Marooned in the Modern World

In conjunction with my book "Swiss Family Suburban" this blog is from my diary; the diary of a wife and mum in a world where neither is valued highly. Beth Bill.

11th May 2011

Each week I sing with Ceramic City Choir, and Em now sings with me. Our last concert was one of French music including Faure's Requiem, Le Cantique de Jean Racine and works by Widor. Our next concert will include Vivaldi's Gloria and Handel's 'Chandos' Anthem. However, last night we took a break from our usual genre and spent the whole evening singing Tom Jones' Delilah!! The reason being that ESPN were filming us to us the choir in the build up to the Stoke City FA Cup match at the weekend. It was very surreal! I don't really like football - but as my Nan said,"All in life's rich pattern."

11th February 2011

Well, I guess we're well and truly back into term time mayhem. It's not without its perks, though. The children all play in a folk band run by the City Music and Performing Arts Service, called Rootz and they were booked to play at a Barn Dance in Longton. They usually get a pie and pea supper but sadly not this time. They did however get a break from playing and managed a few dances themselves. Any excuse to wear a silly hat!

12th January 2011

Last night we started back to choir rehearsals. This spring we'll be singing Faure's Requiem, Le Cantique de Jean Racine & Messe Sollennelle by Vierne - YUMMY!! What makes it SO extra special - or even more extra, extra special is that my daughter is singing them alongside me. The music is just sublime, which just about makes up for us having to wear a truly awful jacket as part of our choir uniform. It absolutely buries Em. When she first tried hers on we had such a hoot as she'd never seen (or heard of) shoulder pads - very Dallas/80's. Of course, they were swiftly removed. Hopefully, because we're singing a requiem we might just be wearing a plain black dress, which is a little more palatable.

This all has such a lovely symmetry to it. I joined the choir over 20 years ago when my piano teacher/ friend invited me along. She is now Em's teacher/friend and we all sing together. The fact that we're singing such a beautiful programme is the cherry on top. Even Jonti will be keen to listen, as the last movement of the Requiem plays in the final episode of Morse - when Morse has his heart attack. Some years ago we did a Morse excursion around Oxford and Jonti and I stood on the very spot Morse collapsed. I'm not sure we were supposed to walk on the grass - oops! What really made the day was that, coincedentally, we saw Kevin Whately filming an episode of Lewis just by the Radcliffe Camera. Whaa hooo!

12th December 2010

Last night Em and I sang Handel's Messiah at the Victoria Hall. It was such a wonderful experience! I have sung this before (once with Ted Heath, ex. PM conducting) but I think this was the most enjoyable performance yet. Not only did having Em at my side enhance the experience, but having Oliver Neal Parker conducting our choir, the organist and the orchestra was so great. He is now our regular conductor, so we are accustomed to his conducting (and he knows our foibles well!) whereas we have previously had guest conductors take over for the final performance - which I always find a bit hairy. At one performance (mentioning no names) the conductor couldn't find the altos from the sopranos, nor could he find the down beat. I enjoyed last night so much. The organist is a friend of mine, he played at our wedding. He played Romance from Mozart's Eine Kleine Nacht Musik with his wife playing flute, and he played War March of the Priests as we processed out of the church. It's a vast and awesome sound from the Organ in the Victoria Hall - with an orchestra to boot!

I'm always impressed how Messiah has really become the music of the people. Apparently there was always a performance in the local chapel. I wonder how they did it? Nobody (or hardly any of the choristers) could read music and the conductor was self taught, but it always gained a good reputation. There's a phenomenon of "Random Acts of Culture" where they burst into the Hallelujah chorus in various shopping centres, with the choir dotted among the shoppers. Unfortunately our local shopping centre doesn't have a pipe organ at it's centre! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp_RHnQ-jgU

28th November 2010

Well, here comes the tidal wave! Em's Grade 7 piano date is through, we've had concerts (ranging from Symphony Orchestra to Scottish Cayleigh's) every night this week. I've still had pupils and David is getting busy with the pre-Christmas shoppers.http://billyart.co.uk/ It's all good stuff, just no time inbetween to enjoy it. The chip shop knows us well enough by now, the slow cooker gets the odd stew out (when I've time to peel veg) and the ironing pile is learning to wait. I've just got to learn to take it in my stride. The blessing is that, as everything really has come at once, we should settle down again quite quickly. I hope so!!!!

12th November 2010

I know that the timetable has been hotting up since the start of term, but I know life's going to get a whole lot busier. In previous years I've got into quite a state as, since exams are looming and concert season really hots up, the house gets messier and our diet gets worse. You'd think that if we were out of the house more the place would stay tidier, but as we 'drop and go' you begin to lose the carpet. Also, as we dash more and more frequently, and as the time we have here gets prioritised we tend to grab a bite when we can and then call at the local chippy on the way home at 10 o'clock at night.

I'm trying to make myself remember that it's only for a short while, the ironing pile will keep, surface clutter doesn't matter for a bit and chips is ok for a period of time (preferably not every night - though the kids would disagree).

17th October 2010

Last night Em and I sang Mendelsohnn's Elijah. It's some years since I sang this and I'd forgotten how good it is. I realise it perhaps isn't as accessible as Messiah - but it is worth listening to. There were a few gaffs, in that the soloists didn't realise who was singing what, and the bass stood up to sing an Aria at the same time as the Soprano - yikes. Nevertheless, it was a very good evening. You just can't beat live music, and participating is an extra bonus. Em only joined the choir this September and so has only had a few weeks rehearsal. This really is a major work - rather like a musical version of the old TV epics, so she did really well to get to grips with it in such a short time. In true Calvin and Hobbes fashion - character building! (Not to mention good for her UCAS entry).

2nd October 2010

Em entered a class in the Biddulph Music Festival, and won! She won the Volvo Trophy (not sure why it's called that, I guess it's to do with sponsorship). The trophy is huge. She played the Chopin flute Variations, which is very impressive. She did work really hard, so I'm glad she did well. I think, from the photo, it's evident that she takes all this very seriously!?

Jonti keeps busy with his trips to Macclesfield and now he also joins Alderley Edge's orchestra. It's quite nice to have a run out and a coffee to coincide with rehearsals. It's just a matter of stemming the panic that sets in when things get so busy. This academic year has hardly begun and the calendar is beginning to look like a spider fell in an ink pot and crawled all over the page. I guess it's just a matter of times and seasons - and this is a busy one. I suppose that in a few years from now we'll have the luxury of space either side of events - so : Take a deep breath and get on with it! On this trip it happily coincided with 'The Northern Women's Convention' which was pretty much en route. David played chauffeur and Em and I, with a friend, caught up with some friends from the Wirral during the day.

21st September 2010

I've noticed how we spend our days completing seemingly meaningless tasks, and yet - in hindsight - it is these very dull tasks that matter most. (Hence a plain grey square for an image!) I always remember a quote that "Though a man may travel the globe he must do it one step at a time, and it by these steps that our life is measured." For example; I spent this morning being a 'field assistant' for a friend of mine who is conducting an degree science experiment/dissertation on the quality of soil in allotments founded on old industrial sites. We spent the morning traipsing around an allotment gathering trowel full after trowel full of soil from various depths at various locations on the allotment. It's difficult to connect this morning's activities to what will become a scientific table of soil analysis and chemical read outs - but without the spade work (literally) there would be no journal or report on what could be going into someone's veg.

On a more every day level; the endless routine of preparing meals results in whether my family is fit or obese, or the fact that I sit and listen to the same piano pieces and scales all over again means that my children will gain their music qualification and hopefully gain them a good University place, or my marking yet another maths paper results in a good GCSE equivalent for my kids. Similarly, making time for my own piano practice (ahem!! moving swiftly on) - when I've really had enough for the day - should mean I maintain my own skills and gain some sense of personal satisfaction. Even more mundane is that fact that I keep washing, ironing and cleaning - in addition to teaching my children and a fair few of everybody elses - means that my home is clean and (reasonably) tidy.

In reality family life isn't very 'shiny' (or at least ours isn't and I haven't any spare energy to pretend!), but if we all roll our sleeves up and get 'stuck in' whilst trying to keep the peace and maintain loving relationships (which is just as much hard work) - we should make it through pretty whole.

15th September 2010

Last night Em auditioned to join my choir (in addition to singing in the City Youth Choir) and was placed with me as a 2nd Soprano. It's great that we can sit together, but it raises some quite ludicrous seating issues. There isn't really any more space on the row so a few of us moved up to the front row, but this left my friend Mae behind. Unfortunately there are those who are really nasty if they don't sit by a particular person and insist that others sit in a specific place. We'll have to give serious thought and split into two's! Perhaps Em can move to the back and sit by Mae. How silly! It's just like being back at school.

The reality is that it doesn't matter who you sit next to as there is absolutely no time to chat during rehearsal and then you can move and chat during the short break time. You really are there just to sing. Em has just a few short weeks to get to grips with "Elijah" - no problem.

I do have a dilemma; David is considering a business trip to Northern Ireland, to sell his motorbike prints and I could go with him - making it into a mini holiday (we've not had a holiday in over 16 years). However, I'd be missing our Handel's "Messiah" concert! I have sung this before but I was really looking forward to singing this with our 'new' conductor, Oliver Neal-Parker, and with Em joining too. Hence the dilemma ...

P.S. I love today's Google logo marking the occasion of Agatha Christie's 120th birthday! We are real mystery nuts; I was so proud when Jonti solved the murder at a Murder Mystery Night after only two clues! (He has read a fair few Poirot mysteries).

10th September 2010

We are warming up to the start of term gradually. For the children's music theory lesson we needed to get a little filing in order - so we took it to McDonalds! It was quite funny really as there were a couple of businessmen behind us talking 'shop' over a coffee and a laptop, and everything seemed so very important. In contrast we had papers spread across the table, a hole punch and Big Macs as well as the officious coffee. I think things will be a bit stricter next week. Mind you, we have taken music theory into McDonalds before and done some serious thinking work, so perhaps the next trip isn't really so far away - so long as we get the work done.

9th September 2010

Yikes, term time has crashed in upon us and I haven't even scratched the surface of what I'd hoped to achieve. Nevertheless, it's good to get back into routine. I've not got myself anything like as organised as usual, and I think that's because I've suffered unusually with pre-term nerves because Jonti and Em will be starting their A' level equivalents this time, which does feel quite daunting. However, now that term is upon us and we're getting on with it things don't seem quite so ominous. We've a heavy timetable to work through and lots to get done, but the thought is always more effort than the action. It's just a matter of tightening things up into a more workman like manner and being organised.

I've started back to choir for this year and we've a massive performance of Mendelssohn's "Elijah" in a few weeks. I spoke to our conductor, about Em joining us - now she is of school leavers age and aiming to go to University to study music, and he suggested that she jump right in and sing in this next concert with us. It's a mammoth undertaking, with only 5 rehearsals left, and having never sung it before. Ah, well - 'no guts, no glory'!

23rd July 2010

One of the children's friends are hand rearing a nest of baby squirrels. They were found in her grandparent's flue (not safe at all!) I know that squirrels are technically vermin, and as such we don't really need to be saving any, but it really has been lovely to see them grow. They began with no fur and their eyes closed and then they grew the sweetest whiskers. The children said they grew better whiskers than their dad could manage! Getting a bottle which they could drink from seemed a real problem but the parents are determined nature lovers and stuck to the task. With this friend Matt also went to help feed a snake (defrosted rat!) - I'm less keen to gain photographic documentation of that event!

Over this weekend Jonti and Em are in Belgium with the City Music Service, performing with the City Youth Brass Band and the City Youth Flute Choir. They are performing at various venues, one of which includes the Menin Gate, where The Last Post is played every evening in memory of soldiers in unknown graves. What a wonderful opportunity. Something like that will stay with you for the rest of your life, we are so blessed for the twins to have the chance to go there.

12th July 2010

At the children's concert tonight Em was nominated for the Elaine Beaumond Award. This is an annual award that was bequeathed to the City Music and Performing Arts Service to reward loyalty, hard work and commitment. It was a real surprise when the Folk Group leader told Em that she had been nominated. The fun of it was that, when they introduced Em onto the stage, they didn't give a review of her attendance, or her academic and musical achievements. Instead they introduced her of having a love of buttons and for being known for sewing buttons onto all her clothes and bags. Praise indeed!

30th June 2010

The children gave their hair an extra brush (or at least a brush) tonight as the City Youth Wind Orchestra were having a group photo taken at rehearsal tonight. What a lovely surprise to find that it was their Uncle who was the photographer. As such we got a few ad-hoc extra photo sittings; individual shots with their instruments, a pic of all three children with their instruments (Jonti had his jazz brushes) and Jonti also got a lovely pic with his girlfriend. I'm looking forward to seeing the proofs.

I remember when the children were in school, I never could remember when the class photos were to be taken. Consequently all the pictures of the kids were very 'authentic'. Em's fringe was always frizzled and the boys were stereotypically 'boyish'. I was always amazed how some mums could arrange being on hand to brush their child's hair just before the shot. I wondered if they would manage if they had three children in three different infant classes - I never could! On reflection I'm glad - at least the photos actually represent the children as they were, not a sterile and emotionless representation. Em, at 16, still shows considerable reluctance to use a brush (just like her mother) - you just make use of the 'grunge' fashion and it works quite well!

28th June 2010

It's that familiar end of year/summer concert madness time of year again. Pretty nearly every night of this next two weeks is taken up with some concert or other. There's a good variety of themes - Folk music, Percussion & Samba, Concert Wind Band, Choral etc.. In addition to all of this there is a day trip to the Birmingham Music Festival, Exams and trying to get the twins General Level school work tied up and finished. Not to mention the ubiquitous filing. It all becomes very expensive, too. The children's music concert tickets are very reasonably priced, but it all adds up. It's all for a good cause though - the local City Music service. It'll soon be the summer hols, phew.

28th May 2010

After our discussion of ball games (see 23/05) the boys have suddenly developed a craze for playing with a tennis ball again, and Em isn't too unhappy about tagging along. It's quite pleasant to see two 16 year olds and a 14 year old playing catch - although it is quite a bit rougher now they are older! The main break time occupation is a form of cricket, but using an old conifer branch as a bat, which makes the direction of the shot quite unpredictable. Matt is addicted enough to be happy simply bouncing the ball or throwing it against a wall (though not inside a sock!). However, it does mean that I'm having to curb too many prolonged outside breaks. I guess it's because we've finally got a bit of sunshine!

I was hoping to spend this afternoon working through some exercises on Figured Bass for the children's music theory lesson but the twins are SO close to finishing the dreaded Geography course (that seems to consuming their days) that I thought it best not to interrupt their cognitive flow - they need to get it finished before half term. Figured Bass is quite an involved topic (or I think it is) so I'd rather leave it until I can have their full attention. Instead, I spent the afternoon marking tests (my fault for leaving it for so long). It wasn't unpleasant though, as I took all the paperwork into the garden and spent a pleasant couple of hours under the gazebo, with the dog dozing on the lawn and the hens clucking down the garden - a sure sign of another egg!

Regarding eggs: Yaayy, Verity is no longer brooding on the nest all day! The tough treatment of locking her out of the nest seems to have done the trick. We just need her to start laying again. Charity does seem in better spirits now that the warm weather is here. Her comb isn't quite as shrunken and she is pootling about more and taking dust baths (when the others will let her). She mustn't be able to cope with the cold as well as the others, this first winter must have been a shock to her. However, she isn't laying yet...

22nd May 2010

Jonti played in a KEMS (King Edward Musical Society) orchestral workshop in Macclesfield today, playing Holst's "The Planets". He's wanted the opportunity to play this for ages, as it has a brilliant percussion score, especially in "Mars, the bringer of War". I do think that it's ambitious to tackle the whole suite in a day for a one off performance. David went to see the final performance and said it was very good. (I couldn't make it as I needed to pick Em up from work and get everything ready to dash out again in the evening).

As soon as David and Jonti got home and had rushed a quick sandwich for tea we were straight out again to see our friend in an amateur performance of the play "Dry Rot", a farce by John Chapman. The play is set in a country hotel and is all about 'knobbling' race horses. It really was very good. I think I prefer amateur productions as they have a more cosy ambience. The ice creams are cheaper too. This is quite a timely theme as I've just read my first Dick Francis mystery, all of which are set around the racecourse. It was a brilliant read.

13th May 2010

I do wonder if we are letting this little doggie take over a little. Today we took Beejay along to Em and Jonti's music lesson. It perhaps isn't quite as bad as it seems when you consider that their flute/clarinet teacher, Mae, is my friend and she did want to meet him. Nevertheless it did seem a little eccentric taking his bowl and a bottle of water to a music lesson. It did help, as it meant that the children could just get on with their work when they got back home as the dog had already had a good walk during their lesson time. I taught the children all their music for years, but now they are more advanced they would benefit from someone who is better than I am - my brain has been full of domestic matters for the last decade and a half. I do still teach them piano and music theory, although during this last half term lessons have been squeezed out owing to one thing or another. Why is it that the most important things are those that are most easily skipped? I suppose that it is easier to do the less demanding things - something which needs addressing! (My fault here - another reason not to get a job!)

We've got Verity up and about this afternoon. To begin with Matt has been ousting her from the nest a couple of times a day, but she doesn't stay up and about for very long - straight back to brooding in the nest. This is a problem as, not only is she not laying, but she could prevent the others from laying and she isn't eating, drinking or moving either. Once I knew that the other hens had laid their eggs I locked them all out of the hen house and have given them the run of the garden - herb garden included! The others were quite happy with this arrangement, having lots of lovely things to nibble. Verity seems quite happy, on the whole, but does keep nipping back to the shed to see if she can get in. At least she is eating and moving now. Hopefully she'll get the broodiness out of her system soon, if we continue in this way. I might consider locking her away from the hen house all day tomorrow, if the weather is good.

23rd April 2010

Now here's the best type of home schooling: While Jonti and Em were at their computer course I gave Matt a piano lesson in Asda Cafe! Imagine that - a piano lesson with no piano, how creative! We really did...

Matt is skipping ahead to the next grade and so we just needed to recap the next batch of scales and remind him to play for 3 octaves now. He's already heard some of the pieces before so we had a hum through a choice of pieces and looked at the background blurb to help him decide which piece to look at first. He's opted to go for a twentieth century French piece. He's quite interested in Debussy at the moment, as I have been looking at La Fille Aux Cheveux de Lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair). It's even better as the composer was taught be Faure, and Em has been playing a lot of Faure flute music - so Matt's quite keen. It's not often the lads get that flash of inspiration so you have to seize the moment. So, he has his practise laid out for the week and we had a nice half hour with a coffee and a hot choc. Great! (I wish it was always that simple).

22nd April 2010

Who would think of all the repercussions arising from this volcanic cloud over England? My friend, Mae, has been stranded in France (lucky thing) - and she has had our Grade 8 exam results sitting on her doormat! I have been advised, by some, to break in and get them! (But, 'Thank you Lord for teaching me patience!) Nevertheless, our suspense is over and we have passed! I got a plain and respectable pass - and am pleased, Em got a merit - and is disappointed! I do understand (she had a blonde moment in the aural questions and it cost her those few extra marks) - but it is a very good mark. Jonti passed his piano in his usual style - by the skin of his teeth. Sheesh, what can you do with these children - it's one emotional overload after another! Now that Mae is back Matt is going to start having Clarinet lessons with her, instead of me, and so today is quite an exciting day for him. Up until now he has only ever had music lessons with me at home, but I think he warrants a little more expertise now. I'll still teach all the children their piano and theory. I think it will do him good to see somebody else now. He was moved up to 2nd clarinet in wind band and 1st clarinet in clarinet choir, so a bit a of musical maturity from another teacher will be good. The first concert I played as 1st flute was momentous - I fell off the edge of the stage. "Ta daaah!" Yikes, I really did, how embarrassing. Amazingly nobody seems to have noticed, despite me ending up in the middle of the Timpani. We were playing Haydn's Surprise Symphony; it really was a surprise!

This cloud has also meant that I've been stranded and alone at choir rehearsals for a couple of weeks. Because my usual friends weren't there (Mae included) I had nothing better to do than to browse over the second hand books that are sold there to raise funds for the choir. This is always a dangerous thing to do because I am a compulsive reader. For me, reading isn't a gentle recreation - I get so sucked into the world of the book that everything else (literally everything) gets left. I also stay awake until the small hours reading, even when I am exhausted, because I can't put the book down - not a healthy approach I know. When the twins were babies I read The Lord of the Rings. David would leave for work in the morning (he had to get a job then, during a 'starving artist' phase) and I would be reading whilst dangling the tassle of a book mark in front of the babies to occupy them. I'd be in pretty much the same position when he returned home - he did ask if I had fed them at all during the day (of course I had!). Well, they do say that children should grow up with books and reading! Matt and Jonti have picked put this love of reading, though Em is more of a 'doer' than a reader - humph!

After a holiday it's always a relief to get back to the routine of term time. This is last term of compulsory education for the twins, so they have an awful lot of work to get done by the summer. However, in many ways not much will change as Jonti and Em are going to continue to home educate for their A levels. They can have a quality curriculum in the comfort of their own home (without the usual distractions) and - thanks to the local music service - can be part of several bands and choirs which far outstrip any school orchestra. The children already work under their own steam, so this will just continue. The only thing that will change is that Jonti and Em will no longer be inspected by the LEA. I'm just not sure what to do with my time now that they don't need me quite so much...

Just as we were wondering whether to commit Charity to the pot (I don't think we ever could really) her comb has shown the tiniest signs of growing back. I'm thinking that she just doesn't cope well with the cold. The comb is where a hen sweats, hence battery hens having such large combs (the environment of a battery farm is really hot) and so Charity may just be feeling the cold. She has a small black dot on the tip of her comb, which may be frost bite, and so might start to revive as the weather warms up. We spoke to a knowledgeable neighbour and he says that sometimes you just get a hen like that - a bit of a dud. We'll see how she goes, but hopefully she will pick up soon.

10th April 2010

After so many exams it's good to be off timetable for a couple of weeks. The trouble is that, after so many weeks of slogging at my flute practice everything else at home has gone to pot. I'd intended to spend this holiday 'playing house' - reducing the sewing/mending pile (one of my favourite jobs - I find it really satisfying doing little bits of sewing and saving clothing for that little bit longer), of course the ironing pile needs tackling and generally tidying and clearing out. However I've got taken over by events:

Although Jonti and Em are working through the holidays (they have so much work to get finished by the summer) their friends are allowed to join us so long as they let them get on with some work - a kind of relaxed homework club. Matt can have the fortnight off and so he is free to socialise. The result is that I've had 6 children here most days. I've really enjoyed having all the kids here, but I've kept moving off-task (my own fault) - nipping kids off for a coffee trip and a break etc.. I've also enjoyed helping Jonti's girlfriend with her school's textiles project, but this means that the ironing still isn't done. And, of course I haven't played my flute or piano for ages! I'm not very good at balancing things, it's all one thing and then another. I guess it's ok to spend a couple of weeks entirely on family, I'll just have to pull everything in later. I do envy those who manage to keep the house spotless, though. I did ask someone once where they kept their ironing pile. They answered that they never had one, they ironed everything as soon as it was washed and dried - now why didn't I think of that!

31st March 2010

At the end of a busy month Em and I took our Grade 8 flute exam together yesterday. Em has been working towards this for quite a few months now but I decided to go for it only 8 weeks ago. It's something I should have done about 20 years ago, but at the time I met David, had twins, then Matt and was then deeply immersed in family life. Although I feel bad for not working at it earlier, taking our flute exam together did have a nice poetry about it. The exam invigilator commented how nice it was that two sisters took their exam on the same day - ha! I'm under no illusion about how old I look, so perhaps she was just being cautious. My friend, Mae, who used to teach me and now teaches Em, accompanied us for the exam and so afterwards we celebrated by having cake at a nearby garden centre and then an evening meal later. It really is a red letter day -after 20 years!

Years ago, before I was married we used to have two dogs - a Cairn Terrier and a Yorkshire Terrier - which were pretty crazy, being pedigrees. I am now allergic to dogs and have felt that our lives were busy enough. However the children have a friend whose family run a dog grooming and boarding dogs business. They have a lovely little dog who isn't settling well with them, as they are out of the house for long hours and have lots of other dogs about the place, and needs a home... He is a cross between a miniature Poodle and a Bichon Frise, which don't molt - and therefore don't make me sneeze. He has such a lovely temperament. After having pedigree terriers he seems so calm - he doesn't run off and just wants to be close by you. He came over just for a trial period, but fits into the family so nicely and is so settled - I think he's here to stay! In this picture you can see that he's putting our archytipical 'blanky' to good use and is sitting on Em's Geography schoolwork. He now spends the days sitting with the children as they do their schoolwork - that must surely make it more palatable.

27th March 2010

Jonti joined in with a local Symphony orchestra today. In order to take part we had to buy him a dinner jacket (he could use his dad's bow tie). The joke was that we were going to have to go to all this expense for him to stand there and play the triangle! On the night he did play some other bits and bobs. The concept of reading music and staying in time is valid (in actual fact counting innumerable bars rest and then playing at the right time is more difficult) but it did sound funny. Next time he'll get to play Timpani too, so I guess it's the old concept of time served.

20th March 2010

Em competed in a local music festival competition today, in an open woodwind - under 18's class. The joke of it was that she was the only competitor in this particular class, so she won the trophy outright! I guess it wasn't an absolute given; she wouldn't have been awarded the trophy if her playing wasn't up to standard. Admittedly it doesn't seem quite right, but at least she bothered to enter and try. Nevertheless, she now has her name engraved on a Trophy which has been doing the rounds since 1963.

It was good to know that Grandad has an engraving machine in his little market stall and so Em's dad could engrave her trophy for her. A small perk, but a lovely personal touch I think.

I used to teach Em myself, but once she got to Grade 6 I handed her on to my friend, Mae, who is a far better musician than I. In fact she used to teach me piano, so yet another lovely personal touch.

17th March 2010

Jonti had his Grade 5 piano exam today. This constitutes as the practical aspect of his homeschooling music GCSE equivalent. In reality it is far above GCSE as most GCSE pupil's I've seen at present only have about Grade 2 or 3 and Btech music (worth 4 GCSE's) doesn't even require that you play an instrument! Jonti isn't really that keen on piano, percussion is his real love and what he really does well in, but he knows that he needs piano to really 'get on'. Nevertheless, we've had some grim moments over these past few months - ah, the joys of home education!

As ever he is sailing pretty close to the wind for this exam (my mum tells him that I was just like that - thanks mum!) but this was exacerbated by the sun streaming through the window in the exam room, so that he couldn't see his music, and sticking keys on the exam piano. I had to make a formal complaint afterwards. The ABRSM were very helpful in their attitude, but it didn't do much to help Jonti on the day.

13th March 2010

I sang, with the Ceramic City Choir, in a concert of English songs (which did include some Mendelssohn). The Elgar and Vaughan Williams pieces passed off pretty well, but Lo, The Full Final Sacrifice by Finzi was horrendously difficult and we didn't quite pull it off. The final 'Amen' section really is sublime. Nevertheless, the evening was good overall and the family enjoyed the concert. Surprisingly, the church was really full - everybody must have decided to come last minute and pay on the door!

20th December 2009

Yippeee! Christmas concert season is finally over! The children have all worked really hard on Brass Concerts, Wind Orchestra Concerts, Barn Dances... the list seems to go on. It's absolutely wonderful the opportunities that they have, but it is tiring.

The winter has really set in now! This is the first time that the children have had any prolonged snow. Usually a days sledging is the maximum but the snow is here to stay for a bit. Sledging and an 8' snowman are a great treat. I'm getting a bit fed up of endless soggy clothes, but I guess that's how it goes.

I like Calvin's snowman house of horrors, in the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons by Bill Waterson. On some he is carrying out brain surgery with a saw, to the disgust of his neighbour, Susie Derkins. They are so funny. In one drawing all his snowmen are decapitated and in another he has put himself inside the snowman's mouth. He turns to his mum and says' "You don't like my snowman, DO you!" - GREAT!

The hens don't agree with me, though. It's the first time they've experienced snow and they just won't come out. I don't understand that as they've had some heavy frosts that haven't troubled them in the slightest. In the end David has had to clear away a patch of ground for them and they've just begun to venture into that, but no further. When the snow fell they were all outside and were stranded under garden benches and trees - we had to carry them back to the shed!

27th November 2009

Tonight we helped Grandma and Grandad with a Victorian Market stall. Grandma, Grandad and Em dressed up in Victorian costume - a great excuse to try on an old (adjusted) bridesmaid dress of mine - was I ever that thin?! Em and I also did some busking, which was fun.

We also held an outdoor market stall to try and sell off some old stock. We'd written signs proclaiming that everything must go for £1 but nobody seemed to be reading. An alter-ego seemed to come over me and David and I were true market vendors shouting "Everything £1" "Everything must go"! What a hoot!

The boys were employed in playing runner between the two stores, carrying change and keeping us all in hot drinks and burgers. I think Grandma must have lost all her profit to burgers that night! It was great fun though.

21st November 2009

Sang Verdi's Requiem. Hhmm, that should drive my Christmas blues away! The family came to watch and it was a nice change for the children to be watching me - I do practise what I preach! Mind you, it's such a long time since I've performed with the choir (I've only just re-joined now the children are older) that I was terrified, so I got a taste of how they might feel. Imagine what a solo would feel like. Yikes. Actually, now I come to think of it I don't think the children do get that nervous. Jonti certainly doesn't. It must be an age thing

Some friends also came to listen. This was their first choral concert and they really liked listening to Latin, it just washes over you.

12th November 2009

Em played for a Christmas Lights switch on with her flute choir. I realise that this is going to sound grouchy, but I really struggle with this aspect of Christmas - 'shammy shimmer'. I've noticed that children always cry when they meet Santa, and I don't blame them. (On that subject, I thought we told our children not to tell lies). There were some folks dressed up in Elf suits (looked more like goblins to me) and some poor little girl was absolutely terrified - crying uncontrollably. It all seemed quite shallow and sordid.

However, the music was lovely. I always think a flute choir sounds like a very breathy pipe organ, or a melodic steam train - very pretty!

8th November 2009

Our choir joined in a British Legion Memorial Service for Armistice. Anything related to the WW I & II brings me to tears, but I managed to keep singing. This was quite a feat as we sang In Paradisum from Faure's Requiem - very moving. A relative of Sir Reginald Mitchell spoke at the event, and that was very interesting. There were some laughs, too. A local Am Dram group acted some sketches from Dad's Army, which was funny - but I even found that a bit teary. The thought of a group of old men doing 'their bit' brings a lump to my throat just as much as packing your kids off to go and live with somebody else.

When we first started home schooling we spent a week living on WW II rations. I don't think I was ever away from the sink that week, everything needed peeling! We spoke to our elderly relatives about what they ate and it seems that they always had a pudding. Ordinarily we don't have a dessert and the food that week was really stodgy - we were stuffed! I guess that just because things were on the ration list doesn't mean they were always available, so perhaps there wasn't as much as we had that week.

We did try and "Dig for Victory" but our efforts didn't do very well. It's fortunate we didn't really have to survive on our own produce. It kept the children busy nevertheless!

24th October 2009

What a lovely end to the day: Em is away visiting friends on The Wirral, and Jonti & David are at the 'Godspell' after-show party, which leaves just me and Matt. We've spent the last hour beginning an Alphonse Mucha jig saw whilst listening to Glen Miller.

19th October 2009

This weekend we went to see our friend in a production of All in Good Time by Bill Naughton. It was hilarious and also quite thought provoking in places. Fortunately our friends, who played Arthur and Violet, are married so the stage kissing wasn't a problem. However, because the programme shows that they share the same surname - and folks can't imagine anyone marrying young - some folks thought they were brother and sister!! What is the world coming to?!

Audley Theatre did an amazing job for the set, a two tiered interior scene fully furnished and decorated. We particularly enjoyed the 60's sound tracks during scene changes and the intervals. In the play Arthur puts a on record of Beethoven's Emperor, and I was very proud knowing that it was my CD playing.

I have a feeling that the Noddy duvet was packed away prematurely - Em is unwell again. I did say that the children weren't ill very often - although they aren't too ill, just a little 'buggy'. We are hoping she has the energy to go to choir rehearsal tonight.

Tonight Jonti has dress rehearsals for "Godspell". I know I just mentioned how we enjoyed the 60's soundtrack at the theatre, but this really isn't my cup of tea - though I'm sure it will be expertly played. Not only have they got the theology messed up but I think it's really cheesy - I don't do hippy too well. (I think I'm wrong there, apparently it's 'Rock'.) Jonti is playing drums/percussion and apparently he has been given permission to "go for it" on a couple of numbers. GROAN ...

15th October 2009

The Noddy duvet is back out again. This time it is Matt who is unwell. Like Em was, he's not too poorly but just a bit 'wiped out' - quite nice and cosy really. This is where home schooling is good, as he wouldn't be well enough to go to school but can sit and do a bit. It's at times like this that a bit of English Literature comes in handy. To sit and read, and answer the odd question isn't too much trouble but you are still getting something useful done. When everybody else was out at rehearsal he didn't want to watch a film in the genre of "The Railway Children" so we watched "Rush Hour" instead. Boys, eh!

Choir rehearsal was gruelling this week. I wonder why Oliver keeps turning up! Everything he'd told us last week was promptly ignored and loads of people sing with their music copies right in front of their noses, so they just can't be watching the conductor. It's awful when he signals a stop and people just keep singing. He would say things like, "That first line was good", it was terrifying. I think the point is that he is teaching us to really sing, rather than just lah at the appropriate pitch. Each piece has it's own different character and we need to project this, Faure's Requiem has a really pure and bare tone, as do certain parts of the Verdi Requiem - very scary to sing, you feel so exposed. Parry's I was glad is a much fuller tone, overall, but it's easy to get carried away and make it sound like a 'foaming quart' ditty.

The rehearsal was only short as it was the Ceramic City Choir AGM. It was very interesting and informative - until any further business, groan......

12th October 2009

The weather is turning to Autumn - my favourite season. I just love the autumn colours. I like the clothes for Autumn too - jeans, jumpers and boots (Doc Martins usually). A brisk walk (with our neighbour's dog at the moment) is simply glorious at this time of the year. When we need a break and some 'time out' we refer to it as 'kicking leaves' time. There's nothing better to blow the cobwebs away and clear your head.

The trouble is that the washing doesn't dry. In Swiss Family Suburban I mention that, in our family, the main crop is 'pant trees' - which we harvest regularly. The children learned their colours by playing snap with wet socks (and 'smalls') which were pegged out and hung on the shower rail to dry. I know that tumble dryers have been invented, but they take ages and cost a fortune to run. In the summer it's no problem as everything can go on the line (I love watching sheets blowing on the line, I find it really relaxing - simple pleasures eh?), but this is that awkward inbetween time. The washing won't dry outside and we haven't got the radiators on much so it won't dry that way either - so it's back to the 'pant trees' (and a clothes maid in the bath).

At times it's difficult to remember that this kind of stuff is important. But, if I want my family to stay clean and tidy, then it's my job and it IS important. There's no point in the children learning to play Poulenc's flute sonata, Grieg's Lyric pieces or Paul Reade's Victorian Kitchen Garden if the basics aren't covered (literally!)

6th October 2009

Crazy concert season is already upon us. Later will be all the different band's Christmas Concerts and performances for the various Christmas lights switch on - wrap up well! However, now is the time for the 'Rootz' Barn Dances. Em and Matt are official members but Jonti often joins in with some drumming. Last night was the Harvest Barn Dance for Milton Parish Church. It looks like the kids will be eating pie and peas for the next few weeks (though probably without the mushy peas). The band leaders are truly amazing - I don't know how they find the energy to play with such vigour and call the dances. For the other dances they will be bringing the dance callers from their other group (their 'professional' one).

Still, home-schooling has it's perks. After a busy, late night the children can have a bit of a lie-in, so they won't be too worn out by the busy schedule. Also, school dinners have gone up in the world: Today we are having a Carvery with David's dad before he flies out to Australia tomorrow.

I've finished proof reading Swiss Family Suburban, so now it's time to start trudging through agents and publishers. I suppose the approach should be a dispassionate posting of papers, methodically and repeatedly - though it's hard to keep it like that when you've spent months pouring yourself into a work (especially when it's something as personal as your own family life). Ah well, here goes ...

29th September 2009

Penkhull Music Festival was brilliant. In terms of general appeal Voces8 stole the show - particularly in my children's view. However, each evening had it's own appeal. We forgot that we were 'British', when Voces8 announced their 'Opera Medley' as the encore, by almost yipping! The Glendower Duo gave a premier performance of a piece written by John's clarinet choir tutor, which felt very prestigious - I've never been to a premier performance before. The final evening was a lovely performance by the string quartet, The Cavell Quartet, with some truly exceptional playing. The evenings were nicely finished off with David sketching each performance.

Poor David! After all his efforts the hens still managed to push the chicken wire and creep through to get at my broccoli! A quick amendment remedied the situation, but it was too late for at least one broccoli plant!

Disaster struck again as David did a major pruning job on our Mock Orange tree. He has always begrudged the tree it's garden space - as it so easily takes over - but it's doom is now set. Because the children have used the safety goggles at some point, from which time they have never been found, David had a branch hit him in the eye. All was well until a couple of hours later, when driving back from the tip, he was hit by a searing pain and was soon unable to see. An amazingly short wait at the walk-in centre revealed a huge scratch across his pupil. The agony (as was apparent) was unbearable, resulting in an agonisingly sleepless night and temporary blindness for about 24 hours. It was quite something to have to lead him around for a while, pass him his drinks etc. Some quite humourous moments occurred, too; he would be talking to someone - not realising that they had left the room. Thankfully, we can laugh as the damage was very short lived and he is almost back to normal - just a little blurring of vision at times. Quite worrying though, nevertheless.

22nd September 2009

As a belated birthday trip (my sister's birthday) I met my sister for a coffee at Trentham Gardens. As I was driving there I put Classic FM on (not my norm) and 'Agnus Dei' from Faure's Requiem was playing. Later, at choir rehearsal we sang 'In Paradism' from the same work. What nicer start or end to the day could I want? We then rehearsed the Verdi Requiem. My favourite section is the last part of 'Liberame Me' where we sing "et lux perpetua luce at eis" (and light for evermore shine down upon them). I don't normally listen to the radio and although I usually like the music which is played on Classic FM I really don't like the presentation - usually something along the lines of "The most relaxing music, EVER" which is so cheesy. I don't always like the fact that they only play bits of a piece - though I think they might now do "The full works" some evenings. They always seem to play the same stuff, too. Though if it's Faure, I guess that's ok.

Looking forward to some yummy music at the Penkhull Music Festival later this week. The children (and the parents) are especially looking forward to hearing 'Voces8' that do some really quirky a cappella arrangements on pieces ranging from The Miss Marple TV theme tune, Elvis and Opera medleys. Well worth a listen!

18th September 2009

Em spent the day working Biology Lab reports, though - in true home schooling fashion- we couldn't leave it at just watching DVD's and scribbling. Our friend joined us, who is studying for a Biochemistry degree, and bought her lab coat and goggles. In the end our bear, Amadeus, became the lab teacher and was main overseer of the experiments. What a hoot! It was quite surreal to see everyone taking turns in wearing the lab coat and goggles as we sat and watched the dissection of a bull frog, a star fish and a worm. It is really surprising to see just how colourful it is inside a frog - it looked like a fruit salad. We had previously done some dissection ourselves. We found a dead bee and let it dry out for a while and then had a look at various bits under the microscope. The compound eye is truly amazing, as were the wings and the pollen sacs were simply bulging with pollen. It always amazes me when people assume that home education is limiting whereas the opposite is true. Because we aren't bound by so much red tape and health and safety overdrive the kids can quite happily wield a scalpel. I'm not too good at killing a specimen (because I'm a coward - and yet I want to keep rabbits to rear my own meat!?) but it's amazing what you find lying around the place. We also collected a good number of moths and butterflies, and also a pretty cool spider exoskeleton.

It was a little out of character for Amadeus to be donning a lab coat. Generally he is more of a musical bear - he was my concert going bear. When the children were small they brought him to my choir concerts. For his 'evening dress' we made him a special padded large bow tie which is bright pink with black spots - which (now I'm back at choir) I'm sure he will model for us over the next few months. Though I don't suppose the British Legion's War Memorial Service would be appropriate - he'll have to wait until the Verdi Requiem later on in November. Perhaps we'll even paint his nose for the occasion, he is getting quite worn.

It's exam entry time again. We've only just about got the results for the last batch and then it's time to enter again. The start of this new academic year has had me ranting a bit: A pupil of mine, who has just started his A' level music, tells me that he is the only student who has any grades in music. As a result he is sitting around idle in class while the others try and learn a bit of basic music theory. How is this possible? For A level I had to memorise pages of musical quotations and couldn't pass my final exam without submitting my Grade 8 piano and Grade 8 theory certificates. If these students don't know anything (what were they doing at GCSE I wonder?) they'll never even get to Grade 5 in two years, so how they'll cope with harmonic analysis I don't know - though I'm told that they just copy notes from a book into their score (rather than analyse and deduce for themselves) and then take the score into the exam. Even so, it's not possible that they will understand what they are doing. It's not really fair on the students - let alone the teachers. Also, it's not fair on those students who are more able to embark on musical studies as they are sitting around wasting time..... Aaargh!

By the way, I'm not too keen on the ABRSM's new logo. I much preferred the old crest with "Dieu et mon droit" on a banner underneath. The new certificate seems a bit deflating, too. I appreciate that it is more modern in it's design (and it's non PC to mention God now) but I do think that a bit of 'flourish' seems in order when you've worked hard for an exam.

Perhaps all of these rants just prove that I'm getting old, nevertheless the points still stand.

15th September 2009

Em and Matt ended their choir residential with a concert at St. John's, Keele on Sunday morning. They sang some lovely works - Non nobis dominum - Byrd, Sing for joy - Handel and a composition of their own, which began with a fragmented and dissonant "Oranges and Lemons" which worked really well. I was glad I had re-joined Ceramic City Choir, so I could enjoy the CityYouth Choir (part of City Music and Performing Arts Service) without feeling left out.

Had a good choir rehearsal tonight, even though the conductor was unwell and not able to take the rehearsal. The deputy conductor really is good - I don't know how she does it. She only had 4 minutes notice before taking the rehearsal. Oliver had left a list of what needed to be covered and we really did work hard (hope he's satisfied next week!) We rehearsed 'In Paradisum' from Faure's Requiem - mmm! It's really open and bare - hard work for us soprano's (I'm 2nd soprano - I give up at top G). We also rehearsed 'Agnus Dei' and the last part of 'Liberame Me' ("Requiem aeternam ...") from Verdi's Requiem - we're performing all of this at the Victoria Hall. Oliver also asked us to 'honk' our way through Parry's I Was Glad - which was great to have a blast through. There was a bit of confusion over the pronunciation of the word "Jerusalem" which we were told to pronounce "Yerusalem" which is fine for the Latin Requiems, but I don't think correct for the Parry which we sing in English and so, I think, should be with a 'J'. Hopefully that should be clarified next week. Unfortunately the rehearsal hall has just been decorated, which - although it looks very nice and clean - meant that the paint fumes really hit the back of your throat. Not a good combination - hope it's subsided by next week.

7th September 2009

Yipee, the winter veg plants arrived today. Em helped me plant them out before I started teaching. We planted 20 cabbage, 20 Chinese cabbage (which can be used as salad leaves or fried with a stir fry), 10 broccoli and 10 cauliflower. I'm hoping that the colder weather will reduce the chance of slugs etc. ruining the crop - we can but try!

Of course this means that the hens are confined to their enclosure again. The chives are only just recovering and there's no way they're getting at the brassicas. Another Saturday shredding fingers on chicken wire is on the cards for David before the hens can have the run of the garden. I'm so glad that they've got a decent amount of space as Charity really is at the bottom of the pecking order at the moment. I recently found blood on the water feeder and all but two of her tail feathers are missing. She isn't laying either - I don't suppose she feels like - with all that bullying. When they're outside they leave her alone for the most part, it's just when they are in the shed in a morning before being let out, or while they are settling down to roost in an evening. There's not really anything I can do about it. I suppose that you just have to let them sort it out. Nevertheless, it's quite upsetting.

Term officially starts today but the children are spending this week filing and finishing off essays etc.. Em and Matt are off to a choir residential weekend on Friday too, so we'll start of with the heavy bookwork next week. Unfortunately, although term has started, most of my pupils didn't turn up for their music lesson either. I don't mind having an extra cup of tea here and there, but it's tricky waiting around wondering if they are coming, or not. As there are no choir or brass band rehearsals tonight David and the children went to visit Grandad instead. A nice quiet evening for me, but not very productive. I lost the plot a bit, really; heading off to get a job in a school instead of sitting at home waiting around. However, that would have been a real disaster - home would fall apart and so would the kids education. The whole point of home schooling was because it seemed all wrong to be teaching other people's children and not my own. I really think that it's important to keep the home fires burning - the whole point of Swiss Family Suburban! The overwhelming pressure to 'succeed' in executive and monetary terms is, at times, overwhelming. You think you're on track and out jumps another curve ball. Oops - my 'wobble' is over now though, and my compass is pointing north again!

30th August 2009

A sense of panic (owing to the end of the holiday looming) has led to a spurt of energy enabling a deep cleaning of the kitchen. I've scrubbed down all of the tiles and cleaned out all of the cupboards. Drastic as this might seem, it's less of a task than having a new kitchen. Instead I've opted for a retro appeal - but clean! Some postcards of an old soap advert and a Jacob's Crackers advert picturing an ornate royal livery (not sure what the connection is there) alongside a jigsaw of a 50's 'Heartbeat' style kitchen (Em's first proper jig-saw) set the tone. So it's a 50's style kitchen, with original 70's tiles (?) - but it pulls together. I like this style as it can cope with being lived in. A modern, minimalist style (apart from being expensive and creating momentous upheaval) wouldn't cope well with constant use. A loaf and some jam cooling with a few dishes draining and keys left out don't stand out so much this way. I like this, as well, as I do sometimes think that most modern kitchens look the same, so impersonal. A trip to Ikea, to buy a shelf, was the finishing touch. It matches the shelving unit we draped my birthday present 'hearts' on and it covers some rough gaps in the tiles where the boiler used to sit.

I recently read Black Beauty which I've never read before. I vaguely remember a TV series of the story from when I was a child which I really didn't like and I think that has always put me off reading the book. However, I really did enjoy reading it. Because I'm not very 'horsey' (I think you have to be born 'horsey') I enjoyed reading the equestrian detail of saddle paraphernalia and the changing, and sometimes quite cruel, fashions of reigns and carriage. It's quite a gentle read, almost boring if you are looking for a fast paced plot, but calming to read with lots of interesting background detail - my kind of book. I'm thinking I might go back and read some of the other classics I missed. I'm considering The Water Babies, but I think that was another book that was serialised on TV that I didn't like, which put me off. I'd better hurry up because when term time starts I'm going to have to have a brush up on Keighley's Harmony book, and get cracking on some playing because I can't remember which end of the flute you blow down.

The children and I went blackberry picking at Mow Cop and I made some blackberry jelly, but it'll probably end up down the sink. It tasted so sugary that any taste of blackberry was masked. I know that jam has lots of sugar in it but this was astronomical. How depressing. Never mind, there's a few tubs full in the freezer - plenty for some crumbles. The hens appreciated the blackberry pulp left over from the blackberry jelly, delicious with bread crumbs and corn. I'm glad it wasn't all wasted. I'm not sure we'll have time to go again which depresses me when there's fruit going free.

18th August 2009

Disaster! The canes that support the beans have collapsed. The weight of the plants pulling towards the sunlight must have pulled the canes out of the ground, by degrees, at the back of the border. I've managed an unsightly patch up by tying them back and weighting the string with a tub of soil and lettuces. Hopefully it will keep the beans upright for the remainder of the growing season, but it doesn't at all match the idyllic image of a Victorian Kitchen Garden (a clarinet piece by Paul Reade which perfectly conjures images of it's title) - Matt is learning to play this at the moment.

The potatoes have gone into storage now. The best thing I could find was a Tesco jute shopping bag which seems perfect for the job. It's a breathable material and some brown paper bags should keep any light creeping in at the top.

Bought a huge bag of Layers Pellets to stock up for a few weeks. David made a great feed bin by converting an old ottoman and placing partitions inside to divide pellets, corn and grit. It's made of really old wood so any mice that might want to get at the food would have some serious gnawing to do and we should see signs of activity first before they get in, although it's shown no evidence of such activity so far. I also gave the hens their 6 weekly dusting (and David too - a black tee shirt wasn't a good choice). When we got the hens the lady suggested that now was a good time to 'worm' them, but our local shop doesn't sell any products and nobody around here seems to bother. I don't know what to do about that. I know I could buy some from the internet but it is really expensive, especially to herbal stuff which doesn't require egg withdrawal, so if possible I'd rather not.

Eek, still haven't done any music practice. Perhaps I'll try and do some tomorrow, though I don't know where to start ...

14th August 2009

In true Enid Blyton Fashion the children packed a pic-nic and ventured into the distance; to Mow Cop for the day. Some fruit, crisps, biscuits and bottles of water were all that was need to to keep them playing hide and seek and rock climbing for almost an entire day (They are 15,15 & 13 so they're big enough to venture off). Now, that's the stuff that summer holidays are made of.

While the children were busy frolicking I put the potatoes and onions out to harden off/dry out before storage. Only the best can be put away for storage, so those that weren't up to standard went straight into the pot and the peelings and chopped off bruisings went into the compost bin, so nothing at all was really wasted. Funnily enough we had Bangers and Mash for tea and we are having leek and potato soup tomorrow- heavy on the potato!

What I really got to appreciate, this afternoon, was how we have lost touch with what we eat. I had to inspect every single potato, individually. This is a huge change from just buying a big bag of spuds. I had to inspect each potato to ensure that no bruised or marred spud will go into the storage bag, as one bad potato will ruin the whole batch. I then had to peel and get ready to use every spud that wouldn't make it into storage, because (after all this tending through the growing season) it wouldn't really do to let a batch go to rot. How on earth do mass producers manage to do the same? On the one hand it's brilliant what they achieve, but perhaps in the long run it isn't so great as we've lost the respect for food produce and the effort that goes into it and so expect perfect results 100% of the time for the cheapest price. Growing my own small crop has brought home to me the effort that is involved in producing food. The mash tasted delicious too - and was cheaper than ever. It just cost me a few hours calm potato handling - very therapeutic.

By the way - all of my pupils passed their exams!!

2nd August 2009

Because of all the rain (which I do enjoy) I think the potatoes have got blight. When I cut off the affected leaves I hope the crop will remain healthy. On top of that, something has trampled the onions down in the night. How disappointing! I hope we still get a harvest of sorts in due season....

On reflection we decided to harvest the potatoes early rather than risk the tubers getting infected. It was blight that caused the historic Irish potato famine in 1845. We did harvest a decent amount of spuds but the thrill and satisfaction was somewhat lacking.

It's becoming glaringly apparent, by it's omission, that I'm not getting my music practise done. Over the summer holidays I get carried away by domestic projects and miss the important stuff. It's like the pitcher which, when filled with just water, leaves no room for anything else. Whereas, first place in the big stones then there's room for small stones. There is also room for some sand and then a little water too: Do the big/important things first and the little things will fit in around it. I still haven't mastered putting this into practice. If I do some practice first I'm sure I'll still fit everything else around it.

On the subject of practice, I'm still waiting for my pupil's exam results.... eek!

29th July 2009

Took Great Aunty Hilda shopping today. It does make me laugh when old people do their weekly shop as the actual food content is so low; a couple of tiny tins here and there, two tomatoes and the rest is cake and chocolate. Mind you, that's better than the old lady in the queue in front of us who spent the same amount as my Great Aunty's weekly shop on lottery tickets. That seems a pretty hopeless existence, to me.

Spent the afternoon listening to Faure's Requiem whilst cleaning the oven. I'll be singing this with the Ceramic City Choir in November for the British Legion Remembrance Day Service at the Victoria Hall. This was quite an appropriate piece as something must have died in there considering the amount of carbon on the oven floor. Perhaps that's what they mean by Carbon Footprint. I found the fish slice which we lost, about a year ago, inside the oven door - eek! Mustn't leave it so long next time (although I always say that).