Wednesday, 30 September 2009



Great piano lesson last night with Rebbecca. Started off with some singing. It may be obvious to most of you but once I am warmed up I sing better which was why I enjoyed signing on the way home on my bike last week after the lesson. After the singing which included working the transition between my chest singing (Bassish) and head singing (bit falsetto like) I told Rebbecca about my Al Bowly performance on the way home. She didn't recognise the name of the song so recklessly I just sang it to her - a bit nervous but as she said I was in tune. God I am starting to claim that now! Since in my heart of hearts (whatever and wherever that is!) I know when I am in tune or certainly I know when i am not. So my first solo!

Home to another episode of the Choir and Gareth re-visits the Boys school which did have a choir for years until he visited it. So I am weeping again music being a route into a tenderness that boys find hard to own. Earlier in the day one of my students spoke about being told to mime (like I was at Primary School) by the music teacher. So this must have been a teaching(!) fashion at the time. Unfortunately she has not reclaimed her voice - yet. I was very tempted to set up a choir there and then!

Then this morning 7am and Grace, my daughter, puts on the Pets singing Red Letter Day. Its the bilingual CD version with a great drum solo, then the choir, then Chris on Hi NRG music and then Neil. My all time favourite. What can you do? I had to sing on my bike and this time I got it in tune. If you want to hear and see the video try

This song which is about yearning and hope and many other things - I have blogged about it before - is what I want at my funeral but Sheila said, 'Oh no!' and I thought well Yes funerals are for those who live on for a while and it is a bit naff imposing all kinds of daft requests on grieving people. Anyway why wait? Click on the youtube link!

Nice to bike with no rain this morning enough to make any Mancunian sing their hearts out! (What a phrase that is?)



Thursday, 24 September 2009

The Boss meets with Q again

The Boss decides to meet with Q his spiritual director.
- Hi Boss.
- Hi Q.
There was the usual deep silence that the Boss loved to experience with Q. Part of him just wanted too dwell in that silence for ever. But there were concerns that needed to be aired.
- Q? (Q nods) I have this good friend who is dying and I feel so angry, it feels so unfair (Q sighs) and I wonder 'Why? Why does this have to happen, why does God allow it?'
- So death is such a bad thing?
- Oh.. hmm. Well it is inevitable I guess but...
- So is it a bad thing?
- It feels like it is. She is a good woman and has helped many people and has such a rich full life why should it end so abruptly, so unfairly in the prime of her life.
- I don't know.
- Come on Q I want some answers',the Boss was getting irritated.
- Boss, Boss, said Q gently, 'there are some answers but I think you need to recognise how upset you are'
The Boss weeps.

Again the deep silence in the room rapt itself around the Boss in a comforting glow.
- The friend of yours has enriched your life and it sounds like many others?
The Boss nods in reply not trusting himself to speak.
- Give thanks for that.
- I am thankful but I don't want to lose her.
- Can you really lose her when she is here? (Q points to his heart)
- No I guess not.
- These things are a mystery but we have to trust our experience that nothing can truly divide us from those we love and it is my belief that we do re-unite with our loved ones after we die.
The Boss nods and the silence resumes.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Music again

With my piano teacher Rebbecca last night and doing some singing. She was full of praise and I find this hard to take because somewhere inside I still don't believe I can sing. And yet after the lesson I was on my bike doing some of the practice singing that I knew sounded right and then I launched into the Al Bowly song 'Have you ever been lonely?' It felt good to sing I was relaxed and with a passion for the words and I heard myself sing and I was in tune. I could deny the truth of my ears and yes I know we do not hear exactly what we say or sing but it was good. When I sing at work walking up the stairs - it is so natural to me to sing but I always thought I was rubbish at it but now I am not so sure. Sometimes when I am relaxed it sounds good to me.

In my 2+ octaves singing voice I have 2 parts to it, my bass part below middle C is easy to hit and I am comfortable and it is where I used to place myself in Carol Donaldson's Intergenerational Choir. Then there is my 'falsetto' part above middle C which is where I used to mostly sing for pop tunes. This is a bit harder for me but feels good when I get it right. The few notes in between are the hardest as I switch between the two but Rebbecca is helping me work this.

I am stunned by this. I think I am going to have to record my voice just too convince myself further. Rebbecca is no pussy cat but I still can't truly take in all her praise for my signing.

My paternal Grandad Albert sang in a church choir. My maternal great grandfather Thomas was a Welsh Baptist minister so I guess he sang too. Maybe its in my genes. My Quaker Meeting is planning to do 'Joseph' as a Christmas thing so I guess I will join in as part of the chorus and it's time to email Carol again to find out about a choir...

My mum always said to me that if you wanted to do something badly enough you could i.e. go for it. Well a new choir and one of these days Grade One piano will do for me for now. Oh yes and my first live public poetry reading - watch this space.

Best to all,

Bill on bike and loving it

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Jazz, Toad and Reading

Last Thursday I was in London for a meeting and then met up with my old mate Toad (not his real name). Toad and I went to the same primary school, grammar school and eventually we were each other's best man at my first wedding and his only wedding. We arranged to meet at Cambridge Circus and I found him standing below a huge silver high heel. And I mean huge maybe 20 feet or more across. It had to be the backdrop of a photo which I will put here and/or on flickr or facebook soon as I get it.

Sharing a love of jazz (Toad plays a mean Jazz piano) he and his wife Anna took me to a venue in a nearby pub, downstairs maybe 40 people at the most listening to some ace jazz. It was sublime. I didn't get the name of the band but it had piano, trumpet, double bass, drums, and sax. Very mellow. Then I walked home through the lively and warm streets of London at 11.30 to my lodgings at the Penn Club.

The next day off to an exotic conference (BAPCA) at Reading. Made some new friends including Steve from Southampton who sang with me and few others and then at 11.30 knew I needed to sleep since I had a keynote address to give on the Saturday morning. On the way back to my student hall bedroom I was waylaid by a fascinating and delightful woman whose name I never really got but she was from Sheffield and told me a lot about Kip Jones, narrative research, ecology and the like. Great fun but I was ready to sleep.

Best to all,


Monday, 14 September 2009

Tough sainthood and ecstasy

Sometimes just for a few passing moments I want to be a tough saint. However, I can't really do tough and I certainly can't do saint. I try my best to do kind and to look after myself which sometimes means being tough on others.

Sometimes in people's company I get ecstatic. I thought that this was alcohol fuelled which it sometimes is. Then a few years ago at a conference in Norwich I had toothache so I had antibiotics which meant no alcohol. I got ecstatic anyway.

Indeed a few times when I have got very drunk I have lost my ordinary mind (see my 'Pale mourning in Moscow' blog entry) and then said things I regret or even worse don't remember. So I prefer my ecstasy not to be alcohol fuelled.

Of course it does not always happen. I have a few pointers as to what helps me:
1) a few people I know and trust around me
2) people's willingness to have both a laugh and get deeply and humorously serious
3) Shop talk usually brings everyone out of such ecstasy
4) Singing and dancing always helps!

Of course I frequently have moments of (spiritual) ecstasy on my own.



Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Music again

Cycling into work today, clear blue sky, sun in my face some of the way, it's cold in a pleasant sort of a way - kind of tangy, just the day for a long cycle ride but alas work calls...

With my piano teacher Rebbecca last night doing the singing part of the lesson she got me to sing two notes separated by a semi tone. She then got me to sing from one to another and back again and it felt like a figure of 8 and my body moved in that shape. (I quite often get movement to music which I sometimes turn into dance). Listening to myself sing I could not really tell the notes apart but she could. I can always tell if my singing is the same as the piano note she sounds because I hear and feel the resonance between the two. So we went down my almost 2 octaves with singing these pairs. Oh my!

Later I watched the choir on BBC2 in which this mazing guy - Gareth - has decided to try and set up a choir in a working class housing estate South Oxley near Watford. It's rather like he is doing community work and he gets 200people to the first meeting and then last night he got some primary school children from the 6 schools to form a children's choir. He also challenges the prejudice against this estate among more well today people living near by by getting the choir a gig in the highly regarded Colosseum Theatre in Watford.

I wept silently with tears running down my face. Sheila asked me if I was OK and I howled. I don't claim to be working class but until I met with Rebbecca no-one has explored my love of music with me or offered me an instrument to try out. OK I could have done this early although being told to mime at my primary school by my music teacher shut me up and closed me down. I believed I could not sing and could not read music until my daughter showed me how to read music in 5 minutes flat and how to play a couple of notes.

It's hard work playing the piano but the satisfaction is immense as is the times I have song in the family choir at my daughter's school. So I am looking to rejoin that choir or another one.

This passion for what you want to do - I remember blurting out to John McLeod that I wanted to do a PhD 18 years ago. I didn't know until I said it that I did and he welcomed it and my life has never been the same. So I stand by people's hidden passions, by education as drawing out that which we have inside and which needs an outlet. These lack of outlets is real poverty and collectively as a society we have a lot to answer for. We don't get to a good place by making people smaller. Bring on the singers, the musicians, the writers, the poets, the counsellors, the artists, the teachers, the gardeners, the farmers, anything really where people love what they do and just do it. And let's support each of us living out the dream from inside.

To go spiritual God wants me to be full of myself. Sure there is a risk of egotism or narcissism but also there is a risk of what I call 'negative egotism' in which people put themselves down and don't do that which they dream of doing.

Do you know I didn't think that Rebbecca as a trained musician would be bothered to help me sing. I didn't expect to hear her praise when I hit the notes. Or hear her taking the trouble to help me figure what I am doing and what I need to do to develop my voice. Of course she is a professional through and through so why would I expect otherwise? No but I expected her to politely say that we don't do it. Can you see what a mess I was in over this? And what healing i am experiencing!

I am not saying that I will ever be a famous musician or even perform in public. I still hope to play to my friends one day. But when we have these unexplored dreams and we don't explore them it's so sad, its a shrinking of the spirit and its against God. There!

Thanks for reading as ever I welcome your comments and your stories!

Bill on bike

PS. The latest bit for me is inching towards a real poetry performance. OH God why? But I have to. I have a couple of possibilities next month so watch this space!

Monday, 7 September 2009

In Suburbia

When I woke up this morning I could hear the rain the drip drip dripping of the water off the end of the guttering that needs repairing. By the time I was ready to leave home the rain clouds had more or less dispersed and there was even some blue sky and attempted sunshine.

I biked to work through that wonderful after rain smell that is so fresh and cleansing and lifts my spirits. It was a delight to ride. A few words from 'In Suburbia' by the Pets (naturally) came to mind "I only wanted something else to do but hang around" Neil Tenant as ever capturing a truth in a few lines in this case a teenage truth.

There is probably some Pet words for all situations - now there's a challenge - send me a scenario and I will try and find a suitable Pet quote!


Bill on bike.

Thursday, 3 September 2009


Biking to work today wet and windy, something of a struggle but also glorious especially when it's over. It took be back to last week on the Norfolk Broads. The weather was mostly great apart from one evening when it got rather windy. We were anchored on a Broad fairly sheltered but in the night the wind blew us off the anchor and into a reed bed. It was still rather windy when we woke up and we could not free ourselves from the reed bed despite some athletic pushing on a pole by me and full on creative use of the engine by Sheila.

Well the people we hired the boat from would send someone out to rescue us but meanwhile we shouted out 'Help!' to the few passing boats. An Italian family in a small cruiser were first to respond but they nearly got stranded themselves. Then the small local ferry turned up and the captain knew his stuff and got us off in no time. There is a great sense of camaraderie among people on boats especially when sails are involved. The water does seem to equal us and we all need each other.

I managed to walk into things a bit more than usual on this smaller than usual boat and what with the sheer physical effort of hauling on sails in winds I was quite physical tired and bruised by the end of the week but it was good. There is something simplifying about living in such cramped conditions and cooking very simple meals and waking up hearing nature.

But times are changing and my daughter had her 11th birthday and she got rather bored and missed her mates and was keen to capsize our dingy which would have been great fun for her. So future holidays will have a changed pattern.

The Norfolk Broads are beautiful. Apparently they were created by people digging up peat thousands of years ago. You wouldn't know they just seem so natural now. It is stunning to travel by water rather than road or pathway you catch things in a different light in more ways than one. The stars were stunning on many nights so little artificial light and I had a good glimpse of Jupiter and Mars.

It's messing about on boats really you are not going anywhere fast. And there is a 58miles cycle route around the broads now that's something for a future visit to Norfolk.


Bill on bike.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


Regular readers of this blog will know about my challenges with music and my recent taking up of the piano and singing lessons. Last week was my daughter Grace's birthday and in an attempt to wean her off Abba (There is only so many times one can bear to hear 'Dancing queen'!) my wife Sheila brought her a double CD of 60s music. That was more like it.

So on the journey back from the Norfolk Broads (and that's another story or blog entry) I found myself singing along to some of those familiar tunes - Tossing and Turning, I can't let Maggie go, I'm a believer etc. I was signing higher up the scale than usual fairly effortlessly almost falsetto.

Last night with my piano teacher Rebbecca I explored this with her help. I can't remember the exact musical stuff involved but my higher up singing involves resonance in my head and the lower stuff comes from my chest or my belly. The challenge is the crossover between the two BUT I have nearly 2 octaves now. I am stunned. That's almost twice what I had previously!

I am no spring chicken - all singing all dancing 60th birthday coming soon. When I was at primary school my music teacher told me to mime. No one put an instrument in my hand and said, 'Try this' no one said 'Try and sing this'. I have loved music all my life and now have found a teacher helping me explore what music I can make. The sky is not the limit. I am not a brilliant natural musician or singer but I do want to push this one as far as it goes for my own pleasure and who knows...

There is a profound lesson here.

I have been a writer all my life and finally I have a couple of ace writing teachers.

Christ I am thankful.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009


Cycling into work today after a 2 week break the Autumnal sun is in my eyes but I don't mind I am so glad to be out on the bike again even if I am on my way to work!

The piano solo from Thunderclap Newman's 'Something in the air' is playing in my mind and I think I could die happy if I could play that. Maybe it is not too difficult. You might think it is trashy pop from 1969(?) but that solo lifts my spirits. So maybe ecstasy is in the soul of the beholder :)

I have just read the latest issue of Literally the fanzine for Petheads and in it there are extracts from Neil Tenant's diary when they were working on and recording the current album. I am staggered by the hard work they but in, the long hours of slog, the music and lyrics that don't get into the final version. It makes me think about writing or any creative process and that point when you look at what you create and you think 'Yes'.

The Pets worked with Xenomania on their current album and you can hear how they have been sparked by working with these hip pop producers. I have had this experience with Tony and Steve of Paper Planes where they have led me into more creativity. Some of this has rubbed off on the academic in me but I need time in the academic studio with a good producer!

Best to all,

Bill on bike.