Greetings from Stanley – words and music.


Determined not to waffle. There are lots of things I do which I think I ought to include in this ‘blog’ but by the time I have chuntered on about cheese scones I never quite get there.

I have had another very busy week and a highlight was a lecture/gig at Redhills in Durham midweek. I was singing as one of the North East Socialist Singers who were lucky enough to be asked to sing with our uber talented Musical Director and all round wonderful woman Bethany Coyle. (I could write about Bethany ad infinitum. After Alex Polizzi aka Hotel Inspector she is the one woman I would like to be).

We were welcoming the audience into the magnificent historical building whilst they waited for the people they really wanted to see coming on. Said people being George Monbiot and Ewan McClennan. I knew nothing of either aside from the former is a Guardian journalist and the latter a musician. The project they worked on together is ‘Breaking the spell of loneliness’ and was inspired by an article by Monbiot which explored the themes of loneliness and isolation in contemporary society. It was a truly wonderful evening. The words of George were skilfully crafted into beautiful songs by Ewan and performed with great simplicity. I know, I know – it sounds utterly depressing…but, it really was not! I think I have alluded to my dislike of small talk and ‘polite conversation’; an example being when people ask me how I am I might just actually tell them. Lots of people think my taste in music is bleak. In a nutshell, Radiohead are my favourite band. I have heard them referred to as ‘music to slit your wrists to’ many times but I find the opposite to be true. I love anything that makes me actually ‘feel’ something. I like depths to be explored. No paddling about in the shallow end.

George Monbiot told a story about being in a rush at a checkout and being held up by an elderly person chatting to the checkout girl. (Hopefully not asking scripted questions – see later) He reflected on his impatience and realised this may be the only interaction this older person has with another human being in their day. Ewan Mc Clennan then sang the most beautiful song through the eyes of an old man walking down the street desperate for human interaction. One particular phrase I recall is where the man had the greetings he would use when he met the shopkeeper practised and on the tip of his tongue, only to be met by an electronic checkout. My daughter was there with me and we were both incredibly moved by the whole thing. I am perhaps making the whole thing sound mawkish and over sentimental but it’s actually not at all. That’s just my overly emotional interpretation – if you get the chance, listen to these songs and find out about this project.

On the subject of mawkishness, I have had several moments where I have cried these last few days. I am not hormonal or unhappy but touched by words and music at times. I was reading a book, a couple of days ago, that I had seen many times at work but which had never appealed to me before, when I was struck by one particular passage . It’s unexpectedness probably heightened my reaction to it. (I love childrens picture books and am hoping to talk about this passion with Simon Green as part of some filming he is doing). This book is about an owl who is afraid of the dark. He visits various people who explain to him all the positive things about darkness. The part that hit me in particular was his meeting with an old woman who tells him the dark is ‘forgiving’ and allows her time and space to think about her life and her memories. Just beautiful. I am unashamed to share these feelings and allow children to see that it’s okay to express emotions. I didn’t exactly WEEP but I didn’t hide my feelings either.

At this juncture I must say – I sing, dance, laugh and play in and out of work..honestly. It’s not ALL tears.

But then, I had the privilege of being an audience member at another astounding event the very next evening. It was the culmination of a project around Domestic Abuse. Three actresses played the part of three real women who had been involved in the project and the play was the resulting work. So impressive. The actual voices and words of real women were being played on a loop as we entered the auditorium as the three actresses sat close to the audiences seats knitting. They then told the stories of these three real life women with such honesty and emotion. The acting was top class. It reminded me of COAL (which I was involved with earlier this year – if only I had thought about writing about that at the time…!) in so far as the actors crossed ‘the line’ into the audience. (In COAL we gave out retro biscuits to involve our audience and make them feel like they were down the club with us on a Friday night and about to draw the raffle). In this play ‘Make do and Mend’ one of the cast came out and showed one of us how to knit and addressed us directly. The set, the actors, the stories were all incredibly moving and I am sure this work could reach out and support women facing similar scenarios in their own lives.

The only shame was there were only eight people in the audience. In Newcastle it was a sell out but This is Stanley. At the front desk, I was told repeatedly when purchasing my ticket that it was ‘not a problem’ for answers that simply didn’t demand that response. Miss Insincerity. Hospitality lessons from the school of robots. Like checkout staff when you can see their latest training guidance pinned in their workspace – ‘Did you find everything you wanted in store today?’. ‘What are you doing this evening?’. ‘Have you just finished work?’. Have their employers heard of privacy and personal space invasion? And you know they have to say it, the poor sods and you know they don’t care really and why would they…?

Finally, today I shared the most lovely tv programme with a group of canny little people. It’s a show that introduces pieces of classical music to children through stories in a cartoon. Today’s was Clair de Lune by De Bussy and the accompanying cartoon is all about the figures in a musical jewelry box and their love for one another. The male tries to capture the moon (which also reminded me of an Eric Carle story ‘Papa, please get the moon for me’ – a story for another day you will be relieved to hear) for the female and the conclusion of the tale is simply beautiful. The animation is poor which adds to it’s charm. Go watch it x