Saturday, 19 March 2016


We all know in our clever secret store of mistrust that this is an often unfair, sometimes malign and now and then positively evil world. Yet if you are like me, I believe in the overall intention of goodness. It is the yoghurt based icing on the carrot cake of life, not the teeth and tongue-squelching, sugar-compounded, startlingly mounded and intricate architectural snow-scapes of white gunk icing on the gloriously sickly wedding cake of life that I seek. I just want to walk into a store and recognize the ingredients are wholesome. 

I persist in the pursuit of goodness. The charming shop assistant in a store now transformed into a safe haven of knowledge and competitive pricing. Not that awful shambles of yester-year. Here is a cooker I want to to purchase. There is, admittedly a startling lack of brochure explaining the ins and outs of each of these white goods. So we rely for information on these knowledgeable gods and goddesses gliding about and sweeping us into their good humoured arms.
"Yes, Madam, Sir, this will be the cooker for you. As the advertisement says, it is full programmable and is on offer at the moment with an instant cashback too."
So, us upwardly mobile peasants in White Goods Land feel somewhat secure. We list out our choices and revisit the store a couple more times to be sure. We aren't daft. We check online and find even there is not much more information. But, come on, everything is so well made these days and we aren't risking the El Cheapo range. We are mid-range purchasers.
We select cooker, fridge freezer and dishwasher. We decide to wait till autumn to complete the life time purchase set with washer drier. We investigate purchasing our goods from a variety of sources. We fix on a well known large megastore which is just down the road and therefore good to pop in and ask questions if anything goes wrong.
Time passes. We have been happy enough with a 28 year old cooker from the El Cheapo range and a freezer down at the bottom on the garden in the garage. We have shunned the concept of dishwashers, feeling that act of hand washing up to be something more honest and direct. The upgrade of white goods will be a once in what is left of life purchase. It will improve the way we live. From a cooker that is either hot, medium hot or off, with a hob that takes quarter of an hour to warm up or cool down, we shall have this ceramic-hobbed double-ovened pal. Following recipes will be a worthwhile pursuit at last. Less disappointing flop cakes and burnt pans. No more trips down to the freezer in the dark with a torch to get a loaf out for the morning or put the ice cream back. No more discovering that one's washing up ain't what it used to be, due to not wearing one's glasses when engaged in this task.
Transformation of the home environment is going to be hell. The process can't avoid chaos. Like the bear hunt, I have to go through it. Can't go round it or under it. Through is inevitable.
So we re-enter the Temple of White Goods, now in some despair at not being able to fit the dishwasher due to an unusual fitting on the end of a pipe, after three attempts to contact Customer Services and visits to B&Q and a local plumbing outlet. At one end of the Great Emporium of White Goods, we approach two people doing nothing at a counter and, almost before the words leave my mouth, a long confident finger is pointed to the other end of the Great Emporium of White Goods. "That way Madam, Sir" and off we hike. Heading at first for the wrong women who is blatantly ignoring us as she has her coat on and eyes cast down, we are summoned by another "This way please Madam, Sir". This is an ordinary gal who listens to our issue of inability to fit a dishwasher. Midstream she walks off through the glittering false idols of happiness and we gather that she is expecting us to follow in her wake as she leads us back to the other end of the Great Emporium of White Goods. Here we are going to address that very tall pleasant chappy who first enticed us to believe confidently that our local megastore was the place to buy. But, what is this? He isn't so interested? Wobbly, I can't process this, so I leave Martin to deal with it and stroll off to ogle some false idols of happiness. Wow! a Crockpot! Wow! a pink iron. Wow! a wall-sized Smart TV. Calmer now I return and the very tall pleasant chappy has gone back stage to seek a part. But has he really gone to "seek a part" or isn't he really just fibbing and going for a cup of tea? He returns with nothing and next thing I know the ordinary gal has found another ordinary gal (who quite frankly needs a better brassiere) and who actually says " I have no idea what I am doing", as we trail off behind the ordinary gal who is busy making some pretence of authority. We are going to phone Customer Services apparently! I do have to mutter at this point that I have done this three times already with no success...IF YOU ARE PHONING ABOUT BLA BLA PRESS BLA BLA IF YOU ARE PHONING ABOUT BLA BLA BLA PRESS BLA BLA BLA IF YOU ARE LA LA PRESS LA LA IF YOU AAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaah..STOP IT AND REDIAL...eventually you get through to the wrong place and are snakes and laddered back to somewhere mid call that you painfully recognise from twenty minutes ago and the deja vus causes great swellings of grief for your folly in ever expecting to succeed in a discussion over this matter. PHONE DOWN!!
So now we are in the retailer from whom the goods were purchased and the woman in a poor bra is going through the same process. This time the end game is that after all the utter shite of prevarication the number is engaged. I can't help but notice that after his back stage cup of tea, the Very Tall Previously Really Pleasant Guy is now utterly absorbed in a long casual chat with another assistant. Presumably planning their trip to the Himalayas later this year. I have taken two more walks around the Emporium of White Goods and considered in detail several more false idols, including something called a "game" which is a remote controlled smallish plastic rolly-polly thing that can do meagre looking stunts and comes in blue and white or black and white and has its own video show. I earnestly pray for a return to an interest in hop-scotch and bowling the hoop. Once more a little calmer, I hover around the bra-impeded woman and Martin and the familiar engaged tone and apologetic message about how sorry they are that everyone is real busy now and can't be asked to respond to us and I suspect they are all having cups of tea. Bra-impeded woman, who I am sure is really nice, looks worried as she overhears me confess to Martin that I am about to get extraordinarily angry or burst into floods of tears and possibly a combination of both. I decided that for the sake of all and sundry and possibly quite a few false idols, I had better get out of the Emporium of White Goods before I completely blow a fuse. I am told to go and sit in the car and I agree. I sit in the car and take out a pen and notebook and write.....
The dishwasher will be fitted for us on Sunday. Now we only have to deal with the replacement of the cooker. 
Nothing to worry about there then!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Birds' Singing Lessons

Birds have been responding to my singing lessons this year by trying to out sing my pupils. Firstly a blackbird took up song near the back door and sang so loudly whilst I was teaching that I had to shut the door, which is always open in the summer. A few days later, a blackbird hopped into the kitchen during a lesson. I was focused on my pupil, when it's sudden appearance in the kitchen caught my eye. We stopped and both stared in delight as the blackbird pecked about at the tiles a bit and the hopped out. This happened a second time a few days later.

Now a crow has taken up it's very dull persistent creaking song from the top of a neighbour's silver birch. Again, it was so loud yesterday that I had to shut the door.

These birds seem to be competing or joining in. I'm not sure which. It's a funny story from the life of a singing teacher. There are many funny stories and anecdotes and also many poignant ones, but they are about humans and our private time in the music room together. It isn't so easy to tell those tales. I can tell that somebody said they felt they came alive this week in their first singing lesson. I can tell that I get hiccups frequently because I am often inadvertently breathing in sympathy with my pupils when I am not actually going to sing. That gives me hiccups. I can wonder what on earth it sounds like to the neighbours over these years of Koo Koo Koo-ing and Lah Lah Lah-ing and Taaaaaaaay-ing

Maybe the birds are telling me.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

The texture of love

The texture of love is the wind in the trees
Elusive till you catch a scent the herbs in the garden
The tearing of thunder cracks us open
and lightening sparks in our eyes

The texture of love is in curtains which we draw each evening
The switch on the standard lamp to illuminate the darkened room
The hand held
The birds' rhapsody

The texture of love is harsh and brittle
Aching and profound
It is in the pots and pans and the rose in the jar
In the maps of our journeys

The very good times
and the bad ones

The smell of lilac
The gardens and homes of strangers in which we wander
In the care of the National Trust
The old van to whose needs we tend
The old hearts that break and mend and break and mend

The texture of love is in all these things

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Stop doing that rain dance please

Inspiration is the issue as I look out on the drenched back gardens of suburbia. Surely I should be living somewhere more dramatic. Somewhere with mountains and tumbling waterfalls. Somewhere with a wondrous river estuary and a myriad of tributaries for me to explore in a canoe. Somewhere near to the sea but not near enough to be engulfed or crumbled off a cliff.

Pause for a Virgin to whoosh past on the railway track that divides my drenched garden from the garages of that other mirror road whose houses face away from us.

The lilac blossom has been soaked into rust
Loving it, the castor oil bush has doubled in size
Moody water-filled sky lurks over slate grey roof line
Light fading
It's just that kind of day

Pack everything up and vanish

Wednesday, 5 March 2014


If Music is a jigsaw then very few if any of us get the whole picture and for many of us the picture is full of black holes.
Music is so beloved by so many people, but rarely does a mind come along that can encompass anything like its entirety. It isn't all of music that is beloved. I don't think there can be anybody who adores Death Metal, Puccini, Webern, Gilbert and Sullivan, Reggae, Adele, and the songs from Glee. But perhaps there is. What about someone who loves Ancient Icelandic Music, the songs of Cilla Black, late Beethoven Quartets, Kurt Weill, Perry Como and Wagner? I could go on with combinations but will restrain myself. I am finding them too diverting! It is a matter of taste. 
I presume that it is also a matter of how each person hears these various types of music. Being able to hear into the genre of Death Metal requires some bravery and for me it requires a muting of my defences. I feel invaded by this music. It encrouches on my sanity, as Stockhausen's Hymnen does when play through head phones. These are intense demanding tracts. 
But I also feel invaded but the insipid. By plaintive narrow voiced pop songs with the repetitive theme of loss of the beloved: Ouch you hurt me I will never recover.  Yet if you transport me back to Dowland's Flow My Tears Semper Dolens Semper Dowland Or Purcell's Dido's Lament I am uplifted by what seems now a much more sophisticated message.
That was just a tiny skim across the water of musical appreciation. But this mighty musical jigsaw contains so many more pieces. In places there are chains of interlinking pieces that require sequencing for strong learning to take place. Find your optimal hand position or your embouchure and you will liberate your instrument. 
There are also some sturdy little blocks that maybe be taken in isolation. Rhythm can come without pitch. Playing music from a script means that you can access huge swathes of the history of music, but reading music does't mean that you could attempt an authentic rendition of an unaccompanied traditional folk song. Playing boogie boogie is an art in itself and does not require knowledge on Chanson. 
Most of us can never aspire to complete the jigsaw. We can complete a corner and a big block to one side. We might have half the edge and a random collection of unconnected similarly coloured pieces that could fall in place given the right setting. We might complete a section from the middle with no way to link it in the rest. It is at the best patchy. It isn't a 250 piece job, more like a 25,000 one. 
In my daily life as a singing teacher I come across exceptional intelligence. After a day at work such people turn up here to be challenged deeply by music. The people that I refer to are high IQ folk who want to complete a part of their musical jigsaw that has frustrated them for years sometimes. I teach all sorts of people but this is one category of musical learner that I have just started to think about. I am quite intelligent myself, but have some massive black holes in my knowledge and understanding. My early teaching was very poor and I had great problems even approaching learning, let alone processing, sequencing and assimilating knowledge. Going out to work for eighteen years in Special Education resolved a lot of that but early born frustrations lurk. Harmony makes no sense to me. The nature of chords and the way they link up to form the conventions of either classical or jazz music feels outside my grasp. I could take the knowledge onboard as facts but it would mean nothing to my personal musical world where I create my own composition based on pattern making. Therefore I have not taken it onboard. 
I meet all sorts of musical learners, including people who have wonderful natural musical gifts and some who want to start completely from scratch to find the music within them. Sometimes the gifted do not practise. Sometimes the person starting from scratch finds the music but that doesn't satisfy their yearnings. It turns out that they wanted more of the jigsaw than was actually available to them. Wanting to sing soprano cannot create a soprano voice. There are some barriers that are insurmountable and then there are those that will dissolve over time with careful practise. It is the nature of my work to support people to overcome their barriers to learn to free up their musical world so that they can access enough of that vast musical jigsaw to satisfy them. 

Well I woke up at 5.20 and it is now 6.44, so whatever I spent the night thinking about has drizzled out into this rainy morning and I hope makes some sense. It is a great way to start the day. Sometimes I wake up full of a dream but today I woke up full of ideas. 

Monday, 23 May 2011


Being able to read another person's facial expression and body language in order to assess social cues seems to be to some extent contingent on being able to read oneself. The process of reading another is full of mine fields and we are all familiar with misunderstanding and being misunderstood. So we clarify with questions and through conversation we gather some general sense of what another may be feeling.
Apparently having your face injected with botox means that your face  may not be able to represent you authentically. It seems to follow that if you cannot express yourself authentically with your facial expressions then you may not be able to read others facial expressions...there is some sort of sense of vibration missing.
So I am thinking that there is a parallel here to the singing that is a leap I know..but think about what the voice really is: It is a vibration. The vibration of my voice does not just arrive in your ears. 
It comes towards you as a vibration of the air and some of it arrives in your ears
Ears aren't giant funnels to scoop up all sounds...they just take in what they can. But the sound of me to you comes in a much broader spectrum and so the vibrations from my voice enter your body in many ways. 
When you stand before me and sing, your voice is read by my whole body. This explains why as a singing teacher I have developed a strong empathy for the way that my singing pupils are using their voice.
 Hour after hour I experience my own and other peoples vocal sound waves. 
I know what my vocal sounds mean and how to adjust what I am doing to free up my voice. 
I do get a sense of how pupils are using their voices. 

Last week my pupil had a frog in her throat and I cleared mine to help!!

Monday, 16 May 2011


This weekend I found my Inner Gypsy. I was happily able to set up my computer in our dear camper van, Gladys, and take up the threads of children's story that I started last summer and carry on. 

Now there are four chapters. It is set in Herefordshire and so writing it there is for me a real treat.

The view over Hergest Ridge from where I was parked was a lovely back drop as the creative juices flowed.

My Inner Land Girl spent the afternoons clearing brambles and nettles. 
My Inner Hungry Beast ate huge suppers and I slept like a log. 
All to be commended. 

It is so hard to find the right time and space for writing. Creativity sometimes requires quite special conditions: Certainly at home writing takes the back seat and even my own singing has to wait its turn. Housework, paperwork, teaching, cooking, gardening, family. All these come first at home. 

But away from home with our lovely old Talbot Autosleeper parked somewhere with a view, well that seems to be quite another proposition.

Creative fire burns internally and must be given time and space.....