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Saturday, 11 March 2017

A day of singing to the rooftops

Last Sunday was a cold, grey rainy day, there were even hailstones at one stage. A day for staying in bed late, and spending a day at home being warm.

That wasn't an option for quite a crowd of us who were gathering in St Lukes, a 13th century village church in Laughton, Leicestershire for a day of rehearsals, singing and recording tracks for an album. I must stress, I wasn't there to sing. Oh no, I was there to record a feature about a choir who are making an album.

St Lukes doesn't have its own choir, but through a series of serendipitous moments, church members have in a sense adopted another choir. Not just any choir though, this is the Emmanu-El Apostolic Academy Choir, also known as the DMU Gospel Choir.

I'm a huge fan of the choir, I've been hearing them sing for years around Leicestershire ....but in recent times, they've reached a national audience through reaching the finals of BBC 2 The Choir: Gareth's Best of Britain and other choir competitions.

The Academy and Choir was founded in 2003 by Bishop Mark Anderson

So what 's the link between a gospel choir from inner city Leicester and a sleepy, tiny country church? Well,  Kate and Willie Gilbertson Hart who live in the village invited the choir to come and sing at a Sunday service. Willie's band also performed, and the church was packed...something that wasn't happening at regular Sunday services. There's not enough people who live in the small village to do that.
The choir were invited back, word began to spread and a friendships were forged. The choir needed rehearsal space...Willie had it, and so a closer relationship began.
Singing a couple of times a year at the church, followed by long lunches cooked by Kate and friends, singing at Willie'' sons wedding, both in the church and at the riotous party afterwards, the choir have become much loved around here
Tom Allom, Kate and Willie Gilbertson Hart and Bishop Mark Anderson.

Record producer Tom Allom, a friend of Willie's who usually records albums by Judas Priest and other similar bands, heard the choir at the wedding and just before Christmas. He found their singing and enthusiasm infectious, and was quickly persuaded to produce a cd of the choir.
The cd is being made to promote the work of the choir, and to raise money to help finish the conversion of an old working men's club in Leicester into a church. Of course recording an album doesn't come cheap, so Kate and Willie have been asking their friends and supporters who enjoy coming to hear the choir to donate money to help the choir make their first album, which will in turn generate more money for the church.
So St Luke's Church was packed with choir members, friends and Willie's band plus

my friend and colleague  Amy Harris,the Leicestershire reporter at BBC East Midlands Today and cameraman Richard were there to record a piece for telly

When you hear the choir and  see them perform, it really is a revelation. Their joyous sounds raise the roof, and while you can't help but smile and tap your feet on the big numbers, their beautifully pure voices can also bring a tear to your eye. They make a mark on their audiences time after time.

It's still very early days though and this was the very first step towards the album. I don't know when it will be released or what the title will be.

In the meantime, click on this click below to listen to my radio feature  - and hear the choir rehearse....


Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The day Storm Doris came to my garden...

The two stories of the day nationally and locally last Thursday were Storm Doris and the sacking of Leicester City's manager Claudio Ranieri.

The winds of change caused havoc in Leicestershire and Rutland. Householders, gardeners and motorists were affected by the storm, and Leicester City fans of all ages were struggling to hold back the tears over the sudden  sacking of King Claudio, who has hero status in these here parts.

I have to say I think Claudio was a breath of fresh air...I loved his passion for the game, his catchphrases, and above all his sheer graciousness. He will be missed by many, and a couple of hundred people turned up to a peaceful march last night organised by an eleven year old to lament his leaving .

But I'm lamenting the loss of my lovely old ash tree in my garden.Yes, it's was Doris's fault.
It was such a blustery day - earlier that morning I'd tweeted that I'd been blown into a fence while walking my two dogs Boo and Eric. I also said I was nervously eyeing my ash tree and my neighbour's oak and lime trees.

Later that afternoon, there  was a flurry of texts while I was at work....from Julie first of all, "Bridget , I think your tree's coming down....", the next one was from my son, "Mum,  the  ******* tree has come down!" Yes, there was a quite rude adjective before the word tree, but when I saw the extent  of the damage later, I forgave him. I even used the word myself.

One of the huge branches was ripped from the trunk, but was caught on a lower branch which is where it lay suspended

Meanwhile there were lots of smaller branches on the grass a mere four feet away from my kitchen window

Tom, our friendly tree surgeon, couldn't get over until Saturday with his team. When they arrived, they assessed the tree. Heads were shaken, the verdict wasn't good. The tree was doomed, and work began to make it safe. It wasn't just a question of felling some of the branches to make it secure....they pointed to where water has got into the main trunk. The whole tree would have to come down.


This is where the main trunk was wrenched from the tree ... there must have been some mighty gusts of wind to do that.
I nipped out to take a few photos but it was raining, windy and cold, so I retreated to the kitchen with a hot cup of coffee to watch 

I marvelled at how the tree surgeon hoisted himself up, higher and higher, swinging on ropes  as he cut down branches slowly and methodically .


He moved even higher, I could hardly bear to watch...

 Then Tom got an urgent call ...he had to get out to a situation involving trees and BT as a matter of urgency.  I understood, he'd been covering emergencies all day, and there was another.
So, the tree stays like the photo above for a few more days. The branches and debris are all over the lawn, meanwhile the dogs have had great fun, running laps around the tree like they always have done, but they're now jumping the branches like hurdles.
All I can do is look out at what remains of a proud ash tree which was planted around ninety years ago. Sophie, my neighbour who lived across the lane remembered the event....she was born in her cottage and lived there all her life until she died in her late nineties about seven years ago.
Our cottage was formerly two so there were two gardens. One of the owners planted the ash tree much to chagrin of his next door neighbour. According to Sophie, "They didn't stop moaning for weeks about how daft it was to put such large tree in such a small garden , and what about my light?"

Yes, the tree did provide fact on really hot days it was lovely to sit under it, especially for lunch..

Our children played on the tree for hours when they were small. We had a tyre and a swing suspended from its branches. My daughter remembers climbing the tree for the first time, and my eldest son taking away the ladder. She was terrified and was up there for ages apparently. Meanwhile, the ladder remover himself had no fear of heights, even when he was really young, and I had to run outside on many occasions to get him to descend safely and not jump down.

Anyway, Tom will be coming back soon to remove the rest of the tree trunk, and at least we will have a good store of logs. However I can't help but remember the tree in its hey day with fondness and sadness.

My husband is now calling it the Ranieri they were both done for on the same day.


Sunday, 1 January 2017

The first day of the New Year

The first day of a New Year. For me it's a day to look forward, to idly plan, to dream. It's that magical time of the year when it lies in front of me like a blank page, ready to be written on...a time of possibility. My friend Khush says her lovely mother had a favourite quote  "Tomorrow is the first page of a 365 page book, write a good one!"
Today hasn't been a good one weather wise. It has rained since first light, that persistent rain, coming in almost horizontally as I walked Boo and Eric. I was wrapped up with scarf, hat and waterproofs but those whips of  rain which caught my chin as we walked into the wind made me long for sunny skies. None of us enjoyed our walk today , even the dogs stopped at one stage , looking up at me as to say "you must be mad, let's get home."
I could only agree with them, so today we've given into the weather, and the dogs and I have been ensconced on the sofa, with Mama, my Mum in pole position on the chair in front of the fire, playing solitaire on my i pad. She's one of the generation who has always said ..."Oh I don't need the internet" but today has been different. Mama and I both love history, and earlier we were discussing who succeeded  Queen Anne, the poor Queen who lived to bury all of her children. What I didn't realise until I looked it up, that two of her daughters died of smallpox.
Mama was intrigued, and started reading all about on the internet. She doesn't have  a clue about how to use the i pad mind you, but I think a seed has been sown today about how much pleasure she could get from using it. Mama always loved to sit quietly playing patience, so when I offered to show her how to play a game of solitaire , she loved it and caught on quickly how to tap at the screen and play.
So perhaps a new journey for Mama into the big wide world of the internet? I reckon it could be a game changer for a woman who is going to be celebrating her 87th birthday on Tuesday!
For me, I'm dreaming of journeys too. Waiting for my holiday coming up soon, which will take to Thailand again. Planes, trains, ferries and buses to six different locations over four weeks. I really can't wait, because this is one of the islands I shall be staying on later this month...with such happy memories of two years ago.
 Each part of the journey will be different, some to familiar places which we already know and love , but others will be to somewhere new. Yes, there's that sense of anticipation  about whether those places will match up to our expectation, but I also want to make the most of the journeys there too.
From the ferries I will admire the coast lines and enjoy the chug chugging of the engine as we move from island to island. From  the coach and train there's the chance to catch glimpses of workaday lives , and when we get to our destinations , I'm going to savour every moment, whether I'm just gazing out to sea at sunset, people watching, swimming or laughing..
Getting back to Khush's Mum, her other favourite quote was "start each day with a grateful heart." A wise woman indeed and on my journey through 2017, wherever I go, I'm going to remember that too.
A very happy 2017 to everyone reading this blog...enjoy the journey!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Christmas days

Ah,'ve been lovely.

The last five days have flown past in a flurry of fun. Lots of eating, drinking, laughing, sharing, caring, singing,'s been a blast with all of our children, Lucy, Billy and Callum, here.

Our cottage has been bursting at the seams with extra people and animals. For a few days there were seven humans and four dogs staying over, an extra human (Elly) another day, some went home, and then yesterday there were six humans and four dogs , when my lovely sisters in law and their husbands/partners came for lunch with two large spaniels.

I love having a house full at Christmas with my gang....catching up with what's going on, sitting around the kitchen or dining table , relaxing by the fire, watching old favourite films where we know every single line of dialogue and are in fits of giggles waiting or the punch lines.

Usually I do all of the cooking, but not so much this year. In fact, it's been a real joint effort which has worked so well.

On Christmas Eve we broke with tradition. For years, I've baked a large gammon, but this year my son Callum said he would like to cook the meal. Was this because he's bored with the gammon? No, but this was a welcome surprise...and he did everything for that meal from buying, prepping and serving.  It was a gamble though, making a Jamie Oliver's Beef Wellington complete with mushroom pate inside, plus goose fat roasted potatoes and seasonal greens when you've not made a whole dinner before. No pressure with it being our Christmas Eve meal.


It was delicious, really flavoursome and we all absolutely loved it, so much so that all the gang were warning me I would have to step up to the plate with Christmas lunch. No pressure there either!
Luckily, dear, darling Tom Kerridge saved the day as I made his Turkey Crown....stuffed with sausage meat, pistacios , dried cranberries etc, topped with a toasted crumble of pork scratching, s pistachios and sourdough. Lots of praise indeed , and the ultimate accolade of "best carrots ever " as I faithfully replicated the Kerridge recipe of carrots poached in butter, star anise etc.
Make no mistake, this was such a rich lunch, there was no huge pudding this year, and most of us didn't want anything else to eat at all for the rest of the day.
Even though the dogs had been walked in the morning, I thought I might spontaneously combust if I just sat down after the meal, so Callum and I took the dogs for a walk around the village.
Even so, I still couldn't eat a thing for the rest of the day, but some  managed  cheese and biscuits at about ten, as we made our way through a  marathon game of monopoly.  It was such fun....the cunning, the guile, the bad language from some (er yes, that would include me) as certain people began putting hotels on all of their properties, the competiveness between my sons who carried on the game until after I'd gone to bed, three and a half hours after the game began.
Boxing Day was busy too, but my daughter Lucy and her hairy husband Harry cooked a huge  full English breakfast which lasted us most of the day.
Then yesterday, Nigel and Mandy brought the most delicious chicken curry with them for lunch. What a treat.....all I had to do was make a pudding. Home made ice cream with a raspberry coulis made from the raspberries from my allotment, plus some raspberry gin.
It's been a wonderful five days...the Christmas chaos of a full cottage eating such tasty meals, toasting each other, catching up all on our news and just being together. It's been so busy and  I've been so engrossed in each moment, I've hardly taken any photos.
Today though it's quiet. So quiet, even the dining room looks so different without us all squashed around the table, talking at full speed and at full blast.
Some have gone home, others are away for a few days and my husband is on the golf course. I took the three remaining dogs on a walk earlier around the fields and lanes on the village. One of those glorious mornings where the sun had climbed high after the earlier fog, a morning where I had to walk where the sun has dissolved the hard frost on one side of the road only to try and avoid skidding on the ice.

 A morning where as soon as we were in the fields and the dogs off their leads, I could admire the different patterns of the ice on the mud and stamp on icy puddles to hear that satisfying thwack and crack as my wellies crashed the ice.
And for the rest of the day, I am relaxing. I'm just about to go and sit by the fire and do nothing.  Until tomorrow that is, when I go back to work, and when I get home , my gorgeous mum (Mama) who I love and adore will have arrived from my brother's on the Isle of Wight to be with us until her birthday  at the beginning of January.
Happy Days, and I really hope that you all have had a lovely Christmas too.....


Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Stealing the Monday moments

Monday is usually my day's the day of the week when I like to catch up with tasks, do some writing, and relish the quietness before the rest of the week comes hurtling towards me.

Stealing a moment of calm if you like. It's important to me at any time of the year, but in the frenetic build up to Christmas with parties, carol concerts and other celebrations, not to mention present buying, those moments are even more precious.

Last Monday was a lovely sunny day and I was busy in the garden taking advantage of the sunshine during the morning. Mid afternoon though I went out to my favourite bookshop about four miles away to buy a birthday present.

There was that happy feeling as I found  just the right book and drove home up the hills and across the flat parkland.

I stopped as I reached the cattle grids to take a photo

I stopped again a minute later, got out of the car again to take another, standing to drink in the pink washed skies at the beginning of sunset.

I drove further along....


A stolen few moments alone, hearing only the odd bleat or two from some distant sheep.

Such a magical quarter of an hour which I would have missed if I had gone out earlier.

I love watching dusk creep up, but it's not always as beautiful as last Monday. When it's raining or really cold, it's my favourite time in winter to sit quietly in the sitting room catching up listening to serials and programmes on BBC Radio 4 or 4Extra.

Today I went out at about half past three but already so dark, to post the second tranche of Christmas cards to friends far away in the Victorian village post box, and to hand deliver the cards for village friends.

I took Boo and Eric with me, and as we made our way through latched gates and grand iron gates, crunched up the gravel paths to others, it was lovely to catch a glimpse of Christmas in the wreaths on the doors and  Christmas lights through the window panes.

 The warmth of the kitchen as we came home was lovely after the damp darkness outdoors. And what could be nicer than to relax on the sofa in the lamplight, with the dogs, staring into space and listening to the current episode of the Charles Paris Mystery by Simon Brett featuring the amazing Bill Nighy?

To many, it may sound boring, but for me, I do love my moments of simplicity on Mondays. When do you get your moments like that I wonder?


Monday, 5 December 2016

24 hours in Hull...

When I said to friends that I was off to Hull the following day for a 24 hour break, the first question they asked was "Why?"

There were odd looks too when I said I was going voluntarily, plus laughter when I said I'd suggested the idea.

Mr Thinking of the Days had to go to the Thai Consulate there, so instead of him whizzing up the motorway in a day, I'd suggested we book a night in a hotel and have a good look around Hull. There was method in my madness...I wanted to see why Hull had been voted City of Culture 2017, beating my home city Leicester into second place.

So a nice chatty, sunny drive northwards last Sunday...but as we came to the outskirts of Hull  and caught our first glimpse of the Humber Bridge, the weather had turned dull..

..and as we got lost in the diversions around the city, first impressions weren't brilliant. Housing estates, some empty shops, a faded air.

But things looked up as we arrived at our hotel in Hull's historic Old Town which overlooked the Kingston Square Gardens.

After a friendly welcome, we dumped our bags in our room (phew, it was warm in there) and we were off to make the most of what was left of Sunday afternoon. A walk into the heart of the Old Town, where we found Scale Lane and the Lion and Key Pub. It was an atmospheric old building, with a good choice of local artisan beers, but reeked of chips. Looking at others' meals , the said chips were huge logs, and the portions of fish looked as if they'd been fed steroids. Huge portions, but not for us, we had to visit a couple of museums before they shut.

Luckily, there's a number of them all side by side, and what's more, admission is free in all of them.
Walking along the river between  Drypool Bridge and Myton Bridge ,  we came across the Arctic Corsair,  a former deep sea trawler.

Now, as a former matelot on a cruise ship (yes really) I just love going on board old ships and boats. Unfortunately  this floating museum is shut until the spring, but it's got an interesting history and it saw action at the height of the Cod War.

There was a distinct chill in the air by now, and we entered the Streetlife Museum of Transport. Housed in a cavernous modern building, I loved getting on the old tram

 and the veteran cars and bicycles were interesting but I'm a sucker for the big set pieces...the street scenes, complete with recreated sounds of the day.

In the carriage tableaux you can smell the atmosphere too.

There were quite a few families looking around, reminding me of winter weekends in different museums when my children were small. Upstairs I nearly tried to borrow one, as I really wanted to go in the old mail carriage .....Mr Thinking of the days wouldn't oblige and go on it, so I went on my own. It was a compact carriage with the velvet drapes closed, dark inside, the only light from a lantern swinging from the roof and the sounds of the horn and the sounds of the carriage driver. I loved it!

I particularly liked the street scenes including a range of shops...

Time was pressing on though so we made a quick exit and walked next door to the Wilberforce  Museum

William Wilberforce was of course, the Hull Member of Parliament , who led the fight for the abolition of slavery. This museum is the house where he was born right on the edge of the river, and there was some fascinating if not distressing exhibits and audio interpretations of slaves and slave owners points of view. Not to be missed though...

As we left there, dusk had fallen and we made our way down the quiet and empty cobbled streets lined with Victorian and Georgian buildings..I felt as we'd  been taken back in time....

Back to the present day though as we went into the Sailmakers Arms...a convivial little pub with warm lighting and a very friendly welcome, plus live music from several local musicians who meet there every Sunday lunchtime until whenever o'clock. They all played individual songs, then joined in for a couple more, ranging from folk to ballads to more mainstream and newer material..

A lovely relaxing hour or so there, then there was another couple of pubs I wanted to see. Not that I'm a lush you understand  -at one I had water, at another a glass of lemonade...but you can find out a lot about an area from a historic pub.
Especially at Ye Olde White Harte which is also in the Old Town and dates back from the 1550's. Originally a house, it became a pub in the 1700's. From the road, we walked down a long alley  before finding the pub

I loved the windows here 

Original panelling  is everywhere, a huge inglenook fire, quirky, local beers, what more could you want? How about The Plotting Room? The very helpful barman told me the story....and took me upstairs to a room packed with the past...I could almost feel the previous occupants around me.

This is where back in 1642, the great and good of Hull met and decided to refuse King Charles I entry to the city of Hull, and it is this which precipitated the Civil War.

 History indeed, and then as we descended the stairs back to the bar, he pointed out this...
 How many other pubs do you know where there's a skull sitting on the bar? A skull which was found here during renovations in the 1800's . Who was this person? Well, there's a number of stories which conflict each other madly, but let's put it this way, this poor person didn't die naturally.
We walked around to one more pub, the George, which has the world's smallest window

before going for the oldest house in Hull, which we had spotted earlier on our travels..

We were very hungry so ordered promptly. A Sunday roast  for Mr Thinking of the Days and I chose sausages and mash with champ.  Rib sticking food for a cold Sunday evening which arrived promptly, tasted delicious and prompted us to order the sticky toffee coffee pudding, which despite its name was surprising light and tasted oh so good. When I come back to Hull, I'd come back here....

 We waddled back to our hotel, and conked out on the comfortable bed. Bliss, and  a good hearty breakfast the following morning before failing on the iniative test to get straight to the Thai Consulate .Those pesky road diversions again with a sat nav screaming at us to go around an impossible route
By eleven am we were on our way home......but choosing a different route home so we could drive over the Humber Bridge which is the world's eighth longest single span suspension bridge..

So, a very fleeting visit, and there's more I'd like to see. I don't know what's planned for Hull as it becomes the City of Culture 2017, but I'd like to be there at some stage to see how it is celebrated.