Tag Archives: socialising

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

Ecstasy? I’m high on life!

Shy FX doing his magic

Shy FX doing his magic

On Friday I went to a drum and bass night.

The most popular reaction I have when I tell people I appreciate this genre is that I “don’t look like someone who likes d ‘n’b”. By this people mean that I’m not a hoodie-wearing law-breaking drug taker.

Unfortunately these events are dominated by illicit substance fans. It seems people are either addicted, feel peer-pressured, or claim that ecstasy helps them to appreciate the music, that sound turns into colour.

I have always appreciated the genre and have never needed anything extra to enjoy it. I sometimes went out with people who dosed-up beforehand. Most of them respected my choice not to mess with my internal wiring. One asked me why. I told him that I want to avoid the damage it causes, and he still did it. Takers will boast about its effects, but they rarely talk about how they were up  for two days or how they bit their tongue so badly it needed stitches. Like smokers, they seem to ignore its ill effects.

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Then there’s alcohol, another misused substance, and a massive problem with my generation. When I was younger it was cool to drink in excess and then tell proud stories about what you or others did under the influence. You had a badge of respect if you’d manage to blag a beverage underage. At university there would be drinking competitions. In my halls the annual challenge involved running to the four corners of the main square and drinking as much as you could as fast as you could of different beers. Losers would start gagging and run off. The winner got their name on a silver plaque. People did “Centurions” where a group would drink all day aiming for 100 units. A member of my family tried it and “lost”  – luckily he threw up.

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I’ve heard of a heavy drinkers who got cirrhosis – liver damage in their 20s. The government thinks they can help by raising taxes on it and imposing limits, but it’s the culture that needs to be addressed. With 10.5 million of us drinking to excess, alcohol misuse costs the NHS billions every year. It has been suggested that teenagers should be introduced to alcohol early on in small amounts, so that it’s not seen as something forbidden and therefore exciting. This was an attitude I encountered among drug users. I think if it was legal like it is in the Netherlands perhaps it would not be so popular or exciting, and could be better regulated. It was good that drug testing kits were available, just as needle exchanges are.

I wonder why Brits feel that we need alcohol and drugs to release ourselves and have a good night out. I was enjoying the beats on nothing but Red Bull. Everything in moderation though – I had 7 in a row once and ended up twitching as if I’d been electrocuted, and was wide awake until the sun came up. I never did it again, just as someone who knocked himself unconscious on a weed never did. Hopefully if we do overdose on a substance we know not to go back there. But sadly in a BBC series, Junior Doctors an A and E doctor told how regular users sometimes returned.

I took this watching DJ Fresh in his home town of Leeds

I took this – DJ Fresh in his home town of Leeds

I like the drama and atmosphere of drum and bass, its melodies interlaced with a beat I enjoy dancing to – it’s all about jumping to the snare! Its liveliness, energy and frivolity appeals to me. I like most aspects of a beats night. Most ravers are friendly and non-judgemental. You can dance however you like and plenty of people do.

It’s like no other music night and that is what keeps me coming back, other than the talent of the DJs. If you have ever tried beat-matching at that speed you may understand (beat-matching is where you get two records running at different speeds playing at the same time, one record in each ear). You have to be careful of flying elbows and people standing on your feet, and if someone’s had too much it’s best to stay away as they have very little control of their body. I’m also different from most ravers in that I always wear ear plugs, and wax ones. That way I hear the bass clearer and don’t get tinnitus, which a friend got after one too many club nights.

I took this - Andy C,, widely regarded as one of the founders of drum and bass.

I took this listening to Andy C, widely regarded as one of the founders of drum and bass.

From a non-substance perspective, the dance floor was heaving with enthusiastic, bug eyed, love-sharing, sweaty swaying ravers. They probably didn’t know who was playing and perhaps they wouldn’t care.

I have been to raves since 2005 and this was the first time I had seen it. There I was bouncing away to Shy FX when there was a commotion next to me. A guy was on the floor. At first I thought he’d fallen over, until I saw the convulsions. He was white and his eyes were shut. I was looking for a bouncer when one came charging over. They put him in the recovery position. He was then carried off unconscious. A pill-head asked me what had happened. When I told him he yelled “there’s always some that take it too far”. I shouted “I don’t understand it, I don’t need drugs to have a good time”, and he looked at me like I was from another planet. To think that I could just go to enjoy the music seemed like an alien concept to him.

Again it’s the culture. Drugs seem on a level footing with alcohol now. They’re taken socially to enjoy the night.

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Where is the line between social drug-taking and addiction? It’s similar to “social smoking” perhaps. But a smoker can laugh about the tar collecting in his/her lungs and say that life is short and that everything kills you in the end. An ecstasy user has made changes to their brain. Why do both feel so good? Because they’re altering chemical levels in the brain. Smokers become dependent on nicotine, the relaxant and ecstasy users to serotonin, a “happy” chemical. I’ve seen both smokers and ecstasy users being jumpy and twitchy in anticipation of their next fix. Ecstasy depletes serotonin meaning that users can suffer depression. Regular users are more likely to get it for longer.

The question is, what can we do to treat substance misuse problems in the UK?  We were all taught about the dangers of alcohol and drugs, but education is clearly not enough to impact on a culture which seems here to stay, and more prevalent than ever. A Leeds taxi driver told me he had seen a sharp increase in cocaine users in the past 5 years and that they were from all walks of life, from CEOs to students. He was shocked that people were taking this substance which electrocutes the brain as if it was normal. Cocaine is one of the most addictive drugs out causes permanent damage. It also alters personality. I once dated a guy who earned more money than he knew what to do with. His brother took coke so he thought he’d try it.

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Before long he was going out to parties doing it every weekend, and became depressed and tired. When I asked him why he did it, and told him how damaging it was he said “yes but have you tried it”. I told him that as you can get addicted from two goes I wasn’t going to chance it. I prefer to live in reality.

I once saw a video on YouTube by a Buddhist monk where he said that the Westerners’ love of drink and drugs was because we were scratching an itch. They were temporary pleasures, in doing it people scratched the itch but it didn’t cure it, it just made it worse. He suggested that people need to look at why they need to take drugs/drink in the first place, what were they trying to escape from?

Trying to escape from a feeling or a thought means that it’s still there in our mind. The saying goes “turn the dogs of fear on fear itself”. When I worked in law a client took heroin partly to escape memories of her traumatic childhood. This caused her to lose her children and sucked her into an addiction spiral. Have the courage to solve your problems or move on, don’t try and deal with them by distraction.

But my point is this. Is a night of pleasure really worth the risk and damage, permanent or impermanent, to the body and mind?

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Sponge it up

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Yesterday I called my taxi driver Ahmed.

I got his mobile number because he was friendly and his service was cheaper. Now he comes whenever I call and refuses to take any other passengers until I arrive. He takes the shortest route and doesn’t go round the houses to increase his fare.

He gets a regular customer. I get a discount, great conversation and nuggets of wisdom.

On Friday night he took me to and from a night out. This meant he was up until 6.30am. He then picked me and my friend Natalie up the next day after a University reunion.

Ahmed: “You’re a sponge”

Lydia: “What??”

Ahmed: “A sponge soaks up lots of water, absorbs all the good things from others. Water washes over a stone. The stone does not soak up any of the goodness because they don’t listen. The goodness washed over the stone and they stay hard and unfeeling.”

Ok I’m paraphrasing but he made a good point. Many people don’t talk to their taxi driver, but perhaps you can learn something from them. Everyone has a story to tell.

To be continued…

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February 10, 2013 · 12:09 pm