Tuesday, May 01, 2018



Our new little pet, Lucy the Bichon Frise, has settled in well. With a rescue dog, history is often unknown, but what we do know is that her grooming was left so long neglected that she was shaved. Her curls are now growing back beautifully. I met another Bichon in the village who has the full monty, so to speak, with a full coat of five-inch long spiral curls.

I plan to let Lucy's grow that long before deciding on the right trim for her.

"I remember when the spiral perm was fashionable for humans" I said to the dog's owner

In My Day

The spiral perm fashion came in in about 1987 or so. How Lizzie longed for this look! It was  terrifyingly expensive and, over a long period,  she scraped up money from her part-time jobs until she had enough. She trotted off to a salon in Bath and they put her hair through the complicated processes involved. When all was done they told her not to touch the hair for twenty-four hours and then, voila! she would have her dream look.

The results were more like a nightmare. Her hair looked woolly, rather than in silky spirals and when Lizzie awoke in the morning, she found large chunks of it remaining on the pillow. This continued for a few weeks. We spoke to the salon and all they would offer was a conditioning treatment, which was hardly going to help.

We planned to take action but well-meaning interference by a relative who whisked Lizzie off to her hairdresser to trim and salvage meant that we didn't really have the evidence that we wanted, except a basket of dead hair. 

It was all pretty distressing, especially for a teenager when it's so important to look and feel good. It took quite a long time for her hair to regain its natural silky waviness. And Lizzie took a long time to trust hairdressers in general after that.

Since Lucy's spiral perm is entirely natural I hope we won't go through any trauma with her.

Saturday, April 07, 2018



I am very much looking forward to our next trip to Spain. Becky sent me a message: "We can visit the museum of natural sciences " she enthused. Among other things, they have a stick insect tank.

In My Day

When I worked for the Tax Office, back in 1983 or so, one of my colleagues told me that his brother was involved in the development of Moon craft. He said that they had studied stick insects and how they deal with uneven terrain. I assume he wasn't having a bubble, but what was true was that he had inherited a lot of stick insects.

"Perfect!" I thought "Lizzie would love  a couple of stick insects!" We bought a fish tank and two stick insects were duly delivered. It seemed that they thrived on brambles and we had much enjoyments watching these strange creatures. Every now and then we would clean out the tank.

On one occasion, cleaning out the tank collided with making tea. Lizzie was absorbed in the watching an insect walk on her arm at the same moment as a cup of tea appeared. The stick insect nosed-dived into the hot tea. I dashed the tea into the sink as fast as I could but I think that the insect was scalded to death. Lizzie was distraught and, when the other one dies of natural causes, we put the tank away as a monument to failed endeavour.

Some months later, when I had to find a new home for the tank, I found a couple of baby stick insects, whose fate I cannot now recall. 

Lizzie never kept stick insects again and refused to drink from the mug, which I rather insensitively called "The Stick Mug".

But Lizzie does now have a "no kill" policy for all insects other than those that are trying to eat or kill her, so I guess the stick insect didn't entirely die in vain.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Desert Rats


My Canadian nephew is enjoying his travels through Western USA in his trusty "Airstream" camper.

"We are often puzzled with ourselves. Why do we love the desert so? " he posted on his latest update.

I suppose the first thing you have to do is define desert. The dictionary defines it as a "waterless, desolate area of land with little or no vegetation, typically one covered with sand."

I also researched the average rainfall in the Mojave desert, the driest in North America, and it's typically less that 330mm PA, as opposed to London's 580 mm. By contrast, the Nazca Desert in Peru has an average rainfall of 4mm PA.

In My Day

I have visited two deserts in my travels. One was the region of Mendoza in Argentina. This huddles under the rainshadow of the Andes and it looks like a very fertile place. I found that, over the past 7 centuries or so, people have slowly been planting this desert so that it now supports a very active wine industry and can grow a range of crops and support a reasonable population. It struck me as a very lovely place. 

It does all this on 234mm of rainfall PA.

The other desert was a very different matter. This was the Nazca desert in Peru. The West coast of Peru has virtually no rainfall and the Nazca desert is the second driest in the world, with 4mm of rain PA

We drove along the Pan American highway for what seemed to be endless miles, through an endless dirty ochre landscape. Along the roadside were little woven reed roofless huts in which people attempted to live.

The only water is underground, from the melting snows on the Andes. The Nazca people actually learnt how to bring this water under the desert to where they needed it, and then to store it.

Again, I found myself full of awe for the people who managed, not just to survive in this horrible place, but to have a complex society and to have drawn the wonderful "lines" in the gravel which survive to this day.

But I do have to say that I found this place inexpressibly dreary; it was monochrome, there's almost weather as such, no winds or storms. No grandeur.  The only time there is water is in the unpredictable "El Nino" years when tsunamis swamp the coastal desert.

So loving or loathing the desert all really goes back to what kind of desert you're in and, maybe, how tamed and accessible it is. 

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Made to Measure


Much of my sewing activity focuses on clothes for children or for family members. Recently, though, I've been wanting to make some clothes for myself.

It's much harder, in that you have to do the measuring and fitting on yourself, which is awkward at the best of times and sometimes impossible.

In My Day

When I was at college, at Worthing and Eastbourne, we were all involved in making clothes. We'd all received the same training about how and where to measure, how to fit and adjust. 

So when anyone wanted to make something, there was always someone on hand to take the vital measurements. When you are also going to make the pattern from scratch there are a lot of them, and it's impossible to measure your own back of neck to waist length or back shoulder width. And even things like waist to ankle or inside leg are likely to be unreliable when you are squinting at a tape measure dangling down your leg.

Once you'd got to the trying on stage, there was another expert who could make the adjustments while you stood as straight and still as you could, nipping and tucking seams at the side and back. They could easily make sure that the shoulder seams were sitting straight and that the trousers didn't bulge around your bottom.

One solution to the problem is the adjustable dress form. The idea is that you can enlarge or shrink it to replicate your own shape. Mamma and Daddy bought me one, made out of cardboard. This had two disadvantages. Firstly, when you made an adjustment to, say, the bust, there were always angles where the pieces of paper overlapped, so it wasn't exactly realistic. Secondly, it was unwilling to accept pins, so it was hard to pin fabric in place. I don't think I used it much, preferring to rely on my colleagues. I think I managed to train Mamma how to take measurements and adjust.

The lady pictured is very like Mavis who lives in my sewing room and she's certainly useful for checking shoulder seams and the like. But I don't think that her figure will ever be quite like mine and I just have to hope that the trousers I'm making will be the business.

Maybe I'll have to teach Paul the art of measuring and fitting. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

In the Doghouse


My niece posted a picture a couple of days ago, showing her Cockerpoo sticking her nose through the newly installed catflap. She commented that perhaps the dog thought it was a window just for her.

In My Day

Eventually, we outgrew the house at Mead Close and decided to turn the garage into a kitchen. This left us with the problem of a place for the dog to sleep. Suddenly we had a "lightbulb" moment. A kennel!

We went to the DIY and bought four fencing panels and some corrugated plastic sheeting. Then to the petshop where we bought a dogflap of a suitable size. At home we found an old pallet and an offcut of vinyl flooring. 

Paul set to work and constructed a bijou residence. The pallet floor, covered with underlay, kept it clear of damp. The fence panels made the walls, one of which entirely hinged outwards, like a dolls' house. The dogflap was inserted into the front panels and a pitched roof of corrugated plastic was added. Perfect! A ventilated home with natural lighting and easy access.

We popped the dog bed in. When the evening meal came round we put Cas's food into the kennel and he eagerly followed through the dogflap. The water bowl we left outside because the dog walked into it on a regular basis and we didn't want the inside of the kennel to get wet. We left Cas to it and went indoors.

In the morning I went out to greet the dog and give him his breakfast. He was whining and whimpering inside the kennel. "Well come on, Cas" I called "I've your breakfast here"! He carried on whimpering. The silly mutt had not worked out that the flap worked both ways, so had spent the entire night stuck inside. He was desperate for a drink of water and a pee.

I released him and commenced on dogflap training. It took him over a week to figure it out - cats understand the principle in moments - after which he was very happy in his little house and often asked to go out to it. He wasn't so keen when the cats chose to join him, as they managed to take up the entire bed while he hunched in a corner!

So maybe the solution, Helena, is a personal house for your Cockerpoo. Just be prepared for the person-hours spent on training!

Monday, February 05, 2018

Tooled Up


This morning, while Paul tested the mudguard lights on the model radio-controlled truck he is making, I talked about some modifications I want to make to my workspace to give me easier access to things like ribbons and spools of thread.

"You know", I said "some of the people we know will have fully stocked tool, hobby, craft and sewing kits while others are hard put to it to produce a needle or screwdriver."

In My Day

Mamma and Daddy were definitely of the former variety. While Daddy didn't do any crafts, as such, he did carry out much of the maintenance and repair work at 4BH and his other properties. At the foot of the basement stairs, and partly tucked under them, was his tool cupboard. This sported a dazzling array of paintbrushes, old cans of paint, hammers, screwdrivers, saws of every type, planes, sandpaper and tins and boxes of nails and screws. He had a blowtorch, fuse wire, and pieces and offcuts of metal and wood. He put up wallpaper using a paste made out of plain flour and water. He had trestle tables for laying out the paper and bottles of turps and meths (I rather liked meths beautiful shade of mauve which, I later learnt, was added to put alcoholics off drinking it). In the garage would be sand and cement used for a whole range of garden improvements and repairs. 

In the living room was his desk which housed a Remington typewriter and was a treasure house of paper, card, paperclips, pencils, rubbers, inks, rulers, rubber bands and other treasures. I think we children raided this fairly freely.

Mamma had a sewing machine, a sewing box full of threads, buttons and other notions. She had knitting needles and balls of wool as well as fabric scraps and other bits.

Her kitchen, apart from the usual saucepans, had various mincers and graters, cake and baking tins of every shape and size, cake icing equipment, biscuit cutters, sieves and colanders. And there was a fully stocked larder.

All this suggests a very busy and creative life, and I personally love to look at and use my well-stocked workspace and kitchen. How are you ever to replace a button if the only needle you have resembles a rusty poker and the only thread you have came out of a free sewing kit from a hotel, or hang up a picture if you can't lay your hands on a tack hammer and picture hook?

Friday, December 08, 2017



It's that time of year again and I like to start the day with a few carols. Rutter's "Shepherd's Pipe Carol" (AKA "Shepherd's Pie Carol")  came on. It's very lighthearted, maybe too lighthearted.

In My Day

It's 2005 and it's the Cantilena Christmas concert. We were performing in Somerton Parish church. Beautiful location and I managed to persuade Paul and the girls to come.  We had a beautiful Christmas miscellany planned, including Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on Christmas Carols" and Finzi's Magical "Et in Terra Pax".

I don't know what possessed the music director to stick in the Rutter; maybe he needed a filler and thought it would do. 

The church filled up. Paul and the girls found prime seats at the front and off we went. All went very well until we started the Rutter. I noticed the girls begin to nudge each other and start to giggle. Soon the giggling went out of control. Becky turned her face away, but her shaking shoulder were still visible.

Lizzie was less well placed, and anyway, Lizzie's is very good at laughing. While she tried to suppress the giggles, she spluttered, snorted and began to turn an interesting shade of red. The choir continued to sing, slightly bemused by this commotion and even Paul began to chuckle.

Thankfully, the concert came to an end before there were any casualties. I spoke to the girls about the event and they told me that the little jingling tune that starts the Rutter had reminded them of the tune for "Playbus" a children's TV show they remembered. And once they'd started they couldn't stop.

Ah well, Christmas is supposed to be a time of merriment, but is it necessary to splutter?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Sensitive Issue


Today, following a chat with my daughter I found myself reading articles about "Throwback Sexism" which encompassed stories about prestigious awards refused because of the demeaning ceremonies surrounding them, is Hello Kitty throwback sexist?  and the ongoing debate about Bunny Girls.


One of the problems about protesting is that you can be accused of having no sense of humour: "It's just a bit of harmless fun", or being over-sensitive.

In My Day

One of my colleagues at the Tax Office in Lewes back in about 1976 was a man called Geoff Bridger. He was a small, aggressively macho man with a penchant for shooting small animals. He was an enthusiastic member of the TA and would occasionally accidentally-on-purpose find that he had bullets in his pocket.

One year in January he pranced into the office with a full-on naked female "girlie" calendar and hung it on the wall behind his desk. Most of the women didn't find it too funny, but few had the temerity to complain to management, fearing that they would be labelled over-sensitive and easily offended. Those that did found that management had no will to intervene. So the nasty object stayed on the wall.

In those days I was a regular reader of Cosmopolitan and they often featured male naked centrefolds, usually of well-known celebrities with hot bodies. I discovered that they were also doing a male nude calendar that year. I ordered this and hung it on the wall behind my desk. Cue a massive protest by the male staff, led by Geoff. I was asked to remove the item, which I agreed to do if the opposite number was also removed, which it was. I wasn't in the slightest bit interested in the male nudes, but I'd made my point, none too subtly. Interestingly, nobody seemed to suggest that the men were being over-sensitive or lacking a sense of humour.

What still puzzles me is why anyone would want to be served by women dressed as rodents, as well as why any right-minded woman would agree to dress up as one.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saving a Life


A short while ago my niece posted a link to the blood transfusion website. "Save Lives!" it announced.


In My Day

Probably in common with many people, I once thought that donated blood was rushed to trauma sites and hospitals to be pumped into accident and war victims to save their lives in a dramatic way. My mother-in-law used to tell tales of giving blood during the war when every ounce counted. And I was familiar with Hancock's Blood Donor sketch: 


But I don't think I really applied any of this to myself. That was until I was working for the Inland Revenue at Barrington Road in Worthing. This was a large office complex with about 2000 employees. So the blood transfusion people came to us. Along with my colleagues, I signed up and trotted along. After all, as well as doing a Good Thing, I was having half an hour off work with a cuppa thrown in. 

Alas! They turned me down as this was less than six months after Becky was born and I apparently needed all my strength.

But I went the next time and gave my fifteen fluid ounces with no ill-effects. I discovered that my blood is O+, so I'm not quite a universal donor, although any + blood-types can have my blood. I also discovered that full blood doesn't keep very well and much of the donated blood is centrifuged to give plasma which does keep and is used for many things.

After that I went many times and became quite an old-hand. On one occasion I was specially called by the service and asked if I would participate is a training programme. I went to the Cavendish Hotel in Eastbourne and was used as a guinea-pig by trainee technicians. What gave them the most difficulty was doing the prick test. Once they'd painfully jabbed my thumb, they would then stare at the drop until it coagulated and couldn't been used, so it had to be done again, and again...

I did have a better quality of biscuit to go with my tea, though.

Another time the whole family went down to the council chamber in Shepton Mallet where the donation service had been set up. The technician made a mess of removing Lizzie's tube and her vital red fluid gushed out onto the nice carpet of the council chamber. There was a moment's horrified gawping before a doctor galloped up and sealed the wound.

Nowadays, they do, indeed, give you a little medal after so many donations and "I saved a life" stickers. But nobody goes for those reasons and we proudly give our blood with no thought of a reward.

Ah, well! I'm too old these days, needing once again, it seems, to keep up my strength. I don't know how many lives I've saved, but I'll know who to thank should I ever need a top-up.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017



I was browsing a Facebook page called "Girls that make stuff" and someone was displaying some beautiful images burnt into slices of wood. She asked for suggestions as to creatures that she could feature and I suggested a hare.

After all, you hardly ever see a real hare these days.

In My Day

I joined Cantilena Choir in 1988. When the day came for our Spring concert I found that the rehearsal time was so close to the performance start that I would not be able to get home, fed and changed and back in time.

A fellow soprano offered me a way out. "I live close by; come and have supper with us and you can change in my bedroom. I was very grateful for this and she took me to her rather beautiful home near Street.

Supper was served in the hall which was really a whole room in itself. As I sat down I looked about the room. The walls were decorated, not with paintings, hangings or photographs, but little plaques, each of which had a hare's foot mounted on it. I gazed at these grisly trophies in horror. I kept my eyes averted and tried to attack my food with some enthusiasm. .

However, there was no averting them from my colleague's husband who just then walked in the front door. He was in full regalia: a black tail coat. white breeches, shirt and cravat and black boots. Clearly he was a master of beagling, just come home from hunting. I found excuses to avoid future invitations.

I find it strange to think that there are people walking around for whom this is a perfectly normal thing to do.

It's no wonder that these beautiful creatures are in decline, although Becky tells me she saw one in Essex the other week. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Kitties Galore


I guess it had to happen. Becky and Richard caved in (without much resistance, I'm sure) to Carmen's longing for a pet. To achieve this they went to a local rescue centre in L'Eliana. "Battersea, it was not", Becky told me. "There was a room full of adults and another full of kittens." From this melee they chose Rosie and Mac an unrelated pair of four-month olds who seem to be rather cute. 

In my day

After my cats Agamemnon and Amelia died in 1993, we were told of some kittens needing new homes. They were at a ramshacke farm cottage near Priddy. The Kittens were in an undecorated and unfurnished room with a board fixed across the door to keep them from straying. The mother cats - there were three, a mother and daughters - hopped across it at will, as did the farm dogs who jumped in to eat the cat food.

In this room there were fifteen kittens, aged between four and eight weeks old, all rolling about and playing. There was every colour from black to white, ginger, tabby and tortoiseshell. They were all more or less related. Our attention was drawn to a noisy little black and white - rather like the Felix cat food cat. We picked him up. "Do you know", the owner said, volubly "at one time we thought he was dead. we found him not moving, spreadeagled on the floor. But he's fine now." After that, there was no putting this little one back in the mix. We named him Amadeus for his musical and persistent Miaow, and decided to bring him home. (We later discovered that he had suffered a broken pelvis, and wondered if one of the dogs had given him a shake).

We wanted two cats and gazed at the heaving piles of babies, wondering who might be a companion to Amadeus. Suddenly there was a loud squeaking coming from behind a radiator. We rescued a little fluffy white and tortoiseshell kitten who had got stuck. Perfect! The owners said she been sort of reserved for a woman who wanted to give her to her one-year-old grandson. Terrible, we said. He's too little, she's too little. In this way we persuaded her that we could give her the best care and she was ours.

Lizzie named her Arietty and she did have a lovely life with us. Neither cat was as healthy as they might have been, being inbred and having had indifferent care. Both had to have calcium supplements for the first few months and Amadeus died suddenly at age 4.

But, life without a cat or two to share it? Impossible! And it seems that my daughters both agree.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Distance View


This morning, as we took our constitutional up the High Street I noticed one of those "Baby on Board" signs attached to the rear window. Although this one, bizarrely, said "Waterbaby on Board".

I'm not sure what these are trying to achieve; maybe people think that it's OK to drive right up against someone's boot if there isn't a baby in the car. Plus these cars often still have the signs up when there's no baby in the car.

In My Day

Of course, having people persistently driving too close is very irritating and can be intimidating. Sometime back in the  '70s Paul decided to do something about it. First, with the help of his colleagues at Hannington's  he made a long pyramid shaped box - rather like a Toblerone - that would fit along the rear parcel shelf or our Zephyr. 

Then he made and inserted some letters that could be illuminated, reading "Keep your distance!" He wired it all up and put a switch on the dashboard. The idea was that he would flick this switch whenever someone was driving too close, telling them to back off a little. 

I think he used it quite often. Whether it caused people to  increase their distance or actually made them come closer so that they could see what the sign was saying, I can't say. Its effectiveness varied according to the time of day; in bright sunshine it was not very readable. 

He certainly didn't carry the idea over into future cars and I don't think we have been more or less pestered by "tailgaters" since.

I've just trawled the internet and find that there are many bumper stickers carrying this message, including a strange one that says "new driver, keep your distance" as though it's OK not to with an experienced driver.

The truth is, whoever or whatever may be on board the vehicle in front, the two-second rule counts.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Wedding Favours


Last week I was disappointed that I had to cancel going to my friends' youngest daughter's wedding, because Paul didn't feel well enough to travel.

Lizzie went, though. "You received a mention in the speeches, Mum," she said "John said that he thought that you and Dad had paid the train fare to London for their wedding".

In My Day

Weddings always used to be so much more on a shoestring; at least in my experience. On New Year's Eve 1976, John and Beverley decided to tie the knot. Beverley had set her heart on having the ceremony at Caxton Hall in London, the same as her parents. This was duly arranged and we planned to drive as far as South London, then catch a train to Victoria.

The wedding guests consisted of Paul & Me, who were also to be witnesses. We drove up as far as East Croydon station, parked and hopped on the train. As we whizzed through Clapham Junction John looked a little wistful. "What are you thinking, John?" I asked. "Well", he said "I rather wish we'd gone for the whole thing, penguin suits and all....." A bit late for that, John!

We walked from Victoria to Caxton Hall and had a simple and  happy ceremony. Afterwards we walked back, buying a single of "Don't Cry for me Argentina" that had just been released. Beverley sent flowers to her Mum to let her know what had occurred.

Then back to Crystal Palace and to David's house, where we found the children perched on chairs to throw rice over the bride and groom and enjoyed a feast of Xmas left-overs.

We all drove in convoy back to Eastbourne where we had a huge party, confusing guests who weren't sure whether it was to celebrate my birthday, the wedding or New Year. Doh! All three of course.

I have no memory of paying for all our tickets; we were all equally poor at that time. If I did, John, it was a pleasure.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Speech Day


This morning I was honoured to support Joan while she presented a new award to the local primary school. This was the David Dixon award for improvement in writing and it was given to a small girl who, with much effort,  had discovered how to get her ideas into written form.

The event was held at St Peter and Paul's church in Shepton Mallet  and was a happy affair. The teachers of the year six leaving class had put together an amusing description of notable events during the year and children presented a leaving teacher with beautiful handmade cards. Gifts of Bibles (it is a C of E school), alarm clocks and hoodies with the year and pupils' names on the back were given to each child in the leaving year.

Later, talking to Joan, I said "do you remember speech days?"

In My Day

At my school and, I am sure, at countless other throughout the country, we had an annual "speech day". We all gathered in the hall, teachers were flossied up in full cap and gown and we were harangued for quite a long time by various people whom we never otherwise saw. Governors were a fearsome bunch in those days, not at all like the ever visible and very local head of governors who spoke today.

We sang the school hymn - "The Skye Boat Song", and, predictably, saw the same high-flyers receive prizes each year. There were no prizes for students for effort, improvement, politeness nor for any other indications that some of us were struggling against the odds.

Prizes all seemed to be improving books, such as volumes of Tennyson, so they weren't exactly things to envy. It was more that, for most of us, it was an event to observe, rather than participate in. And, unless you were already very good at music, sport or classics, you could do nothing to change the outcome. 

And as for giving each child a reward or the teachers doing a bit of karaoke satirising the year's events and making light-hearted digs at pupils' and teachers' foibles, heaven forfend.

It's all part, it seems to me, of modern education being an experience shared between parents, pupils and teachers, rather than simply being handed down from high. 

I was glad to be part of this event and very much hope that the children will remember and treasure today.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Joint Enterprise


There are so many miracles in today's medical world that it's easy to think that, once we are in the surgeon's hands, there is nothing more we have to do. Of course, that's not quite right; in most cases, it's a question of co-operation; working with the surgeons to achieve the right outcome.

This morning Paul at last received the go-ahead for a total knee replacement. The procedure is fairly routine, but in order to get full benefit, there are exercises to do, both before and after the operation. And exercise isn't really in my husband's vocabulary.

In My Day

Back in the day, there was much less emphasis on rehabilitation. Patients spent a lot more time in bed following treatment, which was not often the best way to recovery.

When he was seventy-four, my father had a stroke. This meant that Daddy's right side was severely affected, and he couldn't walk, use his right arm or speak properly. He was kept in bed at home and I don't remember seeing a physiotherapist or similar ever turning up.

Daddy, however, was a man of action, and being cooped up in bed was not, in his view, an option. So every day he struggled out of bed and attempted to walk; gradually bringing control to his limbs. When the doctor next paid a visit, after about ten days, Daddy got himself to the front door to let him in. The doctor was amazed and pleased at Daddy's progress. Clearly, there had been no provision to help him, but his ability to help himself was a matter for wonder and praise.  

And he was eventually able to walk again and use his right arm to an extent. He gave up driving when he found that his right foot couldn't quite make the transition from accelerator to brake fast enough for safety and his speech was always a little slurred after that.

But he lived on till eighty-six, only becoming immobile in the last year or so, mainly because of an unrelated health issue.

I hope that Paul will learn the lesson and see that his recovery is truly a joint enterprise.

Monday, May 29, 2017

First Love


What an evening! Last night I went to the Colston Hall to hear a performance of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo by the Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir under John Elliott Gardner. It was semi-staged but this did not reduce the drama and quality of singing. Nor did the fact that there was no interval and we sat in our seats for two and a half hours.

"Ravishing!" I enthused "I felt Orfeo's pain. Best opera ever written!"

In My Day

As readers of this blog will know, I've been a fan of early music since my teens. When I was a student of theatre design at the West Susses College of Design in Worthing, we were asked to design costumes for Orfeo.

We were given a choice of Gluck's Orfeo ed Eurydice or Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. No contest! Alone in my group I chose the Monteverdi and splashed out on a vinyl boxed set of a very superior performance. I designed elaborate costumes, basing them on the sort of art used in the 17th century. I provided for Deus ex Machina moments (I don't think I got as far as working out the actual mechanics).

I've no idea what happened to those designs; another lost something from my life, but I listened to the music again and again. Orfeo's plea to Charon would melt the stoniest heart, I thought. Here it is:


When I read that this was the first fully composed opera I was amazed and almost wondered why anyone would dare to follow it.

I've seen it several times since; once by Kent Opera in Eastbourne and once at the Theatre Royal Bath - a strange realisation that almost eclipsed the music.

But not quite; I still respond to this story in music of joy, pain and hope as though it was my first time of hearing. And, among, opera, it's still my first love.

Friday, May 26, 2017



If we'd thought about it a little more, maybe we wouldn't have chosen to travel home from Essex on the Friday of the bank holiday weekend.

Everyone was streaming out of London, many heading for the Isle of Wight or the West country. As we joined to M3 we saw a number of cars broken down - radiators steaming, bonnets up, people perched just beyond the barriers awaiting rescue. There seemed to be even more on the A303.

"How depressing", I remarked "there you are, all packed up for your holiday, kids in the back, bikes on the roof, sun's shining, and you've broken down. Not a good start."

In My Day

I remember how important it was, that vital break from work, when you could get away from toil for a week. In 1977, I was very pregnant with Becky and we had decided to take a week's camping in Wales. This was the Queen's silver jubilee and she had declared an extra holiday, which effectively meant that all shops were shut from Saturday evening until Wednesday morning.

On Saturday night we loaded the car up with tents and clothing and planned to leave at about one in the morning so that Lizzie would sleep through. After supper Paul went out to check a few last minute bits and pieces. He came back with a very long face.

"There's a problem", he said. "we have a puncture and I have no  decent spare and no safe jacking points."

I behaved the way all pregnant women regard as their right: I burst into hysterical tears and reminded Paul that it was now too late to do anything about it until Wednesday and we might as well abandon our holiday altogether and my life was completely ruined.

Paul went back to the car and came back ta bit later. "I have a plan", he said "The cause of the puncture was a nail which I've removed and I've screwed an enormous brass screw into the hole and pumped up the tyre. If it's lost no pressure by the time we are due to leave, we'll chance it.

Which we did. He drove fairly gingerly and that morning we arrive at our campsite, with the tyre having lost 2lbs. We pitched our tent and set about having a good time, despite the lashing rain.

When Wednesday arrived we drove into the nearest town and found a car repair garage. Paul spoke to owner, "We seem to have a slow puncture; could you take a look, please?" The mechanic removed the tyre and soon returned, guffawing with laughter and brandishing the screw. "You wouldn't have got far with that!" he chortled. We kept quiet and, not only did he replace the tyre, but found two wheels, complete with tyres,  that he let us have for a fiver. Without Paul's ingenuity, the holiday would have been well screwed

All of which give a whole new meaning to the expression Keep Calm and Carry on. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017



At the moment I am immersed in preparations for our next concert, which will be based on American themes, including "I Got Rhythm" and a range of American Spiritual settings.

Among them is a setting of "Steal Away" from Michael Tippett's "A Child of our Time". I find myself suffused with the longing, despair and fearful hope of the music. "Steal away to Jesus, steal away home. I ain't got long to stay here"

In My Day

I think that these songs were called "Negro Spirituals" when I was a child and the first one I encountered was "Swanee River" which would have been in our News Chronicle Song Book.  Daddy would explain that the song was about the ending of slavery when the slaves became effectively homeless, although the tune always seemed a little jaunty. I almost had an idea that the ending of Slavery in America was a bad thing; that was until I became more aware. I used to sing this song at home and at school without much thought.

(Actually, Daddy was wrong, this song was written in 1851 when slavery was still legal) 

Later, in a number of choirs, I sang settings of bible stories "Li'l David Play on yo' Harp" and, even worse, "Joshua Fit de Battle ob Jericho". These were all arrangements by white Western  musicians and somehow we had to sing this approximation of plantation black patois. The songs seemed to me then and now, a failure, in terms of capturing the  passionate adoption of Christianity by the slaves as their only hope, and thoroughly patronising. And it's a rare white western choir that can make much sense of these pieces.

The Tippett settings are so different, and seem both respectful and relevant to today.

What is depressing is that nothing has changed; people are being bullied and oppressed all over the world and it's no wonder that so many believe in a religion that can offer them a future when this life doesn't.

Monday, February 20, 2017



Yesterday I went to St Pancras in London for a rehearsal. Once I reached Waterloo everywhere was heaving.

"Hmph!" I grumped to myself, fighting my way down the escalator,  "time was, London was quiet on a Sunday."

In My Day

This was really true once upon a time, especially in places like the City or Holborn. Shops were shut on Sundays, so Oxford, Regent Street and Tottenham Court Road were all empty.

One of the ways in which David liked to entertain himself (and me) on Sundays was to buy a "Red Rover" bus ticket. These tickets allowed you to travel anywhere on London on any red bus for a whole day. Bargain!

As usual, David was in charge of operations. He was very knowledgeable about buses and showed me how to differentiate between RTs and RTLs and gloried in the magnificence of the new Routemasters. We'd jump on the first bus heading citywards. Armed with bus map and timetable, David would then orchestrate the day. We'd get off at places unknown to me or only from looking at underground maps.

We'd cover quite a distance, too. On one occasion I remember going as far west as Barnes Bridge and as far east as Saffron Hill in Clerkenwell. I made some sketches of Saffron Hill, which later I turned into an oil painting which I still have. I think it was after this trip that Daddy first told me that he'd been brought up in Clerkenwell.

David's choice of buses seemed to me quite random, which I doubt they were, at least in David's mind; he always being methodical in his fashion. And I saw lots of interesting unsung places in London.

One thing, however, the buses were pretty well all empty.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017



Last Saturday, with the greatest of sadness, I said goodbye to my brother David. As the church filled up the organist began to play. "That's Messiaen", I whispered to Paul "La Nativité du Seigneur."

In My Day

Without David's influence there would be a great deal of music that I would never have thought to hear. His enthusiasm and surefootedness made an enticing combination. 

During the late '60s he and I were cultural companions in London; going to concerts and the theatre together. One day he told me that he had tickets to hear "La Nativité du Seigneur" played on the organ of Westminster Cathedral.

I don't think that I had ever set foot in the cathedral and was suitably awed by this yawning Byzantine space. The Messiaen music simply swept me away. While I could never really grasp the musical jungle that is Turangalila, this pared-down, ecstatic music had me transfixed. The music is an evocation of the birth of Christ, but never lapses into sentimentality, even the lilting shepherds' melody fits perfectly into the design.

At the time it even inspired me to art: this drawing in pastels which hung on my sister's wall for many years, entitled "Dessins Eternel".  At school we were asked to write a poem inspired by a piece of music and I chose "Les Anges" - also from the same work. I can't comment about the quality of either poetry or art, but it's enough that the music haunted me to such an extent.

It's impossible to work out just how many pieces of music entered my head, courtesy of David. It's his eternal gift to me, and I wish him a music-filled eternity.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017



Yesterday the new term at choir started. One of the pieces we're are performing is Bach's Cantata 68. The first aria after the opening chorus is "My Heart Ever Faithful"

In My Day

When I was a child 4 Beulah Hill was always filled with music. I preferred, even then, to listen to songs and choral music. And I remember this piece so well. It was sung by Isobel Baillie and I couldn't get enough of her delicate high soprano. I think that I was about nine at the time and I wonder whether I saw her at the proms singing this as I also thought that she was so beautiful. She sang it in English with a sprightly sense of joy that was totally unselfconscious and I have longed ever since to have an opportunity to sing it myself, although that has not so far occurred.

Looking at this picture, it's easy to see how very much she was of her time (aren't we all, but just can't see it?), but also how a young, over-imaginative child might adore her.

Last night I listened to three versions of this piece. First Isobel's with its simple unornamented singing with solid, somewhat staid orchestra. Next a recording by the Thomanerchor, a boy's choir in Leipzig, the descendant of the choir that Bach used to direct. Their performance was assured with an awful lot of woodwind, but with an air that this was just the day job. Finally a performance under the baton of Nikolaus Harnoncourt. This one ticks all the boxes in many ways, with crisp playing on period instruments with a nice young-sounding soprano and, of course, sung in German.

Well the jury's out, but I may still find for Isobel's joyous interpretation and forgive the hefty orchestration.

Thursday, January 05, 2017



As usual, Beatrice brought heaps of her leftover food when she came and then left without eating it. So I came back from my New Year break to find some very overripe bananas perfuming my kitchen.

"I'd better make banana bread", I said to Paul.

In My Day

Back in 1980 when Mark, Beatrice and Nick lived with us at Rowan Avenue, it could be dull work trying to provide tasty and varied meals on a limited budget.

Thinking to cheer things up, Beatrice and I suggested that everyone choose a different dessert each night. What were we thinking? It was bad enough rustling up spotted dick and other standards after a day's work, but when Mark enthused about the banana bread his mother used to make I had no idea what he was talking about and he certainly knew no more than it contained bananas.

To the rescue came a "World Cookery" book that Mamma had given me. Since this was the book that spelt bhajis "budgies", I was't entirely confident about the quality of the research. But there, in the Canadian section, was a recipe for banana bread. So I made it and it turned out to be a tasty, moist cake. Not really pudding, but add some custard and all was fine. Mark pronounced it a perfect replica.

The picture shown is what I hope mine will be like when it comes out of the oven, Cheers, Mark!

Saturday, November 26, 2016



Yesterday evening Beatrice, with an air of surprise, pulled a £20.00 note out of her top. "I'd forgotten all about it," she said "I put it there when we walked to pub to keep my hands free. Very useful, bras are, to keep things in. Mamma used to do that."

Me too.

In My Day

I think it must have been about 1992. My choir had been asked to give a concert at a local church (Bruton, I'm certain). I was secretary and had told the organiser that we charged £200.00.

Dressed in our best we arrived at the church to deliver the concert. During the interval I went up to the organiser and said "How do you want to settle this?" "Oh, I've got the money here", she said, and handed me £200.00 in £10 notes.

As I looked at the wad, the conductor called us back for the second half. I, too, was not carrying a bag. Nothing for it; I stuffed the notes into my bosom and joined the choir for the rest of the concert, where the notes crackled alarmingly during the quiet bits. I hoped that no-one would notice it or my lopsided appearance.

It was the first time I've sung with a bundle of the readies nestling next to my heart and I expect it to be the last.

Thursday, November 03, 2016



I'm feeling rather annoyed with myself as I managed to trip over something or nothing coming down Dye Lane three weeks ago and have fractured my upper proximal humerus. "Proximal" means that it's adjacent to the shoulder. This fracture is "notoriously painful" as the A&E nurse cheerfully said (I can vouch for that) and is healed by a long process that doesn't involve plaster.

I've had many sympathetic and kind messages from people, but they are peppered with "what, again?" and "take more water with it, leave off the high heels" comments.

In My Day

So, do I fall over a lot? Well, I don't know what the average is, but maybe. Looking back over the past ten years or so, I recall tripping over a kerb in 2006 whilst delivering a box of fabric scraps to a friend, which resulted in a lot of bruising and a dent in my buttock that is still there. In the same year I felt over some uneven paving in London with no injury.

In 2012 I accidentally put my foot in my workroom rubbish bin, while carrying too many things as well as failing to put the light on, and fell against the wall. Some bruising resulted which I treated with appalling amounts of every available painkiller till it went away.

In 2013 I fell down the terrace steps at Spencer House when a paving slab broke. More bruising.

And in 2014 I slipped in a wet carpark, damaging my sciatic nerve

That's an average of once every two years. Mostly I just get bruised, rather than broken and I think that it's not the tripping that's the issue but a poor ability to right myself.

With regard to the other comments, I almost wish they were true because, not only would they give people something to laugh at, there would also be obvious solutions to the problem. The fact is that most of my tumbles have been in daylight, stone-cold sober and wearing trainers or Oxford brogues. The Dye Lane fall was down a steep-ish slope in the dark, which is probably why I did so much damage.

Well, it's all rather frightening, just how easily we can be upended and break bits; it's enough to make you wish we'd never decided to walk upright all those years ago. I'm glad to say that my recovery is rapid and I'll try to heed all the well-meant advice I've been given.