New Term

img_3540Just in the door, my Skype rang. It was Fifi from Ibiza.  “Everyone’s gone home” she said, “The whole family. The temperature’s dropped and the campsite’s finally calming down.”

I relayed how I’d just been sitting on a bench in the park with a hot cup of tea for company as the smoky smell of autumn drifted towards me, leaves on the ground around my stillness; serving as a carpet to crunch through on the way home.

“I crave nature these days” I said.
“You’re not the only one.  Practically every guest I’ve had a conversation with this season has told me of their yearning for countryside, greenness and simplicity in life” Fifi replied.

Later that evening I bounded up the steps of my choir’s rehearsal venue, literally grinning with glee in anticipation.

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Wondrous Stevie

IMG_2906As with the best holidays, the blues follow: They’re inescapable. And so it was for Stevie Wonder at Hyde Park.  Such was the sublime soulfulness of Stevie and his band’s performance of ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ that the only way from such an up was an inevitable down today. But tonight when I listened to some of my recordings I felt the magic again.

The day had started inconspicuously enough.  Meeting my cousin, we were excited at the prospect, but exhausted from a hard working week; keen for a catch up and a sit down.

With a mid forties average age audience, we remained seated during Corinne Bailey Rae and read the papers. Pharrell stirred us at 5.30pm and at 6.30pm we stood to attention to salut one of my all time favourite singers.

‘Songs in the Key of Life’ was the first (double) album I ever bought on cassette, and the first song I christened my first hi-fi with was ‘Isn’t She Lovely’.  That’s a lot of firsts.

Through the humour and charm of his performance, frequently spouting ‘cockney’ and admonishing the crowd when they came in too soon to sing a long, Stevie had us all in the palm of his hand.  And what a comforting and gentle hand it was too.  He reminded us of the importance of love over hate and how we can all play a part in turning things around. His rendition of ‘Pastime Paradise’ gave me goosebumps – a gospel choir coming in strong with a heart-rending  chorus of ‘We Shall Overcome’.

After he performed ‘Joy Inside My Tears’ he wiped his from mirrored-shades protected eyes. He wasn’t the only one.

Before he sang ‘If it’s Magic’ he told us that his harpist had recently died from cancer, and that the last backing track she had recorded to accompany this tune would be played with him now.

Through it all – from his array of stupendously excellent singers’ and musicians’ solos contributing to the democratic perfection of a truly beautiful and uplifting whole, the occasion was tinged with a bittersweetness.  Bitter in that so many geniuses and legends of note have left us recently; a seeming rise in troubled times and uncertainty; sweet in that Stevie in all his magnificence continues to inspire – despite a debilitation that from birth must have challenged him in all aspects of his life.

His message was clear: If I can do it, you can:  ‘We can all make a difference when we choose love over hate’ he said.

Poignancy infused this three and a half hour set in the most soaring way: Despite feeling ill that day, he’d arrived to be here, and as darkness fell he called out to the crowd: ‘We’ve got 20 more minutes before they close the park: Let’s turn it out!’ He didn’t want to go home, and neither did we.

Violetta

FullSizeRender 4I have to say I empathised with her dilemma – certainly at the beginning of the evening.

The Royal Opera House was last night, and is, a picture.  A picture of elevated sumptuousness, where people dress for the occasion and actually put their mobile phones away (albeit only until the interval). After all, what’s wrong with a bit of respect for artistry on the kind of levels that surpass the ordinary, with attention to detail rarely experienced.

I waited, orchestra stall seated, for my companion who was running very late and got chatting to the couple next to me. Ted told me “We’ve seen it already this year, we loved it so much we just had to come back.”

I looked around at a rapidly swelling auditorium.  Plush red velvet seats complimented a predominantly glamorous audience. My opera partner arrived just in time. The conductor’s baton was raised and we were off.

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Where there is light

Musical accompaniment: http://bit.ly/1UK3TUT

P1070332Cold glittering pavements met my snow boot shod feet as I left the house.  This was a night for adventurers, curious people, resilient Londoners. With a temperature of – 2 degrees layers were required to brave weather so freezing that it hurt ears, numbed hands and nipped consistently at already chilled faces.  But oh, the reward.

In one of the darkest months of the year when light is fleeting, sunlight even more so, one craves brightness, forgetting for moments how wonderful and happy it can make you feel – until a reminder comes.

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Blessings to be counted, one, two, three

P1070161You know you’ve got a good New Year’s Eve on your hands when you sweep through two sets of grand curtains to be met by a kilt wearing Scot brandishing a saxophone. I say sweep, because that’s all you can do in a Tiffany-style charity find of a designer LBD, accompanied by one of your most favourite people in the world (Blessings to be counted, one).

‘Rach, I don’t think I’ll wear that Alberta Ferretti tonight, I’ve had two more mince pies and several large peaks of Toblerone. I’m just going to go for the trusty lurex’ whooped my text to her one hour earlier. ‘Just wear what you feel comfortable in’ came her consistently gentle, but firm advice.

Two minutes to leaving for The Vault @ Putney Pies I checked the result of my final decision in the mirror. ‘It is New Year’s Eve after all’ I texted.  ‘I feel lucky to be alive and vibrant’ (Blessings to be counted, two).  ‘I’m seizing the moment cuz!’

A ‘hello’ to Matt, our host in SW15 was swiftly followed by his stellar bar manager David, and fellow Glaswegian, serving us up some champagne.  None of your glass three quarters full here: Generously filled to the brim it knocked any sophisticate notions on the head and tripled my enthusiasm for this – traditionally least favourite – night of the year.

We raised our glasses, chatting easily with David, relaxing into what felt like home.

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Home is a Disco Ball

P1060996Serena Morton’s disco party is deserving of capitals.

I arrived at her gallery in deepest and on this occasion, coolest West London, late – to find most guests had just vanished to the after party.  (I couldn’t help it. I’d been to the Irish Embassy for something – anything – and one does not like to leave the Ambassador early).  One of the security guards offered me a quick look around before locking up.

P1060948I knew it would be right up Conversation with Strangers’ street.  Disco.  Just that word is evocative of fun, decadence, good times and the inevitable classic tunes.  I looked at the photos on display taken by Bill Bernstein to celebrate his book launch. I was there. I could feel the energy, the eccentricity and that feeling of being with like minded souls.

A gold lurex clad dame approached me.  “Hi, I’m Serena.  Would you like a lift to the party?”  I hopped into a blacked-out-windowed vehicle and met others of her entourage:  Long haired polite pretty girls who welcomed me enthusiastically.

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On a night such as this ..

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“From a girl in your position, I expected better lies.”

I looked at Kate over my glass of water: “Don’t quote Rossini to me in the interval” I practically cried with laughter. “I merely read you a text I sent to our fellow gardener choir friend to say that the window boxes she had planted for you had died.”
“Yes!  But what’s with the little blushing emotocon next to it with the rolling eyes heavenwards?!”

I giggled uncontrollably, in fact my stomach hurt.

The Barber of Seville had us in stitches, but in fairness we were off to a flying start with a pre-opera drink at Dukes Bar.  You know winter has truly arrived when you find yourself with a cocktail trolley table-side and Alessandro the master barman conjuring up a couple of killer martinis.

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An Aquamarine Dream

P1060102“I think they were the best I’ve ever seen them tonight” E shouted as we dashed through a force ten gale following The Cuban Brothers’ gig at The Shuck, Whitstable.

Soaked through we arrived at the car.  I shook raindrops from my hair and shut the door quickly.  “I may have to agree, and Lord knows I’ve seen them enough times: I can only put it down to the new aquamarine suit and the hometown combo.” I replied.

Ah, aquamarine, my favourite colour and when worn by one of the inimitable Cubans – local to this part of the woods – a tough act to follow.

We’d arrived at 8pm, out of town hours, earlier than usual.  “Everything’s usually winding down by 11pm here” said my Whitstablian friend E.  “I reckon they’ll be on at 8.30pm.” “9” I wagered.

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Needle on the record

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“I haven’t got any ID with me by the way” my 21 year old City trader companion for the evening remarked as we headed out for drinks.

“Well – what’s the age now? Isn’t it 18? Aren’t you legal?” I asked a little clueless on not having come up against this issue for a while.

“Yes of course, it’s just sometimes I get asked.”

Chiltern Firehouse was our destination for the evening. Ah, like an illicit lover she carelessly drew our attention – all charm and good looks, subtly seductive with the attention to detail that makes us weak at the knees and powerless to resist.

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