Saturday, February 28, 2015

A very musical weekend

Last weekend DH and I headed across the Pennines to visit DD for her birthday and to take across to her an old American-style rocker for which we have no room in the new house and of which she is very fond. To our amazement the extremely small car had no trouble in accommodating both the bulky chair and our luggage, which got our trip off to a flying start.

That evening, after her return from church choir practice, DD gave me the first musical treat of the weekend by accompanying some of my elementary clarinet tunes on the piano, thereby totally transforming them. I couldn’t believe how much better they sounded with an accompaniment and this has spurred me on to learn more tunes for future joint sessions. Teaching oneself to play an instrument can sometimes feel rather lonely, so this was a huge encouragement.

The next musical treat came the following day and it was a truly wonderful one. DD and her family had booked to attend a concert by the Saint Petersburg Symphony Orchestra at Leeds Town Hall to celebrate her birthday and when she heard we were planning to visit, she offered to treat me to a ticket as an early birthday present. This is how I came to be sitting almost in the centre of the second row, just behind the conductor and in a perfect position to admire the virtuosity of the soloist, the young Russian-born violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, as he thrilled the audience with his performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

The crowning touch to my musical weekend came next morning, when I stayed behind in church after the morning service to listen to Grandson#1 practising the organ. He’s busy preparing to take his Grade 5 organ exam and I very much enjoyed hearing him playing his pieces and realising just how much progress he has made in the past two years.

Now I’m back home, doggedly practising my very basic scales, exercises and tunes and still inspired by my musical treats. How far I’ll manage to progress with playing the clarinet remains to be seen, but I still love every minute I spend on it.

Image via Google

Friday, February 20, 2015

A worldwide web of friendship

It began in 1997, just after I’d been made redundant from the library and was officially early-retired. Enjoying my new-found leisure, I treated myself to a day trip to the annual Christian Resources Exhibition at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. There I came across a stand run by a new organisation, Christians On The Internet (always known as COIN) through which I was introduced to the concept of mailing lists and began to discover how people I’d never met could become friends.

The next step came three years later, when I first started to suggest to DH that we might look at buying a little cottage in France. As part of my research I joined a couple of French-interest online forums, where helpful strangers offered me a lot of useful advice and where in turn I could eventually share the fruits of my own experience. A recurrence of breast cancer in 2005 brought me on to a couple of support forums where I received a huge amount of help and kindness and it was here first that forum members really began to become friends. Later I had the same experience on other small and friendly forums.

It was on a French-interest forum that I stumbled across my first blog, French Leave (now sadly defunct) and I was hooked. I rapidly discovered more and more blogs, by no means all writing about France, and eventually began to be nagged by the thought that perhaps this was something I too could attempt.

Finally, four years ago today, I took the plunge and launched my first baby post into the ether, helped by an understanding blogger who had kindly offered to add my blog to her blog roll, if I ever summoned up the courage to start one. To my surprise a tiny trickle of comments came in, including one from the writer of the marvellous blog that had first whetted my appetite. She has encouraged me every step of the way since and pointed me in the direction of many other wonderful blogs. Thanks, Helen.

The four years since that first tentative post have been deeply enjoyable and satisfying and my web of online friends has become truly worldwide. Day by day I’m offered fascinating glimpses of life throughout Europe, north and central America, Australia and New Zealand and I never cease to marvel that my own blog has visitors from all over the world.

When I at last gave in and joined Facebook last year, I found many of my virtual (but nonetheless very real) friends from every medium already there to greet me – another strand in a beautiful and rewarding web of friendship that has enriched my life immeasurably. I’ve even managed to meet a few of them in person and would love to meet more. Just imagine the world tour I could make…

Image via Google

P.S. This post will be published while I’m away on a weekend family visit, so there will be no replies until I’m home again. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Who stole February?

Or at least the first half of it…  The last two weeks have been very busy and the coming one will be even worse, with one appointment or another taking me out of the house for a good part of every day and a visit to DD at the weekend for her birthday. I feel tired already. All of this makes me realise that I’d better show a sign of life before search parties are sent out to look for me.

I’m pleased to report that the daily exercises are continuing to foster progress in my hand and wrist and thankfully clarinet practice is sounding a little less dire as time goes on. I’ve also been tackling the boxes of books which have been waiting for me to have two good hands to deal with them, though we now need more bookcases to house all their contents. I’ve even been starting to think about how I would like to develop our new garden, once the weather is warm enough to tempt me outside.

At least I don’t have a mischievous cat undoing all my good work, or I’d never finish anything.

Image via Wikipedia

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Memories of Grandma

One hundred and twenty-five years ago today, in the Lancashire cotton town of Darwen, a little girl was born and given the unusual and pretty name of Rosetta. She was the first child of Swain Fish and his wife Hannah and by the time her sister Mary was born, there would be six brothers and twenty years between the two sisters.

On Rosetta’s birth certificate her father is described as a journeyman brickmaker and over the years the family moved many times from rented house to rented house, as first her father, and then her brothers, looked for work in various brickworks.

Three of the Fish brothers at the brickworks

One of these moves took the family across the Pennines from Lancashire to Yorkshire, where the teenaged Rosetta met a handsome young man, a year older than her, called Tom Sutcliffe. A friendship sprang up between them, which gradually deepened into courtship – an unusual courtship, conducted largely by postcard, after work took Rosetta’s family back to Darwen.

Like many of the working-class girls and women in Lancashire, Rosetta worked in the cotton industry. In her spare time she loved to play the violin and nearly 50 years later I began to learn on this same violin, which one of my sisters still has today.

After their years of long-distance courtship, Rosetta and Tom were finally married in 1915 and their daughter Annie, my mother, was born the following year. 

Rosetta and Annie

Tom was serving in the Army in France and Belgium and continued to keep in touch with his wife by postcard, some severely functional and others extraordinarily pretty.

Five years later, in 1921, their second child, Jack, was born and sadly died soon after birth. This tragic loss precipitated a breakdown in Rosetta’s health severe enough to require hospitalisation. 

Annie’s childhood was overshadowed by her mother’s continuing ill-health, as can be seen from the high number of absences noted on her school report not long before she left school.

Indeed my many memories of my beloved grandmother, the only one I ever knew, are of a woman whose health was never robust and I think this shows in the photos of her. 

My grandparents, my big sister and me

Despite her fragile health Rosetta was devoted to her family and my sisters and I had many happy seaside holidays with Grandma and Granddad. Other memories are of Grandma teaching me to knit and to play cards (she was a demon at rummy!) and of her delicious baking, especially her incomparable parkin.

Oh, we did like to be beside the seaside...

Living next-door as they did for most of my childhood, she and Granddad were an essential part of life for me, always there, ready to listen, when I came home from school with things to share. I also used to love to listen to her in turn, especially when she talked to her siblings and cousins, because then she would lapse into broad Lancashire dialect, which I sometimes struggled to follow.

Early in 1960 Grandma began to show signs of her final illness and she died at home, nursed devotedly by her husband and daughter, in December that year. I was fourteen when she died and part of my childhood died with her, but thankfully my memories of her are still strong and vivid.

The last photo of Grandma

One of the most cherished of these dates from her last birthday. I sat beside her on the bed to which she was already increasingly confined and asked her what it felt like to be 70. She turned to me and smiled and told me she didn’t feel 70, because somehow, when we reach adulthood, we age faster on the outside than on the inside. She thought she’d stopped ageing on the inside a long time ago. As a still-new teenager, for whom every birthday was hugely significant, this made no sense to me and I said so. “It will one day,” she replied. “Just wait and see.”

Fifty-four years after her death and a little over a year short of my own 70th birthday, I now know just what she meant. Wise words, Grandma, wise words… 

Grandma and Granddad as I love to remember them