When it all goes ….

The  weather here has been beautiful and it was warm enough in the  evening for our neighbours to sit in the conservatory and watch tv.  In the pitch black outside a black shape kept moving past.  Thinking it was Stix the cat they opened the window to shout at him to leave them in peace but instead Dodge the donkey’s head burst through.  He had worked out how to open the field gate and wandered into their garden.  We arrived back late to find a note that Dodge had been put into another field.  Finding a black donkey in the dark wasn’t easy but we did it.  I often get phone calls from my pupils.  ‘Katie’ they start.  ‘ I’m stuck!’.  I love it.  The younger ones launch into their tune putting the phone on the floor so that I have to wait until they pick up again to explain.  Often 5 minutes later they’re back with another tune to sort out.  Usually it all ends very quickly with ‘I get it, sorry, byeeeee’, as it suddenly dawns.  Yesterday I had a panic-stricken dad on the phone.  I always encourage performance and my pupil had practised a modern tune to play at a ‘naming ceremony’.  Everything was going well until she suddenly realised she had forgotten the tuning key.  The last I heard was he was looking for a DIY shop in Bristol to buy a radiator key.  For some reason the pegs that hold the strings on a harp are usually the same size as a radiator bleeding valve.  As harps are thousands of years old I’m guessing one of the first plumbers also had a harp!  Well I hope the race around Bristol was successful, I know the performance would have been and I am now off up to the top fields as the Tour de Yorkshire races right past us.  Look out for Stix on telly.  I’m sure he’ll find a way ….  (ps looking forward to a concert in The Dales next week)

The Golden Harp

All they wanted was a golden harp but they were mesmerised by the sound of my homemade wooden harp decorated with gold painting. The two most remembered tunes at a local primary school where I played a few weeks ago were Sleeping Beauty and a flamenco tune with lots of drumming and bells. Sleeping Beauty is known courtesy of Walt Disney but it was good to get feed back on an unknown tune, although everyone, regardless of age, likes the rings on her fingers and bells (not on her toes, but on her ankles)!  I add, for those of you who have never heard me play, I have parrot bells on kilt pins around my ankles and rings with wooden beads on my fingers for bodhran  style drumming.  The most favourite tune at concerts is one of Daves. He was once awaiting a procedure at hospital and was on a waiting list.  I went shopping and suddenly he got a phone call from hospital.  They were sending an ambulance to pick him up as they had an unexpected slot. He had no time to write me a note so he sang me a song on the answer phone. Although I can’t sing well, I can play a melody well and the tune makes a wonderful instrumental. You may be wondering about that modern invention, the mobile phone! For years we had no reception at our house, neither did my Mum and well over half of the venues I play at up The Dales still anounce before a wedding “if you’re lucky enough to have reception on your mobile please turn it off”.  Currently I have an old £9.99 phone “just for emergencys”.  This may be a good time to thank the two builders from Oldham who gave us a litre of water for our car as we were perched precariously on rocks at the edge of the reservoir trying to get water in an old yoghurt pot…   (Dave’s tune: O Come to me my Darling from The Book of Caris)

The pantry raid

It was very nearly completely unnoticed, silently and efficiently done, not to mention the speed in which the deed was done. Alas though, a teeny, tiny scrap of sellaphane drifted out from under the sink unit. I pulled it and lo and behold it was the empty wrapper from a pound of bacon.  Stix had polished it off so fast he nearly got away with it. I have made him a ‘delux’ wooden cat house and swopped his food for a well known brand – all in an effort to make him appreciate the delights of home. It seems to be working, well at least Stix is hanging around now, if only to raid the pantry.  I took part in many successful pantry raids at boarding school.  The cook was named M rs Cook – proudly reminding us at every opportunity of her famous ancestor, Captain James Cook.  She was about 4 foot tall, was a tower of strength and made the best muffins in the whole world.  Based in Whitby we were proud of our sea-faring heritage and Mrs Cook made us ships biscuits for break from a recipe passed down her family.  They could apparently sail round the world and last for months.  I believe her, I have never come across anything quite like them and I loved them.  I got to know Mrs Cook quite well because we had a system of chores at school.  The worst job was washing up.  To make it fair each half term the rotor started at each end of the alphabet. My surname beginning with H meant I was permanently in the middle and permanently washing up. It did have its perks though and Mrs Cook was generous when she baked and smiled and turned a blind eye, keeping our secret from the nuns. As I practised the harp Stix appeared at the window, so I smiled at him.

Give me your answer do

The water came over the sills of the car and soaked my bag but I tucked my dress up and had my wellies on so my feet kept dry.  The bride and her maids all had their yellow wellies on so I kept mine on…  so what if they were old black Dunlop ‘real’ wellies?  My dress nearly covered them up.  I learned a trick a few years ago when it never stopped raining all summer.  I make my own dresses so bought loads of synthetic  furnishing taffeta.  If there’s a shower the guests run in first leaving me and the harp.  I’m not bothered about a bit of rain but my harp is – so I make my skirts huge so I can shove some over the harp whilst I wait.  You can screw the material up and it dries in 5 minutes without needing an iron.   Anyway this bride went down the aisle to Daisy, Daisy which was a first for me but very sweet.  I am practising all my Turlough O’Carolan and jigs ready for a concert in Doncaster coming up.  My pupils are  all learning jigs – trouble is every time any one gets out of time and it all falls apart the parrots (Charlie and Lills – both rescue parrots) join in our laughter and Lills calls them a ‘f—-er’.  I used to wince but it seems to be having the opposite effect to what the ‘mums’ and me thought. Yesterday Charlie decided to imitate an electric drill as well.  ‘Good job you’re not a dentist’ someone said.  Yes I thought it could be worse, but we’ll keep trying so I’m off to sing ‘Daisy’ and call Lills ‘a little tinker’.

Of picnics and medieval castles

Birthdays in our house were never about lavish presents – it was all about the party – the wackier the better.  I was asked to play the harp at a medieval castle today. My dad (his preferred name being pa pa – with French-pronunciation – after a visit to stay with some friends in their chateau where the children curtsied to their father every night before dinner) used do get quite cross with this particular castle because they beat us in battle way back in the 13th century. When I say they beat us I mean their castle beat ours …  theirs is now a large conference venue and ours was left in ruins only to be renovated a bit at a time with each different owner, each having their own ideas over the centuries.  It never left him however and another of his pet hates was modern music.  ‘Turn that music off” he would shout at my sister and I ‘it will ruin the foundations”.  He meant the vibration of course – what would he make of the harps I now play?  I love playing the harp in this particular castle because the whole building seems to sing along.   His favourite walk was to the remains of John of Gaunt’s castle nearby.   It stands on the top of a very remote hilltop and when I was a child the nearby Manor House was abandoned and we used to play in it.  As we approached teenage years our birthdays included our favourite walk then progressed to holding the party in the ruined castle itself.  In the midst of winter, after dark, we walked the 2 miles or so to the castle to find that Dad had been up and left a crate of Beaujolais Nouveau and a full picnic .  The walls of the castle were all lit up with candles in jam jars.  The ‘fathers’ of my friends always threatened to appear dressed in sheets for a laugh but we were left to scream by ourselves or collapse in hysterics when a stray sheep wandered into our party be mistake.  The dads never made it from their meeting place, The Queens Head, where we used to wander back to later in the evening.

Stix

As I write our cat, Stix, is missing. Not for the first time and although he,s always turned up it’s still agony waiting.  Last Christmas he jumped into a delivery truck and it took some serious detective work before I rang a depot in Leeds to ask if they had acquired a black cat with a white bib and amazing whiskers.  They dropped him off in Haworth the next day.  He has a long list of homes locally that feed him so maybe he’s having his Christmas dinner somewhere.  He once found his way into the bedroom next door and snuggled up in their four poster bed.  The lady,s screams were so loud he has never ventured back.  I have rescued him precariously from the top of my step ladders from the barn roof many times. Once two American tourists took him back to their hotel in Haworth.  They thought he was lovely until he raided their bags overnight for chocolate and ransacked their room leaving chocolate everywhere.  They took him to the vets next day who rang me up! We originally swopped him for a bag of cat litter as we felt sorry for him as he was being dragged round by his tail (without complaining) by a beautiful three year old child. He has been with us ever since so come back soon Stix. 

He winked at me!

We were supposed to keep the rams separate from the sheep until a few weeks ago to avid Christmas lambs.  We have 3 mature tups with magnificent horns.  The horns are thick and plaited and on their third loop.  They cannot butt facing each other  anymore but launch themselves sidewards about 3 foot up in the air to clash horns.  They had the run of the middle paddock along with a small tup lamb born this year.  He is tiny and is completely free of horns.  They ate all the windfall apples and walnuts even though I tried to sneak in and get some walnuts (I hate to eat them but thought it would be good to try and stain the dining room floor again).  Any way we rounded them up and let them back in with the sheep.  They charged through the gate … then we noticed that the tup lamb was missing.  We searched the woods and finally went to count the sheep.  Yep, you guessed it, he had jumped back into the field weeks ago and we hadn’t noticed.  He came up to say hello with a sly grin and I’m sure he winked at me.

Oh Dear what can the matter be …

I remember chanting this as little girl – something like ‘Grandma’s stuck on the lavatory, she was there from Monday to Saturday and nobody knew she was there’! I also remember my dear Grandma taking me on holiday with her to Ibiza and she got locked in the lavatory at the airport. I stood and waited silently for a long time until the security man took the lock off. This time it was my turn. Some of the houses I play the harp in are massive, so much so, electric quad bikes are used on every floor to whiz down the corridors taking cleaning stuff and moving furniture. This house was no different. I was offered the use of the lift that ‘Great, Great Grandad had invented’ but declined. The rope looked sturdy enough but the chair perched precariously on the very small platform put me off somewhat. I took the stairs and then the quad bike. The final verbal instruction from the ‘Lord’ was lost as the head cook, Beryl, set off on the quad with me on the back. It was something about the lavatory. Nevermind I thought it’ll probably be obvious. There were two lavatories side by side with their own sinks – mirror-like on each side of the corridor. I picked the one on the left. I pulled the old Victorian lever to flush and the words came to me …. It was definitely something about the one on the left being broken. A huge growling, grumbling vibration filled the room and echoed down the long corridor. It kept growing as I crept silently back to my harp and sat waiting for the dinner guests. It carried on in ten minute intervals all the way through dinner. Luckily as the cheese was brought in it had softened so everyone could hear the harp again. I hid behind the harp every time the ‘Lord’ glanced questioningly in my direction but Beryl shot me a grin and a wink from the doorway halfway through.

The Jurassic Park Bus Stop

Nearby is a bus stop. The village has proudly decorated it with tubs each side planted with the biggest pampas grass I have ever seen. It dwarfs the bus stop giving it a nick-name in our house. I passed it yesterday en route to Towneley. I was asked (with a big grin) whether I was covered with tarpaulin each winter and dusted down, ready for the Festival! I am so proud to have been asked back every year since it started. People always want to tell me where they’ve heard a harp before and I listened with some amusement to the tale of a harp player who was a ‘legend’ in Haworth. Apparently she was playing in the Black Bull one Easter Sunday when there was a bit of trouble and the Landlord threw out everyone except 5 men. One of them wore a black leather kilt and they all looked a bit scruffy. They asked her if she would carry on playing and could they jam with her. They played for nearly two hours with guitars and a tin whistle alongside the harp, and the Landlord let a few people in through the back and they stood silently, spellbound, listening to the amazing music. Finally the harp player stood up to leave, thanked the musicians and was amazed that the landlord still paid her the agreed £25. As one of the men held the door open for her he looked puzzled. ‘Don’t you know who we are?’ he said ‘we heard you last night and came specially to hear you again, we are Guns and Roses, the full line-up’. I had to get home for the babysitter you see but I think I managed to babble something like ‘how nice’ …

I have travelled the length of England this last week to give concerts for The Book of Caris – all on ‘word of mouth’ recommendation – a big thank you to you all. My dad always said that music would ruin the foundations of our house, which were Roman. Consequently we had no records, TV or radios – except for Radio 4. He owned 2 records – one was of jazz banjo and the other was Tom Lear – both 45s. We did have 2 grand pianos though in the massive drawing room and he encouraged us to play everything from Fats Waller to Beethoven. Built to withstand sieges it had a well in the centre and two huge fireplaces (one of which we named Stone Henge) that didn’t quite line up but faced each other across the pianos. Getting in and out of that huge room was difficult as it was originally built without a door at ground level so a passage way wound through the thick walls. The windows were taken out to get the pianos in. My sister and I played the pianos at the same time – how lovely I hear you say – trouble was we both had completely different tastes and played our own thing regardless. Eventually it was decided to sell one of the pianos! I used to play for hours and hours in that room in the dark with my eyes closed, just feeling my way and loving the music. I am playing the harp at the Towneley Hall Heritage Day next Sunday 11th September 12-4. Hope to see you there.