Reading My Way Around the World

Tuesday 25 December 2018

Friday 21 December 2018

Solstice Blessings

On this beautiful mid winter's day in Ireland, all is calm and quite bright.

The sun hasn't really made an appearance (it's lunchtime now) and there's no hint of blue skies, but I love that blanket of low cloud hanging over the Cooley Mountains.  And in another couple of days the light will start to grow again (someone said that the Solstice light doesn't change until the 26th).

I love this time of year.  Even getting one day to be quiet and potter around a bit on my own is a blessing.   I've chased Tom and I'm supposed to be tidying the house and getting organised for the coming onslaught of visitors - we're going to have a busy holiday this year - but instead the camera drew my attention.

There's still a bit of colour in the garden ...
A single hydrangea hanging on to its colour
...and new growth is already showing
Crocuses showing their heads
There's even blooms on the castor oil tree.
A lovely walk around.   Time to get back in and do a bit of that tidying up!   

I've always thought of this as mid winter, although astrologically it starts today and meteorologically on 1st December - how confusing!   Whichever .... or if you're celebrating the summer solstice, I hope you're enjoying the run up to Christmas if you celebrate it.  

Wednesday 19 December 2018

The Pageant

The Pageant 2014

Every year Singmarra, the community choir that I direct, take part in the pageant to turn on the Christmas lights. 
We lead  a group of children, who in turn are led by Mary on a donkey and Joseph guiding her,  up Bridge Street and onto the Square where Santa comes to turn on the lights and give them sweets and we sing carols at the tree.  

2014.  The children looking brilliant and the butcher chasing them away from the Inn.

Every year, someone complains that they can't see the children cos we're in the way - so this year, I finally persuaded one of the chaperones to delay the children by about 30 yards and then we'd step onto the pavement to allow them to be seen starting their procession before carrying on.

All went as planned for about 20 yards when the children pushed us out of the way and flew past us at a gallop up the hill - poor Mary would have had the baby half way up at the rate they were going.  Maybe the fact that the donkey had been replaced by a Shetland Pony this year explained it.  

Whatever ...   We ended up racing after them, totally winded, singing Silent Night between gasps for breath and arrived puffing in 3 different lots to the tree, by which stage the children were all lined up in wait for Santa, and the pony and Mary and Joseph were nowhere to be seen. 

It was so funny and never to be repeated.   Next year we're staying put at the top of the hill.  
I get so stressed about the pageant every year, but this one was so funny it has hopefully settled me never to get stressed about it again and just enjoy it for what it is.  

Under the tree 2018
So anyway we sang carols under a gazebo beside a newly planted tree and the kids even joined in with us on Away in a Manger and Silent Night.   About 200 of them waited patiently with their parents  for Santa and the Lord Mayor to turn on the lights and hand out sweets, we finished up, headed to the pub and all is well for another year. 

The following afternoon we did our first concert in a lovely restaurant called The Church which is in a deconsecrated Methodist Church.   A mix of winter songs, a few carols and our trademark African and southern seas songs,  and diners had a treat and we had a blast.  

Apart from that December has been a social whirl so far - a couple of dinner parties and a Christmas night out for the choir, still teaching a few classes until tomorrow - then into the cycle of driving and visiting or collecting relatives up until Christmas Eve.

How's your December shaping up?  

Wednesday 5 December 2018

To brighten up the days

Normally I like to keep things positive and happy here on my blog - in my life in general - and if I've nothing much to write about then you'll not hear from me for a while.

Recently though, I was asked to write my first ever guest blog which you can read here.   It's for the lovely Sue Loncaric at her Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond blog.   I love reading everyone's positive stories on her series Thriving Over 50 and was delighted to be asked to participate.  

However when I started to write,  I couldn't understand why it was so difficult to get a positive spin on things - usually that doesn't defeat me - always look on the bright side of life, right?  In fact, whenever I am feeling out of sorts, blogging, or journalling, helps me turn things around in my head.  But the weekend before last while I was trying to write the guest post I was like a weasel, in really bad form with everyone.  I sent it off anyway and thankfully Sue's edits have brightened it a bit.  And I do conclude that yes, I am thriving over 50, over 60 even.

It took til Monday night for the reasons for my black humour to appear - temperature up to 102, accompanied by terrible coughing and I spent a week in bed - bronchitis of some sort.   So another chance to catch up on daytime tv and schmaltzy dramas - When The Heart Calls is my secret pleasure when thinking isn't required.

Anyway, I'm well out of it now, thanks to the respiratory physio who was a gem and sorted me out quickly with the right antibiotics.  And my first night back at choir practice gave my lungs a much needed work out.   Only missed out on a few pre Christmas goings on but plenty of time left to get into the swing of December and ready for the pageant at the weekend.

How do you manage to turn your mood around?

Thursday 22 November 2018

A brief stop in the Lake District

For years we've driven past the Lake District on the M6; we even once did a folk club gig in Cockermouth and spent the next day visiting Wordsworth's  cottage.   But never had we managed to see the mountains as it was always, always, misty or raining.

But this trip, the weather was just perfect and we had a long weekend with my lovely cousins who have recently moved into the north lakes district.

Now I can see why everyone raves about the beauty of the area ... wow.

I do hope we'll be back again sometime.  

Monday 19 November 2018

A view from the road

We love the stories we hear on the road .... You know, like overhearing parts of a conversation in a coffee shop ....
Without a doubt the best one on this trip was in a charity shop in Lymm where Tom overheard a woman with a little dog talking to a couple who had just walked in.

What a lovely little dog! said the woman with the husband.   Do you have a dog? asked the other lady.   Oh no, I wouldn't have one .... Would you not like one? asked the lady politely.    Oh I would, I'd love one was the reply ...  I shouldn't say this, but whenever HE goes (pointing at her husband), I'd maybe get one then. I wouldn't get another man!!!!!!

At which point Tom hid behind a rail of clothes to stop himself bursting out laughing loudly... The woman was dead serious and the poor husband just trailed off behind her and out of the shop.

I'm really missing being out playing - without it I never get much practice done and find it really hard to sit at the computer trying to organise tours .... so this is a sweet memory for me - sit back with a wee cuppa and have a look at the journey we had....

First part of the trip

At the session in Dundee after doing a spot in Inchture
This started to shape up into a tour of the Mountains of the British Isles as we drove up through the Grampians (Tom's idea of a shortcut!!) - the Autumn colours were just fabulous - which unfortunately you'll have to imagine as I was driving and Tom wouldn't take any pics as I was giving out so much about following the stupid Sat Nav up into the wilds of the mountain passes ....but the drive was worth it.  We did a songwriting workshop and Tom did a bodhran workshop as well as our concert on the Saturday night in Portsoy way up north of Aberdeen - beautiful part of the world on a cold Autumn's day.
The beach at Portsoy

Back down across the river at Dundee - the bridge is spectacular -1 1/4 miles long as my friend Hugh pointed out when I made it too short on Facebook.   I was trying to get a photo of the oil rigs the previous night,but photos taken out the window of the car aren't much use - I've so many pictures of blurry lampposts you wouldn't believe it!
Crossing the 1 1/4 mile long bridge over the Tay at Dundee

After an unexpected extra gig at Glenfarg folk club we headed west to Quarter, just south of Glasgow, and stayed with our friends Dave and Isobel.   Dave is a brilliant guitarist and very funny performer.   They live up in Wanlockhead, the highest village in Scotland, in the Lowther Hills - very pretty, in spite of the mist.
Mist in the Lowther Hills

From the top of the hill in Wanlockhead

On over to Irvine on the West Coast of Ayr and then a long drive down to Lymm in Cheshire - another great folk club night there and we had a splendid wander around the next day and heard the story above, before heading up north again into Yorkshire and to the Bacca Pipes in Keighley, one of the best singer's clubs in the world - everyone sings, and they do magnificent harmonies on songs that they've only heard the first verse and chorus of - brilliant.   I want to ship them all over to us for the next recording we do.
the second leg

A barge on the river at Lymm in Cheshire

Driving through the Yorkshire hills
Everywhere, the fields look incredibly green - there's no filter on this pic above ... no wonder it's my favourite colour.

So, after Keighley, we had a few days off and spent it with my cousins in the Lake District.   That deserves a post of its own, mainly because I'm fed up trying to get photos to go the way I want them to here, but also because it just does deserve a bit of special attention.
Needs no more comment ;)
The last leg took us back to Redcar on the East coast of England, then down to Birmingham where we spent a silly amount of time in the car on the motorway (how do people do that sort of commuting every day!)   And ended up after a quick visit to friends in Leicester with our last gig in Bollington back in Cheshire.  With one exception we had gorgeous weather the whole trip with beautiful vistas around every corner.   These truly are the most magnificent islands.  

The trip home from Holyhead to Dublin was very churny and a lot of people were sick - take a look at this video that Tom took from the front of the boat ... We've spent a lot of time on ferries, even singing on them at one point, so we're able to cope with heavy seas (the trick is to keep your eye on the horizon and at the same time let your tummy go floppy), but I felt really sorry for all the children on board.  And to make matters worse there was a medical emergency so the boat turned back to meet the helicopter which had to airlift the patient to hospital - I hope they were ok - but that added another hour onto an already slow journey.   Still, we got home in one piece, really exhausted, but very happy with the trip.  

Sunday 18 November 2018

Sunday check in

Sunset on Strangford Lough

It was a lovely afternoon for a drive down the Ards Peninsula after picking up my guitar baby from the lovely Hungarian luthier who was restoring her to her former beauty.  On the way we stopped off to see an old friend for a few minutes and then took the ferry across to Strangford.  A perfect relaxing Sunday.

I hope you have a lovely week to come - not too much stress, lots achieved and a bit of fun along the way.

Sunday 4 November 2018

On tour

We've been on the road in the UK for over two weeks now and it's been a brilliant trip.   The concerts have gone very well, we've seen lots of old friends and made many new ones, we've travelled from the north of Scotland down into the Midlands of England and points in between and while I'm sad it's over I am most definitely in need of a break and ready to be at home now.

These photos were taken on the very last night in Bollington Folk Club - many thanks to John Appleyard for sending them on to me.

The clubs have been a joy with fabulous singers all along the way who have not only sang with our songs but have provided great entertainment before and during our sets everywhere we went.  And thankfully our new songs went down very well wherever we went.

There have been lots of laughs and many sad moments too as people sang songs about the great war, and many towns we passed through were bedecked with mementoes to the thousands and thousands who lost their lives in it.  And saddest of all, in of the clubs we visited, the Cutty Wren in Redcar, the organiser was very ill in hospital and sadly died the next day.  John Taylor was a lovely man whom we only met once but who made us feel very welcome.   He will be very much missed.

But then the hilarious goings on of singers in the next club redressed the balance.

We stayed with many old friends and some new ones, and of course sat long into the night solving the problems of the world and finding out about each other's views on the B word.  I'm totally talked out about Brexit now.

In spite of my great intentions setting off on a tour, I'm pretty terrible at taking photos on the road, but I'll be back later in the week with a few sights and views.

Friday 19 October 2018


We're in Scotland at the moment and had a splendid night to start us off in Dunfermline on Wednesday night.   Thanks to everyone who came out and joined in.     

Walking around the town the next day I spotted these details on top of the cathedral.   
Isn't that just brilliant!   

Dunfermline was the ancient capital of Scotland and has some beautiful old buildings.   We hadn't much time to look around but we'll definitely go back someday to have a proper look.
It is also the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie and has what I'm told is an excellent museum in his honour.  

  • We're in Portsoy now, way up in the north, to deliver a two day songwriting workshop tomorrow and Sunday as well as a concert tomorrow night.   Tom's also doing a percussion workshop tomorrow afternoon.
More photos to follow.


Wednesday 10 October 2018

The joys of Autumn

I don't know about you but for some reason this year I am not anywhere near ready for it to be Autumn yet.  And although it's quite warm here this week, last week wasn't, so it felt like we'd gone straight in to winter.   I adore Autumn - it's my time of year, but I just feel out of sync somehow .... Whatever it is these are beautiful days to be out walking and feel centred in the time of year.

The colours are starting to change and everything is smelling so abundant and rich and fruitful.

And the load of logs that arrived yesterday are in perfect time for getting the fire lit in the evening.  With stews and rib sticking suppers (of the vegetarian and even vegan kind) and getting jumpers and woollies out again, there's lots to enjoy and look forward to as the nights draw in.

I feel so saddened and terrified in equal measure by the news this week of the scientists' warnings of what we're doing to this Earth and how close we are to major catastrophe ... and still money seems to be leading the way for our political leaders.

It was good to bring the focus back to the present and get out and get some air and enjoy the trees.

Monday 8 October 2018

A romantic castle

It seems like ages ago now since we were in France - it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip and we neither of us can wait to go again.   And of course we had to visit at least one chateau.
Warning - this post is picture heavy -( I've never learned the art of less is more when it comes to pictures.)

How would you fancy living here?

This is Chateau de L'Islette (the castle on a little island) and it is still occupied.  The family bought it in the 1960s and have been gradually doing it up.  

Château de L'Islette

You cross a little moat - the river runs past it offering the opportunity for boat trips.  

It's a beautiful old house and I would love to live in it.   
But it's real charm is the story that Rodin the sculptor had an affaire with his then 17 year old student Camille Claudel, and l'Islelette was their meeting place for nearly two years.  

It is where Rodin worked on his famous Balzac statue and Camille, famous in her own right,  did many studies of one of the grandchildren of the house - la petite chatelaine.   She often revisited the château in subsequent years and was fully aware of the scandal around her   

There are still echoes of their relationship everywhere with one room dedicated to their writings, their letters to each other and their biographies. 

La Petite Chatelaine

« You cannot imagine how good it is to be at L'Islette ... and it is so pretty here!. …
If you are nice, and keep your promise we will know what paradise is like. »

With my love Camille
(Camille Claudel to Rodin)

Let me show you around some of the rooms - the chapel first

A very clever little shadow lamp that moved around the room
very atmospheric

Some of the house - particularly the bathroom and kitchen - was very modern and obviously well used.   The family move out to a farm house on the estate during the summer season.
Very modern kitchen

A little prayer nook beside the kitchen ....
I could just imagine closing myself in there for a moment's quiet from the chaos of a busy house

The prayer nook

Couldn't you just picture yourself
gazing out there in pensive meditation 


One of the children's bedrooms
and the room where Camille stayed in later years

The other child's bedroom
And looking out Camille's window

The main sitting room on the first floor

The ceiling was handprinted
and very pretty
And back outside ....

The sundial on the wall of the castle

The Mill House in the background at the side of the chateau

The water mill house and the River Indre which surrounds the castle

As a final touch I thought it was really clever to offer children clothes to dress up in while the parents had a look at the place - you could be a princess or a knight for the afternoon :)   Apparently they do this at some of the big German castles as well - maybe in England too?  Great idea.
Fancy being a princess for the day? 
You can read more about it and see much more professional photos than mine here
These places must cost a fortune to do up and maintain but still, it was great to get a look around inside.   It's a style of life I can only imagine.