I was sorry to see the obituaries this week for the great Carlo Curley, organist and showman, at the age of only 59.

I saw him only once in concert, all the details of which are quite hazy – apart from Carlo Curley.

I had attended as someone’s companion (therefore their choice of concert) – possibly Carolyn.    I am not sure where the concert was.   I seem to recall a long church like venue, and that it was a school, which would suggest the chapel at Ardingly College; or perhaps Christ’s Hospital, Horsham.

When Carlo Curley marched in, extravert, very fat, breathless etc I was not at all enthusiastic as to our prospects for the evening, but in fact it was one of the most ‘fun’ concerts of classical music I have ever attended.   I’m afraid I cannot recall any of the music.   What I do remember is that Carlo Curley found fault with one of his performances, and halted proceedings and restarted, but in doing so he pretended that the organ was a team of horses, and he was struggling to achieve control and bring it to a halt.  In retrospect, this was probably a set piece of his performances.    But it left me with the picture of the great Carlo Curley, his ample posterior precariously perched on a tiny seat while he wrestled with the controls of this great beast of an organ.

I’m sure the heavenly chorus can always make room for an organ player of his stature.    And fun as well…    I’m surprised we can’t hear their bells ringing from here.

It was a privilege to have heard him even once.



All my life, I have found myself with very little tolerance for noise.   Considering that I am a woman who can talk alot, I am extremely fond of silence.

Absolute silence is actually hard to come by, but there are certain quiet scenes in which those noises present are lovely.   Imagine yourself lying on a blanket in an English country field (No, it’s none of my business why you are lying there.)   Although it is warm, you can hear the small movement of a light breeze in the leaves above you.   Further off, there is the faint gurgling sound of a stream.   Over the hedge in the next field, you can hear the peaceful tug, tug, and chewing of cattle in grass.   Far off, and you are just aware of it, is the soaring sound of larks.   You can hear your companion’s breath falling slowly and rhythmically in and out of his body.   All is well in your world.

But how often do you hear these  sounds?

I thought I’d list ten of my liked, and ten disliked, sounds

Those I like include:

The sound of the feet, and then the voice, of someone you love.

The waves crashing on the shore.

The call of your cat (or other pet) in greeting to you as you return home.

A blackbird’s song in the evening.

A baby’s laughter.

A wind arising.

The hum on the trackline that signals your train is coming towards you.

A pipe band when you are far away from Scotland.

The piping sound some bird calls just before dawn.


And to dislike:

The sound of the chain saw.

The braying noise made by those classes who have nothing to say but plenty of energy to say it and appear to have no volume control.

A door banging.

A football being kicked against a wall.

Leakage from people’s personal music system.

A child crying.

The noise of a motorway.

The voice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer whoever he may be.   (He never says, we’ve all done well, let’s treat ourselves to something really nice…)

Any music I have not chosen.

Any noise whatsoever from any person living near you but not a member of your household.

Sometimes, love over-rules all other considerations.   Men can be particularly noisy and bothersome.   But the noise made by the man you love is all music to your ears.   The peculiarity of his steps by which you can hear him coming long before he arrives;   the timbre of his voice, so yoiu can identify him in speech in another room even though you cannot distinguish what is being said.    The man of my life can sing and whistle, but even if what he produced was tuneless, you would still find it tolerable.   His saw, hammer, car engine, coughing – they are all beloved by you because where they are, he is.   Clearly the answer to noisy neighbours, is to love them!

You also become accustomed to certain noises.   In our childhood we often lived right beside railway lines, and we ceased to notice the noise of trains crashing through, but we became aware immediately of any problem on the line that caused the trains to stop.   Similarly I have never been able to tolerate the ticking of clocks and have been known to place clocks outside bedrooms in which I have been a guest.   So when John brought his father’s grandfather clock home, I wondered about it.   Yet it’s slow and steady tick-tock and its sonorous chiming are part of the fabric of our life, and again we only notice when it stops.

Some people of course do not have the gift of hearing and I must remind myself to be grateful for this enrichment of our lives.

PS   I sometimes rhapsodise about the dawn chorus.   This morning we awoke in our caravan in  a field at Rye, East Sussex, and the dawn chorus, I kid you not, consisted of a donkey, an owl, and a flock of seagulls!


After the great unifying success of the Opening Ceremony and the Olympic Games, I have read at least 3 articles in the press (Hugo Rifkind, Richard Morrison, and some shrill woman whose name I don’t recall) opining with greater or lesser degrees of rejoicing that Scottish Independence and Alex Salmond were dead in the water.    Whether this is true or not we must all hope to live and witness, but personally I think to hold this view is to miss the point.

I reflected how as the ceremony unfolded I was at first concerned, and then reassured as the designer recognised our four different nations and to highlight those common factors which we all value.   Never the less, I was puzzled by the order of the playing of the nations’ anthems – first the English, well, you would expect that – and then Northern Ireland’s?   But then I realised they were being played in alphabetical order – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales – and who could disagree with that?

I agree wholeheartedly that the Olympic Games were a great success and it was wonderful to be received in London with warmth and welcome, and to watch Andy Murray draped in the Union flag thank the ‘home crowd’ for its support.   So far did our joy and goodwill extend that we converged on London in our hundreds of thousands, (my husband amongst them) to cheer on runners in the Marathon  and to recognise their effort and achievement, when this was an event where there was no hope of a British runner winning.

So  – of course we’re stronger together than apart.   Yes, the Union is worth saving.   But I don’t think the dissolution of the union has ceased to be a danger.

We’ve been watching an excellent series by that wonderful wizard of  a presenter Michael Woods, on the history of the British.   It is striking how none of the would be invaders – Rome, the Edwards I and II, William the Conqueror, were  able to conquer Scotland, partly due to the resistance of the natives, and partly also to geographical good fortune.   It is moving for Scots to see that the borders of the Roman empire are stopped at Hadrian’s Wall and to read that Septimus Severus advanced further into Scotland, but did not succeed in holding the territory, and his incursion cost him 50,000 men.    Yet Scotland was betrayed by the greed and perfidy of its king, and by its poverty at that time, into an inferior position within the union.

The Scots are long of memory.   I recall discussing these issues with a friend, who complained that they had all happened centuries ago, and when would that slate be wiped clean?   I in my turn was astonished by her attitude.   Things once done or said stand forever and can never be nullified.   They can be forgiven, but the Scots are not good at that.

The union of the crowns, and later of the parliaments, was like an arranged marriage with the people of  Scotland (but not its king or aristocracy) an unwilling and coerced participant.   The marriage has endured – to mutual benefit it has to be agreed – but Scotland’s dissatisfaction has not diminished.   The present position seems to be that at least some Scots (about half as we stand at present, I would estimate, but rising) are dissatisfied with the marriage and wish to change, if not to end it.   England on the other hand, declares itself quite happy with the present arrangement.   In national unions, as in marriages, this state of affairs could not be described as either welcome or stable.

I believe that the people of Scotland would wish to preserve the union if England were also to accept that it too was part of a federation comprising 4 nations of equal status.   The English would have to recognise that English and British were not the same thing.   They would have to accept that the Union flag belonged to us all, and sport their own flag, St George’s on all occasions that weren’t British.    They would have to choose a national anthem for themselves;  and I think Britain needs to get a new one too, for no Scot is going to feel entirely comfortable with the present national anthem, God Save the  Queen, not from any disaffection with the Lady, but because it contains a prayer for the crushing of rebellious Scots.   England would also need to accept that it must have a government for itself, and the ignoble post of Secretary of State for any part of our islands must be abolished.   Then we would need to define what were properly British matters to be dealt with in a British place of government, and what would be handled by the federated states.   Of course I cannot speak for opinion in Wales or Northern Ireland, but it is my belief that they too would accept these terms |(and Scotland would help them negotiate if necessary.)

But will England accept this view?   I see little evidence that it has even spotted the approaching clouds.   These issues are not going to go away.   The rising (not yet voting) generation has been brought up on Scottish history and is more pre-disposed to view Scottish independence as a ‘done deal’.   Even if the question is put, and we do not meet the criteria at this precise moment;  the question will not vanish.     The question will just stand there, like the elephant, and wait for Fate to overtake it.   It can always be asked again.

Our enjoyment of our British identity together over the last few weeks shows us what we could achieve.   We can rejoice in our own nationhood, and be British as well;  and we can gather in under our British  flag all our diverse and valued populations.

I’m for the Union.   But it is England who can save it.   If England can extend that warmth, tolerance, fair play and generosity of spirit that it has displayed along with the rest of us British – for the last few weeks, to its own brothers and sisters, there is no limit to what we could achieve together.    Saving the Union will be difficult and costly, but I think the prize is worth the price.


Becoming irritated with my smallest grand-daughter’s continual reaction to most foods of ‘I don’t like it,’ I suggested in exasperation that this phrase be banned.   She could still express a negative view, but she had to do so employing different words.     We suggested various phrases:  ‘This is not my preference’;  ‘I would not say this was my favourite’; ‘This is not to my taste’.   We thought, it will give her pause for thought, and at least she’ll be doing some creative thinking and expanding her (already extensive) vocabulary.   ‘So,’ asked Joanna at the end of the conversation, ‘which of these phrases will you use?’     Dana thought for a moment or two, and then shot me a swift glance from under lowered eye-lashes.    She turned to her mother.   ‘I’ll just say, ‘Granma can eat it.’ she said.



I wrote the other week of the horrors of Joanna’s and my train journey down to Cornwall.    On our return we came by car, and we decided to break our journey roughly half way which was about Stone Henge.

We chose what turned out to be a most delightful bed and breakfast in The Old Rectory, Chicklade.   The journey was stressful, in part in heavy rain and as we came into the nearby area we were getting tired.   We turned off by mistake into the village of Hindon, a really beautiful stone built village with a church but no rectory that we could see.   Joanna got out and asked a young local man for directions.   It was apparent to me from the beginning that he had no idea at all of where we were going, but a long and earnest conversation followed with much gesticulation and pointing.    It turned out that, no, he couldn’t direct us to our bed and breakfast but he could recommend places to eat, and I wondered how long he’d waited in the pub in the hope she’d turn up.   (He didn’t notice her horrible mother, lurking in the car.)

Phoning our landlady we discover that though the postal address is Hindon, in actual fact it’s at Chicklade,  directly off the A303 on the left, travelling east.

I have often written critically of our reception at hotels but the couple who ran The Old Rectory got it just right.   The husband came out to help Joanna with the luggage.   At that point I was not walking very well, and he gave me just the right amount of assistance – pointed out the easiest route, anticipated and removed obstacles, but then stepped back and left me to find my own pace.   The lady was waiting at the door and greeted us warmly, and had placed  a chair for me to rest on before we continued to our room.   Then it was on up to our quarters on the second floor, where we had a charming little suite comprising a major and minor bedroom and a shared bathroom.  It was all immaculately clean and attractively and appropriately furnished.   We had a pleasant view over green fields.   Our landlady kindly gave us some carrot cake to have with our tea.

In the morning, the breakfast was everything it should have been.   (Is there any breakfast in the world better than ‘The Full English’ – if you have leisure to eat it and someone else cooks it, serves it and clears it up?)   We chatted to other guests who were all going on to visit Stone Henge.

The bill for both of us was £90 and we went on our way refreshed.   We passed the ancient stones in the still quietness of early morning, and wondered how many women before us, and by what modes of transport, had passed this way, and hailed, as we did, the gods of long ago?



I find it hard to believe there can be anyone in Britain less interested in sport than I am.   Personally I can’t see that it makes any difference if you run a mile in 4 minutes or 40.   (You’re being pursued by a wolf?    He’ll maintain the chase for days if necessary and besides his pack will join him and hunt you down.   You’re doomed, basically, timed trial or not.)   Similarly, does it matter that you can hit a ball over a net, or into a hole?    (Now I can see that it could be significant if you could sock it to your opponent between the eyes.)   And, it seems rather unfair that the difference between a gold medallist (here comes the all-conquering hero), and the silver medallist (also ran…) can be a hundredth of a second.

And so, you would not expect anyone to be less interested in, or enthusiastic about, the Olympic Games than myself.

But I DO like STORIES and some great ones have emerged this week, and some interesting personalities have come to prominence as well.

First among the Honours lists must come Sebastian Coe.   Always for me a suspiciously Establishent figure, never the less he has been a good leader for the Olympic team for all these years and been a constant steadying influence.   Then there’s Boris, so different from Coe, but like his predecessor so emblematic of the City of London:  he has done his bit also.

There’s the athletes themselves who have laboured so hard and for so long, and yet there is still an element of luck as to whether it all comes good on the day, and they go on to fortune and glory, or whether it has all been for naught, and they lapse into obscurity.  Quite often those praised and expected to do well, stumble on the day, and some hitherto un-noticed fellow steals past them and goes on into history.

Bradley Wiggins – babies, I hear, are being named after him – seems a quiet and modest fellow.   Yet he knew his worth.   When some commentator asked him, did he think he had the power to win, he gave his interrogator a brief ‘look.’   “Yes, I can win the Gold,” he replied.    “I’ve just won the Tour de France.”    And on he went to win the Gold.   We won’t forget him.

But the most delightful thing was the Opening Ceremony.   I had no great hopes of it.   The Chinese effort, for all its magnificence, had  filled me with horror.   Ours would not be on such a scale, and would this be depressing?

But instead, it was a triumph.    When it opened with that English anthem, Jerusalem, I thought, Oh, no, and prepared to gather up my skirts and depart.    But then they went on to play the anthem Danny Boy of Northern Ireland, and I thought, Wait.   When they came to O Flower of Scotland, a song imposed by the Scots simply because they kept singing it instead of the official version being played, I thought, oh, they are going to acknowledge that we are four nations.

Then the run through our history – our rural beginnings;   our industrial past.  No boasting about our wars, nor about our empire.    Things included that we care about, like the NHS.   And all done with a lightness of touch and humour.   The queen entered into the spirit of things.

As for the torch, sports philistine that I am, I had got rather fed up of it on its interminable progression around the country, though I do acknowledge thousands of people were interested in it and its planned route was a great success.   But it was nice to see David Beckham, who has never stinted in his willingness to serve his country, guiding the boat with the torch on board down the Thames.   Steve Redgrave is the Daddy-O of British sport at the moment, and the beautiful cauldron being lit by seven youthful aspiring athletes was everything that was appropriate and fitting.

At the end, you thought, We are the British.     This is a mighty thing – who else would you rather be? – but also a mighty accomplishment on the part of the Olympics organisers.

I had wondered what benefit the Olympics could bring to us.   We are not, as some countries have been, anxious to be placed on the map.    Everybody knows where we are.    But the benefit the Olympics has brought us is nothing to do with other people.   Hosting the 2012 Olympic Games has reminded us who we are.

We are the British.