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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.