I love Autumn

I love this time of year. Although it is still sunny for the most part, as soon as August turned into September, something in the air changed. Maybe it was the light, or maybe the wind dropped just a couple of degrees, but there was a definite shift. I wore a jumper yesterday for the first time in ages. And a scarf. And walked around Chepstow with a big smile on my face.

I have been trying to work out what it is about early autumn that I love so much. Maybe it’s the clothing? Summer always seems to me to be very high maintenance, having to shave my legs every other day and wondering if I really suit that little skirt any more. And when it’s hot, it gets to a stage when you can’t take any more off and have to sit about feeling hot and sticky. When autumn hits, I can then get out the layers! I love hats and scarves. I love big snuggly jumpers and the feel of a cold wind on my face when the rest of me is toasty. I love long skirts and warm trousers. Dramatic makeup. The list goes on an on. Somehow, trying to do that in summer feels like overkill, even when it’s not very warm outside.

Maybe it’s the activity? Autumn for me is associated with returning to school after the holidays. While I liked being on holiday, I missed the stimulation of learning and being around lots of other people all the time. Returning to school meant new projects to take on and seeing my friends every day. As an adult, the start of autumn means that other people are also turning their minds towards the months ahead, and that is when they contact me with a view to employing me. Summer is frustrating for the self-employed. Contacts are often away on holiday at different times and it is difficult to move anything forward. Once September arrives, however, replies to emails arrive and plans start to take shape.

I often find that autumn is a far more creative time of the year for me than any other. Summer makes me hot and listless, winter has me sitting indoors bemoaning the loss of natural light. Spring is ok, but is gearing up towards the inertia of summer too much for my liking. In autumn, the leaves change and everything is somehow more colourful, the light is clearer and so is my head. Autumn to me means celebration, halloween, bonfire night, preparation for Christmas and all the creative pursuits that can go along with that, especially when I was at school.

Or maybe, just maybe, I like blackberry crumble? Blackberries are one of those things that I would never even consider buying in a shop. You’d have to spend a fortune to get enough to make anything half-decent, and they always taste so bland. I love the annual adventure of seeking out great blackberry spots and getting there before anyone else picks them all, then storing my gains in the freezer for when I next fancy comfort-dessert. Speaking of which, I have a crumble in the fridge…must be time for breakfast!

Planning on going busking…with my pal the Yellow Book

I have pretty much accepted that work is gonna slow down, or indeed grind to a halt over August…so here’s an idea….

I’m getting back into singing…I need practice…I also need cash. I have an battery powered amp and a mic Being the world’s worst pianist,  I have backing tracks for several popular arias that I have learned over the years. I also have a phone that I can load them on to. What better way to bring all this together than to do a spot of busking?

If anyone knows any classical singers, chances are that they will own a copy of “24 Italian songs and arias”, otherwise known as “the yellow book”. We all get it when we first start classical singing, and we almost always learn “caro mio ben” first too. (I learned Amarilli, mia bella, because Cecilia Bartoli did it on one of her albums)

I never had much time for the yellow book, I wanted to get on with the more dramatic well-known arias, but it occurred to me that busking might be the perfect opportunity to get better acquainted with the songs in it as too many big arias may well prove taxing in one busking session. And I also have backing tracks on a CD for every single one, thus saving me money on MP3s.

And, so far, I’m having a lovely time listening to them and trying to get a feel for which I want to do first. When I’ve got the hang of them, all I then need to do grow a thick skin, put on a nice dress, and hit the streets…that will be the hardest part…

Time to get back to singing…

Yesterday I was honoured to be asked by a friend to sing at her father’s funeral. It was a very last minute gig, and I was somewhat apprehensive as I have been hacking and coughing for over a week, and lost my voice over the weekend.

Determined to be able to do it, I did a load of gentle sirening exercises and managed to rehab my voice enough to be able to sing Panis Angelicus during the service. Although it was more of a struggle than it would usually have been, I was pleased with how it went.

Us singers go through all kinds to be able to do the job. We stress and we worry, we go without regular meals in order to pay for singling lessons, scores and courses, and frequently wonder why we put ourselves through it and dream of a nice stable job.

Yesterday, I was reminded of why I sing. In my younger days, it was all about me, about the buzz that I got from standing on stage and being the centre of attention. But yesterday, several people came up to me, thanked me for my performance and told me how it made them feel. Some said that it really felt as though something special was being added, that it was part of giving the deceased a good send-off. Some said that it allowed them to be able to drift away and take their minds off the stress and worry of the funeral arrangements, or even just that it took them to a place where they could just think and remember.

I don’t pretend to be the most fantastic or highly trained singer in the world, and I think that the comments could apply to any live vocal performance. However, I think that there is something really special about listening to a live singer, I find that there is something really primal, uplifting and “human” about it all. And I feel privileged to be able to give that experience to other people.

I think that I would really like to sing at more funerals. Having lost both parents in my early twenties and being able to remember the sadness and the vulnerability of that particular time, it would give me great satisfaction to be able to bring comfort to other people in that situation. There is never a right time to lose someone close to you, and no matter how old you are, nothing really prepares you for it. I will always be grateful for the fantastic funeral directors that we used, and being able to do my part to help other people with whatever skills I have would make me feel as though I’m part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

So yes, time to get back on the horse and get cracking. I have ordered some new business cards advertising my services as a singer, and once my voice returns, I’ll get learning some new repertoire. I think I’m going to start with this beautiful setting of Ave Maria by Schubert


Visit to the Wyndcliffe Court sculpture garden


The longer I live in Chepstow, the more creativity I find around here. Last week, I attended the opening exhibition of the Wyndcliffe Court sculpture garden. Wyndcliffe Court is a beautiful Arts and Crafts mansion, two of its residents are artists/sculptors that I have modelled for recently. Amazingly there was respite from the wintry weather, and it was a bright and sunny evening.

When I have loads of money, I want an apple shaped garden          bench/shelter just like this one…apparently you can have it with a steel roof.


There were a couple of these dragonfly sculptures around too, appealed to my steampunk sensibilities!

Was bored…now have hat


When I was in DC earlier this year, I found a really cute black vintage pillbox hat. Now I have a really lovely dress that I was hoping to wear with it, but the colours didn’t match, just different enough to look a bit odd.

But….I did have some white duchess satin kicking around. I took a good look at the hat, and it didn’t look too hard to make. I used a buckram base, with wire round the edge, then lined it, covered it, thread bars on the inside for pins, and decorated with yo-yo puffs and freshwater pearls.

I’ve got cufflinks!


I’m sure that without Barry’s fabric shop in Birmingham and the Red Cross shop in Chepstow I just wouldn’t have any clothes…

I’ve been after a nice white shirt for a while, and hate sewing the things (song of the shirt, anyone?), so was delighted when I found one in the Red Cross earlier today.

But there are no buttons on the cuffs, so what’s a girl to do? Luckily I still have lots of supplies from a jewellery-making phase; cufflink blanks, some lovely beads that I got in Venice…and some araldite!


My new favourite place

Sitting reading a magazine with the sun shining through the trees. There’s only me here , birdsong, peace and the odd insect that goes by . This is a nice place, I feel grounded here, balanced. Downhill is the path that I have come up by and uphill is the path that I have yet to take. But for now, I’m just sitting in the sun.


Anyone remember painting pencils?

raglan w_col2Ok, I’m showing my age now, but when I was a kid, the ultimate TV art guru was Tony Hart. Unlike the frenetic, brash “Art Attack” which came later, Tony Hart was a gentle old soul, who with a flick of a paintbrush or felt tip pen, could turn a black sheet of paper into a masterpiece. Tony Hart was my hero. I had a set of Tony Hart “painting pencils”. They looked and worked like ordinary coloured pencils, but when you applied water, would turn into watercolour paint. Last year, I found some very similar pencils in a art shop, but sadly without Tony’s smiling face on the box.

I’ve become a big fan of the work of Arthur Rackham for some time, but only recently have raglan castle 2started to take a good look at why I like his illustrations so much. Unlike many other artists that work in watercolour, his work has a really dark edge to it. I’ve tried to get that sort of impression with my later pen and ink sketches, but felt as though they were still somewhat tentative.

I realised that he used much more ink than I do, and the contrast it provides allows the colour itself to be more delicate without looking bland. I had a free morning and some pen and ink sketches that I had been to cowardly to work on, so I dug them out.

The first thing I did was to toughen up the drawing tree in Tinternwith more ink, put down with a brush. And then I got busy with the painting pencils, having a good old scribble. I felt as though I was 6 years old again and making a mess of my colouring books.

Unlike conventional watercolour, the colours seemed to get brighter when I added water. not a bad thing, I like strong colours in a painting. The water-solouble ink that I used for the drawing also dissolved slightly, and I was able to soften edges and use it to take some of the harshness out of the colour. The best thing that I found about using the pencils was that I could leave some areas dry, retaining the effect of the textured paper.

St Mary's Church, TinternI’m quite pleased with how they turned out. one of these days, I’ll try combining them with traditional watercolour and see what happens.