Christmas in Music

Christmas and its songs will be more poignant than ever this year. In unprecedented times we cling onto traditions as a boat to its anchor, aware of the storms, trying to ride them out, knowing the anchor will hold. Life will prevail and calm will return.

As we prepare for a very different Christmas I am fortunate that my family and friends are all safe. We, like so many, will celebrate within our smaller existing group and look forward to a larger family gathering in the summer instead.

For now, the house begins to glow with the warmth of the light of the season’s decorations. The star adorns the window and is a beacon of hope, I trust.

Music ties us to other times in our lives when we first heard the tune, the emotional connections an inherent part of us. Carols and Christmas songs are even more so and they are a major feature this time of year. I would like to share eight of my favourites Christmas songs with you.

Christmas during my early childhood was celebrated every year at my grandparent’s house in Sweden. It was a joyful bustling affair with up to thirty family members on Christmas Eve (this being the time for family celebrations to start in the afternoon with presents later in the early evening). Although it seemed to take forever for everyone to eat before Jultomten (Father Christmas) arrived there were lots of games, songs and dances to entertain the children.

One of my favourite songs involved everyone holding hands, dancing around the Christmas Tree and house (this was literally possible inside!) whilst singing ‘Nu är det jul igen’ /‘Now it’s Christmas again’. The ensuing chaos was hysterical and would involve us falling to the floor in fits of giggles!

The next song suited my twelve-year-old angst-ridden self perfectly. At school, we were learning about the First World War and I was deeply moved about life in the trenches for the soldiers. ‘Stop the Cavalry’ starts in the voice of one soldier before the song swiftly changes to the Cold War era of the 1980s with references to nuclear fallout, a very real and credible threat.

My single of Stop the Cavalry

I played ‘Stop the Cavalry’ by Jona Lewis incessantly the December of its release until my brother for the sake of his and the family’s sanity took the single into hiding for a month!

Since living in England in the late 1970s we always have a quiet moment of reflection during the festivities and early on Christmas Eve afternoon the TV will be on to listen to the opening solo tones of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ held at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.

This is part of ‘A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols’ and was introduced in 1918 to bring a more imaginative approach to worship. It was first broadcast in 1928 and is now watched by millions of people around the world.

Christmas is also a time is one of joy and fun, so what could be better than a bop to ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ by Boney M. Anytime this comes on the radio I have to down the pen/wooden spoon/iron/book and dance around, singing away. Do join in!

I discovered my next favourite Christmas song three years ago whilst researching a blog post one winter. It immediately became popular with many followers and I’m sure you’ll recognise it. Click here to see the post and read the lyrics translated into English.

The theme of ‘Tänd ett ljus’ /‘Light a Candle’ is that Christmas will light a candle as a symbol of hope for a better world and it was recorded by Swedish band Triad in 1987. The outro includes Christmas and New Year’s greetings in different languages. The finger-snapping is hypnotising and the a cappella mesmerising. One can’t help but try and ‘dom dom dom’ along!

For many years it was not Christmas unless the Elvis Presley movies were showing every morning! We’d rush down, half asleep and enjoy a relaxing and musical viewing! It seemed to be the unwritten rule that these were part and parcel of the season!

Of course Elvis’s ‘Blue Christmas’ is as popular as ever and although about unrequited love it captures the sadder side of being apart at this time of year.

Christmas of 1984 is memorable for the amazing work of Bob Geldof (lyrics) and Midge Ure (Music) to create ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ Bob Geldof put together the supergroup Band Aid for the event.

As a teenager it was astonishing and heartwarming to see how so many came together to record the song in aid of famine relief in Ethiopia. Band Aid featured the biggest British and Irish musical acts at the time and the song was recorded in just one day.
Furthermore, the record became the fastest selling single in UK chart history, selling a million copies in the first week alone and passing three million sales on the last day of 1984. A record held until 1997.

My final song returns to the message of Christmas reflecting on the birth of Jesus as humanity’s redemption.

‘O helga natt’ /‘O Holy Night’ (also known as “Cantique de Noël”) is composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem “Minuit, chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) by poet Placide Cappeau.

I’ve heard the song many times but it’s one that has particularly enthralled me in recent years. I’m sure you’ll agree that Tommy Körberg’s performance is outstanding and magnificent.

I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to and learning about my eclectic mix of Christmas songs and that they’ve put you in a holiday mood.

I wonder which are the carols or songs you always turn to during the winter holidays! Please feel free to share in the comments!

Wishing you all a peaceful, joyful celebration!

Where’s the power button?

Just imagine … no delete key! To be typing away with no way of erasing one’s words. Where force is needed on each letter, the loud clickety-clack echoing around the room.

Some will have learnt to type on the old-fashioned ribbon typewriters, whilst for others they are an alien concept. How can one manage without autocorrect, cut, copy and paste!?

Forget the modern contraptions and imagine an antique typewriter set on a lone table. In a bookshop. Paper rolled into place. People approach and can write a sentence or two on it. What would this be?

Where’s the power button?

what is the password?

Just such a scenario developed as part of a community project in a bookshop which opened in 2013 in Michigan and the results are beautifully collated in the book ‘Notes from a Public Typewriter’.

A joint owner of the bookshop, Michael Gustafson, whose love for typewriters stemmed from inheriting his grandfather’s beloved 1930s Smith Corono, first imagined a great new American novel would be co-written by hundreds of people.

The Literati Bookshop, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

He couldn’t have been more wrong! Yet the messages are more than he could ever have predicted and they offer a unique insight into the human psyche as the anonymity allows people to bare their souls.

I’m scared I’ll spend half
my life deciding what to do
with it and the other half
regretting that choice.

They provide glimpses into other’s lives, their marriage proposals, relationship breakups, love, loss, addiction, joy, worries over school, college. Some cut straight to the question of our human existence.

The hardest thing about
loving someone so broken
is you might fall to pieces
yoursel
f.

Some are funny and intimate.

i love it when you talk typewriter to me.

Others are sweet and poignant.

I raced the snowflakes
to see who would fall first.

Of course the novelty of a typewriter features often as one young writer shows.

If I had to write a
five-paragraph essay on
this thing, I would withdraw
from middle school.

The purpose of life in all it’s facets is captured in a few profound sentences.

Life,
like this
typewriter,
has no
backspace.
Type strongly
and don’t
look back.

Every evening Michael Gustafson would collect the reams of A4 papers, read the messages and cut them out, placing some on The Wall of Fame. Fame that grew as news of the bookshop’s unusual activity became more widely known.

In 2015 an artist, Oliver Uberti, was commissioned to paint fifteen of the messages on the brickwork outside the shop and it is now one of the most photographed locations in Ann Arbor.

‘Notes from a Public Typewriter’ is a wonderful and inspiring collation of messages, some even resembling flash fiction, many incredibly poetic in nature, beautifully presented in a smaller hardback form. A sense of harmony is achieved as the disparate notes are put into various sections, first describing the initial set up of the bookshop along with his wife, Hilary, in Ann Arbor and then concentrating on different themes of the notes, providing glimpses of occasions and people in the bookshop.

The notes themselves are presented unedited in typewriter fonts along with all their spelling errors etc. They are raw, honest, beguiling, addictive.

It is a profound book, it is hilarious, it is life!

we are all stories in the end

It has become one of my firm favourites this year and a book I’ve recommended to many already!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Publisher: Scribe UK / Grand Central Publishing (US)

Available: Amazon US Amazon UK

Note: All bolded text are quotes from the book.

REFLECTIONS OF US

Summer slips into autumn almost unnoticed; the body hugging warmth acquiesces to an insipid invasive damp that clings to our lungs.

One minute the green of July and August, then with the next blink there is the hint of the golden copper of October. However, leaves fail to create the usual heart-tugging, breathtaking display. Rather there is an inhaled gasp of surprise. Already? When? When did the trees hearken to winter? When did the leaves scatter and clutter the paths, the lawns?

A life lived indoors … hospital, home, caring, worrying. Fears threaten to crumble the mind, spirit, soul. A battle of chaos and peace ensues.

Some flowers grace us with their presence; their resilience reminding us to remain likewise unyielding. Yes, do bend with the circumstances but do not break.

Outside the storm wreaks its path across the country; its disturbing dissonance a reflection of us all. Swirling of winds, lashing of horizontal downpours, so violent and ferocious; anger captured at its peak. Roads turn into streams; in awe and impotence, we gaze from the security of our homes, behind the safety of glass windows, reinforced from outdoor threats. In a bubble of us … bubble of loneliness, separated from loves, friends precious lives. Aching for ourselves, more so for our children. Wisdom of years gives scant comfort, neither to the young nor to the old. It just IS!

Yet!

Glimpses of unadulterated joy crash without expectation upon us. A song catches us unawares, soul swoops, memories gather like swallows, building momentum before taking off in a glorious flight. Laughter, yes, it still exists, reverberates in the pit of our bellies following the initial sudden gusto of giggles; chuckles which so delight we cannot help but prolong the moment. All else is forgotten.

Note: The extract of my morning pages was written early November 2020 when pen and paper reconnected for me for the first time in a month. Morning pages are advocated by Julia Cameron in her ‘An Artist’s Way” and “the idea is to wake up, open your morning journal, and write three pages of longhand of any thoughts that come out of your head. Julia Cameron created this approach to journaling as a way for people to unleash their creativity”. I can highly recommend her book!

A MAKEOVER

The definition of a makeover is ‘a complete transformation of the appearance of someone or something’.

As many of you might have noticed the recent something that underwent a makeover this week is my blog! A task I’ve wanted to tackle for ages, however I was apprehensive and hence procrastinated.

Would the whole blog disappear if a mistake was made? Maybe all the wonderful comments would erroneously be deleted? The calamities surrounding the possible makeover seemed insurmountable!

To the rescue came my son, a university computer science student, and when he heard my thoughts (and my fears) he promptly offered to help — the very next day!

Yikes! My musings to combine my blog with an author website was finally going to see the light of day.

Where to start?

Where else but the fantastic community of WordPress which I had explored over some months. I’d collated various articles by bloggers and two particularly were ones I referred to over and over again.

Natalie Ducey is not only a wonderful poet and graphic designer; she also prepares the most informative posts about all aspects of blogging. Were it not for her encouragement I would not even have considered the possibility of updating my website.

Through her, I learnt how to download new fonts and how to use them. My ‘signature’ here is in a font I found via her blog and is called ‘Saturday’. The background element upon which it rests is one I bought upon her suggestion. I love its calm and tranquil feeling, reminiscent both of the sea and sky.

Next came the matter of a new theme. I learned that my old theme, Sela, had retired — hopefully with a good pension! Hugh Roberts, a writer and prolific blogger provides super blogging tips at Hugh’s Views and News.

One of his posts featured WordPress themes and he listed some of his favourites. I looked at many of these and finally settled upon one which seemed best to suit my purposes. The theme of my website is called ‘Lovecraft’ and is free to use from WordPress.

Although at one stage I had a tag line underneath my blog, I had taken this away as it no longer reflected me or my work. Tag lines are key to describing you, your website or blog within just a few words, to win the attention of readers and hopefully retain their interest. After considering all the terrific comments about my books, stories and posts I realised two elements within my life stood out and influenced my written works. I feel I captured this within the final tag line of:

‘A writer influenced by her Swedish heritage and Yorkshire upbringing.’

As the deadline for the revamp approached I sketched out a welcome message, organised my book reviews in a document and found the appropriate images and photographs.

The day arrived and my son and I sat down at my computer!

Switching the theme was frighteningly easy but until the button was clicked I nervously kept asking was he sure this was okay? Would I lose anything? By the third reassurance and my hand hovering over the mouse he took affirmative action, borrowed the mouse and clicked the button!

Yeah! My website was on its way to a full makeover! The title and tag line were set to a large font. A custom background colour was selected from the palette and the gentle lavender harmonised all the elements within the website.

Next, there was so much to consider we ended up making a list.

The biggest change was my ‘Welcome’ introduction post. I wanted something brief, engaging and with my photo which was to be pinned to the top of the website. All was achieved — I just hadn’t realised it would be published as a post! As this was more of an informative introduction to the website the comments were removed. Searching Google my son found that the removal of likes and sharing was in the jetpack icon on the top right of the WordPress draft post. An icon I have never even touched before!

Next headings were created and my son set up sub-headings; something I’ve always longed to do and which have impressed when I’ve seen them on other blogs.

Of course, the headings had to lead to something.

For my books and their reviews we made new pages (and to activate these, one needs to click ‘publish’ but fear not, these are not published as a post!)

Last year I finally had managed to add a ‘Contact’ form but only via my ‘About’ page and it was not ideal. As if by magic my son transferred the previous ‘About & Contact’ into HTML, copied the code for the ‘Contact’ form. Once again I had a neater looking ‘About’ page and he quickly set up a new ‘Contact’ heading and page.

As for the sidebar, several elements have been taken away as I felt the website would benefit from a more streamlined and ultimately decluttered appearance.

One issue we discovered was my sprinkling of categories in my previous posts which makes it tricky to settle on just a handful of ‘Blog Topics’ for the drop-down menu. In my early days of blogging, I had no real understanding of categories and liberally made new ones, even for just one obscure subject! These will not be captured by the new headings. Furthermore, some had different types of spellings, eg. Short Stories and short stories, writings, Writings and writing! The only solution is that over time I will edit the categories on my older posts to make them more inclusive.

I’m sure there is yet much more that needs tweaking but in the meantime, I am proud to present to you my new and updated website. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about its creation. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask … and I will pass on the queries to my son! Many thanks to him for all his hard work and patience!

Finally, a shameless shoutout for my musical son Sammy and his Youtube channel. Here he features over 80 of his piano covers, as well as his own compositions and own piano sheet music. For his latest venture, he is taking commissions for sheet music which he creates himself. If there is a piece you, your family or friends long to play but can’t find the sheet music do not hesitate and contact Sammy directly at sammy2580@hotmail.com

And at last, a brief reminder of my two books available via Amazon or myself.

Featured

WELCOME!

A warm welcome to my author website and blog.

I’m overjoyed that my childhood dream of becoming a writer has been realised and I am the published author of two books … with more yet to be released.

Enjoy learning about my books. They are available in both paperback and Kindle format.

The blog below features my short stories and poetry, as well as a wide range of book reviews and travel and nature related articles. Please take a look around – I’m sure you’ll find lots to delight you!

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison

Five Hundred Miles or so!

Walks have always been an integral part of my life; since my youngest days I recall clambering over the rocks out on the islands in Sweden, scampering through the forests.

Moving to Yorkshire as a young girl the stunning beauty of the moors became the background to my days out. I revelled in trips out into the wilderness, losing myself in bracken taller than my young self, walking along the ridge of the moors where the heather meets the sky, gazing down upon the miniature stone buildings of the villages below. They seemed inconsequential compared to the might of nature.

A younger me out on the moors

This strangest of years has seen walks featuring more than ever in my life – this time though restricted to those from my doorstep. As soon as the stay-at-home order was issued in March, the U.K. experienced weeks of warm sunny weather and it was a blessing to head out for an hour a day then perfect to sit and enjoy the beauty of the garden.

In the last five months, I have covered (according to my phone app pedometer) over five hundred miles, discovering new routes, creating new ones. At times it felt like ground-hog day; wasn’t I only by this gate yesterday, this oak tree surely is wondering why it’s suddenly become so popular? Yet the walks and their vistas proved a tonic each and every time, always something refreshing to sparkle the heart and mind, particularly as the times of the outings varied from day to day.

A painted stones left along pathways

In March the days were chilly, a bite of winter in the wind, the fields barren and mud-ladened. I realised for the first time I would come to know in detail the surrounding landscape, the fields planted, harvested, the lakes full of clear water, then green with algae as summer arrived.

As August comes to an end a carpet of leaves forms a soft bed for my feet as I wander through the nature reserve; Autumn seems to have arrived earlier than ever. Already the fields are busy with their winter crop, the flowers almost all over and instead we spend the walks idling by the hedgerows, filling tubs with the juiciest of blackberries.

A spot of exotic blackberry picking!

When restrictions were slightly eased we headed out with excited anticipation to Marks Hall Arboretum and Gardens and as only members were allowed we relished having the place mostly to ourselves. (You may recall an earlier post about Marks Hall and its Sculpture Exhibition entitled Creative Energy )

I couldn’t stop smiling as we wandered through new landscape, new views, drinking up the sights with sheer joy. The lakes were lush with fish, geese gazed warily at us, standing like sentinels over their young.

Geese and their goslings at Marks Hall.

A Bug hotel caught my eye and I was only too happy and oblige by adding some leaves and sticks to the creation.

Bug Hotel at Marks Hall.

Peacocks never fail to enthral me and in spite of the lack of visitors over so many months, they were as still friendly and unbothered by us humans.

It was with childish joy I encountered ferns on a far-flung part of the estate. Reaching up I could barely touch the tops of them. Hooray! They were still taller than me!

Overjoyed at seeing ferns still taller than adult me!

Up ahead I glimpsed an ethereal sight, the wonder of the white trunks of eucalyptus trees beckoned me, like angel wings amongst the darkness of the other trees. Their bark was smooth and soft, I stroked it as if a pet, relishing in the unusual texture. I picked a leaf or two, inhaling the fresh exotic fragrance. I might not have physically travelled far but my imagination was halfway around the globe!

Eucalyptus trees in the distance

Bugs galore have graced us with their presence, and I’m sure they were always here. Was that a withered leaf on the bathroom floor? No, the most amazing of moths, which I think is called the Angle Shades. The shiniest of red in contrast to the black caught my attention with one bug, which I believe is the cinnabar moth. One lunchtime an admiral butterfly landed on my mother’s hat!

Our garden has been a solace and haven to me, more than ever! In the mornings I’ve had the time to greet the plants, stopped in my tracks in awe of the intricate details of the flowers and their petals.

Garden bluebells

I even say a quick shy hello to our resident troll tree … can you spot it in the acacia below.

Face of our Tree Troll!

It is invigorating to tend to the plants, bushes and trees, then afterwards enjoy relaxation and rest surrounded by the beauty of nature.

Finally, I often have a song ‘playing’ in a loop in my mind as I stride out across the countryside and since writing this review one particularly has stayed in my mind – it’s especially relevant as I worked out the miles walked these months. I first heard it as the soundtrack to one of my favourite films ‘Benny & Joon’. Enjoy the snippets of the film as you listen to ‘I Would Walk 500 Miles’ by The Proclaimers!

CHITTER-CHATTER

I recall a time of hugs
Welcomes by a handshake,
        a kiss.

Now young children dutifully step
        back
From the ‘danger’ of me,
        others, all.

They only run towards their friends
        Pull up
        Short!
        Stop!

Embarrassed glances at their shoes
Shy peeks at each other.

Laughter breaks the frightened spell.
Chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter.
Their magic world
            Reactivated.

by Annika Perry

My sister is not a statistic

Statistics. So cold and harsh. So black and white. Or so it seems for most of the time. Figures are just that, bland numbers that do not touch us directly, relating to the inanimate rather than the animate.

But statistics of deaths are another matter.

As day in, day out, the news networks report on the tally for today’s dead from the virus, we are in danger of becoming immune from what they really mean … each one a precious life.

The tragic daily role-call of death, captured in merely a couple of minutes, has shaken me to the core. It’s as if so many forget that behind each individual number is a person. No longer alive. Mourned by so many, loved ones who could not even be by their side in their last moments.

One lady sought refuge within her grief to pen a poem in memory of her beloved sister. A poem that speaks for all who have lost a family member these months, and alas the months ahead.

A poem that should survive and be a legacy of this cruel time.

Dorothy Duffy wrote the poem in honour of her sister Rose ‘Billy’ Mitchell who died alone in a nursing home in the UK as a result of the virus. Rose and Dorothy are both of Irish descent, living in England.

Dorothy (right) & Rose

Below is Dorothy Duffy’s poem and beneath is a radio interview with her where she reads her work aloud. Do listen and follow the words of the poem for an unforgettable, heartfelt and moving anthem to loss and suffering.

Rose Duffy

My sister is not a statistic

Tomorrow, when the latest Deathometer of Covid is announced
in sonorous tones,
Whilst all the bodies still mount and curl towards the middle of the curve
Heaped one atop and alongside the other
My sister will be among those numbers, among the throwaway lines
Among the platitudes and lowered eyes,
an older person with underlying health conditions,
A pitiful way to lay rest the bare bones of a life.

My sister is not a statistic 

Her underlying conditions were
Love
Kindness
Belief in the essential goodness of mankind
Uproarious laughter
Forgiveness
Compassion
A storyteller
A survivor
A comforter
A force of nature
And so much more

My sister is not a statistic 

She died without the soft touch of a loved one’s hand
Without the feathered kiss upon her forehead
Without the muted murmur of familiar family voices gathered around her bed,
Without the gentle roar of laughter that comes with memories recalled
Evoked from a time that already seems distant, when we were connected by the simplicity
of touch, of voice, of presence.

My sister is not a statistic 

She was a woman who spanned the seven ages.
A mother
A grandmother
A great grandmother
A sister
A Friend
An aunt
A carer
A giver

My sister is not a statistic

And so, she joins the mounting thousands

They are not statistics on the Deathometer of Covid

They are the wives, mothers, children, fathers, sisters, brothers,
The layers of all our loved ones
If she could, believe me when I say, she would hold every last one of your loved ones, croon
to and comfort them and say – you were loved.
Whilst we who have been left behind mourn deep, keening the loss, the injustice, the rage.
One day we will smile and laugh again, we will remember with joy that, once, we shared a
life, we knew joy and survived sadness.

You are my sister…….. and I love you.

Copyright Dorothy Duffy 2020

Finally, although Dorothy has featured on numerous radio and television/youtube interviews and many of you might have already seen and heard her poem, I am grateful to Roy McCarthy for sharing a post about her poem on his blog Back on the Rock.

Pull up a Pew!

Please, help yourself to a slice of cake! Would you like milk in your coffee? Sit down and I’ll let you into a secret.

Being barely permitted beyond one’s home does not need to result in ennui … many emotions have featured in our household these last months but boredom has not been one of them!

Rather the days have been packed with various activities, as a family or solo. From intense Scrabble tournaments (I’m still on a winning streak) to walks galore. More on these and our garden in the next post. From language studies to piano recitals (not by me). From ‘The Artist’s Way’ to photo filing! Outdoor projects delayed for years have been completed, indoor decorating starts this month!

Below are just a few images giving a hint of our new lives.

Jigsaws have not been on my radar for many years, yet with long evenings indoors looming we invested in a few new ones – surely 1000 pieces wouldn’t prove to be too much of a challenge!?

We loved the quiet companionship of rejoining the tiny pieces, deciphering the colours and hints of images, creating a wondrous whole. In the silence a new united resilience developed within us. Our son would pop in now and then, praising our efforts, or a quick nod if we had not had much luck. Of course, he’d reach out, pick up a piece or two, slotting them neatly into place!

The first jigsaw was a nostalgic scene from the picturesque North Yorkshire coastal town of Filey; a place I visited often as young. Unfortunately one piece went missing during construction – can you spot the gap?

Being keen, although more dabblers than professional gardeners, we couldn’t resist the flowers in the jigsaw below and thought we might learn something along the way. We did, mainly don’t get a 1000 piece jigsaw with many similar hues including purples, reds and blues! We are pleased however with the final completed ‘Gardener’s Palette’ taking in cottage garden herbs, vegetables and flowers in all their various hues and shades … and might even add a couple to our own haven!

Mother’s Day was bittersweet; a beautiful morning shared with my son, adoring the wonderful and thoughtful 3-D card, spending a couple of hours discussing life and music! Yet I was not able to visit my own mother in person, but fully aware I was only one from so many around the world missing hugs with their loved ones.

Creativity has flourished and I think more than ever we appreciate the simple art of making … something … anything!

My son and I have bonded ever closer over cakes, scones, buns; the Victoria Sponge of the first image was inspired by Charley and her recipe at Books and Bakes. Thank you so much!

The amount of butter and sugar is quite horrifying and in the end we forewent the buttercream; the cake still tasted sublime! Recipe books have been brought out of hibernation and we’ve experimented with new dishes, revisited old favourite ones forgotten along the way of busyness!

A busyness that seemed so-all-important, so-all-consuming, suddenly showing its true colours … there is nothing more important than family and friends. Here lies the richness of life.

A friend, working from home and no longer spending hours commuting, took that time to enjoy her knitting, sending us some of her creations! I love flamingos and these here are treasured by me!

Faced with the cessation of garden rubbish collection, my husband extracted unused wood from the garage to make this cute compost heap! It’s snuggly tucked in between a coupe of bushes.

The Eurovision Song Contest has been traditionally celebrated as a family all my life! First thoughts were that nothing would be shown in its place, instead the most amazing and heartwarming evening of the year (so far) lit up our hearts!

Determined to make it a party, even if only the three of us, I spent a morning making flags of the 41 participating countries. Many will be aware of the number of non-European countries allowed to compete … let’s not go there!

The specially organised show in the Netherlands entitled ‘Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light’ was inspired by the song ‘Love Shine a Light’ by Katrina and the Waves which won in 1997 for the UK. During the evening there were special features by old winners and a montage of 2020 performers who did not have a chance to compete.

The pièce de résistance was the incredible finale, singing alone at home, the performers as a whole sung ‘Shine a Light’. There was not a dry eye in the house as the full impact of the one joining forces to create a unity shone out across Europe!

Finally, amongst the frivolity of home life, the seriousness of life beyond is never far away. My only excursions for weeks were the forays to the pharmacy for medications for the family. These trips saw my skills at remarkable adeptness and speed develop, my evasion of others reach another level.

Touched by my worries, amused by my description of the dash through the shop, my husband penned the ‘article’ below. The most precious of gifts are not those of the highest monetary value, rather caring, thoughtful and loving actions and deeds! This made me laugh out loud and I recall it every time I visit Boots (name of the pharmacy).

“ANNIKA (THE SQUIRREL) PERRY
IMPRESSIONIST
(Well of a squirrel anyway)
Star of stage, screen and local Boots

Annika is an up and coming impressionist, currently appearing monthly at her local Boots, amazing customers and staff alike as she weaves her way along the isles avoiding contact with any unwary member of the public. In doing so she is amazingly lifelike as a squirrel jumping from side to side, speeding up and slowing down as the situation demands.

Her pièce de résistance is her amazing stopping, turning and reversing speed, enhanced by her clenched little fists held under her chin, if anyone gets too close. People cannot believe her performance, and neither could the staff, who have called the police on a number of occasions. (The police later described her performance as unbelievable.)

Annika is now looking to increase and amaze her audience and is available for children’s parties, local fetes and beer festivals. Cash payment (in a brown envelope) is preferred but hazelnuts will be considered as an available option where appropriate.

Annika can be contacted at Squirrel Nutkins Residence, Hole in The Old Oak Tree, Next to the big pond, The Nature Reserve!”

To finish the post, I would like to shared the 2015 winning song ‘Heroes’ by the gentle-hearted and humble Swedish singer Måns Zelmerlöw which he sung from the garden of his home in London and was featured on the Eurovision Song Contest show this year.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anaïs Nin

Hello, Again: A Book Review

Photo courtesy of Isabelle Broom

Philippa (known as Pepper to her friends) has lived her whole life in the picturesque coastal town of Aldeburgh in the East of England. A life numbed by grief following the accidental death of her sister Bethan two decades ago; a life only partly lived as Pepper has given up her dreams of travel and ambition to become a professional artist. Instead, she has sought refuge in teaching art through her own community project ‘Arts For All’. Outside of work, she socialises with a few close friends and her mother. A mother whose remote distant existence has been defined by her younger daughter’s death and no one, not even Pepper can find a way through to her.

Into this world Pepper’s older and feisty friend, Josephine, cajoles her to come along on a trip to Lisbon to try and discover what happened to Josephine’s first and true love, Jorge. What Pepper does not realise is that Josephine’s invitation becomes the catalyst which alters her entire life.

Wow! As the pair arrive in Lisbon the novel truly takes off and luckily this is only the first of five trips abroad that Philippa ends up making.

Lisbon is described in glorious lush technicolour detail, capturing the mesmerising beauty of the city and its people. The author paints a vivid image of the capital, the serenity palpable through the wonderful and magical depiction. I felt transported to Lisbon (and later the other destinations); yet I must reinforce that at no stage is the energy and ease of the narrative sacrificed for the sake of the locations.

Travel is so much more than sightseeing and this is the case for Pepper who finds herself transformed through her travels and experiences. First, in Lisbon she meets a German named Finn and the two of them seem destined to be together. As the story moves back to Aldeburgh, then to Hamburg, Barcelona and Guernsey, Pepper finds increasing creativity and freedom within herself as she faces the guilt of moving forward with her life, both personally and artistically.

“Guilt that her own pain did not run deep enough, that she dared to hope for elation in the wake of tragedy.”

Excerpt from ‘Hello, Again’.

Romance is interwoven throughout the book and interestingly played out across the various generations. Whilst the love interest between Pepper and Finn dominate, her enigmatic friend Simon becomes a frequent presence in her life. The romantic life of Josephine and even that of her mother and father also are explored with sensitivity and warmth.

Through this powerful portrayal of love, loss and friendship I found myself drawn ever deeper into the lives of all the characters, hooked by their tangled romantic encounters and I cheered along as they found a life beyond sadness. Nothing is predictable and the continual surprises ensure this is a rewarding, thoughtful and entertaining book.

Finally, a note to myself! How has this author not been on my radar! ‘Hello, Again’ is Isabella Broom’s eighth book and I now look forward to catching up with some of her previous works. I think I’ve got my summer reading sorted!

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date: 9th July 2020

To purchase: Amazon UK Amazon US or any bookshops or book websites.

About Isabelle Broom

Isabelle Broom was born in Cambridge nine days before the 1980s began and studied Media Arts in London before a 12-year stint at heat magazine.

Always happiest when she’s off on an adventure, Isabelle now travels all over the world seeking out settings for her escapist fiction novels, as well as making the annual pilgrimage to her second home – the Greek island of Zakynthos.

Currently based in Suffolk, where she shares a cottage with her two dogs and approximately 467 spiders, Isabelle fits her writing around a busy freelance career and tries her best not to be crushed to oblivion under her ever-growing pile of to-be-read books.