Friday, November 14, 2014

An Evening with Il Divo...or How Can Four Blokes (and one small woman) Make So Much Noise?

Last week I had a very last minute opportunity to go and see Il Divo when a friend who had tickets found herself suddenly unable to go. I left work and hotfooted it down to the Bournemouth International Centre in a real pea souper to listen to four blokes singing classical music - or, as it turned out, musical theatre.

I like Il Divo. I like any many who can hold a tune to be honest. The way to a man's heart may be through his stomach but the way to mine is definitely through a beautifully rendered song.  I signed the Marriage Register to the sounds of Il Divo singing Unbreak My Heart and we all know how that ended so perhaps I should have stayed well away but anyway, ticket in my hot little hand, I sprinted up the steps to the Circle, arriving half way through the first song so I had to wait at the entrance until there was a suitable break in the music.

The sound was amazing. You know that expression? A wall of sound. That was what it was.  I could feel it in my kidneys.

It wasn't until I was shown to my seat that I became aware that I was definitely one of the younger members of the audience. I was surrounded by a sea of grey heads interspersed with bald ones - those being the long suffering husbands who had been dragged along, clearly under duress from the body language of a few. I've never been to  concert where there were so many walking sticks!

By the third song I realised that an evening with Il Divo was not going to be exactly what I thought. I don't suppose I have ever really thought about the demographics of their fans, there being far more important issues to ponder, generally speaking.  The fact that that I bought my mother one of their CDs for her birthday should probably have been a little pointer.

The audience were, by and large, femmes d'un certain age who, for one night only, were transported back to their young, horny youth. By the third song I realised that these guys could fart in a bathtub and get a standing ovation.

The evening was rife with sexual innuendo of the sort that made women of their generation giggle like school girls and women of mine cringe ever so slightly.  Carlos, the Spanish one with the fabulous voice, seemed to spend much of the evening talking about 'making lurve' to these beautiful women. I only hope he wasn't around when the house lights went up!

Still, in the more upbeat numbers, it was good to see the 'femmes' cast off their walking sticks, like Lazarus rising from the dead, and shake their booty in the aisles. Go girls!

The music was amazing and had the added bonus of Lea Salonga, who I first saw in Miss Saigon when dinosaurs still walked the earth.  Anyone who has seen Les Mis will probably have seen Lea as she has played both Eponine and Fantine.  She's also teeny tiny but with a voice that could take the roof off.

What was quite nice to see was the lack of phones held in the air to film the concert. Clearly this sort of this was Not Acceptable judging from the glares I got from the lady next to me any time I tried, hence the rather fuzzy photo. However, at the intermission I was very impressed at the number who whipped out their phones and posted status updates on Facebook.

Whatever you feel about Il Divo, you can't ignore the fact that their harmonies are beautiful, making the hair on the back of your neck stand up and I'll be honest and say there were a few teary moments for me but for me the beauty of the evening was watching all these 'laydees' behaving really rather badly. I never expected to find myself in a situation where women only slightly younger than my mother were shouting out some really quite bawdy stuff to some hot young men. I'm sure when they started out they had visions of young women mobbing them at the stage door. I think a day in the life of an Il Divo groupie is more likely to involve a trip to the arthritis clinic than hot sex in a hotel room - although I think a few of them would have happily given it a go, pacemakers and artificial hips permitting.

As a lesson it growing old disgracefully, it was spot on. Femmes d'un certain age, I take my hat off to you!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ten Reasons You Know Your Son Has Gone to University...

  1. You don’t trip over five pairs of smelly trainers when you come in through the back door

  1. Your food bill has suddenly halved and your shopping list no longer includes a jumbo pack of chicken dippers (usually consumed in one sitting at 3am) and eight litres of milk

  1. You hear those immortal words ‘In a minute…’ half the usual number of times when you ask someone to lay the table (well I do still have one at home)

  1. Your fridge seems  unusually empty without the usual fridge pack of beers which are kept chilled for that impromptu party invite

  1. The house isn’t filled with the strange cacophony of his increasingly dodgy taste in music – well, dodgy to me anyway

  1. You have woken up a least once in a blind panic because that familiar head hasn’t poked round the bedroom door at 4am to say ‘Mum, I’m home’. Then you remember he’s not gone out, he’s actually gone – for a while anyway

  1. You come home from work and the kitchen looks the same as you left it in the morning rather than the aftermath of a mortar attack

  1. In his bedroom, the wardrobe has replaced the floordrobe

  1. You have two bottles of Diet Coke that have been in the cupboard for longer than a day

  1.  There is no-one telling daft jokes at the dinner table, gently teasing his sister, giving you hugs every day, inspiring you, educating you, making you laugh, making you cry, making you smile. That lovely face that you have looked on almost every day of his life, that you have watched change from a chubby baby, to a messy toddler, to an awkward adolescent and finally to a handsome young man is no longer a daily feature of your life and probably will never be again. And you realise that he has left a hole in your life that you could drive a juggernaut through. And you also realise that all those friends whose kids have already left, whose over-emotional Facebook statuses you had quietly scoffed at (while hitting the ‘Like’ button, of course) when they left for university had been telling the truth.  It really is like someone has cut one of your limbs off.

It’s part of the paradox of parenthood. You want them to spread their wings, to go out in the world and make their mark, be their own person, have their own life but damn, it hurts too. The most important relationship in your life has changed subtly and will never be the same. The years that you have invested in their life and their upbringing has, inevitably, come to this, the moment they leave and though you always knew it would happen, when it does you  realise that all the preparation in the world hasn't made you ready for this moment.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Say No to Atrocity Porn

It has been over a week since James Foley was brutally murdered yet you don't need to go far to find a photo of him, clad in orange, in the last few moments of his life. A full and courageous life that ended in the most horrible way imaginable. His murderer, because that is what he is, has even been given a nickname, Jihadi John. It sounds like Postman Pat or Fireman Sam, all soft and fluffy. And don't editors just love alliteration?

Why not just call him what he is; a brutal, morally bankrupt murderer who has now been afforded the 'celebrity' status he failed to achieve as a South London rapper, if the most recent newspaper reports are to be believed. Meanwhile, James Foley is reduced to 'beheaded journalist'  because he is no longer a person but a story, a commodity, as editors and journalists elbow each other out of the way to find another way to string out his tragic death.  Was it staged? Where did it happen? Who cares? I don't. But I care deeply about the death of this man. I care deeply about the emotive language that is used to describe an act of murder. I will not look at the photos. I do not want to see the last moments of anyone's life yet editors and journalists the world over have actually watched the video of his murder,  all in the name of journalism, you understand. That is not journalism, it is voyeurism. How does it make them any better than the sick individuals who actually watched the video before it was taken down? So much for supporting one of your own. And all the while we become more and more inured to scenes of death.

Facebook, Twitter and all social media in between is awash with photos of dead Gazan babies, people with their faces shot away, the aftermath of a suicide bomb. It is Atrocity Porn - and it seems to be addictive. It is all to further whatever particular cause the image relates to, apparently. Maybe so, most likely not. All I can say is I do not want to see it. Every image is of a person, not a casualty, not a body, a person who moments before was living and breathing, who had a family who loved them. These images are out there for anyone to see including those family members.

The British broadcast media thinks nothing of showing graphic photos of death -  with a little rider that some people might find them disturbing or upsetting of course. Damn right I do! So here's an idea. Don't show them. Don't show them on the lunchtime news while children may be watching. Don't even show them on the evening news. Have some respect. Don't show them at all. Is it any wonder that Hollywood now seems to produce films that are woefully short on story but very long on increasingly graphic and creative ways to torture, maim and kill? We see so much real horror on the small screen that they need to really up the ante to grab your attention. What a sad reflection on society.

So I say to editors and journalists everywhere. If this was your father, mother, son, daughter, brother or sister would you show these obscene photos of their death? No you would not. So why is it acceptable to show it when it is someone else's family? Why do we need to see these photos? We should all just say no to Atrocity Porn and it starts with you.

Read the original article in  The Huffington Post

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


The nice people at My Trendy Phone have, once again, very kindly asked me if I wanted to review one of their products. I'm no techie but it's always good to see what is on the market and try out something I might not otherwise be aware of.

I decided that the Naztech N3050 FM Transmitter and Car Holder which also doubles up as a car charger might well be a useful addition to my car as I am one of those people who is constantly losing their phone under the seat or running down their battery just before I need to make an important call (not whilst driving of course!)

My reviews are always totally honest as otherwise there would be no point doing them.

It is a robust piece of kit that you plug into the lighter socket in your car - I'm sure it is no longer called that but you know what I mean.  There is an adjustable holder for your phone and it functions as an FM transmitter, car charger and speakerphone, enabling you to talk handsfree.  It has a decent sized gooseneck that you can move around in order to find the best possible position in your car and is infinitely bendable. Now there's a good technical term! It is compatible with the iPhone 4 and 5 as well as most other smartphones. A great little smartphone cable is included that is just long enough to run from the USB socket to your phone but if you want to use it with an iPhone you will need to buy a dedicated one.  The downside of that is that you get a bit of a tangle of cables around the gearstick so unless you know where to buy a very short iPhone cable I would say this is probably more suited to smartphones.  That said, I do use it to charge my Kindle in the car now and it is perfect for that as it reaches to the passenger seat.

I liked the fact that it was solid and felt very durable but I did struggle to find a good position where it was out of the way of the gear stick. In fairness though, my car has six forward gears so it would, I think, be less problematic in a normal five speed car.  You can play your CDs through the Naztech N3050 by tuning your radio to white noise and then setting the same frequency on the LCD display. It took a while to find the best frequency to use but once I did it worked well.

The big downside I found though was that with your phone that close to the radio there was, inevitably, interference. The only way round this is setting your phone to Airplane mode. The downside of this though is that you can't receive any calls so if this is one of your main reasons for buying it, you might want to bear that in mind.

I struggled a bit with the speakerphone as in almost every incoming call the caller couldn't hear me very clearly although I could hear them well. This was probably made worse by the fact that my lighter socket is very low down so I found I had to keep leaning down a bit to be heard.

All in all, I felt that the quality was good. It was very easy to assemble and the instructions were good.  There were a few little glitches but they were as much to do with the positioning of my lighter socket than any design inadequacies. I would certainly recommend it as an FM transmitted and a car charger, maybe less so for the handsfree capability. Before purchasing any piece of kit like this it is probably worth considering the layout of your car as this will impact on its functionality. That said, it has worked well overall and now, after several months of use, I have had no problems with it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

This single life

I can't believe that the Six Nations has come and gone and I haven't had time for a quick blog. It was a great tournament with a really exciting new England side. We didn't win the tournament but we took home the Calcutta Cup, the Triple Crown and our very own Wiltshire boy, Mike Brown, won player of the tournament. Bring on the Rugby World Cup, we are ready!

One of the reasons I haven't had time to blog much, or indeed work on my next book, is because I have had to go back to work full time, not by choice but by necessity.  The law in this country stacks the cards against the single parent. Having previously spent most of our joint income on raising our children, the Ex is now only required to give me the equivalent a day's pay. He earns more in a week than I do in a month, yet I am still expected to shoulder the lion's share of the burden of paying for our children, hence the need to return to full time work.  Although I have always worked, bar a few years when we trotted around the world with him in the good old days of the film industry when they put you up in nice hotels or apartments, it is a long time since I have worked full time. It has been a bit of a shock to the system and for the past two weeks my house has looked, for all intents and purposes, as if it has been burgled. I could really do with a cleaner and someone to do my ironing as I don't get home much before 6.45pm but there is no money for that.

Lack of time aside, I have been lucky to land a great though not spectacularly well paid job working in child protection. It makes me realise just how many feckless parents there are who are completely unable to prioritise their children's needs above their own. I know all about that!

A year, post-separation, I am loving life and the new found freedom I have. No more walking on eggshells, no more pandering to someone else's moods, the children are happier and we have made our lives as a unit of three, not four. We have no contact with The Ex's family, all bar one of whom didn't even bother to send us a Christmas card. Bizarre behaviour after 23 years. His tenuous grasp of the truth means that I have had to suffer emails from his siblings asking what I have done with all his money (a few home truths were exchanged on that one!) and constant excuses for his shabby behaviour. To be honest, I'm bored with it all.

The Ex remains nothing more than an occasional visitor in the lives of his children and to be honest, we quite like it that way. He barely knows his children any more, who are more inclined to send his calls straight to voicemail than answer them. They didn't even acknowledge his birthday. Statistics show that 1 in 4 children lose contact with the absent parent within two years of separation and we are well on the way to that. But who is the loser? Not us. The Boy and Girl have been saving their  money to take me out for lunch on Mother's Day, the Girl and I went on a road trip to Brighton to see Haim and I've just booked tickets to see Elbow at the 02 in London with a friend.  I am back in contact with many old friends and my free time, such as it is between ferrying the children around, is my own to do with what I like without having to ask anyone else's permission.

My ukulele group continues to be a source of huge joy and friendship and as we are becoming better known, the requests for gigs are coming thick and fast. I love the gigs. They are so much fun! Last night we did a charity gig for WaterAid in Bath.  It helps me channel my inner rock chick!

The future feels very positive, despite the financial strictures of being a single parent and the emotional strain of being the only parent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I feel I have re-found the real me. The one who loves new adventures, loves to laugh and believes that life is for living, not merely existing. The past year has also empowered me to ditch other people in my life who were dragging me down so what I'm left with is a fabulous core of truly great people. If you are one of them, thank  you!

The idea of being single in your middle years can fill some people with horror but I'm here to tell you that it's actually pretty great. My children are spreading their wings, getting ready to fly the nest and make their own mark on the world and I am ready to write the next chapter of my life story.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot...It's Six Nations Time...! So here's my Girl's Guide to Rugby

WARNING: This blogpost has naked men and shameless sexism!

Yes, it's that time of year again, the start of the Six Nations. Long-time readers of my blog will know that I love rugby, well England rugby really. I went to the very first rugby world cup in Australia, got inadvertently tackled by an All Black in Bahrain - and I didn't spill my beer - and have sat on Murray Mexted's shoulders and sung 'Hi Ho Silver Lining'. I forget why now but he played No. 8 for the All Blacks and was very tall and the rugby club had a very low ceiling.

So that all you lovely people can share in my love of the Truly Beautiful Game, here is my Girl's Guide to Rugby which gives you all you need to enjoy the Six Nations.

The Game:

Firstly there are two types of rugby. Rugby League is generally played by rugged northerners who think that Rugby Union is only played by effete ex-public schoolboys and have never really forgiven Jason Robinson for giving up League to play Union for England. I mean, it's not what tough young blokes from Leeds do is it? Rugby League teams only have 13 players, probably because they've all gone South to play proper rugby. Rugby Union, or proper rugby as I like to call it,  is played by two teams of 15 brawny men with well muscled thighs and six packs that would make a lesser man weep.  They play with a funny shaped ball, which leads to countless double entendres, and which neither rolls or bounces straight. If you think it's going left you can almost guarantee it will go right. Mind you, predictability of bounce doesn't seem to help England's footballers that much.

The aim of the game is to get the ball over your try line or, if you don't have the ball, stop the other team getting it across theirs. This can be done either by fair means or foul depending on whether the referee is looking. The try line is the line underneath the funny H-shaped sticks at each end of the field. But, just to make it a bit more interesting, you can't throw the ball forward. Yes, I know, it makes no sense. You are trying to get the ball up the field but you have to throw it backwards. If you do throw it forward, that's a forward pass (obviously) and you will be penalised, unless you are French of course, which might mean you have to have a scrum. That's a sort of rugby 'group hug' which is the best place to spot a well-muscled thigh, or occasionally, as they tend to hang on to each other's shorts, a flash of firm buttock. Scrums tend to be very popular with the ladies. Just to make things more interesting though, you can kick the ball up the field.

You can stop your opponent getting the ball over the try line by tackling him. Tackling takes many different forms but all of them are painful. Rugby, like love, hurts. You can't tackle people above the shoulder or pick them up and dump them headfirst on the ground. The referee tends not to like that and will generally rummage around in his pocket and pull out a piece of red cardboard. This means that you have to go back to the dressing room and can't play in the match anymore. You will also be a symbol of loathing to rugby pundits the world over who will denounce this unacceptable play which just 'isn't rugby'.

When you get the ball over the try line, most of the opposition, and a few of your own team will jump on you, making a sort of human Jenga. That will hurt too. If the try is awarded, then the glory boy can come on and try and kick the ball through the sticks which will give you extra points. The glory boy is often easily identifiable as the one with hardly any mud on his shirt. Whether or not the glory boy manages to get the ball through the sticks, there will be comparisons with The God Jonny Wilkinson, either in the form of 'Jonny would have got that' or 'well,yes, that was good, but Jonny was better.'

Scoring:  You score 5 points for a try and then if you kick the ball over the sticks you get another 2 points for a conversion. Converting what to what has never been entirely clear. You can also get 3 points for a drop goal, which is when you pick up the ball mid-match and try and kick it through the sticks. Generally they miss and it is almost impossible to mention a drop goal without mentioning Rob Andrew and The God Jonny Wilkinson in the same breath. Those were two of the finest drop goals in England Rugby history.


Try - that's when you get the ball over that line I was talking about. No-one really knows why it is called a try when you have actually succeeded.

Conversion - see scoring above
Penalty - the best way to score points without doing anything. Wind up the opposition so they get really mad and break lots of rules

Drop kick - Aahh, Jonny... sorry, a drop kick can be taken at any point in the game but the ball must touch the ground first before you kick it.

Knock on - this is when a player fumbles the ball then drops it and knocks it forward. Well you try hanging on to a muddy, greasy egg shaped ball!

Rucks and Mauls - these generally resemble playground scraps in inner city comprehensives or kick out time at a Cardiff nightclub.  In a ruck, the ball is on the ground, usually under a pile of bodies, which means that you can't touch it with your hands. You have to 'ruck' it out with your feet. And no, I don't know why. That's just the rules. In a maul, the ball is off the ground and the players have to stay on their feet. A rolling maul is when the players try to push the ball up the field, with players breaking off and rejoining at the back. It's a bit like a manic version of The Locomotion.  You can get a right telling off for collapsing a maul. Others players can join in the bundle but only from the back. If they join from the side the ref will blow his whistle and give the other team a penalty. However, in the thick of it, anything goes. It's not unusual for eyes to be gouged or body parts bitten off in a ruck or a maul

The scrum - Scrums involve eight players from each team in a 3-4-1 formation. In the front row you have a hooker.... no, no! Not that sort of hooker. The hooker is the player who is responsible for  hooking the ball out with his foot. And if his knee happens to make contact with the opposing hooker, accidentally  of course, so much the better. He is supported by two props, who, well prop him up really. behind him are a bunch of big, heavy blokes whose job it is to push.  They all kneel down and then the second row of the scrum put their hands through the legs of the front row and hang on to their todger. The last row then does the same to the second row. This is possibly what made it so popular in public schools, that and the communal baths after the match. The ref will shout instructions for the team to engage in the scrum. The instructions change with alarming regularity, as do the rules of the scrum but whatever happens, the props will generally use this as an opportunity to give their opposition numbers a playful punch or dead arm.  On the shout of Set, they will hurl themselves together like rutting stags with lots of grunting.  The scrum half will feed the ball into the hooker who will try and hook the ball through his legs and out of the back of the scrum to their team mates. A scrum is no place for the faint-hearted or those who are easily provoked. There is often a lot of conversation in the scrums, often along the lines of 'I'd like to give your wife/girlfriend/mother/dog one'.  At the end of some tournaments, the front rows often comment wryly that their opposite number talked to them more during the scrums than their wives had in the previous ten years.

The Players:

The team is split into two halves. The forwards and the backs.

The backs, all eight of them,  are the pretty boys of the team, often fleet of foot and able to get through an entire game without getting a hair out of place. They generally don't have noses or ears resembling a box full of organic vegetables. They are often very fast. South Africa's Brian Habana very nearly outran a cheetah and probably would have if they'd made the cheetah carry a rugby ball too. Their job is to kick and run the ball up the field while preventing the opposing backs from doing the same.

The forwards are the engine room of the team and like most engine rooms are not that attractive to look at and tend to smell a bit.  They will have flat noses and ears that stick out at alarming angles with all manner of lumps and bumps on them. They generally have thighs like tree trunks and are definitely more attractive from behind than from the front. Their job is to ruck, maul, scrummage push and shove and win the ball for the backs. Forwards have occasionally been known to score tries but they often look like hippopotamuses lumbering across the plains. They are man mountains, most towering well over 6 feet. Simon Shaw was 6' 8, a mere minnow compared to Martin Bayfield's 6'10 and Scotland's Richard Metcalfe, who stood at 7' tall.

The Teams

England. They generally wear white and have a nice little rose on their kit.

Italy - they always come last.

The rest... Gah! Who cares!

And just to finish up here's a totally gratuitous photo of James Haskell naked, and let's face it, you (or do I mean me?) can never get enough.

Never Google 'naked rugby players' - it's
not for the faint-hearted!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Guest Post: E-Learning - The Education of the Future?

Classrooms of today bear very little resemblance to our classrooms of 20 or even 30  years ago. While frontal teaching is still the preferred form of classroom management in most schools, educational facilities are increasingly turning to different types of e-learning in an effort to cut costs, increase scholastic success and prepare the students for the new technological age.
Universities and other institutions of higher education have been putting their courses online for over a decade but the growth of e-learning for elementary (primary) and high school (secondary) students is relatively new. The explosion of new e-learning tools, forums and platforms -- both free and with varying degrees of cost -- speaks to the need that online learning fulfils for 21st century schoolchildren.
There are numerous reasons that schools are incorporating more online learning in their classrooms. Even though e-learning programs demand that each child has his or her own laptop or tablet, entire school districts are investing in the equipment because they believe that, in the long run, the children will perform better and learn more than they do in a conventional learning situation. The United States Department of Education's Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices of Online Learning reviewed  50 independent research projects and concluded that online learning is more effective than traditional face-to-face instruction.
Some of the reasons for expanding online learning include:
  • It's cheaper. Even taking into account the cost of the laptops/tablets and access to the online programs, online learning requires fewer staff members and no text books.
  •  There are more possibilities presented by e-learning programs. Teachers can set up lessons that are asynchronous (independent learning), synchronous (group learning) or blended.
  • Classes can flip. Flipped classrooms are becoming more and more popular, especially in high schools where the students are more capable of learning independently. In a flipped classroom the students review pre-recorded material online and then do the "homework" in the classroom where the teacher is available to assist.
  • It's easier to adapt online learning to varied learning styles than with conventional learning. Students who learn online tend to automatically adapt the learning strategies to their own particular learning style. The teacher's time is not occupied with developing different techniques for individual students since the students can adapt the materials to their own particular learning style on their own.
  • Online learning is flexible. If a student must be absent from the classroom for a period of time, s/he can easily access the material and complete the assignments online.
  • Homeschooling parents have more opportunities to present their children with more and varied information and materials. Homeschooling kids can also connect online and engage in a virtual classroom while enjoying all the benefits of a homeschooling environment.
The benefits of online learning are no longer in question. The role of the teacher in the online classroom, however, is not always clear. Many education professionals, parents and community members are curious about how a classroom teacher facilitates an online lesson. Many people wonder, if the lesson is online, what does the teacher do?
Interestingly enough the teacher's role in online learning is as important as ever. The teacher creates the lesson, facilitates it, guides the students and evaluates their successes in the same way that teachers have always worked. Effective teachers:
  • create new learning environments that allow the students to explore and experiment, think critically, reflect, work creatively and create new knowledge.
  • make learning more effective by using customized tools that aid preparation and programming assessment
  • customize learning experiences
  • build partnerships beyond the classroom
Teachers in an e-learning classroom adopt new roles and skills but continue to serve as the central figure in the student's learning. As educational leader Lowell Milken has noted, "The most direct and enduring way to reach the mind and imagination of the learner is through the mind, imagination and character of the outstanding teacher." This holds as true in the e-learning classroom as it ever did.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Here we come a-wassailing...

Who has a bucket list? Me! And on that bucket list is 'Go Wassailing'. What? I hear you shout. It also has 'Take a Hot Air Balloon over Ayers Rock' but the opportunity for a cheeky wassail presented itself before a trip to Oz, sadly.

I'm the first to admit that I haven't really been a fan of Christmas since round about my 10th birthday and I discovered Santa wasn't real.Quite who that man in the red suit with the reindeer and sleigh that my brother and I SWEAR we saw one Christmas Eve, I have no idea. Christmas seems to have become this revolting fest of consumer-overspending where people drive themselves into debt to buy Little Sally and Little Jonny the newest toy/laptop/iPad/XBox just so they can ignore them for the rest of the  year.

It doesn't help that Christmas starts round about August so by the time December arrives, we are all heartily sick of 'White Christmas', Mariah Carey, Slade and effing chestnuts roasting on an effing fire! And then there's the Christmas Album. Jeez, who doesn't have one these days?  You  mean you don't have Mojo Nixon's 'Horny Holidays' or the Yin Yang Twinz 'We Wish you a Merry Twerkmas'? Really?

What I do like is old traditions - well not wife-beating and drowning witches, obviously - but I have always fancied the idea of a bit of a wassail. The first thing I discovered was that wassail is a noun, not a verb. Wassail is the drink you drink, not the act of drinking it. The second thing I discovered was there are two types of wassailing, One is when you take a communal bowl of wassail from house to house wishing them good health and the other one is when you go to an apple orchard and toast the trees with the wassail, thus encouraging a good harvest in the autumn.

It traditionally takes place on Old Twelvey Night, which pre-Gregorian calendar days, was 17th January. Now it takes place on or around 6th January. So, last Saturday, myself, a friend and her son set off to Ashley Wood Farm in nearby Fonthill Gifford to experience our first Wassail.

The venue was stunning; a huge barn, set in glorious Wiltshire countryside overlooking a lake. The weather had been absolutely vile all day so we were lucky that about an hour before the start of the evening's festivities, the rain cleared and we were treated to a beautiful starry night.

At 6pm we set off by torchlight to an orchard close by, led by the White Horse Morris Men (and women). In the orchard was a large fire surrounded by 12 smaller ones, representing the Twelve Apostles. (There goes myth number two, that it is a pagan festival). The biggest and best tree was selected and a toast made to it, before the wassail was poured over the roots - what a bloody waste! Bits of cider soaked toast are placed in the forks of the branches and lots of noise was made, banging pots and pans and even a couple of gunshots to wake The Sleeping Tree Spirit and scare off the tree demons. Apparently, there was method to the madness of stuffing bits of toast in trees as it apparently encouraged birds and insects and, thus, pollination.A wassail song was sang and the trees blessed, then the twelfth fire, signifying Judas Iscariot, was kicked out with great gusto. There was a slight comedy moment when the Fire Engine was seen racing to the farm, no doubt somebody had reported a large number of fires burning in a field.

The Wassail Toast is read
Then it was back to the barn for food, dancing and drink. The torches had, by now, burned out and we discovered the first slight oversight of the evening as we all stumbled and slipped our way back through a very muddy orchard in the pitch black.

Local company, Toby's Kitchen, provided a great barbeque with proper burgers and sausages and even celeriac soup and with the temperature hovering just above zero, his red hot barbeque was a popular place to hang around.

The dance band struck up a tune and the White Horse Morris started to strut their folky stuff. I'll be the first to admit that I'm a little bit suspicious of men who skip, especially while waving white hankies, but their enthusiasm was infectious and before long myself and my friend were doing the Wiltshire Six Hand Reel with gusto. And I had completely underestimated how tiring all this skipping lark is. No wonder there was barely a beer belly among them. What was really nice to see was several  young people in the Morris and in the band. I would imagine admitting that you like to spend your weekends skipping around with bells on your legs might well leave you open to a certain amount of banter.And being an accordion player in a folk band is unlikely to have quite the same cachet as being the lead guitarist in a rock band.

Having shown our willingness to join in with a bit of audience participation, we found ourselves constantly whisked onto the floor for a bit more country dancing.  I even got a proposal of marriage after my polka - all those country dancing lessons at primary school were finally paying off!

'You polka very well, my dear' said my dance partner (that will probably also give you a rough idea of the age group we are talking about). 'I bet you say that to all the girls,' I replied.

The best dance was a Swedish one which involved lots of polkaing and waltzing which enabled me to channel my inner Strictly Contestant. It was one of those dances where you change partners after ever few minutes and it was actually very enjoyable to be waltzed round the floor by men who had grown up with waltzing. By the time we left, I was almost ready to join up...almost!

So, I have wassailed. I can tick that off my list and start looking forward to that hot air balloon over Ayers Rock.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Happy New Year!

So, goodbye 2013 and hello 2014.  Last year was, for me, my annus horribilis (that's annus, people!)  Not just for me though, for an awful lot of people I know. I've never been superstitious about the number 13 but I certainly wonder whether there might just be something to all this triskaidekaphobia business. How could it be that so many people had such a bad time. I'm talking about cancelled weddings, unexpected and very early deaths, marriage and relationship breakdowns, illness, plague and pestilence (almost).

Anyway, it's over now and I, for one, am really looking forward to this  year. After all, it can't be as bad as last year can it?

Here is my 'in a nutshell' review of 2013.

In 2013 I have:

Refound old friends 
Met some amazing people who I hope will be around forever (you know who you are)
Discovered I was more resourceful than I ever thought possible
Learned some pretty tough lessons
Been to too many funerals
Lost some wonderful friends who left handprints on my heart
Discovered who my real friends are
Not employed a hitman though I have been sorely tempted
Counted my blessings
Started my next book

This year I am hoping to be more active on my blog now that family stuff has quietened down a bit and I already  have some people lined up to do guest post.

Here's to 2014. Please let it be good for me and everyone else I know who has had a truly shitty year!