Play on, play on…

I’ve just had a bit of a treat. A visit to Glyn Jones workshop. They say if you’re thinking of buying a dog, do the research BEFORE you go to see the puppy, because once you hold that puppy in your hands you’re lost. Glyn describes himself not as a Luthier but as a maker and repairer of Violin family instruments  He began his journey whilst browsing in a second-hand bookshop and his engineers eye fell on a book about the art of violin making “Violin Making as it Was and Is” by polymath Edward Heron-Allen who studied under French Violin Luthier Georges Chanot at his London Workshop in 1885 in order to write the book. A particular quote in the book spoke to Glyn and he decided to have a go at making a violin.

Sometime later, a violin back recently resin-coated was hanging out on the washing line at his army quarters in Germany and caught the eye of Betty a violinist in the Detmold Chamber Orchestra as she cycled past. Fascinated and intreagued Betty grabbed a colleague and invited themselves round for Sunday lunch and soon became Glyns first official testers giving valuable feedback and the rest as they say, is history…

I know this because Glyn is about to give a talk to a local Women’s Institute group and has obviously been re-visiting his journey in preparation. He confessed to me that he will readily and happily talk all day about the making of instruments, his passion and pride communicating not just through his words but his work and his work-environment. I would have been quite happy to listen all day but he is a busy man.

There is something quite addictive about a craftsman’s workshop. Glyns is like the violin version of the Enchanted Toyshop, or even Ollivanders Wand-making Workshop. Underneath all the science and precision engineering is magic and enchantment: that transformative process in science that creates beauty from brutalism. In a glass fronted cabinet sit rows of bottles containing raw ingredients for making different resins. Glyn is currently experimenting with a rose-madder colour, rich and luxuriant. Hanging from the roof are his works in progress from his Vio-5 electric acoustic violin with a wonderful heart shaped bottom and five strings, to a burnished and beautiful violin waiting to go down with Glyn to the Weymouth Festival this year. On a bench are the front and back of another violin in creation and behind his wood blocks, from Slovenia and all sorts of interesting places, hand picked and maturing; waiting to be chosen and created in to a hand crafted work of art. Each piece worked by hand, no nails, no staples, just cutting, carving, shaping, smoothing, glueing, drying and the layer upon layer of resin applied. Countless hours of labour, craft, and deep satisfaction in the making of it all.

Glyn doesn’t pepper his work with talk of ‘flaming’ and ‘purflins’, he speaks simply and with quiet passion about his work, and it really is an experience to see the inner workings of instrument creation. I aspired right there and then to my daughter being able to experience the journey of owning an instrument which she had chosen the wood for, decided on the pattern, colour and tone and stage by stage had watched it come to life. The practical side of me knows that whilst she is at Grade 2, that day is a way off yet and that we’re more likely in the short term, to try for one of Glyns skillfully restored older instruments. How wonderful to be able to make music and how much more wonderful to own an instrument made for you that becomes a part of your life story as much as you become a part of it’s history.

We need music in our lives, despite the damage done by our current drearily unimaginative and short-sighted government who are removing the arts from the curriculum (again in fact, having first done so back in Margaret Thatchers day). The government educationalists talk of creating Scientists without understanding that in the right hands Science creates beauty and beauty is music: in the wrong hands Science creates nothing but pain and despair. Today, was a day of music, play on, play on.

Ambitious Introspection

In the last week of term, I wrote to the headmistress of my daughters school to thank staff and pupils for a wonderful Christmas Carol Concert we had attended the previous evening. It was a spontaneous action and I can only hope I wasn’t too effusive or came across as sycophantic. I have not seen such a well rehearsed, well put together, beautifully delivered school event for some twelve years, since my eldest was at Junior School in fact.

Throughout these twelve years I have sat through mumbled, un-ambitious, shambling, rambling, sometimes chaotic carol concerts, assemblies, awards, and performances experiencing a growing despair, disappointment, even horror that the art of presentation seemed to have become so unimportant, of so little value or interest. I offered and offered to help at my daughters primary school being of the opinion that it’s no use complaining if you’re not prepared to help with the solution, but it seemed no-one understood why my help might be needed. In fact by the time my daughter left her Primary School I had decided that I must be really disliked by the staff and that they simply didn’t want me anywhere near their performances. The closest I came was helping to costume nearly the entire cast of my daughters first full length performance in her final year (I love costumes but I hate sewing clothes, it was an act of love**).

I did also discuss it with a teacher at the school, who got very prickly about it and said it was a matter of time, which was too valuable to be wasted on rehearsals and that I should be grateful for the considerable efforts staff put in to make such events happen in the first place. I assured her I was but that I had considerable experience in working with young people in delivering performances and presentations and knew that a little well planned rehearsal, where simple things such as confidence, breathing, smiling and learning the material well enough to enjoy presenting it (anything from a song to a speech to a non verbal presence in front of an audience) could reap huge benefits for the children. Rehearsal time does impact on the timetable but impacts positively in developing engagement and confidence in public performance/presentation, a beneficial skill for everyone throughout life. I was thinking about the children, the emotional investment, the improved self-esteem – children are not stupid they know very well when they are doing something worthwhile and especially if they’ve never experienced it before, doing something ‘to be proud of’ is a feeling that can last a lifetime. The teacher was thinking of the teaching staff and the timetable.

I never did actually stand up in the school hall or the local church and shout ‘STOP!” but I came very close to it on a few occasions. After one particularly dreadful school church service, I was so shocked that when the vicar smiled at me and said “Didn’t the children do well” as I was leaving, I replied “I’d like to see the school be more ambitious for its pupils, it was a little too under-prepared for my liking, if a thing’s worth doing it’s worth doing well“ I added hastily as he frowned. He shook his head, replying “Oh I think ambition can be very harmful’. What he thought I meant by ambition, I still contemplate. I think he meant that if something doesn’t work well it’s because it was obviously too difficult, too challenging for the children but that’s why we rehearse, why we prepare our material, make sure the children know it, understand its message or story, ensure they enjoy it by giving them the skills to deliver it with confidence: like showing them how and when to breathe properly, how to open their mouths fully, use the lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue when speaking and to use their eyes – where to look. There’s a long list, for example, a smile is infectious and people will smile back and that will help settle their nerves and give them time to take a deeper breath. I thought perhaps I had become such a negative person that a symptom of this was my inability to appreciate the positives in all the mumbling thrown-away lines, the shouting choir – enthusiastic but out of harmony due to learning the songs via you-tube and therefore not all singing in the same key (not that the teacher knew which key they should be singing in).

There were the odd chinks of light, and the school encouraged lots of outside artists to come in for art, opera and music workshops, so it wasn’t all doom and gloom but the constant trickle of in-house events took its toll. I questioned in fact, the worth of my whole experience of delivering youth theatre, drama workshops, story telling, training creatives. I questioned the sense of joy that people get when they discover they can communicate effectively, find their voice; the empowerment that being confident brings. I lost my self-belief, my own confidence and my sense of self in those seven long years my daughter was at her primary school. A life-time in and around theatre has developed a very keen ‘critical eye’, people can easily mistake my comments on how something I’ve seen or experienced could be improved, have more or less impact, be quicker, smoother etc., as a sign of negativity and not as a result of many years putting on/being involved in performances, projects and events and evaluating them. It’s taken me far too long to realize that. Although other parents might have indicated they were as horrified as I was by the lack of presentation skills it wasn’t enough to stop me feeling like the worst kind of dinosaur – on the brink of extinction.

You can imagine how my letter last week was a relief to write, so it was an interesting twist of fate that on the last day of term I collected my daughter in a quiet and downcast mood. What is it? I asked, why aren’t you celebrating? It turned out there had been an Award Ceremony in the morning and all of her close friends had been nominated, some more than once and all of them had won awards. “My name wasn’t even mentioned” she said “and it made me feel sad, separate from them, as if I’m not good enough”.  Here perhaps was the negative feeling that the Vicar was referring to, the harmful effect of ambition?  I hugged her, checked she had congratulated her friends on their achievements and assured her that she was a star in my eyes and worthy of awards for her kindness and her compassion alone and whilst we, her parents couldn’t possibly know why she hadn’t been nominated for an award, if it still mattered to her, she should talk to her teacher about it next term and tell her teacher about how she felt on the last day of term and ask her what she needed to do to be nominated in the future – if that’s what she wanted. After all I mused, once you start out on a path it takes commitment and hard work to see it through to the end – nothing ‘worth having’ is easily come by. The school tracks everything from special praise and commended work and homework, to attendance via an online system – it could all come down to cold analytical algorithms and points.

So now comes the gentle conversations about striving to be a winner when we can’t all win; about taking part being as important and how in a school of 800+ pupils not everyone can be a winner (can they?).  About having the confidence in your own ability and best traits, to know that you will be recognized for them eventually. In developing a sense of personal and shared ambition. How to avoid becoming the needy girl who seeks constant affirmation and therefore is burnt across every teachers front brain when considering names for nominees but whom irritates everyone around them in their constant attention seeking – gaining only hollow victories. How to have integrity, being true to yourself. Sounds like social media, eh?

I am not individually competitive but I am also not afraid to speak out if I believe in something. Generally I am much better in giving praise than receiving it, so can you imagine my ‘panic’ that my youngest may have inherited all my worst traits and failings. For a moment I wondered if that letter I had written had been perceived as very sycophantic indeed and ill-timed in terms of the Awards – after all the Headmistress doesn’t know me at all. I will certainly think twice before I write again and do what I nearly always do, write it and then sit on it and re-write it again after a day or two.  After eight years on Twitter I should know that people can misinterpret even the simplest of phrases without context. Delivering context in 140 characters is the eternal challenge. Life is a far bigger challenge and at the close of the year what better time to consider new approaches and effecting positive change either in your external life, your headspace or just your attitude.

Merry Christmas everyone, seasons greetings to you.

** and I should thank all those passionate sewing folk on pinterest who took time to record articles like ‘how to sew harem pants in 3 easy steps’ for helping me make it through!

There is no rest in the street…

Autumn always make me think of T S Eliot.

There is no rest in the house. There is no rest in the street. I hear the restless movement of feet. And the air is heavy and thick. Thick and heavy the sky. And the earth presses up against my feet…

Here I am deep in the copper, rich reds, golds and fading greens of an English rural autumn with its misted mornings and purple brooding skies playing christmas music and drawing christmas sketches and browsing ebay, pinterest et al. for inspiration and items for the craft room at the Christmas Fayre contemplating the various stages of turning a sock into a snow person. How on earth do you make it all for a small profit? Even sourcing craft items eats the PTA budget. I wonder how many school fayres and fetes would turn a profit without the generous donations of the parents who not only donate their time and expertise but also quite often the raw materials? But I’m glad we’re having a home produce stall this year, I love trying other peoples chutneys!

It has also been the Rugby World Cup 2015 championship. Christmas and Rugby in October is quite a strange combination. I may have been marred by the experience. I am dimly aware of events in the Middle East and in particular Syria, attempting to inflame my inner moral compass but stoically resist as I contemplate how it must feel to flee my country, un-prepared and in fear, not just for myself but my family, the vulnerable. Would I really be prepared to accept the traditions and culture of the country that offers me sanctuary, almost certainly in the immediate aftermath but in the long-term? Is re-settlement a long-term solution… In the same way that I struggle to be at ease in hot countries where women are suppressed and treated as second-class citizens, can those used to such a culture deal with our climate, our ways and fully integrate towards a harmonious community?

Despite all our technology and knowledge we haven’t yet solved hunger and poverty but there, I’ve digressed. Plenty of questions, not enough answers yet.

If you’re feeling open to reading something on poverty and inequality, can I recommend this; a speech by Sir Michael Marmot ending with the Pablo Neruda quote “rise up with me… against the organisation of misery” Sir Michael Marmot

But what about you? What have you been doing this autumn? Have you escaped Rugby fever or embraced it? The more ‘live’ matches I go to the more ‘sport speak’ I pick up. This year it’s all about how the Northern hemisphere game isn’t up to the Southern hemisphere game. I’m neither an expert, a rugby player or a particularly avid sports fan but it seems to me the northern hemisphere teams get penalised for things the southern hemisphere teams are adept at not getting penalised quite so much for.  ‘Playing the Ref.’ a term which saddens me because it’s why I can’t watch football anymore and which refers to a most un-sporting box of tricks that I’m told everybody does at some point – is a term I wish I hadn’t come across. I saw South Africa play a match in Cardiff some years back and was amazed to see them punching and kicking as they tackled, mauled and rucked, largely without reprimand. The males around me shrugged it off as part of the ‘intense physicality of the southern hemisphere game’. References were made to the tribal idea of nationality and pride and battles won and lost on the sports ground rather than the battlefield. I’m not so sure about that, look around you guys! I thought that I wouldn’t be very proud to win a game on that basis rather than on my skill at dodging, passing and kicking the ball, which South Africa also do very well, they were beautifully choreographed as a team and to be fair, it was just a few that I saw being so ‘physical’. I know, it’s a contact sport but really should it be acceptable? It has been great to see how Rugby has striven to make this very physical game safer for players and more consistent in terms of the technology it employs to monitor the games but ‘playing the ref.’ is too reminiscent of the bone crunching, gore spattered rugby of the seventies which I grew up with and was appalled by. As the players get bigger and teams like Japan come bounding into the rugby spotlight I suppose I’m fairly confident this will be addressed.

After Scotlands defeat by Australia on Sunday I was informed that Rugby is largely a sport for the privately educated according to a Daily Mail article (which I couldn’t access as my spam filter wont let me do Daily Mail links – who said technology isn’t humanised;0)) That’s not my personal experience but it doesn’t change the fact I wouldn’t take my daughter to a football match but we’ve safely attended several rugby ones. Would I let my daughter go to a party at the Rugby Club? Possibly not, as the inherent machismo of “tell her no means yes” is not yet eradicated from male dominated sport but maybe in my lifetime it will be. I feel the restless movement of feet….

Murder in The Cathedral by T S Eliot

I’ve Been To A Marvellous Party…

Enicholls  LNichollsJemmagoodbye2

Actually, it wasn’t a party it was a funeral in celebration and remembrance of the Artist Jemma De Vere Cole aka Jemma Dorella Tetley, an altogether heart achingly beautiful and deeply sad affair which reflected the life of a wonderful, funny, passionate and loving woman whose own life touched the lives of so many and which the packed church stood testament to.

You can view her self portraits and other works here:

Jemma’s heritage is colourful, old and rich with history as her surname hints at but none of that history, eccentricity or ‘colour’ could hold a candle to the reality of Jemma; she loved, she never judged, she took everyone as she found them without pretension, she waded onwards throughout the tough times and delighted in the good times with a refreshing innocence of purpose. Jemma was not a woman with hidden agenda’s, art was her mistress but not her queen and her feet were very firmly planted in the real world; she was a mother, a sister, a daughter, she worked at the hospital, she was a carer… many things to many people. She moved in many circles but danced always to her own tune.

Her paintings are lovely; vibrant, sensitive, perceptive.  At forty nine years of age Jemma has left the party far too soon. I know her sons, Lucas, Elliot and Jo-Jo will feel the reverberation of that vibrancy and the empty space with the same passion and emotion that Jemma relished on her daily life. I know her family too, will struggle to overcome her absence.

Today we heard from family and friends, who celebrated the essence of Jemma in poetry, music and song, their voices quavering their loss. I loved Lucas’s poem “…Mum, you are fading away… ‘I can’t believe this is happening’, we say and out of the cloying fog of confusion, a brief moment of clarity as you tell us, ‘neither can I….”

I smiled as Dudley Sutton painted his own picture of Jemma in our minds, his broad brush strokes stitching together memories and epitaphs and I wept as Bill Benham (violin) and  David Power (piano) played Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Part eloquently mirrored by Canon Jeremy Davies ‘Homily’.

Later, standing in our small town Market Square today, on the steps of our Guildhall raising our glasses and crying out “thank you Jemma!” as the Hearse edged back out into the afternoon traffic I was reminded that life, the flow of the universe – finds the strangest ways to remind us of what matters.

I have a framed newspaper cutting in my loo, a picture of Dee (Jemma’s mother Diana) and my mother dressed as agricultural labourers for a promenade theatre performance of ‘Larkrise to Candleford’ staged at Salisbury Arts Centre (St Edmunds Church as was) along a Yew-lined path in a momentary shaft of golden sunlight, looking like something straight out of the eighteenth century not the 1980s as it was. My mother also died from cancer. But that picture reminds me that no matter what suits we choose to dress ourselves in, we are all the same underneath. Life is theatre, Jemma knew that and rejoiced in both the costumes and the people underneath them. That is what matters. People. Love. Joy.

Post Script

Two things:

It was remiss of me not to also include this link to Salisbury Hospice, whom support people and their families at challenging times in the process of medical intervention the concept of ‘Hospice’ goes back to the fourth century when Christian orders welcomed travellers, pilgrims and those in need. It remains a valued and much needed service in all communities. Every age has had it’s ‘cancer’ – human nature has proved that despite our ability to empower ourselves we will always fail to eradicate ill health throughout the world, through our own greed and weaknesses “Man’s inhumanity to Man”. A place where the weary and terminally ill can seek respite and comfort deserves our support.

Also, I forget that sometimes people I don’t know read my posts – I was thinking about the tendency we have to really ‘beef’ up peoples good traits at funerals – to set them on pedestals which they may not have enjoyed in their daily lives. That is perhaps, part of the point of ‘celebrating’ a persons life, to focus on their best characteristics and achievements. I wasn’t a close friend of Jemma’s, I knew her all too briefly in the greater scheme of things, our lives bumped into one anothers every now and again but she came and went with all the vibrancy and impact I have described in my post. Someone said, during the service that she was always at the centre of any party, that is generally true but not in my experience in any attention seeking way but  through sheer vitality and integrity, with a genuine interest in people and experience.

Christmas re-visited

I hope you don’t mind but it’s time to refresh some old Chritsmas favourites this is a link to a Christmas poem “Christmas Rushing in… on tumblr:

and this is about one of my favourite Christmas poetry books ‘Light Unlocked’

and this…. – Merry Christmas everyone – let it be about kindness and peace and friendship for all