Rock Choir

Regular readers will know that I do not do well in the bleak months of winter.   Given the choice I would probably go to bed on New Year’s Eve and set the alarm for somewhere around the 1st March but as this is a bit impractical I have to find some other coping strategies.

My January mission this year was to try something new that is not connected to either work or parenthood.  I hate the expression but, for want of something better, let’s call it the dreaded ‘Me-Time’.

Option one was the new Clubercise class at the gym.  Leaping around to dance tracks in a dark room waving glow sticks?  Yes please.  Only problem is that all the super keen January gym bunnies have taken the spaces and it is fully booked for weeks ahead.

Option two was Rock Choir.

If you are not familiar with Rock Choir it is the current extra-curricular activity du jour for the Great British public.  Six or seven years ago the menopausal masses were flocking to Zumba classes, evangelical about the new found freedom of shaking their cellulite to the Latin beat.  These days it’s Rock Choir that commands the attention.  You can barely walk down a UK high street without having to fight your way through a flash mob belting out a tune in perfect harmony.

I am not a big fan of Gareth-patron-saint-of-all-choirs-Malone (irrelevant really as he has absolutely no connection to Rock Choir) and this, combined with the general flash mobbiness had put me off having a go in the past, but over 20,000 members can’t be wrong.  Right?

Also, and not to be sniffed at, is the well documented research that shows singing in a choir lifts you mood, creates a sense of well being and even strengthens your immune system. 

So off I trotted to a taster session at my local group.

Masses of people!  Everyone was very focused on finding their chair and this made sense when someone explained that you sit according to your voice range from bass at one end of the room to high soprano and the other end.  I sat in soprano as I had a friend there but it was bit high for me in bits, think Barry Gibb on speed, so I think I’ll be moving down the hall.

The session was led by an amazing instructor who was so full of energy and smiles and enthusiasm that even cynical old me was totally swept up in it.  There is no music to read, all done by ear and by the end of the hour and a half session we were belting out the first half of UpTown Girl and sounding pretty good!

The hardest thing was remembering which part of the arrangement you are supposed to sing, I kept getting carried away and leaping in at the wrong bit.  You also need to focus on hearing your own voice; several times I was thinking “Blimey, someone is singing way out of tune” only to realise that it was actually me.  Bit awkward.

So I have signed up for the term.  I’ll report back at Easter and let you know if my mood is lifted, immune system strengthened, and if I have managed to sit in the right chair and stay in tune.

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The Winter Children by Lulu Taylor

The Winter Children“Nothing seems to have any point if she can’t have Dan…”

Unrequited love, broken hearts, the pain of infertility, the pain of childbirth – both longed for and not wanted. The Winter Children by Lulu Taylor draws up all these topics into a neat and compelling bundle that had me engrossed from the first chapter.

Francesca and Dan have been friends for twenty years, since their shared time at Cambridge University. In that time Olivia has joined them as Dan’s wife and the three of them enjoy a seemingly happy and easy friendship. Such is the friendship that when Dan and Olivia are almost torn apart by their infertility Francesca steps up with a selfless offer that is their salvation.

A beautiful, happy family follows and, when Olivia and Dan find themselves in need of a new home Francesca is quick to offer them rent free luxury in a cottage in the grounds of her grand renovation project – the majestic but adandoned Renniston Hall.

As the story unfolds we are drawn in to the complex connections between characters past and present and it soon becomes clear that Francesca’s motives are not altruistic.

This book is a thriller and a tale of love, both contemporary and historical. It is a really enjoyable  story which twists and turns without being contrived, and the characters leap from the page to stay with you long after you have put the book down.

Fans of an ambiguous ending may be disappointed as the book has a fairly clear resolution but, for me, it worked well to finish the story this way.

The Winter Children is a book that you will want to read in one sitting, it sweeps you along and the story and characters were so vivid in my mind that I almost feel I have watched it as a TV drama in HD. I would highly recommend it and, in fact, have already done so to my mum who loved it and Teen 1 who has it in her holding pattern of books to be read. Tri-generational appeal and perfect if you are lucky enough to have a few more days of Christmas holidays left to play with.

My copy of The Winter Children by Lulu Taylor was given to me free of charge for the purposes of this review for Mumsnet Bloggers Network (thank you!). Opinions are all my own.

Duran Duran Paper Gods Tour

Duran Duran Paper Gods

On the afternoon of 5th March 1983 I took my 13 year old self to meet my best friend, Gemma, on our favourite bench in Littlehampton.  We liked it because it was situated on the corner of three roads – plenty (of boys)  to look at as we sat and chatted about life and Cola flavoured lip gloss.

This day was a bit different though.  This day I was approaching the bench with a confession, a secret, something I had to unburden in the interest of friendship even though I didn’t know what the reaction would be.

I took a deep breath and went for it

“I think I am a Duranie!”

There was a beat of no response and so I ploughed on

“They were on Saturday Superstore this morning and they were so funny and the songs are really good and Simon Le Bon is HANDSOME…!”

I studied Gemma anxiously waiting to see if that was going to be the end of our teen bench assignations

“Oh my God, I watched that too – they were amazing, I really love them now!”

Phew, we were on the same page.  Having spent the months prior to this date priding ourselves on our scorn of Duran Duran and anyone who liked them, we had both been fully converted in the space of a morning.  All it took was Mike Read and Sarah Greene to bring us round.

Having come out and proud with my new Duranie status I embraced it with gusto.  Frilly shirts, funny hair, little hearts painstakingly painted on my cheekbone.  Posters went up, day dreams were crafted and lyrics were learnt.  My affections moved from Simon Le Bon to John Talyor with a  short lived stop at Roger.

As I got older and tried to be cooler my exuberance died down a bit, but I remained a fan over the years.  How exciting that last night I was at the Bournemouth International Centre to see Duran Duran on their Paper Gods tour.

The venue was sold out with a mixed bag of an audience, fans from all eras of the bands history plus the obligatory gangs of girls on a night out – everyone in high spirits.  We gave the support act  (The Bloom Twins) a polite go but after two songs retreated back to the bar.  It was like watching French and Saunders doing some sort of parody of a 1980s synth combo but without the funny bits.

No matter, we weren’t there for the support, we were there for the band, and when they burst onto the stage opening with Paper Gods we were not disappointed. They powered through the set mixing new material with old favourites, maintaining an energy that was pretty impressive given that they are all happily rocking their way to the big 60.  It can’t be denied that they all look older, but so do the rest of us, to be fair.  Simon Le Bon has cultivated a fine line in Dad Dancing which was quite endearing as pretty much everyone  in the audience could identify with it.  After a fantastic performance of ‘Planet Earth’ he brought us all right back down to earth by saying that they wrote that song 35 years ago.  35 years! There are people on the Jeremy Kyle Show who have been born, had children and grandchildren in that time.  For God’s sake man, why remind us of that, don’t you know that while we were lost in that song we were all young again, if only in our own imaginations?!

We bounced from ‘Come Undone’ to ‘Pressure Off’ to ‘Notorious’, the band sounded as fresh and current as anyone with a fraction of their musical mileage.  A crowd pleasing encore of ‘Save a Prayer’ and ‘Rio’ sent us into the night feeling, quite rightly, that we had spent the evening in the company of Pop Royalty.  Brilliant.

As we shuffled out to the car park I had to laugh when a lady in the queue behind me turned to her friend and said “how is it that I can’t remember what I did yesterday but I can happily belt out all the words to a song that I first heard 35 years ago?” That probably summed up the audience demographic but it also highlighted the exact reason why were all still there 35 years on, because great bands make great music that has staying power, year after year.

Oh, and for the record, John Taylor has still totally got it.  Just saying.

 

 

 

 

My Day With Woman And Home Magazine

A couple of months ago I received an email via my Contact Me page from a features writer at Woman and Home.  They were researching a piece on ‘new beginnings’ and had seen my blog – would I be interested in chatting to them?  A few emails and phone calls later and I had agreed to be interviewed and photographed for the January edition of the magazine.

Eeek!  I was not too worried about the interview part of the equation but the photograph…that was another matter.  I am well known amongst family and friends for being fantastically un-photogenic.  Many have accepted the challenge of capturing a decent photo of me but few (very few, OK, none) have succeeded.  The chicken and egg result of this scenario is that when faced with any kind of lens I undergo some sort of gurning/rigor mortis transformation.  Not a good look.

So, whilst this was a fantastic opportunity to promote the blog, it also gave me the chance to stop being such a wuss and face my photographic demons head on.  YOLO, as Teens 1 and 2 would say.

The day for the photoshoot was duly scheduled for three weeks later.  An emergency pre-photo list was required.

  1. Lose a stone
  2. Have Botox
  3. Grow four inches
  4. Discover art of looking like a relaxed human being in front of a camera

This was clearly on of my more ambitious lists and when it became obvious that it may not be possible to achieve all (or any) of the points I decided to adopt a faux casual laissez faire attitude to the day; an altogether much more relaxing approach if not quite as constructive.

The day of reckoning arrived and I headed to London on the early train.  I was met at Waterloo by a taxi and had a lovely journey across to Fulham where the shoot was taking place.  It was a crisp, bright autumn day and London was at its most beautiful – every shade of golden brown on the trees, sun glinting off the river. Why did I never notice any of that stuff when I lived there?!  Maybe because my journeys were conducted underground not over ground in black cab luxury I guess.   It was like driving through a Richard Curtis movie, if the cab driver had turned out to be Hugh Grant I wouldn’t have been surprised.

We reached our destination and I stood at the door.  Deep breath, shoulders back, best foot forward.  I needn’t have worried though, the Woman and Home team couldn’t have been more friendly. There was a small army in situ from photographer to stylist to hair and make up and everything in between.  There were also three others like me, there to be photographed for the January issue of the magazine.  I was the last to arrive and the others were in various stages of readiness –  full make up here, rollered hair there.  As the photographer went to work on her first subject I was taken downstairs to find an outfit.

Woman and Home Collage 1

Transformation ingredients – Make up, hair, clothes, shoes, jewellery…

 

Down in the basement the Stylist reigned supreme and her two assistants darted around nervously plucking hangers from the rails, grabbing shoes from the rack.  The Stylist eyed me up and down and thrust trousers, tops, jackets and shoes at me in varying combinations – occasionally calling the Picture Director down to get her opinion. It was like playing at dressing up in someone else’s wardrobe, great fun.   An outfit was decided on, plenty of sequins and the most amazing gold glittery shoes.  There were no mirrors so I had no idea how I looked but I knew I was in safe hands and that the team were working to a master plan.  Make up was next, wonderful smoky eyes and false eyelashes, followed by hair which was styled and sprayed into a big and beautiful ‘do’.  A bite of lunch and it was my turn to face the camera.  The photographer and her assistant were friendly and laid back, obviously well used to getting the best out of clueless twits like me.  That said – they definitely had their work cut out!  I spent a lot of time swaying and flicking, smiling and laughing.  I was the last subject of the day so the whole team were there giving words of encouragement and cheering me on, and not once did I feel like a total wally.  For someone with such severe photograph-a-phobia (yes, I did just make that up), this was a huge achievement.  As the session came to an end I realised that – shock horror – I had actually enjoyed it.  I had no idea if they had managed to get a halfway decent photo of me but it didn’t matter – I was Cindy Crawford, I was Helen Mirren, my inner A-lister had been unleashed and it felt fantastic.

Woman and Home Collage 2.png

The Super Sparkly Result

 

When the finished article landed on my doormat it was confirmed, the friendly and helpful gang from the photoshoot were not actually mere mortals, but miracle workers put on this earth to transform the drab and dreary into sparkly glamour pusses for the day.  I was like the human version of a black and white film that had been colourised and re-released.  If only I had the full team in my house to get me ready every morning…

 

 

Sculpture by the Lakes

I am not particularly known for my cultural expertise, you won’t find me puffing on a Gauloises wearing a black polo neck and ballet pumps. But I do like to look at things that make me happy, make me cross, make me start a discussion, make me wish I could do it myself. This is what brought me to Sculpture by the Lakes, a fantastic hidden gem in Pallington, near Dorchester in Dorset.

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A visit has been on my wish list for a while but as they do not admit children under the age of fourteen, I had to wait for a suitable child free weekend. I had the perfect opportunity when my girls were temporarily replaced by a lovely friend from the Isle of Wight who came to stay leaving her own family on the other side of the Solent for a couple of days.

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Fruit

Sculpture by the Lakes is the creation of artist Simeon Gudgeon and his wife Monique. They purchased 26 acre plot 2007 when it was a working fishery and immediately wet to work transforming it into the oasis that stands there now. Simon is one of the country’s leading bronze sculptors and Monique turned her back on a career in PR to become a landscape gardener; together they have created a perfect showcase for both of their talents.

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Duel

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Disappearing Worlds

This is not a run of the mill attraction. There is no tea room or gift shop, young children and dogs are not allowed. Visitors are limited to ensure that everyone who attends is able to fully absorb and enjoy the experience in total peace and tranquillity. Having digested this information before we went I was unsure what to expect, was it going to be all rules and public library-like signs demanding silence?

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Pelicans

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Roe Deer

I needn’t have worried as the caveats that have been issued are all valid and really did contribute to our enjoyment. Entrance is via intercommed electric gates on a lane of small cottages. On parking up we were met by a member of the team who gave us a brief intro and explained that a few of the sculptures were missing as they were on the way to the Chelsea Flower Show where the Gudgeons have a garden this year. There was only one other small group of visitors apart from us and we set off to explore.

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Falcon

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Whispering Spirit

It was utterly peaceful and tranquil, the only sound the faint hum from the tangle of electricity pylons that are strung over the acres like industrial bunting. The sculptures are set within the natural habitat of the grounds and whilst some stand out tall and majestic others creep up on you from behind trees or the banks of a lake. Words feature quite heavily, reflected on the water, made into a bench, sunk into a path beneath a tunnel of wisteria.

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Unfortunately the weather was not on our side and so my photos do not do the pieces justice but they give you a flavour of what was on display. There were some that I loved, some that I didn’t and others that sat somewhere in the middle. The friend who came with me is not only an artist herself but also a gardener so I had a properly trained eye to help with my layman observations. I was worried that maybe it would be a bit ‘mainstream’ for her but there were things that appealed to us both for different reasons – it really was very accessible art without being dumbed down in any way.

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Willow Man

The Gudgeons encourage you to stay for the day and there are many secluded sitting and eating areas if you choose to take a picnic. They also have a river keeper’s hut and island lake house available for hire for special events or extra nice picnics.

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The River Keepers Hut

Weather and time did not allow us to linger as long as we would have liked and I definitely plan to return very soon, I think there is much to be gained from a second visit and of course the gardens and grounds will change with the seasons. If you are planing a trip to Dorset, or live nearby, I can definitely recommend a visit to this unique and inspiring attraction.  Have you already been?  What did you think?

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Le Banc du Souvenir

Far From the Madding Crowd

PosterDorset is in the grip of ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ fever.  You can take your Cornish coastline and your scything six packs and shove them up a tin mine chimney.  It’s our turn for the spotlight now and we are loving it.  The question on everyone’s lips is “Have you seen FFTMC yet?” so, in order to be able to roll with the Zeitgeist I thought I had better pop off to the cinema to see the film.

Despite being a resident of Casterbridge (albeit fairly recently) I have never read any Thomas Hardy, I didn’t even know the bare bones of the FFTMC story.  The friend I went to see the film with, however, is a mad Hardy fan and has read the book many times so we really were coming at it from totally different directions.

We went to the Dorchester Plaza which is a fantastic local resource and still only charges £3.50 for a Saturday night ticket (£2.50 Monday to Friday – total bargain).  The theatre was full with the chatter of excited Dorset folk waiting to play spot the location, and find the face in the crowd scenes – many locals were recruited as extras. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I didn’t expect to love this film as much as I did.

I was pretty much sold within the first 15 minutes when a tall and handsome Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) strode across the field carrying a new born lamb.  He presented  Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) with the lamb and then asked her to marry him.  Well, if that had been me I would have probably shrieked yes, flung myself at his feet, grabbed the lamb and dragged him off into the sunset.  However, I do appreciate that this would make for a very short story and not much of a feature film.  So, of course, Bathsehba said no and proceeded to juggle the affections of Gabriel and two other suitors along with managing an enormous farm and galloping around the place in a variety of lovely frocks.

Mulligan’s performance was, actually, perfect.  She was sympathetic, believable and of course, beautiful.  Michael Sheen trotted out his signature performance of a likeable loony tune and Tom Sturridge was a magnificent villain as the feckless and cruel Sergeant Francis Troy. The locations were beautiful although we didn’t see as much of Dorset as we thought we would.  The flavour of rural Britain in Victorian times was portrayed in  a palatable way, not too glitzy and not too grim.

A personal tick from me was the music score, I have a pet hate for film scores that jar or overtake the actual film.  The score for this movie is, to my mind, perfect and flows gently like the rolling hills it was written to accompany. At a minute short of two hours I was expecting numb bum syndrome but the time shot past in a flash, we couldn’t believe it was the end and were left wanting more which is by far the best way to leave a cinema.

So – a huge thumbs up for ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’.  It went a long way towards curing my Poldark withdrawal symptoms and satisfied both a Hardy ignoramus and a Hardy expert which was a pretty tall order.  Have you seen the film?  What did you think?

My Freaky Friday Style Monday Night

On Monday night I found myself sitting in the vertiginous heights of the upper balcony of the Bournemouth International Centre. I was surrounded by an eclectic crowd, many of whom were wearing pink sparkly cowboy hats. Not my usual Monday night occupation, obvs, but this was no ordinary Monday – it was S Club Monday.

S Club Line Up2  S Club7 3

There was a valid reason for me to be at the S Club Reunion Tour (other than the throwback value) and the thought process went something like this:-

Teen and Teen’s friend have happy memories of leaping around to S Club when they were pre-schoolers so when they announced a Bournemouth stop of their tour two tickets were purchased to celebrate the 15th birthday of Teen’s friend. That was in December 2014, we went to bed and woke up in May 2015 and the concert was upon us. I was on taxi duty, and as Bournemouth is a 40 minute drive,  there is no point coming home in between drop off and pick up so the Tween and I faced an evening of hanging around Bournemouth killing time (single parent conundrum – when taking the older one out the younger one always has to come unless you want to cough up for a babysitter).

There was nothing suitable on at the cinema, my usual go to occupation when waiting to collect from a BIC concert, when I had a light bulb moment – why didn’t the Tween and I go too? So, on to StubHub and ten minutes later we had two cheap resale tickets up in the gods, suitably far away from the Teen and her pal who had standing tickets and so not at risk of maternal or sibling embarrassments.

That is how I came to be primly sipping my water waiting for seven 30 somethings to take to the stage and entertain me.

Well, I am not (too) ashamed to say that entertain me they did. As soon as the magnificent seven rose up from their glittery podia to the familiar strains of ‘Bring the House Down’ swiftly followed by ‘S Club Party’ I was on my feet mum-dancing like a goodun.

S Club 7 4

Scrutinising the close ups on the big screens it seemed that the band have not really aged although they did not seem quite as supple and confident moving around the stage as they maybe were in their heyday. There were definitely some live vocals but I wouldn’t like to put a percentage figure on it. We heard all the hits – none of your new material rubbish – and a cover of Uptown Funk which was the highlight for the Tween who, at 12 years old, has little memory of all the other songs. It was basically like being at a huge karaoke/disco party with one of those DJs who makes you do all the dance moves. It’s not often you get to go those sort of affairs at my age!

S Club 7 5

As we reached the end of show (double encore with ticker tape, streamers, pyros – the works) I noticed that with all the sea of mobile phones being waved in the air the Tween was not recording or broadcasting anything.

“Quick,” I panicked “put something on your Snapchat story, Instagram some pics.”

The Tween calmly reminded me that two weeks ago I had made her delete all her social media accounts after a too-much-time-spent-on-electronic-devices meltdown.

“Forget that!” I said “Have my phone, quick post something or no-one will know you have been here.”

She met my frantic wild eyed stare with a level gaze.

“ It’s OK,” she replied, “I’ll just tell people about it in person tomorrow.”

That single, old fashioned comment was the best moment of the whole evening and rounded off our Freaky Friday style role reversal night perfectly.

But I really, really, wish I had bought a pink sparkly cowboy hat as a souvenir.

PS – If you want to hear the Teen’s view of the evening you can find it on her blog Love Millie Rose

Pink Cowboy Hat

I Wish Life was Like a Disney Movie

Cinderella PosterYesterday we went to see Cinderella at the cinema. This was VERY exciting as all three of us had been waiting for it to be released since we first saw the trailer before Christmas.  I should explain that the Teen, the Tween and I are all huge Disney fans – me probably the most out of all of us. I spent my childhood dreaming of visiting Disneyland but my parents had other ideas; all family holidays were spent either lurching around the English Channel in a small boat or traipsing round endless French vineyards watching grown-ups taste wine. Of course now that I am (apparently) a grown up myself I can appreciate their holiday choices but at the time all I wanted in was Mickey and Minnie. By the time I actually made it to Disneyland I was 29 years old and every time I set eyes on the great Mouse himself I had some sort of weird Pavlovian reaction where I just burst into tears. Happy tears, but tears nonetheless. It was pretty embarrassing, especially as I was on a work trip not a holiday.

Clover Cinders2Anyway, I’ve transferred my Disney-love to my children and they have grown up knowing all the classic films and the new releases, and even now we all sit down to watch a new Disney Channel flick as soon as it is aired (what’s not to love about Teen Beach Movie…?!). The original Cinderella is a particular favourite, especially with Clover who spent a good eight months wearing nothing but her blue Cinderella costume when she was about three years old.

So it was with high expectations that we took our seats for Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation of the fairy tale. You’ve probably guessed by now that we were never going to be the most critical audience but, even so, we really did love the film. Lily James took to title role beautifully, her Cinderella had a fragile breathiness that belied the actual long-suffering grit of the character. Cate Blanchett was quite magnificent as the evil step mother and her portrayal was sufficiently dignified to avoid veering into panto ‘baddie’ territory. Richard Madden was, of course, a super handsome Prince Charming but (and maybe this is my age) it was his father the King, played by the wonderful Derek Jacobi who stole my heart. The theme of loss and grief is quite strong in the film with no less than three bereavements (we cried at each one) but the tone is lightened by the not-so-ugly sisters Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera and a short but sweet cameo from Rob Brydon. I can’t finish this role call without giving due credit to the magnificent Helena Bonham-Carter who was exactly the Fairy Godmother I would like next time I’m down on my uppers please. Old favourites from the animated version were present in Gus-Gus the mouse and Lucifer the malevolent moggy, and there were also some cute nods to the original such as the little bluebirds circling overhead. The whole film was both rich and faded in colour and at times the CGI made it seem almost like an animation itself, all this added to the magic and drew us in totally to the make believe world where geese can drive carriages and shoes are made of glass. By the time we had reached the happy ever after scene we were so immersed that it was almost a shock when the credits rolled – like waking from an amazing dream and feeling disappointed that it wasn’t real life. I think that sums up my love of all things Disney – I wish it was real life. I want to live in a world where teeth are white and hair is shiny, good prevails over evil and the mean girls always get their comeuppance. Most of all I want to be swept off my feet by a handsome hero so that we can gallop off into the sunset to find our own happily ever after. Is that too much to ask?

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