Reading My Way Around the World

Monday, 11 January 2021

The Wonders of Zoom and the frosty mornings.

I've just had the most wonderful Weekend at a Conference for community singing leaders - all done on Zoom - for 215 delegates!!  

I am in awe of the technology and the wonderful organising skills of the team behind the Natural Voice Network.*   And there's a second weekend to come - woohoo!  

On Sunday afternoon alone I attended an Alexander Technique session followed by vocal improvisation lead by a leader in Oregon and finishing the afternoon with a Feldenkrais relaxation session.   On Saturday we had a wonderful singing session lead by a Colombian singer, another gathering where we learned songs from Palestine, Africa and Finland and joined in the AGM as well.   They had even arranged a pub and a chill out space :   Brilliant.   It finished last night with a gathering for well being and I was quite shocked at the loss that is being felt by leaders in some of the big urban areas across England.   It made me appreciate how blessed I am here living in this musical community out of the city.   In fact I'e decided to take a 3 month (at least) break from leading the choir to take a further step back into finding my own creative voice.  However this weekend has really helped.  

Back in March when we first had the mad panic of the pandemic and the 'what on earth are we going to do now', I dived straight in to zoom with a very thinly veiled affection and joy for the wonders of technology which was allowing us to stay connected mixed with an even more thinly veiled anger at having to learn something else new.   The stress of running sessions every week and one to one classes and preparing for exams and and and .... while friends were talking about having lovely family quizzes and coffee mornings left me quietly seething .   But work's work and I felt a real sense of obligation to my group.  

Now that I'm back again to the wonders of technology - we're both tech nerds in this house  - my creativity is finally starting to come up to the surface again - painting, playing with paper, knitting and playing both the marimba and guitar which has been sadly neglected for months.  

We have an online gig coming up at the start of February so the voice and guitar both need dusting off and the fingers need to be hardened up again ... ouch. 

* * * * * * * * * *

Everything was frozen the other morning when we went for a walk around the seafront at Warrenpoint - 

the low tide and frozen sand making gorgeous patterns .

Lots of painted stones lined the wall  - a very cheerful sight.  I particularly love the top one.  

And the heron must've been finding lots of fish in the low tide.  

Take care and have a good quiet and safe week.

*I'm sure I've written about Natural Voice here before - that it's everyone's birthright to sing, and should not just be kept to the confines of the trained singing world - our definitions of good singers combined with the awful critics on tv talent competitions have stopped people singing to themselves, to their babies, while they're working, even in the shower, for fear of being heard.  The constant cry of I can't sing really shocks me as without doubt everyone can sing - you may not sing like Pavarotti or Barbara Streisand or whomever you rate as being brilliant, but you can sing like you.   With not a lot of practice everyone can sing in tune and the joy of singing in a group, while not available through lockdown, is one of the most uplifting experiences anyone can have.   By not singing, people are missing out on the health benefits of this simple self help practice.   

The natural voice approach encourages and helps everyone to find their voice and dovetails very well with folk music which comes from the storytelling oral tradition - the story being more important than the voice .   We use short songs from all around the world, many written by our own song leaders, all with, uplifting heartfelt lyrics, simple melodies and often glorious harmonies.   England is the centre of the Natural Voice Network but there are people leading singing groups this way all over the world.     

Sunday, 10 January 2021


Photo Scavenger Hunt January 2021 

Good frosty morning to you - the sun is shining and we're in a wintry wonderland, but no snow yet and it's starting to warm up.  

So I'm joining in today with Kate's Scavenger Hunt - a wee bit different this month from last year in that we have one prompt per week.   

I love gifts - both giving and receiving.   And oftentimes I'll end up keeping the box or the wrapping paper for years afterwards, vicariously enjoying presents that have long disappeared.  

Tom and I usually buy necessities for each other at Christmas time and for birthdays - things we need but won't get around to buying for ourselves ... but this year I had a special wish - (well two actually, but the paints are already a mess and not to be shown lol ) this beautiful Mbira or Kalimba.  It's an African instrument or rather the Western version of a traditional instrument - and I love it.   It arrived for my birthday which was also the day mum went into hospital and, well , things have been a bit pear shaped since so I've hardly touched it.  One of these days I'll let you hear how it sounds with me playing but I've a bit of practice to do yet!

And a a few weeks back when I wasn't feeling so good a friend came around with an Amaryllis plant which just today burst into bloom.   I was expecting a red but instead it's this beautiful pale pink colour  ... Just gorgeous.  

Thank you Kate for keeping this Scavenger Hunt going - I'm heading now to have a look at what everyone else has put in for this prompt.  

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Nollaig na mBan 2021


Nollaig na mBan - Women's Christmas or Little Christmas - the 6th January was the traditional day for women of the house to be released from all work duties after the 12 days of Yule.  The practice is still kept going down in Kerry and Cork and in recent years a woman in the town here has a regular women's party where we all bring leftovers.  Today we celebrate in the virtual world so I'm sending love and blessings to all my women friends around the world.  

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Hope is Contagious

Hello dear friends.   Thank you for all your new year's greetings.   I hope you've had a gentle move into 2021.  
I got a lovely card from an acquaintance in Germany who amidst a message of wishing us well and hoping we'd see each other soon said, 
COVID-19 is very contagious, especially in its new variation, but 
HOPE is also very, very contagious indeed, in all its many variants.  
What a lovely sentiment to start the new year.     

And it's been a gorgeous start here.   We've been getting out for a walk in the hills each day (new year, new decisions of course .... ) and today our bones and muscles were aching so we had a very short stroll.  
The sky kept changing and it was a wonderful way to walk into the sunset.  

I love the colours of the sky at this time of the year but haven't yet figured out how to reproduce them on camera - but it's fun trying.   

Of course as soon as I came in, the fire really started over the mountain.  

Have a good week and stay safe.   

Thursday, 31 December 2020

 Well!   That was a year!  Phewww!!   

For me it has been interesting, frustrating, frightening educational  and restful all at the same time.   The pace has slowed, travelling has been much closer to home than in previous years, but the benefits have been great - a garden starting to take shape, time for art and books and movies, and a huge learning curve getting to grips with Zoom.   

Housework, never my superpower, has been toed well down the line and half an hour watching the birds and squirrels and the passing seasons has become much more important and enjoyable.  

A curlew flew by yesterday when we were walking on the beach and the sunrise has been fabulous - normally I don't notice it at this time of year.  

Thank you all for your lovely comments on my last post.  No promises to  write more regularly in the coming months but I have chosen a word for 2021 - ENERGY - so let's see what that brings.  

So farewell to the 21st year of the 21st century (thanks to Stephen Fry for noting that one).  Going to see the year out with a glass of something sparkling and  Jools Holland's Hootenanny on the tele - always a great party - it'll be interesting to see how they manage it this year. 

And to wish you all well, if you have time check out Singmarra, my community choir some of whom have managed to stay singing with me online through out the year, here singing Blessed Be

Lots of love, take care and stay safe and I look forward to reading your posts in the coming year.   

Fil xx

Sunrise on Carlingford Lough 29th December 2020 with a dusting of snow on The Cooley Mountains

Monday, 23 November 2020

Catching up

Hello folks

Thank you for the lovely comments on my last post - it's lovely to hear from you all.   I've been following along, occasionally dropping in and reading your blogs but I just haven't had the energy to write.   

We've had such a couple of months ... first my mother wasn't well through September and ended up in hospital for 2 weeks - she's fine now thankfully.  A week later Tom went in for a routine day procedure and 6 days later collapsed with a massive internal bleed.  To top it off, while he was in the hospital there was an outbreak of coronavirus on the ward and he was sent home early to recuperate and both of us on a 14 day self isolation ... a week later back in hospital he tested positive and once again we had a further 14 day isolation.   That finally ends tomorrow and I'm seriously going spare not getting out.   But all's starting to improve, although he's not fully well yet and thankfully the covid symptoms were negligible and I showed no symptoms at all - at least now he's immune for a couple of months at least.   

So apart from keeping the choir going online and doing a few classes I've been learning how to be a housewife lol. I kid you not - the hardest job I think I've ever done is getting meals ready on time - not our usual way of working (usually we wait until one of us is hungry and then there's a mad scramble to find something to eat)... but it's been good having something to focus on.  I have huge respect for all of you that have held down jobs, houses and brought up children - you are heroes.  

So now I"ve a couple of book blogs to write, and it's about time to get down to a bit of songwriting too.  

We're still enjoying the company of the squirrels (one of whom insists on getting inside the food box!).. 

and I took the greatest of pleasure in building a log pile on my own while Tom was in bed :) 

I hope you're all well.


Monday, 9 November 2020

Bottom of the Garden

 On a lovely day in August we socially distanced at the bottom of the garden with my friends Csilla Toldy and Tommy Sands to make a tv programme based on our show The Emigrant Woman's Tale.   

On the other side of the hedge is the sea - the border - and this series that Tommy is making looks at all the various projects that have been helped by the EU Peace and Reconciliation Fund - groups from both sides of our divided community coming together and reaching out to forge links across borders.  We were delighted to be the first programme in the series which was broadcast on YouTube on Saturday night.   

Here's the link to the YouTube video if you'd like to hear some songs, listen to some poetry and hear tales of our border crossings soft and hard - Csilla crossing the green borders of the Iron Curtain, me skipping across a sheugh as a child.