Reading My Way Around the World

Saturday 28 December 2013

2013 - bridging the years

I have a French friend who sometimes has a New Year's Eve party where dinner is started in the old year and completed in the New Year ... bridging the two .... I think it's a lovely practice.

Here we are on the doorstep of a new year ... and looking back over the past year I achieved quite a lot although at times it felt like I'd done very little.  We had times both happy and sad.

For me the highlights were ...

  • starting a community choir again - this has been a delight - really nice group of people all willing to have a go at whatever I come up with.  Thank you guys.  
    The Rostrevor Community Choir getting ready for the Christmas pageant
  • We had gigs in Denmark, Germany, France, Holland, Luxembourg, England, Scotland and of course Ireland
  • started writing songs again and co-wrote with Tom for the first time.
  • Recorded an album of bluegrass songs with 4 other women - the Daisy Janes. 
  • had a holiday - the first in 15 years - although we travel a lot for work, it was really nice to take the ferry and go away just for our amusement ... of course we did a few gigs while we were there - a bit of a busman's holiday, but it still was grand.
The clear waters of the North of Spain
  • took part in a blogathon which was very illuminating and great fun - some posts here and here 
  • got back into Morning Pages.
  • got to grips with Sjogren's Syndrome - (there! I named it).
  • had visits from both of my Australian nieces - Connie at the start of the year and Niamh at the end of year - what a joy to get to know them as adults ... Now, the planning must start again for our trip to visit them.
  • We got caught in the snow in England in March and as a result of the road to the ferry terminal being cut off by snow we ended up re routing and spending a fabulous day with my lovely cousin near Chester and had one of the best meals of the year.  
  • oh yes - a lot of time was spent on food!!!   Thinking about it, cooking, preparing, eating out, watching TV shows ... yum yum.  
  • Tom had a big birthday in June, 
  • we celebrated our silver wedding anniversary in January 
  • and Fiddlers Green Festival in July was just wonderful - with our international friends joining us for a BBQ at the start of it

us celebrating 25 years on the road together at a concert in the middle of the week 

and us all ending up drenched to the skin at the top of the mountain at the end of the week!!  
All were a laugh...

And now into a new wonderful year .... a blank page ... I love the start of the year - it's like all the Mondays rolled into one ... a big clean page and after a few days of rest it seems like the practices we've been building up all winter now start to come to fruition ... my students will start seriously preparing for their exams, I will start seriously planning tours, the choir will start seriously working on new material for the move through Spring and into Summer and then we'll all settle down into a new routine ....  

What will you be doing this New Year?  I'd love to hear from you.  

Friday 1 November 2013

Remembering my week

Cynthia Lee has a weekly practice called The Scattered Life Collective where she does a summary of her week - I've been following her for months now and have finally got a Friday free to join in ... This may not be a weekly affair, but if you don't start somewhere you'll never start at all.

It has been a wonderfully playful week and the first week since the clocks went back so it has felt like we're straight into Winter.
So using Cynthia's format for now here's what has been happening in my week.

Current Time: 5.25pm

On the menu:  Spaghetti Bolognese - an old favourite - and quick and easy after a week away - with enough left over to freeze a dinner for late next week cos I'm planning a week off to concentrate on writing...

Out the window:  It's dark now ... I hate this first week of the time change ... dark so early ... I can just about see the shadow of the branches over the hedge and can see the kitchen reflected in my window.

Reading:   Well, just finished actually, in the car on the way home, The Misremembered Man by Christina McKenna and I loved it ...  There's going to be a stage play of it later in the month and last week I was asked to sing a part for the soundtrack which was great fun and introduced me to this lovely author.

Listening:   Silence ... beautiful silence.

Watching:  Catching up later on last week's episodes of Downton Abbey and the Paradise and hopefully catching a movie over the weekend... there's loads of new releases out .... Philomena, my namesake, with Judy Dench and it was partially filmed here in Rostrevor - a must see - and a couple of sci fi releases as well ... hmmm, decisions, decisions ... I think Judy will win out.

Good things:

  • Saw a bit of the Macnas Street Theatre Show last Sunday in Galway - I've wanted to see them for years and was so annoyed that we missed most of it ... but the little bit we did see made me hungry for more...
  • Galway - I just love that city - it's so bohemian, artsy and full of life.
  • Played in sessions in the gorgeous Crane Bar and met up with some great singers and musicians.
  • Walked on the beach in Connemara
  • Had an escape from teaching for a week
  • Did family visits

Icky things and their silver linings:

  • Horrible weather for a few days while we were on the West Coast, but the upside was that I got a morning in bed with my book ... no point in getting up to face that ...
  • A huge national insurance bill waiting for me when I got home today, but it makes me feel good that I have enough money to pay it, or will have by the time it's due.

And in other news: 

It's Samhain ... the Celtic New Year.  Here's a lovely story about the significance of apples at this time of year.
Samhain Apples

About Samhain

A retake on Tubular Bells - locally based musician and producer Tom Newman who produced the wonderful Tubular Bells has released a new recording made by the children of Northern Ireland ... here's a bit about it and a link to hear the single..

Thursday 17 October 2013

Songs in my sleep ...

Does anyone have the problem of having a song running around their head all night as they sleep?   Or perhaps it's a piece of art that you're working on ... or a problem you've been trying to fix.

I'm looking for a sure fire way of stopping this happening ... after I've had a gig or a class or a choir practice, one piece or a phrase will stay stuck and refuse to shift and I wake up like a wet rag ....

I'd really appreciate your feedback.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

October Songs

A little something for your listening pleasure today :)

It's a wet start to October here although it's still quite warm outside.

I spent most of the day preparing songs for my singing group which starts tomorrow and started looking for a song with October in the title.   Look at the state of my desk!!!!  (Just to prove I was working !!)

Anyway, as I was getting a bit distracted with harmony songs I decided to let my distraction do something useful for an hour and prepare this blog for you all.

So here we go - October Songs - all a bit melancholic as you would expect - reflection must have been on the agenda for these October songwriters ... And there were a few lovely surprises ... a few not so well worth noticing as well , but a few gems.   For example, I only really knew Julie London singing "Cry Me A River" which I adore, but never imagined her singing fun songs ... So "This October" from her album "Calendar Girl" is a treat - great backing vocals too.

In Irish folk music The Castle of Dromore starts off with the line "October winds lament around the castle of Dromore" and I love singing it ... click here to hear my version of it - and that's Finbar Furey playing pipes on it.

But back to songs with October in the title, here's a list of the best that I could find.

James Taylor (live with the Dixie Chicks) - October Road

U2 - October - a very freshfaced Bono and Co ... what a wonderful piano track.   They probably don't remember, but I gave them their first Belfast gig - back in 1979 - at the Queens University Fringe Festival - and they supported Squeeze and Dr Feelgood I think!! Ah those were the days :)

Amy Winehouse - October Song
I don't really get this song and most of the time I don't really get Amy either, but some of her stuff is so brilliant.

Robin Gibb - August October - a very old track, and another very fresh faced young man!

Pet Shop Boys - My October Symphony

Dave Cousins (Strawbs) - October to May

Julie London - This October

The Incredible String Band - October Song

And one more piano track ...
George Winston - October Moon

Are there any others that you can think of?  

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Singing is good for you...

Group singing sessions start up again next week (2nd October) on Wednesday nights in An Cuan in Rostrevor at 7.30pm.   This will be a 4 part evening - class of exercises, group singing session, tea and chat break and finishing up with a singsong/singaround.   If you're in the area and would like to join us please come along -- all the details are here.

* * * * * * *
I teach a natural way of singing - - no training the voice for operatic work - but grounding the voice in telling the story.  I work to help people use the muscle of their voice and get used to the idea that their voice is unique and even though it doesn't sound like the person you feel it should sound like in order to think of yourself as a good singer, the fact that you are singing will make your voice strong.  A lot of these ways are similar to those ideas promoted by the NVPN - Natural Voice Practitioners Network. 

* * * * * * *

So here are some ideas of why it's good for you... courtesy of my good friend Laura Plummer who runs the Voices of Lecale community choir in Downpatrick ...

Singing is good for you – it’s official. Recent research carried out at the University of Frankfurt in Germany indicates that singing strengthens the immune system, increasing significantly the levels of immunoglobulin A (proteins which functions as antibodies) and hydrocortisone (an anti-stress hormone). This German study and other research findings on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years have yielded encouraging evidence of the health benefits of singing.


12  good reasons to take up singing

Singing boosts the immune system, improving circulation which oxygenates your cells
Singing improves your mood & helps combat depression; it releases the same
‘feel good’ endorphins as chocolate and sex!
Singing gives your upper body a  workout –
lungs, abdominal, intercostal muscles & diaphragm – and improves posture
Singing is aerobic & releases muscle tension
Singing keeps your vocal chords in good shape and your voice youthful
Singing improves concentration, memory & mental alertness
Singing gives YOU immediate pleasure (your sacculus organ in the inner ear is connected to the part of the brain which registers pleasure!)
Singing clears your sinuses and respiratory tubes
Singing boosts your confidence
Singing combats stress and improves sleep
Singing stimulates insight into poetry, prose & the inner meaning of words
Singing is a spiritual experience (regardless of what is sung!)
Come by and say hello -

Friday 20 September 2013

Getting back to blogging ...

I've been away for a few weeks enjoying the sunshine ... as a result I missed the last week or so of the month long Blogalong challenge and would really like to pick up where I left off.

I still haven't started to advertise my blog outside of this group for the main reason that I'm uncertain about how far I want to share my life with the people who check into my Facebook page or website.

I'd be really interested to hear some of your views on this ... how much do you share of your life on your blog?   Do any of you mix business and personal on your blogs?  How does that work for you?

Looking forward to hearing from you.

The Flower Puppy outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain
- the flowers are growing on this frame and are changed four times a year -
I can't even keep my pots of geraniums from drying out!!

Thursday 19 September 2013

France and Spain

Before the last gig :)

Here are some images from our busman's holiday trip around France and Spain.   We haven't taken a holiday for 15 years so this was a rare treat and even the couple of gigs we did were different from our usual events and felt like a break from the normal.

We spent time with friends and family in 3 different areas  - and it was just wonderful - and neither of us wanted to come back and are plotting our return!

We arrived back to the rain but thankfully the Indian summer we were promised has shown up .... but in the coming weeks I'll need constant reminders of the sun :)
Montmorillon - I love all the red roofs - this is known as the writer's city - the old town is full of bookshops and things to do with writing.

A calligraphy shop in the city of writing.

We took the ferry over from Ireland to France and started in the middle of the country staying with friends we haven't seen in over 10 years.    To protect the innocent I'm leaving them out of this picture blog ... but the area was beautiful ... sunflowers and castles, red roofs and red wine.

Sunflower hiding
A few days later we headed down into Spain - beautiful scenery - and it was in the 30s centigrade all the time we were there - total bliss.

Marremetaco with Paco (Tuna and Potato Stew)

The gorgeous waters near Bilbao in Spain

A day out at the seaside
We took a boat out to this little beach island - the Spaniards take sunbathing very seriously!!

Back in France with some more old friends whom it's been far too long since we caught up with
At the market (near Cahors, France)
At the market
Most houses aren't painted in France,
but every house has pots and pots of flowers outside
glorious explosions of colour.

Just behind our friends' house - rows and rows of vineyards
We'll have to go back - didn't get drinking it all!!
Happy Memories.
How was your summer?
Did you get a holiday?

Wednesday 18 September 2013

The start of winter routine

September is well into its stride now
The holidays are quickly becoming a distant memory ...
Although this picture will bring me back again...

Tomorrow I start back with my school classes
not looking forward to it
It's only one morning a week
but it's a part of life that takes me away from my own creative process
I get so absorbed in everyone else's improvement....
But y'know what? It'll be fine once I get started.
Don't know how many students are coming along yet
Hopefully some of last year's will return
A great bunch of singers
And we'll find new material to sing.
It's interesting being around teenage girls
Reminds me so much of myself
and hopefully I can spare them some of the horrors of my own teenage years.

But gradually all my schedule has filled up for the winter

Choir starts in another couple of weeks and a new guitar class starts before that.
and all my lovely adult singers will be well into their process by then as well.


So, daily, in my morning pages, I'm reminding myself of who I am - what I am - a singer, a performer, a writer, a musician, an entertainer... and after all of that I also coach and teach.   In previous years I've allowed me to get lost in everyone else's drama - the year before last I didn't even learn one song during the 9 months of term.    I was wondering why I was getting so stressed out and fretful about starting back into September.    But this year, it is not going to happen.   If I have to write a reminder to myself every day for the next year, then that's what I'm going to do.

So, here's what's going on in my creative life ....
I started back in the recording studio last week - making a start on the new CD.    This will be my first time playing guitar on my own recordings and I'm really pleased with the results so far.  Although I've recorded 7 CDs to date, I only ever played guitar in the background on one or two songs - I always got someone else (better) to interpret my ideas and then tried to get my own ideas back out of what their interpretation was!!!    Strange one .... There'll be some songs still to write, but to start with we're putting down all the songs that are ready to go.
I've also got backing vocals to do for another recording project next weekend and all of those songs to learn...

between now and then - a revisit to some music I put to a Hungarian poet's work during the Summer - we've been invited on to a local TV show on Friday to promote her work - and mine.    (That was so interesting - putting music to someone else's words).

And I've started on the songbook that's been in the pipeline for a long time now.  I'm trying to do one thing every day to move it along until it gets its own momentum -  initial copyright queries haven't gotten very far today but tomorrow's another day.  

If that's not enough ... I actually drew a face in my new art journal this week!!!  It's not completed yet, but the start was a big leap for me....  Art has been such a distraction all summer - in fact for longer than that - perhaps a couple of years now - but it's finally producing the results that I've wanted .... by being creative in another area it would spark my own creativity again - and it worked!

How is the Autumn settling in for you?   How do you keep your focus when you have to deal with other people's creative output?

Friday 30 August 2013

Farewell for now


"Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun"

Seamus Heaney died today .... (read this piece from the Washington Post)

...such a great loss to the world of Irish literature ... he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 and some say he was one of the world's all time great poets.  There was a ruralness to his poetry and I've always loved the richness of the language - this poem, Digging, sums him up well for me - a poem which is very relevant to the digging we all do as artists.

"Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks in to gravelly ground:
My father, digging.   I look down.

Til his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any man on Toner's bog
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper.   He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf.   Digging.  

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.  

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests. 
I'll dig with it."

* * * * * * * *

I hope this isn't goodbye ...

I'm so sad that this 30 day challenge to blog every day for a month has come to an end .... I've missed the last few days and it'll take a few days to get caught up reading the last week's worth of blogs from all the wonderful new people I've come to know here ... and hopefully it'll be a practice that we'll all continue.   A huge shout out to Effy Wild for starting this off!   Check out her brilliant web site and courses for artists here.

Right now, I'm in the middle of France - it's dusk - and there's a noise that belongs to places that are warm and sunny - a slight hum of insects, friends preparing dinner, distant sounds of traffic.... the outline of the hills is dark behind the vineyards, and there's a vague shade of pink left in the sky.  Tomorrow we have a gig, but for tonight we're still allowed to feel like we're on holiday.

We've been spending time with some old friends - it's been at least 6 years since we last saw each other, but it may as well be yesterday.... Isn't that the lovely thing about friendship ... you don't have to see each other every day to connect ... we were sitting around the table trying to remember where it was we first met ... and the only thing we can agree on was that it was at least 15-18 years ago and it was in Holland. 

We've spent the day lazing around the place after the morning trip to the vegetable market ... those photos will have to wait for another day...  and I even spent some time making art.

I hope that I continue to see all of you on a regular basis - I look forward to continuing reading your blogs ...  and look forward to the next challenge to connect.

Enough wine for another couple of years!  Outside our friends garden fence this is the wonderful view :)  Near Cahors in France.

Sunday 25 August 2013

Le Château

A very short entry today, just to check in ... I've been uploading the past couple of days blogs - it's rainging today so I'm having a happy couple of hours playing ... :)

The village where we're staying has a château ... 

When I was at school - a few years ago! - I wrote a project about the Loire valley and the châteaux of the wine growing region ... and this is the first time I've ever got to see one!  It's still occupied - as a holiday home - by 3 related families ...

It was built back in the 12th century and all of it originally was like the buildings on the left ... but later updated.   It has a moat the whole way around it, teeming with carp .. when the weather clears I'll get a few more pics.

And our residence for the next few days .... a 300 year old town house .... old, solid and warm ... with grapes growing on the outside wall :)   I'm in heaven.  
Day 25 of Effy's Blogalong Challenge


Written on board Celtic Ferries Ship.   Thursday 22nd August – to be uploaded later. 

Concentration is difficult for me these days…. I’m very easily distracted by the internet, the TV or blogs or, or, or … So I’ve come up with a cunning plan to trick myself into getting some work done …. I set the timer on my phone for 15 minutes and work on whatever it is I need to do …. 15 minutes filing, 15 minutes practice time, 15 minutes working on new bookings, 15 minutes meditation … and it’s working for me. 

Running some errands on the way down 
But today we’ve set out on our first holiday in 15 years – well it’s not entirely a holiday cos we have a few gigs on the way, but it’s a break from routine.   We drove down through the country today finishing up a couple of jobs en route, delivering stuff, seeing people etc 

… and got on to the ferry at 8 for a 9.30 overnight sailing.   Beautiful night for it too ....

Two ferries leaving before us
 And it’s packed … people sleeping on the floor everywhere and in fact a couple of women came on in their PJs ready for the night!!    It’s always colourful in summertime on ferries.   But I love sitting and watching it all …
 A woman just walked passed us and turned to her youngish son and said “ I TOLD you to wait over there for me!   Now go before I give ya brain damage and I’ll come back and get ye in a few minutes”!

We just burst out laughing …  although what she said was awful, it was delivered in a broad Dublin accent which, if you listen very closely you’ll recognise as English, but is really a language all of its own – from the markets area of the city, and spoken by a lot of the travelling people.   A few minutes later 3 youngish men stood beside us talking and it took me at least a couple of minutes to realise that they were talking English too. 

Beautiful night for a sailing
I love listening to people in public places – catching one sentence out of context can be really funny.    There’s no wifi on board tonight so kids are running around the corridors and between the people lying on the floor, so the cinema beckons now before we go to our really comfy cabin ….  If we can get in past all the wee urchins!!

But before that I’m trying to get a few minutes to concentrate….

I started a new piece of knitting around the same time as we started Inner Excavation – and it’s driving me nuts …. It’s a lace pattern (with a very long rib!), done in 2 ply wool – and you have to totally concentrate or you’ll end up at the end of the row with either more stitches or less stitches than you need.   It cannot be done while watching TV or while chatting and I’ve spent most of the last couple of weeks knitting two rows and then unpicking them again … 

I now have two stitches less than I need on the needles between half way and the end of the row and I’ve already ripped this out a couple of times!! 
So I’m thinking this needs to be like a meditation … do one row at a time, in total concentration and then put it down for a while and repeat.  
Or else I’m going to be leaving £50 worth of wool for another project. 

I’m writing this to upload it over the next couple of days when we have a connection again … but for now it’s back to people watching and start practicing my understanding of French – the cinema’s been abandoned ….

This is Day 22 of Effy’s Blogalong Challenge. 

Friday 23 August 2013

A Different Pace of Life

23rd August on board Celtic Horizon, nearing France.
time to chill
Just sitting here watching the clouds go by
We’re travelling at 30 kph … no hurry … the knitting is sorted, the pages are written, photos are taken and we’ve had a half hour in the sun out on deck … What a way to go … wouldn’t it be great to have a couple of hours like this every day!

Alderney in the distance
Passing Alderney in the Channel Islands … There was lighthouse flashing and then a boat appeared, heading directly for us … it was definitely someone signalling a coded message from the island to the ship and now the occupants of this boat are coming to find the culprit HAHAHAHA
coming to catch the spies

The other half is sitting with legs dangling over the edge … and of course I can’t see green cheese as they say but I have to have it too …

Can I play too?
I met the objects of the woman’s annoyance from last night – 4 8 or 10 year old monsters and a slightly older minder … running up and down the corridors slamming doors at 1 o’clock .   Feeling so proud of myself that I went and talked to them … astounded that they actually listened … the poor mother!  They were so cute … I’d love to have gotten a photo cos I’m sure one of them is going to be famous at some point.   They’re so innocent looking but they have trouble written all over them.  

A Frenchman!!  We must be nearly there ... 
I think this is going to be the mode of transport for the next few tours to Europe … a day to chill out is the answer to all woes. 

Day 23 of Effy's Blogalong Challenge