July Camping

Shiny floor

July 31st
A man came from Alnwick today to do things to the kitchen floor. He came and went, then came back, and we had a pleasant chat or two and even a laugh. In amongst this toil and distraction, I came in from the blackcurrants to offer him a drink, but he was sitting waiting for something to dry with a take-away coffee from The Running Fox in his hand – he must have been chatting with yesterday’s worktop man about my ploppy coffee.

Blackcurrants Blackbird

When he left, the floor was covered in a mirror-like shimmer. We’re not allowed to walk on it until August. He’ll be back on Friday to apply the final layer of colour. Meanwhile, up in the garden my new friend the blackbird and I have been harvesting the blackcurrants together today in singsongy cameraderie.


Blackbird Blackcurrants


July 30th
A man came here from Derbyshire today with a lasery thing on a tripod and he and I discussed granite worktops, sink drainage, the benefits of rearing bi-lingual children, the curvature of bench-ends, bevelling, the un-straight-ness of everything in old houses (I’ve had this conversation with many a skilled craftsman over the last few weeks), how beautiful England is, a little bit of geometry. I was pleased to see that he got out his tape measure to check that the machines were correct in their calculations. They were. I liked the combination of techniques. I made him a cup of coffee, which he did not drink. “That’s me!” he said kindly as he left, “I always put my work first!” Maybe. But maybe I just make rubbish coffee. It was the start of the new choir year today too, the old year having ended yesterday at the party. We got almost fully to grips with this song and so are well and truly into the learning for our Remembrance concert on November 10th.

July 29th
This afternoon was The Bridge Singers’ end-of-year get-together where we chatted and sang and ate and played games and laughed. Several were on holiday or at work, but still we managed our usual level of merriment. We started our singing with three verses of Dowland’s “Come Again” in memory of our lovely tenor Alan Blevins. He told me once that he loved it. We then took requests from the assembled guests and the only one we had to decline was The Power Of Love which needed the keyboard and everyone refused to fetch and assemble it! Tomorrow is the start of the new choir year – no break for us this year due to our upcoming Remembrance Concert in November. Lots of new music makes for much excitement. This is a picture of us this afternoon singing this song and the recording is from St. Michael’s in June.

July 28th
Today we bought a light bulb and two flannels. Other things we intended buying proved elusive. Jamie thinks this is because we want things that others don’t, so shops do not stock them. Between failed shopping stops we had an hilarious muddle caused by the close orthographical (if not geographical) juxtaposition of Blaydon and Blagdon.

July 27th
Sunrise stripes.


July 26th
Ae Fond Kiss from Brinkburn and Julie’s flowers with a new bit of the unfinished bathroom.


July 25th
Sunrise walk. Singing with Rock Festival Choir at Brinkburn over the middle of the day. Late lunch with many of them at Weldon Bridge. Soprano-ing with MadriGals in the evening. All delightful. But possibly the highlight was coming home from this last and finding that Jamie had cleared away the dust sheets from the stairs and hall and vacuumed the carpet, so temporarily at least some of our home looks like it used to.

Rock Festival Choir, post wedding at The Angler’s Arms in Weldon Bridge

Today was the first weekday for four weeks that Neil wasn’t in the house – a strange feeling, but he’ll be back once the kitchen worktop and flooring people get themselves sorted out.

July 24th
It’s been a day of excellent friends being excellent friends as we come to terms with our choir friend Alan’s death. I have exchanged many an email and phone call and have spent some soothing moments with Tim and a very pleasant afternoon with Julie. Also today handles are on doors in the kitchen and now everything grinds to a halt as other people are letting us and our very lovely and efficient Neil down. It’s like a minor version of Grand Designs, except that we’re not indulging in over-egged jeopardy before the ad breaks. It’ll all be well and in not too long. Also, today we have a new next door neighbour. He’s called Max and is a collie and has come down from a rescue place in the Borders and will now be a most excellent friend to Pat. I met him over the fence today and was allowed to ruffle his ears. I leave you today with a fade-in of one of my pieces with includes in the 1st tenors, our kind, gentle, dryly funny Alan and a clip he recorded for our documentary. The image shows some tenors and altos with Alan in the centre back, looking up at the conductor 🙂


July 23rd
First thing this morning I had an email from a choir member, regretting decisions in his life not to grasp opportunities when they presented themselves, and urging others not to make the same mistake. During the day an extractor was fitted above where the oven will be, doors were put on cupboards, lights were attached to walls, music was composed, bites itched and were absent-mindedly scratched and then itched some more. In the evening we had a recording session for The Bridge Singers with Ally. The hot and humid weather got the better of us in some places – too hot for our delicate constitutions. As ever we sounded good, but microphones are unforgiving as we know. I returned home to news that a different member of our choir – one of the founding members – had died during the day. Such a lovely, gentle fellow. It was a treat and honour to laugh and sing with him during these three years, and puts again into my mind the first comments I read today.

July 22nd.
We bought paint. That is all. I napped too. I like to nap. It’s hard to nap with a builder in the house. I can sleep through the noise the builder in the house makes, no problem. I can’t sleep through the fear of being discovered napping by the builder in the house. This was my day for napping because there was no builder in the house. Actually, Jamie put the door back on the spare bedroom today seeing as the bath is now in the bathroom not on the spare bed, so it’s possible from tomorrow that I could do napping in there with the door closed, but you can guarantee that as soon as I nod off, the builder in the house will need a decision making and Jamie will be on a phone conference or even absent altogether and I’ll have to make that decision in a semi-awake stupor, which may have dire consequences.

July 21st

Snug, shadow-kissed cables with sleek wall

Plasterers occupy the kitchen making everything smooth. Meanwhile, I am weeding in the garden, providing nourishment for passing insects who take greedy bites of my tasty wrists and shoulders. I have, however, freed the lilies from the strangling embrace of the convolvulus and the front bed (which usually contains vegetables, but not this year), is now planted with “reduced to half price flower seeds because it’s probably too late to see the benefit”, but I am ever the optimist. I’ve found the camping a little tiresome today, I must admit. By the end of the day, the walls in the kitchen have lost their evidence of centuries of randomly applied charm and are sleek, ready for orange to be splurged upon them. We are buying paint tomorrow, I gather.

July 20th

Wall layers. Horse hair. Ripples. Tomorrow the plasterers come and make these walls smooth. Tonight we had a Rock Festival Choir rehearsal mostly for next week’s wedding, but also for our upcoming performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’ve been given temporary control of our social media accounts, so do have a look at us on Twitter @rockfestchoir or YouTube here.

July 19th
First thing: Standing on Warkworth Beach watching the tide come in around a sandbank and the sun rise from behind the horizon clouds. It is magical. There are Eider ducks. I’m channeling Lord William Percy thinking of the Eiders in Siberia as he battled the mud in Gallipoli and France.


July 18th
Today’s camping has involved doing the dishes while having a shower, and eating crisp sandwiches. I’m rather partial to these. Musically, I’ve been listening to Nana Mouskouri and notating her version of Amazing Grace for a wedding we’re singing at next year. Her hippie ways have made me lethargic. In building news, the floor is now not be laid in the kitchen until August, so as everyone predicted, things will overrun. Neil, however, continues apace and is on time, with many kitchen units now in place and awaiting their trendy grey outer layer. A painter and decorator came to visit this afternoon. He’ll be sending a quote and schedule anon.

July 17th
Old plumbing. New plumbing. Holes through the 2 feet thick walls. “Me drill’s knackered!” Meanwhile memories of Sunday’s triumphant concert filter through the dust, with cheering feedback arriving at regular intervals. Here’s our final minute.


July 16th

The indignity of the sink

Thrills of the day: more choir tonight; rain; new bathroom floor. In amongst that, Neil found an old lintel and door frame in the kitchen wall, we had lots of exceedingly positive feedback from The Bridge Singers’ recital yesterday. The old kitchen sink’s gone: it lay outside in the glorious rain for most of the afternoon, but no-one took it, so it’s in the skip now!

Tiles, floor, hand basin

Also, I roamed about in the rain and smiled at the memories of it from weeks ago. The smell and feel of it were exhilarating.

July 15th
Today I have had the absolute thrill and joy of directing The Bridge Singers in a 45 minute recital at Brinkburn Priory in Northumberland as part of that glorious place’s summer music series. I could have chosen any 1 minute 10 seconds of the concert to share here because it was all stunningly wonderful, but I’ve gone for this because it received particular gushing feedback from several audience members. It’s the middle of Rachmaninov’s Bogoroditse Devo with a photo taken by David which features the rather spectacular organ pipes.


July 14th
Today I drove to Gilsland to help run a singing workshop for the local choir’s end-of-term there and happily “other” singers were also able to book places so two of my very lovely Bridge Singers, Jacqui and Penny came along too. It was splendid to work with the brilliant Kat and Amanda and their choir and a merry time was had indeed. We learned and performed the world premiere of my new song “Winnowing, Winnowing” for which the group composed a beginning and ending, using ideas suggested to them by the sculpture “Fall Of Iron” in Kit and Amanda’s Threshing Barn, and the song. It was an inspiring and laugh-filled day. Kit Haigh has also composed wonderful music to go with the sculpture by Imogen Clöet, which is usually playing in the barn. He used sounds generated by the barn itself and it was brilliant to chat to another composer about his work. This is a small excerpt from the song and shows you how I set yesterday’s words. For the whole song have a look and listen here.


July 13th
3pm. I sit at the piano composing away. Jamie is upstairs being important on a phone call. Neil rushes urgently by, out the front door, back to the kitchen, out again, back, out, back, out. I entertain the village with my piano-ing as the door remains open. Slightly distracted, I take a peek. The oven has cooked its last banana cake. 🙁 🍌
What I was composing was a song called Winnowing Winnowing, and I’m happy to say that I completed it and will use it in tomorrow’s workshops. It’s about a chaffinch in a threshing barn. It’s the first music I’ve composed for about three months, so it’s very pleasing indeed to know that I can still do it. It’s also the first time I’ve composed a song out loud with a plumber working away in the background, walking in and out of my thoughts and space, rubble in hand. It’s in what Jamie calls my usual workshop style – it’s in C minor, varied time signatures, uses some excellent new vocabulary, and has potential for improvised accompaniment!

July 12th
I wrote this song and I direct this choir. Not today, but still….Today has been a bit of a tedious one with nothing particularly of note occurring and plenty of weariness from everyone involved, so occasionally it’s nice to ponder on something more inspirational. I did sit at the piano and play and sing this for a while this afternoon and it did indeed lift the mood.


July 11th, 5pm
Bath on a Bed. Me and my new mate Neil just unwrapped the new bath (which has been sitting in our living room in its box and plastic wrappings for a fortnight) to carry it upstairs because the kitchen’s coming tomorrow (a week ahead of schedule and before the old one’s out) and we need the space for it downstairs. After much hoo-ing and hah-ing up the stairs, we decided to put it in here in my office. Cleared a space – doorway’s too narrow. Opted for on top of the spare bed, so moved all the currently-not-being-used kitchen accessories (which have been there for a fortnight too) onto the floor – doorway’s too narrow unless we take the door off. Took the door off, and lifted it way up high over the quite high bed frame and my fingers are not as strong as his, but I’m not as pathetic as I look, so after much laughter, it’s done. Oh, and it seems new baths come with spiders already in them! “See you in the morning for the next enthralling instalment,” he cried jauntily, as he departed. I nearly launched into “Right, Said Fred!” at one point, but thought that might be pushing the jaunty camaraderie a bit far.

Did I say the kitchen’s coming tomorrow? They’ve just turned up. Neil’s going to be full of something (either laughy or sweary or maybe both) when he gets here tomorrow. Meanwhile, the friendly kitchen delivery men are from South Yorkshire, the sturdier of the two is from Wearside, but married a Yorkshire lass so was forced to move south. I sat on the stairs while he brought box after box around the hallway curve into the kitchen. On each pass we exchanged the usual chat – football, satnavs and their foibles, rural roads and their narrowness, ceremonial umbrellas in Thailand and Indonesia.

July 10th
Two new things today, both in this video. The fitting of one warranted the purchase of the other, I decided. In other news, our skip was full so we have a new one, ready for lots of kitchen rubble next week. The negotiating-tight-squeezes-while-reversing skills of the skip delivery man is remarkable and worthy of a composer and a plumber watching on in admiration and remarking so at frequent intervals. In yet more news, I cajoled the computer into cooperating with the lyrics issue and that music is now complete, but still no joy on the printer front. Hmmm.


July 9th
Arranging music went well today until the computer decided to have a hissy fit with the lyrics and the printer decided to have a hissy fit with the black ink and one or two other issues relating to bathrooms started to get a munk on too. Ah well – it was The Bridge Singers in the evening – an activity almost always destined to create a buoyant mood. We practised for our outing at Brinkburn Priory on Sunday (2.30-3.15 if you’re interested in coming along.) We’re opening our recital with this one: Ego Flos Campi by Guerrero – this recording from our St. Paul’s Alnwick recital in June. This picture is of our gig on the bridge at Feltonbury and just came to my attention today. To see more pictures of Feltonbury 2018 have a look here!

Pierced bit of Pierced Hemisphere, Hepworth


July 8th

The view from Gallery 10. Clouds coming in, Victorian mills, parched grass.

First shower for a week this morning. This camping in your own house mularky is all very well, and all the flannelling and the hair over the sink splashfest does get you clean an’ all and brings back all the nostalgia from your youth, but there’s nothing like the free-flowing, all-soaking joy of a shower at your mother’s to get you all chipper for a day of arty composing in Wakefield. Wheeeeeh!

Gathering place.

A good crop of families turned up for Musical Sculptures at The Hepworth Wakefield – numerous and eager. There were some quiet moments though, when I spotted a few fascinating things through the window of gallery 10 and also was able to commune very closely with my favourite Pierced Hemisphere!

Structural discontinuity

Pipes, drains and cables.

July 7th
We now have a ceiling in the kitchen so all the pipes and cables that were dangling are now mostly encased in a handy secret space. Boy, is it smooth. The two ceiling men left just before I did. My plan was to drive to Worksop while England were playing their football match in the World Cup. I figured that the road would be quiet and I could listen to the match on the way, then watch any highlights once I arrived. This entire plan worked perfectly. The roads were remarkably empty. England won. Mum had recorded the match and had made a note of when the goals and saves occurred so that we could find them easily. In the morning I went up to do a spot of singing with Alison and some of my mates. I took a back-seat role and thoroughly enjoyed this little nugget that she’d found for us. Some excellent suspensions for the altos to wallow in. Yum.

July 6th
The highlight of my grout-filled day has been playing Vivaldi on my sopranino recorder with Fingers Adrift this evening. The first movement of this concerto was it, and I was pleased that apart from my fingers being of a sudden afeared of D#s, I managed all the semiquavers with gusto.

July 5th

More spacers!

Handmade tiles from Morocco were grappled with, complained about and affixed to the newest wall that ever existed in a wave-like pattern. They caused heads to be shaken. They elicited scepticism and pessimism and ultimately admiration. Tomorrow – grouting in full.
Earlier, I went to Warkworth for the sunrise and took these two photos which have proved popular during the day:
Good morning from Northumberland. Sunrise 4.30am-ish There was a thin sliver of a gap twixt sea and cloud, but if you zoomed in the crimson was exceedingly rich like the adornments on a cardinal’s cassock. Later the sun made it above that cloud and I forecast that it’s going to be another sunny day in this most sunny of sunny spells.

I stood for half an hour watching the incoming tide overwhelm a sand bank. The tension about whether the water would first meet around the sides or over the top was thrilling and relaxing in equal measure. Later, Lionheart Harmony tried out my Barbara Ann arrangement. Nick was happy, which is all that matters, really.

July 4th
Today my new mate Neil has been transforming my tile arrangement into actual tiling. It feels akin to having an excellent choir sing one of your pieces. You place bits of music in certain places hoping for a pleasing whole and slowly as they learn it, your ideas become reality. Even the bit where the performers think it’s a load of rubbish at first and are kindly sceptical, but then as it all falls into place they come round to it and in the end quite like it – that all happened today with the tiling. It’s not quite at performance level yet as the articulation and dynamics are yet to be applied (grout, in this case), but still, it’s a thrill. I’m quite taken with the little tile spacers. I feel they deserve a quirkier name.

July 3rd

Pipework awaiting a wash basin.

My morning routine has been disrupted today on account of taking Jamie to the train and by ongoing tile issues. I hightailed it to Alnwick on the advice of my tiling expert this morning and Darren and his friend from Topps Tiles dealt with me efficiently and with excellent humour. I came home with the tiles we wished for, purchased at a cheering 40% discount, and have since redesigned the tile patterning so that they can be applied tomorrow.

Pipe, shower tray, new tile, blue waterproofing.

In other news, this week’s neighbours (holiday let) are unhappy to find building next door (fair enough) and have requested that we keep the noise down. It was pointed out to them in kindly tones that the weather during these days was such that exploring Northumberland during the day might be a pleasant way of spending their time and that all drilling stopped about 4pm anyway.

Some new lights. Some filled-in holes where there were old lights.

They stayed in all day and their dogs yapped mercilessly through much of it – more persistent and indeed sometimes louder than the friendly and intermittent drills. In further news, the fitting of the new lights required the afore-mentioned tiling expert to go up into the loft where he was found by feisty wasps, escaped from their nest above the holiday let. He was a bit sweary and a bit laughy with regard to the wasps, but managed to fit the lights nonetheless. Something to deal with another day, I guess.

July 2nd
Back from Ireland and back to work and also back to camping in our house with hardly any kitchen or bathroom to speak of. I’ve been preparing for choir, though and went to hear Gary sing his brand new song, which I’ll be arranging for our November Remembrance Concert. Here’s another I’ve been working on as requested by John for our “Songs of Peace” section.

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