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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past.”

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 30.

When I moved house a year ago one box mysteriously went missing. The removal company packed absolutely everything; I packed none of it. Nothing was left behind in the flat I vacated – I know because I cleaned it afterwards. There was nothing left in the removal company’s lorry either according to the person I spoke to on the phone. Nevertheless several months after moving I discovered a few things were missing. Initially I thought perhaps I’d mislaid them somewhere, then as I missed more things I began to realise exactly what I’d lost. I still don’t know everything that’s gone. Every so often I remember something else I’ve not seen.

 

The main thing I’ve lost is a box labelled “memorabilia” containing theatre programmes, tickets, flyers, souvenirs and various other bits and pieces I’ve collected over the years. I also lost a stack of theatre programmes that weren’t in the box.

 

I was devastated when I realised quite what I’d lost as those programmes missing include the only two signed ones I had: Much Ado About Nothing, signed by David Tennant and Catherine Tate, and The Crucible, signed by Richard Armitage.

 

Now I have wonderful friends and one of those lovely friends was kind enough to gift me the programme she had signed by Mr A when she was standing with me in the queue outside the stage door at The Old Vic. She had another signed programme she won in a competition so was happy to let me have the other one. Everything else is lost forever.

 

Of course none of the things I’ve lost are worth anything but every little scrap of paper was a memory, something to be cherished.

 

As this year ends I’ve decided to do something positive about all those distant and not so distant memories. I’ve been blessed by the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen so I’ve started to put together a record.

 

It seems that even without my box of memories I have quite a talent for recalling things from as far back as when I was just 8 years old. The internet is a wonderful thing and it has enabled me to realise exactly how lucky I have been.

 

Aged just 8 years old I saw Alfred Molina (Chocolat, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Spider-man 2) on stage in a production of Oklahoma. When I was 12 I saw the definitive production of Me and My Girl before it transferred to the West End. It starred Robert Lindsay (Citizen Smith and My Family) and a largely unknown Emma Thompson. Two years later my parents took me to see High Society starring Trevor Eve (known for Waking the Dead, also Alice Eve’s father), Stephen Rea (The Crying Game and The Honourable Woman) and none other than Natasha Richardson of the Redgrave acting dynasty, sadly no longer with us.

 

Alfred Molina at the première for An Education, October 2009. Photographer: Justin Hoch. Source.

 

In my first year at university I had the privilege of attending the events to mark the 50th anniversary of the Coventry Blitz which included a performance by the wonderful Vera Lynn.

 

Thanks to the internet I found a wonderful review of the Blur concert I went to at Morecambe Dome in 1995. The best friend of my then boyfriend got us tickets through the record company and we got to see them at the height of the Britpop era in a tiny venue where we were close enough for me to see the crystalline blue of Damon Albarn’s eyes. I fell completely and utterly in love with him at that concert and to be honest, that’s never really changed.

 

Damon Albarn – Gorillaz – Roskilde Festival 2010. Source.

 

As part of my research I found set lists from all the Robbie Williams concerts I’ve been to – all three of them. I’ve been able to confirm that I did indeed see Jonathan Ollivier (who tragically died earlier this year) dance as part of Matthew Bourne’s company on two separate occasions, a fact I’d been unsure of without a programme to consult. And, I’ve established that everyone loved the U2 concert I went to at the City of Manchester stadium except me – we had really bad seats and couldn’t hear anything!

 

Jonathan Ollivier as The Swan in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.

 

Not everything is on the internet or easy to find. I did manage to work out the name of a play I saw in Coventry thanks to trawling through photos of actresses who appeared in Brookside to get a name and knowing that the play included full frontal male nudity. It was called Dead Funny – I don’t recall that it was.

 

I’ve typed everything into a chronological list including set lists, cast lists and anything else that seems important and so far it runs to 11 pages. I want to handwrite it all into a nice notebook and keep it updated but until I’m sure I’ve included everything I don’t want to start. I think this may take some time.

 
The important thing I’ve realised is that my memories are not as lost as I had first thought. There are things that I’ve lost that I can never replace no matter how much I might wish I could; however, all this research has brought to light things I might never have remembered or never actually knew in the first place. I’ve been incredibly lucky over the years and have seen some wonderful things. I had thought it was just in recent years I’d started seeing “Hollywood” actors on stage when in reality I saw some of them before they had even dreamt of reaching such heady heights and in many ways, that’s even better!

 

Here’s to the New Year and all the new memories it’s going to create.

 

Happy New Year to you all.

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Some of you will know that I can play the piano and that I’ve been banging on for years about how I have a piano but that it’s in Essex which is a long way from me in Leicestershire. Some of you will also know that I moved house in December to a house that has room for said piano. This is the story of me and my piano. Well, me and pianos in general really.

 

Me and my family gathered around the piano. Corny! Family archive.

 

I grew up in a house that had a piano: my mum plays and while my dad knows where all the notes are, he is unaccomplished at playing them in the right order due to a lack of application in his younger years! My mum played the piano whilst pregnant with me and then played with me sitting on her lap as I grew into a toddler. You could say I was born to it.

 

My maternal grandma had a piano. It was a very old piano – it had been her father’s – and probably not a particularly good one but it sounded gorgeous. You couldn’t play Beethoven on it and hope for any gravitas but all the old songs from the 20s and 30s and lighter classical pieces sounded magical to my untrained ear. She had a special way of playing. Her hands were unable to stretch to play chords so she played them as broken chords, and she had a lightness of touch that made the piano sing and tinkle in a beautifully old-fashioned way. I tried so many times to emulate the sound she teased out of that old instrument but never succeeded. One of the best things about visiting grandma, apart from the piano, was the huge and precarious pile of sheet music. Much of the music was tattered and torn but there were some real gems if you were prepared to delve into the middle of the pile and I regularly worked my way through it from top to bottom. By this time it was probably twice as big as it is in the photo below. I very proudly now own some of this sheet music including one piece published in 1898 that probably belonged to my great-grandfather.

 

My mum in her early teens sitting at the piano with THAT pile of music. Family archive.

 

My paternal granddad was a music teacher and accomplished musician. He could pick up most instruments and play them. Amongst other things he could play the piano, church organ, violin and guitar. He bought his second piano in 1976. It was very expensive and modern and, with a walnut veneer, looked beautiful. It still does. It’s now sitting in my living room.

 

When I was five years old my granddad taught me how to play the piano. And, I assume, taught me how to read music. I have no recollection of a time when I couldn’t read music. Even now, after years of neglect, it makes perfect – well perhaps not exactly perfect – sense to me. Musical notation is just another language. Granddad sat me down at my parents’ piano and with a very simple book of music taught me how to play.

 

At the age of eight I started to have proper piano lessons with a lady from the village in which we lived. I remember she had a cat that sat in her hallway and stared balefully at me while I waited for her to finish a lesson with another pupil. I am not a cat person and that cat knew it! Over several years, until I was fourteen, I had weekly lessons with her. I sat my Associated Board of the Royal College of Music piano exams, Grades 1, 2, 4 and 5 (I skipped Grade 3) and passed them all (at least one with merit). I didn’t enjoy practising for exams. In fact, I didn’t enjoy practising full stop. I hated scales and arpeggios and generally disliked the pieces I had to learn. I passed Grade 5 when I was thirteen. I took Grade 5 Theory which would enable me to advance to higher grades but as I started studying for my GCSEs when I was fourteen I decided that studying for piano exams as well was just too much. I found a new piano teacher and worked on learning to play pieces of music that I actually liked. I learnt to play up to at least Grade 6 standard and played pieces (that I liked) from a Grade 6 syllabus for my GCSE music exam.

 

Until I was fifteen I was always my granddad’s favourite grand-daughter. When he was blessed with a second I became one of his favourite grand-daughters! I have no idea what he thought about my piano playing but I know that he wanted me to have his piano, especially as I wanted it so very much. I hope he might have thought at the very least my playing was passable.

 

The best photo I have of my granddad. Sadly I have no photos of him playing the piano. Family archive.

 

Over the years I have lamented always living in flats and houses that had no room for a piano. I told myself that I couldn’t limit my choice of abode to only those that could house such a large, weighty and noisy piece of furniture. Last year, however, when I was looking for a new home, I found that I just couldn’t allow myself to consider anywhere that didn’t have somewhere to put the piano. I spent ages standing at the top of the stairs of this house trying to imagine if a piano could be manoeuvred up them and into the living room on the first floor. After consulting my dad, I decided that it could.

 

After having moved in, unpacked and settled I set my dad the task of arranging for the piano to be moved from my grandma’s house in Essex. In hindsight I should definitely have chosen a different house … this was to be far harder than anyone anticipated, including the company that moved it!

 

It was collected without any problems and taken to a storage facility, due to be delivered to my house the following week. For some unknown reason and with little apology (which all seems arbitrary now) the delivery was cancelled. This company is pretty much the only specialist piano mover in the UK and are recommended by Steinway. I was very cross. My parents went on holiday and because I couldn’t be at home to take delivery on a weekday the piano sat in storage and I waited.

 

A few weeks later it was finally delivered. I received a call from my dad during my lunch break to say there was a problem. They’d got it to the top of the stairs but it wouldn’t go around the corner at the top and into the living room. They’d had all the measurements prior to agreeing to take the job but apparently “these things happen”. I started to envisage having to go house-hunting again and my heart sank. “It’s OK,” my dad said, “They have a plan.” And boy, did they ever!

 

The piano lived in my kitchen for about a week. I was surprised to find that despite having not been tuned for years it still sounded great and I half-heartedly played it a little. But, I didn’t want a piano in my lovely big kitchen. There wasn’t any practical space for it long-term and it’s not a good environment for a musical instrument.

 

The piano movers returned the following week with extra manpower and machinery. They removed the Juliette balcony on the back of my house, took the piano into the garden and then with specialist equipment drove it up two ramps and in through the full length windows. I kid you not! Luckily I was at work and I’m so glad I didn’t have to watch them. If and when I move house again, they will have to come back and reverse the process. No-one else will be able to get it out again due to the layout of the house and the sheer weight of the piano – it’s as heavy as a baby grand.

 

 

As you can see it made it and is now safely in situ. Its journey from Essex was extremely expensive but it is a lovely piano and I love it and play it all the time.

 

My piano safely ensconced in my living room. My photo.

 

I’ve always loved piano music but in recent years have been rediscovering old favourites and joyfully discovering new music I hadn’t heard before thanks to my admiration and, let’s be honest, adoration of James Rhodes. James is a man who cites music as the thing that saved his life. He is an inspiration both musically and in life. To have gone through what he has gone through and to come out the other side an accomplished, passionate and talented musician is staggering. I will never play like he does – I’m average at best and I lack the necessary dedication – but he inspires me to sit down at my piano and just play, for no other reason than the great pleasure it brings me. He’s also a talented writer. His heart-wrenching memoirs recently published both broke my heart and made me jump for joy. His boundless enthusiasm for music education, routing out the elitism in classical music and telling stories about the less than salubrious lives of the great composers are what make him so easy to love. Plus, watching him play, a privilege I’ve only had once so far, is just an utter joy. The piece below is one of my favourites in his repertoire and one I’m determined to learn one day.

 

 

You could say that my life has been one long love affair with the piano. We were separated for a while but my piano and I are at last together and long shall we remain so.

 

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Note: I appreciate this has the potential to be an emotive subject. This is simply my opinion so feel free to disagree with anything I have written but please note, this is my blog and I reserve the right to remove or not publish any comments. Anything I deem to be defamatory, rude or libellous will be removed and the user blocked from commenting on any further posts. I would also ask you to refrain from discussing the merits of the X-Factor as a competition as this is not what this post is about. 


 

Back in August I wrote about why I love to watch the X-Factor. I said what I enjoyed most was the audition stage because of the occasional glimpses of seriously talented passionate people and I used James Arthur as an example of someone I thought was exactly that and so much more. On Sunday he won the competition.

 

In past series of the X-Factor I have always been disappointed to see that after the initial raw auditions, those contestants reaching the live shows often have their talent compromised by unsuitable songs from genres they would probably never tackle if they were trying to make it on their own. I have seen a few of my own personal favourites go out early.

 

Unsurprisingly, there are huge differences in people’s perceptions of what it means to have that elusive “x-factor”. In the context of the TV programme, these are the things that for me give someone the x-factor, and despite what some might expect, it doesn’t involve being to my own personal taste:

  • Be able to sing in tune – I know there are established artists out there who frequently fail to do this, however, if you’re going to try to win a singing competition, for me it’s a no-brainer.
  • Being able to sing doesn’t make you musical and you do need to be musical. This doesn’t mean you have to be able to play an instrument, but you need to be able to feel the music and interpret it, not just rehash someone else’s interpretation. Anyone can stand up and do karaoke.
  • Know your style, be true to it and don’t be bullied into singing things that don’t suit you – Leona Lewis did this very well and look at her now!
  • Be exciting. New bands and singers come to prominence, not because they make a nice sound or because they can sing a song that everyone knows, but because they bring something new, fresh and unique to the table. Great examples of this are The Arctic Monkeys, Jake Bugg and Plan B.
  • Engage the audience and entertain them. Whether that’s through big productions and multitudes of dancers, or by allowing them to see into your soul, is down to your own personal style.
  • Be humble, be modest and treat others as you might wish them to treat you – at least until you’ve won and have established yourself!
  • Perform honestly and don’t pretend to be something you’re not.
  • Be passionate.

 

X-Factor contestants who I believe have fulfilled enough of these requirements over the last 9 years to be described as having the x-factor are:

Leona Lewis
Winner in 2006 and now a multi-platinum selling international artist.

Alexandra Burke
Winner in 2008 and one of the most successful winners to date.

JLS
Runners-up in 2008 and now a successful boy band having released 3 albums, and won 5 MOBOs and 2 Brit awards.

Olly Murs
Runner-up in 2009 and now a successful recording artist with 3 albums, 4 UK number 1 singles and a career as a TV presenter.

Stacey Solomon
3rd in 2009 and went on to win I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! in 2010. Now a TV presenter and working on a début album.

One Direction
3rd in 2010 and now an internationally successful boy band. An example of contestants who are most definitely not to my personal taste, however, millions of young female fans all over the world find them charismatic and I would be hard pushed to argue against any of the above requirements, excepting musicality which is probably not so important with the type of music they produce.

Rylan Clark
5th in 2012 and although he frequently failed to sing in tune, and lacked musicality, he had something that most contestants don’t – charisma – in bucket loads. He is over-the-top, outrageous in his fashion choices, and, let’s be honest, a bit of a novelty. The x-factor he possesses is perhaps more attuned to TV presenting and stage work than music but I applaud his commitment to being true to himself at all times.

James Arthur
Winner in 2012.

 

 

James Arthur, for me, epitomises everything that I listed above:

  • Natural charisma. The dictionary definitions of charisma are compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others and a divinely conferred power or talent. His charm is wrapped up in all the other things on the list.
  • Be able to sing in tune – no explanation needed. While I understand that everything else is subjective, this is not. I can sing in tune and I know when someone is not. James was the only contestant this year I never heard singing a bum note.
  • Be musical. He is a musician, writes his own music, and was doing so long before the X-Factor. He interprets songs in such a way that they become uniquely his while he sings them. He has been championed by many successful artists during his time in the competition and this, in my opinion, is very telling.
  • Know your style and be true to it. Not once was he ever accused of compromising himself. He never allowed himself to be forced into singing something that made him uncomfortable (of course I don’t know that anyone tried) and after being in the bottom two, he didn’t change himself in any way in an attempt to garner more support.
  • Be exciting. New, fresh, unique? James Arthur is probably the first singer that the X-Factor has ever had where we can use these words. I’ve seen comments likening him to artists such as Plan B but just because he sings and raps, doesn’t make him the same. Songs he recorded and released with his band before the X-Factor, show him to be truly original.
  • Be engaging and entertaining. James most definitely went down the soul-baring route. It is only when he sings that you realise exactly what singing means to him. He shows raw emotion and you cannot help but be moved by that.
  • Be humble. Never did he look more humble than when he was receiving praise. He was popular with his fellow contestants, was referred to on more than one occasion as one of the hardest workers, and throughout the entire competition, never looked like he expected any of it.
  • Perform honestly. This goes hand in hand with humility. He was never anything other than himself and that’s obvious when watching and listening to his earlier work.
  • Be passionate. It was his passion for music that was plain for all to see when he bared his soul.

 

 

Despite the X-Factor having maybe had its day, James Arthur made it exciting by bringing real raw talent to the stage, something that has been lacking in recent years. I for one, wish him all the luck in the world.

 

 

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Following on from my last post, and not in any way procrastinating to avoid focusing on more important things (I’m lying obviously), I decided to have a go at recording a couple of songs this morning. I don’t have the means to do this properly so I have resorted to playing the music on the computer and holding my phone halfway between my mouth and the speakers. Not very technical I know! The result is the two tracks below.

 

First, a song I love that was recorded by Kiri Te Kanawa on her album Blue Skies:

 

 

This second song has the potential to cause me great embarrassment should anybody reading this actually speak Gaelic and I apologise in advance if I’ve inadvertently sworn or worse! It’s a song I learnt at school in the choir. I don’t know what it’s about, have no idea if my memory of the pronunciation is correct, and, I’m not sure I’ve spelt the title correctly, but I’ll bravely put it out there anyway and hope it doesn’t offend anyone:

 

 
If you’re feeling particularly daring there are more tracks on my Soundcloud page which you can access here.
 

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I recently came across a recording on YouTube that immediately dragged me back to my early teenage years. It’s not anything that would immediately spring to mind as something the average fourteen year old would have listened to in 1986 but for me, it was music I got lost in time and time again until I left home.

 

 

My childhood was an ordinary one. The only thing that really differed significantly from the childhoods of my peers was the lack of popular music and despite having fully embraced that in my adulthood, my ears are constantly drawn back to the sounds with which I grew up.

 

Music was inherent in my life even before my birth. My mum plays the piano and the sounds of Chopin and Beethoven must have reached me even in the womb. There was always music in the house. My dad rebelled against his own strict upbringing by developing a love for traditional jazz but he also never lost his love for his classical roots. I can still hear him singing You are my Heart’s Delight at full volume in the bathroom every morning while he shaved. Of course, it should really be sung in German (Dein ist mein ganzes Herz) as demonstrated beautifully here by Plácido Domingo (another voice that featured significantly in my childhood):

 

 

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t like to sing either on my own or accompanied by my mum on the piano. Although my earliest memories of this have long since been lost, my parents still have a big reel to reel tape recording of me singing this:

 

Little birds in winter time

Hungry are and poor

Feed them for your Father’s sake

‘til the winter’s o’er

 

When I was five, my paternal granddad taught me how to play the piano. A couple of years later I started having lessons. I loved playing the piano but hated having to practice which is a failing that has reappeared again and again in all aspects of my life ever since. I always preferred to play only the things I liked instead of scales and pieces for exams which bored me. The piano was and still is hugely important to me. My maternal grandma also played and had a very old “tinkly” piano that only she could make sound beautiful. The following song is one I played and sang incessantly when we went to visit, striving but always failing to make it sound like she did. This is the only version that vaguely resembles what she played (Frank Sinatra also recorded it but it’s just not the same):

 

 

My mum had a stack of old 78s and my brother and I were allowed to listen to them meaning I was more aware of Paul Anka than I was of Wham!

 

 

The best treat though, and one we returned to again and again was a Beatles LP. My mum picked it up in a jumble sale in the 70s and we played it a lot … an awful lot. There are photos of my brother, home from school with some unknown bug, wrapped up in his dressing gown and a home-knitted blanket, sporting a huge pair of headphones and perusing the Argos catalogue (the essential companion to any 80s child’s Christmas list). He was listening to the Beatles. He was always listening to the Beatles!

 

When I was eight I was invited to sing in the church choir in which my dad already sang and while the music had a lot less influence on me than that heard at home, things I particularly remember singing are the hymn, The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, has Ended and the anthem, I was Glad. We always attended evensong which is why I think the former has stayed with me being that it was sung there so frequently. The latter is a more specific memory brought about by a specific line:

 

Peace be within thy walls: And plenteousness within thy palaces.

 

My dad used to assist with choir practice for the young people in the choir and he didn’t like the hissing sound we all made at the end of the word “peace” so he made us sing “peas” instead which no doubt made me giggle a lot. I was Glad was sung at the wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton last year. I’m fairly sure there were no “peas” there! This is the choir of King’s College, Cambridge singing it:

 

 

Once at high school, I was persuaded to learn the violin, an instrument I never mastered … not even a little. It did get me into the school orchestra though (which must have sounded appalling) and following some remark made by my dad to the music teacher about my singing ability, into the school choir. The school was in Market Bosworth and the music teacher was from the Isle of Skye. She taught us to sing in Gaelic and at ages 13 and 14 I found myself in Scotland competing in the annual Royal National Mod or Am Mòd Nàiseanta Rìoghail. We learnt to sing phonetically and in 1986 we came away with top prizes. I can still sing some of the songs today, no doubt very badly.

 

The Glasgow Herald, 15 Oct 1986 (click to see full size)

 

Click here for a link of a recording of Diùra Thall Ud by Ayr Junior Gaelic Choir at the Mod in 1961. We sang this song too, with the same harmonies and sounded very much like this. (There is a “play” button on the left-hand side which will open a new window and play the track.)

 

The Gaelic choir gave me privileges at the school, one of which was having full use of the music room during lunch breaks. This enabled me to escape the bullies which plagued me throughout my school life. The choir was my salvation and, although relatively short-lived (2 years), the very best part of my school years.

 

So that brings me to the music which got me started on this post. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was one of the operatic voices that figured significantly in our house; however, I remember her less for the opera and more for the other things she recorded. In 1983 she released a recording of Chants D’Auvergne by Canteloube which I guess was particularly popular with my parents because we spent so many happy summer holidays touring France with a tent and then later a caravan.

 

 

In 1985 she released a recording of West Side Story with José Carreras and I fell in love with the music. I’d never seen the film and was yet to discover Romeo and Juliet, but the story was told through the sleeve notes of the LP and the whole thing captured my teenage heart.

 

The song at the top of this post comes from an album Kiri released in 1986 and was entitled Blue Skies. All the songs are by popular American composers of the 20th century and they are songs that I could sing too, and did, loudly … when no-one was listening. Even after I was allowed to stretch my ears and venture into the realms of modern pop music, the themes that are repeated throughout the songs on this album have been the ones I return to again and again. They filled my heart with dreams of love and romance and those are still the things that appeal to me most in music.  At the weekend I raided my parents CD collection and swiped the album so I could load it onto my MP3 player. Playing it this morning brought tears to my eyes.

 

I have no real conclusions to draw and have by no means covered all the music that was significant to me whilst growing up, there is far too much to mention; however, I will just say that I used to think I was hard done-by as a child, musically. I was wrong.

 

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This is my attempt to rediscover my writing mojo. I suppose I have good enough reasons for having lost it but recently I was asked if I’d like to participate in something and immediately knew I couldn’t do it. Not because I wouldn’t like to, but because I’ve lost all confidence in my ability to write. I’ve never been much of a blogger but I’ve loved writing. The saddest thing about not writing is that I have a story in progress…my first attempt at original fiction and after posting one chapter several months ago I’ve singularly failed to post anymore. I’m actually ashamed of myself! So I’ve had some personal issues to sort through…but in the grand scheme of things, they are nothing compared to what others deal with everyday and still manage to carry on.

 

So…I’ve decided to list some of my reasons for being cheerful to serve as a reminder that no matter how bad it seems, there is always something to smile about.

 

My friends – I have some pretty amazing friends. Friends who are always there, who understand me, who don’t judge me and who love me. I hope they know how much they mean to me.

 

My family – I might have moments where I whinge or complain about them, but let’s face it, like my friends, they’re always there. They support me, worry about me and accept me no matter what.

 

My home – It might only be rented and it might shake quite violently every time a train passes but I have a lovely, comfortable home. I’m surrounded by nice things, and it’s warm and dry and safe. Given what’s been going on in the world of late that’s something to give thanks for every day.

 

My car – This might seem an odd choice but just over 4 years ago I’d never driven a car. The thought of driving terrified me but I decided to put aside my fear and embarked on 12 months of lessons. My nerves nearly got the better of me when it came to taking the test, but I passed on my third attempt and have never looked back. Over 3 years on, I still occasionally have to pinch myself to prove that yes, I really am doing this! Driving…I love it.

 

Richard Armitage – Sorry, but I had to squeeze him in here! This is not an RA blog but you all know that I’m a huge admirer of his and if looking for reasons to be cheerful, he has to be way up there. If it hadn’t been for him I would never have met a lot of those friends I hold so dear and even though he’ll never know, I will always be grateful to him for that.

 

Twitter – Again, much like Mr A, without Twitter I would never have found a lot of the friends that are now so important to me. As I’ve mentioned before, it changed my life.

 

My musicality – I was going to put music as a reason but it occurs to me that it’s not so much the music as my ability to appreciate it and lose myself in it. I love the fact that I can sit down at a piano and play it competently (or at least I could…bit out of practice now!), that I can pick up a guitar and have it make a pleasing sound, or that I can open my mouth and hold a tune. I’m not a great musician by any stretch but I love being able to feel music and not just hear it.

 

My country – Say what you like about it, I am proud to be British. I never thought I would put this on the list but actually, after having watched the Olympics in the summer and the pageantry of the Queen’s Jubilee, I will be forever in awe of my country’s ability to put on a show, to smile in the face of the doubters and say, “look at us… aren’t we amazing!”

 

My ancestors – As part of my attempt to rediscover the things that make me happy I have recently immersed myself back into my family tree after a two year absence. For many years I’ve been researching the minutiae of all those people that have helped to make me who I am today. I’m lucky to have found some fantastic family stories and tantalising connections. But it’s not the links to the famous or infamous that I find the most exciting or that make me the most happy, it’s the ability to know so much about the lives of the ordinary people. I spent yesterday studying Merchant Navy records and crew lists (all online) to find out more about some cousins of my great-grandmother. Nothing spectacular, but I have to admit to being totally in awe of one man when I read an account of a voyage he took that ended with the words “Crew all saved”. Now there’s definitely a reason to be cheerful!

 

So there you have it.  Not an especially long list and by no means exhaustive. I’m actually really pleased that I’ve managed to write this. Maybe, I can start to think about continuing with my story…but baby steps…baby steps!

 

I’d love to hear what makes you happy if you’d like to share…

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I realise it’s probably not cool to admit that I enjoy watching TV talent shows like The X Factor, not least because my Twitter timeline is frequently full of people complaining about how terrible they are, but enjoy them I do.

 

The bit I enjoy most is the audition stage, but not for the reasons a lot of people will think. The auditions are where the producers make real fools out of those deluded people who truly believe they have talent when they don’t, or those who simply think they’ll push their luck. This is not what I enjoy, in fact I frequently fast-forward through these bits as I’m usually watching on a delay.

 

What I enjoy is seeing the occasional glimpse of seriously talented passionate people. People who love what they do and who do it exceptionally well. In this day and age it’s not easy to find success as a recording artist so why wouldn’t these people chance their luck on such a wide-reaching forum? It’s at the audition stage that we see their raw talent before someone persuades them to sing songs from genres to which they’re not really suited. For a few precious moments, they truly shine. Best of all, they surprise and delight us, and I hugely admire their courage and humility.

 

This video is the audition of a young man called James Arthur who epitomises the passionate few. Yes, there’s a bit of a sob story but ultimately his talent surpasses all that. If the rapping does nothing for you then please wait for him to start singing again, he is totally lost in the music and I love him for it:

 

 

And if you have any doubt about his talent and think maybe this was staged to look better than it was then please listen to this original track of him with his band which is just simply beautiful. He used some of the words from it in the rap part of the Tulisa cover he sang for his audition:

 

 

In my opinion he should be signed now because I want to buy his music. Much as I love to watch it, he is far too good for The X Factor.

 

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