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Me and my piano


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.

 


The curtain rose and just as a copperish head of curls started to emerge on the stage to the strains of Nat King Cole’s Nature Boy I heard a quiet gasp and a hand grabbed my upper arm. I jumped. A voice whispered in my ear, “Knock knock …”

 

“Who’s there?” said Benedict Cumberbatch.

 

Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet. Photographer: Johan Persson.

 

This trip to the theatre had been a whole year in the imagining, the anticipation so great there was a real danger of it being a huge anti-climax. But I remained hopeful, even in the face of some horrible behaviour from the press and some less than favourable reviews of the early previews. Cumberbatch is an actor I consider to be one of the greatest of his generation and I like to make up my own mind about these things.

 

We were making the most of our weekend in London and before we even got to Hamlet we went to the Almeida Theatre in Islington to see Bakkhai with Ben Whishaw and Bertie Carvel. Bakkhai is the story of Dionysus, son of Zeus. An ancient Greek tragedy by Euripides. Now, call me uncultured but I know nothing about the Greek Gods and the myths and legends that surround them. I kept telling people I was going to see Bacchus and was somewhat relieved to discover that Dionysus is referred to as Bacchus quite regularly throughout the play as that’s what the Romans named him. I might just have got away with that one!

 

Ben Whishaw as Dionysus, Bakkhai. Photographer: Marc Brenner.

 

The play was very different to anything I’ve ever seen before. Ben Whishaw is a wonderful waif of an actor, best known to me for his ethereal performance as Richard II in The Hollow Crown series for which he won a BAFTA. Perhaps known better elsewhere for being the latest incarnation of Q in the James Bond films. In this he is almost androgynous, funny and sinister with an otherworldly air. There were only three actors in the whole play, as is apparently traditional, and they take on all the various parts, hence Bertie Carvel played both Pentheus and Pentheus’ mother. He was rather good in drag – apparently something he’s done before. Ben Whishaw aside, the thing I will remember most is the Greek chorus: a group of women who can do things with their voices I have never heard before and perhaps wouldn’t want to hear again.

 

Chorus, Bakkhai. Photographer: Marc Brenner.

 

Bakkhai is ultimately rather disturbing but it was very good and an interesting and cultured start to the weekend.

 

The following day we continued with the culture and ancient things and paid a visit to the British Library to see the Magna Carta: Law, Liberty and Legacy exhibition which is fascinating but rather long and drawn out by what appeared to me to be some fairly tenuous links in the legacy part. Tony Hancock anyone? The stars of the exhibition are the beautiful illuminated books, manuscripts, charters, Papal Bulls and all manner of other things. All stunning in their painstaking detail and fascinating in their content and context. As someone who loves words I wanted to be able to read everything but in most cases it is almost impossible for us who are untrained and so spoilt by modernity to even attempt to read the beautiful and archaic script. The message that one takes away from this exhibition is that our rights, our freedom, justice, are not new concepts. It has ever been thus.

 

But I digress. On to Hamlet, which I can categorically state right now was not, in any way, anti-climatic.

 

We were in the fourth row, mesmerisingly close to the stage. After the knock knock joke from my witty friend Nic, which wasn’t entirely unexpected, I stared at the man on the stage, unable to quite comprehend that this was the Benedict Cumberbatch, right in front of me – Hamlet, no less.

 

Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet. Photographer: Johan Persson.

 

When the whole stage was revealed I was stunned. It is a jaw-dropping set. Beautiful and magical and full of surprises. And it is vast.

 

I am one of those people the press have been trying to shame. I am not a Shakespeare connoisseur. Yes, I love his work but I’ve seen relatively little and I don’t always understand everything. I didn’t know what an arras was, was a bit sketchy on the bare bodkin and knew even less about the story of Hamlet. Unless I’m going to The Globe or to my local theatre I nearly always choose to go and see something because of who is in it. I wanted to see Hamlet because of Benedict Cumberbatch and what’s so wrong about that? Actors like Cumberbatch want to open up the theatre to a whole new generation of theatre-goers. They want people who’ve never seen a Shakespeare play to experience the Bard and love him like they do, and they want to eradicate the elitism and snobbery that prevails throughout much of theatre-land. I, for one, get very excited by the thought of Shakespeare reaching places he’s never reached before. Theatre needs new blood and most of all it needs the kind of blind enthusiasm and utter joy that only the young and un-jaded can bring. In Shakespeare’s day no-one minded heckles and jeers and applause and laughter, it was expected. I do think Willy Shakes may have been with Cumberbatch on mobile phones though.

 

During the interval, while scoffing some seriously good ice cream, we exchanged our views on the play so far. They were unanimous: the whole thing was mind-blowing in the extreme. Cumberbatch was mind-blowing, the set was mind-blowing, we loved it. We all felt that we were watching something rather special – a master at work.

 

Cumberbatch was born to perform Shakespeare. The poetry and the prose make perfect sense only when spoken in the right way and he does this unfailingly. He is witty, poignant, sad, angry and ultimately heart-breaking. He has perfect comic timing and can easily reduce me to tears of mirth or tears of sadness. He is a very physical actor on stage and when he roars he roars – I flinched!

 

For me there wasn’t a bad performance in the whole cast. Special mentions should go to Jim Norton for Polonius who was funny and bewildered, Sian Brooke for a heartbreaking Ophelia and Karl Johnson, an actor I already loved, for the ghost and the gravedigger – the latter being brilliantly dark with wicked humour.

 

The critics seem to be largely fixated on three things: the set being a distraction, the time in which the play is set and what sort of Hamlet Cumberbatch is portraying.

 

The set is immense and sumptuous – later imploding to become something much darker and sinister – but I was only truly distracted by it when it first appeared, staring in wonder with my jaw resting on my chest. After that I was drawn to the players and the story. For me the set only enhanced my experience.

 

I agree that the time in which the play was set was somewhat ambiguous but I don’t see why this mattered. Generally I saw it as being a fairly modern setting but ultimately this Elsinore seemed quite fantastical and ambiguity and fantasy go quite well together I think. So really … who cares?

 

What sort of Hamlet is Cumberbatch? “A bloody good one” according to his mother and I concur. Quite frankly I had no idea that this was “a thing” – I’ve never seen any other Hamlet so for me Cumberbatch’s will always be the definitive performance, the gauge by which I judge all others. I found him beguiling, seriously funny, mad with grief and anger, heart-breaking and full of rage. Most of all I felt great empathy towards him.

 

The instant standing ovation at the end was so well-deserved. Cumberbatch hadn’t quite reached the trinity of blood, sweat and tears but two out of three ain’t bad. He is a force of nature on stage, a fact enforced by the soaked t-shirt, and I only wish I could go and see this Hamlet again and again.

 

Judgement?”
“A hit, a palpable hit.”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2

 

A sweaty Hamlet contemplates killing Claudius. Photographer: Johan Persson.

 


… that man being the Duke of Wellington of course!

 

The Battle of Waterloo. William Sadler II (1762-1839). Oil on canvas. Source.

 

I have an ancestor called Thomas James Drinkwater, sometime Assistant Surgeon in the 2nd Life Guards. His name appears on the Waterloo medal rolls. He was my great (x4) grandfather.

 

Thomas was born around 1787 in Farnham, Surrey. The youngest son of a surgeon and great great grandson of a Baptist Minister who was imprisoned for preaching in 1677. He joined the 2nd Life Guards on 22 September 1812 and served in Iberia and was at Vitória and Waterloo.  He served for a total of 6 years until 1818. He married and settled in Ledbury, Herefordshire, where he continued to work as a surgeon. He had 4 children but sadly died in 1823 aged just 36 years old.

 

I registered Thomas’ details some time ago on a website that was collecting information from descendants of men who had been at Waterloo. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and there have been all sorts of commemorations taking place both here in the United Kingdom and in Belgium.

 

Completely out of the blue I received a rather smart-looking letter in the post. Enclosed in the envelope was this:

Invitation. My image.

 

To say I was stunned would be an understatement. (Not sure why they think I’m married!) I was thrilled but concerned that I might be unable to attend because the service was on a weekday in term time and I would be working. Anyway, to cut a long story short I was given permission to take the day off work and I accepted the invitation.

 

On the 18th June 2015, exactly 200 years to the day since the battle, I travelled to London, wearing my interview suit (it would have to do) and arrived at St Paul’s Cathedral at about 9.10am. The security gates opened at 9.30am and I had to show my ticket, passport and have my bag searched by a very polite young soldier who appeared unperturbed by the Birkenstocks hiding in the bottom of my smart handbag – I can wear heels but I can’t walk in them!

 

I joined a queue waiting for the doors of the cathedral to open at 10.00am and had a bit of time to take in my surroundings. I was now in the environs of St Paul’s Cathedral having entered through a gateway in Paternoster Square. There were metal fences surrounding the area and people were gathering on the other side to watch. I’ve never been on the inside looking out before – it’s a bit weird! While we waited in the rather hot sunshine we were serenaded by a Scot’s Guards pipe band which sounded wonderful.

 

Upon entering St Paul’s Cathedral which is already an awe-inspiring sight I had to walk past this line up of Standards, Guidons and Colours of the regiments in succession to those that fought at Waterloo:

200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo
At first glance they could easily have been mistaken for mannequins because they stood so still. And they seemed so tall! It truly was a memorable sight and one I wasn’t expecting which made it seem all the more surreal. It’s something I will probably never see again and I only wish I could have lingered but we were being ushered to our seats.

 

Because I had arrived so early I was very near the front of the queue entering St Paul’s. This meant that when I reached the area in which I was to be seated I found myself in the 2nd row. I was sitting just under the edge of the famous dome in the south transept. When I looked up this was my view:

Looking up into the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. My photo.

 

The service was attended by a lot of very well-known people. I didn’t know a lot of them would be there so I failed to spot any of them except those mentioned in the Order of Service. In attendance were their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall (Charles and Camilla to us plebs), the Earl of Wessex (Prince Edward), the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Prime Minister (David Cameron), the President of the European Parliament and the present Duke of Wellington. I saw the Royals arrive and spotted the Duke of Wellington but I saw no politicians or anyone else. I only glimpsed Charles and Camilla because when they came in and left it was in procession and we all had to stand. I could see the tops of their heads when we were all seated though! They were sitting just in front of the congregation on the right-hand side of the aisle as is traditional – royalty on the right, politicians on the left. They can be seen in this photo, as can I:

200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo

 

Here is a print screen version to which I’ve added a handy little red circle so you can see where I was sitting (click to enlarge):

 

In addition to the above, amongst the congregation were senior representatives of the Armed Services, representatives and ambassadors of all combatant countries involved in the Battle, and descendants of men who fought in the Battle (including me!), 200 children and 200 teachers together with members of the public who entered a ballot for tickets.

 

To quote the order of service, “during the service an anthologicon is delivered, drawn from extracts from contemporary accounts of events before, during and after the Battle of Waterloo by British, French and German readers under-laid by the sound of the organ.” So, the story of the Battle of Waterloo was told through the voices of those who were actually there read by their descendants or current serving members of the armed forces. It was incredibly moving and very thought-provoking.

 

To have been a surgeon on such a battlefield is something I don’t think any of us can truly imagine and I feel immensely proud to be descended from someone who served his country in such a way.

 

The horror of battle was summed up by the Duke of Wellington in a conversation recalled by his friend Lady Shelley:

I hope to God that I have fought my last battle. It is a bad thing to be always fighting. While in the thick of it, I am much too occupied to feel anything; but it is wretched just after. It is quite impossible to think of glory. Both mind and feelings are exhausted. I am wretched even at the moment of victory, and I always say that next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained. Not only do you lose those dear friends with whom you have been living, but you are forced to leave the wounded behind you. To be sure one tries to do the best for them, but how little that is! At such moments every feeling in your breast is deadened. I am now just beginning to regain my natural spirits, but I never wish for any more fighting.

 

The Bishop of London, the Right Reverend and Right Honourable Richard Chartres, KCVO, gave the address. The main thing I took away from what he said was this:

The past cannot be changed but we are responsible for how we remember it.

His address can be read in full here and I strongly recommend reading it.

 

The service was not a mourning of loss nor a glorification of war but a commemoration of all those who fought at Waterloo and a salute to their courage and resolution.

 

I am so honoured and privileged to have been there. I don’t imagine for one moment that my ancestor, Thomas James Drinkwater, ever dreamt that his great great great great grand-daughter would be thinking about him and honouring him in such a way so many years later.

 

After the service and once the great and the good had exited the building I made my way outside into the sunshine. As I walked down the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral I noticed that there were many more people watching from behind the barriers, undoubtedly come to see the Royals and other dignitaries. It is very bizarre to be watched by so many people waving cameras and phones – not that they were looking at me of course.

 
200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo

 

As the bells of St Paul’s rang out across London I made my way back to Paternoster Square, removed my jacket, packed away my heels, replaced them with my trusty Birkenstocks whilst sighing in blissful relief and joined the crowds in London – just another tourist once more.

 

I still can’t quite believe I was there!

 


 

All photos that are not labelled as mine are embedded courtesy of St Paul’s Cathedral’s Flickr account.

Tunisia


You will have read in the papers or on the internet or watched on the television the devastating news about the recent terrorist attack in Sousse, Tunisia, where 38 people lost their lives. If you’re European you’ll undoubtedly know where Tunisia is and many of you will have been there on holiday. If you’re from elsewhere in the world you might be less familiar with it.

 

Tunisia is a small country in North Africa. It is situated at Africa’s northern-most tip, a small corner wedged between Algeria and Libya with the sunseeker’s dream of long sandy beaches and the blue Mediterranean sea. It has a long and ancient history of Berbers, Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, Italians, French and many more. Tunisia is also a mainly secular country.

 

Tunisia is a beautiful country and its people are endlessly kind, generous and welcoming. Aside from its popular beaches it contains the eastern end of the Atlas mountains, the northern most part of the Sahara desert, countless film locations – perhaps best known for Star Wars, especially Tatooine, and The English Patient – some wonderful examples of Roman architecture, salt lakes and is the third or second largest producer of olive oil in the world. It is ever popular with European tourists, especially the British. Tourism is its lifeblood. I have holidayed in Tunisia several times – I wrote about my experiences here, here and here – and one day I’d like to return.

 

When you hear in the news about terrorist attacks never think that it won’t ever be you or someone you know. I was horrified to learn that a dear, kind and funny lady who was my boss and colleague a few years ago was killed in the attacks together with her husband. They were on holiday in Sousse.

 

I feel so sad for the people of Tunisia and devastated for the loss of someone who gave me my first ever promotion, was unfailingly understanding and kind to me, and made the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted. May she and her husband and all those who lost their lives rest in peace. My thoughts are with their families.

 

The British Foreign Office has now issued advice for all Britons to leave Tunisia affecting holidaymakers and ex-pats and, most of all, the brave and fearless Tunisian people (read about what they did to prevent the loss of further life), many of whom rely on the holidaying masses to put food on their tables and roofs over their heads. And there are no easy answers to any of this, nor is there likely to be any end to it any time soon.

 


Forgive the long break, but I’ve finally got my new home straight and the computer unpacked and plugged in. I’ve been spending my short Easter break sitting at my new desk in my new study – so many bookcases it’s practically a library – and indulging in some family history research. It’s proving to be more frustrating than anything else but that’s the nature of genealogy. Anyway, I digress.

 

Leicester Cathedral illuminated by the Richard III logo, with the statue of Richard III looking on. My photo.

 

Unless you’ve been in some kind of media black out zone over the last few weeks you’ll know that Leicester has been hitting the headlines. And although I’m obviously biased I have to say “didn’t we do well?” I could not be more proud of my city.

 

One of my favourite headlines from the flood of newspaper articles and suchlike appeared in, of all things, The New York Times:

Richard III, Previous Visit a Bust, Is Warmly Received 530 Years Later”

Much as I would have liked to have been in the city to see the procession and soak up the atmosphere I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see the cortège pass my parents’ house. I wasn’t lucky enough to get a ticket to the only service taking place at a time when I didn’t have to be at work, so standing outside their house and watching as the hearse passed was a pretty special moment. I stood there watching as the police motorcyclists approached me and felt strangely anxious. I pointed my camera in the right direction and decided that video would be better than photos, pressed the button and hoped for the best. This was the result, all 23 seconds of it:

 

 

I went back inside the house and burst into tears. I don’t really know why. I just felt somewhat overwhelmed by the whole thing. I’d been listening intently to BBC Radio Leicester who were doing a sterling job of covering the day as the cortège travelled from Bosworth Field, to Dadlington, to Market Bosworth, and so on into the city. Thousands and thousands of people lined the route. Our village, Newbold Verdon, was teeming with people. From my point of view, my parents’ house was ideally placed as it’s not in the centre of the village which meant I didn’t have to fight for position. Afterwards, I went home and downloaded the film and a couple of photos onto the internet. Twenty minutes later I had an email from a news agency wanting to use my video. I filled out the form they sent and gave permission fully expecting nothing further to happen but, sure enough, my video made it to Yahoo! News. It was all very surreal.

 

My parents were actually at the Service of Compline that took place to welcome the mortal remains of Richard III into the cathedral. They were there as invited members of the congregation. I watched the service on television. Annoyingly, it wasn’t shown in its entirety because Channel 4 decided we’d rather watch Jon Snow discussing the finer points of whether or not Richard III was an evil child murderer and other such mindless and pointless tabloid TV – we wouldn’t. Luckily, during the sermon my parents appeared clearly on screen for quite some time and I got rather overexcited – frantic texts were exchanged with my brother.

 

Excited parent-spotting aside, I found what I saw of the service deeply moving and once again was moved to tears. My parents both said afterwards that they too found themselves unexpectedly emotional.

 

Fast-forward a few days during which I had a very hurried visit to the cathedral to see the coffin (not up close) and it was time for the reinterment. I was working, frustratingly. My dad was lucky enough to be at the service as a volunteer. I did suggest he might like to snaffle Mr Cumberbatch for me; however, he’s good, but he’s not that good!

 

I kept checking Twitter for photos and updates of the proceedings and when I got home I grabbed a cup of tea and sat down to watch the service. The cathedral had never looked so beautiful. The service was wonderful and moving, Cumberbatch’s reading of the poem by Carol Ann Duffy was perfect. Again, the whole thing was oddly surreal. Having spent much of my childhood Sunday mornings in the cathedral, to then see it in such a light with such people in attendance was bizarre, but in the best possible way.

 

What a privilege for Leicester and Leicestershire to get to honour Richard III in such a way. The people of the city and county showing the world how much he means to them – with dignity and honour.

 

But how do you bring to a close such an unprecedented week of events? I read up on all the events taking place and saw that on the Friday evening, after the Service of Reveal where the tomb would be revealed (I’ve still not seen it), there would be something called Leicester Glows. A fire garden was promised and fireworks from the cathedral roof. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but was determined to go. A friend had come to stay for the weekend as she was attending the Friday service so I rushed into the city after work to meet her and my parents and grab some dinner.

 

Darkness had fallen over the city as we made our way back to the Cathedral Gardens. There were again hundreds, if not thousands, of people gathering and across the medieval quarter of the city 8000 flames were lit.

 

Candles in Peacock Lane, Leicester. My photo.

The fire garden in Cathedral Gardens, Leicester. My photo.

 

The crowds could so easily have felt oppressive, but everyone was in high spirits, marvelling at the beautiful sight of so many candles burning, chatting and joking with strangers, smiling and waiting with bated breath for the main event. If the cathedral had never looked so beautiful on the Thursday then the city had never looked so beautiful on that Friday evening. Not ever.

 

The main event turned out to be thrilling and wonderful, even if slightly heart-stopping. Watching fireworks quite literally bouncing off the cathedral steeple is nothing if not nail-biting. But it was quite a spectacle and beautifully put together, resulting in a spontaneous round of applause. Here’s a video of the full display:

 

 

After the fireworks were over the crowds, and us, spent time milling around admiring the flames. They were quite mesmerising and the smell of candle wax will forever transport me back to that evening. It was magical.

 

Leicester Glows was the perfect end to the most remarkable week. I’ll never know how it got signed off by Health and Safety but I’m inordinately grateful and pleased that it did. 8000 naked flames sounds dangerous but my goodness they looked stunning.

 

Leicester Glows, Cathedral Gardens (the yellow light beam is the projection of the RIII logo onto the cathedral steeple). My photo.

 

So, Leicester did what it promised. It reinterred Richard III with dignity and honour. But more than that, it showed what our city can do and what its people can do. It showed that we have a great sense of community and that we are warm and welcoming and all-embracing.

 

A beautiful film for Leicester Glows by the Big Difference Company (who organised the event):

 

 

On this Easter Sunday they will have been rejoicing in our cathedral that “Christ is Risen”. Like the King we have reburied, Leicester is often much maligned but I truly believe that now all the pomp and ceremony of the reinterment has passed, we can honestly say that Leicester is risen.

 

Happy Easter to you all.

 


 

If you want to see more photos (click “Images”, don’t use the drop down menu) and read more about the week’s events then please take the time to visit the King Richard in Leicester website where there are blogs by The Revd Pete Hobson (Acting Canon Missioner) who led the Richard III Project for the cathedral, and lots and lots of photos. You can even order copies of the Orders of Service – please don’t be tempted by eBay.

 

 


He was never Santa in our house, always Father Christmas and he came every year until I was eighteen and left for University.

When I was little, Father Christmas brought me a large sock filled with fruit and nuts, a sugar mouse, pencils, pens and other small things. He also brought me a big pillowcase full of presents. My brother and I left the pillowcase and sock at the end of our beds when we went to sleep on Christmas Eve.

When I woke up on Christmas morning, probably at some ridiculously early hour, I would usually lie in bed and savour the moment when I would move my feet under the covers and feel the heavy weight of the filled pillowcase and sock. I would listen to the delicious rustle of the paper-wrapped presents inside and think about opening them. There was no better feeling. I think sometimes I waited for my brother to come charging in wanting to know what I had before opening anything. The anticipation was the best bit!

Once the present opening began we would go back and forth between our rooms and our parents’ room making sure they knew exactly what Father Christmas had brought us.

For some people Santa leaves his sack under the tree or somewhere else but that always seems strange to me. The memory of that weight at the end of my bed is one of my most vivid and exciting childhood memories and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

May your Christmas be merry and bright. And wherever Santa leaves his sack in your house, may it be filled with joy.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
xxxxxxxxx

[Unable to edit this to my satisfaction and add a pretty picture as my computer is still in a box after moving house a week ago and I’m writing this on my iPad.]

Sad to say goodbye …


 

Like madness is the glory of this life.”

William Shakespeare, Timon of Athens, Act 1, Scene 2

 

I don’t really know what to write at the moment and have been terribly lazy about writing. On reflection this has been an excellent year and I can only hope that the next one will be as good. I have spent plenty of times with my lovely friends having the best experiences. I have a good job that I really enjoy. And … finally … I’m moving house. You’ll forgive me if my brain is a little fried at the thought.

 

I am moving nearer to where I work to a much bigger house (3 storeys, 3 beds, garage) with a small garden and room for my piano (currently residing in Essex). It’s a lovely house, everything I wanted albeit with one small compromise: I’m moving to a small town and, if I’m honest, somewhere I didn’t really want to end up. Ideally I hoped to be in a more rural location, a village maybe. Somewhere attractive. The reality is that after much consideration it became apparent that only a modern house would do, preferably very modern, and one that is harder to find and harder to afford in more attractive places. To be fair I’ll be moving to a very nice estate.

 

Perversely, and much as I expected, it dawns on me that I am really going to miss the railway that has been my constant companion in my current abode. It has been the cause of much frustration throughout my time here, keeping me awake at night while new track is laid or interrupting my favourite television programmes at the most inopportune moments, but it has always been there. In many ways the railway is a living thing. Every train that passes is a reminder that there is life out there. When I’m all alone it’s a faithful friend, always there, breaking what can sometimes be an oppressive silence. I don’t mean that to sound like I’m a poor lonely soul without a friend in the world; that couldn’t be further from the truth. But it has been there … and I will miss the trains whizzing past my windows.

 

When I moved to this place it was under a heavy cloud. It wasn’t where I wanted to be but circumstances made it the best solution at the time. Seven and a half years later I love it here but I’ve outgrown it and it’s time to move on. I will miss the shops, the excellent transport links, the village feel whilst still being close to the city and the people. I will be sad.

 

Hopefully in another seven years I’ll be having similar thoughts about the place to which I’m moving. Or, better still, I’ll be hoping to stay there even longer.

 

Wish me luck for December. I’m moving in the week before Christmas!

 

 

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