A blur of exotic dancing


Ann Blagdon at WI

Ann Blagdon at WI

When I saw that the prompt for the weekly photo challenge was the word ‘blur’, I was instantly transported back to a dance festival I attended in Russia some years ago.  It was the most amazing experience and included traditional dance from various ethnic groups which have settled in Russia over the centuries.  There was Greek dancing as well as Armenian, and both were wonderful.  But the most memorable was the cossak dancing.  With their boots, blousy shirts and billowing trousers, the dashing cossaks perform a truly acrobatic dance full of jumps, kicks and bends.  They really are a blur and photos are hard to take.  However, I have some super photos of a dancer that I watched closer to home.  Her name is Ann, and she gave up her day job to pursue the art of Egyptian Belly Dancing.

Ann came to our WI and gave a fascinating talk about the history, myths, legends and meanings associated with this type of dance.  She also told us about the costumes and how “Belly Dancing” got its name.  Her fascination with the dance started when her Lebanese friends in London inspired her to find a teacher.  She was learning classical Indian dance at the time. Over the last twenty years Ann has perfected her craft and she is now a very talented dancer as well as an inspirational teacher.  When Ann dances it is spellbinding, beautiful, graceful and charming. Every movement is significant and tells a story.

Her costumes were ravishing, colourful and exotic.  To cover up she wears the traditional Egyptian Galabeya.  She buys her costumes when she attends the Soukh or market at the Egyptian Hafla or party.  Most of her costumes are made in Thailand or Turkey.  According to Ann, Egypt is considered the birthplace of belly dancing, but there are variations in different regions.  She certainly takes her dance seriously.  In order to get to know and feel the spirit of the dance, she spent time living in a Bedouin tent in the Sinai desert!

She is an amazing woman and a beautiful dancer so I have picked her to illustrate this week’s post.


Am I the ‘lunatic fringe’?

Alex Polizzi says I belong to the “Lunatic Fringe”.  Little old me?  Really?

I’ve been called many things in my time, drama queen and nervous wreck spring to mind and I hold my hands up to both.  But this week I fell into a whole new category ~ the Lunatic Fringe!

Now if you know me, or think you do from reading my blog, this may come as a bit of a surprise, so let me explain.

I watch very little television as a rule, although I have to say currently I am spoilt for choice.  I could not miss Wolf Hall, Broadchurch or Mr Selfridge!  I am also tempted to watch anything with George Clarke, the restoration man in, as his beautiful Sunderland accent reminds me of my Geordie roots.  Another presenter I admire is Alex Polizzi.  She is the sort of feisty, intelligent, successful, call a spade a spade businesswoman/celebrity, I enjoy watching.  On her programme she goes into failing businesses, be they hotels, cafés, shops, or entertainment venues, and gives practical help and advice on how to turn them around.  It makes for fascinating TV.

This week Alex visited a children’s play barn.  These are the sort of places I frequent with my grandchildren when it is too wet for the park! Of course these businesses are not so popular in the summer when children can play for free out of doors.  I have to say Alex did not suggest the improvements which to me were blindingly obvious.  I would install air conditioning to make it inviting on hot summer days and dedicate an area to sand and water play with a whippy ice cream maker nearby!  It would be like going to the seaside but without the sunburn and crowded motorways.

Alex’s suggestions of course were practical, doable and great ~ new space-themed murals and paintwork, a much needed deep clean, and more nutritious, appealing and varied menu options.  I did think that with the owner’s love of baking he could have been a bit more adventurous.  My daughter makes wonderful little cupcakes for her son with grated vegetables or fruit in as well as mini tortillas packed with goodness.  They are so cheap to make yet much healthier than the sugary cakes and biscuits the owner was lovingly preparing.

It was then that Alex explained that ‘normal’ customers who are dissatisfied don’t complain, they just never return!  She said only the ‘lunatic fringe’ bothers to complain.  What?  Is this true? If so I am definitely a paid up member of the ‘Lunatic Fringe’.  Who knew?  Well just maybe Pets at Home, Greene King Inns, Gloucester Royal Hospital, the County Council and our local MP did.  These have all been the recipients of complaints from me over the last few years.  And, I have to say my complaints all achieved positive outcomes.

I could tell you about the explicit posters that were displayed outside our local pub advertising a ‘ladies night’ with male striptease.  My complaint was that children on their way to school would see these posters, which I think is inappropriate.  I also felt that a local pub was not the place for male strippers!  My complaint succeeded because the landlords did not have a license for this type of entertainment so the posters were removed and the event cancelled.

I could tell you about my rather embarrassing but successful run in with the council over their attempt to site a hideous green bus shelter right outside my front window. (Does that make me a NIMFY?)  I won’t go into detail about all of my complaints but if you read my blogpost Bus Stop Brenda you will get my drift.

If something is wrong in my opinion, I will usually write a letter of complaint in the hope that the person, company or service will put it right.  I am polite, I use nice cards or paper, and I often search the internet for the name of the person at the top who makes the decisions.  Is that lunatic?

My current grumble is with Sainsbury’s.  I dread to think how much of my hard earned cash has passed through their tills over the years.  I don’t have time to shop around, I never did, and so Sainsbury’s has fed my family and kept my household going for as long as I can remember.  But they are risking all this loyalty for points worth pennies, and vouchers which drive me insane.

I have a Nectar card with Sainsbury’s and for every pound you spend you get points ~ so far so simple.  You save up the points which equate to cash off your shopping.  But recently the value of the points has been halved.   You now need to jump through all sorts of hoops to get ‘bonus’ points or double points.  This just takes you back to where you would have been originally but they pretend it’s a great deal for the customer.  Next there are the confounded vouchers which come through the post or pour out of the till.  They are not just simple money off vouchers, they are date restricted, product linked or just for fuel.

I also get vouchers from Pets at Home, Waitrose and M&S, sometimes for food, or clothing, pet stuff, or for household goods.   It’s a nightmare trying to use them.

Nowadays, no-one calls me a domestic goddess, organised I am not.  I used to be.  When I was younger and working full time, a parent of 4 children with a dog and a cat to consider, I could manage to work efficiently for 60 hours a week, ferry my children to their various activities, attend to most of the domestic chores and provide nutritious food on a regular basis as well as keeping the animals happy, fed and exercised.  But since I retired my organisational skills have dwindled to the point where cutting out and collecting the relevant vouchers and actually taking them in my purse to the right shop for the specified items between the appropriate dates is totally beyond me.

Bemoaning this to a couple of friends who still qualify as domestic goddesses they advised me to:

  1. a) sort out vouchers into date order
  2. b) buy a plastic zippy pouch to keep vouchers in
  3. c) keep the zippy pouch with your purse in the reusable shopping bags
  4. d) take the bags, purse and pouch to the shops
  5. e) go through the vouchers at the checkout and present the relevant vouchers

So I tried this last week and failed miserably.  Going shopping with a 2 teenagers, a small child and a baby in a pushchair may have been difficult but it was a doddle compared to going shopping with a 6 foot hubby currently in a wheelchair, which goes something like this:~

  1. Convince hubby that shopping needs to be done
  2. Explain to hubby that he needs to get out of the house
  3. Find his shoes, coat, scarf, hat, wallet, hanky, drinks bottle in case he gets thirsty, sweets in case he gets dry throat
  4. prise hubby out of comfy rise and recline chair
  5. help him on with previously mentioned items
  6. use indoor, 4 wheeled mobility aid to get to front door
  7. use outdoor, 3 wheeled, foldable mobility aid to get to car
  8. help hubby into car
  9. put outdoor walker in garage
  10. get wheelchair out of garage
  11. fold up wheelchair and lift into boot
  12. drive to Sainsbury’s
  13. dodge the car washers who want to charge me £8 to put wax on my driver’s window with a dirty rag so that I can’t see out of it
  14. get wheelchair out of boot
  15. help hubby into wheelchair
  16. ask staff to unlock store’s mobility scooter
  17. help hubby into mobility scooter
  18. take wheelchair back to car, fold and lift into boot
  19. do the shopping, carefully adding a bit extra because we have vouchers
  20. find a checkout wide enough for mobility scooter
  21. unload all shopping onto conveyor belt
  22. look for reusable bags, purse and zippy pouch bursting with vouchers worth £12 and hundreds of nectar points
  23. Realise they are still at home on the indoor mobility aid
  24. Ask hubby for his wallet
  25. Pay for shopping
  26. Replay 1 to 18 in reverse order
  27. Go home and have a little cry

Now the end to this tale of woe is that I kept my receipt and went in the next day with the voucher for £12 off having fulfilled all the criteria, but the computerised till would not accept the voucher because it ran out at close of business the night before.  My complaint is that my shopping was done within the specified time so the voucher should be honoured.  What would Alex Polizzi say?  Would the shareholders of Sainsbury’s rather I acted like a ‘normal’ customer and just voted with my feet or would they prefer to get a letter giving them the opportunity to honour my voucher and keep my custom?

Answers on a postcard please …


It’s Automatic!

Skoda Roomster

Skoda Roomster

I’ve just realised that I am a control freak.

This fact, which is probably blindingly obvious to my family, is a total surprise to me.  It was revealed yesterday when I changed my car.

I have been driving for well over 40 years.  While I was at college in Newbold Revel in the 60s we had the chance to learn in the gorgeous country lanes and villages of Warwickshire.  We occasionally drove into Rugby or the outskirts of Coventry, but these roads were not so busy then.  There was no A45 for a start!  We just tootled along the ‘B roads’ through sleepy little villages like Brinklow.  I had no nerves in those days and my instructor said I was a natural.  Lessons cost us 17shilling and 6pence (17s6d) in pre-decimal money, which is about 87p now.  It sounds really cheap but of course a pound was a lot of money then.

When I left college I moved to the Cotswolds with my room-mate and dear friend Pat, whom I have written about before.  Pat already had a car while we were at college.  She used to work at riding stables in Somerset during her holidays so had learned to drive early.  We made quite a stir wherever we turned up in her car because she used to take the back seats out of it to transport her tiny Shetland pony, Rupert.  Did I mention that Pat was a ‘one off’?   In her prime she rode the iconic London to Brighton Cycle Race, but Pat did it on a unicycle.   She certainly lived life to the full and squeezed every ounce of fun she could out of it.  Later on in life she became a really serious cyclist, what is known as a ‘hard rider’.  She did time trials, road racing, cross country mountain biking and hill climbs, which were her favourite.   She won lots of titles including National Ladies’ Veteran and Bog-snorkelling Champion!  What makes this all the more amazing is that she did it all with a metal frame supporting her spine after she fell from a tree and broke her back many years ago while picking fruit.  She was a great friend and I miss her.

Anyway, by the time I got round to needing a car I was married and had a baby.  I actually passed my test with the baby in his carry cot on the back seat!  There was no law about child seats in those days; there weren’t even seat belts in the back seats of most cars!

Since then I have had several cars of different marques.  I loved my little red Fiat but hated the VW Beetle.  I once had a brand new silver Mazda which was my favourite car, but usually I had whatever my dad was replacing, as they were free!  By the time I had 4 children I had a blue escort estate which my dad had used for work.  This would be early 1980s and because he travelled so much for work he had a very early mobile phone.  The phone itself was huge by today’s standards but the battery was ridiculous.  It was the size of a small suitcase and was fitted under the driver’s seat.

Following that I had little metros and lastly a Renault Clio.  This car was ideal until this summer when my husband had a couple of bad falls.  He has peripheral neuropathy among other things and since the fall he has hardly been able to walk let alone drive.  So I have been taking a wheelchair with us whenever we go out.  The boot on the Clio is quite small and quite high so lifting, folding and stowing the wheelchair has been really hard for me.  Hence, the need for a change of car.  Unfortunately due to his age mainly, we don’t qualify for the wonderful ‘Motability Scheme’, but we were told that when people with disabilities return their adapted cars, they are forwarded to dealers and sold ~ the cars that is, not the person with disabilities!  So we started a search of dealers in our area.  I took some advice from an expert, Zog Zeigler, who writes brilliant car reviews for TV, newspapers and various magazines, and eventually found just the car for us.  It is a Skoda Roomster.  The lady who had it from new had returned it after only 6 months, so we really got a bargain.

It has a huge low boot which is easy to get a wheelchair in even unfolded.  It has parking sensors front and back.  It has hand controls for braking and accelerating.  It has a huge glass roof so my grandson can watch the ‘cloudbabies’.  And, it has 4 doors which open wide so the other grandchildren can get in easily loaded up with schoolbags, football kit and musical instruments!  BUT, and it’s a big but, it is AUTOMATIC.

I have never driven an automatic car before so it was probably not the best decision to pick it up while my hubby was in hospital, in the rush hour, and drive it home along one of the narrowest roads in Gloucestershire while the factory workers were racing home on bikes, scooters, motorbikes, cars, lorries and buses.  It was the most hair-raising drive I have ever undertaken ~ and I’ve travelled in cars in Africa and Russia so that’s saying something!

Just getting out of the showroom carpark was a challenge.  Apparently the ‘selector lever’, which replaces the gear stick, will not budge unless you have your foot on the brake.   Who knew?  Everyone apparently, except me!  This threw me to the extent that I blocked the main road causing a huge traffic jam of tired workers on their way home.  Not a good start.  I could see the driver in the lorry at the front of the queue was not happy so I had to resort to going back into the showroom to ask for help.  So my pride and joy at having a shiny newish car was quickly replaced by humiliation as I did a good impression of a pathetic female.

I did get home eventually although every bend, junction, passing vehicle and set of traffic lights was a source of fear.  What do you do with your left hand and foot when they are not needed for gear changing?  I just feel that with a manual car I am in control, but with an automatic some hidden bit of electronic wizardry is in control.  And I DON’T LIKE IT!

Pat and the dangers of Cycling http://wp.me/p2gGsd-t7

My Friend Pat on her bike

My Friend Pat on her bike


Miss Margaret’s New House

When I was a student in the 1960’s I started collecting nursery rhymes and poetry which I could use once I started teaching.  I built up quite a collection in a folder.  I also got into the habit of cutting poems out of the daily newspaper if they appealed to me.  One poem impressed me so much I have treasured it for the last 50 years.  I still have the original cutting.  Brown with age, I’ve now laminated it so that it doesn’t get damaged.  It is called Miss Margaret’s New House and it chimed with me really strongly.

As regular readers of my blog will know, my much loved mum died in 2012.  She lived just a couple of doors away from me, which was really handy when I was caring for her.  But once she had died, the house being so close was a constant source of sadness which I could not escape.

The house was empty and forlorn for months but now new people have bought the house to ‘do up’ and live in.  It seems to me that there will be nothing left of the original house soon.  It now has a huge extension on the back, the lovely hardwood window frames have been replaced with white plastic and the leaded lights are gone.  The kitchen has been ripped out and a new one built in the extension.  The wall between the bathroom and toilet has been knocked through and all the fittings have been replaced.  The climbing roses have been cut down and the rambling hedgerow tamed and trimmed.  All the carpets are gone and modern wooden flooring installed and the walls have all be painted in neutral tones.

I’m sure it will all be lovely by the time they move in, but no longer will it be ‘my mum’s house’.  This is a blessing in a way as I will no longer feel those pangs of sadness as I pass by on my walks with the dog or my grandson.  Every trace of my mum’s taste and personality has gone from the house now, along with her fixtures and fittings, into the skip.

Her style was plain and simple.  She loved the soft pink on the walls, pale green on the floors ~ always Wilton, always 80/20 wool.  She loved roses in the garden, flowers in the house, and dark oak Ercol furniture.  She loved soft cushions and silver ornaments.  Her door, like her heart, was always open to visitors, especially her family.  She never forgot a birthday and was generous to a fault.  Not a day goes by when I don’t miss her.

Now to get back to the poem!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


 She never liked The Firs.  She said

‘Give me simplicity.

Pretentious roofs and leaded panes…

Lord, how they sicken me!


I’ll have an honest house one day.

Clean-shaped outside and in.

Where need shall take its dues, and oust

The merely finikin.


A downright house, a compact house;

A small house – I am small;

The lone pea in its vasty pod

Is not my role at all.


Nor yet for me pert painted doors,

Flame yellow, scarlet bright;

A low house with white window sills,

And trees to left and right.


A quiet house, a peaceful house…

Cool in the August heat,

But snug and safe when parching winds

Drive brown leaves down the street…


This will I have’, she said and let

It cost me what it may

I shall not grudge that dwelling’s price…

She moved in yesterday.


It took the sum of all she had,

But well content she seemed;

She has them all-the sheltering trees,

The quiet that she dreamed;


The low pitched roof, the straight bare walls-

All hers, and perfect, save

For the white window sills.  There are

No windows in a grave.

By Ana Jackson

Miss Margaret's House? No, its mine!

My mum painting in Painswick Rococo Gardens

My mum painting in Painswick Rococo Gardens

Family ~ Weekly Photo Challenge

Many years ago, it seems like another lifetime, I was a busy single mum to 4 wonderful children. I had a full time job that I loved, a nice home that was all my own work, an adorable miniature wire haired dachshund and a stray cat who turned up one day and stayed for 17 years. Over the years I progressed from teacher to deputy head and then Headteacher of a great primary school at the heart of an estate in my adopted home town. Luckily my profession fitted in perfectly with being a single parent as I was usually around in school holidays and always at weekends. But if ever there was a crisis due to illness or something I had the backup of my mum who lived nearby and was always delighted to look after the children or pets!

My school and parish was my community and together with my family, was the source of all the joy, friendship and social life I needed. Although I knew my immediate neighbours, my life was much too busy to get involved in the local community or the people in the wider neighbourhood.

And so life went on and my children became adults and gradually left home. I had always encouraged them to follow their dreams and take any opportunity they could to travel and sample other ways of life and other cultures. I was lucky enough to travel extensively through my job, working with schools in Russia and Africa. I also took great holidays in America, Canada and many parts of Europe. So I think I probably went a bit too far with this advice as now 3 of my children live and work abroad!

As my children grew more independent I filled my spare time travelling to Lourdes at every available opportunity as a volunteer/helper with the sick or disabled whom we called VIPs. This was one of the most rewarding 10 years of my life. It also indirectly brought me my wonderful second husband who was also a volunteer.

I knew that I was very lucky in every way and I worked very hard to try and improve the life chances of the children in my school. But of course life has a way of turning your world upside down sometimes. For me several events occurred to produce the perfect storm that would shatter my well ordered life. I buried my feelings and worked harder and harder until my body refused to do any more and I had to retire.

There then followed 5 very gruelling years which felt like 50 years. I was caring for my mum who was disabled after a heart attack. I only ever went out of the house to shop or for their hospital appointments. I became reclusive, antisocial and anxious. By 2009 my life and social circle was as limited as it could possibly be.

Then in that Autumn my youngest daughter said some women wanted to start a WI in our area. She said she thought it would be good for me so she would go with me to the inaugural meeting. It took all my courage to turn up that night and fortunately there were only a handful of women there. In fact there were so few that almost everyone there ended up on the committee by default! My daughter said I was good on computers so could be the secretary.

Now, almost 4 years on, I know that joining the WI was the best thing I could have done. At first I forced myself to go to all the meetings as I had to take notes. Gradually it became a pleasure to attend the meetings and I looked forward to them. I joined the Book Club and started reading again. I started putting my name down for trips and events. To give me the courage to turn up for them I took my camera to hide behind and became our unofficial photographer. I ventured out to concerts and big events like the AGM in Cardiff. It still takes quite a lot of courage for me to attend these things but I know that if I am struggling I will not be alone. The friendship and support WI members offer each other is very special. I even joined the Public Affairs Committee at our Federation.

Usually I find that the speakers at meetings are so interesting that I completely forget to worry or panic and just enjoy myself!

Now the WI is my community and my family. Through joining, I have rediscovered my creative side, writing a blog at http://www.heavenhappens.wordpress.com I have become outgoing and physically active again and renewed my interest in campaigning.

Best of all, when I walk anywhere in my local area now I seem to know everyone and they all stop for a chat. I feel that I am part of a vibrant and supportive community.

The WI offers all kinds of opportunities to all kinds of women. I would advise any woman of any age to join and get involved to whatever extent you feel able.

The WI is all about inspiring women. It is a rich source of experiences, knowledge and skills passed down through generation ~ and updated every day!

WI even enriches my now rare holidays, as I try to pop in to a local meeting while I am away. It is fascinating to see how different WIs conduct their meetings. But I can honestly say that whichever WI I go to, I know a warm welcome is guaranteed.

I am so happy with my life now and I thank God every day for my wonderful family, friends and community.

Creative writing from the bottom of my memory

I am quite excited today because this evening I am going to the inaugural meeting of our new Creative Writing Group. A couple of months ago I was asked to come along to an Artists Way meeting to chat about my blog and how I got it started.
I was a little daunted but very pleased to be asked as I still consider myself a learner in the blogosphere. In fact, the more I delve into it and the more wonderful bloggers I discover, the humbler I get!
But I went along and found the group to be made up of lovely, enthusiastic and creative people. All of them have a story they want to tell and they were full of stimulating questions. I tried my best to encourage a lively discussion but the evening went far too quickly. So, we agreed that what we need is a writing group. There are some well established groups in our area but they didn’t fit our bill. So we decided to start our own. There is no leader or teacher, just a group of us who will hopefully be encouraging while reading, writing and discussing each others work.

Now if any of my blogging community can give me guidelines or tips that I can pass on I would be very grateful. Perhaps you have been part of a group and found a particular session really useful, I would love to know.

Of course one of the things I had to do before meeting the group is decide what makes my blog tick. I have my lovely quote from Tom Stoppard after my header and I truly believe that. However
the essence of my blog can be expressed in a quote from The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier,

“I dropped this wonderful moment into the bottom of my memory, like a sheet-anchor that one day I could draw up again. The bedrock of existence is not made up of the family, or work, or what others say and think of you, but of moments like this when you are exalted by a transcendent power that is more serene than love.”

This is how and why I write, I treasure memories and moments when I felt like heaven happens. I will again reblog something I wrote right at the start when not many people were reading my blog. You have to read right to the end for the little bit of transcendent power though!!
I hope you enjoy it.

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Street Life

pothole protestjpeg

pothole protest2jpeg
I woke up very early one morning to the sound of a pickaxe pounding the pavement opposite my house. Being naturally curious as well as a member of the Neighbourhood Watch scheme I got up to see what was going on. And there they were, two men, one ‘little’ and one ‘large’, digging holes in the pavement right opposite my front window! On the back of their white flatbed truck they had an assortment of tools and what looked suspiciously like a bus shelter. Since no-one had contacted us to inform us that this might be happening I rushed out in my pyjamas to find out what authority they had for the work. They told me that we should have been contacted, but their orders were to put up a bus shelter right there.

Now as you can just see from the photo my house is right opposite a lovely park with a stream and a small wood which is a delight throughout the year. I simply could not allow an ugly bus shelter to block my view. Yes I am a NIMBY!

‘Large’, who clearly underestimated the power of a woman in pyjamas, said there was nothing I could do about it as they had their orders. I said well you can’t carry your orders out if I am sitting in the hole, which I promptly did ~ yes …. in my pyjamas. At this point ‘little’ got into the van to have a smoke and ‘large’ very gallantly offered me his fluorescent yellow jacket as it was starting to rain.

Knowing me well and realising I would not be backing down any time soon my long suffering husband brought me out a cup of tea and a telephone to ring the council. Pah! The same council who had not even bothered to inform, never mind consult, the residents, I would not be wasting my time phoning them – anyway it was far too early. I would phone my MP direct. Fortunately I had his number as this is not the first protest I have been involved in. Poor ‘large’ was completely thrown when my call was put straight through to the MP’s mobile as he was at the House …. of Commons that is!

By now ‘little’ had started to get edgy and asked how long I was planning on sitting in the hole. I informed him that I could stay there as long as it took to get the decision reversed, so he called his boss. At this point passers by on their way to work had started to notice and one even took photos. I began to realise I was causing a bit of a stir – and so did ‘little’ and ‘large’. They reported this to their boss along with the fact that I was on the phone to my MP. ’The Boss’ immediately ordered them to fill in the hole and abandon the site.

Quite bewildered but in very good humour the two men did as told and tarmacked over the holes. They never did come back and to this day there is no bus stop opposite the house, just beautiful views.

As a postscript to this I will just say that the next day I was taking my elderly mother to the cemetery to put flowers on dad’s grave when we passed the local newsagents. Mum looked at the display of newspapers in the window and said – “you’re in the papers!” To my horror on the front page was the not very fetching photo of me sitting in a hole wearing my pj’s and a yellow fluorescent jacket!

The world and his brother have seen it and that is how I came to be known as “bus stop brenda”.

To read more about life in my street do read my post about ‘Comings and Goings’ at http://wp.me/p2gGsd-191

Writing and reading tips

Gosh what a useful and entertainng post I just read. It kept me fascinated so I have pasted it below for you. Honestly there is so much in it.
I’m in hospital at the moment and likely to be stuck in bed for a couple of weeks so thank goodness for the blogging community! I will have time to read every word! I am also enjoying books by Sally Vickers – I have meant to read them for a long time but now I can. Just finished The Cleaner of Chartres and am enjoying Miss Garnet’s Angels x will hunt out more online !
They are gently mysteries set in beautiful places such a Venice and Chartres, with a spiritual angle, lots of psychological insight and history as well – all written in glorious prose x magnificent!


Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all the lovely, talented, thoughtful and spiritual people who read and comment on my humble blog.  I have had so much pleasure from your posts and feel that I have got to know most of you personally.  2013 was such a busy year that I have not always managed to write as much as I would wish to, but in 2014  I will aim to be more focused!

The greatest joy of 2013 was watching little Stanley, my grandson, grow.  He was 1 year old on 1st December and he now walks and is a delight in every way.

If you want to see just how much he has changed and what he means to me you could re-read some of my posts about him.


See how he has grown
Stanley with his first toolset 1

My 15 minutes of Fame!

Me on set with Tom Chambers

Me on set with Tom Chambers

It has been such an unusual and exciting week for me.  While I was on holiday in Cornwall, I got a call from a casting agent about doing some filming as a supporting artist for a BBC production of a TV series.  I had not auditioned or even applied for a part so I was very surprised and a little puzzled.  However the explanation was simple.  Earlier this year, I helped some students at the local university in the making of a short and very moving film, for their degree course.  In order to complete the whole project professionally I had to register with an agency which I did.  The film, “The Day My Name Changed” was produced, directed, shot and edited successfully.  One of the students was kind enough to write a glowing comment on the agency’s website about me, which apparently had been picked up by a casting agent who was looking for people of just my age and type.

So it was that I found myself working this week in the Cotswold countryside alongside professional actors I have admired for years.

The TV series is called Father Brown and it is set in some of the most beautiful Cotswold villages, which is perfect for me as I live nearby.   This will be the second series of the 1950’s drama based on stories by the author GK Chesterton, and starring Mark Williams who played Arthur Weasley in the Harry Potter films.  The character Father Brown, who wears trademark shabby robes and a misshapen hat, is a bicycle-riding, crime-fighting, Roman Catholic Priest in the series. Sorcha Cusack plays the Parish secretary, Mrs McCarthy.

I can’t tell you the storyline or the other characters in the series we were filming for professional reasons but I can say the whole experience was fascinating and really enjoyable, if a little exhausting!

I was told to arrive on set by 7am prepared to work for up to 12 hours.  First I had to go to a costume area where I found everything hung up on hangers or bagged with my name on them.  There were underclothes from the 50’s including corsets, petticoat, suspenders and stockings with seams.  There was a hat, gloves, shoes, a handbag and a pair of glasses, all genuine 1950’s.  There was a dress and matching jacket.  Once I had got into all of this on one of the hottest days of the year I was a bit uncomfortable!  Next it was into the makeup and hairdressing area.  Here there were several superb makeup artists and hairdressers equipped with whole tables of boxes and bags of exciting things ~ brushes of every size and thickness, rollers of every colour and type, hairgrips and combs by the dozen, and more makeup than I had ever seen!

These wonderful artists sat me down and transformed me with heated rollers then pinned on my blue hat.  A covering of mat makeup and pink lipstick as per 1950 and I was done!

I hardly recognised myself and I thought I looked ancient and awful but everyone else seemed to think I looked ok so off I went to be photographed by Continuity.  The continuity people are amazing and very important when filming.  As shots are not necessarily filmed consecutively it is really important that every detail is right.  The arm holding the handbag, gloves on or off, the right glasses on, hair still in place, makeup still on ~ the continuity people are checking and photographing constantly.

When everyone had been through costume, makeup, hair and continuity, it was time to line up for more photographs and an inspection for approval by the Director of Costumes.  At this point details could be checked and adjustments made.  Hats swapped, jewellery dispensed or removed, cardigans and jackets altered on the spot, shoes changed ~ his word was final.  Only when he was happy were we allowed to get onto a minibus to be taken to the actual set for the filming.

It was at this point I felt like a real star as we were treated so well.  Everyone on the crew from the driver to the director knew each of our names.  They have a list of the actors and supporting artists with photographs and are expected to know them by name.  We were given bottles of water during breaks, coffee and tea was available at any time, and a lovely cooked lunch was provided from a big catering van, which everyone used from the most important to the least.  There were crew buses which everyone sat together on to eat lunch.  After lunch everyone had to go through costume, makeup, hairdressing, photographs, continuity and inspection again to make sure nothing had changed.  Then off in the bus for an afternoon of filming.

The whole experience was wonderful, and, at the end of the day, 5 of us were asked to stay behind for late filming.  I was really excited to be one of the 5 chosen.  Suddenly a sleek 1950’s black car drove smoothly down the road and stopped right where we were filming and out stepped one of my favourite stars from Casualty who was also a winner of one of the best shows on TV in the winter, “Strictly Come Dancing” ~ Tom Chambers!

I can’t tell you what he was doing there but I was tickled pink to be on set with him and to have my photograph taken with him.

It was a long day and it was very hot.  It was uncomfortable wearing all those 1950’s clothes and the stiletto heeled and pointy-toed shoes were killing me. I still think I looked awful.  But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  I enjoyed every minute and I got to do it all over again on Thursday in a different village wearing a different costume.

I do hope they ask me again!



All the world’s a stage

As I drove around the park area of Cheltenham today I noticed a road called Rowena Cade Avenue. I wondered how many residents of our lovely town know who she was, so I thought I would blog about her connection with the town and her amazing legacy. As this year is the centenary of the start of WW1 I thought this was appropriate.  Rowena spent her formative years living in Cheltenham where her uncle was Head of the Junior school at Cheltenham College.  Rowena herself went to Cheltenham Ladies College for a while. Rowena lived with her father James, and her mother, in a house called Ellerslie, which backed onto Pittville Pump Rooms. When the First World War started she was given the heartbreaking job of selecting and breaking in horses to be sent to the front.  Readers may have seen the play or film of Michael Morpurgo’s book,  War Horse.  This perfectly illustrates the horrors those poor horses were sent to.

After the war Rowena’s father had died and the rest of her family had dispersed, so she moved to Cornwall.  It was here she developed her talent for designing and making costume, putting on shows, and ultimately developing the unique and iconic Minack Theatre.  The theatre was entirely planned and financed in the 1920s and 30s by this inspirational woman, Rowena Cade.  The Minack was her passion and she literally worked on it until she died at almost 90 years of age.

We visited the Minack Theatre while we were on holiday in Cornwall. The weather was spectacularly good which made the setting all the more wondrous.  The stage is made of stone set against a backdrop of the cliffs and sea.  There is a stone balcony, stone pillars, stone boxes and all the terraced seating is tiered into the cliff face and made of stone.  Many of the seats have the year carved into them as well as the title of plays performed in that year.  The first play to be performed there was The Tempest in 1932.   There is a seat with 1939 carved into it and the next one says “Break for the war”!  Some of the stone seats have huge cockle shells carved into them.

Around the theatre is a spectacular garden with plants from all around the globe.  The plants were chosen by Rowena to withstand the salty winds coming off the sea, as well as the very wet winters and often hot, dry summers.

Minack theatre is open all year round to visitors.  If you are lucky and you visit between in spring or summer months you may see a play, concert or opera.  You would be advised to take a cushion and have something warm to wear as the seats are solid stone and it can get very cold.

While we were there, the performance was the Marriage of Figaro.  This year there is surely something for everyone, including:

Pygmalion, Tosca, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Producers, Oh What A Lovely War, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The full programme can be found on the website http://www.minack.com/

I took lots of photos as the weather was so good.  I hope they give you an insight into the wonderful achievements of Rowena Cade.

Race For Life

Inspired by haiku-heights prompt “measure”.

It was too darn hot

But the girls ran the distance

In the Race for Life

Like any mum I am really proud of all my children, but at the weekend two of my daughters exceeded even my expectations. They both run regularly to keep fit and are naturally competitive. They are also very caring people who do a great deal for charities that are close to their hearts. So they both signed up to run the Race for Life with the aim of raising money for Cancer Research charities.
It was a scorching hot day on Sunday as they donned their pink tee shirts and set off for the Racecourse. The organisers made no allowance for the heat and kept the runners out in the sun for an hour while they literally “warmed up”.
There were literally hundreds of runners on the course, some walking, some jogging and some running. But my girls both managed to run the 10k distance in less than 1 hour. An amazing feat in view of the heat and the crowds they had to battle through to finish.


This post is inspired by the last two prompts from http://haiku-heights.blogspot.co.uk/

Mum's woodcarving

Mum’s woodcarving

Their hands held the tools

As they carved out the figure

That touches my heart


She whittled in wood,

Carved, chiselled and sanded.

A figure was formed


My parents now gone

Left a lasting impression

Character forming


She saw through the wood

A spirit living within

And set his soul free


Silent and stooping

The essence of pure sadness

Released from the wood


Working with the wood

His chiselled features forming

Smooth-sanded statue

The first prompt “fingerprint”, made me consider how special some things are to me simply because they belonged previously to, and were held by, someone I have loved. I was reminded especially of a figure that my mum carved out of wood many years ago. The wood was hard to work with so my dad helped with the chiselling and carving. I distinctly remember them both working away very happily at this piece of original craftwork, their fingerprints ingrained in the wood.
Gradually the character in the wood was revealed. It was a particularly striking piece I always thought, but my mum thought him a little gloomy for display in the house. So he lived on a plinth in the garden for years. As he stood battered by the weather he gradually looked more and more dejected.
The second prompt word is “sand” which fits nicely into the second stage in the life of this figure.
After my parents had both died the figure came to me. He was battered, discoloured and very rough but very precious to me, having been physically created by my parents. So my lovely husband took the figure off its rotten plinth, cleaned and sanded it down, then fixed the base. He still looks very careworn and dejected ~ the figure that is ~ not my husband, but I love it so much that it now sits on a shelf in my lounge.
I would not part with it at any price.


Laughter and Lyrics Choir I'm the white haired one 7th from left and caroline is the gorgeous oneon the right of the middle

Laughter and Lyrics Choir
I’m the white haired one 7th from left and Caroline is the gorgeous one on the right of the middle

An emotionally charged post for Haiku Heights prompt word ‘crescendo’.  I joined a ladies’ choir this year run by Caroline Edwards at the Everyman Theatre.  It is held on Friday mornings and several of my friends including those from WI joined too.  Lots of choirs popped up in the UK after the charismatic Gareth Malone appeared on TV to prove that everyone could sing by setting up choirs in all kinds of establishments.  Of course in order to make a beautiful sound you need a great teacher to whip you into shape.  We have Caroline for that and she is wonderful.  She has moulded our lively group of women into a choir!

We have a great deal of fun, drink lots of coffee, eat lots of cake, chat a lot, and have become firm friends who support each other.   caroline runs several choirs who will all get together on 15th July for a grand show at the theatre.  It is a sell out concert.  My heart breaks that after all my practicing I won’t actually be there on the night.  However I have enjoyed every minute with our choir ‘Laughter and Lyrics’.  The last song we are singing at the show is Sing ~ I know that along with a backdrop of video images produced by the fabulous Mark Kempner, there won’t be a dry eye in the house.  I will post a clip after the event when it goes public, but for now listen to Gary barlow and the Military Wives Choir as you read my haiku on ‘crescendo’

Deep emotions flow
To spine-tingling crescendo
Heartfelt harmony
Together we stand
Black with a splash of colour
Hearts break while we sing
‘Latte and Lyrics’
Choir gathers, faces aglow
Singing with gusto

Caroline’s choir grows
Along with coffee and cake
Gathering goosebumps
Perfect performance
As 5000 women sing
Hymn ‘Jerusalem’

I recently went to the Annual general meeting of the WI at Cardiff Arena again.  As always it reaches a crescendo when the 4000 plus women sing Jerusalem.  When you are part of it the sound is wonderful.   This clip is from 2010 when I was one of the women singing.


What would you campaign for?

I have been fascinated this month by the TV and Radio 4 coverage of the centenary of the death of an amazing Geordie woman and suffragette, Emily Davison.  Being a Geordie myself and something of a campaigner in my time, I can identify with the strength of feeling she had for her cause.  Her cause was women’s rights.

As part of my research for the WW1 play we will be doing next year in conjunction with the Everyman Theatre, I have been studying Emily Davison.

Emily Davison  1872-1913

Emily Davison

Emily was born in 1872 and was from a respectable Northumberland family.  She was intelligent and well educated, going up to Oxford University and gaining a first class honours.  However she could not graduate as degrees were closed to women.  The unfairness of this would not have escaped her.  She went on to study foreign languages before leaving to become a governess, then a teacher, after her father died leaving her mother unable to further fund Emily’s course.  But it was women’s suffrage that was her raison d’etre.

In 1906 she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). formed in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst

Emily progressed from disrupting meetings to stone throwing and arson.  She was arrested and imprisoned for various offences nine times.  In 1909 Emily was sentenced to a month’s hard labour for throwing rocks at the chancellor’s carriage.

On 2 April 1911 she was found “hiding in the crypt in the Houses of Parliament”.   She was actually in a cupboard in St Mary Undercroft, which is the chapel for the Palace of Westminster.  It was the night of the census and she wanted to put ‘House of Commons’ as her official residence.  I am awed by her cunning and courage, as was Tony Benn MP, who had a plaque about this event placed in the House in 1999, albeit in a broom cupboard!

In 1912 she was sentenced to six months in Holloway Prison for setting fire to a pillar box. While in prison she was force-fed after going on hunger strike.  This was a barbaric act akin to torture.  Indeed in the Houses of Parliament, the labour MP George Lansbury said the Prime Minister HH Asquith would go down in history as being, “the man who tortured women”.

On 4 June 2013 Emily took a risk too far when she tried to disrupt the Derby at Epsom, a famous horse race and British institution.  It was assumed for a long time that she had wanted to commit suicide when she ran onto the track in front of the King’s horse, Anmer.  However scholars, forensic scientists and others have examined evidence in recent years and have concluded that she probably just wanted to make a spectacular gesture by holding up her suffragette scarf and maybe putting it on the King’s horse, to draw attention to the cause.

Finally in 1914, the year the world was plunged into a dreadful war, Prime Minister Asquith made a commitment to giving women the vote after the war.

In 1918 the Representation of the People Act granted women over the age of 30 the right to vote, as long as they were married to, or a member of, Local Government Register.  It also extended men’s suffrage to the right for all men to vote over the age of 21, and abolished most property qualifications for men.

In 1928 women were granted equal suffrage with men as they could vote at the age of 21 and most of the property rules were abolished.

So Emily, along with the thousands of brave women in the suffragette movement, achieved her goal.  Her courage and steadfastness is remembered and celebrated still a hundred years on.

There is a wealth of documentary evidence and articles written about the Suffragettes and Emily Davison and I have added links for anyone who would like to know more.  I have also attached a link to newsreel of both her death and her wonderful funeral for those who would like to see it.

Being on the Public Affairs Committee in the Women’s Institute is my own way of making a difference in my own community and the world at large these days.  The WI campaigns on many issues and is well respected for their achievements.  The following article asks “what would suffragettes get off their backsides for today?”  Do read it.


Emily Davison's Funeral

Emily Davison’s Funeral

Believe in yourself

Laughter and Lyrics Choir

Laughter and Lyrics Choir

Yesterday was very emotional for me in so many ways.  I belong to a choir called “Laughter and Lyrics” which meets every Friday morning in the restaurant of the Everyman Theatre.  We have only been singing together for a few months and we are all of different ages and from varied backgrounds.  But I think we gel as a choir and make a beautiful sound together.  Of course singing is very emotional at any time but yesterday was especially so as we had been invited to sing at a service to celebrate the life of the much loved father of one the ladies in the choir.  The service was in a beautiful little church in one of the most idyllic villages in the Cotswolds, Dumbleton, and the sun shone on it.

As I sang in that beautiful church with our choir of wonderful ladies I felt privileged to be there, blessed to be alive, and grateful to be me.

One of the songs we are practicing for our show in July is “Believe”, written by Lin Marsh.

It is often sung at final assemblies here in the UK when pupils are moving on to a new school.  It is so uplifting and affirming.

I hope you enjoy listening to this  You Tube version of it, and know that it is meant for you.