Tag Archives: British

My First Office Choir

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Last week I was finally added in to a Christmas choir e-mail. I thought I’d give it a go.

I pictured a grand room with a piano. Where would this be in an office block? When I went to the reception, the man said “it’s in Conference room 2, down the corridor to your left”.

In there stood a grey-haired man in a tweed jacket. It was a small room with a long table in it and lots of chairs. That was it. We introduced ourselves and I asked where the toilets were.

“There’s only one on this floor” he replied “disabled loo. It’s down the corridor to your right”. The lights were off and he didn’t know where the switch was, so I went across in the dark. Thankfully the lights were on down the corridor and it was round the corner, past cycling clothes on hangars.

Gradually the room filled and we all sat down. I was surprised as this constricts the diaphragm. Hardly ideal.

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A cleaning lady popped in “is it cold in here? cos the fan’s on, yeah that red light. Press that button if you want it off”.

The lady next to me explained “the boiler broke yesterday”. But the room was so small that it was really warm.

One lady was saying “soprano? sit on that side please”. I am an alto so I was sitting opposite the “enemy”. Sopranos are always more numerous and drown us out. They also get the majority of the tune.

Suddenly a bottle-blonde lady wearing glasses crashed in carrying a massive piece of what looked like metal. She set the keyboard up at the end of the table.

Our choir manager introduced herself. “Sorry if I am patronising” she said, “I last managed a choir about 7 years ago and they were all kids.”

“Do we have any tenors?” None of the three greying men replied. Next to Mr Tweed sat Mr Choirmaster wearing a meticulously ironed black suit and crisp white shirt, with glasses perched on the edge of his nose.

Next to him was Mr Tenor, wearing an imperious expression and sitting bolt upright.

A Scottish lady said “well I’ll just have to be tenor again, like last year”. Jonathan, you’ll have to join me again cos I can’t manage all the low notes”. The bass grumpily agreed.

“Hopefully there’ll be more next week” a lady said, “38 said they were interested but we only have 15 here. Still, that’s a lot more than last year!”orchistra-300x204

“Right has everyone got their orange and green books” The younger manager in the floral summer dress asked. Everyone got their immaculate “Songs for Choir” books out. I was given one by Mr Tenor to share – that hadn’t been on the e-mail.

Suddenly we launched into sight-singing. The petite alto blonde and I were just trying to sing from the same hymn sheet, launching into tunes without a keyboard clue. Us three altos were singing as loudly as possible but we were deafened by the shrill sopranos. We were also singing the wrong notes as neither of us were great at sight-singing. That’s Grade 6 theory and part of the reason I stopped there. We struggled to negotiate the atonal scores of John Rutter. He should have left carols alone.

Mrs Choir Manager said “I can’t play the piano very well so I’m just helping you out with the note bashing”. Later, “oh I can’t play that bit so sing it instead”. At one point Mr Tenor said “oh I have a great example of how this one goes! listen everyone I’ve got a recording of us singing it down the pub”. Mrs Choir Manager tried hard to hide her annoyance as Mr Tenor held his Apple Iphone aloft. The sound was tinny and although we tried to sing along we had to stop after a few bars.

I enjoyed my chaotic choral meeting. If you can hold a tune join one, it’s great fun and a good way to meet people.

Click here to listen to some classic choir carols.

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The 1940s Party

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It took quite a bit of preparation to enter the time warp. My damp hair had to be rolled in curlers, blow dried and hair sprayed. I filed my nails to a point as was then fashionable and painted them red. Without having time to find an outfit I had to be resourceful.

I had a blouse and old-school wool cardigan but I didn’t have a skirt that was knee-length or longer as they make me look frumpy. Luckily mum came up with the goods (an old one I’d passed on). She also gave me a metal and bead broach for the top of the shirt as in those days modesty was protected with more buttons. A thin leather belt was essential. I was also given permission to wear my dad’s ancestor’s glasses, which were 1940s style and may well have been from that era, but there was no way of telling. I wanted to wear the gas mask too but that was out of bounds. The specs had interesting bendy extensions to fit them to your ears, were lighter to wear and I think, more flattering on the face.

1940s make-up was similar to modern make up application, but with more blending. I found a tutorial and used that. But all that eyeliner and eyeshadow liner took an hour to remove! I even plucked my eyebrows a little to give a more pronounced arch. I must have done quite well as someone asked today whether I’d had them done professionally.

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Mum kindly did my hair in a style of that era, which used a lot of hair grips. It was central to the look and was much admired. Then I went to my friend’s house. As soon as I went into the room I felt like I’d gone back in time. It was lit by a wood-burning stove which issued plenty of heat, flames flickering on the bare floorboards.

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Part of the ceiling paint had come off revealing the upstairs floor, as if the house really had been caught up in the 029Blitz. The windows were covered in newspaper like the real blackout and the only furniture was wooden other than the coal scuttle and wood basket. The digital radio was black and blended in, blaring out 1940s radio including sirens, explosions and wireless announcements. There was an excitable commentator going on about “Wood for war!” so presumably the fire was less authentic than my costume. There was another girl in a scarf tied up like the ladies in the factories which looked great with bouffant wartime hair and her boyfriend had sourced Union Jack braces and a flat cap. We sat on rugs against sofa cushions.

Someone wondered how people danced in those days, so I got up and showed them, even using the wooden broom in the corner as a prop. In my costume I felt like a hyperactive grandma.

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I’d recommend this theme, particularly if you have any rooms that are being decorated. Also if there is any staining it can simply be covered up. Don’t forget to make your V for Victory signs for the camera!

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March 2, 2014 · 6:57 pm

The Naked Rambler Revealed

Yesterday I watched a BBC documentary on Peter Gough’s latest activism. Released from HMP Edinburgh, he was walking over 425 miles to Eastleigh, Southampton, once again trying to persuade us that nudity equals freedom.

A decade of intolerance and imprisonment has not deterred Peter. He even had to be put in solitary confinement for his own safety. People seemed to find him hilarious, as I did or offensive, with one Scotsman saying it was inappropriate given the Jimmy Savile enquiry. I don’t really see the link myself. If people find it offensive why don’t they look away, rather than wasting taxpayers’ money reporting him to the police. Time and time again he was arrested and then released.

What is so awful about being in our natural state anyway? If anyone has the balls to do it in public and in British temperatures I say why not. He even walked in the snow without getting hypothermia.

The real reason the public find Peter so offensive is because he is being “deviant” – that is, subverting societal norms.

You could see he was on a collision course for disaster when he walked towards a primary school at closing time. The cameraman was getting more and more agitated, warning him of impending police action but Peter kept insisting “my compass says this is South so I’m going South”. Sure enough he was arrested, with charges mysteriously dropped after months of custody. I suspect Peter’s fan club paid them off. One of them, Augustus,  joined him part of the way with an improvised loin cloth. It was like a bizarre version of the Emperor’s Clothes.

He hadn’t seen his children for seven years. Personally I’d be mortified if that was my father. It’s embarrassing enough when he wears his multicoloured “clown” pants. He says he’s showing his love of Fauvism but it offends my sense of taste. Peter’s mum couldn’t understand his “cause” and even Peter himself was rather muddled about it, merely repeating the words “democracy” and “freedom”. When he finally got down to Eastleigh he was given an Anti Social Behaviour Order again for going to the dentists naked. I had wondered why his teeth were so bad. He breached the ASBO twice and is currently serving a 16 month sentence.

MoS2 Template MasterIt was sad seeing the man he was before – an ex-marine and family man who took care of himself, to a nudist living on a family commune to now, almost the definition of a tramp with his scraggly wild beard and hair, his crooked teeth, a manic look and not an ounce of fat.

Apparently he was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation at a trial and no issues were found. His mental state was quite intriguing. Almost a thousand readers of an English newspaper agreed with a comment about him being mentally ill. The Scots seem more accepting however – Peter had no trouble on his latest stint there and comments on The Scotsman newspaper appeared largely supportive, with one reader daring him to do battle with the midges.

We can be naked at home, in changing rooms, in communal showers and even as a model in an art class but not anywhere else. It seems ridiculous that porn is accepted while naturism is seen as a cult. We’ve all seen it before, so what’s the big deal?

I do think it’s selfish to pursue the cause at the expense of seeing his children grow up. What do you think? Personally my only qualm is hygiene…

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On Mr Cameron’s “Small Island” generalisations

I was rather amused by Mr David Cameron’s Britain is Best speech at the G20 summit. This was not not just due to their similarity with the Prime Minister’s speech in British romantic comedy Love Actually, but by the glaring inconsistencies of it.

In response to an alleged comment by a Russian official that the United Kingdom was “just a small island” he responded “Britain may be a small island but I would challenge anyone to find a country with a prouder history, a 120802CameronPutin_6496554bigger heart or greater resilience”, continuing that:

“Britain is an island that has helped to clear the European continent of fascism and was resolute in doing that throughout the Second World War.

“Britain is an island that helped to abolish slavery, that has invented most of the things worthwhile inventing, including every sport currently played around the world, that still today is responsible for art, literature and music that delights the entire world.

“We are very proud of everything we do as a small island – a small island that has the sixth-largest economy, the fourth best-funded military, some of the most effective diplomats, the proudest history, one of the best records for art and literature and contribution to philosophy and world civilisation.”

Despite the communal applause in the press, the flaws of these comments were all too obvious. In comparison to Russia, we are indeed a small island. Regarding our past, yes we have had great inventors and famous people who have changed history. But so have many other countries. As for our history, the way we occupied the colonies, slaughtering the natives and attempting to convert them all to Christianity is nothing to be proud of.

1. Mr Cameron claimed Britain cleared “the European continent of fascism”. Yes but not without the military might of America, without whom we may well have lost the Second World War.

2. The statement with the most holes is that Britain “helped to abolish slavery”. As The Guardian’s Stephen Moss AS 55 Anti-Slavery Britain then pointed out, we profited from it for 300 years before this happened. A BBC history website points out that of all countries, Britain profited most from the trade.

As the Abolition Project website points out, it was no longer in Britain’s economic interests to continue slavery. Since America had become independent, it had been able to obtain sugar elsewhere. Furthermore, following the Industrial Revolution, we had been able to produce our own goods. It was also no longer profitable because of the continuous revolts. These points may explain why many importers of plantation produce were also abolitioinists. In August 1833 the Emancipation Act was passed under pressure from religious groups and abolition campaigners. However this still did not go far enough as it still required slaves to be “apprentices” working for free for six years before becoming emancipated.

“Apprenticeship” was not outlawed until 1838. The 1833 Act was only a partial victory, only applying to the West Indies, Cape Town, Mauritius and Canada. The Empire continued to profit from slavery in other countries. The Act did slave-ship01s  not stop the practice – many simply ignored the ruling and although reported by campaigners, it was not enforced. Treaties were entered into with other countries, and an “Anti-Slavery squadron” was set up of old and derelict Naval vessels. However ship owners that were caught were tried in foreign countries. Those freed were sent to Freetown, a British colony. However when that became full they were forced into the army or “apprenticeships”. It took 100 years after the Emancipation Act for total abolition of the trade, during which time Britain continued to profit by importing and exporting slave-grown sugar and importing slave-grown cotton.

For freed slaves conditions were still horrendous with endemic racism, poor living conditions and lower pay, as a former slave and American statesman, Frederick Douglass commented:

“Though no longer a slave, he is in a thralldom grievous and intolerable, compelled to work for whatever his employer is pleased to pay him, swindled out of his hard earnings by money orders redeemed in stores, compelled to pay the price of an acre of ground for its use during a single year, to pay four times more than a fair price for a pound of bacon and to be kept upon the narrowest margin between life and starvation….”

3. To say that we invented “most of the things worthwhile inventing” is doing a great disservice to the great 1885Benzinventions of other countries. The invention of the car for example, was crucial to our sixth-largest economy, in which a £52 billion turnover is supplied by the automotive industry.

4. Mr Cameron then claimed we invented “every sport currently played”, what about rowing, which was first recorded in Egypt, basketball and sumo wrestling? (to name just a few). The comment suggests that the only sports worth including are British ones, thus devaluing the sports of other countries. Furthermore the reason for the widespread playing of British sport again relates to colonial rule. Game fields were used for “moral instruction” of the conquered,  following a rejection of local cultures and beliefs.

British army troop5. As for a well-funded military, we are the fourth-largest worldwide spender on military. Yet after cuts, the army will eventually number just 82,000 – a level one British lawmaker said was the lowest since the Napoleonic Wars. Even the new British Head of Armed Forces, General Nicholas Houghton commented: “We’ve got to get back into an ‘expeditionary mindset’ where we will not have perfect capability for every scenario.”

A political opportunity was seized to put good spin on the unproven comment by a Russian official, using sweeping generalisations. The majority of the press responded as was intended. However, as a result of the comments we appeared arrogant, misinformed and laughable as a nation. Yes, Britain has been the home of many great inventors and yes we do have parts of history we can be proud of. But lets not diminish the achievements of other countries.

As American poet and critic Ezra Pound said: ““Any general statement is like a cheque drawn on a bank. Its value depends on what is there to meet it.”

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