As I write the parrots copy the dogs. Well actually one parrot barks and the other tells it to shut up, extremely loudly. As Dave is asleep the only solution to enjoy a quiet life is food. One loves my bread and home-made strawberry jam, the other only likes ‘choc choc’. The dogs bark at the slightest thing. There is a dog across the valley who barks – and they respond, the postman winding his way around the flagged, walled-in path, behind the barns, someone walking their dog two fields away on the road, etc.
One of my early harps has a 16th century poem on it in latin. It reads ‘I enjoyed my peace and quiet in the woods, cut down by the cruel axe in death I sweetly sing’. Next Thursday (25th August at 7 pm) I am giving a recital at The Merchants House in Marlborough. The harps that I am taking are inspired by two harps from the 17th Century. The first I call ‘Chorus’. Chorus was a native Indian girl who played the harp at the Court of the Eothiopian Royal family way back 2,000 years ago. The decoration and design was mainly due to my amazing birthday trip from my husband. He took me to Rome to see the harp commissioned by the Cardinals Barbarini as a present for their boss, Pope Urban XII in 1635. There are beautiful panels made especially for me by the top wood engraver in Sorrento – also a surprise present from Dave. The second harp is decorated with designs and decorations associated with my other ‘hero’, Jacques, born Prince Odrin of Eothiopia – the true story of which Dave writes in his books. Dave has also given me music, which is stunningly beautiful. I shall be intertwining music from The Books of Caris with rare and real tunes from Henry VIII’s reign up to just after the civil war – which is exactly when The Merchants House was built … that is if I ever get the peace to practise! I unwittingly missed out one letter, making a spelling mistake in the latin, on that original harp which meant I actually wrote ‘in death, dogs sweetly sing’ …
I had to drive the exact route back to Boarding School as a child at the weekend. It brought back the same collywobbles in my stomach. This time I was actually playing the harp at a wedding but it still brought back the same old feeling of dread as I climbed up Sutton Bank Once as children the journey and dread was unexpectedly broken as we rounded a bend near Helmsley and nearly crashed into a bright pink, Chauffeur driven Rolls Royce with the Rolled Gold ‘logo’ painted across the entire bonnet. My sister and I stopped blubbering for a moment to look at eachother and then scanned the back seat quickly before it trundled past. We were completely convinced it was Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall and then couldn’t wait to get back to School to tell the other girls. This time the venue was a bit short of School but they kept hens and they wandered in and out and sat waiting to be stroked by the guests. I have one hen who waits for me every night on the path to the hen house to be picked up and carried and cuddled and placed on her perch. The chicks I hatched at Easter are nearly grown and all look the same – that is its difficult to tell if there are any cockrells. I need some ‘new blood’ so desperately want one. I am optimistic. One of the chicks was constantly escaping and now this same chick is exploring, so much so he forgets the way back to the hen house. I was dismayed the other morning to find him missing but as I went down to the wood with the bucket of feed, he appeared from behind the barn with one of the old hens. That’s my boy!
Slowly and surely does it! Dave is making puppets from his wheelchair. Life on the farm remains the same. The new chicks are introduced into the main hen house and the ducks still make me laugh as they follow each other around zigzagging across the fields on their invisible daily routes. My stepson wants a new hi-tech video contraption to film his days. I think he is sure the action will automatically arrive into his life as soon as he has the means to film it. It reminds me of an amazing holiday we had as children when we went to stay in a log cabin on Martin River, one of the rivers running into Hudson Bay in Canada. For weeks the preparation and excitement built up. New clothes, new bikinis and we were suddenly living in a remote, dense forest with mini-icebergs floating in the lake at our doorstep. I remember the smell of the pine trees, the massive snakes curled up under the cabin, the beaver dams, the moose hiding in the trees watching us but most of all I remember the ‘electric’ snakes rippng across the lake at about 30 mph and the leeches that covered your feet and legs and had to be pulled from between your toes if you paddled. As young kids we didn’t realise the scenery and wildlife was so spectacular, we wanted action, a chance to show off the new bikinis so it was up to Dad to come up with something to entertain us. Finding huge grumbling frogs to drop on un-suspecting sunbathers proved good for a couple of hours but we needed action. ‘Water ski-ing?’ … ‘YESSSSSS!’ we were all thrilled. We watched puzzled as Dad untethered the old wooden rowing boat and brought it to the edge of the lake where there was a small beach. He found an old plank of wood and tied it on a longer length of rope to the back of the boat. Still our 3 male cousins hadn’t twigged, probably not knowing Dad as me and my sister did. They asked what they were to hold on to so Dad cut a small branch and whittled it smooth with his penknife and fastened more rope to each end. ‘Who’s going first?’ he asked. The eldest, of course. I watched as our cousin stood on the plank of wood on the beach and held onto the whittled wood, grinning. Dad climbed into the boat and he asked me to sit beside him to help row faster. By this time both Uncle and Aunt and Mum had gathered to watch bemused. We set off. The sludgy water reached his thighs before the penny dropped and he raced back to the beach screaming accompanied by hysterical laughter. I believe Dad had to drive for miles to find ice cream that night.
There’s a tiny daisy that grows in a small crack in a stone at the side of the drive. I see it as a sign. It flowers with the snowdrops, well before any other daisy and never fades or flounders. I have been writing this blog for several years and sometimes I struggle to get near the computer. The reason is something that we have never made much mention of but gradually and surely it has taken over a huge chunk of our lives. Soon my husband is to have a life-saving operation. As I write we are unsure of the journey, or its length, but we are sure that it will be a worthwhile step. I would like to thank all those people who offer a smile in our daily lives, to the Festival in Whitby (I have now had to cancel yet again) who still believe in us, and the music. Most of all I would like to thank God for this chance and for giving us our ridiculous sense of humour … Today’s gem: the two checkout boys in our local supermarket who gave such a convincing and hilarious ‘debate’. YES, Neal Diamond is actually from Pakistan!
Well, who’d have thought the taps worked liked that? The hotel was absolutely beautiful – all brand new – must have cost a fortune! I have been to places where the Bride and Groom wanted to have unique photographs so have swopped carpets, curtains and pictures round, sometimes with disastrous results. I have been ‘roped’ in, with minutes to spare, to match the ‘slightly stained mark on the wall’ where a picture once hung, to the exact picture so that the stain was covered up again! Easy done I hear you say – but not in an entire country house hotel with hundreds of pictures! This time the décor was untouched and I was impressed with the bathroom and its miniature ‘beer pump’ knobs stuck up where the taps should be. My first thought was to try and pull one down. As it was stuck fast I looked along the line of basins and realised that most of these little white plastic ‘beer pumps’ had been crudely glued back on again. Oh well, I thought I’ll now try the obvious. They twisted on and off using two fingers and very little effort. Gliding down the Aisle to the theme tune of Black Adder was inspired though – and definitely unique.
I was feeding the chicks who are the size of a robin and have just started feathering up. I opened the cage door as usual but just at that moment a huge gust of wind caught one of the chicks and took it high up in the air almost over the roof of the house. I watched in horror as it flew around and then was plonked down very fast a few yards away in the middle of a group of hens … and Stix, our cat. Stix was fantastic, however. He looked at me very puzzled but stayed still and watched the chick. I managed to chase the chick into the wood pile where I grabbed it and returned it unscathed to the safety of its cage. The sheep were sheared and we have two magnificent tups (rams). Everyone was dreading their turn as their horns complete two loops before they taper off and start a good 4 inches wide with a beautiful ‘plait’ running along the top side. The ewes were terrible, kicking and wriggling and playing up. Then it was the rams turn… The first one set the trend. He was patient, half sat, half held up whilst they did his tummy and then sat completely free like a big pussycat whilst they did his back. I was to be a surprise tomorrow but the Groom has told his Bride that I am to play the harp and she is delighted.
My Great, Great, Grandmother’s Aspidistra has grown another leaf. This now makes 7 since my Mother passed it over to my care about 20 years ago… (It had 3 leaves then.) I played for a dinner with nearly 600 guests the other night. My new amplifier is so tiny it looks like an old radio but manages to cope somehow. The glamour and dresses were amazing and the Saris were out of this world. The men drinking in the public bar downstairs were so dazzled they decided to try and gatecrash. As I was near the door I was asked to alert the hotel staff every time someone came in. There was a constant stream of men who crawled through the door, then quickly behind the tables to try and avoid being spotted! It reminded me of an after dinner speech I once did in Scarborough. A beautiful long room where all the tables were draped with heavy rose pink linen floor-length tablecloths. Fairly near the start I notice a lady crawling from table to table. Unsure whether she was actually a thief I carried on, keeping an eye on her progress. After about a quarter of an hour she popped up smiling in front of me and sat cross-legged on the floor fascinated. She was a fellow harper.
We had twin lambs born at the farm a few weeks ago. One has a sort of ‘floppy’ ear, which makes him easily recognisable. Running down the side of our land is a very deep ravine where the stream has forged its way down the hillside into the village of Oxenhope. It is quite a climb up from the village involving walking in the deep stream or clinging to the shale sides. If sheep get into it they can live in there for months until the farmers figure out where their sheep have disappeared to – then it needs a very good working sheep dog to help get them back out. Larry the Lamb, or Houdini, as we call him – very quickly learnt the delights of The Goit (as it is called round here). The fencing along the top is brilliant – pig wire, barbed wire and even willow weaving – but Houdini gets through it. We are now getting people regularly knocking on the door. ‘If he got through he’ll find his way back again’ we repeat time and time again. One woman in tears however moved us. ‘His cries are heartbreaking – please go and rescue that poor little lamb – I cannot bear to see the poor little thing crying for his mummy’… We went to get our best dog, Meg. Sure enough there was Houdini at the bottom of the ravine bleating his head off. An Oscar winning performance indeed. Meg, who is absolutely brilliant, crawled on all fours through the water very slowly, gently picked him up by the scruff of his neck and bounded up the side of the ravine, plonking him at the other side of the fence. We grabbed him to lift him over and he shot off to ‘mum’ for a feed. At the sound of quite loud applause we looked up towards the road to see about 10 people cheering, clapping and dabbing their eyes. We waved and they all wandered off, the show over, missing Houdini, feed finished, trotting up to the fence, squeezing through the smallest hole and sliding off down the ravine again…
I look out of the kitchen window straight up to the moors and the new set for the Wuthering Heights Film. It has been ‘wuthering’ weather all weekend and I watched the news this morning to find out it is all my fault! This week’s storm is named Katie as well. At boarding school Wuthering Heights was in the ‘banned’ bookcase and Jane Eyre was in the Library. The banned bookcase was set in a beautiful 18th Century room the Nuns called St Oswalds. Three sides of the room was panelled in Pear wood which has the same colour as the skin of a ripe pear – slightly more orangey with years of polish, the entire length of the other wall had built-in bookshelves. These were the books considered too risky or adult for us but occasionally in Sixth Form we were allowed to dip in. The Nuns were very careful not to let us in the room unaccompanied because behind these bookshelves was a full set of secret shelves. You had to slide the back of the cupboards carefully to the side to reveal hundreds of books the Nuns never wanted us to see. Of course everybody knew and these books were in secret circulation every time someone managed to grab one without the Nuns noticing. I am ridiculously busy on the harp right now which is good and glad to be asked to play up spiral staircases in ancient rooms the big harps cannot get to!
I have never been made so welcome, thank you. I have played all over the place, up and down the country and people often ask me ‘where’s good?’. There’s always a pause whilst I think and then I say – well it smelt good! Mr Ali made sure I went home with a huge bag of different dishes to try. They even cooked a special meal for Dave who has such a complicated diet and hasn’t been able to have a standard curry for about 2 years! This time if you ask me ‘where’s good?’ – I can truly answer! AZEEMS in Keighley. I was delighted to have at last fathomed my new phone and answered correctly instead of cutting the poor caller off – and further delighted to discover the caller was ringing to ask me to provide the music for Bradford Literature Festival’s opening night. I received quite a few invites to London last year by surprised guests. They were fascinated by multi-cultural harp music and the full sound I could achieve from the one instrument – all the work making my unique harps and the amazing music from The Books of Caris and Anon is paying off at last!