too much!" The madness of modern education! In my day everything was judged on how much empathy we could pour into a subject!

We went for an twilight walk to see if we could find some bats. At 10pm it was still quite light. There's a huge difference at this time of the year between the level of light in the sky at 10pm in London and the level of light up here at the same time. We walked to the top of a hill, and stood in silence listening to a hundred thousand sheep baaing from miles away. We did see bats. Lots of them. It was amazing.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Call My Bluff

Sam, Nathan and I are sitting with my Dad watching excerpts from this year's Proms. We're currently watching a soprano singing Mozart with an early music ensemble. She's doing a lovely job with some brilliantly pure top notes and freakishly precise runs, but she's also doing "opera singer acting" which I find very embarrassing. There altogether too much coquettish pouting and flickering eyes for my liking. I'm also not that into early music ensembles. Playing cellos without spikes strikes me as affected rather than sonically interesting.

Our holiday has started and Sam and I piled into the car in Highgate in the late afternoon and headed north to Thaxted, after picking Nathan up at Tottenham Hale.

I'd spent the morning driving around London having woken up utterly deaf. I immediately realised I had the mother of all issues with wax and took myself to a clinic in Parson's Green where I know they do ear syringing. Naturally, I pretended I'd been putting olive oil in my ears for a week or so like a good boy and the nurse confirmed that I had huge quantities of wax stuffed up there. She also told me that I had very small ear canals. You learn something new every day. I've always known that the outside of my ears were little. It turns out I'm not a Tardis. And you know what they say about little ears? Big teeth.

Anyway, the syringing had a fabulous effect on both my balance, and my ability to hear high-pitched sounds.

And speaking of teeth, I had an appointment with the dental hygienist in the mid-afternoon. She scraped and scrubbed and tutted and told me I had mild acid erosion and that I needed to wear my gum guard more regularly. She also told me to drink water after eating anything vaguely acidic. I got very uncomfortable in the chair but my teeth now feel gloriously clean.

We reached Thaxted at about 7. Stuart, Sally and their girls were here, and we celebrated my Dad's birthday (2 days early) with presents, a fabulous buffet of food, and a night of brilliant games, including home-made versions of Call My Bluff and Pictionary and a board game called Scategories which made us laugh like lunatics. It was a brilliant night and a great prelude to our holiday which begins in earnest tomorrow with a journey up the A1.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Pissing into the wind

As I left the house today, I found a young lad pissing in our alleyway. A great, long stream of urine rolled its way down the incline towards me. I was horrified. That alleyway is effectively our garden. Nathan and I spent an hour sweeping up all the rubbish from it the other day, and this morning I picked up and removed a wet wipe covered in human excrement that some parent had plainly left there after ducking off the main road to sort out a little accident in her son's pants. I live opposite a pub. He could have popped in there for his wee. So I shouted at him: "that's right, mate, piss all over my alleyway." Instead of having the decency to be contrite or apologise, he took the earphones out of his ears and decided to take me on with his plummy, arrogant accent. "What do you want me to do about it? Retract it?" "No. I just want you not to do it again." He stood for a while gasping like a goldfish. "Go on!" I said, "say something erudite and witty as a come back... Go on, I dare you..." His response was as pathetic as it was rude, "why don't you lick it up?" What a twat. I hate young posh blokes who are plainly way too used to getting their way. I was half-tempted to grab piece of paper, soak up some of his pee, and launch it at the bastard's face. Actually what I should have done was follow him home and then pee through his mummy's letterbox.

On my way into central London I listened to Any Questions on Radio 4 and found myself agreeing with almost everything that was said regardless of whether it was said by a Tory or a Labour person (old or new.) I wondered why this was and then realised that we're in such a perilous situation at the moment that politicians are finally discussing what actually matters to people - and actually, if you sweep aside the extremism on the edges of the argument, what matters to us all is the same thing: we want our voices to be heard.

This evening I went into town to film two more sequences for the Pepys film. I've been filming a lot of girls lately and today it was the turn of two of the tenors: Anthony and Nigel. 

We shot Anthony on Piccadilly Circus and found him underneath the anus of Eros looking resplendent in a bow tie. We did one little sequence with the iconic Coca Cola lights bursting behind him (rather like fire we thought) and then took him to a dodgy alleyway behind the Piccadilly Theatre for a bit of grime and underbelly grit. I want the film to look very modern and very much show all the different aspects of London at night. Filming with what looks like a stills camera is brilliant because no one bothers you the way they bother you when you've got a giant film camera. No one comes and waves in the background. No security guards come up and ask if you have a permit to film. And no one beeps their blessed horns!!

We drove across London to London Wall car park near the Barbican where I wanted to film Nigel. It's one of my favourite locations in the world. It's absolutely massive, and all underground: an enormous concrete bunker with the most astounding echo. The sound of a car door slamming reverberates around the place for seconds. Otherwise, it's an incredibly still place. So quiet it's almost deafening. What is, however, most remarkable is the chunk of the old Roman city wall still preserved in the middle of the car park. It's the most eerie sight. The craziest architectural juxtaposition in London: AD60 meets AD1960!

Friday, 22 July 2016

Poor Northampton

I've been in Northampton all day today, feeling more depressed with every corner that I turned. Much as I was horrified that the good folk of my home county opted so brutally to leave Europe, when you see what used to be a bustling, thriving market town in such plain trouble, you begin to understand why there's so much anger out there and why people needed to use Brexit as a way of punishing the ruling elite. Many of the shops in the town centre are now boarded over. Even the shops like Oliver Adams, which, in my view, are part of the very essence of this place, are now closing down. I went into BHS to buy a T-shirt. As I entered, an old man explained to me that this particular branch was closing at the weekend, and the place looked like it had been hit by a bomb, or probably more accurately, cleared by locusts. Clothes were strewn everywhere. The only things left for sale were over-sized garments. I found a pair of trousers so voluminous I wondered if they'd be more useful as a pair of black out blinds!

I stood for some time on the market square, holding a Slush Puppy for old time's sake, looking around at the emptiness, hoping that, come Saturday, there would be scores of stalls and hundreds of shoppers milling around. It somehow doesn't seem likely.

Sadly, I also don't think it's likely that the fortunes of the town will perk up when we pull out of Europe. In fact, I'm quite convinced that the very opposite will happen. After Brexit, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer and we'll spend any spare money we have making sure the baby boomers are treated even better than they've been treated all their cosseted lives. On that note Ben told me a rather lovely story last night. His grandfather apparently 'phoned up all of his grandchildren and asked them how they would like him to vote in the referendum. His reasoning was that he wouldn't be about for long enough to see how things panned out and that his grandchildren were the ones who'd need to deal with the fall out of the vote. I thought that was a rather lovely gesture.

The train station in Northampton has been done up, but its new shiny facade and floor to ceiling glass windows over-looking scrub land merely serve as a reminder that you can't polish a turd. I used to quite like the decaying, brutalist sixties vibe of the old station, but, as seems to be the want of modern architects, the place was ripped down just before it came into fashion again! The same thing routinely happens with service stations, which are regularly done up cheaply, with anything remotely cool, quirky, or original being coated with yet another layer of flimsy plastic. Imagine a service station with all of those original Formica booths and self-service dining halls? Now that would draw the crowds... If you're in any doubt about how iconic those original service stations were, take a look at the film Charlie Bubbles and the scene where Liza Minelli (why WAS she in that film?) and Albert Finney take a road trip up the M1.

So all in all, I felt a little sad in Northampton. This was the place I used to come to when I wanted to buy something special. It's where the bowling alley was. Where the music school was. And where we'd come to the theatre every few months and sit up on the benches in the Gods eating Malteesers whilst watching the latest play by Alan Aykbourn.

Speaking of trips to the theatres in Northampton, the purpose of today's trip wasn't actually to depress myself, but to say hello to James Dacre, who is the incredibly charming artistic director of the Derngate and Royal Theatres. He seemed genuinely pleased to meet a writer with such strong links to the town. I was simply pleased to sit in a cafe outside a theatre which had seemed so glamorous to me as a young lad. I got a little misty-eyed. I could have gone on for hours about the concerts I'd performed at the Derngate as a young lad.

James spoke about how well-respected the Northampton music school still is and puts its success down to the legacy of figures like composer Malcolm Arnold who very much put the town onto the cultural map. I think he was very surprised when I told him Malcolm Arnold had come into my school specifically to sit in a room with me and listen to a recording of the 'cello concerto I wrote for my A-level music. He was so gracious: "my dear boy. One day your star will shine more brightly than you will ever imagine..." Still waiting.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

A trip to Hatfield for a coincidence

I realised this afternoon whilst walking through the streets of Northampton that I'd forgotten to blog last night. I blame the weather. And Little Michelle for being so engaging!

Last night I went to Hatfield. I'd never been to Hatfield before, but it's where Michelle and Ben have set up home. Their reason for leaving the Big Smoke was purely financial. For the same rent as a nasty little one-bed flat in the grimmest part of London, they can live in a charming 2-up 2-down ancient cottage on a country lane over looking the stunning St Etheldreda's church. King's Cross is a 22-minute train journey away. It's almost a no-brainer. As I parked up on their street I was instantly struck by the silence. The lane they live on is a cul-de-sac, so there are almost no passing cars. According to Michelle, the only noise pollution comes from the bells in the church!

It was really heartening to see that it's possible to live so close to London in a really decent house without paying stupid amounts in rent. One of my biggest fears is our landlord selling up and leaving us high and dry, unable to afford anything even remotely similar.

Anyway, I was in Hatfield filming Michelle singing her allotted lines in the little film we're making for the Pepys Motet. No flinging fire this time, but we did fill her garden with hundreds of candles. I appreciate the vision for the film is to shoot people in London locations but actually, Hatfield, on the Great North Road is almost certainly a place that Pepys would have visited on his way up to his father's house in Huntingdon, so it felt legitimate enough.

A quick check of his diaries reveals something even more exciting. On August 11th, 1667, Pepys visited the very church that Michelle and Ben live opposite:

"So to Hatfield, to the inne, next my Lord Salisbury's House, and there rested ourselves, and drank, and bespoke dinner; and so to church, it being just church-time, and there we find my Lord and my Lady Sands and several fine ladies of the family, and a great many handsome faces and genteel persons more in the church, and did hear a most excellent good sermon, which pleased me mightily... In this church lies the former Lord of Salisbury, Cecil, buried in a noble tomb. So the church being done, we to our inn, and there dined very well, and mighty merry; and as soon as we had dined we walked out into the Park through the fine walk of trees, and to the Vineyard, and there shewed them that, which is in good order, and indeed a place of great delight; which, together with our fine walk through the Park, was of as much pleasure as could be desired in the world for country pleasure and good ayre. Being come back, and weary with the walk, for as I made it, it was pretty long, being come back to our inne, there the women had pleasure in putting on some straw hats, which are much worn in this country, and did become them mightily, but especially my wife."

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Throwing lumps of fire at the Thames

Man, it was nasty on the Northern Line today! If I'd have known I would have taken a towel with me to get rid of the sweat. Quite why a major line on our flagship transport network isn't air conditioned is beyond me. It's surely the most expensive underground network in the world and at some point I think it might be quite nice to get something half decent for our money. I was only wearing a T-shirt and shorts, and I know that I have a broken thermostat, but there were some poor bastards walking about in suits and things. 

I walked the length of Hatton Gardens by mistake for the first time today and found myself in a different world. It's surprisingly down-at-heal. Signs everywhere advertise offices to let and there were piles of rubbish out on the street. This is the centre of the British jewellery trade. I assumed it would look a little classier. It felt like a proper community, however. Everyone on the street seemed to be talking to everyone else. The place was full of Jewish people and Arabic people. I was fairly surprised to find that that this particular cliche still existed...

It was bakingly hot today. 34 degrees in the capital. The hottest day of the year. Just walking was difficult. Of course weather like this has a profoundly awful effect on people. Everyone slows down to a standstill and gets very ratty. I let one woman go in front of me in a shop today and she repaid my kindness by taking three minutes to search through her bag for a "loose pound" which she "absolutely knew" she had, despite having a ten pound note in her hand.

This evening we went out into the soupy air and took ourselves down to the South Bank to film Abbie and David doing their sequences in the little film we're shooting to accompany the Pepys Motet album. We had a lot of fun. I'd taken myself down to a magic shop in Farringdon this afternoon and bought myself some flash paper, which is the highly flammable stuff which bursts into flames as soon as it so much as touches fire. Magicians use it to freak people out. So anyway, we got a bit carried away, down on a beach by the Thames underneath the Tate Modern, lobbing bits of flaming paper towards the camera! It looked absolutely brilliant. It's amazing how much you can achieve with a couple of torches, some glittery confetti and a bit of tracing paper. David was particularly excited and kept saying "how many times in your life do you get to come down to the river and throw lumps of fire?!" It must have been the full moon. I'm surprised we weren't arrested.

Abbie was singing a passage from Pepys' diary where he talks about sitting in a tavern in Southwark watching the fire engulfing buildings on the other side of the river: "we to a little house on the Bankside and saw the fire grow and as it grow darker, appear more and more..." It must have been an utterly awesome sight, and I'm rather proud to announce that we sat in the very pub that Pepys' himself sat in almost exactly 350 years ago. How's that for brilliant?! We did a lovely little shot through the window of the pub with Abbie sitting inside like some sort of Hopper painting.

I've obviously now become obsessed with shooting my own material. It was only ever going to be a matter of time before I got the bug. I've shot hours of cutaways!

Monday, 18 July 2016

MMd Cabaret

It's been boil-in-the-bag hot today. I almost melted on the tube. I went for osteopathy this morning and, for the first time, was treated by a female osteopath. It didn't go very well. She had two female students observing her, which instantly made me feel hugely self-conscious, and I'm afraid I left feeling like I'd simply been prodded and pushed around a bit, like a half-eaten plate of food. I think perhaps my size and robustness means that I am better treated by a man. I'm sure there are plenty of female osteopaths out there who are brilliantly psychotic and can give any man a run for his money in terms of deep tissue massage - and I'm furthermore sure that if I'd told her I couldn't feel what she was doing she would have upped the pressure - but I just don't feel like spending another £30 to give her the benefit of the doubt. I, of course, feel absolutely awful. She was a genuinely lovely lass, but I'm going to have to call the reception, book myself someone else and insist that it's a man. Does that make me sexist? Are scores of people rolling their eyes to heaven reading this, thinking what a small-minded misogynist I am?

I went into town this evening to the MMD new writers' cabaret where the wonderful Emma Fraser sang a song from Em which seemed to go down very well in the room. Emma performed it spectacularly well. I got a bit freaked out by the piano and at one point couldn't quite work out why my fingers didn't seem to be in the place that made the pretty noises I'd rehearsed!

This monthly cabaret is such a wonderful night which gives us all a chance to put faces to names and hear what British musical theatre writers are writing right now. There's an astounding amount of diversity. We had an old timer Tony-winner playing some of his old school tunes, a wonderful mini-choir from Laine Theatre Arts, and some absolutely brilliant performers doing sad stuff, happy stuff, funny stuff, jazzy stuff, theatrical stuff, folky stuff...

The only downer on the evening was - for the second time in as many weeks - one of the other writers going up to Nathan and telling him how awful Beyond The Fence was. It's all, of course, a combination of sour grapes, jealousy and the fact that the computer element in the project makes people feel like they can be more brutal about it without offending anyone, but it's really tiresome and predictable to think that relative strangers have the gall to say that crap, particularly about fellow writers. I try incredibly hard not to say anything rude about the work of any other British musical theatre writer because I know there are precious few of us out there and we're all swimming against the tide. The whole point about that writers' cabaret is that it ought to feel like a safe space where composers can experiment without being shot down in flames, but if fellow writers are wandering about in the background dissing other people's work, it's really not a lot of fun... For anyone!

If you're over 60, please read this! (Not a Brexit rant!)

We have been in Cheshire all day today celebrating Nathan's nephew's 18th birthday. It was one of those occasions which makes the rest of us feel really old! I've known Lewis since he was a pudgy-faced four-year old. He's now bearded and 6'4" tall!

I was astonished to discover today that Nathan's niece, Jenny, has been with her partner, Tom, for a staggering ten years. She was just fourteen when they started dating. Both her mother and her Grandmother are in relationships which began more recently! I wonder if there are any other young ladies in the world with this particular claim to fame!

It was such beautiful weather today. The forecast (predictably) had suggested it was going to be muggy and overcast, but the sun shone relentlessly and burned us all to a crisp. Summer seems to have finally arrived. The whole of Nathan's family was there. The oldest and the youngest ran about in the garden having water fights whilst the rest of us sat under giant parasols. (When did I become a grown up?) There was Pimms, tea and birthday cake.

I tested my theory today, namely that people below the age of about 30 don't have a clue what the word "zany" means. I asked Nathan's nephews and nieces and they were utterly stumped and quite amused. Nathan's mother felt the word was perhaps a bit 1960s for them to know. It does feel like a very 1960s word, like "cool" and "zowie", but a quick blast of research tells me it's actually a 16th century French word. How zany is that?

We had a lot of fun filming everyone doing ludicrous things in slow motion on Nathan's phone. The potential of the iPhone never ceases to amaze me. We have a friend who's just shot a pilot for a major comedy series and apparently about 60% of the material was shot on an iPhone!

Nathan's Mum continues to bloom after her hideous encounter with giant cell arteritis (GCA). If you're a woman over the age of about 60 and you're reading this, I urge you to read up about PMR (polymyalgia rheumatica) and GCA (which is also known as temporal arteritis.) Here's the deal: if you're a woman, you're post-menopausal and you find yourself with inexplicable and excruciatingly painful joints over a long period of time, particularly if the pain is bilateral (in the small of your back, your knees, your elbows, your ankles or your shoulders) it is absolutely worth asking the doctor to investigate whether you might be suffering from PMR. My Mum had it. Nathan's Mum had it. It's THAT common.

The good news is that PMR is eminently treatable with a shortish course of steroids. If left untreated, however, it can lead to GCA, which itself can lead to blindness and, in extreme cases, death. PMR is not, for some reason, one of the things that most GPs routinely check for. They will often send patients away, telling them that their symptoms are "nebulous" or "non-specific." For the best part of a year my Mother was told her pains were a result of general "wear and tear." I've mentioned all this in my blog before and I will continue to do so. It is vital we get the message out about this. My mother was in agony for a year. She started taking steroids and was pain free within hours. It look a lot longer for Nathan's Mum to be diagnosed and she was a great deal more poorly as a result. So if you, or someone you love, has these symptoms, get to the doctor and start getting better!

We travelled home in a blazing sunset, stopping off in North Warwickshire at Ruth's house. Ruth is a member of the Rebel Chorus and has a hugely prominent solo at the start of the movement of the Pepys Motet I'm filming to promote the album release. Her presence in this film was vital! Ruth moved out of the big smoke a couple of years ago, so I had been racking my brains to think of how I would be able to film her without her having to go out of her way. The idea came to me like a bolt from the blue last night when I realised our journey to Cheshire would be taking us within a stone's throw of her gaff. 

We filmed her in her bedroom with all the lights out and just the flame of a match. I'd love to have the time, equipment and manpower to properly light all the shots, but we're having to be both incredibly speedy and highly inventive. Our only pieces of equipment are my camera, a few torches and some candles. Today we were draping some of Ruth's clothes over the torches to stop the light from being too white! The end film will undoubtedly look a bit rough and ready, but I'm beginning to think that most people expect that from an Internet film these days.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Poetry is rubbish

We've been in Catford all day today doing Craft and Cake. It's properly hot and sticky, and we've been out in the garden. I feel like I've done nothing but eat all day: lovely tomatoes and hummus, and chip butties and feta cheese, and raspberry profiteroles and caramel profiteroles, and pastas and Swiss rolls all washed down with cups and cups and cups of tea. I feel like a right fat chocolate froozler!

It's been a lovely day off, though. We went out to Sam and Julie's allotments and picked raspberries. I don't really know where the year has gone. We're right at the end of the strawberry and raspberry seasons. Soon the blackberries will be out and then it will be Autumn and I still haven't seen the sun this year!!

The day ended in a sea of candles out in the garden. I'm trying to film a little promotional video for the Great Fire movement from our forthcoming Pepys Motet album release. It's a heck of a lot of work which I rather wish I didn't have to ask people to do, because people tend to do me a lot of favours to get my projects off the ground and it starts to get a bit embarrassing to ask. I can't see any way around it, however. Without some sort of visuals, the album will disappear without trace.

We drove home through a crowded north London. Midnight in London on a Saturday night is every bit as crowded as the rush hour, except during rush hour you don't have to deal with pissed people rushing out into the road and then staring at you like you're a bastard for nearly running them over! It took us about an hour and a half to crawl our way home. On top of this, we got caught by every single traffic light. We listened to Radio 4. Poetry is rubbish isn't it? I'm tired now.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Song thrushes, squirrels, pigeons and cellos

We were awoken this morning by an astonishing racket in the back garden which sounded like a kitten fighting a magpie. I immediately stuck my head out of the bedroom window, and, although I couldn't see what was going on, I decided it must be the noise of squirrels either fighting... Or screwing! It went on for ages. I'm not sure much fun was being had!

I sat at the kitchen table today, window wide open, allowing the breeze to tickle my temples. I was rather thrilled to see an old friend in the tree in our garden, namely one of the pair of wood pigeons who, for many years, would coo at each other and nuzzle on the upper branches. One of them flew into our bedroom one morning and got into a right panic. I very calmly talked to him whilst edging myself closer. "Don't be frightened," I said, "I'm going to hold my hand out, get you to jump on, and then I'm going to carry you to the window and set you free..." I held my hand out and was utterly astonished when he climbed on, almost as though he'd heard and understood everything I said to him. I carried him to the window, he hopped off and hopped onto the ledge, where he sat for some time looking at me as though to say, "aren't you a big, funny, old gentle giant?" Then he flew away...

Anyway, a few months ago, either he, or his mate was killed by a cat in the garden and for a long time the other pigeon vanished from sight. I was glad to see him back. I shall be gladder when he finds himself someone else to coo at. Everyone deserves to be loved.

As I walked down to the tube I became aware of a really peculiar tweeting coming from the bushes alongside the causeway which runs down the ravine. Initially I assumed I was listening to some kind of tropical creature in an avery. The little chap had quite some repertoire. Fire alarms, telephones, chirps and whistles. Like a parrot almost. I recorded a few excerpts and sent them to a friend of mine who knows about these things and he told me I was actually listening to a song thrush. Spectacular. Although he says nightingales are better!

I got a bit blue after lunch and texted Philippa, who immediately told me to come down to East London to attend my goddaughter's school's fete, which was an insane experience. A tidal wave of tiny feet. Cake stalls for miles. Pots of jam. Sweeties. Amazing Asian street food... Deia's is an incredibly multi-culti school, and seeing all the kids playing together, and all their mums running the stalls side by side, gave me a fabulous sense of what this country ought to be. The children themselves are often fabulous mixes of different cultures and have no sense of anything being different or wrong. They just play. One lad I met today was half-Japanese, half-Irish. He had mint green eyes and jet black hair. They call it "generation beige" and I think it's the future. The one thing that mixed race people almost always are is beautiful. Whatever the mix.

...Then one of the children weed herself whilst standing on the toy stall table, so it was time to leave!

I spoke to a couple of Australians who are heading back home after a fifteen-year-long stint in the UK. I asked the bloke if he was reticent about leaving. "I was until Brexit" he said, "then I realised I didn't really know the country that I thought I loved."

Columbia Road is a lovely part of London. It's intensely urban but has this timeless quality which is created by the beautiful Victorian architecture. The streets are largely car-free, which means the kids just play out on the cobbles. I imagined them in thirty years looking back on those halcyon days.

I got a bit upset at one point when we all stopped outside a little Bengali-run corner shop. Philippa was buying a magazine for the kids. The daughter of the shop owner was a delightful little dot with, rather curiously, a shaved head. I learned today that quite a lot of Bengalis actually clipper their children's head to encourage hair to grow back thicker and stronger. It sort of makes sense. Quite a number of my friends have shaved their heads and had hair grow back curlier or thicker. Anyway, the little dot was quite delightful, and Deia and Silver interacted with her without any sense of her shaved head being strange. Two older people walked past and gave the child a really strange look and then started laughing. I was really upset. I know I'm more sensitive to that stuff at the moment, but I just can't see a problem with multiculturalism when it is as integrated as what I witnessed today. We have so much to learn from one another if only we bother to listen without prejudice or fear.

Speaking of which, the news from Nice has devastated me. I find myself even more devastated by the ghastly Brits who are saying that this attack proves that we should have come out of Europe. Yet my instinct is overwhelmingly that I want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the French at this awful time. Their pain is my pain. Their problem is my problem. That's always how the Brits responded to the French in the past.

I got home from Philippa's and watched the First Night of the Proms. A spectacular rendition of the Elgar Cello Concerto performed by a wonderful Argentinian 'cellist called Sol Gabetta, made me weep, then get all excited, then laugh, then weep again. I've seldom seen the piece played with so much life. She eked out every conceivable emotion from the piece and bashed the shit out of her 'cello in the process. The 'cello responded brilliantly! Fiona texted to alert me to what was going on. I then called my parents who were already watching. The encore was understated yet fabulous. She actually sang whilst she played. It was all just lovely.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Boris is the what?

So Boris Johnson is the UK's new foreign secretary? Can anyone tell me what the hell that is all that about? I can only assume Theresa May has offered that silly prannie that particular post so that he can hang himself at the first opportunity. If you poo in the playground, you have to mop it up in front of all the other boys and girls. Part of me thinks that if he were allowed to become a back bencher, or do a job which allowed him to dick about like a buffoon, he'd gain popularity again. She knows this, so she's handing him the rope to hang himself with once and for all.

Loving the joke which is presently doing the rounds:

"Boris in the foreign office? No, no, they misinterpreted Theresa's list: It actually said "f-off" by his name!

I'm also loving the fact that, other than Boris, May has got rid of all of that insipid, "Notting Hill", public school lot. Seems like she might actually have a whiff of humanity about her. Could it be that we have a Tory leader with left wing credentials? I feel dirty for even saying it!

There's not much else to say. The lovely Emma came over to rehearse our song for Monday. We ran it three times. We didn't need to do anything else. She was really on it, so we sat in the sitting room, watching videos of catastrophic amateur performances of Peter Pan. There is nothing funnier in my book than stuff going wrong on the stage. Is it really bad of me to admit that, in the year and a half I spent as Resident Director on the West End production of Taboo, I would regularly will things to go wrong!?

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Talking on Channel 4 news

Today started at shit o'clock with an interview in a Soho cafe with Channel 4, talking about David Cameron's legacy. He leaves office today. It all feels a little sordid and sad if I'm honest. I genuinely think he will go down in history as the worst prime minister this country has ever known: the man who split the union. Somewhat grasping at straws, I think he has claimed that one of his proudest achievements in office was bringing in the Equal Marriage Bill. It's lovely that he is proud of this fact - and I'm pretty sure there are plenty of other Tory leaders whom it wouldn't have happened under - but let's not forget that gay marriage was never part of the Tory party manifesto, and, if it hadn't been for Lynne Featherstone and the Liberal Democrat coalition shouting very loudly, I doubt Cameron would have caved. Let's also not forget that Cameron was the only major party leader who elected not to congratulate us on our marriage as part of the Channel 4 film. Not that I minded. I hated those messages. It's sad, and perhaps a little churlish that I feel the need to take this one nugget of joy away from him, but Equal Marriage was Lynne Featherstone's victory and I refuse to allow the positive work of the Lib Dems to be written out of history.

I can't help but feel we're on the edge of a precipice today. This could well prove to be a day we all look back on. "Remember the day when she came into Number 10? The day before all THAT happened..." Part of me has given up worrying about the state of things. Part of me thinks it might have to get really awful so that we can all learn the important lessons that this sordid business was sent to teach us. Whatever the case, I think Cameron will always be held responsible: for being lily-livered, for valuing image above substance, for making austerity cuts which bitterly angered and divided the population, and for not understanding the British public well enough to know that he was going to be brutally punished if he went ahead with a referendum decided by people who literally had nothing left to lose. Any knowledge of history would have told him that these are the most dangerous people to piss off! The very fact that he spent his last Prime Minister's Question Time joking and laughing tells me that he doesn't really have the capacity to take anything seriously. Silly tit. It was all a game to him.

It remains to be seen how May will do. I guess it could have been a lot worse, particularly if that religious tart Andrea Whatever had been selected. I like the fact that May is a woman. I like that she intends to "promote" women in Parliament. That said, there are some shockingly awful, and potentially dangerous female Tory MPs, so we'll have to see. I sometimes think women make the very best and the very nastiest politicians. It's easier to be a crypto fascist if you're wearing a twin set and pearls. I guess a positive in all this is that May's astoundingly high approval ratings might just be enough to force Labour into giving greater thought about their own leader. The present situation is a proper Hobson's Choice. I would pick Corbyn over Eagle, in the same way that I would choose shingles over the Mumps. 

I'm sure you can watch our interview on the Channel 4 News on catchup.

I went to the gym after the filming, worked in a cafe in Kentish Town for a few hours and then headed back into central London for a lovely lunch at Wagamamas with Nathan and Matt, who was very excited to announce that he's reprising the role in Doctor Who that he played in the Christmas special. There was a bit of a mix up with the Yasi Soba orders. We all wanted different variants of the dish and ended up with one too many, which they kindly allowed Nathan to take home in a doggy bag for no extra charge. If I'm honest I think the guy who served us might have been a tad star struck.

I came home and then went to Euston for an evening meeting with a really lovely lady who works at Edge Hill university up near Liverpool. You know when you get an instantly positive vibe from someone whom you immediately recognise as one of your tribe? She reminded me of all sorts of people, and had a charming Liverpudlian accent, which occasionally dipped into a hint of Northern Irish, and a shock of brilliant red, curly hair, which reminded me of Llio. She plays the cello and the piano. Like me. We instantly started talking like old friends. It was such a privilege to meet her, and, frankly, to know that people like her exist.

I've recently been hearing a lot about the agitprop theatre scene in Manchester. Josh is very much a part of it, and the fabulous Julie Hesmondhalgh and her equally wonderful writer-husband, Ian Kershaw seem to be the leading lights. I am starting to wonder if my future needs to be in one of the Northern cities. There's a creative life in the North right now which doesn't quite feel like it exists in London, largely, I suspect because a lot of people are falling into a trap which suggests that innovation in theatre is only going to come from minority communities. Perhaps everyone in the North feels like a minority community. Or perhaps the grass is simply always greener...

On that front, I am still reeling from the news that the National Theatre has set up a new musical theatre writing group to innovate the art form but has banned musical theatre composers from taking part. I have done NOTHING but innovate the art form. I was working on verbatim film musicals long before London Road existed. I've used computers to write musicals. I've used musique concrete. I even got married in a musical, for God's sake! Why is a singer songwriter who's only ever created conceptual pop albums better placed to innovate the art form than me?! That is a direct question to Rufus Norris!

That said, I am proud to report that I heard yesterday that Andrew Lloyd Webber is a fan of Billy Whistle from Brass. For me that is about as high praise as I could ever hope to receive.

The sun setting over the Archway Road this evening reminded me that all is not lost in the world. As long as the sun continues to rise and sink, there is still hope.

The witch hunter general

We're driving back from Thaxted in a very heavy rainstorm. Where has our summer gone? My Mum told me earlier that the weather is due to pick up considerably from Saturday. It better had. I'm running out of reasons to live here. Speaking of which, a considerable number of my friends are currently looking into the idea of taking out dual nationality with various European countries. Ironically, everyone's scouring their family trees for immigrants! I'm told the City of London is exploring the idea of moving wholesale to Amsterdam, and that the Republic of Ireland might do very well out of Brexit in terms of British companies moving there and continuing to trade with Europe. We're going to be like the kids who live in the council house at the end of the fancy street! We won't even be able to afford stone cladding or crazy paving to make ourselves look a bit posher!

It was lovely to see the parents, and my Mum surpassed herself with an enormous cold collation. There were salads, quiches, cheeses, lovely rosemary roasted potatoes, and a choice of gooseberry pie or lemon roulade for pudding. Why say "or" when "and" is a perfectly lovely word...

We got stranded on the North Circular for an hour on our way up. I think it could well have simply been a build up of traffic. We crawled along. I was driving, got clutch foot and went into a tragic spasm which I couldn't control! London is broken!

On our way home, the country lanes were covered in curious, and somewhat eerie little low-hanging, but very well derided wisps of mist, which the car headlights kept lighting up. I couldn't work out what was causing the phenomenon. Those roads around Thaxted are incredibly spooky and atmospheric: if it's not strange lights coming from (one assumes) aeroplanes touching down at Stansted, it's funny ghostly creatures dancing about on the white lines in the middle of the road. These lanes were, of course, the stomping ground of Matthew Hopkins, the 17th Century witch hunter, who was responsible for the murder of 300 so-called witches in a three year reign of terror in the early 1640s. The methods he used to extract confessions were bizarre and utterly inhuman. Many of his practices resurfaced some fifty years later in Salem, Massachusetts, which, of course, is where the extraordinary play The Crucible is set. "I saw Goody Till with the Devil!" I've always thought the British witch hunts would provide a very interesting backdrop for a musical. Or perhaps, more appropriately, an opera. I don't know why I feel an operatic work would fit the bill a little better. Just as Arthur Miller turned the Salem witch trials into a giant allegory for what was happening to so-called communists in 1950s America, I wonder if it would be possible to make some kind of parallel which links what happened in Essex in 1642 to what happens to anyone in Essex in 2016 who is accused of paedophilia. Witch hunts will always happen. We always need someone to blame for the ills of society. I suspect Brexit will generate yet another set of victims. Yawn.

Monday, 11 July 2016

My first ever trip to Liverpool

I went to Liverpool for the first time ever today. I'm not altogether sure why I've never been before. Well, actually, I have all sorts of theories which are far too complicated to go into, but the fact remains that Liverpool is the last major British city I've never seen, and it's always felt like quite a major omission. That said, I've always felt that Liverpool, unlike pretty much every other British city apart from London and maybe Manchester, seems like a rather self-sufficient place. It has its own arts scene. Liverpudlian kids don't tend to audition for things like NYMT because they have their own highly well-respected youth theatres and drama schools. Whenever I've approached the BBC in Liverpool to try and interest them in a project, I've always ended up feeling like there are a million Scousers they'd rather use! And why not? The Liverpudlians are a proud people.

The day started early. I was going to the city for just an hour-long meeting, but I wanted to be there for as long as possible. I'm writing a show which is set there and I had a list as long as my arm of places I wanted to see.

Euston Station was its usual bleak self, a place which, every time I visit, feels increasingly like the dyspraxic cousin of the Kings-Cross-St-Pancras cool kids. I always amuse myself at Euston by watching the rows and rows of people staring blankly up at the departure screens as though waiting for some kind of Rapture. Sometimes I wonder how those religious cults must feel whilst sitting on a mountain side waiting for the end of the world. Imagine that feeling, in the cold light of day, when you realise the comet hasn't come to collect you and the world hasn't ended as predicted. Do you instantly turn on your leaders and accuse them of lying, or simply assume that you must have got your calculations wrong? Imagine being the sort of person who delights in the notion of the end of the world? That said, the end of the world is fairly easy to imagine at Euston Station: a world which died of boredom.

The journey was smooth and passed without incident. Of course, the further north and west I travelled, the worse the weather got. I'll confess, it hadn't occurred to me that it might rain today, and as I got closer to Liverpool, I started to wish I was coming here for the first time in less inclement weather.

I sat for most of the journey opposite a pair of incredibly hard-faced women who were travelling with a seven-year old girl who had a black eye. I assume it was a grandmother, her daughter and her daughter's daughter. They were incredibly beady. You couldn't look at the grandmother for more than a second without her haggard face catching your eye, as though, at any moment, she were going to erupt into a chippy rant about posh people judging her. Both adults seemed to oscillate dramatically in mood. One moment they were smiling happily, the next they seemed rather angry. One moment they were lovingly handing hand sanitiser to the little girl, the next she was being smacked for not sitting properly. She was actually smacked four times. The final smack came with a warning; "do you want everyone on this train to know what a naughty child you are?" It wasn't a massive smacking, but it was firm, and wholly unnecessary to my eyes. The kid didn't cry or anything, but it was a million miles away from the gentle parenting I've become used to with my friends. Of course, my immediate thought was that the little girl's black eye was the result of an earlier smacking, but this, of course, has to be a million miles from the truth. Or does it?

I'm beginning to realise what a bubble I've spent my life within. There are millions of people across the country who live very different lives to me, behave in very different ways and think very different thoughts.

So, I arrived in Liverpool in a rain storm and took a taxi to my meeting which was up by the Anglican Cathedral. It's graduation season for the students of the city, and the ceremonies all take place there. The streets were closed off, which actually made walking around a great deal more pleasant - despite the rain. The tell tale signs of graduation were everywhere to be seen: One student in an ill-fitting suit flanked by two proud-looking parents.

After my meeting I met up with young Josh who'd come across from Manchester to hang out with me. It was brilliant to see him: largely because I knew I had six hours in the city ahead of me and it's always nice to explore somewhere new with someone of a like mind... And boy did we "do" Liverpool.

Josh had already been on a 3 1/2 hour walking tour of the place, so was able to share little tit-bits with me, but I had a list of quirky places I wanted to visit which I was able to share with him.

We walked the length of Hope Street from the Anglican Cathedral down to Paddy's Wigwam, the extraordinary modernist building which is as much a temple to brutalist architecture as it is a Catholic Cathedral. It is so beautiful inside. So powerful. So peaceful. The stained glass windows are every bit as impactful as those in Coventry Cathedral. The overwhelming colour which hits you as you enter is blue. Deep, lapis lazuli blue. Then you see a shot of deep red. Then you raise your eyeline and see that the atrium roof is a circle of rainbow glass, with every conceivable shade of each colour present. Then your eyes return to the blue again and realise there are flecks of salmon pink within. It is truly one of the great wonders of this country. I was deeply moved by the experience.

Opposite the Cathedral is a student halls of residence which once housed the Oxford Street Maternity hospital where John Lennon was born. It's also where my brother Tim came into the world, so Josh and I headed into the courtyard to have a look around.

Next up was a trip to a charming little book shop called Reid's. A number of scenes in the show I'm writing are set in a second hand bookshop, and I wanted to visit a place which I would be able to imagine when writing those scenes. I went online, searched for "central Liverpool second hand bookshops" and chose the one which looked the most inviting from the photographs. I doubt I could have chosen any better. The owner was so friendly and so knowledgeable. He went out of his way to help every one of his customers without being pushy or patronising. I told him about the project and we had a lovely chat about Liverpool in the 1960s.

From the bookshop, we went back up Hope Street to look at The Philharmonic Dining Rooms, known colloquially as "The Phil." It's opposite the concert hall of the same name. It's quite something inside. I'm wondering if I've ever seen such an opulent pub. It's decked out in the Art Nouveau style with seemingly no stone left unturned in the quest to make every surface, every wall, every ceiling cornice more outrageous and over the top than the one next to it! Even the loos are mosaic'd up the wazoo!

We popped into the concert hall, and looked through one of their brochures, trying to work out which of the performers they have coming up was the best looking. Yes. That's how classy I am when it comes to classical music! Of course all the artists had to be photographed with the instrument they play and there are some instruments which are just never going to look interesting in a photo. Imagine trying to make a clarinet look cool? Or a recorder?

We wandered down Bold Street, which is the funky street in town, and fell in love with another bookshop, where Josh bought a T-shirt daubed with a slogan demonstrating the LGBT community's solidarity with striking miners in the 80's: "Pits perverts! Lesbians and gay men support the miners." In return, scores of miners marched at the front of the 1985 Pride Parade in London, in a profoundly moving display of comradeship which a right-winger would never EVER either comprehend or experience. I bought a CND badge for old time's sake. Josh asked what CND was. I was horrified.

When wanting an epic, bird's-eye view of a city, it's always been my philosophy to head to the top of a multi-storey car park, and we chose a corker right in the middle of town from where we could see for miles - all the way across the Mersey to the mountains of Wales. I thought about Brother Tim and wondered if I could see all the way to Llandudno.

Liverpool has a fairly compact city centre. On a map it looks a little sprawling, but you can cover most of the sights in a single afternoon if you put your mind to it... And don't mind your feet feeling like stumps!

I wanted to visit the iconic department store, Lewis's. It was once a five-floor Liverpudlian institution which epitomised both glamour and the British wartime spirit. The building was badly bombed in the blitz but the part of the building which hadn't been destroyed opened for trading within a day. The building is also known as the home of "Fred", a naked bronze statue of a man mopping his brow on the brow of a ship, which seems to burst out of the wall above the door. Lewis's went into decline in the 70s, and by the 90s, two of the floors had closed down. They weren't replaced with offices. No one wanted the space, so they were simply sealed off with everything which had been inside left to rot. This included a 1960s "state of the art" hair salon.

The entire building has now closed down. A sign on the wall tells us that the place is being redeveloped with a grant from the European Union. We turned a corner and a row of down-trodden shops flanking a rotting and boarded-over Victorian picture house also displayed a sign which suggested the area was being regenerated by a European Union grant. I couldn't decide whether the tears I wanted to cry came from a place of anger or pain. I'm proud to say that the Liverpudlians recognised what Europe has done for them and voted to stay in. Unlike the Welsh. Or the Cornish.

A short walk took us to the Cavern Club. My Mum used to go there at lunch time for soup and a sandwich when she lived in the city. These days it's all a little touristy and lacking in atmosphere but it still feels like an important place.

From the Cavern we went down to the Mersey to see the "Three Graces", a triptych of late-19th Century sandstone buildings on the river front which scream to visitors that they have arrived in a world-class city. My Mum actually worked in the Liver Building, which has to be the most beautiful of the three. Scattered around the Three Graces are three far less attractive modern buildings which, I'm told, came first, second and third in a poll to find the worst examples of architecture in the North West. They're known locally as the "Three Disgraces."

We went to Albert Docks, which, of course, became famous as the location where they filmed This Morning with Richard and Judy and where Paul O'Grady's Lily Savage found her first mainstream audience. There was something rather marvellous about the way that Richard and Judy championed her and made it okay for Middle England to like a drag queen whose previous audiences had been reserved for gay bars. I still remember Judy laughing uncontrollably at his antics. Good old Judie.

I was a little disappointed not to find Fred's giant floating weather map of the U.K. in the dock. I don't know how long it lasted as a landmark after the programme transferred to studios in London and took with it another little piece of regional TV programming with a national reach.

Our day ended with a visit to a Liverpudlian gay bar. How could it not? We went down a dark, gritty, grotty, somewhat filmic alley, and found ourselves standing outside a bar with darkened windows, a red neon sign and a black shuttered door which looked about as inviting as a puddle. It was like stepping back into the 90s and the days when gay bars were all in impenetrable-looking buildings hidden from prying eyes. I think poor Josh, who's used to the open "family friendly" vibe of Manchester's Canal Street was terrified about what we might find inside. As it happened we found exactly what I was expecting to find. It was as though we'd stepped back into the 90s. The place was cavernous. There was a bar man and two customers. The Goombay Dance Band singing Seven Tears was playing on the stereo and 1990s erotic films shot on low-definition video cameras were playing on screens around the place. It was astounding! We sank a couple of glasses of coke and headed like the wind for the train station.

What a splendid day! You know, sometimes, when you're a bit depressed, it's a really good idea to take yourself for a day of exploring with a good friend. I'm going to do this more often. I'm also going to sleep like the dead tonight!

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Not Angela Eagle, please

I woke up thinking about the Labour leader today. Those who read this blog will not be surprised to learn that I've been a big fan of Jeremy Corbyn. I like his politics. I like his honesty. I like the old school way he goes about being a politician. I respect his atheism and the fact that he's a vegetarian. I think he's a good man. It has become clear to me, however, that he's not a leader. I was sorely unimpressed by the way he dealt with Brexit. I never once saw him step up to the mark and show his strength. I absolutely appreciate the difficulty of the situation he was in; he'd have to have shouted very loudly indeed to get himself heard by the media, who've largely ignored him since he was elected, but if you're required to shout, shout you must, and unfortunately he came across as weak and complacent instead. I'm not sure I ever saw him as our next PM, but I was looking forward to him being brilliant in opposition just as Kinnock was the perfect foil to the abhorrent Thatcher.

But would Kinnock have stood by and watched the Tories ripping themselves apart without going in for the kill? Not on your nelly! When the shit hit the Conservative Party fan, however, Corbyn seemed to do nothing but shuffle about in the shadows just like Michael Foot in the early 80's, whilst people were desperate for him to offer them a voice of hope.

...And yet he clings on. And I absolutely understand his reasoning. He was given a whopping mandate by the unions and Labour members and there's a lot of support for him in the rank and file from those who respect his integrity. I have seen banners all over North London urging us to get behind him. Scores of Facebook posts are doing the rounds pointing out what a decent socialist he is and how he claims less in expenses than any other MP. All this is true. But does he posses the attributes we require from a leader?

Think about this: Corbyn's election came out of the same stable as the Brexit result. People are tired of politicians caring more about their image than actually making a difference to the world and they have twice now made a protest vote. In the case of Corbyn, this was admirable, but it all goes to absolute shite if half of his "supporters" ignore him and side with UKIP at the first opportunity in order to "punish" him for not listening. Whatever they say, when push comes to shove, the British people demand a leader who is charismatic and thrusting!

Whatever you feel about him, the one thing that is certain is that Corbyn's present behaviour is alienating the majority of his fellow MPs. There's a doggedness, almost an arrogance about the way that he's refusing to engage with them. This worries me greatly. You HAVE to have the backing and confidence of the MPs you're leading or they will make you look foolish at every opportunity. The Labour Party has never needed to be more united and yet, for many reasons, it has never been so divided. This needs to change.

I personally think he should go, but I don't know we have the system to get rid of him or an obvious replacement...

Angela Eagle strikes me as instant canon fodder. As a friend of mine pointed out this morning, "I know absolutely nothing about her except that she looks like a spud." My friend, of course was being flippant, but she hit the nail on the head. If Angela Eagle is the best that the Labour Party can offer, then we're in desperate trouble. She comes across as treacherous, and the British public will be down on that like a tonne of bricks. Furthermore, Eagle is one of those career politicians which everyone hates at the moment. She did a lot of student politics and then worked for a union. She entered Parliament in 1992, so has been around for quite some time, which is why it's quite worrying that she hasn't done or said much to get her head above the parapet. In 2008 she tried to claim that there wasn't an issue with escalating house prices and denied that a recession was on its way, describing those who thought there was of speaking "colourful and lurid fiction." She was highly critical of Gary Barlow's tax affairs (what a thing to get riled about), and highly offended when told to "calm down, dear" by David Cameron. This put down sparked a fairly pointless argument about sexism in politics. And that's about the long and the short of her impact on Westminster politics. Is she a good orator? No. Has she got the charisma and appearance of a party leader? No. Will she take politics back into the arena where a leader does anything they can to stay in power regardless of belief? Probably.

The only thing I actually find interesting about her is her sexuality. I think it might be time for a party leader to be gay, if for no other reason than that she can temper any homophobia coming from the Prime Minister. But that's no real reason to back her. She's just a stalking horse, and Corbyn will win a competition with her hands down.

I was buoyed extensively by Murray's Wimbledon win this afternoon and wondered how a great sportsman like that must feel playing in front of someone like Cameron, who spent the match gurning from the Royal Box, somehow attempting to bask in the glow of the nation he ripped apart. I wondered if I would have stopped the match and simply refused to play in front of him. Then I heard that Cameron was there with his mother and instantly felt guilty for having such aggressive thoughts. That said, if Farage had tipped up to watch me play a match of tennis, I would certainly have made my opinions known...

After the match, and feeling lonely for a second day running whilst Nathan went to another gig, I decided to take myself off to Brother Edward's house. I hadn't seen him and Sascha since we rallied together in Trafalgar Square, so I'm hoping he'll have good news to tell me about the world of international banking post Brexit. I'm not exactly holding my breath!

Highgate Station was closed and I had to take a bus down to Archway. As we sped around Archway Roundabout, I was stunned to see a pile of about three hundred cardboard boxes piled up on the pavement. All of the boxes were filled with clothes, and a group of people were scavenging. It was like something you might expect to find in Inner City LA. I don't know why the boxes were there, but their presence felt a little chilling. A taste of post-Brexit Britain, where the poorest in society are kept alive by soup kitchens and clothes banks. It was a deeply unnerving scene.

I took the tube to Canary Wharf and instantly got lost trying to find my brother's house. It happens every time. The area is in a perpetual state of flux. Roads close. Buildings appear and disappear. You spend hours walking in circles before finally snaking your way around to a road which leads you to where you need to be. Google maps won't help. No one can keep up!

Rant. Ignore.

It's been a depressing day. Nathan was gigging, and I was at home contemplating the fact that I've lost my mojo whilst wondering what Brexit will actually mean for this country, worrying what would happen if the gay-hating Andrea Leadsome became Prime Minister, wishing I had a job, wishing I had the energy to write some music, panicking that if I do write something it will be rubbish, thinking that it doesn't matter anyway because even if I write something brilliant, the economy is collapsing and the first thing that gets cut is the arts. I have started to realise with great horror that talking to people who voted Brexit is like talking to born again Christians: no amount of sense or logic will make them do anything but glaze over and look at me with pity because they know something that I don't know. I sent three documents to one of my Brexit voting friends today. Has she read them and got back to me? Has she fuck! I wonder if any of them are secretly panicking yet. Talk amongst my European lawyer friends suggests that our only ally in Europe, and our only hope for a decent financial deal with Europe on the back of this is (ironically) Germany. The French and Belgians are up for causing us as much trouble as they can. "The Brits were never really in Europe" they rightly say, "they caused a huge amount of bother when they deigned to join us so fuck it, let's punish them." The Calais district of France is run by the National Front, so the moment we come out of Europe, the very first thing we can expect to happen is for them to provide boats for all the migrants in Calais to come to the UK, so, for the first time in God knows how long, we shall have camps of migrants living on UK soil. Ireland is fucked because of the sheer amount of trade it does with the U.K. In order to keep global businesses on British soil, domestic taxes will rise. The poor will get poorer and they'll turn to fringe right wing parties. There will be class war. A civil war perhaps. A world war when someone steps in to stop the march of fascism, except the good guys won't be be UK this time round. We'll be the ones invading Ireland or using violence to force the Scots to remain in the Union. On and on it goes. The shock waves reverberate and yet still the Brexit voters seem incapable of breaking into a sweat. Perfectly placid. Self-righteous. Telling the thinkers of this world that they're bad losers. Accusing us of not understanding the concept of democracy. It's like it's a giant game. You can see them laughing smugly to themselves, "we really whipped their arses this time, didn't we?" And of course they're behaving like that: For way too long, public voting in this country has been about who your favourite wannabe celebrity is, rather than anything serious, so we've got used to using our votes to punish people like Simon Cowell when they're not humble enough or they get too big for their boots. We vote for the shittiest act, or go out and buy a terrible single just so the underdog charity act can make it to the Christmas number one. I hate it. I hate being British right now. I hate feeling so small in the world. I hate feeling like a laughing stock. I hate feeling mediocre. I plainly have nothing constructive to write, so I will sign off before my head explodes in a bag of self pity.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Snogging on The Archers

I switched the radio on today to hear people snogging on The Archers. They were making loud, wet, slurpy sounds which made me feel quite queasy. I imagined the poor actors laughing embarrassedly whilst kissing the backs of their hands, or whatever it is that radio actors do when the script tells them to make out. I assume there wouldn't be much point in actually kissing for the sound effect. It reminded me just how awful radio drama is! It's so awful that it can only be compared to itself. It's very possible to say "that was really good" but you actually mean, "that was really good... For a radio drama" which, of course, means "that was really shit." The delivery of the lines in radio drama is always so stilted and RADAesque and it's always so utterly formulaic. It's like it's not been subjected to the same degree of innovation as other art forms and has remained in its own bubble since the 1970s.

I worked at the kitchen table today, dangerously close to the giant bottle of PVA glue I'd used for crafting with Deia yesterday. I discovered rather swiftly that it felt quite good to smear a bit of the glue onto my hand, wait for it to dry and then peel it off. For the record it comes off in satisfyingly large clumps, all of which had the image of the lines on my palms on them. I haven't had that much fun with glue since Copydex! It gave me some good thinking time whilst working on lyrics.

This evening I took the tube down to Tottenham Court Road where I met Nathan at the ticket barriers before continuing down the Northern Line to Clapham North. We'd been invited to be photographed for an art project called Sing Out, which involves a chap called Gaz taking pictures of members of the LGBT community who work within the West End theatre industry. We all have to sing in the photos. Heaven knows how I look when I sing. Probably like some kind of deeply self-conscious toad. It's a good job we did it before Nathan has one of his back teeth removed. Ah joy! We'll look at the photo and I'll be able to say, "that was taken in the days when you had teeth!"

I guess I'm quite lucky on the teeth front. Despite only having 26 of them, due to their enormity, they have maintained a good ivory colour, haven't gone rotten and haven't stained like many of my friends' teeth seem to have. That's probably because I don't drink red wine or coffee. I am astonished by how many of my friends allow their teeth to get dirty around the edges. A quick trip to the hygienist and everything looks wonderful again!

Anyway, the photo shoot happened around the corner from the Landor theatre, in a really beautiful, slightly gothic, Victorian street. Gaz was a lot of fun, and instantly put us both at our ease. Nathan sang The Prayer (beautifully) and I sang Shone With The Sun as a tribute to Arnold. I kept changing key like a right old passenger and felt like a tit when I started forgetting the words. I guess the joy about stills photography is that it doesn't matter if you get the words wrong. They say the camera never lies, but actually, when it comes to documenting live performance, I think it often does just that! When you see pictures of Florence Foster Jenkins, you can't tell that she was singing really badly. An actress might forget all her words and a photograph might show her throwing a tantrum as a result, but it will still make her look like a Grande Dame! When I show people images from the theatre shows I've directed, they only have my word for it that the show ever happened, and that the photographs weren't just set ups. There was a legendary Bauhaus initiative called the Triadic Ballet, which purported to be an actual ballet performed by people in astonishingly geometric costumes dancing against backdrops of lemon, pink and black. Music was by Hindemith. There are all sorts of amazing photographs of people standing in the costumes. They look incredibly cool and have cemented the ballet's iconic status. I bet the show itself was pretty dreadful!

The Triadic Ballet
The woman opposite me on the tube today sounded like Daffy Duck. I didn't know where to look, particularly when she took a bottle of wine out of her bag, started necking it and then tried to engage everyone in the carriage in a conversation about the fact that she was necking a bottle of wine. She looked like the sort who could turn nasty in a flash, so we all humoured her. And no one told her she looked like Daffy Duck. Except with our eyes.