Saturday, 6 October 2012

Mountaineering with Greyhounds

It sounds like a quirky book title, in the same vein as Salmon-Fishing in the Yemen or A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (both of which I own, one of which I have still to read).

But today, 10 legs and 3 creatures set off up a big hill.

My new house (or hoose now I live north of the border) is at the bottom of the Campsie Fells. For a while I thought I lived at the bottom of Meikle Bin, but thanks to my recent purchase of an OS map, I discovered it's actually Cort-Ma Law.

I've wiggled up the Crow Road a few times in the car, trying to establish just how hard it will be to cycle up, but today, having consulted the map, we stopped at the car park and headed up. And up, and up some more.

We've (and by we, I mean the three of us) done a little hill walking before (once, near the Carron Valley Reservoir the week we moved in). I hadn't really considered the practicalities of 8 speedy-but-spindly legs on 2 leads, and navigating through bogs, round sheep poo and across rocks.

Ronnie is the self-appointed Team Leader (so named by one of our previous dog walkers due to his enthusiasm for everything, he is always at the front charging on) and is always first. Today was no exception. He hesitated for a split second when confronted with the first slope, but was then straight off.  It's quite entertaining (and very energy efficient) being pulled up a slope by two greyhounds.

Ronnie led us up, Wendy taking her turn following him and following me. She was a little hesitant on occasion, but realised we weren't changing our minds. We picked our path around various obstacles, and as we got higher, I started to question the wisdom of this operation. Just on the other side of the slope on the picture, there were sheep.

Walking two recently retired greyhounds with a strong chase instinct/prey drive can be quite entertaining at times. I am constantly unwrapping and stepping over leads, pulling in either dog from lunging after cats/birds/squirrels/crisp packets/cyclists. I have never yet been pulled over, but 65kg of greyhound vs. 55kg of girl, well it wouldn't end well if the hounds set their minds to it.

I started to understand why many dogs are off the lead on mountains. We managed going up, but gradually I realised that what went up would need to come down at some point, and I was afraid.

There was no need to worry. Ronnie, although keen, was very gentle coming down, and didn't pull at all. Mostly he pushed on carefully, waiting when necessary. The only difficulty we had was when he spotted some crows (hence Crow Road). Fortunately this was on a relatively flat bit of grass and no damage was done.

He was also, rather curiously, very interested in the cars passing on the road below us (which you can see in the picture below). But then gradually I realised, these were high contrast brightly coloured moving objects, and as a sighthound bred to chase first and ask questions later, he wouldn't have understood that these were not lures, or rabbits, or Westies, or Jack Russells.

In the end we made it safely down. It was a good day for many reasons.

While we all enjoyed our walk, I will look for something a bit less demanding next time, as the risk of a fall was quite high. When leads and the urge to chase are weighed up, safety has to be the main consideration.

We had our first proper journey into the hills surrounding our new home, one of the main reasons for moving to this particular place.

I saw a plane landing at Glasgow Airport, which is 20 miles away. I saw the hills even further south than this.

I realised how much I love being in this environment, although the rock climbing aspect no longer really appeals.

I realised that my days are now much less structured, and outside of lectures and lessons, I can walk/cycle/run around here to my heart's content.

I realised my general level of fitness is much better than I thought (despite recent illness), and certainly much better than 15 years ago when I made my first tentative ventures into the mountains. This bodes well and I am now looking forward to some more serious hillwalking/mountaineering and even some fell running.

I realised just how near the hills are, and how lucky I am to live here. Our walk took about an hour, and the whole trip took an hour and a half. This is easily doable as part of an afternoon, or a morning. When the summer comes, well, as Eddie Izzard would say on the advert, the opportunities are endless.

I realised just how easy it can be to leave things behind when you want to.

I wished there was someone to share this with, but realised I am ready to start looking again, and realised that loving being outdoors will be a requirement fairly near the top of the list.

I realised that the lovely Wendy has come a long way on her rescue dog journey, and even when 2 unfamiliar dogs ran right up to her, she did not bark or flinch. She stood patiently as I reassured her, and when the dogs went away we had a huge cuddle and lots of fuss. I am SO proud, as she was obviously scared.

I was also proud of Ronnie, who although very bouncy and boisterous on many occasions, turned out to be super gentle when I needed him to be.

Overall, a good day today.


Apologies to anyone who follows me on Twitter or Instagram, as today my tweets and photos have been particularly dog-related...

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Best foot forward....

My first post in WEEKS.

So much has happened, I knew it would be a crazy time but I didn’t realise just how out of control it would feel at times. At the worst, I’ve had a pounding heart, stinking headache, tight chest, even chest pains. Sometimes all at once. At the best, I’ve looked around my new locale during a sunrise or sunset, and have felt incredibly blessed. I’ll take all of the former (although not too often!) if the payoff is the latter.

I’ve finally started at the RCS. My journey started several months ago, back in March. Just over 6 months to the day that I registered.

I met my new teacher, auditioned, jumped through many hoops on the finance front, renovated an old house, cleared out years of junk, cut back on my material possessions, left full time employment, abandoned my beloved harp pupils and Brownies, upped sticksand eventually moved 420 miles North West of tropical North East Essex.

I have left the (normally) suited and booted world of business and finance.

I am now a fully paid up creative type, and a performer and artist of the future. The first time someone referred to me in this way, it was more than I could comprehend. And yet, when I looked around the packed theatre, I was indeed surrounded by many, many more performers and artists. Actors, film makers, producers, composers, opera singers , classical musicians, jazz musicians, in fact disciplines far too numerous to mention.

We had a fabulous lecture yesterday, about Higher Education and what it meant. Initially it was one of those clichéd “turn to someone you haven’t met and discuss what Higher Education is to you” moments. But then we were introduced to a wonderful creative manifesto, courtesy of Bruce Mau - Incomplete Manifesto for Growth. I had been inspired by many other words in the past, but this was a great one for the moment we were in.

As well as this, a wonderful quote was read to us, from On Lies, Secrets and Silence by Adrienne Rich. This was about Claiming rather than Receiving an Education. Frustatingly I can’t find the words on line to share here, but I will be exploring these much more in the future. Claiming being an active, empowered, entitled activity, as opposed to the passiveness of receiving.

I’ve met an inspiring composer, many wonderful guitarists, a lovely bassoonist, a gorgeous actor.  I’m struggling with a lack of tea, and can’t say I’m enjoying the bus journey to and from college.

But the practice sessions I’ve done over the last couple of days have had a new purpose. It’s a cliché, but I feel more free and yet more purposeful. I can’t say what the end result of the next four years will be, but that’s all part of the journey.

The course starts properly next week. I am performing to my guitarist friends in a performing class next week. My first concert is in less than a month. I will be playing some old and some new material. I’m sure the pressure will come, but for now, everything feels good and I am more excited about my future than I have been for a long, long time.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

On a more colourful note

I found this blog Plenty of Colour a little while ago and it's an absolute joy.

I have loved bright colours for a long time, but have often been a little afraid of using/wearing them.

So what better than a beautiful website designed to celebrate colour, organised by palette as well as by use?

I've gradually got braver in terms of the colours I use in my house and those that I wear, and am looking forward to having a very cheerful colourful new house. I've loved exploring Plenty of Colour, with a thirst for inspiration and a real sense of appreciation.

Here is one of my favourite finds from the blog. It's an installation created from coloured sewing thread, by Mexican artist Gabriel Dawe. When I first saw these I thought they were constructed from light or laser beams, but no.... stunning and very uplifting.

Out of control

Moving day is getting closer, many many things on the house list are getting done, but it's an unbelievably expensive time and there is a high level of panic going on.

I've spent most of the last week feeling thoroughly under the weather, having had two colds on the bounce, but have had to keep going because of the volume of stuff that needs to be done. People helpfully tell me to rest (bluntly in some cases), and to find time for myself, and I know they mean well but at the moment it's like a red rag to a bull.

In a way all I am doing is spending time on myself. I have a finite deadline, the classic cliche of an immovable feast, and apart from a lot of practical help from my parents, I really am on my own getting everything done. There is no other option. I can ease up once I've moved and once Fresher's Week is out of the way, but until then there is not much choice. Moving from one end of the country, from a huge house to a small house, does not just happen.

I've just taken 2 sick days from work. I have felt so ill that I have had to give in. I have tried to shut myself off from stressing about everything and sleep when I've needed to but my head is pounding so it's been difficult. It's scary being ill and managing my asthma and trying not to panic as it makes it worse. I drove my car across the road today to leave my drive free for the floor fitters, and felt very unsafe. Because I have handed my notice in at work, I am no longer entitled to sick pay. I frightened myself today by calculating that the money I have lost is equivalent to 3 months' food money. I am quite frugal on food for me and my pooches, plus I am not very tall, but even I can't exist on fresh air. That money will have to be found from somewhere.

Life is about to change in a huge way. It's completely what I've signed up for, but I am genuinely starting to panic. I'm completely overwhelmed. I think I feel worse about everything because I am ill, and am hoping I feel better on many levels very soon. People close to me are and have been much more ill, and I do know I am lucky to be generally healthy, and I am grateful, I really am.

I have a lot of clearing out to do - several years worth of accumulated clutter from a couple of previous live-in relationships, plus a LOT of sheet music and a LOT of bank/debt-related paperwork. Lots of clothes I don't wear, although I have been gradually getting more brutal on this front.

Once I have packed the things I want to take with me, I am moving into a new house, where I know no-one, and I am starting again. No security of a day-to-day work routine. Other than getting up, going to bed, eating and taking my dogs out, everything else is unknown.

It's a tremendous opportunity to build a whole new life, but I am under no illusion how hard it's going to be, and at the moment I am feeling very alone. This really isn't a pity party, although I know it sounds like it. I am excited too but also very bogged down right now.

I've taken some comfort from the fantastic FlyLady - all concept of housework/home management went out of the window a while ago but I don't want this lack of control to carry on into my new house.

I have to dig my harp out tomorrow as I have a wedding on Saturday and I need to practice. I haven't played since the last wedding I did 3 weeks ago. I feel guilty about it but haven't been able to spare any time for practicing.

I feel better this evening than I have done for days, so I am optimistic that tomorrow I will be better still, and I can start making things happen again.

Friday, 17 August 2012

It started with a kick...

I was face down in the swimming pool, fighting for breath enough just managing to co-ordinate my arms and lungs before it came. Thump. A sharp kick, a man's hefty heel made contact with the outside of my right ankle. A glancing blow that caught half of the metalwork in my leg, and left me struggling to understand what just happened.

Physically what just happened was an unfortunate, unlucky blow to my leg, seemingly a regular occurrence on this particular swimming session. It briefly winded me. I was so shocked I didn't know what to do. I wanted to cry out because of the pain and the shock of it all, but my head was about to come out of the water which meant I needed to concentrate on breathing in. I wasn't far from the shallow end, and managed to get myself to the safety of the end of the pool while I pulled myself back together. Mental note to self, it's impossible to swim and cry at the same time.

Emotionally it was so much worse. Next Tuesday would have been my second wedding anniversary. A racing friend is off to fulfil a long held ambition of mine and race at the Manx GP this year. I am in the process of moving my entire life from one of a wage slave to one of a girl who follows her dreams. There is so much going on for me at the moment that until last night, I didn't dare contemplate the extent of it because, frankly, it was all a bit much.

Somehow I managed to keep swimming (see, there goes Dory again!). But in the car on the way home it was a different story and I couldn't hold it in. I rang a very dear friend when I got back to my house, and was grateful when she picked up.

I got home from work today and a running vest had arrived in the post, sent from the charity I am fundraising for. I was excited as my triathlon kit is frankly a bit substandard, and had expected it to be purple as this is the Lymphoma Association's main colour. The vest had purple flowers on, but was bright, lemon yellow. My ex fiance was obsessed with yellow and during our relationship, yellow had gradually taken over my house. I have tried to avoid it as a colour, not consciously because of any hatred towards him, but just because it was his choice not mine. I love sunny, neon, acid bright colours, just not yellow.

Time to reclaim yellow as a colour I think....

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

2 months to go!

Tonight I realised that in 2 months, I will have finished my first day at music college in Glasgow.

I found out last Thursday that my appeal re. the tuition fee loan was successful, meaning I can accept my place. In fact, I just did - I had forgotten in all of the excitement over the last few days, that the closing date was August 1st.

I've handed my notice in at work, and currently everything feels very strange. I will be stopping full time work as I know it in 7 weeks, and even if I get a normal 9-5er after I finish college, that will be a minimum of 4 years away.

It has been a huge decision, and has taken a long time to make (even before the complications of finance made it even harder!). I've accepted that while life hasn't quite worked out as I'd wanted, that's no bad thing.

The strangest feeling of all, though, has been that I will be moving on, and at last I feel ready for that.

I haven't told my little harp pupils yet, or my Brownies, and this will be very hard indeed.

My racing friends are used to this statement as it was frequently uttered/typed, but I really am so excited I could go pop. I'm looking forward to starting a completely new life, a long way away geographically, musically and emotionally.

To quote a phrase much-used in recent weeks - Allez!!!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Bruce Lee - harpist?

I came across this via the BBC News site this morning, in an article citing Bruce Lee as the father of MMA (mixed martial arts) fighting. This was all very interesting, however.....

I was rather struck by Bruce Lee's hand position - perfect thumbs up and fingers down, with the exception of the little finger which isn't used on the harp.

I shall be digging out my copy of Enter the Dragon and studying it in great detail.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Pausing for breath

Things are quiet on the harp front at the moment. I'm about to go into my second weekend of no weddings - a treat at this time of year. It's a BIG birthday for a very dear friend, so I have been keeping it free. We are off to one of my favourite ever cities. I took refuge there after the wedding that wasn't, and enjoyed a wonderful honeymoon for one at The Royal Crescent Hotel. I can't stretch to staying there for a while, but I remember the time very fondly.

I'm enjoying having a little time to myself, and have used it to literally get my house in order, hopefully ready for the impending move north. This is currently on hold, waiting on a form to be filled in for an appeal - my tuition fee loan application has been rejected due to dropping out of previous studies, and I am waiting on a letter from my doctor to explain the circumstances. I am not a patient person so this is a tricky exercise in hoping and trusting that things meant for me won't pass me by.

I read lots of blogs over the course of a week, and a popular feature on many of them is a weekly round up of lovely links to internet joy. I have wanted to do this for a long time, but am not sure I can commit to a specific day each week. Tuesday is always a tricky day in the week (from my time in a previous job, it was everyone's most hated day - no weekend in immediate memory, not even the middle of the week yet) so maybe I'll adopt that as an attempt to spread some cheerfulness.

I discovered this recently Play Me I'm Yours - Stunning Pianos in Toronto - these are dotted around Toronto, open for all to play as they wish until the end of July. Each one has been painted by an artist from each country taking part in the PanAm Games in 2015. I saw one such piano in Colchester once, and loved the concept. Pianos are many people's first instruments, and a feature in many homes up and down the country. The piano was my first love, the first instrument I learned, and unfortunately once I progressed on the harp, my time at the piano became very limited. I'm not sure Play Me I'm Yours would work in our current UK climate, but how incredible would it be if some way of bringing music to the masses could have been incorporated into the up and coming Olympics!

I also found Pianists from the Inside - this was an utter gem, given my previous post on struggling to find much in the way of discussion of creativity in the context of music. I discovered it via Twitter, and particularly enjoyed the article exploring the impact of a bad teacher early in one's musical career.

Completely unrelated to music, or pianos - one of my favourite websites ever, the fabulous Cake Wrecks is devoted to cake disasters. Some are hilarious, some are incredibly rude, some are just plain bizarre. Also featured are episodes of genius - a recent favourite was Swoon-worthy Steampunk Sweets. The Steampunk thing has gone mostly over my head, I love the clothes but don't really 'get' it. But in terms of sheer beauty, these cakes have it. Stunning.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

An Anatomy of Inspiration

I read this wonderful article on Brain Pickings recently An Anatomy of Inspiration

Over the last few months I've really started to explore my own creativity, and also what creativity is and  what makes a creative type. There is a lot out there about artists (as in the painting/drawing/sculptor sense), about writers and photographers. As I mentioned the other day, I'm struggling to find much about musicians and the creative process involved in performing and composing music.

I'll be ordering the book, partly because it is written by a music historian, and partly because it considers musicians as well as artists and writers.

I'm in the process of (hopefully) leaving my day job as an accountant, with a regular salary, regular hours and fairly clearly defined responsibilities. So I'm really looking forward to reading about the daily routines and habits of other artists - and by artist, I mean in the general sense.

Hopefully in September I will be at music college, and while there will be a structure that comes with registering on a fairly intensive course, I have no idea what my days will look like, and how I will fill them apart from with practising and walking my dogs. I am looking forward to having time and space to explore my own creativity and hopefully work on writing some of my own music.

I know I am a morning person these days. My ex husband was almost incapable of sleeping in, and when we got our first dog Bubble, he was very much on race kennel time and was an early riser. He also didn't understand the concept of a weekend. He slept in until 10am one Sunday when we were particularly hungover, and we woke up with a fright because we thought the dog was dead - so unusual was it to not be awoken by a gentle whine from down the stairs.

Having had a fairly long commute over the last 6 years, and being in charge of the early morning dog walk when I was still married, I was often at my desk at 8am to beat traffic and because I was up early anyway. I find it very hard to stay late at my day job, and one of my old bosses was very understanding of my distinct productivity slide after 6pm - she would pack me off, knowing better than I did that a good night's sleep would solve whatever budget/spreadsheet/other techy issue I had been unable to fix that day.

As a musician, late nights are going to come with the territory, which will take some getting used to.

I am ready for the change, it's very exciting being on the verge of stepping into a new existence.

I'll let you know what I think of the book....

Sunday, 8 July 2012

All You Need is Love?

I played at a wonderful wedding yesterday. The bride was a colleague of one of my friends, and works in the same office that I used to work in. I met the bride and groom last year when they came round for a consultation before booking me to play for their wedding. They both love music, in particular the Beatles, and this was therefore a great opportunity to add some fantastic songs to my growing repertoire list.

They walked down the aisle after their ceremony to All You Need is Love by the Beatles.  A wonderful song, but tricky on many levels. Firstly the rhythm is not standard 4/4 - it's either in 7/4 or 4/4 then 3/4 depending on your point of view and the score you are using.... Secondly, the bit that makes the song is incredibly chromatic, which involves a lot of frantic footwork moving the pedals. In the chorus, where you sing "All You Need is Love (dah dah dah dah dahhhh)" the dah dah... bit is the part I mean. It was challenging but sounded great on the day, and I was trying not to be too choked when playing it.

Add to that a lovely venue with very helpful staff, and I was a very happy harpist when I got home yesterday.

Today has been a very slow day as I had a bit of a hangover this morning, having been out with one of my closest friends last night. I didn't have many plans apart from watching the MotoGP and the tennis, both of which were very entertaining. The tennis in particular was gripping, and very emotional at the end.

Today, my gorgeous greyhound girl Wendy has made bold steps and joined me on the sofa. In fact, she pushed Ronnie (boy hound) off so she could stay on with me.

Six months ago, I adopted two retired racers from my local Retired Greyhound Trust branch

It was love at first sight with Ronnie, who bounded into the RGT office and promptly went and hid under the desk. My heart leapt out of my chest. He then couldn't get out so waited patiently to be rescued, then went on the hunt for treats in the cupboards. I reserved him straight away. I had to wait a couple of weeks before I could take him home, so went to visit him a couple of times to make friends properly. The second time, after a nice long walk together, he refused to leave the office to go back to his kennel. I like to think we had bonded.

I didn't meet Wendy until the third time. I had wanted a second dog to keep Ronnie company. She had been returned to the kennels by another family who had changed their minds. They had given the kennels a load of pithy excuses about her behaviour, none of which stacked up, so the kennel suggested she should be returned to save any toing and froing and to give her the best chance of finding a good home.

She is smaller than Ronnie, and as soft as silk to touch. She has a slightly curly tail, which we think was broken and then didn't quite heal straight. She had the biggest ears for a little dog, almost like an Alsatian. Wendy is on the left below, Ronnie is snoozing on the right.

Ronnie had never been in a home before, but settled very quickly apart from a slight nervousness around strangers in the house. He was very affectionate from the very start, and quickly learnt his name and the word No. 

Wendy did well too, but has kept herself to herself pretty much since Day 1. She has always been happiest in her bed, on her own. Or sunning herself in the garden, again on her own. I have never tried to force this, feeling that she would come round when she was ready. She has always operated on her own timescale, particularly going out into the garden for a last visit before bedtime. She responds to her name with a little wag of her tail, and then ignores you and carries on with whatever she was sniffing.

Ronnie discovered the sofa within a couple of hours of moving in, and has rarely moved since, and he loves nothing better than wriggling up for a good cuddle with his head tucked in the crook of my elbow and resting on my lap.

I'm delighted that Wendy has recently started to wander through into the living room regularly, and likes to lie by my feet. She loves a fuss around the ears, and is very content to stand and have a stroke.  Even better, just the last couple of days, she has been found on the sofa, but until today, as soon as I sat down with her, she would spook and run off.

Today she has hopped up to sit with me, and to my great surprise, chased Ronnie off when he tried to join in. He took the hint, and chose the other sofa instead. Wise boy.

So I have had a very enjoyable afternoon, with one dog on one sofa, and one dog on another. Greyhounds are known to snooze a lot, and I'm afraid their slumber was frequently interrupted today, as the tennis was quite tense and I got rather into the spirit of the game.

Poor Wendy is covered in bumps, dings and scars on the outside, hallmarks of a tough life as a racer. Ronnie has lots too, but Wendy has more. Gradually though, she is coming out of her shell and growing in confidence all the time. She barks less at other dogs on our walks. I feel very proud that this beautiful little dog (well, little as greyhounds go at least) is starting to enjoy life and settle in. She's very camera shy but I managed to sneak this little picture of her recently.

Monday, 2 July 2012


I love the internet. I love blogs, and reading, and finding little gems that make me go "a-ha" or "I so agree" or "Wow I never thought of it like that!"

One of the things I use the internet for the most is inspiration for life in general - seeking enlightenment, seeking others into the same things as me, you get the picture.

I read several blogs/websites regularly, and one that I return to often is that of Nubby Twiglet - Graphic Designer and Blogger . I found her website via that of Rock n Roll Bride , the only wedding-related addiction I have not been able to give up since planning the wedding-that-wasn't in 2010.

As well as reading about what she's been up to, what she's been working on and which shoes/outfits she's been wearing, I love reading her weekly Link Love posts, as she covers such a great range of topics. Many of these are related to living the creative lifestyle, developing yourself as an artist/designer and making your skills work for you so you are fulfilled creatively, and these are the ones I find the most inspiring.

It's only in the last year or so that I have begun to scratch my creative itch, as to be honest it never really occurred to me that being a musician counted as a creative industry. I can't quite believe I just wrote that. I haven't managed to find very much in the way of living the life of a musician (beyond being a classical musician) but am fairly sure I am looking in the wrong places!

Through Nubby, I found the fantastic Brain Pickings - I'm not sure how I would describe this site other than, well, it makes me think. A LOT. I get a weekly newsletter on a Sunday that gives me great food for thought ahead of my working week.

This piece, from February, is a particular favourite at the moment.

How to Find Your Purpose and Do What You Love

I'm not sure the answer to this really exists, certainly not in the way I am looking for, an easy answer to just go "A-ha" and everything will be magically fixed. But I am enjoying the journey of exploration.

Hopefully I'll gradually find more and more musical inspiration too.

Thursday, 21 June 2012


So. Nightrider has passed, and I am left with no aches or pains, and some wonderful memories and the feeling that the night was one of the defining events in my life. Truly one of the best things I've ever done, up there with passing my motorbike test and finishing my first racing weekend at Brands Hatch in far from last place.

The harp has had a little bit of a rest since my recital, and I've had some time to mull over where I am going and what happens next.

I read many blogs, a number of them harp related, but one of the most interesting ones is that of Deborah Henson-Conant at

Deborah's influence on contemporary harp and performance cannot be overstated - I'll talk more about this another time. Recently she confirmed that she will be joining Steve Vai on a tour, and her blog has recently covered some of her preparation for this.

Today I read this post, and it really resonated/struck a chord/(insert musical cliche) with me. DHC - Field of Musical Landmines

It is SO good to know I'm not alone in feeling out of my depth when working with other musicians and taking the harp a little off piste. In particular, the explanation of playing the wrong notes even when you're playing the wrong string was so clear, and I will use it to mention to others.

Also her feeling of worrying whether the other musicians were wondering if the notes were wrong because she was playing them wrong, or if she hadn't worked out the harp logistics yet - I have been here so many times.

I'll be reading with interest and can't wait to hear some of the results of all her incredibly intensive work.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Nightrider - long post alert

This post relates to my adventures on Saturday night when I took part in a 100km night time charity bike ride round London - organised by . I was raising money for the Lymphoma Association as they are my aunt and uncle's chosen charity. 

My uncle David (my mum's little brother) had a long but successful fight against Burkitt's Lymphoma in 2007-8, and earlier this year my aunty Laura (David's wife) was diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma. They are both young and it has been a huge shock to our family, firstly when David was ill but even more so when we heard Laura had been diagnosed as well.

This is a very long post but it was an incredibly special night for me, although very sad in places too.


Saturday was a very busy day to start with – a very long wedding that I’d done a lot of preparation for. Once that was over, I did a drive by on Waitrose to get some nibbles for the ride (including a tough choice, Jelly Babies vs Dolly Mixtures) and then headed home. I put my head down and had about an hour and a half’s sleep – this wasn’t difficult as I am always wiped out after weddings. I faffed about, packed all my kit and was in the car by 7pm.

On the drive down to Gabriel’s, I flicked over to Radio 4 and heard Richard Branson talking on a fascinating programme all about his life and adventures. He talked about some very near death experiences on his balloon adventures, but most of all what struck me was that as soon as he finished one, he was straight on to planning the next.

My fantastic friend Gabriel lives in Crystal Palace, conveniently 5 minutes ride from the start of the Nightrider route. He had kindly volunteered to ride with me to the start and collect me the next morning. He also cooked me some dinner and put the lights on my bike – very much appreciated. I was bouncing around in my normal excited state and was probably being mildly annoying.

The time came and we headed off to the park. The queue to register was huge, but it moved quickly and before long I was at the start, bang on time. 23.55. We counted down from 10 and off we went.

The first stretch was quite dull bar a couple of fairly impressive inclines, but I managed fine and felt positive about the long ride to come.

A few miles in and my bike started to feel really hard to ride, I could hear a hissing sound and was afraid I had a puncture. I knew I couldn’t be that tired yet so stopped a couple of times to check things over, thinking my brakes were jammed. Even riding down hill where I should have been freewheeling, progress was still painfully slow.

I thought the first stop was meant to be at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, so planned to get some mechanical help there, but I gradually realised this wasn’t the case as we went past and then headed through Greenwich. Eventually as I got through Deptford there were a few other riders by the side of the road – so I stopped and asked for some help. Fellow rider #1824 very kindly helped me as we worked out the back wheel had dislodged a bit and was rubbing against the frame, no wonder it was such hard work. He dropped it out and tightened everything back up, and off I went again, and riding was so much easier this time!

The first stop finally came into view – not really realising where I was, I heard someone say we were at Tower Bridge and then as I turned around, it came into view, all lit up. 

It was about 1.15am so we had made pretty good time. I remember feeling a bit disappointed as I thought we were going to ride across Tower Bridge. I had a quick loo break, glugged some drink down and had a quick nibble then got back on my bike. One of the marshals directed us - “turn left and head over Tower Bridge” – I was thrilled. I’ve walked over it many times, been over it in cars etc but have never driven over it myself. There was a photographer there – the first shot I know I was definitely pulling a daft face but managed to smile for the second one so hopefully I will be able to find that online somewhere.

We headed through the City and progress really slowed, as there were so many traffic lights to stop at and at approx 1.30am, still a fair bit of traffic around. Plenty of people were still out and about and were asking what we were doing and cheering us on which was really uplifting – and incredibly funny in places!

We headed east out of the City into Canary Wharf which was pretty special – I’d been briefly before but this was a few years ago when it wasn’t so developed. Seeing it so quiet at night was very eerie. A policeman on the least secure security checkpoint ever cheered us on, and after looping round all the towers we then passed him again on the way out.

I’d started to feel a bit rough and had started to hurt round my stomach. I suspected my fetching bum bag was a bit tight – normally I wear it on my motorbike and snug is good so it doesn’t flap around. Not so in this case, and as soon as I loosened it off, I felt much better.

The next break point appeared at Mile End stadium, another quick loo stop here and another munch. A kind marshal topped up my water bottle and waved me off towards the next leg – past the Emirates stadium and up up up to Alexandra Palace. I felt cold getting going again after the stop but this didn’t last long and I was fine once I got going again.

Just after the stop, I saw another cyclist who had stopped and was struggling to hold her bike up while she got her pump out so I stopped to see if I could help. She was OK, just struggling with her coordination a bit, and I was struggling to get my words out – I was trying to say, are you OK, you look like you know what you were doing – but it came out as a right old garble and I realised how tired I was. It was about 3am by this point, so no surprise there. In the end she decided to head back to the Mile End stop, and I carried on.

The postcodes on the street name signs moved up the E numbers, and as I hit E3 I thought of my friend Zanna who lives in Bow, and felt jealous as she was probably snoozing away just feet away from us! I saw a bus going to Romford Market and saw signs marked A12 Chelmsford, and felt a bit flat that I was so far away from home.

As we rode across Victoria Park (on roads I’ve been down with Zanna many times in various states!), I could see the sky was starting to get lighter already. The E numbers got higher, then hit E9 which I recognised was getting towards Hackney. At one point I saw a beautiful fox, with the bushiest tail I ever saw, obviously not bothered by humans as he/she was pretty close to me.

Es headed into Ns and I knew we would shortly get to the Emirates Stadium. As football stadiums go it was certainly impressive but all I could think about was how big the climb was going to be up to Alexandra Palace. I’d walked up it a few years before but thankfully couldn’t remember any details.

I remember going past Finsbury Park interchange as my back started to ache here. I was then surprised to go past the actual Finsbury Park – felt a bit daft here as I didn’t know it was actually a real park!

So. A few little inclines and there it was, the unmistakeable climb up to Alexandra Palace. It was very long rather than being very steep, but it was hard going. By this point we had covered 60k/40 miles so were just over halfway. As we got nearer the top, people were starting to get off their bikes. While I really, really wanted to ride up, I am afraid to say I followed suit and walked the last third of the hill.

The sun was really starting to come up now and when we got to the top, we could see over the whole of London – the Shard and Canary Wharf on one side (to the right of photo), the City (on left of photo) on the other. It was very uplifting thinking that not so long ago, I had ridden past those areas that now looked so very far away.

Another quick loo stop, then I grabbed a drink by my bike. A guy started chatting, asking me who I was riding for. It turned out that not only was he also riding for the Lymphoma Association, he was actually someone I was in touch with via Twitter. I asked, was he Ian, Mel’s Dad, and he said yes. His daughter Mel had died a couple of years previously and he was fundraising and raising awareness of an organisation that had supported his family, just as I was. He is doing a 140 mile Coast to Coast ride this coming weekend!

Meeting Ian, my thoughts turned from keeping myself on my bike, to why I was actually doing the ride. It was a sad and very poignant moment. I thought of Mel and of Ian and his family, and was so grateful that David and Laura are still with us when so many others are not. Mel was younger than me when she died.

A quick chat with Ian, who was on his third Nightrider, revealed the distinct possibility of more, and bigger, hills around Highgate.

Sure enough, after some false hope in the form of going downhill, before long we began to climb again through some beautiful residential streets full of big old houses. This was Muswell Hill, then Highgate. I had to walk/push up two rather substantial hills. I was now regretting the fact that I hadn’t eaten more than a couple of dolly mixtures at Ally Pally. I doubt I would have made it all the way up both hills, but I might have done a bit better if I’d eaten a bit more!

We passed Hampstead Heath and Kenwood House – I remember my back was really starting to hurt by now.

The next part I remember was one of my favourite parts of the night. Hurtling downhill past Belsize Park station, I was on my own at this point, and was the only person on the road. This was very special and I really loved the sense of isolation and being out and about while everyone was asleep. I can only begin to imagine the hustle and bustle of that road during the daytime, but here as I whizzed down the hill, I could collect my thoughts a bit and knowing the hills were over for a while, I began to relax again.

We came through Camden, then began to head into the West End and I started to recognise street names. We turned onto Regent Street, which was a feast of union jack flags, left over from the jubilee. We came across Oxford Circus, past the big Topshop which is a huge part of my day job.

Then we turned onto Shaftesbury Avenue. The sun had really started to break through by now, and I was struck by the polluted haze of the city. We turned into Covent Garden, across lots of cobbles – an interesting experience riding across them and one I don’t feel the need to repeat!

Then across Waterloo bridge – had a quick photo stop here as it was pretty much daylight. According to the clock on Big Ben, it was 5.45 and the city looked beautiful. 

Soon after, we reached the final break stop at the Imperial War Museum. I made a point of eating here although I still didn’t really feel like it.

We set off again, this time past the Oval cricket ground. Having an avid cricketer for a father, I had seen this on the telly lots, but had never appreciated just how close the flats and houses are to the ground itself. After the Oval, we headed  back towards the river again, and just before we crossed Westminster bridge, I found myself behind Ian again. He stopped just outside Westminster Abbey and I carried on.

We rode down Whitehall, past all the memorials. Around here and Pall Mall, there was LOTS of horse poo – again left over from the jubilee. We rode past past Trafalgar Square and into St James’s. The traffic in the city was starting to get busy now, and I was amazed how many people were up and starting their days already at 6.30am.

At Hyde Park Corner, I took a wrong turn here – just one more arrow would have made things a bit clearer, but I definitely wasn’t the only person to make the mistake. I turned off down Grosvenor Place rather than going straight over onto Knightsbridge. Some people followed me, but I made to pull over and they stopped too. Fortunately someone knew where he was and where we needed to go.

The downside – he said “I’m sure we are meant to head up Knightsbridge past the Albert Hall and then past Harrods”

At this point, I’m afraid to say, my only thoughts were, I don’t want to see the f**king Albert Hall or Harrods, I just want to get to the end!

As we went past the Albert Hall, I thought of the last time I was there, with Donna to see Goldfrapp playing an incredible gig. This was actually the first time I saw an electric harp (before I started playing again) and I remember being very excited about it.

A woman at the traffic lights had said we only had 10k to go and I felt relieved. Then we headed past the museums, past V&A and past a little Italian coffee shop where I’d caught up with Paivi for a good gossip, then we looped back along Brompton Road – I barely registered Harrods! Finally we headed back over the river, across Chelsea Bridge this time.

It was starting to feel like a very long 10k. We started to see signs for Clapham and knew it wasn’t far. One of the marshals said it was now 6k to the end. There were a couple of minor hills, and the group I was cycling with at this point had gone very quiet. It was hard work for everyone by now. By this point I was counting as I was pedalling, just 1,2,3,4 each time. I used to do this when I was climbing and it’s surprisingly effective at keeping you going.

I pulled over at Clapham Common to text Gabriel to let him know I really wasn’t far away now. Back At the Imperial War Museum, I’d optimistically sent Gabriel a message saying I wouldn’t be long, but trawling round some of the most exclusive parts of London really took ages with the traffic. I could have cursed the woman at the Albert Hall – looking at the map now I think she meant 10 miles not 10k!

I rode past some bizarre shop called This and That and Something Else (or something like that) and remember starting to feel really really incredibly tired by this point.

Gradually more road signs said Crystal Palace, and there it was. The very last hill we all knew was coming.

I got up it via a mixture of riding and walking, and was mortified to be passed by a girl on a bike that appeared to have hardly any gears, and to add insult to injury her bike had a basket on the front.

I walked with another girl briefly, and mentioned about the basket, and the girl I was walking with said she was beyond feeling any shame now, and she just wanted to get to the end. I had to agree.

Sure enough, at the top of the hill, we could see the park which meant the finish point. We rode briefly down the hill and into the park. It was really busy with people collecting medals and getting in the queue for breakfast. The time as I came in was 7.53, so I had taken 8 hours to complete the ride.

Gabriel was waiting, flaked out on the grass, enjoying the early morning sunshine.

The weather had been unbelievably kind, perfect in fact. The previous week had been rain and wind, more rain, more wind, and I was really worried about what sort of conditions I was going to be riding in. I’m writing this now and it’s hammering down outside, so to have had a little window of no rain and no wind just at the right time, well I feel very blessed to say the least.

I saw a guy who I'd been in the queue with, who looked far more like a regular cyclist than I did, and I was pleased to hear that I'd only finished half an hour after him.

Gabriel took a couple of very unflattering photos but frankly, after being up all night, I doubt any photo would have been particularly attractive. I couldn’t stop rubbing my eyes, a combination of being awake all night and wearing contact lenses as well as a bit of smog and general dirt/grime. By the time we got back to his flat (up hill again!!!) I had very fetching pink eyes.

We celebrated with a G’n’T which I have to say, knocked me absolutely sideways. But after the buzz of finishing the ride, I figured something to get me off to sleep was not such a bad thing. I had a bit of a stretch, much to Gabriel’s amusement, and then headed off to bed.

The after effects? I was a bit stiff on Sunday afternoon, and had an ache in my right knee, on the exact spot where I landed after getting knocked off my motorbike when I was 17. I haven’t felt anything there in years so that was a bit strange. Back at work on Monday, I still felt a tiny bit stiff, noticeably if I had been sitting for a while. But other than that, I’m absolutely fine.

The ride was brilliantly organised (apart from a clarifying arrow that would have helped on Hyde Park Corner). The break stops were well manned and all the volunteers were so kind and helpful, doing their best to keep our spirits up. Not having done an event like this before, I didn't have a clue what to expect, but everything went really smoothly and I have to thank all those involved.

Most people rode in groups but when I wanted to, I chatted as I went, and lots of giggles were shared at some of the nightlife going on around us, particularly after the Emirates stadium where a group of guys were laughing at us for stopping at traffic lights. It was great to meet Ian, and to take plenty of time to reflect on why I was doing the ride.

Mostly I was happy with my own company, lost in my own thoughts and enjoying the whole experience as I rode. I’ve never done a big organised charity event before, let alone such a mammoth undertaking. I did a few bike rides to get some training in, but harp events meant that this was probably not enough. Although, I doubt I would have got up all of those hills unless I was on a motorbike, regardless of how much training I’d done! 

Best of all, I’ve rediscovered my sense of adventure and am looking forward, Richard Branson style, to the next event. I hope to continue with my fundraising for the Lymphoma Association, and am looking forward to training for September's triathlon.

If you would like to sponsor me, my page is still open - sponsorship page - it's via Virginmoneygiving which is a not for profit organisation that distributes funds raised to my chosen charity. Every £ is gratefully appreciated.

For those who are interested, a rough guide to the actual route is here:

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Umming and ahhing

Long time no update.... lots going on which I will talk about a bit more next week when I'm off work.

My college plans have hit a fairly major stumbling block, and this is causing yet another monumental period of soul searching. I think I can find a way round the block, but I'm not sure if I want to go now.

I know it's natural to wobble but I wish things would just calm down a bit so I can hear myself think.

Sunday, 6 May 2012


On Friday I did a gig with my favouritest harp friend for her birthday. The venue was smack bang in the middle of Soho, so getting three harps there was a major logistical adventure. They just about fitted in the car.

Parking was a nightmare, and we moved 3 harps plus a variety of stools, stands, bags, mics and the 2 of us down a flight of very narrow stairs. We were there early for a soundcheck and the whole thing was exhausting before we'd even started!

Tuning was done in between the first act and the start of our set - but it was a nightmare with a full house and music playing over the PA. We did our best but it was relaxed to say the least!

The set was a mix of harp solos, duets and collaborations with others. It was Susannah's birthday and she had decided to finally showcase her harp playing to her closest friends - it was a real privilege to be a part of and we had a blast. The venue was very small and it was a little bit tricky swapping leads and stands all the time, but given it was our first set performed in this way, it was a great success and we had some brilliant feedback from the audience.

Yesterday I drove home from Zanna's, had a very quick turnaround and headed back down the A12 to my friend Caroline's wedding. 

I hadn't seen her and some of our other friends in a couple of years, and it was a very emotional experience being part of her big day - and this was the first wedding I had been to as a guest without my harp for a long time so I was able to relax and really enjoy myself. 

It was a very stylish but very informal day - she had said from the start she just wanted to see everyone and have them together for a big party. There were photos of all her friends and family all around, including a beautiful one of her dad on one of his race bikes. Her dad had died very suddenly just a few weeks ago, so to say it was a tough time for her and her family would be an understatement. 

I caught up with old friends and promised not to leave it so long next time. I enjoyed swapping stories with new friends as to how we all knew Caroline and it was great fun piecing together who everyone was and how they fitted into her life. The band that played in the evening were brilliant and everyone on the dancefloor was completely outclassed by Caroline's 5 year old niece who is clearly a very talented dancer in the making - seriously, her sense of rhythm was incredible.

So. 2 days spent with close friends, and I'm now sat here alone, enjoying a very lazy Sunday morning before I head off to my harp lesson in a bit. After that I MUST crack on with the decorating to get the house straight. I'm thinking about moving my whole life a long way north in a few months and how this will mean leaving friends behind, and what it will be like making new ones, and how difficult (but exciting!) this will be.

I think there will be tears today - taking a couple of steps back from the normal routine always gives space to ponder, and there is a lot of pondering to be done. It's gradually sinking in but I've had so much to do, there's not really been time to take it all in. I love how there's always some music for how you're feeling, and this has just popped into my head. *shuffles off to buy some Moloko*

Monday, 30 April 2012

Mountains to move

So.... I got in! I haven't formally accepted yet but the decision is made and I have started the battle plan. In 5 months time I will be getting ready to start my 2nd week at the RCS.

If I think about things too hard, it all becomes rather overwhelming, and so I am trying to concentrate my energy on concrete things that need doing and sorting out - my house needs finishing off and putting up for sale, and I need to find somewhere to live north of the border. I've found this year that throwing myself into something distracting is a good way of combating any nerves!

In the mean time, I have a birthday gig for my harp buddy coming up this Friday, a pupils' concert later in May, and a faintly Jubilee themed recital in June.

My practice is becoming more and more focussed and I am loving the feeling of general satisfaction and productivity that is coming as a result. It's been a long time coming.

I've reduced the number of weddings I'm taking on this year, and boy was that a good idea in terms of overall workload and things to pack into my weeks. However the last one that I did was wonderful - beautiful surroundings, friendly guests and helpful venue staff. Best of all the bride wore an incredible and  very unique frock - and as a closet fashionista, I have to confess that a huge part of the excitement for me is seeing what the bride is going to wear!

Last Friday morning, I was thrilled to receive a really beautifully written thank you note for playing at a castle wedding in March. This was much appreciated as while the venue is stunning and the acoustics incredible, the logistics of getting the harp up to the ceremony room are not pleasant.

Overall, many small shifts are occurring - and I was really pleased to notice last week that I had a whole practice session where I felt physically relaxed while playing.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Back to reality

This is my first normal 5 day week at work for quite a while. In some ways, it's been good to get back to earth and try and re-establish a bit of a routine. My dogs have been in and out of the kennels, I've had a parking ticket and managed to go over my overdraft limit - both unlike me and entirely accidental. But it's definitely been a sign to just watch things a bit.

I've done some really good intense practice the last few days, and tonight was the best for a long time. I'm working on some duets for my harp buddy's birthday party in a couple of weeks, and working on some bits for my next recital which is in June. The audition has been a really good experience in so many ways, but mainly it has proved that when I really put my mind to it, I can achieve a lot in a short space of time. I can't keep that pace up indefinitely, but I have taken a lot from it and will be able to use this for a spot of re-balancing. (again!)

I'm working on I Feel Good, a piece written by Monika Stadler. I was incredibly lucky to work with her in Italy last year, I found her very inspirational and supportive both at and away from the harp. I Feel Good is probably my favourite of the pieces she has published, it starts so simply and then gets rather more complicated all the way through. It's pretty infectious and when she plays it, I can't help tapping my feet or clicking my fingers or something along with it.

Lastly, here are some photos from last weekend - it feels like so long ago already, I can't believe it was just a week ago. Our rather talented friend Natasha took them for us.

I did a gig on the Friday with John and Frankie, a real mixed bag where we did a mixture of jazz standards and blues songs, plus I did a couple of harp solos. I was begged to play Stairway to Heaven which went down rather to well - I'm hoping to get some video footage of this.

This was our last gig together for a little while, as Frankie was about to leave for Liverpool. It was an emotional night, and we all went that little bit further with our music and it really came off - the pub was packed, we had people dancing along while we played and the atmosphere was just brilliant. So we had a little photocall at the end of the night just for a souvenir, and I love this picture of all three of us together.

On the Sunday night, Frankie had a bit of a farewell jam night - she is a rather well connected girl so many local musicians came along to join in and see her off. 

One of my fantastic friends had built me a new stand for my electric harp, and seeing as this harp had brought me and Frankie together (I was playing it at an open mic night in town), it was really fitting that I played it the last time I would see her in her current incarnation. I broke my own golden rule, I was super tired and went out with dirty hair so looked a bit scruffy, but again I love the picture.

It's so sad to think we won't be together for a while - I have learnt so much from playing with Frankie and John. But it's hopefully been the start of something wonderful, and I plan to find some other poor unwitting souls to play with soon.