Looking out my window… one could almost imagine Spring is round the corner. Having said that, the weather forecast is said to go down to -9oC again this week. Brrr….
I am thinking… that the throat infection and flu I had over Christmas didn’t fully go away. I have had a pretty rough night last night and day today with swollen glands, fever, sore throat, aches and pains – oh my word the pains! I have just about had my morning shower (and it’s nearly bedtime now).
I am thankful… for the simple medication of paracetamol and the wonders it does.
One of my favourite things… is seeing the Spring flowers poking their heads up.
I am creating… a film script exploring different angles of “loss”.
I am wearing… my favourite rainbow crocheted blanket round my legs. For comfort more than warmth.
I am reading … “A Game of Thrones” by George R R Martin. Yes, I know. I am one of the 0.1% of the population who has either never seen the show nor read the book!
I am praying… for healing in a world of brokenness.
I am learning… that “showing” and “telling” work differently in real life than they do when writing drama and prose.
In my kitchen… Kevin made our dinner tonight, a lovely chicken “stewp”. It was halfway between a soup and a stew and absolutely delicious.
Post Script… It is four weeks now until the annual brass band “Area” contests take place, and we are well into rehearsals preparing for our performance at Pemberton Band. The “Areas” are qualifying competitions that are held each year in different areas of the country, and the winners of each section go through to a national final held later in the year. The Pemberton Band organisation is in the North West of England, so we compete in the North West Area contest, held in Blackpool. Ours is the first one this year, and the Yorkshire Area is held the week afterwards, with others around the country over the following weeks.
The bands who compete are graded according to their ability, with the best bands competing in the Championship Section, down to the Fourth Section (a bit like the Premier League down to the Second Division in football). Each section has a designated piece of music to perform on the day – the same pieces across the country – which are more and more difficult the higher up the sections they are played in. So, the Fourth Section piece is usually quite straightforward and tests bands on their attention to the “basics” of individual and ensemble playing rather than technical skill and as the sections go higher, the pieces get more technically difficult. We are lucky at Pemberton that we have two competing bands – the “A” band (mine, which competes in the Championship section) and the “B” band in the section below, as well as a youth band and a training band.
The pieces are chosen by a panel during the summer and are announced at the finals in September so that all competing bands have the same amount of time to prepare them. There is always contention about the selected pieces being either “too difficult”, “too easy”, “not a test of skill”, “no music” in them and so on, and some pieces suit some bands more than others depending on the strengths or weaknesses as individual players and as an ensemble. The piece we are rehearsing at Pemberton is called “Odyssey” and it is technically quite a challenge to me as a player even with all the years of my experience. I’ll let you know how we get on.
A moment from my day…
Meet Terry, the terrapin. He’s our adopted pet. I wasn’t too keen on him to begin with, especially when we were told that he would outlive us, but when you look at the exquisite detail on his skin and on his shell, how can you not love him? I could tell you about his little “moods” – which is something to behold, him being a reptile and all. But I can read him like a book and I know when he’s hungry, when he’s playful and when he’s bored. He lives in water but we get him out of the tank every now and again to dry him off completely and to allow him room to roam round the house. He is great in the garden when it’s sunny and quite often brings himself back in and heads for his tank on his own. He loves prawns. And carrots (don’t ask how we found that out…)
Closing thoughts… I am so fed up of feeling ill now – I wish this flu bug would just GO AWAY!!!
It’s been another mixed day today so I thought I’d share a few photos with you.
First, my daughter’s car. It’s a lovely little car, almost a year old now, and perfect for her to run around in to work and the gym and so on. I quite like it myself to be honest, especially all the automated features like windscreen wipers that come on on their own when rain is detected. Or the medianav device that connects to my phone so I can listen to my own music without trailing wires all over the place.
One thing it is NOT good art its opening the bonnet to replace the screen wash. Exhibit A…. my dad helping me work the stupid bonnet out and filling the stupid water bottle.
Next, this headline in the newspaper today: Music is good for dementia, which is great news for most of the people I know because we enjoy so much music we have got a huge pool to choose from in later years in case we need it to keep our little grey cells working.
Now, like every good story arc, there has to be an element of tragedy, or disaster, or downright nastiness. My next picture shows a group of youngsters attacking not one, but TWO buses near home this evening.
These kids were goading the drivers and trying to damage the vehicles. The drivers had it well in hand, but even so, it saddens me to think that this is what passes for entertainment for kids like this.
And finally, the best bit of the day, my other band room – Todmorden Community Brass Band. This its the band I conduct on a Friday and where my poor husband gets a load of stick from me as he sits on the top chair as Principal Cornet.
We are currently in our post Christmas spell and we are looking at potential pieces to play in our forthcoming anniversary concert so and over the summer for our outdoor gigs in and around the local area.
So that’s a little peek at my Friday this week. I also did some studying and some work for church but I didn’t take photos of that. I could perhaps share with you a little something I watched as part of my studies if you like?
Go on then. Here’s a bit of Laurel and Hardy from 1928. I hope you enjoy it.
For Today 5th March. I am following a Lent Challenge from the Bible Society, which doesn’t have a prompt for Sundays (Sundays are not counted part of Lent) and so I’m doing a Daybook entry instead.
Looking out my window… it has been one of those “is it Spring or still Winter?” days today
I am thinking… about the significance of timing
I am thankful… for my God-given talent of music making
One of my favourite things… clean body, clean pyjamas, clean sheets (as in, what I’m about to head to tonight!)
I am creating… a crocheted blanket for my son’s girlfriend in shades of blue and white
I am wearing… a big cheesy grin because I have just been asked if I would play for Pemberton at the upcoming Grand Shield contest (more about that at a later date)
I am reading… “Wyrd Sisters” by Terry Pratchett. Very funny, very astute, very poignant and very, very telling about the human condition
I am watching… Match of the Day (Manchester City played this evening against Sunderland. I know the result but I still like to watch my men on the pitch)
I have been listening to… “Guide Cats for the Blind” – a charity compilation CD. Here is one of my favourite tracks on it. So funny that when I first heard it I nearly crashed the car because I was laughing so much!
I am hoping… I have turned a corner with anxiety and depression issues
I am learning… to not beat myself up so much when I am paralysed by anxiety
In my kitchen… we have an almost sterile floor. I bought a steam mop last week (bargain at £30) and I have been right through the house hoovering and steaming all the floors. The kitchen floor is so clean now that you can eat your dinner off it…which is a good thing because I haven’t washed any plates…!! Hahaha, jokes…
“It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela
A little glimpse into the world of Mushy Cloud aka Pam this week. You may have read last weekend that I played in my first brass band contest for a number of years on Sunday. If you did, you will know that I had a rather long day in Blackpool, and you will know that my band won – yippee!
Such a win comes at a price, and the price for me this week has been one of pain. I literally could not move all day on Monday, and it took me until Friday night to be up to going out of the house for the first time since I got home on Sunday. Partly because of the pain, partly because I didn’t want to, and partly (more than I’d like to admit to) because I couldn’t. You see, in the run up to the contest I had to adjust my medication so that I could function properly on the day with (as full) mental capacity as I could and without a dry mouth, which is one of the side effects of one of my tablets. The result was that yes, I was able to play my cornet properly on Sunday, but it took me the best part of a week to recover from it and to get my pain levels back under control.
The thing with a long term health condition is that it isn’t just about the physical side of things, but the mental side can play a huge part too. Not only was my physical pain that much worse this week, but I also had massive bouts of anxiety because of the pain that had crept up in recent weeks with not being able to take the medication I needed to. The anxiety is a multi-faceted thing and even I don’t understand it, let alone expect or hope for anyone reading this to understand it for me. The biggest part of it is that the medication I take when the pain is bad has different side-effects, such as it gives me hallucinations, causes headaches and can make me sick. Because of these three things it makes it difficult for me to go out in public – I see things that aren’t there, can you imagine what that would be like walking down the street or riding on the bus?? I have a phobia about being sick, so to risk being out in public and being nauseous is also a no-go. But…and here’s the rub…sometimes it is difficult to know when that grey area between being “ill” and “well” can be a tricky patch to negotiate, and your mind can play tricks on you telling you that you are physically unwell when really it is your mind telling you that because it is in a state of self-preservation.
I did eventually venture out of the house on Friday night to conduct my band in Todmorden, but I felt absolutely rotten. I felt like a robot when I first arrived in the bandroom and I had almost forgotten how to speak to people, let alone convey musical emotion to them. I gradually warmed up and was fine by the end of the rehearsal, but there was an element of that automaton in action this morning when I went to church. I had missed a couple of things this week because of my being ill, and it felt like the waters of church life had moved on under a bridge that I was not there to witness, and so I felt a bit out of it when I first got there.
However, it didn’t take long to get back into a better frame of mind and I had a really revealing chat with someone who had come to faith recently after a life of drug and alcohol abuse. It just goes to show – and it certainly made me reflect – that the nature of life is all about what we make it to be, and whilst it is sometimes right to go into retreat and recover from wounds inflicted by ourselves or others, it is also the right thing to do to venture out and face the world again even if we don’t feel fully healed. I doubt we are ever fully healed, and it is a matter of timing, but even so, we do have to take that step out of our own cocoon of healing sometimes and make a strike for a bit of life that will push us to better healing and further fulfilment.
Today’s Lent Challenge prompt is Joy and I thought I would share something with you that brings joy to me instead of trying to find words to describe what joy is.
It is a brass band (Salvation Army) playing a march called “Goldcrest”, which is one that I’ve played as a player and one that I’ve conducted too. It is a jolly little march which is uplifting in its own right, but more than that, it is built around the hymn “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart”. I love it because it combines several of my favourite things – music, brass music, Salvation Army brass music, hymns, marches, Salvation Army brass bands playing hymns and marches and brass players having a great time playing great music.
Actually, the day began about two weeks ago with a phone call from my son one evening that started with that familiar “Muuuuuum……?”
He plays Bass Trombone with Pemberton Old Wigan Band, which is a First Section brass band in the North West area. For those who don’t know, the brass band movement groups its bands together first of all by geographical area and then, according to how good they are they are divided in the sections. The elite bands are in the Championship Section and then according to ability, the rest are graded into four more sections, a little like the football league.
I haven’t played my cornet in earnest for a number of years, and then Ethan rang me on the way to band one night to see if I would be able to help his band out at the upcoming area contest. In February and March each year, the bands in each area compete against each other by playing the same piece of music (different for each section, and getting more difficult the higher up the section in which they are played) and the top two or three (depending on the size of the field) will go through to the National Finals which are held in September to compete against the winners from the other sections from around the country. There are other contests held throughout the year and bands can accrue points according to their placing in the contest. At the end of each year, bands can be promoted up a section or demoted down a section depending on their placing in the section overall.
When Ethan rang me, Pemberton were short of a back row cornet player and he asked me would I be able to play for them. To be honest, I was more than a little apprehensive at first. My lack of match-fitness was one thing, but a couple of other factors were making me a bit unsure of whether to say yes or not. But I did say yes, and boy am I glad that I did!
As a band, we have put in hours and hours of intense rehearsal over the last couple of weeks, including a four-hour rehearsal last Sunday and two hours each night this week. I’ll be honest, at times it was a bit tedious and drawn out but at others it was exhilarating, exciting and a lot of fun.
I was wary of doing anything that would distract me or put me off my playing, so for the last week or so I have been cutting down my medication because of the side-effects it has for me. One of the worst is that it gives me a very dry mouth, which as you might appreciate, when you’re nervous and about to play in a music competition on a brass instrument, can be quite troublesome. Another of the more pronounced side effects is that it can sometimes make me distracted and it affects my concentration, again, not brilliant when you have to concentrate intensely for the duration of a performance where 28 other people are depending on you to be at your peak.
And so, we arrived at yesterday – Contest Day.
The contest was held in the Blackpool Winter Gardens and we had to meet for a rehearsal in a nearby church hall at 7.30am. It meant a very early start for us yesterday as it takes an hour or so to get from home to Blackpool. I didn’t want to be late so I set my alarm for 5am, and we left the house at 6am heading for breakfast at McDonald’s. Well, you have to have some compensation for such an early rise on a Sunday haven’t you?!
The rehearsal room was freezing cold, but the band all quickly settled in for a warm-up by playing a couple of hymn tunes to loosen up our lips and to get us playing together as a band. We played “Blaenwern” (the tune for “Love divine, all loves excelling”) and it was so beautifully played that I cried. Yes, I actually cried. I was moved by the musicality, the sound of the band, the perfect execution of every note and in my head I was singing the words as we played. It was one of those rare spiritual moments in music making that are just sublime and can’t really be explained to someone who hasn’t experienced them for themselves.
We moved on to the testpiece – “Land of the Long White Cloud” by Philip Sparke – and the band were definitely up for a good performance on stage.
I thought it might be a bit of fun to share a series of snaps through the day, which I did on Facebook yesterday. I called them all “View from the PamCam. It’s […] o’clock” and this is the first of the day.
During the rehearsal we learned we had drawn number 9 out of 13 in our section and we expected to play at around 12 noon. It meant we had a fair bit of time to kill so we made our way to the Winter Gardens to do so.
As well as time to just sit and relax before the performance, it was a great chance to catch up with a few people I’ve known from my banding life throughout the year and I was really pleased to get to know more people in my own band a bit better. A good chance to bond, if you like.
After a while we were called through to the preparation/dressing room for yet more waiting around.
This is backstage. A big space behind the Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens that allowed 6 bands at a time to get changed and warm up. I bet all you non-music folk imagine something a bit more glamorous don’t you? Haha, nope, this is the reality of banding. Lots of music cases, lots of uniforms strewn around the floor, hundreds of people milling about and a distinctive whiff of “nerves” from the bandsmen waiting to go and compete.
This is me with my son before we went on to perform. Slightly nervous at this point but under control. One thing about all that waiting about is that it helps settle any lingering nerves from rehearsal and the very early start to the day. Each band has to have its players registered with them, and the next stage of the day was go through to Registration where we get ticked off a big list.
And then, suddenly, it was time to take to the stage.
We played in the Pavillion, which is a room that hasn’t previously been used for competition. It was a huge room with a dark blue ceiling studded with lights, and no stage which meant the bands were seated at floor level along with the audience. The adjudicators were housed behind screens at the back of the room from where they would write their comments and come to their decision about which order to place the bands. The shape of the ceiling made the sound projection a bit strange, and when I was standing at the back of the room for the results later on, I could hear the whispers between people at the front of the room as if they were behind me. It was a little bit like being in the Whispering Gallery in St Paul’s Cathedral, and the sounds we made on the stand created a strange “bounce” which was a bit disconcerting to say the least.
The performance felt as though it went well, but it is really difficult to tell. If you can imagine that you are dressed in strange clothes (a tight jacket that belongs to someone else with a buttoned up collar and a dickie bow round your neck), in a strange room (almost dark, with strange acoustics), playing a very complex piece of music that requires intense concentration, listening and counting to be able to execute it to a very high standard, while all the while battling stage nerves you can imagine a little about how much adrenaline would be pumping around the system. I can’t really tell you how we sounded, but I can tell you that the dynamics were good, the soloists were EXCELLENT, the lyrical melody lines were beautifully played and when it came to the emotional climax of the piece the band were all moving and playing as one body.
It is very very difficult to achieve an objective view of a performance from within a band like that, and it’s difficult to know if our interpretation was good or not…
…until we had finished the last note that is, when the audience erupted with applause.
Now, I’ve heard good bands play contests where the audiences have politely clapped, but never have I experienced an audience reaction quite like that before. It was AMAZING!
We took our bows and trooped off stage, wobbling and on a high from the adrenaline rush of performance and made our way backstage to get changed again.
As there were only a couple more bands to play, it wasn’t long to wait until the results.
Here we are at the back of the room waiting for the adjudicators to deliver their verdict. There are two adjudicators, and they each took a turn in giving the bands some advice, and some insight into what they were looking for in the performances, including how they reached their verdict. They told us that the top four bands were easy to determine, because the winners stormed ahead of the rest, the 2nd placed were close to them but not as good, and the 3rd and 4th placed bands could have been the 4th and 3rd they were that close. The rest of the pack were a little way behind those four and all had their own strengths and weaknesses in their performances. So, the winners were brilliant, the runners up were really good, and the rest were OK, according to the judges.
It is normal practice for the Area contests to announce the top 6 placings, and it is a horrible feeling to be waiting to hear your band’s name, whilst at the same time NOT wanting to hear it because you want a higher placing.
The band in sixth place was announced…not us. Phew.
Then the band in fifth place…. not us. Phew.
Then the band in fourth place… not us. Phew. But feeling sick now.
Then they announced that there was a prize for the best section on the day. What?? Never had that before, but who has won it?
Would you believe it, the best section on the day was judged to be the trombone section from band number 9. That’s us!!!!
But wait. Have they announced that now because we haven’t won anything else? Or have they announced it because we came third?? Oh no, the sick feeling is intensifying now.
Back to the placings. The band who came 3rd… not us, but one who we expected to give us a good run for our money. Phew…. getting REALLY sick now.
And now the band who came 2nd… Oh boy, NOT US. Good grief. Can’t take the tension. Have we won, or have we come nowhere?? Can’t stand this, it’s awful.
The winning band (here we go) were also awarded prizes for the best Musical Director, best Bass section and a trophy for their Secretary (for some reason)… was the band that played….. NUMBER 9!!!!
That’s us! THAT’S US!!!!
We did it! So, so happy!
There is nothing quite like that winning feeling, especially after so much hard work and intense rehearsal. I am really proud of being a part of that winning ensemble, and I am extremely proud of my son who won a prize alongside his mates in the trombone section.
There is a bonus to the story too, in that because of points accrued and because of the win, Pemberton Old Band Wigan have been promoted to the Championship Section from January next year. That is a huge achievement and is all down to hard work and dedication from their players and their conductor Ben Dixon.
I doubt I will play with them again, but yesterday will forever stand out as a pinnacle in my banding life.
Outside my window… I can hear some isolated bursts of fireworks going off locally. The weather is mild to cold but not frosty yet.
I am thinking… about some changes I need to make in myself, my outlook, my worldview and my expectations.
I am thankful… for so, so much! Where to start? Well, first and foremost I am thankful for the ever present grace and love of God in my life. My faith in him (and his in me) has got me through so much this year and I am thankful to have reached this point still in one piece.
I am praying for… Charlotte and Kieran who are dealing with the most heartbreaking loss anyone can imagine; my brother who is going to be having an operation in a couple of weeks and is facing a long recovery time afterwards; Roy, Margaret, Iain and Megan who will be taking a big step next week; Emma who is starting a new job on Tuesday; Ethan who has got a high-pressure time ahead this term.
I am wearing… a happy smile this evening as I look back at what has happened this year.
I am creating… a new way of thinking. I have come to realise that my thought patterns and behaviour patterns need an overhaul if I am to ever make progress with my life. For example, I am desperate to write a full length novel but fear of failure is holding me back. I know I have the skills (talent is as yet still untested), but I keep talking myself out of doing anything about it because I think my story is not good enough, or that people won’t want to read it and so on. I am trying to create a new way of thinking about myself where I concentrate on the positives of what I’m doing rather than worrying about the (unknown) negatives.
I am going… to put my new thinking into action over the coming weeks and let’s see where we are by half term.
I am wondering… whether I ought to do something about my physical health as well as my mental health this year…
I am reading… “Speaking in Bones” by Kathy Reichs. I was fortunate enough to receive an Amazon gift card for Christmas which I have already bitten into and bought this latest one in the Temperance Brennan series. I have had my eye on it for a little while and I was really chuffed to be able to buy it on Boxing Day. I’m nearly at the end of it and to be honest, I can’t wait for bedtime tonight so I can go and finish it!
I am hoping… that our financial difficulties will be eased this year, if not resolved somehow. I have faith that we will be ok.
I am learning… to ease up on myself, to lower my expectations, and to celebrate the small things.
In my garden… we have a gazebo erected over our deck area at the back of the house. We put it up there for Christmas Day so we had somewhere dry to put the settee out while we had the long tables set up for dinner. We haven’t got round to putting it down yet but I rather like it and might persuade Kevin to keep it for a while.
In my kitchen… we have some snacks and treats waiting to eat while we watch the final Harry Potter film later on tonight.
A favourite quote for today…
A peek into one of my days… I’m going to cheat here and show you a few photos from December as there’s too many to choose from!
A bonus little video for you: filmed outside our house on Christmas morning as we played for our neighbours before church. Hope you enjoy it!
One of my favourite things… is planning and researching things for writing about. One of my least favourite things is spotting when “research” becomes “procrastinating” and getting a move on and to get writing.
Post Script: This year has been a year of spectacular highs and devastating lows, and this is my chance to acknowledge those difficulties and joys and to say a public thank you to everyone who has got me through it all.
Those of you who have followed my blog over the months and years will know that from time to time my mental health takes a hit, and that my family’s financial situation is not particularly secure or hopeful. This year has been the worst we have endured and we have come close a few times to crossing the line. However, we have been blessed on so many occasions by the kindness and support of family and friends who have seen us through. With gifts of food and other necessities, and on more than one occasion the gift of money, our family and friends have literally saved the day. Ethan would not have been able to go on the trip of a lifetime with the music centre had it not been for an anonymous gift of a substantial amount of money which was put through our front door the day before the deadline for payment. More recently, we were facing a very lean Christmas with no spare cash to be able to buy any presents for anyone but again, from anonymous gifts, we not only were able to get some gifts for our children but we have enough now for both Kevin and I to be able to replace our glasses in a couple of weeks. We are both desperate for an eye test and new glasses but until this money came in, we were getting very anxious about how we were going to pay for them. As I said, we have been extremely blessed and we are so grateful for everyone who has helped us in 2016. The grace of God has been in abundance in our family this year!
Some high spots have punctuated the seemingly endless struggle to “get by”, such as our family camping holiday in Wales this summer (again, paid for as a gift to us – and boy are we glad for that gift!). We were joined by my brother and his family for a few days, which was a great experience, and I got to enjoy some spiritual time in a very special part of the world. I finally finished my studies and I got my degree this summer which is an achievement I never in a million years thought I would ever do. Kevin and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this year too, which, as with my degree, is an achievement and milestone I never thought I would ever see. But we did and I am proud to have made it with my best friend and partner in life.