Singing for Pleasure, always!

Have a listen to some of the new recordings from Sing for Pleasure’s Summer School in August 2014.

Some wonderful arrangements from their songbooks as well as the premiere of Oli Tarney’s sublime, Magnificat.  It was a privilege to be one of the soprano voices on these recordings.  

Photo copyright: Sing for Pleasure

Photo copyright: Sing for Pleasure

Photo copyright: Hilary Griffiths

Photo copyright: Hilary Griffiths

From the SfP website:  Recorded excerpts from the first performance of Oliver Tarney’s Magnificat, from Summer School 2014. SfP plans to publish it, record it and make it available for choirs to perform in the future. It is a hugely varied, interesting and approachable piece!

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Time for Tea

AfternoonTea

I came across this great list of some of the most gorgeous tea rooms around the UK. Because I love afternoon tea as a special treat, I thought I’d post it here and share it with my readers. I’m very grateful to (and envious of) whoever’s done the donkey work to compile this list!

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Holiday heaven – Clydey Cottages, Pembrokeshire

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Sheer, luxurious, family-holiday-heaven in a beautiful spot in Pembrokeshire. That’s how I would describe Clydey Cottages. The phrase ‘rural idyll’ was invented for it. We spent a wonderful week there with our two young sons in August 2013 and wished we’d spent two.  They really have thought of everything – dreamy, chocolate-box cottages with every modern comfort you could wish for.

imageViews that would inspire another generation of romantic poets, wandering around fields, staring at blue skies and fluffy, white clouds.  For children they’ve got playtime covered: outdoor play area with sandpit, swings and climbing frame?  Check.  Fancy swinging from the trees in a home-made rubber-tyre, Tarzan-like device?  Check.  Outdoor area with ride-on trikes and bikes?  Check.  Amazing indoor pool and spa area with hot tub and sauna for weary parents? Check.  Games room with table tennis, table football and an indoor soft-play area with Playstation and comfy leather seats and cappuccino machine for the parents? Check.

There’s even a small organic farm and a friendly farmer who’ll happily take the kids with him to feed the animals every morning at 9.30 (my sons were thrilled to bits to be presented with Young Farmer certificates at the end of our stay.) Helpful, friendly staff are on hand (one even hung my washing out for me so we could head off on a day out one morning!)

If I could magic up one final, dreamy ‘plugin’ to this mini-paradise it would be a small café/bistro where we could enjoy hot drinks and light lunches or snacks (to take a break from cooking while on holiday.) Then we’d definitely never leave the place at all while we were there! Yes, it’s pricey, at almost £2,000 a week for a 2-bed self-catering cottage, but as with everything in life I suppose, you get what you pay for. I wasn’t surprised when I read that Clydey Cottages had been voted Number 1 in a survey carried out by the Family Holiday Website “Baby-Friendly Boltholes.” Holiday heaven awaits, for families wanting to ‘get away from it all’ in this gorgeous corner of Pembrokeshire.

Clydey Cottages Pembrokeshire
Penrallt, Lancych, Boncath
Pembrokeshire, SA37 0LW
Wales

T: 01239 698619
E: info@clydeycottages.co.uk

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“Gibraltarians have come into their own” – my article in the New Statesman.

Photo: courtesy Catherine Cleverly

Photo: courtesy Catherine Cleverly

My favourite meal as a child growing up in Gibraltar was “tortilla de patatas” (Spanish, potato omelette) with a dollop of tomato ketchup and baked beans.  As an adult I’m still partial to this curious, Anglo-Spanish, culinary combination, which perfectly encapsulates the hybrid nature of the Gibraltarians.  Fiercely British with a strong, Mediterranean influence, all aspects of life on the Rock of Gibraltar – from the “llanito” mishmash of English and Spanish spoken everywhere to the local traditions and way of life – feel just as curious a mix as that plate of tortilla and baked beans. Continue reading

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Musical legacy

WilliamGomezphotoIt’s amazing how a piece of music can move you to tears, give you goose-bumps. I came across this clip of the stunningly beautiful “Ave Maria” written by the late, Gibraltarian guitarist and composer, William Gomez, conducted by another supremely talented Gibraltarian, conductor Karel Chichon. This was performed by the Latvian soprano, Elina Garanca at the Vienna State Opera House. One talented “llanito” (Gibraltarian) keeping another’s musical legacy alive. Continue reading

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Keep the beat, improve your language skills

Here’s an interesting article I’m reproducing here, courtesy of the BBC.

Moving in time to a steady beat is closely linked to better language skills, a study suggests.

MoveToTheBeat
People who performed better on rhythmic tests also showed enhanced neural responses to speech sounds. The researchers suggest that practising music could improve other skills, particularly speech. In the Journal of Neuroscience, the authors argue that rhythm is an integral part of language. “We know that moving to a steady beat is a fundamental skill not only for music performance but one that has been linked to language skills,” said Nina Kraus, of Northwestern University in Illinois.

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Everyone lost and saved

The four words said it all.  They were on a card stuck to the back of the runner in front of me.  “I am running the Race for Life for…everyone lost and saved.”  There were many similar messages on the backs of the thousands who gathered at Epsom Downs on this gloriously sunny and warm, Sunday morning.  All doing their bit to raise money for Cancer Research so that, as the charity’s slogan said, “we can kick cancer’s butt.”  I was running my first charity race with a group of Mums from my son’s primary school.

Group of St Joseph’s Mums after finishing the race.

We’d been supporting each other with tips and advice on training in the months prior to the race and there we all were on the big day, amid the sea of pink t-shirts, with our numbers proudly displayed on the front and our “speech bubble” cards on the back.  Names of loved ones who’d lost the fight against cancer, names of people still battling the disease, messages of solidarity with all those touched by “the big C” in some way or other.  Messages that showed they were in the thoughts of the 18,000 runners and walkers taking part in Race for Life at Epsom.  There was a lively, carnival atmosphere during the energetic, warm-up in the hour before the race started.  Amid the excited crowds I also spotted the odd, poignant moment of quiet contemplation – a silent, emotional hug here, a clasped hand of support there, countless photos pinned onto t-shirts, that spoke volumes.  We were all there to run the good race in support of a good cause.  As we sped off from the starting line I was surprised at how emotional I felt to be jogging along with all those thousands

Thousands of women and some children running together in support of Cancer Research.
Thousands of women and some children running together in support of Cancer Research.

of women past thousands of supporters who lined the route, hands raised, clapping and cheering us on.  “There lies true empathy,” I thought to myself as I tackled the first of many steep climbs on the five-kilometres course.  At the finishing line, hugs, tears, smiles, laughter, more water bottles and an enormous sense of achievement at having contributed to the efforts of so many in finding a cure for “the Big C.”  I’m sure almost everyone who took part will be back again next year – I know I will.

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Model train rides

SSME2There’s a quiet corner of the Surrey countryside that is forever England.  You wouldn’t believe it but through an unprepossessing railway arch in Leatherhead, lies the world of the model steam railway.  On 12 days a year this 9-acre site  is open to the public for train rides run by the  Surrey Society of Model Engineers  (SSME.)  It’s not just children who go mad for the little trains; they’re just as much fun for the grown-ups.

It’s one of those hidden gems (probably less hidden once this article is published) that is a throwback to another, gentler age, when a great day out for families didn’t necessarily involve exorbitant entrance fees, over-priced food and drink and the obligatory gift-shop before you can exit.  Run by a team of volunteer enthusiasts, the SSME has been going for over thirty years, meeting two or three times a week to tinker with bits of locomotive (all home-made) and train track, building and maintaining their stock of 14 diesel, battery-powered and steam trains.

SSME1On “public running days” as they’re known, men with solid, traditional names such as Roger and John, get dressed up in their old-fashioned railwaymen uniforms and spend the day running train rides.  They clearly enjoy getting their hands dirty shovelling coal, greasing parts that need oiling, checking points and filling up engine boilers with water to make steam.  There’s frequent replenishment of large mugs of tea brought over from the old-fashioned canteen opposite the ticket office.  The camaraderie between these train enthusiasts is palpable and there’s a spirit of “all hands to the pump” to ensure that everything runs smoothly.  And it does.  I’ve been to half a dozen of these “running days” but it wasn’t until my most recent visit, while my husband went on yet another train ride with our young sons, (see video) that I had a moment to reflect not just on model train rides but what lies beneath.  At the risk of sounding a bit “Pollyanna-ish” I realised that the simple, old-fashioned values of enthusiasm, hard work, camaraderie, passionate attention to detail and politeness which characterise the society of model engineers are truly uplifting. The large, green field encircled by the model railway rides was full of families enjoying a picnic, some were celebrating children’s birthday parties, others kicking a ball around as they waited for the next train ride.  All around me were relaxed, happy, smiling faces (and not a games console in sight!)   A simple idea, brilliantly executed in the most un-flashy, thoroughly British kind of way.  The result?  A day of good, honest and inexpensive family fun. Oh and to crown it all, the sun always seems to be shining (at least when we’ve been.)  Beat that if you can, theme parks!

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The Iron Lady

So much has been written about her – during her life and since Maggie2her death.  Baroness Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher, Maggie Thatcher, the Iron Lady, whatever your preferred moniker, the mere mention of her name invariably got a reaction.

I deliberately chose not to write about her during the immediate aftermath of her passing, for fear the acres of newsprint and hours of airtime devoted to the story might end up sledgehammering this writer’s thoughts on the subject.  Time for reflection is a luxury most journalists don’t have in the race to beat a deadline.  On this story, the deadlines have been and gone and after some reflection, a time to distil the essence of Margaret Thatcher.  She was one of few public figures whose ideology spawned an “ism.”  Thus Thatcherism has entered the lexicon of all who read, speak and write about her.  Her single-minded determination to overcome any obstacles on the rise to the top is now the stuff of political legend.  She stood alone for much of her political and personal life, particularly since she was widowed.

Copyright: BBC

Copyright: BBC

Despite all her mighty, political ideals and achievements, whether you admired or detested her, it’s hard not to feel sorry for a woman who died alone, in a hotel, with just a nurse and a doctor in attendance.

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