Jaqui's Daily Blog

It was easy to spot my fellow choir members yesterday as I entered the East Worthing Community Centre, venue for the first ever U3A Open Day. Those bright red shirts were a real giveaway.

We had been instructed to gather, if fine, in a small courtyard / garden area at the back of the hall by 12 noon. This was, perhaps, a trifle early, given we were not due to perform until 12.45. Still we are a (generally) obedient lot so there we were, out in the garden, looking for somewhere to sit while we waited.

There was one small bench but it was in full sunshine and just a few minutes sitting there was more than enough. In the shady section of the garden the only place to sit appeared to be a small wooden kitchen built (we presumed) for the resident playgroup. Someone was already sitting on the work surface which only left the stove and the sink, neither of which looked exactly comfy, though the sink, complete with wooden taps, was probably the worst of a bad lot.

I decided to do a bit of exploring instead and visited the playgroup garden which was looking in sorry need of attention - but then I remembered that school's out for summer. Anyway, I needed to check in with our conductor, the Redoubtable Muriel, who was concerned that our programme - rehearsed so assiduously yesterday morning - was going to be too long, given the shortness of our allotted time. We would therefore, she decreed, cut out both I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside and Loudly Proclaim. Such a pity that these were the two songs I had practised most in the shower that morning.

The Open Day attracted lots of people, I was pleased to see. The small team of organisers had worked so very hard they deserved a good turnout for their troubles. The first person I saw when I arrived was the Lovely Linda who was signing up lots of new members for our Birdy Group. She took advantage of my arrival to go and fetch herself a well-deserved cup of coffee and I did my best to be a good and enthusiastic deputy, answering questions about when and where we meet.

Art appreciation? Play reading? French conversation? Philosophy? Yes, yes, yes - there are around sixty different interest groups in our U3A and the Open Day was a chance to find out more about them. Rummikub and Mexican Dominoes appeared particularly popular. There were so many groups I would love to join - but I'm not sure I have enough hours in the day, or days in the week, or months in the year, given how much I am doing already. I suppose I could always give something up? But, no, I really, really couldn't...

The Musical Interlude at lunchtime was well-received. I could see people bobbing along to the music through Funiculi Funicula (which always reminds me of holidays in beautiful Italy) and everyone loved Get Me To The Church On Time. Our programme only lasted ten minutes so we didn't really need to cut songs out. I could have Loudly Proclaimed my disappointment - but I decided better not. After all, there was plenty more to set the feet tapping in the shape of musical offerings by the U3A orchestra, which goes by the name of Inspired Instrumentalists, the Ukelele Group and Recorders for Beginners.

After the Lunchtime Break, I was down to give a demonstration on Nomination Whist. Most people seemed to have drifted off home but dear Margaret from our Whist group stayed to support me and we managed to coax a couple of passing gents to join us in a game. We obviously gave a good account of the Fun and Frolics of our fortnightly card sessions because one of the gents trotted off afterwards to join the U3A forthwith, saying we had changed his mind about whether the organisation catered for the likes of him.

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I took this as a compliment.

Mr B and I are watching a programme on TV. We can't understand a word of it.

No, we are not being particularly dim tonight; the fact is the programme is all in Welsh. Occasionally we hear a few words of English, presumably when there is no Welsh equivalent, and we can pick up on place names like Criccieth and Llangollen or people's names - David Lloyd George, Pavarotti.

We are watching a programme starring Welsh singer, Bryn Terfel, who - we have been given to understand - will be singing with the Fron Male Voice Choir of which Mr B's Little Bruv, known to you as Mr H, is a proud member.

Good old Bryn talks to a lot of people while on his travels to some of the many beautiful places in "God's own country." Their names come up on our screen as they talk. "I bet she / he is Welsh," I keep commenting at the sight of every Williams, Davies and Jones. The joke wears thin after a while - Mr B keeps letting out exaggerated sighs - but I keep it up because once I've started something, I don't know when to stop.

I only know a few words in Welsh, despite being (according to the Darling Daughter-in-Law) an honorary Welsh Nanna. The (Not So Very Little) Welsh Boys have taught me my numbers and colours and I can more or less sing Happy Birthday in Welsh, thanks to the repetitive nature of this popular ditty. It turns out that these rudimentary language skills are not going to serve me too well this evening.

Ah but the scenery! And the singing! And here is the Fron choir, singing a song I don't know, in words I don't understand in a country chapel. Bryn watches them with appreciative eyes before joining in. The conductor, on hearing his voice, turns round to flash him the most beautiful smile. I have shivers running down my spine as they sing. We catch a glimpse or two of Mr H, singing his heart out as always.

While the adverts are playing - some in Welsh, some in English, it's a tad confusing - I take a moment to water the garden. The sunflowers are shooting up towards the garage roof, Mr B's just an inch or two taller than mine. I water each plant, carefully ensuring equal treatment water-wise. If I were, as a result of some amazing growth spurt, to win the 2016 Sunflower Competition, I don't want Mr B to have grounds for an appeal. Though who he would appeal to I'm not sure, as I am Planter, Waterer and Measurer all in one.

I pay special attention to our Golden Wedding flower bed, where the rose bushes we were given as presents on our Golden Day have been planted. Each one is labelled with the name of the rose on one side and the name of the generous giver on the other. Worryingly there is one bush for which I have no note of its donor. This is a source of great concern to me because it means I have failed to send a thank you card to somebody - who will never know how much we appreciated his / her / their kindness.

When I return to the living room, Mr B is still watching Bryn talking to people with Welsh names. He is on a golf course and we hear the words "links course." We look at each other with a smile of sudden understanding.

The programme is almost over, the last song about to be sung - and it's Mr B's all-time favourite, Canon Lân, with another Male Voice Choir providing the backing to Bryn's towering vocals. Canon Lân was sung at Our Boy's wedding to the Darling Daughter in Law - but we were out back, signing the register during the singing of it. That was one of those times when you wish you could be in two places at once.

What a good thing we watched right through to the end, we congratulate each other. If we'd turned over after the Fron, we'd have missed Canon Lân. Thank you, Bryn Terfel, for a programme of Welsh music and magic.

We didn't understand a word of it - and it didn't matter a bit.


There are fairies at the bottom of our garden.

Not that I have actually seen any fairies, sprinkling copious amounts of fairy dust across the garden - unless you count the beautiful bronze fairy figure which my sister and brother in law gave me for my recent birthday which is now sitting on a convenient house brick at the base of the lilac tree.

I am, nevertheless, sure that there are magical powers at work down in what I like to call The Jungle. I base this on the fact that, when I came to clear the weeds which have sprung up over the last few weeks while I have not been paying attention, I came across not one, but two, tiny rose bushes. They certainly weren't there before, I positively swear I didn't plant them - but there they are, hidden beneath the weeds and surfacing suddenly as I pull ferociously at the bindweed as if to say: "Here we are! Bet you weren't expecting to find us!"

This is one of the things I love about our garden - it is so unexpected, so surprising, so brilliantly, impossibly untameable. Rather like my children, it has grown strong and independent and beautiful despite me. Plants just seem to appear, growing and flourishing abundantly for all the world as if some Fairy Gardener has decreed that, given my haphazard approach to gardening, I am clearly not green-fingered enough, or sufficiently horticulturally inclined, to be trusted with the total upkeep of this Pleasant Plot.

As well as reporting back to Mr B on our two surprise rose bushes, I am also able to bring a beaming smile to his face with the news that we appear to be Blessed with Blackberries this year. I can tell he is metaphorically licking his lips at the thought of apple and blackberry pies, apple and blackberry crumbles, and any other culinary variation on a theme. I don't need to be a mind reader to follow his train of thought.

My morning was spent in the hall at the Heene Community Centre, where we members of the Singing for Pleasure choir had been called together for an important rehearsal of our programme for tomorrow's U3A Open Day. There were a few grumbles among our usually Sunny Set, on account of the fact that this was the first opportunity we had had to see which songs from our extensive repertoire we would be singing. Moreover some people were not at all sure that an hour and a half's rehearsal was enough to ensure we would be Musically Magnificent the following day.

Our conductor, the Redoubtable Muriel, did her very best to take us through our paces. These were all songs we knew well, she exhorted us, surely we could remember how to sing them? This is what you need to know about Muriel: she always wants us to sing in a way which will do full justice to the composers and lyricists. She wants us to tell the story of each song properly. She wants us to stop looking down at our red files as we read the words of each ditty and instead sing out at the audience as if we are singing to each one of them individually. I am Firmly On Muriel's Side.

One of the songs on our programme is The Ascot Gavotte, from My Fair Lady. Wouldn't it add an exciting and humorous touch of theatre, I suggested, if we all suddenly donned fancy hats for the rendition of this song? You should have seen the faces of my fellow choristers. I took it that was a "no" then.

Afterwards I did my best to reassure The Redoubtable Muriel that everything would be fine on the day. Once we were all kitted out in our red shirts and black trousers or skirts, I said, we would look and feel like a proper choir and would lift our game accordingly. We would rise to the occasion and do our best to make her proud.

I hope my optimism is not misplaced. Our choir is rather like my garden - unpredictable, chaotic and largely untamed. Its members - like the plants in my borders - all have Minds Of Their Own.

Where can I lay my hands on some Fairy Dust?

It's the annual Week of Leavers. Handkerchiefs at the ready for soft-hearted souls.

This morning I attended Leavers' Assembly at the school where I have the privilege of being a governor. The head teacher had tucked a box of tissues by the door for anyone who had not come equipped for an Emotional Hour. I didn't think I would need to avail myself of this kind offer, not actually being a parent or grandparent of any of the pupils. I was wrong.

One of the leavers had put together a PowerPoint presentation with a photo collage of each of the 22 leavers. As each fresh slide flashed up on the screen, all the children - without prompting - chanted their names. I can't adequately describe just how moving that was, the completely instinctive affection for class-mates moving on to the Brave New World of secondary school.

Each leaver had been given a canvas on which to record, in pictures, what memories of their school they would take with them as they left. Class by class they took to the stage with their teachers who added their own words of praise for their pupils' progress over their years at the school. The lad who put together the PowerPoint presentation had filled his whole canvas with a picture of a computer. He definitely knows where he is going. The Great Outdoors figured high on the children's canvases, along with drawings of their friends. One teacher had composed a poem about the eight leavers from what she called her "Top Class."

Some of my grandchildren have been leaving one place of education for another. The Duracell Bunny is bound for "Big School" in September and was photographed at his nursery school wearing a bright blue gown and mortar board, standing shyly by a small blackboard and easel, on which is chalked: "I'm going to big school." Yes, there were tears in my eyes and I wasn't even there.

Sweet Eleanor moves up into the Sixth Form at her school, leaving behind the need to don a school uniform every day. This means Serious Attention to Matters of Wardrobe which I hope Mr B and I can help to address when our granddaughter comes to stay for a few days next month. We have promised her a shopping trip during which she can choose her own birthday present.

Eldest grandson Jack celebrated leaving Sixth Form College by going out clubbing with his college mates - not one of his customary activities. He reported back that in just a few hours on the dance floor he had totted up no fewer than 27,000 steps. Whether clubbing will ever be added to those worthy lists of Healthy Living suggestions remains to be seen.

I remember the last School Assembly I attended at my Grammar School. As Head Girl, my most important task came at the end of Assembly when I had to call for three cheers for the teachers. Come the moment, I was away with the fairies, thinking about my years at school and the scary world I was about to enter. There was a long, painful silence in the school hall as everybody waited for the traditional call. It is down in my personal history as possible the Most Embarrassing Moment in My Life.

Many years later, I was summoned back to my Alma Mater to present the prizes at the annual Prize-Giving Ceremony. Clearly I had been forgiven - though possibly the March of the Years had drawn a veil of forgetfulness over the unfortunate incident. I used the opportunity in my address to the audience of pupils, parents and teachers to tell them this story at my expense. After which I craved their indulgence in allowing me to call for three cheers - for the pupils, the parents, the teachers. Though I say it myself as shouldn't (as my dear Mum would say) it was an inspired ending to my homily, guaranteeing loud cheering rather than the polite clapping which would undoubtedly have greeted me as I left the stage.

Nobody at Leavers' Assembly this morning forgot what they were supposed to be doing. It was a joyous occasion from start to finish.

A little later, back home, I called Mr B to the kitchen window to watch a small procession of children and parents making their way along our road. There were the 22 leavers, each with a "buddy" from Year 7 at the secondary school and accompanied by their parents - off to a celebratory picnic in the grounds of their new school.

I'm pleased to predict that, thanks to the care and dedication of the teachers and teaching assistants they are leaving behind and that of the teaching staff in the school they will be joining, all these young'uns will get by just fine.

With a little bit of help from their (new) friends.

This morning, as part of the Military Voices Project, I met a remarkable 91 year old woman who worked at Bletchley Park back in the war years. Then this afternoon I met up with a steady stream of young'uns, aged between 4 and 11, signing up for the Big Friendly Read aka The Summer Reading Challenge. And there's me, somewhere in the middle. Though,to be strictly honest (and I do think the Daily Blog should aim for total honesty, even when tempted to embroider the truth in the interest of, well, being interesting) then I confess I am rather a lot nearer the one than the other.

It is one of the things about my varied life that I love most: the opportunities it presents for enjoying the company, the insights and the experiences of people of all ages. How lucky I am.

Last night, in common with most of the country, I simply couldn't sleep on account of the heat. When I finally succumbed to slumber, it was to be gripped by a particularly colourful dream, doubtless influenced by the fact that I had been delegated by Military Voices project manager Emma to drive to the interview. Why this should turn into a nightmare, I leave you to judge. Suffice to say, it was actually a short and easy drive which should take me no more than seven minutes (according to Google directions) once I'd picked Emma up from the library.

In my dream, however, I was spending the night before the interview in a hotel (why? where?) having parked my car in a nearby car park. Come the morning of the interview I could not remember, in my dream, in which of several car parks I had left my Grand Old Lady. Unexpectedly (as in all the best dreams) two of the Darling Daughters turned up though neither was much help; all the Middle of the Darling Daughters could suggest was that we should go out and buy fish and chips. At which point I woke up to the happy realisation that Real Life was going to be much less worrying than in my dreams.

How I am enjoying listening to the stories told me by participants in the Military Voices project! How much I have learnt about the Burma Campaign, the Korean War and - from today's interview - the daily life of women who worked through day and night transcribing messages in Morse Code, pledged to secrecy on pain of a charge of treason - the penalty for which was death by hanging. I can only hope that, if I live into my Nineties, I will be as bright, as articulate, as insightful as the truly remarkable woman I interviewed today.

The children who flocked to my Big Friendly Read desk in the library this afternoon were all remarkable in their own ways. The afternoon started slowly - but then built up steadily once school was out for the day. I was supposed to be leaving at four o'clock, in time to pick up on the way home a couple of jacket potatoes and some salad for our dinner, but the steady stream of young readers didn't slow for long enough to allow me to pack up my trolley and escape into the World Outside the Library.

At 4.45 I seized what looked like a Window of Opportunity - but just as I was on the point of wheeling the trolley into the staff room and signing off for the day, an anguished parent waved at me: "We're not too late are we? We've come straight from school and my daughter's SO excited!"

One look at the little lass's shining face showed this was no maternal exaggeration. I unpacked the trolley and prepared to sign up the 165th recruit to this year's Summer Reading Challenge at our library.

I was so glad I did; Number 165 reminded me so much of myself when I was nine years old. I could tell she was going to take the Challenge seriously; I knew that, though she would love the rewards she would receive for each book she read, it would be the reading of the books themselves which would excite her most, I do hope I will be on duty on the Big Friendly Read desk when she comes back to tell us about the stories she has read.

Two lovely people separated by a period of over eighty years. One aged nine, one in her Nineties.

A remarkable day. In anyone's book.



Latest comments

10.07 | 20:20

Fantastic blog! Xx

08.07 | 00:24

Phew - not a mention

13.05 | 23:05

What a lovely day and all sly story

16.03 | 22:49

Of course they will and remember the photo on the side board that will be there for ever to remind you of the wonderful day & THAT special outfit !

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