Monday, 31 October 2016

NYMT 40th

A very proud man went to sleep last night after watching the cast of Brass absolutely acing it at the NYMT's 40th anniversary West End gala. The show happened at the Adelphi theatre and I'd written a special medley version of Barnbow Lassies and You'll Always Have a Friend. Because I couldn't help myself, I added a little chorus of Billy Whistle at the end. I was glad I'd thrown a blast of that particular song into the mix because, as the melody started up, the couple sitting in front of me exchanged approving glances in that "ooh, we like this one don't we" sort of way.

The cast performed wonderfully well, the segment went down a storm with a riotous audience response, and I felt like the proudest Dad in the world, in fact I got really emotional. I hadn't been in any of the rehearsals so was touched and thrilled to see that nearly every single one of this year's Hackney Empire cast had turned up to be part of the occasion. Even the actors who weren't on stage when the two songs happened in the actual show had learned the choreography and were giving it everything. The entire cast shone. Literally glowed like little beacons of light. Total professionals.

I realised last night how blessed I feel to have had my show performed by two remarkable casts. Genuinely special young people. I walked away from the evening feeling sure that, in ten years time, at the NYMT's 50th celebration, it would be members of the two Brass companies who would be famous actors sending messages of support to the NYMT from theatres and film sets around the world. What a fabulous thought.

I'd written a little brass fanfare to kick the show off, which didn't quite seem to go to plan. One of the trumpeters was missing from the line up, some of the players were a bit nervy and the decision to place four of the trumpeters in the royal boxes lead to everything getting a bit out of time and imbalanced volume-wise, which was a slight shame. But it was what it was, and I was proud to be having a premiere of sorts. 

It was a proper misty, moisty day in North London yesterday. I think someone must have told nature that the clocks had gone back because we got a thoroughly Autumnal Hallowe'enesque display. There were spiders' webs almost everywhere with dew dripping from them like precious jewels. It's the time of year when the giant the spiders appear. I love spiders. Nathan and I encourage them as much as we can. They catch and eat all the horrible creatures that we hate.

We walked up to my new favourite cafe in the grounds of Alexandra Palace, the one where they play opera music really loudly. The mist was thick, and had wrapped itself around all the trees in the park like ghostly grey chiffon scarves. I had a toastie and Nathan had pumpkin soup, which he proudly ate whilst wearing his hand-knitted pumpkin hat.

The mist makes everything seem that little bit more significant and mystical somehow. Sitting on one of the dustbins in the park was a piñata in the shape of a dog. On a normal day, I might have merely assumed someone had had a Hallowe'en party for children and thrown the piñata away afterwards, but in all that mist, it took on a sinister, somewhat supernatural quality. Like someone had left it there as a warning of some sort!

The other thing about foggy days is that sound travels in very unusual ways. There was a classic sports car show going on at the Palace, and periodically, we'd hear the sound of a roaring engine shooting out of the gloom. Somewhere else - probably at least a mile away - a rugby game was happening. The sound was so clear, however, that the match could have been happening just the other side of the trees.

We met Brother Edward, Sascha and the parents in town for a bite to eat before the show. The mist had cleared a little and there was a pink, smokey sunset which gave central London a sort of New Yorky vibe. A great day.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

A Constable

I dropped Nathan off at a party in Walthamstow this afternoon and realised, as I drove away, that I was less than half an hour away from my parents'. So I drove up to Thaxted for a lovely lunch of soup, bread and pickles, and the most wonderful walk across the fields.

The light was absolutely magical. It was almost as though we were walking about in a Constable painting. The sun was shining, but the sky was pretty much every colour from white through cornflower blue into brown. The trees looked spectacular. Reds, oranges, silver green and, in one instance, pure gold.

The freshly ploughed fields were entirely covered in a gossamer layer of delicate spiders' webs which caught the sunlight and glowed like little threads of silver. I have seldom seen something more beautiful.

It's not rained in Thaxted for months. We're often reminded of some crazy statistic about East Anglia being randomly drier than the Sahara Dessert. In the same breath we're often also told that if you stood on a hill in Thaxted and face East, the next highest point your eyes would theoretically rest upon (if they could see that far) would be the Ural Mountains. Or something like that. Anyway, the lack of rain means the little river that we always follow around the edge of the fields has entirely dried up. I can't imagine what must have happened to the fish. Do they have a sixth sense about this sort of thing and clear off downstream when the waters start to vanish? Or do they drown on the dusty river bed? These things bother me.

Because of the lack of rain, the fallen autumn leaves were entirely brittle, and crunched and crackled under our feet as we walked. It was such a pleasure to be out and about. And I met a dog called Brangelina which has to be the strangest name I've ever heard being shouted across a field!

This evening we went to Llio's house to get the heating on and fill her house with flowers and home made cakes to welcome her and Silvia back to London after their awful, awful two weeks. I simply can't imagine how they must be feeling or even why they're still standing right now.


I took it a bit easy yesterday, and only really cranked myself into gear at about midday, when I continued to work my way through Em, focussing on writing a lyric to a song called Delusion and diving deep into the dialogue of an old Irish woman who plays quite an important role in the piece. I'm a little out of depth when it comes to the linguistic authenticity of quite a number of the characters in the show. I'm particularly struggling with the Liverpool dialect. With Brass, the Yorkshire accent, its phrases and rhythms, came easy to me. I've been around Yorkshire folk regularly since I went to university and can do a passable accent when, as I like to do when writing, I speak the words aloud to myself. People in cafes must think I'm insane as I mutter away. I've learned to cover my mouth, but that must look just as bonkers. Anyway, I can't do a Liverpudlian accent, and can't get my head around Scouseisms, so I'm having to work very hard at getting that feeling authentic.

Nathan finished work earlier than usual last night, so we took ourselves off to the pizza shop for some of the ingredients we needed for an evening in front of the telly. I'm not sure what happened to the time. I made a fridge cake to welcome Llio back to London and Nathan spent the night trying to upload one of his podcasts so telly didn't really happen. The quality of our Broadband is astoundingly poor. We complain to Talk Talk on a three-monthly basis. Uploading is almost impossible because every time our unstable connection drops offline, the uploading fails and everything needs to start again. Nathan's hour-long podcasts take upwards of 12 hours to upload at the best of times, which expand into days when we drop off line.

We have signed up for high speed broadband, so are hoping, when that arrives in a couple of weeks, the problem will be solved, but the poor quality of what we have at the moment has been the cause of a disproportionate amount of frustration and misery.

Nathan went to bed early and I sat up watching clips of Dusty Springfield and Petula Clarke singing live at the BBC. Before I knew it I'd fallen asleep on the sofa and then, all of a sudden, it was dawn.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Your Westbound train

I learned today that Zsa Zsa Gabor is still alive. She's either 98 or 99. No one seems to know. That's surely a fascinating fact? She belongs to an entirely different world; that era of 1940s Hollywood glamour, which I was entirely sure was gone from this world. I wonder how many other people like that are still alive. I always find myself feeling quite surprised that Ken Dodd is still with us. Windsor Davies is also still alive. Celebrities like that often retire and then fade entirely from view, only really reemerging in public consciousness when they finally cark it.

I helped out at a quiz tonight which was organised by my mate Ted's girlfriend, Gersende. I was thrilled when I arrived and saw that Ted himself had come along. It was an enormous quiz with close to thirty individual teams, so the marking was something of a scramble. We got there... just! The adrenaline rush you get when thirty answer sheets are dumped on your desk is pretty intense. You need to be incredibly focussed for quite a lengthy period of time. I can now mark a paper in under ten seconds.

I'm rather pleased to say that Ted's team won (with absolutely no help from me.) 

At Embankment tube, I overheard a very strange conversation, the like of which you might only expect to hear on The Fast Show. I, myself, am pretty good when it comes to converting very ordinary sentences into double entendres, but this was something else! An announcement came over the tannoy: "Please be sure to use your Oyster card when touching in and out" at which point the bloke in front of me turned to his friend and said (in a low gruff voice), "I'll touch you in and out." Genius!

Something which has started to irritate me, linguistically speaking, is when people say "your" when they mean "the." I think it's an attempt to make things seem chummy and customer friendly, but it irritates me. Today, whilst waiting at Embankment tube, a man's voice came on the tannoy to announce: "The next train on platform two is your Westbound train to Richmond." Firstly, the train doesn't belong to me, and secondly, the Richmond train might not be the one I'm hoping to catch. What if I wanted to take the Eastbound train? Or the train to Ealing Broadway? No, no, no, no, no. Calling it "your" train is an absolute nonsense, which this grammar Nazi finds wholly unacceptable.

Giant confetti

Autumn is very definitely upon us. I walked back home from the village this morning and the leaves around me were falling like giant pieces of confetti. I have a somewhat tragic tendency to romanticise and humanise the process of leaves falling from trees. Does a leaf give a little leafy cheer when he or she leaps from the tree into the great unknown? Do the other leaves think the early fallers are brave trailblazers or terrible weaklings?

It will be some time before the tree in our garden starts to shed. It's always the last to announce spring, but that means it stays fully clothed into December.

I had one of those brilliant emails today that you sometimes get from big organisations. This one was from the National Theatre thanking me for submitting Brass to them. (I haven't submitted it to them. I sent them the CD, but they don't have the script.) The word Brass, however, was never mentioned in their communication, the email simply referred to it as my "play." They informed me that if I hadn't heard back from them within six months, I was to assume my "play" hadn't been taken forward. The email took pains to remind me that the National Theatre was not always the best place for young and emerging playwrights to submit their works and suggested I might also like to try the Royal Court, Soho Theatre or Bush Theatre.

Obviously I suppressed the desire to write back pointing out that Brass wasn't a play, that I (at 42) probably wouldn't be classed as an emerging writer, and that the Royal Court would probably scoff loudly if a First World War epic musical landed in their inbox. I'd far rather not have received the email to be honest. At least then I might have been able to kid myself that the CD I sent to them would be listened to - rather than read like a script!

I suppose nothing will ever beat the "Dear Sir" letter I once received from the producers of Billy Elliot. I had applied to take over as the resident director on the show and they'd taken me seriously enough to organise an interview with Stephen Daldry himself and a whole heap of other important people. The interview lasted three hours and I felt it went really well... Until I received the letter:

"Dear Mr Till. Thank you for your interest in the above position. I'm sorry we weren't able to offer you an interview on this occasion. The standard of application was really high. Good luck in your future endeavours."

This afternoon Nathan and I went to Llio's house to meet a locksmith. In the process of leaving her house last Sunday, she managed to lock herself out. The process of getting back in was remarkably easy. The guy took all of three seconds to stick a crazy metal stick through the letter box and turn the handle from the inside. It was rather odd to be back at Llio's, a week and a couple of days since that brutal moment when the phone rang with the awful news. The house felt still. Sad somehow. I watered the plants, threw food away that was thinking about going off and left with eight rather brown bananas which we turned into two cakes for the final of the Great British Bake Off.

One of the contestants put cardamon in a cake, which prompted Nathan to come out with a brilliant one liner: "there's not a cake in the world with cardamon in it that wouldn't be improved by taking it out again!" How right he is! I won't say who won, in case you haven't yet watched it, although the BBC helpfully trailed it on the news. I cried a little at the end when they announced that the two female finalists had taken themselves on a baking road trip together. Quite why the idea of two women becoming close friends as a result of Bake Off touched me so much, I'm not sure. I just really like it when people become good friends.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Child Mecca

Why am I a Mecca for children? I worked today at Jackson's Lane community centre and found myself a quiet seat away from noise. Half an hour later I was surrounded. Literally surrounded, I'd say, by fifty children and as many parents. They were all excitedly queuing to get into the theatre space. From what I could gather, most were having a major sugar rush. I had to push my way through them all to escape. It was miserable.

The rest of the day was spent working on Em. I cut a song. I developed another. I worked on the script. It feels like it's coming together slowly. I'm happy with what I'm writing but I wish I had a job, and my lack of job is really beginning to effect the way I write. Very soon I'm going to head off to the Job Centre, throw myself at their mercy and tell them I'm happy to do anything, literally anything that pays. Actually, doing something a little mindless for a time might be good for me. I wonder if I could become a postman for Christmas? My Dad used to do that...

I judged a film music competition today. I was actually really disappointed with all but one of the entries. Thankfully, the one I liked was more than excellent, and a worthy winner by anyone's standards, else I would have been forced to refuse to judge them. I don't think things should win awards just by dint of the fact that they're the only entrant.

I remember going to watch one particularly awful show with an Olivier Award judge. It was truly terrible to the point that it actually made me feel very angry. It was one of those juke box shows and to make matters worse, it looked really cheap and was incredibly badly performed. Anyway, it ended up with a nomination literally because it was one of only four new musicals which had opened in London that year. They put the words "Olivier nominated" all over their posters, and I could have spat blood. That was a low point for British musical theatre!

There's not a lot else to say about today. We went to the gym and I realised that the best part of going there is the moment when you plunge your face for the first time underneath a hot shower after working out.

I worked fairly late into the night. I was up in the loft at 11pm writing gospel music whilst Nathan went to his knitting group. He brought me back a piece of pear upside down cake. Well lush!

Monday, 24 October 2016

The hairy lad at school

Has anyone seen the advert for Asda on the telly at the moment? The one about the werewolves? Do people even watch adverts these days? Anyway, I'm not one for understanding levels of subtlety, but I believe the premise of the advert is that there's a vey hairy family - probably a family of werewolves - and one of them says "I don't want to be a werewolf for Hallowe'en." Does this mean Hallowe'en is the only time this family gets to be themselves because they're all so hairy? Or because they actually ARE werewolves and Hallowe'en is the only time they can go out in public? Whatever the case, they go shopping for costumes at Asda and the lad selects something very odd and tells his Mum he's now some sort of ninja. He looks at his Mum rather tragically at the end and says "are all Ninjas hairy like me?" His Mum, who is also hairy, says "only the most beautiful ones like you." And the lad smiles proudly.

It's a terrible advert really, but it makes me feel a little sad, and for ages I couldn't work out why this was until it struck me that I had been that hairy lad at school! I hated being hairy so much. The kids in my class seemed to think it was hysterical, and I got called every name under the sun to the extent that I once tried to shave my feet after the games teacher sent me back into the showers after rugby because he thought the hair on my legs was mud! I was twelve. He made me strip off in front of all my class. At that point people started calling me "gorilla boy."

It's funny how you suck all that stuff in without realising. I've always been a little ashamed of my hirsuteness and, in a funny sort of way, that awful Asda advert has made me realise why!

I walked up to the village today to write in Costa Coffee. I'm focusing on another pass of the script and lyrics of Em this week for a potential early-doors read through at the start of November. I'm never particularly sure that read throughs tell a writer a great deal that he don't already know about a script. Unless those participating are brilliant sight readers, you never get a sense of the pace of what you've written and that experience can be quite frustrating.

Speaking of frustrating, the atmosphere in Costa was really rather lovely until the place became a crèche! Babies, toddlers and Mummies with babies and toddlers can be terribly noisy and incredibly boring. One little girl decided it might be fun to emit a scream, which, like an air raid siren on helium, got higher and louder in an ear-splitting, violence-inducing manner. It went on so long that I was half tempted to chuck an oboe in her gob and compliment her on her breath control. I left the cafe an hour earlier than expected and walked home down the hill, following a woman who either had rickets or had spent rather too much time in her life sitting on horses.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

One year at sea and still no sign of Dick

Nathan and I are driving across London from Southwark, where we've been watching Moby Dick at the Union Theatre. And what a funny, silly, irreverent piece it is! I believe it was first performed 25 years ago at the Old Fire Station in Oxford, and then, for a tragically short period, in the West End. Nathan was an über fan, back in the day, and says, as a teenager, he saw the Oxford production as many as four times. 

The conceit of the musical version of this most famous of famous books is that a St Trinian'seque girls' school is putting on their own production with the head mistress playing Ahab, and various students, caretakers and teachers playing the other roles. In this respect it was rather reminiscent of Big Book For Girls, the show we performed for two years at the Edinburgh Festival in the early 90's. I assume there was something in the air at the time which made these silly school romps rather successful. Maybe it was a sort of counterbalance to the heavy anger of shows like Trainspotting which were also big news back then.

Anyway, today's was a lovely production which must have been incredible fun in rehearsals. There was more than a whiff of coarse about it and everyone was gloriously over the top to the extent that I was somewhat worried about the vocal health of a couple of the performers. Some of the little touches were hysterical. The set and all the props were made out of the sorts of things you'd get in a school hall; a vaulting horse, a climbing frame, various balls, bean bags, ropes and, most amusingly, an overhead projector, which was used to exquisite comic effect. At one stage, a giant blue cloth was used to represent the sea. It was painted with the words Wind In The Willows - plainly last year's school production. If you like all that campy, silly stuff (which I do) it's well worth a watch!

Never stay in a Budget Ibis

The Ibis Budget hotel in Leeds has to be one of the worst I've ever stayed in. I spent the night grappling with its internet service which kept dropping off line. Every time it conked out, it took me twenty minutes to get back online again. All I wanted to do was watch something on iPlayer. I'll put up with a lot for the sake of staying in a budget hotel. No chair? Okay, I'll sit on the bed. TV won't go louder than a whisper? I'll close the window and listen carefully. No kettle? I'll drink water from the tap. No bath to relax in and shower cubical so small I can't really fit in? I'll make do, and out of a sense of propriety will mop up the water from the floor which has spilled out because the cubical isn't big enough to contain the spray from the shower nozzle - even with the door shut. The thing I struggle to deal with, however, is the promise of internet which is perpetually broken. I'd almost rather no internet at all because then I don't invest in the fantasy of enjoying a TV programme of my choice.

My trip down to the foyer yesterday morning told me everything I needed to know about the clientele of the hotel. The lift doors opened at the 6th floor to the sight of a hand towel encrusted with fecal matter lying on the carpet. It wasn't attached to anything or anyone, and, until a human being appeared from around the corner, I was beginning to wonder whether said towel was making a bid for freedom and had pressed the button for the lift itself! 

Turns out the lift had been called by a Scottish gentleman who was only wearing a pair of boxer shorts. I assumed he'd been locked out of his room in some sort of horrifying argument with his misses. He looked at me and immediately apologised. "I need to buy some water" he said. "Can't you drink the water from the tap in your room?" I asked. He looked at me as though I'd asked him to perform a lewd sex act. "You can't drink water from those taps." I wanted to say, "but you're okay going down to reception wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts?" But thought better of it. The poor bloke was plainly still drunk. The Ibis budget hotel is obviously where you stay when you're out on the lash with the lads. I've seldom felt so old. Next time I'll pay an extra tenner and stay in a Travelodge.

When I arrived at the train station I decided to eat breakfast in Upper Crust. I quite like the baguettes they make there. What I don't like is their ludicrous policy which instructs staff to respond to the question "can I have a tea please?" with "what size would you like? Medium or large?" There is, of course, the option of a small tea, which costs less, but you're deliberately not offered that. Cynical and money-grabbing in the extreme. The practice has been going on for years, and I've written about it in this blog in the past. I challenged the woman behind the counter. She giggled nervously. Rumbled.

I took the train from Leeds to Liverpool, and it was rammed with people. There were only three carriages and people were standing in the aisles. I'd booked a seat but ended up hemmed in by a woman who decided it was appropriate for her eight-year old son to sit on her lap which made me so claustrophobic I started to panic. I managed to lose myself in the glorious countryside outside. Those tall chimneys and dark mill buildings in towns like Hebden Bridge. The trees, just on the turn, glowing like rusty metal in the sunlight. The hillsides mauve with bracken and heather.

And then suddenly I was jolted back into realty by the sight of a globule of lime green snot hanging out of the girl's nose opposite. I mean, how does that happen? I was unable to stop myself from looking at it. It was like some sort of verdant road crash.

It was Nathan's Mum's actual 70th birthday yesterday, which is why I was traveling west. I met Nathan in Liverpool, where he's been working on a corporate show all week. We sat down for a quick dose of Italian food for lunch and that's when I realised I'd managed to leave Nathan's Mum's present on the train, having taken it all the way up to Leeds and worried over it for the past 24 hours. Ironically, I knew I was going to leave it somewhere. It wouldn't fit into my suitcase, so I was carrying it about in a Sainsbury's bag. I even texted Nathan on my way up to Leeds to tell him not to be angry with me if I lost it. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophesy!

We went back to the station, hoping against hope that someone might have handed it in, so imagine our shock and joy when we discovered it at the lost and found. It hadn't yet been processed, so the lovely man gave it to us without charging us a fee... (and yes, I was a bit surprised to find that it now costs £5 to pick up an item of lost property in a train station!)

We drove from Liverpool to Nathan's sister's in Cheshire where his family had gathered, not just to celebrate Celia's 70th, but also to celebrate her great-grand daughter's 4th birthday. There was a barbecue, cake, pasta salad and much laughter. Sam and Julius now have four chickens. Two camp fluffy ones and two normal-shaped but fancy-coloured specimens. Chickens are horrible, skittish things. I held one. It felt like wooden sticks which had been tarred and feathered by an angry mob. I hope they lay decent eggs.

I spent the afternoon trying to delete more emails from my phone but not managing to free up any space. It turns out there were 30,000 emails on my server. 30,000! Bonkers! I got rid of almost all of them, but kept the most recent ones from Arnold Wesker, which, as he got less steady had become shorter and pithier: "Happy New Year. Good luck with Brass - I'm in need of royalties from somewhere... anywhere!" "When you ask how V is, are you asking if she's still alive?" "I don't think I know Raymond Briggs. Are you sure he's not dead?"

We got home and watched Bake Off.

Saturday, 22 October 2016


I'm in Leeds. It's nearly midnight and I've ordered a pizza to eat in my room. Alone. Mega decadent!

I came up here with Carol and Julie to watch Chris Ash' Wasted at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It was essentially the presentation of a work in progress. The first half was semi-staged, and the second was a little freer. The show is mostly written, and will probably go through a few more drafts before it hits the stage for a proper run, but my GOD it was good. 

It tells the story of the Brontë siblings, which sounds twee and a bit naff, but it's told in angry rock music. It's alluring, daring, intriguing, jarring, stirring, moving, evocative. The music is actually brilliant. It's restless, continually changing tempo and key. Some of it was breathtakingly beautiful. Emily Brontë is portrayed as a sort of gothic-cum-flower child. Her big number in Act II was written as a sort of Indian raga. It was delicate and touching. The next moment the four siblings are stamping their feet and head-banging like the cast of Spring Awakening on acid. This show has to be seen. It has to be developed. It is as innovative a British musical as London Road... The only succinct thing I can think of to say about how good it is, is that it's made me want to raise my own game as a writer. It is rare that a work of musical theatre has that effect on me.

It's good to be in Leeds again. The hotel's a bit shit. In fact, I had to change rooms because the first room they put me in literally smelt of shit! But the view from my room is spectacular. I can see for miles; from the River Aire right up to Headingley. I'm on the eighth floor, so the cars circling on the roads below me look like tiny lit up Tonka Toys.

We got here just after lunch and slowly made our way to the Corn Exchange, which looks like it's finally found its feet. I've popped into that building on many occasions over the last ten years, and it's always been a beautiful empty chasm. Today it was bustling. There's a lovely cafe in the middle and lots of interesting shops in the little rooms around the edge including quite a number which are obviously catering to Leeds' metrosexual men. There's a painfully trendy barbers', a drum shop, a guitar emporium and a tattoo parlour. All the men passing through the building seemed to be incredibly hipster-like wth spectacular hair... and designer tats!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Deleting emails

I spent the whole of yesterday trying to delete stuff from my iPhone which is now officially full. The main culprit seems to be my emails. I have 11,000 of them, which seem to be occupying about a third of the available data space! Please don't judge me! I'm just rubbish at deleting stuff. The big issue is that, for some reason, and don't waste your brain energy trying to work out why, I can't actually delete emails on the first go. I delete 200, they immediately return to my inbox, I delete them again, and only then do most of them actually vanish. Not all of them, of course. Just most. It's terribly depressing!

Was it yesterday that I went to see my new agent? I have a new agent. Her name is Kate. She's lovely.
I really don't know what I've done at any time this week. I'm still in a bit of a fuddle. Life feels a bit hazy at the moment. I'd love to spend a week underneath a duvet or something. I think I'm suffering from exhaustion, or one of those illnesses I'd be able to take time off work to counteract if I weren't a freelancer. If freelancers get depression, or, in fact ill in any way, we don't get paid. End of. The doctor tells us we need to take time off work. She offers to write us a letter. That's lovely, but who would we hand the letter to? We have to plough on. So plough on we do...

So, after spending half a day deleting emails, I spent the rest of the day composing. I have written a big old opening brass Fanfare for the NYMT's West End Gala at the end of the month, and was putting a few cuts into that. I was also working on a song from Em. It sort of doesn't matter what I was doing. It's been a horrible week: one which I will be pleased to see the back of.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Sad poster

I saw a poster advertising a collection at the Imperial War Museum on the tube today which just about finished me off. The advert was very simple, and showed a photograph of a 100-year old calling card which had obviously been posted by some sort of door-to-door salesman. The poster was headed with the words: "An ex-serviceman carried me when he no longer carried a rifle and the nation's hopes."

The card was worded as follows: 

"Unemployed ex-soldier.

Sweet lavender and white rose. Fragrant and lasting.

Price: 2d per packet

Protect your clothes and linen from moths etc by keeping this packet in your drawer or wardrobe

I get no help from the Labour Exchange. I have served in China, Egypt and Malta and have a wife and four young children to provide for.

I will call later hoping you will patronize a deserving cause."

I don't see the need to write anything else today.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

British musical theatre must be better

I proved to myself that I shouldn't have left the house today by first taking the wrong branch on the Northern Line and not noticing until I'd travelled three stops out of my way, and then, in an attempt to remedy my mistake, going in the wrong direction on the Central Line. The packed tubes I encountered at every stage made me apoplectic with rage. 

I am just not in my right mind. Not at all. My heart is breaking for Llio and Silvia and I'm mentally and physically spent.

I read in the Metro today that Cliff Richard has been speaking to the House of Lords to recommend a change in the law stating that accused sex offenders can only be named after they're actually convicted of a crime, which is something I categorically and wholeheartedly agree with. We live in a ludicrous world where any Tom, Dick or Harriet can accuse someone of something untoward whilst hiding behind a screen of complete anonymity. A famous person, particularly, ends up with absolutely no hope of a fair result, once the brutal trial-by-media has kicked in. Take the Ched Evans case. He gets shafted, goes to jail for the best part of three years, emerges a social pariah, and, when the case is overturned, an appeal goes out to raise £25k so that his false accuser can move to Australia and continue to live an anonymous existence. It makes me livid. It makes me want to spit blood. And yes, I am convinced that the same would not be the case if the wild majority of people accused of sex crimes were women.

I get that there are still glass ceilings in this world, and terrible examples of misogyny and violence against women, but unless we acknowledge that it's not always that easy to be a man, we'll never be able to properly address the true meaning of equality.

This evening, after meeting the lovely Josh for the fastest of pots of teas at Soho Theatre, I went to a second platform of new musical theatre writing at Shuttleworths. I'll be brutally honest and say very little of it really floated my boat. Some of the writers showed promise. Some of the music by American writers particularly was actually very accomplished. Michelle's songs shone brightly, but the overarching sense was one of great laziness. Christ, I write a song, then re-write it, then put it in a drawer and then come back to it to see if it's any good, and I heard song after song tonight which felt like it had been written on the back of a Cornflakes packet. I consider lyric writing to be the area of my writing which needs the most work, so, to quote Arnold Wesker, "I worry at it, hone what I write..." until it feels good enough. Until it's the best that I can write. There were some dreadful lyrics this evening and I was left wondering how many writers could genuinely say they'd done their best. Anything other than your absolute is simply not good enough.

But the thing that made me most angry were the two girls who popped up on stage in the second act, performing a huge chunk of a Footlights-style "comedy" revue, minus the political bite or daring parody. It reminded me of the stuff I run a mile from at the Edinburgh Festival, namely people "doing" funny rather than actually being funny. Up until that point, the most songs performed by a single group by a single writer had been four. These girls did seven songs, even though only four were written down in the programme. To add insult to injury, at this NEW writer's cabaret, a great big chunk of their material wasn't original. They ended with a five-minute rendition of Liza Minelli's Ring Them Bells, which I found almost insulting within the context of the evening to the extent that I worried a lot of the younger writers in the room wouldn't even know the song was an old standard, and might become despondent thinking they'd never be able to write something which matched its quality. The two girls were charming and the pianist was brilliant, but a revusical filled with clumsily re-written standards was absolutely not what the evening was about. At one point they burst into Taylor the Latte Boy and my heart sank! On and on it went. Grossly arrogant and mis-pitched.

British musical theatre needs to be better than this. I ought to go to these events and instantly feel the need to raise my game. Instead, tonight, I sat there wondering if people listening to my songs have the same angry responses.

...And if I have to hear another singer pronouncing her d's like t's I'll go insane! The words are bed, head, land... not bet, hett and lant! Estuary English has a lot to answer for!

Rant over!

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Back to London

I am definitely suffering from a general lack of sleep. My voice is distinctly baritonal this morning and I have a little tickle at the back of my throat which is plainly my body giving me a warning...

The days are melding into one. In a few days time, when I'm asked what happened when, I'll probably not be able to answer. Rolling about in the background is a feeling of absolute, desperate sadness for Llio and her Mum, Silvia who lost their wonderful Andras on Sunday. Because they've both gone public with the news on Facebook, I'm able to say that this was the reason for our middle of the night dash to Cardiff on Sunday. Relaying the details of the trip here would feel mawkish and intrusive. Suffice to say it was devastating, brutal and surreal. And my thoughts are permanently with them both. That's all I want to say.

We stayed in a Travelodge on Atlantic Wharf and departed for London after breakfast, feeling awful that we were somehow driving away from the horror that Llio and Silvia were still in the thick of. I drove. The roads were smooth. We saw a rainbow. The traffic was snarled up where the M40 meets the North Circular. Always the way. You do an epic journey and let your guard down because you're nearly home, and then, bang, the traffic punishes you. I got home, had a bath, had some food and had a cry.

We both had appointments in the afternoon. I was meeting Rosie to go through our song for the new writers' cabaret last night and Nathan was due to drive to Fulham and then on to Liverpool where he'll be staying for the week to do some work.

The cabaret went well. I was somewhat spaced out: a combination of exhaustion and emotional overwroughtness (if that's even a word.) I forgot the notes I was meant to be playing at one point, and couldn't find any flow to what I was doing, which brought on the nerves, but the song went down a storm. Rosie sang beautifully and charmed the room. The other songs were great as well, including one from a pair of young girls from Northern Ireland, which showed a huge amount of authenticity and promise. I get a bit of a bee in my bonnet sometimes about length. Musical theatre songs need to keep charging to hold the interest of an audience and a song often goes from bad to good when two minutes are cut from its length.

We hung about at Shuttleworths afterwards, eating pizza, drinking and chatting. Eamonn O'Dwyer appeared. It was good to see him.

Rosie stayed over and slept in the sitting room. And here we are. She's left for work. I'm home alone for the first time in what seems like an age. I shan't be doing much today.

Sunday, 16 October 2016


It's difficult to know what to say about today. I'm currently on my way to Cardiff, driving a very dear friend to her Mum's house. We weren't quite expecting the day to end like this, but the world is full of surprises, and, as I told my friend, you don't have to ask me twice to visit Wales! I'd go there at the drop of a hat.

Today started a little too early for my liking. Saturday was long, charming and full of love and friendship. It was craft and cake in Catford, and all sorts of lovely people were there. We picked Little Michelle up from Finsbury Park on our way down.

The food was sensational. Julie had made the elixir of life in the form of brownies filled with apricots and some kind of decadent chocolate sauce smeared all over the top which gave me the mother of all rushes, particularly when I discovered the combination of said brownies with a little spoonful of Julie's home made raspberry, tayberry and goodness-knows-what-else-berry jam. It was heavenly. Insanely so.

Aside from Julie, Sam, Michelle, Nathan and me, we were also graced with the wonderful presence of Tina, Abbie and Uncle Bill.

In the evening, Little Michelle, Uncle Bill, Nathan and I surged through ghastly traffic jams and rain storms to North London, where we ate Indian food and watched Strictly until very late. In fact, as we walked down to the Indian takeaway, Uncle Bill said it was already past her normal bedtime!

Little Michelle's Ben came to collect her at 11 or so, and joined us for chatter and the leftovers of the Indian food.

Before we knew it, it was 2am...

And then, before I knew it, it was 9am, and Nathan was getting up to head to Angel to run a knitting class. Nathan is becoming quite the celebrity knitter. He's been asked to run three classes at the Edinburgh yarn festival in February. The classes went on sale at 2pm yesterday and sold out in twenty minutes. He's the Take That of the knitting world!

Uncle Bill stayed the night, and we ate eggs and then walked through the woods and along the Parkland Walk up to Alexandra Palace. I still find it astonishing that you can walk the two miles from my house to Ali Pali without having to walk along a single road! I'm so lucky to live in North London.

I discovered a new cafe in the middle of Alexandra Palace Park. It's such a lovely little spot, surrounded by trees. It's not much more than a shack, really, but there are a few little chairs and tables under a veranda outside. The place is run by Italians and they play opera music, really loudly, which the cook joins in with, singing along at the tops of his lungs. For some reason I found it really moving. I can't believe such a charming spot is so close to my house.

We walked around the boating lake and then back home via Muswell Hill, where we bought salad, cheese and bread for a lovely Ploughman's dinner.

We spent the afternoon rehearing with Rosie in my bedroom. Rosie is singing a song from Em tomorrow night and Hilary did a brilliant session with us both, really shaping Rosie's vocal performance. She was highly complimentary about the song and thinks it's a hit. Giving a new song to the world is always frightening, so when the first person who hears it says they love it, there's a great sense of relief.

And so my eyes return to the blackened M4, the red lights of the cars in front floating in the misty darkness. Life, like the cars flashing past in the Eastern carriageway, is very fleeting. Tell someone you love them today. Go on. Because one day you'll wake up and you, or they, won't be there any more. The love remains, so spread it liberally.

Friday, 14 October 2016

The smell of the Welsh

I'm returning to Highgate from Wandsworth of all places, which, it turns out, is miles away from civilisation. Nowhere in London should only be accessible via a combination of three transport methods. I took a tube to Waterloo, a train to the hideous Clapham Junction, and then a bus to Wandsworth. I wouldn't have minded, really, had Clapham Junction not been part of the equation. I feel very fortunate that I don't have a regular routine which involves passing through that particular station, which I believe is the busiest in the UK, if not in Europe. It's horrible. Dirty. Crowded. Full of rude people all of whom spend their time deliberately walking in the opposite direction to be way you're going. Okay, so that's embellishing the truth a little bit, but I did seem to be rather swimming against the tide. Strangely, and somewhat presciently, I'd spent most of the day working on a song called Against The Tide. It's from Em and I'm actually really pleased with it. It feels like a hit song. But what do I know?! It's certainly made me want to keep raising the standard of the songs I write for the show, and that has to be a good thing.

The quiz I was working on went well tonight. It was the longest evening in the world, but it was all for a very good cause, in the form of a local hospice. A representative from the charity came along and showed a beautiful animation they'd commissioned to demonstrate what they do there. It was unbelievably moving. I suppose I don't really think a great deal about hospices. Why would I? But the film really made me think about how I'd deal with the sudden knowledge that I was going to die. No ifs. No maybes. If that news came, how would I respond? How would I want other people to respond? What would I need?

There was an auction and people were extremely generous with their offers. Auctions make me panic. I look around at everyone trying to outbid one another and worry that someone in the mix, carried away by a tide of adrenaline, can't really afford the money they're offering. I also panic that I'll have some kind of spasm which will mean I end up buying something I wouldn't have wanted under any circumstance. A woman today bid on a doll by shouting "yes" when the auctioneer said that the hand-crafted clothes the doll was wearing were very beautiful. She won the item. She'll regret that in the morning!

Or will she? It eventually struck that the people there tonight weren't short of a bob or two. £2000 to a top lawyer is nothing is it? Yet for the money they raised in the auction today, I could write a musical and pay for the musicians and singers needed to record two albums. Ho helium.

The tube home smelt of musty bibles, laced with biscuits, radiators, a hint of exotic perfume and a whiff of stale alcohol. It wasn't an unpleasant smell. In fact, I rather liked it, which is why I spent so long attempting to dissect it. It felt nostalgic and reminded me somehow of my Nana's house, which was odd because I believe she was tee-total. It was very potent, however, and I couldn't for the life of me work out where it was coming from. Maybe old Miriam was trying to send a message from the other side. I hope she's proud of me. I'm about to work with Llio on a song entirely in Welsh.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Classic understatement

I switched on the news today to see the wonderful Nicola Sturgeon making a hugely passionate anti-Brexit speech. She vows to lead a cross-party alliance to thwart any attempts Theresa May might make to push us into what they're calling a "hard" withdrawal from Europe, and she's dangling the threat of Scottish independence in May's face, which, let's face it, is the ultimate trump card! In the absence of any effective opposition emerging from the bedraggled Labour Party, I thank God that Sturgeon exists. She makes me feel like there's someone out there fighting for common sense over lunacy; someone who values people over politics. If the Scots are forced to leave the union as a result of Tory stubbornness, then I shall be utterly proud to call them my neighbours and do nothing but wish them the very best for their future within Europe. I may even move there...

Understatement of the week belongs to the anonymous person who has commented on my blog post about the shooting at my school in 1989 where the deputy head was shot and very nearly killed. You can read my full account of the shooting by going to:

What's quite interesting is the number of people who have left comments over the years, attaching their own memories. They make very interesting reading, largely because the accounts vary so completely, thereby entirely throw into question the ability to give fair trials to those who are accused of committing historic crimes.

Anyway, the classic English understatement which was posted on that blog post today merely says:

"I was there, he shot at me and my freinds as we were exiting the sports block/dance building, near the main assembly building. Wasn't a massive deal, I don't think he even wanted to really hurt anyone. Everyone seems to make a massive deal out of this, it was nothing really. I was there, he shot at me and my freinds as we were exiting the sports block/dance building, near the main assembly building. Wasn't a massive deal, I don't think he even wanted to really hurt anyone. Everyone seems to make a massive deal out of this, it was nothing really."

Quite how anyone can claim that a man coming into a school with a rifle which he used repeatedly to shoot at people whilst screaming, "I'm going to kill you, Mr Leaver" was "nothing really" is considerably beyond me. Try telling the deputy head teacher, who was traumatised for life, and off work for a year as a result of his injuries that what happened was "nothing really" and you might (justifiably) receive a little more than a Paddington Bear hard stare!

I spent this afternoon seemingly doing nothing but walk about in North London. I had a meeting in Swiss Cottage, so walked there from Chalk Farm tube and then walked from the meeting to my gym in Gospel Oak. I probably walked a good three or four miles, and very much enjoyed the experience. The sky was powder blue. A watery Autumnal sun was shining down.

The mad man was at the gym again today, this time doing bird impressions in the changing room, which was hilarious. He doesn't seem to do anything with irony or humour.

I came home and continued to work on a song, which Nathan wrote lyrics for when he came home. I cooked pasta. I know my place!

Those charming Danes

I woke up yesterday to the most charming email from a lady in Denmark, where they've apparently just broadcast our wedding on telly. It's apparently also due to be screened somewhere in the Francophone world because Nathan's seen a clip translated into French. I have to say, I still find it staggering that they're broadcasting the piece so many years later and that it's still affecting people around the world. The only thing which upsets me is how irrelevant some of the politicians will seem. I was always very upset that they cut into Alison Jiear's rendition of Yellow for silly messages of good will from Nick Clegg and one of the Miliband brothers. No one knows who they are in the UK anymore, let alone Norway, and they weren't part of the narrative of the film, just greedy attempts to gild the celebrity lily.

Anyway, the email I received was so charming that I feel it merits being repeated, in full, here. 

"Dear Benjamin and Nathan ! At last this week they send Nathan's and your wonderful wedding in Danish television. Congratulations at occasion of your day, it was so wonderful to see it, I cried like a little baby. I saw it 8 times also with my mother, she enjoyed it so much It was so touching and such a fantastic wedding and the music was so amazing. I do hope, I can be married one day as you in a musical. I also saw it with my daughter at 12 years, and she said, and we were agreed, that we hope one day we can meet you and give you the biggest hug in the world. It gave me also an opportunity to tell my daughter about the right to married, no matter what kind of sex you are, and the right everybody has to love each other, and we talk about that it is so terrible to know, that in some countries they punish lovers. We give you and Nathan the best hope for the future and a very big hug from to big fans I Denmark. Love and hug from Charlotte."

The fact that she'd taken time to write in a foreign language was incredibly touching. I instantly started feeling bad about Brexit, but read up on Denmark to discover that they have a fairly complicated relationship with the EU, so forced myself not to feel so bad.

My desire to apologise to Europeans about Brexit knows no bounds. I don't really know why: we're already being brutally punished for our back-stabbing cowardice, and the forecasts are increasingly gloomy. Tesco have temporarily stopped selling Marmite, Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream and Pot Noodle because Unilever want to add something like 20% to the cost. And yet you continually hear those tragic bastards saying it will all be okay, or more desperately, that "Brexit was alright" like the sodding thing has already happened.

First off, I propose a ban of anyone who voted Brexit from visiting mainland Europe. We can't take the risk that the wrong people will go there. Right now we need to have intelligent, decent ambassadors for this country travelling over there, not stupid people and those who'll feel the need to aggressively argue that the Brits did the right thing, without any working knowledge of politics or the economy. I wonder if anyone is yet regretting the way they voted or whether they've all still got their heads buried in the sand. I would actually have so much respect for someone who held their hands up and actually acknowledged that they wished they'd voted differently.

I dreamed last night that I'd temporarily moved to a house by the sea which immediately flooded. Maybe I heard the rain in the night. Nathan was simultaneously dreaming about bats.

Yesterday trickled by with very little consequence. I worked on two songs: one from Em and one for something else.

We made biscuits for Bake Off, and, predictably, burned the first batch to little flaky pieces of charcoal. I don't know what's wrong with us. The recipe says to cook them for twenty minutes, but they seem to burn after ten. I think. We never bother to time them really, and always get caught up doing something else whilst they're in the oven.

The second batch were undercooked, and a bit chewy, but I didn't have enough butter, so I guessed all the measurements and kept on adding sugar and flour until the dough looked about right.

I tried to decorate them with a concoction I made out of marmalade, dried cranberries, lemon juice and sugar, boiled up in a pan. It tasted bitter and weird, so I coated them in chocolate - and then icing made with lemon juice and icing sugar. They weren't good!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Gym tossers

I make no apologies for not blogging yesterday. There was literally nothing to write about, unless you're interested in a blow-by-blow account of my time at the gym, the description of a lovely chord progression I found and utilised for Em, or a sensory account of the charming evening walk I had across the Heath, which, in fairness, was the highlight of an otherwise desperately dull day.

Today hasn't been a great deal better. I wasted most of the morning watching telly, panicking about money, and trying to work out why I felt so cold.

I got some good writing done in the late morning, the early afternoon and in the mid evening. My target is to inch Em forward in some way every single day until the show is ready.

Our local post office is being done up at the moment, so I was forced to go up into the village to buy a stamp. Everything is so antiquated up there. There's a proper stationers next to the flower shop, which immediately transports you to the 1950s. Heaps of paper, envelopes, card, pens and sundry other items which would get a Virgoan's pulse racing, are crammed randomly onto the shelves in a way that a Virgoan would find most unsatisfactory. The man behind the counter had run out of first class stamps, but he very kindly spent ages going through a little envelope and pulling out three individual stamps which, he assured me, added up to the value of a first class stamp. I didn't actually know how much it cost to send a letter and learned with horror that it's 64 pence, which strikes me as ludicrous. They were 24p when I wrote letters in my sixth form which constitutes a massive rise in cost. I'm sure a pint of milk didn't cost a third of the price in 1992.

I went from the village to the gym and instantly bumped into our new favourite character there. He doesn't seem to be that odd when you initially look at him. He's about 40, rather handsome, I'd say, but watch him for a short while and he reveals himself to be a very strange creature, who spends long periods of time crouched over the cross trainer whispering words into the control board. His eyes follow you around the room like Frank Hals' Laughing Cavalier.

Anyway, we discussed him yesterday, and Nathan used the word "mental" to describe him, which was so fabulously un-PC in a properly 1980s way, that I snorted with laughter. Unfortunately, the bloke was getting changed at the same time as me, today, and every time I looked at him I started giggling, whilst the childish words "you're mental" bounced through my head like a playground bundle. The more I tried not to, the more I laughed, to the extent that I'm pretty sure he would have described me as mental to anyone passing. As I tried to take my trousers off, I caught my leg, tripped over, and ended up in a little heap of indignity at his feet. Karma! I apologised profusely and ran...

When I emerged from the gym, some twat had parked his car right behind me and blocked my exit. I'm sure Nathan would have been able to wiggle his way out of the situation, but I tried for about five minutes and decided it was hopeless. A man came bounding over who said he knew whose car it was, and, sure enough, about five minutes later, a beef cake bounded his way out of the building.

"That's an awful bit of parking," I said, which, of course, was the wrong thing to do, because it instantly triggered an aggressive response from his testosterone-packed, steroid-addled brain. He went on the attack, "you can't get out of this space? They should take away your fucking driving license. Why don't you get out of your car and let me move it instead?" Frankly, I should have let him. It's a massive regret that I didn't. I should have filmed him trying to get out of the space and then published it on YouTube as a warning to dick heads across the country who arrogantly park where they shouldn't. Men are so stupid sometimes. Anything which challenges their masculinity can make them apoplectic with rage.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Arnold Wesker's celebration

I got home from the Shame event last night, posted my blog and, in doing so, checked the first few feeds on my Facebook page. One of them came from a bloke who'd requested my friendship a couple of months ago. I'm fairly relaxed about accepting requests from people I'm not sure I know. I have fairly poor facial recognition facilities, so often assume the request comes from someone I probably ought to know who's associated with NYMT or an LGBT group. Anyway, the Shame event had filled me with many thoughts. Is gay shame now an historic phenomenon, and therefore something which we all need to move on from? I, for one, have not experienced shame about my sexuality since I was about eighteen. Perhaps that's simply because I've lived in a glorious bubble filled with creative people with wonderful open minds. Who knows? Frankly, since Brexit, I have no idea why anything happens any more.

Whatever the case, I suddenly discovered last night, when I opened Facebook, that the LGBT movement still has a long way to go - and that the problem is as much within our community as it is without. It turns out that the bloke who'd requested my friendship is gay, but obviously firmly imbedded in a world of self-hatred, because he wrote the following:

"With regards to all this crap about homophobic crime 😡 if the gays of the world didn't mince and flaunt their sexuality puffing it about like they own everything and wanting the whole world to know their business then maybe it would reduce !!!! To be gay does not mean you have to be a mincing queer pushing your sexuality in people's faces..." (and so it (and the emoticons) went on...)

If a gay man can hate himself that much, then Shame really is an issue within our community. A big big issue which we need to address however we can.

On a far more positive note, today marked the occasion of Arnold Wesker's "celebration of life" at the Royal Court Theatre. It was an almost perfect occasion. Rosie and I met at noon and spent a few hours in the building, helping designer Pamela Howard who'd organised the entire event. It transpires that Arnold called Pamela to his bed, not long before his death, and gave her lengthy instructions about what was to happen at his memorial concert, much of which, in true Arnold style, was utterly impractical! When she questioned him, he apparently said that the practicalities weren't his problem!

The line-up for today's event was astonishing. Samantha Spiro, Sir Ian McKellan, Henry Goodman, Mike Leigh, playwright David Edgar, Jessica Raine, Linda Bassett... The great and the good of theatre were seemingly all there, including (in the audience, we're told) Joan Ploughwright. Rosie and I were providing the afternoon's only musical number.

It was dreadfully nerve-wracking, sitting on the stage, waiting for our turn to perform, particular as the tributes and readings became increasingly more moving. I had way too much time to over-think what I was going to be playing, and, at one stage, went into a massive panic because I'd convinced myself that I couldn't remember any of the notes. My fingers turned into little wobbling twigs as I started to play Shone With The Sun, and the first verse was somewhat ineffectual. As the chorus started, I decided that the nerves were a choice and that I simply needed to take a breath and get on with it! From then on it was plain sailing.

Rosie sang delightfully and had the audience in the palm of her hand. I looked up towards the end and it seemed that everyone was in tears. The entire front row: Arnold's children, his closest friends and his wife, Dusty, were all mopping their eyes.

There were some lovely readings from Arnold's shows. It was a great treat to hear the oh-so-familiar dulcet tones of Sir Ian McKellen and wonderful to hear Samantha Spiro reading from Chicken Soup With Barley, but it was Jessica Raine who stole the show by reading Beatie Bryant's electrifying final monologue from Roots. Great acting. Great writing. Arnold would have been bursting with pride all afternoon.

We all went to the bar after the performance, where everyone was very lovely and I was instantly transported back to the optimistic days of the late 1990s when I'd get a different set of lyrics from Arnold every week, which he wanted me to set to music. At the same time I was working at the Royal Court and hanging out at events like today's. I was Rosie's age back then, so I was rather chuffed to be there with her, and seeing the excitement of it all through her eyes. It's easy to get a bit jaded when you're as ancient as I am!

The Shame Chorus

It's been a rather busy and hectic day which started with a massive panic as we tidied the house in about two hours flat in the knowledge that we had guests coming to see us, the first of whom was the lovely Rosie, who arrived to rehearse music for Arnold's life celebration at the Royal Court tomorrow. It was lovely to hear her singing Shone With The Sun. Hers was the last voice Arnold heard singing that particular song, and that is why it felt so important to have her singing it on his last special day. Arnold was so proud of that particular song that he played it on his Desert Island Discs. I'm incredibly nervous about the performance because I'm not altogether sure I'll be able to hold it together. I'm playing a keyboard and not a piano, which is not ideal, and a mixture of nerves and emotion might mean that all sorts of mistakes happen.

We also rehearsed a song from Em, which we'll be performing at the next new writers' cabaret. We were really only note-bashing, but I can tell she's going to sing it beautifully. It's slap bang in her range. I'm relieved to report that she's excited at the prospect of learning it.

After Rosie left, I spent half an hour, in our yard, taking pictures of Nathan wearing his newly knitted pumpkin-shaped hat. I find taking photos of knitting very difficult. Nathan continually shouts at me for cutting bits of his masterpieces out of the photographs I take. I'm afraid I find myself much more interested in photographing the faces of the people modelling his knit wear...

This evening Tash came up to Highgate and the three of us travelled to the Irish Centre on Camden Square: an extraordinary building which is somewhat reminiscent of the Tardis. It resembles an Edwardian terraced house from the front, but has an enormous performing space out the back, which was where the concert we were watching was happening.

The show was performed by the Shame Chorus, a sub-choir of the London Gay Men's chorus, whom, of course, sang at our wedding. There are twelve in this particular chamber choir, and, over the last six or so months, they've been working on twelve new commissions, all of which are verbatim musical settings of interviews that members of the gay men's choir did with a psychiatrist about the process of coming out. They were designed to highlight the sense of shame which plagues gay people through their lives, which is often triggered by early experiences of bullying, or the misery of telling parents. As one of the psychiatrists pointed out, the difference between homophobic bullying and other forms of bullying, is that, if you're bullied for being a red head, or black, or fat, you can go home to your parents, who will understand and be able to help, because they know you're a red head, or black or fat. Simply acknowledging that you're being bullied for being gay is often acknowledging that you ARE gay, or certainly opening yourself up for uncomfortable questions which you might not be ready to answer.

Anyway, I was one of the lucky composers selected to write a song for the chorus to sing, and mine was given final billing, and furthermore selected as the encore number, which felt like a great honour.

It was a very moving evening, which became even more moving in the Q and A afterwards, when a number of the audience, many of them members of the larger London Gay Men's Chorus, started to recount their own stories of coming out. There are a lot of barely-healed wounds out there in my community, and I applaud any initiative which encourages people to share their pain and anxiety.

I was also rather chuffed to bump into an old friend from my days as the partner of a Labour Party MP. I knew him incredibly well back in the heady, now somewhat ghostly, days of New Labour and the 1997 general election. It was so surreal - yet very pleasant - to see him again.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The worst quiz in the world!

We did a morning's work and then drove up to Thaxted, where we spent the afternoon drinking tea and eating cake. It was a chocolate cake. My Mum was sporting a burn on her neck. How did she burn her neck, I hear you ask? Answer: by "listening" to the cake as she took it out of the oven to see if it was baked... How else?

We went to a quiz this evening with Helen. Our team brought the average age of the room down by about fifty percent. Looking behind us was like witnessing something from the film Cocoon. There was more than a whiff of pear drops and lavender soap hanging in the air.

It was, without question, the most stressful quiz I've ever been to! We weren't allowed to sit around tables, and were told instead to sit in rows. Half of our team was ushered to the row in front.

The quiz took place on an overhead projector. Every round was a visual round, which was actually a lot of fun, but as the quiz went on, and the time ticked by, it got faster and faster, and, as a result, more and more confusing. 

The quiz master was a woman with a stentorian voice who was being assisted by her husband and parents. As the quiz developed, her face got redder and redder, and she kept ringing an incredibly loud hand bell to get the attention of the room. She was obsessed with the notion of us all "having fun." Before the quiz started, she came up to me and said, "I understand you're a professional quiz team? Well you're not to be too clever today. You're to have fun instead." We're not a professional team. Not in the slightest. I have no idea what gave her that impression. As the photographs flashed past on the screen, at ever-increasing speed, she'd say, "we're going faster, because it's fun." We could smell the fear in the room. Several old people wet themselves and we could hear the sounds of false teeth falling out and replacement hips clicking.

I placed a bet that the quiz master would have a total melt down by 8.45pm, and sure enough, right on the button, she started ringing her bell like a loon, and shouting aggressively, "a lot of people seem to not be understanding rules of this quiz, so it's CLEARLY my fault."

She kept shouting at her "mummy" who was staggering around the room collecting papers and seemingly getting more and more squiffy. "Come on, Mummy. You're ahead of yourself, Mummy... These people need to have FUN, Mummy!"

Daddy didn't seem to know what was going on, either, and kept standing in front of the light of the overhead projector, casting a black shadow which covered the entire screen, whilst shouting "I can't see... it's too bright."

When she gave us the answers, a considerable number were wrong. She mistakenly told us, for example, that the most recent Year of the Dragon had been 2016 (rather than 2012, which was the correct answer.) When I piped up to let her know, she said "oh, it doesn't matter, it's all fun." "Will we get the point?" I asked. "No," she said, smiling sweetly. Fun, fun, fun...

Whilst giving the answers, she kept saying, in a rather chipper voice, "now put your hands up if you got that right..." But every time Nathan put his hand up, she'd say, "oh YOU again. You're just a show off!"

Helen turned to me at one point and whispered, "this is fraught - my nerves are all a-jangle."

We won. The room booed because the rumour had gone around that we were a professional team. We gave our prizes (or what Helen hysterically described as "presents") to the losing team, who'd sat behind us, copied all our answers, but somehow managed to score more than 100 points fewer than us. At every opportunity they'd moan, point at us, and say, "they've got eight on their team..." We weren't breaking any rules. We were allowed to have teams of eight!

Despite all this, and probably because of it, I laughed almost continually through the evening. Despite the fact that being told to have fun is one of the most stressful things in the world, I had the most fabulous time.

Friday, 7 October 2016

A mushy wet mess

I was that bloke today. You know the one: He drifts and ambles along the street, not really knowing what he's doing, typing into his mobile phone, being utterly indecisive. I've felt clumsy and utterly disengaged from the world. I could hear people around me sighing and huffing when I got in their way. I went off a curb at one point, much to the great amusement of a passing stranger. Perhaps there was something in the air. The lady in Costa gave me a jug with no milk in it. When I took it back to the counter, she laughed like a maniac.

I went to the Royal Court Theatre today and was immediately bombarded by a flood of memories. I'm ashamed that say that the last time I saw something in that particular theatre - the jewel in the crown of new writing - was 15 years ago, on September 11th, 2001. It was the evening of 911, and we thought the world was coming to an end. There was a line in the play that night where someone said "I don't know why we don't just get a bomb and blow them all up" - or words to that effect. There was an audible gasp from the audience. Little did we know then how the ripples of that particular event would reverberate through history...

My first job was working as an usher at the Royal Court Theatre. I worked there in 1996 for a few months before the theatre closed down for refurbishment and we moved to a temporary home in the West End at the New Ambassadors Theatre, where I worked for another three years. I stood in the auditorium today looking at the back wall. The last time I'd seen that wall was in a production of a play called The Lights, which was the last play they performed in the theatre before it closed down in 1996. Ian Rickson directed, and they turned the theatre upside down and inside out for the show. The audience sat on the stage and all the action took place in the stalls of the theatre, where the seating had been removed. As a result of all of this, front of house was back stage and the audiences were forced to enter the auditorium via the stage door. As a result, we got to know the actors on that show really well. Emily Mortimer was in the cast. She was so charming. There was a sequence in the play where the actors went to the back wall with sledge hammers and genuinely knocked great big holes in it. I don't know how they got away with that particular coup de theatre from a health and safety perspective. Different times. One day I'll write about the "installation" out on Sloane Square which the ushers of the theatre oversaw for a bit of extra cash. The installation involved a huge sandpit, a tonne of feathers and a tidal wave of water which smashed out of the paddling pool, drenching the audience in water. At that point someone screamed, "there's live wires everywhere. Run!!" And with that, the entire audience ran for their lives, leaving a mushy wet mess of sand, polythene and chicken feathers. That's art with a capital F.

I was at the theatre today to discuss Sir Arnold Wesker's "life celebration" which happens there on Sunday.

I came into town and had lunch with Nathan. I could barely string a decent sentence together. He asked if I had a brain tumour.

Young Harry met us, just as we finished eating, so we walked into Soho and had a second lunch. Well, I ate a pudding and had a lovely cup of tea. It was genuinely great to see Harry. He's conducting a concert version of Brass in Birmingham in February, so if you're a Midlander and didn't make it down to the show this summer, I urge you to go and see it. It ought to be a stupendous night.

I went to the gym very late tonight after learning that it closes these days at 11pm. It felt very peculiar to be there so late at night. There's a very different breed of people who hang out there at that time. The experience gave me a whole new lease of life, and I came home and took myself into the loft where I wrote music for another hour whilst Nathan knitted a hat shaped like a pumpkin.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Time flies

I spent all of the morning sweating over an application for the Arts Council. I have literally crossed every t and dotted every i. If this one fails I'm going to change my name to Benjamina Ng and sign my name with a bloody stump!

The afternoon was spent writing lyrics and creating musical material for Em. At the moment I'm just trying to get stuff down on the page. I can slowly develop what I've written over the course of however long it takes. I would like some structure in my days, however. The joy about my application to the Arts Council is that it would pay me enough money to carve out a (very) humble living into next year. I could do with that right now! I need to take the pressure off myself. Worrying about money is excessively damaging to creativity.

I found out late tonight that today marks the 7th anniversary of a friend of mine's death. I used to hear older people saying that they didn't know where the time went and always assumed they were being over dramatic, but where I look back on that time and see a very different person, doing very different things with his life, I don't quite understand how it can have been seven years ago. I was at Julian's recording studio when the news came. We were working on the soundtrack to Watford Gap: The Musical. The news was so shocking that I managed to get lost on my way to Matt's house, where we all gathered together to make sense of things.

This evening we made more biscuits and I'm proud to say that they didn't burn. They tasted good too. Short. Crunchy. We decorated them with lemon icing, dried cherries and chocolate. Delicious! Good old Bake Off!

Tuesday, 4 October 2016


I went to the chemist today to buy some cold and flu remedy. The lovely Scottish woman who works behind the counter has been there for yonks and I know her well enough to always smile in the street. I explained that I had a nasty cold and wanted it to go away and asked what she recommended. She looked at me a little suspiciously: "nothing's going to make it go away..." "Oh I know," I said, "I'd just like to mask the symptoms a bit so I can get on with the rest of my day without feeling pathetic..." "Are you taking any other medication?" She asked, eyes narrowing. "No." "But you came in here recently. What did you come in for?" "I don't remember. It won't have been drugs... Perhaps it was talc or deodorant... I'm afraid I can't remember." She looked at me, unconvinced, and I instantly felt like an addict. In retrospect, I now remember that the last thing I bought there was Gaviscon, and before that, a nit comb to comb my moustache. I'm hardly an over-the-counter flu-remedy junkie! This must be what it feels like to live in a small town! 

I found out the somewhat unwelcome news this afternoon that I'd been turned down for a key grant on account of my not passing the eligibility test. I discovered the information mercifully early, less than a week after putting the application in, which means I can remedy the problems and immediately reapply. I'm very relieved that I checked my emails because the communication telling me to go online to check the status of my application was so innocuous and informal, that I could very easily have waited two months before contacting the funding body to find out how I'd done. Small mercies and all that...

So tomorrow, cold or no cold, I'll have to hit that particular ground running. I have to keep telling myself that public funding is a game we all have to play. Decisions are rarely based on perception of talent and usually to do with making sure the right boxes are ticked with the preordained appropriate pen pressure. Even the process of ticking the box will often feel counter-intuitive, but art is so unquantifiable you sometimes have to merely tick the box which is closest to the truth. Hence why I always tick "white other" for my ethnicity! The only trouble is that you sometimes find out the hard way that you're writing with the wrong ink... Today, for example, I had to make the choice between sending my musical theatre application in the direction of the music or the theatre team. I picked music, but a bit of digging with a few contacts ascertained that I'd made the wrong decision. Musical Theatre is more favourably looked upon by the theatre team. Who knew?

Actually, I should have known. There's not a genre of conventional music from pop to grime to folk to modern classical music which doesn't consider musical theatre to be an (exceedingly wealthy) artistically poorer cousin. This is only slightly better than the situation with theatre exponents, who also see musical theatre as a cliche-ridden, somewhat cheesy, impoverished art form. My role in life is to change all that!

Monday, 3 October 2016

The light on the Heath

Today started, rather surreally, in the bath, listening to the live stream of an early morning gig by goth rockers, Placebo. Plainly, I wouldn't normally kick things off with indie rock, but Fiona plays and tours with the band and sent an early doors text to say she was going to be on the radio, so I tuned in. I was rather pleased that I had. They're a really tight band, they make an incredibly exciting sound and front man, Brian Molko was making some wonderfully sardonic quips. It was just so bizarre to be listening to them with my bowl of Frosted Shreddies. And PS - Frosted Shreddies are minging. We bought them by mistake and it's like eating Stevia-coated cardboard. They have the after taste of Diet Coke. Thank God we're nearly through them!

I've been slowly coming down with a cold all day. I woke up sneezing, assuming I had some sort of bizarre Autumnal hay fever and was perversely quite relieved when I started to get a sore throat, dry lips and a hot forehead!

I don't feel I've achieved a great deal. I worked on Em, I practised the piano, I went to the gym, I did a shed load of admin relating to an agent I'm about to sign with...

Fiona met us in the early evening, and we had a somewhat magical stroll across the Heath. Standing at the top of Parliament Hill as the sun set was a proper treat. We took photographs with the mirrored back of Fiona's iPhone reflecting the sun and generating massive flares across the camera lens. The glass buildings of Canary Wharf on the horizon were glowing, first orange, then red, and then a sort of pinky-mauve. At one point we joked that they looked as though they were on fire. I took a picture to send to Brother Edward to see if the buildings looked as luminous in close-up. He was in the middle of a Spanish lesson at the time, but agreed that the photograph had made the buildings look rather beautiful.

We walked down to the toy boating lake where they've been doing extensive landscaping over the past year to create a set of ponds which wouldn't cause a catastrophic flood should an abnormal amount of rain fall on the Heath in a short period of time, as happened in 1975, when the ponds turned inside out and flooded scores of neighbouring houses so badly that people actually drowned in their basements!

What they've done is really very attractive. They've made one of the ponds a great deal larger, and created an island with trees on it which used to be by the side of the pond. It's going to be a wonderful safe haven for wildlife.

We had a lovely tea at the Turkish restaurant in South End Green. There was much hellim (which is the Turkish equivalent of halloumi) and borek, which, in Turkey, has an unpronounceable name, with far too many letters in it!

New writer's platform

I've been in Victoria all day today, rehearsing, and then performing, the National Youth Music Theatre new writer's cabaret, which took place at St James' Theatre. It was such a wonderful event. I am so grateful that the lens is finally being turned on British musical theatre writing, and tonight's concert featured new music from both sides of the Atlantic, including four songs by Jason Robert Brown, who was present in the audience - much to the great excitement of the performers. 

Hearing songs by living American and British writers on the same bill was fascinating. I'm very pleased to report that the Brits held their own. I'm pretty sure, however, that the American composers will all be seventy times wealthier than the Brits... but that's another story, and it's too late to get into that!

The evening was a total sell out. It was literally standing room only. I brought Matt with me, and we sat on the front row.

The musical line-up for the evening was strings, piano, drums, bass and guitar, and all of the composers scored for different combinations of those instrumentalists. I think I was the most decadent with my song, Em, which used pretty much all the players. It's quite a rock number, which seemed to surprise people. Ben Mabberley performed it stunningly well - singing the high notes exquisitely well. And boy are they high notes!

Laura sang my other song, Warwickshire, which was scored for slightly smaller forces. It seemed to go down incredibly well. The woman sitting next to me, who didn't know me from Adam, suddenly burst into tears about half way through. Laura herself squeezed out a little tear right at the end... so beautifully timed.

I enjoyed every song in the line-up, but particular kudos has to go to Maltby and Donnelly for their new song about Victorian algorithmic pioneer, Ada Lovelace, which charged through the venue like a glorious piece of Steam Punk, and Dougal Irvine's thrusting songs from In Touch.

All in all, a wonderful night. We came home and watched Strictly on catch up, and was incredibly saddened by Anastacia revealing that she'd torn the inner scar tissue from her mastectomy. The poor woman looked devastated. Breast cancer is a big thing in my family, and I hate to think of anyone being reminded of the pain of their experience in that manner.

Sunday, 2 October 2016


I walked past a woman today who had ankles like pillows. I can't imagine how that can have happened. She wasn't particularly large anywhere else. I was genuinely intrigued. They were gleaming white like Tippex, stuffed into a pair of socks, and they wobbled as she walked like a blancmange. There's not a great deal more to say on the subject, other than that I hope she's managed to make use of them in some way. She seemed to be walking unaided. If she tops and tails with her husband in bed, perhaps he won't need a pillow of his own...

I came into central London to meet Nathan for lunch and visit the Molton Brown store. I found a little tester bottle of their "Tobacco Absolute" shower gel at the gym last week and thought I'd try it out for a laugh. I very much like the smell, and have decided to buy myself a large bottle. So I went into town for the Molton Brown experience which is incredibly chi-chi. There are little sinks in the middle of the shop where you can wash your hands and try out the different hand washes. When you go to the counter you're asked if you'd like to be on their "guest list" which simply means, "are you okay with us bombarding you with pointless emails?" I should have known not to go into town on a Saturday afternoon, however. The pace of the tourists wafting about is insanely slow. Huge crowds of people shuffle along like they've got nowhere to go, and just want to stand in enormous crowds of people getting in the way of everyone with a place to be. It's horrible. Never again!

It's suddenly very Autumnal. I'm pretty sure it feels more Autumnal now than it did this time last year. The evenings feel cold, and this morning, after getting out of the bath, I felt a bit chilly. I rarely feel chilly. Maybe it's because we had a big, last-ditched blast of summer in September. Perhaps the weathermen are right when they say there's going to be 100 days of snow this winter, with temperatures plummeting from November onwards. It's something to do with our dysfunctional jet stream, apparently. Last year similar predictions were made but there was some sort of "lag" which gave us a reprieve. No such luck, we're told, this year, but who can trust a weather man? I love cold weather, though. I love a proper winter. It gets rid of bugs which have no place to be here, kills diseases and means I get to wear a winter coat without over heating. I spend much of my life wondering how to stop myself from overheating!The year I made the Tyne and Wear Metro film we had the coldest snap, certainly in my lifetime. I think it went down to minus 17 in Newcastle where I was. It was so cold, I was having to continually take myself into shops for a respite. And yet all the Geordies were out without coats and wearing their dangerous high heels on the hilly streets at night. The hot water system broke down in the Travelodge I was staying in. That was no joke, let me tell you! It seems like forever ago. I think it was 2010.

We're enjoying watching Strictly this year. I'm particularly impressed by this year's outfits which seem to move rather well. Obviously I shall look forward to Danny Mac dancing. He's an excellent mover. But I'm in two minds about whether he should be in the competition. Part of me loves the fact that he's paid his dues, doing three years in the chorus of Wicked, but the rest of me screams, "you trained at Arts Ed, the top drama school for musical theatre dancers in the country." Unfair advantage over the others? At least the judges are being tough with him. On a related note, I'm quite convinced there's something going on with Mr Mac and his dancing partner, Oti. You mark my words. They're very flirtatious! The first year Oti was introduced as a professional dancer, I misheard her name and genuinely thought they were saying Humpty. Which brings me full circle to the woman with pillows for ankles...