Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Red shoes

Here's one I wrote at Andy and Steve's Creative Writing class just before Xmas:

"Whatever happened to those red shoes you used to wear?"
"Red shoes?"
"I never ever have had red shoes."
"Must have been one of your other girl friends."


There was no going back or rather no going forward. Think laterally, talk about Christmas.... anything.

She looked at me with such a sad look on her face. Anger I could have dealt with. I could have even enjoyed a good row, but that sad look hit me in the guts - a physical sensation, almost painful.

It's like I am digging an ever deeper hole but I am not doing anything active so it is more like quicksand - in which we are both sinking. I must do something, anything to change this, to break the mood.

She nods almost inperceptibly.

'Oh fuck' I think to myself as I leave the room. I put the kettle on and lean against the radiator.

How do you re-weave a broken web? OK so that which does not destroy me (us?) makes me (us?) stronger but what if I (we?) am not destroyed merely wounded? I don't feel stronger neither does she. What a tangled web that now fragments who were, are and can be. 'Sorry?' 'Sorry doesn't do it.'

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Music again

So i copied my last blog entry to Carol Donaldson who runs the Intergenerational Choir and she replied in part:
"Yes, it's amazing how singing together engenders such good feeling. I think a combination of the physical (deep breathing which oxygenates and calms), the mental (brain busy concentrating on harmonies, so too absorbed to worry about life/ourselves) and the emotional (lovely bonding experience) and sometimes I think we can reach the spiritual, when we're singing a powerful song and there's so much good intent in the room, it does raise us all up."

This last week I have had a profound, and I think spiritual, shift in my piano playing. I had started to get some aches in the muscles of my upper arms (I had these for many months 10 years and nothing - massage, herbal remedies, oils, sacro cranial therapy shifted it and then I dreamt of Peter Mandelson and the aches left me! - If you are interested I'll tell you the whole story some time :)).

I thought 'Oh No, will this stop me learning piano?' So I finally talked about this with Rebecca my piano teacher (I'll blog more about her teaching another time). When I get tense in playing I hit the keys hard - rather like Thelonius Monk but not so good. To avoid getting tense and loud I have to play slower and softer and quieter and I start to relish the music more and notice each note. It then becomes a kind of meditation, I enjoy it more and it relaxes me more and paradoxically it sounds better.

So I am not rushing to play something anymore instead enjoying the indwelling particularly on those pieces I really relish playing. So something is shifting internally in this process and it feels like doing yoga or mediation or Quaker silence.

Isn't life strange? And of course I found that Rebecca has a fascination with the spiritual. Kind of typical synchronicity for me.

Bill-on-bike avoiding the frost spots or walking the bike, but loving the stars - have you seen Venus and Jupiter they were close to the moon a couple of weeks ago, it was magic to me - the wonder of it all!

Monday, 8 December 2008

In praise of Carol Donaldson

Regular readers of this blog will now something of my passion for music and how things turned out for me - being told to mime rather than sing at my Primary School and somehow always ending up second from bottom in Music at my Grammar School. But the delight of singing on my bike, in the bathroom and singing to and with my daughter Grace when giving her bedtime baths.

Last year Grace taught me to read music and to play a few notes on the piano in a few minutes not knowing that I can't read music and can't play it. So since March I have been getting music lessons from Grace's teacher Rebecca. About a month ago I was round at friends and played on their piano without any music sheets in front of me. My first public performance infront of Tim - 'Sky Boat Song' and 'Amazing Grace'.

But there is another part to my musical life. For about 3 years Grace and I have been attending a choir based at Grace's school. Originally it was called the Family Choir and was open to children from the school their parents and carers. More recently it has been thrown open to all and it is called the Intergenerational Choir. It is led by the extraordinary Carol Donaldson. She has this amazing talent of being able to make great sounds come out of us in a very short space of time. We meet on a Sunday afternoon at the school at 4.30 twice a month for an hour. There are some regulars and others who pass through so there are almost always people there who don't know the songs we are doing. And it doesn't matter. We are split into 2 or 3 or 4 sometimes for different harmonies.

There has been a real surprise for me in this. I am most comfortable singing Bass. It seems as if all my life I have been trying to sing too high up. Singing the bass part seems more natural to me. It also helps me understand what my hands need to do in music i.e. bass is left hand.

Apart from healing my past hurts this choir is such a source of joy for me. It affects me holistically, spiritually even. I get such a sense of wellbeing from singing in this choir. We do warm up exercises and this gets us using our diaphragms for breathing and of course singing. Using your diaphragm more is a great boost to health apparently. And signing together like this with people I know and don't know gives a feeling of belonging and community.

We even get to do gigs usually at the School's Winter and Summer Fayre's but sometimes other opportunities arise. On Saturday last it was the Winter Fayre and we had half hour to rehearse and then half hour signing 4 songs from all over the world. That itself is a powerful thing to do. Once at an international conference in Edinburgh I was singing in a bar with friends. We sang 'Amazing Grace'. There was a Black woman there from the USA. She told me later only Black people sing 'Amazing Grace'. So singing from all over the world is profoundly inclusive. We all belong to the earth and to each other. Incidentally there is an amazing Youtube clip about Amazing Grace. It's a bit evangelical but extraordinary - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMF_24cQqT0

So if you are in South Manchester on a Sunday afternoon and want to sing come along. Email me for details.

Best to all,

Bill-on-bike enjoying the cool winter air today as the dawn slowly broke through on my way to work.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

In praise of Annie and Kenya update

One of the best decisions I made a few years ago was to find a supervisor who could help me cope with the institution that I work in. That is I speak with Annie about once every 6 weeks for an hour or so about my working life. It is easy for me to get swamped by sheer busy-ness and lose a sense of how I am and where I might want to be going. Why not talk to colleagues you might ask? Well I do but they are often caught up in the same madness.

Annie isn’t and she has wide experience of public and private institutions. She has helped me define and stick with my own agenda, what I want, what I am trying to achieve, helping me to step back and not take too much too personally. And it works and it is not magic and it is hard work AND I have done better than I expected better than it might have been without her help.

I have just been through a very hard time. The run up this Autumn to the new phase of my work in Kenya has especially hard with severe problems both ends. And then to top it all last Friday my project was cancelled. The Kenyans did not take this lying down and wider counsel prevailed here and by Tuesday this week the project was revived. We are licking our wounds. I feel shattered but my spirit will be fresh enough by the time of my next visit to Nairobi on the 4th January 2009.

So at this point I would salute all of you who have supported me and the Kenyan project oveer the years. I had such a strong sense that this was what I was called to do. ‘Why me?’ and ‘Do I have the necessary skills?’ were questions that arose but I couldn’t ignore the success of similar work by me and my team in Britain and trust that I could find a good way to do something similar in Kenya. Whatever happens it wont fail through the commitment of the Kenyans involved nor mine.

Your thoughts for the success of this 6 year project matter more than you might imagine.

Bill on bike in the frost and rain!