Finding my voice…

In August 2013 I reflected here on my feelings about being questioned whether I sing. For decades I attended concerts and events where my husband or sons were singing, and I organised school concerts for many years. But not since my own school days have I sung in a choir. Not until this year that is.

Those musings nearly 18 months ago, plus a timely reminder and photo from an old friend about our days in the school choir, challenged me to look for a place to sing with others.

20141215-215646.jpgSo when a new choir started up near us in January 2014 I knew it was for me.

The “Just Sing” choir has given me a wonderful opportunity to find my voice again, learn new songs, make new friends and have fun. The leader of the choir, Kelly, is amazingly patient and wonderfully affirming, building our competence and confidence.

This weekend we gave a Christmas concert to raise money for the local hospice. It was a squeeze to fit us all on the stage (about 70 of us in all) and the tickets sold out virtually overnight, raising over £1500 for such a good cause. So here is a photo of me in a choir again, nearly 50 years on since the school one, (yes I am there, middle row, third from left, just behind the purple tinsel!) and I love it!

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In print…

A couple of weeks ago I spent a day making colograph printing blocks with printing artist Robin Moorcroft. It was huge fun using all sorts of methods, cutting, tearing and sticking different materials to create a variety of textured plates. 1-IMG_21141-IMG_2116Then today I returned to print! It was exciting to see the blocks again, looking quite different, now dried and varnished, and ready to be inked up.

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1-IMG_2163Next came the messy bit, as we started inking up the plates and then fed them through the press onto dampened paper.

123___12It was an exciting moment when we peeled back the paper to reveal the prints, and even better when we added a second colour to highlight details. First results…1-IMG_2176

After lunch (we were ready for it!) we inked and printed further blocks. My final block was my favourite but the most difficult because I made it from dried grasses, and it was hard to ink it without breaking off delicate bits! But I was pleased with the way it turned out. Here is the inked block….1-IMG_2182And the prints…

1-IMG_2184-001Thank you for a great two days, Robin. I learned so much!

Advent countdown

Early December, the countdown begins, and inevitably I find this time of year memories of childhood are close. 20141206-112358.jpgI remember the excitement of opening the first little doors on glitter encrusted cardboard advent calendars – no chocolate treats concealed when I was small, just pictures… Or sometimes, less frivolously, Bible texts – to make sure I didn’t forget the “true” meaning of Christmas.

These days I can download an animated interactive advent calendar if I want to, and for most children today an actual door to open without a sweet treat behind it would be a bit disappointing! However I must not become an old cynic, and I confess I enjoy the animated advent calendar on my computer!

IMG_2133But one recurring delight for me this week is opening the curtains to a light dusting of blossom.

Our winter flowering cherry is like an advent calendar in that it faithfully begins its flowering at the start of December. As in previous years its delicate, un-glittered flowers are a reminder to me of hope as we enter winter, and the special promise of new birth and new beginnings when the year is at its darkest.

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Keep counting…

 

Dull days, bright moments

For the last few weeks the days have been passing, dull, grey and getting shorter – but with sunny moments.
Last week was my birthday. Sometimes I approach my birthday with trepidation and even dismissively. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I am afraid to acknowledge the passing of time, and the ageing process? Or perhaps there is a fear that the supposedly “special” day just serves to accentuate its ordinariness. This year the sun broke through clouds and colours were glorious. Many people sent birthday wishes, electronically or by older fashioned methods, which was lovely.1-IMG_2106

One of my dear friends sent a card with these words
“We do not remember days, we remember moments”
Cesare Pavese

At the back of my mind I can hear my Father quoting Eeyore, “After all, what are birthdays? Here today and gone tomorrow.” (We weren’t a naturally celebratory family!) And Eeyore is right in that birthdays are days just like any other, which pass and are gone. But, as Pavese says, moments are different. The moments when we are present to the joy of the moment, that is the stuff of memories.

Some moments I will remember from recent days include the honest kind sharing in two writing groups I lead, and the fun and exhilaration of singing with the “Just Sing” choir. Other continuing moments of making, creating, catching the light…

My st1-IMG_2112ars stitched with “difficult threads” are forming into a quilt. Work in progress.

And I am having fun creating pages for a textile book, inspired by the spindleberry  tree in our garden with its magical rosy autumn berries and glowing leaves.1-IMG_2107

On the Cornish history trail

On the first day of November, at the historic Fowey Hotel, we ate lunch in sunshine watching the river and looking across to Polruan, Cornwall. We were visiting for a couple of days holiday, but also on the trail of ancestors of my Grandfather, Sydney Bartlett, who lived here for many generations.

1-IMG_1982After lunch we took the little vehicle ferry across the river to Bodinnick,  by Daphne du Maurier’s house, and negotiating steep, narrow wooded lanes, we came to the ancient church of St Wyllow at Lanteglos -by -Fowey, Polruan.

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Generations of Pearns dating from 1645 appear in the records for this Parish, all family of Sydney’s great great grandfather William Pearn.  In 1792, Willam Pearn, mariner, married Hannah Leavis. Sadly William died only 8 years later, and Hannah was left a widow, although she later married again to a Richard Cossentine. This is me standing by Hannah’s grave – my 4 x great grandmother (I look worried, but I was quite chuffed to have found it!)1-IMG_1989

” Beneath this turf lies the mortal remains of Hannah the beloved wife of R. Cossentine and widow of Wm. Pearn who died the 6 of July 1828 aged 55 years. In justice to her memory it can be truly said that SHE Livd belovd and died regretted. A tribute of respect to a dearly beloved wife and a tender MOTHER”

Two generations later William and Hannah Pearn’s grand daughter, Catherine, married William Bartlett, a young carpenter. The Bartlett family had also lived in this area for many generations, and the next stage of our exploration was to search for clues for this part of the family.

Wellbeing Economics?

A blustery grey day this week and the lights are on in our village library. Cheerful chatter subsides as a group of people sit in a circle, heads bowed over notebooks, silence only broken by scratch of pens on paper. Some minutes of scribbling follow, then a few sighs, a stretch and a hum of quiet comments.

It is the monthly meeting of our community “Writing for Wellbeing” group. As always I am amazed and humbled as everyday problems, big and small, are shared and transformed through the medium of creative writing.

In London, also this week, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics met to launch its first report “Wellbeing in four policy areas” – transport, environmental planning, education and health, and arts and culture.

The connection between these two gatherings? A focus on creating a society which feels well, better even, through participating in creativity. “Experiencing arts and culture has demonstrable positive impacts on wellbeing… This is particularly true of participatory (as opposed to purely spectator) activities.” page 56 of the report.

Scientific studies around the world are showing the benefits to physical and mental health through expressive writing. In the library we sit surrounded by books whose authors attest to the positive health benefits of writing. Matt Haig, popular teen and adult fiction writer, including “The Humans”, says “writing saved my life”.

One writing group member remarks “the problems I came in with haven’t gone, but I see them differently after writing”, an experience echoed by many others.

For the London politicians wellbeing economics is about maintaining a happy, healthy workforce. Parliamentary Report chairman David Lammy MP commented “wellbeing matters more, not less, in times of economic difficulties.”

I could be cynical and say “it’s just about saving money”, but this week in the library I have seen it’s all about saving lives.

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I wrote the piece above as an assignment for the Introduction to Journalism online course I am currently doing. The hardest part of the assignment was the word count of 300 words! I could write so much more…..

Autumn amazement

It’s been a while!

Apologies for my absence from blogging, the last few weeks have seen the final days of the life of my ninety-nine year old mother-in-law, and then several relatives stayed with us while we celebrated her funeral. Her dying was not unexpected, she had been becoming increasingly frail over the last few months, eating very little, and we knew her days were shortening. We will miss her feisty and courageous strength which endured for nearly a hundred years.

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The season is changing in the garden too. A glorious fanfare of stunning colour heralds the departure of tumbling leaves as they loose their hold on the tossing branches. Autumn can be brilliant, but inevitably speaks to us of endings, and lengthening nights, a darkening and a chill.

Mary Oliver captures it so well in her poem “When Death Comes”

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

- Mary Oliver

So even as the evenings draw in this autumn, and the days turn grey and wet, let’s stay “married to amazement” and celebrate the season with courage and joy.