The most wonderful time of the year?

IMG_0547Switching on the radio the morning after the UK General Election (I already knew the result), what I heard was Andy Williams singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” – a schmaltzy Christmas song that I’ve never liked. I switched off.

For me, it’s a trite and rather dreary song, but it did get me thinking. Regardless of the result of the election, there are and will be people sleeping rough on the streets of Britain. There are and will be people barely managing, needing to go to food banks, even if they’re in work – maybe on zero-hours contracts.  Will this go away under the new, jubilant Tory government? Despite what our MP, herself a Tory, said at the recent hustings I attended, I feel in my gut that the erosion and depletion of care and concern for those less fortunate in our society is likely to continue for some time. I may be wrong, the glass may be half full, and right now there is only so long I want to stay in this rather gloomy place.

So Brexit will happen then, on 31st January….or will it? It seems a lot of  people in Britain fell for Boris Johnson’s 3-word mantra of “Get Brexit Done” and voted him in as Prime Minister, even though many of them were traditionally Labour voters. The country is still reeling with jubilation or shock, depending on which way they voted. My vote is a floating one these days, and I voted tactically – not for Boris I might add.

He’s going to have his work cut out trying to bring healing to our disunited country; time will tell if it works.  There will be much work to be done to secure and finalise leaving the EU – it will probably take years to get it done. Oh joy.

In the meantime, I’ll step out of Scrooge mode and do my best to express in my everyday life the sentiments of the quote I have on the About Me page on this blog.

Three things in life are truly important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; the third is to be kind – Henry James

With the cup half full – probably a lot more full than that – here’s to more kindness and generosity of spirit, smiles, warmth and humanity towards all people, living creatures and the environment as we approach the festive season and the turning point of the year – the Winter Solstice. May the returning warmth of the sun and light awaken something more positive in us all. We need it.

A football final and 18 songs at the Liverpool Philhamonic

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall; Part of the 300-strong choir

Hanging on to daughter’s arm, enjoying the atmosphere, I made my way through a couple of riotous street parties in Liverpool last Saturday afternoon, en route to the iconic Art Deco Liverpool Philharmonic Hall where I was going to sing in a big Cheshire and Merseyside Rock Choir concert.

I had to arrive early for sound checks (we had a live 5 piece band and very good they were too), line ups and a quick run through of some songs as a warm up. We knew it might be a bit busy in Liverpool as The Reds had reached the final of the European Cup being played in Madrid. Busy and lively it was. Daughter had taken me early, the rest of the family and friends were to follow later.

We parked then linked arms to make sure we stayed together as we walked to the venue. Liverpool was buzzing, the atmosphere was good humoured and boozy. Inhaling the beer we had to laugh and just go with the energy. We stalled at one point in a narrow street, where it was very lively, a red smoke bomb had been let off and the crowds were singing. Stuck in the middle of it, we just joined in with the crowd singing “When the Reds go marching in”. There were smiles all around and high spirits, but at no point did we feel threatened. It was a great warm up to the concert for me and I arrived energised after experiencing a footie crowd in full voice.

While daughter went off to look at Liverpool’s two cathedrals before meeting the rest of my fan club, I did the warm up, line up, got changed, ate a snack, applied the red lipstick and sat with voice part friends (all lower soprano) from my choir.

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We lined up backstage as music from the band played something beaty, the lights swivelled and swirled and the dry ice machine pumped out atmospheric clouds. Then it was time to walk on stage, take our places and perform. No nerves for me, just pure excitement, and knowing that I was perfectly capable of singing all 18 songs we were performing, word, note and moves perfect. I was more than ready.

Our opening song was Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now  – there was no chance of that as the energy was high right from the start! We sang rock, pop and gospel, old songs from the 80s, current pop songs, ballads and the emotional Rock Choir “anthem”, Labbi Sifre’s Something Inside So Strong, a powerful song which brings a tear to a few eyes as we sing it. The concert ended on a high for our final song, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, followed by our encore, The Communard’s Don’t Leave Me This Way.

While I’d been singing my heart out, Liverpool had won the European Cup, so back on the streets it was even rowdier with an even higher charge to the atmosphere. What  a night. More street parties and celebrating happy people. Daughter and I linked arms, said “See you at home” to the rest of our group and went once more into the partying fray to get to the car.

I’d been looking forward to this concert but never imagined it would be partying all the way before and after the performance. It’s an experience that will stay with me for a long time. I’m still glowing now.

Jack-in-the-Green

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The May Day parade in our small town is always led by the same three characters: first comes the Marshal, mounted on a gleamingly groomed horse, followed by the Town Crier ringing a bell and calling “O-yez”. Behind him comes Jack-in-the-Green, a walking tree mounted on a wood and wire frame. It’s all very English.

Jack is my favourite character as he represents the pagan origins of May Day celebrations. I wonder, each year, what sort of shoes the person in Jack’s green costume might be wearing. This year the shoes were hardly visible. I spotted a flash of sensible brown leather. Maybe the days of the white trainers and socks, which in years past have provided chuckles of amusement for the watching crowd, are over.

P1020628The Green Man, who Jack-in-the-Green represents, is pagan but his image appears in Christian churches around the world.

I always look out for him when visiting a church or cathedral on my travels. He was sitting high up in the wooden beams of Bridlington Priory in Yorkshire, his face a carved roof boss.

Ooops George, watch out for that pothole!

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These gentlemen cyclists were taking part in the recent Knutsford May Day parade which  has a strong Victorian flavour as the Prince and Princess of Wales (later to become King Edward VI and Queen Alexandra) visited the town in 1887 when a special version of the festival was rolled out for them.

The local vintage cycling enthusiasts always dress up for the parade and ride their penny-farthings and boneshakers through the streets, often veering alarmingly close to the onlookers as they wobble along.

It becomes even more interesting when they reach the hill, as they have here. Some of them get off and walk if they’re riding bicyles with no brakes.

Morris dancing on May Day

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These smiling women are part of a Morris dancing team who took part in the traditional May Day parade in our small Cheshire town. They danced through the streets, accompanied by music played on a small accordion and a tin whistle, with a drum beating time. The ladies wear wooden clogs and hold wooden shuttles, which would have been used in the cotton mills in the north west. These are decorated with bells and ribbons.

Bells also feature in the costume worn by men Morris dancers but worn on their clogs. This group, also at the parade, have music to dance to and they carry small twisted ropes which they wave as part of the dance. The steps are heavy and noisy; stamping rhymically on the ground in time to the music, the dancers change places and make different formations and patterns as they weave around each other.

This group wear staw hats decorated with ribbons and flowers, and have been coming to our May Day parade for over 30 years. I couldn’t help noticing how some of the are now getting on a bit. There’s not been a big influx of new blood over the years, but it’s good that these grey-haired gentlemen are still able to enjoy this very English traditional form of dance and share it in the streets on a sunny day.

Morris dancing is thought to have been around since the mid 15th century. It’s traditional folk dancing associated with Maytime, the Maypole and the May queen. I’ve always understood that the stamping style of dance is meant to awaken the earth from its winter slumber and the small twised ropes held and waved by the dancers are symbolic of seeds being scattered on the ground. May Day has its origins in pagan festivals, the awakening of the earth and the Celtic festival of Beltane.