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!
We put some music on full blast and they danced. Although Lill’s favourite tune is actually The Stripper. I was watching Steptoe and Son and it came on and she went wild. I have eventually finished the leather costumes for all the Roman puppets. I have been sewing them in waiting rooms around local hospitals for months now and not one person has ever commented! My in-laws actually cut up their old settee and came round with a massive wad of metre square leather pieces. I then had to cut out the pattern pieces, punch holes and cut strips of leather laces to sew them with. The leather was so thick I had to use a tab rug hook to bind them together. They are decorated with beads and metal buttons and a pupil gave me a tip to make authentic-looking bronze – the inside of tomato puree tubes …. yep, really! Dodge has been enjoying the warm weather and charging round the field. The harps have responded with a few broken strings 😦 – well I musn’t be too upset – 2 strings in a collection of 33 harps – that’s over 3,000 strings in all.
It takes about an hour for the harp to settle after a long journey in the car. It’s all about temperature and it’s not worth trying to tune 122 strings until it’s ready. This means I am often the first to turn up at a venue. The venues are often amazing private houses and castles all over the UK. I drove up the winding lane passing all the ‘PRIVATE’ signs and turned in front of the house just as a lady in a ‘pinny’ came out of the kitchen door. She beamed at me, spotted the harp and instantly started apologising she wasn’t yet ready and was making jam. No worries I replied and explained about the harp. I’ll just park it in the room and come and help. Brilliant she said. She stirred the massive cauldron on an ancient ‘make-shift’, almost camping-like gas stove and I placed over a hundred spoons into the waiting jam jars on the table. She topped up each jar and we chatted as we sealed the lids. The kitchen was amazing, massive dressers and long tables and benches. The original range and pans and pitchers all over the place. It was lit with loads of dangling electric bulbs of slightly different lengths. She had ‘brightened’ the place up with these coloured huge paper ‘globe’ lampshades. After we had finished she showed me round asking if I thought it looked okay. I loved the settees – I have never seen anything so big. They were Knowles and had lovely ‘lion’s feet’ but were massive – at least 20′ long! At another house I ‘joined’ in the preparations. The Countess and I picked up sticks in the wood filling 6 huge baskets to light all the fires. Just before the guests arrived for the evening ‘do’ her three children, the staff and I all grabbed brooms and snow shovels and long handled dusters to ‘encourage’ the bats to leave through the doors and windows. They roost behind the drapes and it’s a never-ending battle apparently. We didn’t do too bad as I only noticed 2 bats swoop across the room as the couple got married.
I have struggled to get near the computer these past few weeks – Dave has broken his leg and I am in charge! I have loved every minute of feeding the animals in the stable. Not really built as a stable it is a low stone built Medieval building with 6 rooms and ‘Vaccary’ walls. (Huge slabs of stone 4’x 2’x 8 inches wide sunk into the ground to make the walls) You are struck by the warmth and ‘scent’ of straw and hay as soon as you go in. The commotion of Dodge the Donkey’s greeting and the sheepdogs lasts about 10 minutes. Talking of Dodge – we were getting ready to set off for the School Nativity play when we received a call … ‘Jack says you have a donkey’ … ‘yes’ … ‘oh brilliant, can you bring him down to the play for Mary to ride?’ … thoughtful silence … We had to explain that getting Dodge into the horsebox (which was in the back field on some hard standing for the winter) and getting him brushed and ready would take slightly longer than 10 minutes! We were actually quite sorry as it would have been lovely but we did have a giggle at the thought of Dodge entering the School Hall with 300 kids and parents, a huge tree with lights etc … It would have taken at least 10 minutes of braying before he had finished greeting everyone. Sat in front of us were 3 young mothers talking about their first scans. A very exciting time which one girl had quite given up hope for until she bought a puppy … The conversation was cut short as Mary and Joseph entered.
Everything has been ‘all go’ on the farm for the last few weeks. Dodge the Donkey has been having indoor 5 star service and is now thoroughly spoilt. We let him out yesterday in the morning sunshine and he galloped down the hill out of sight. By teatime the stormy weather had returned and he was waiting by the gate to be let in again! He has, not one, but two, sheds that he can shelter in, but does he? No, he prefers the indoor luxury of a stable and straw. He shares this with the sheepdogs and it is very cosy. The hens had a lucky escape. They live in a little hut in the middle of the wood and a smallish branch came down onto their roof. There was no damage and they laid me some eggs so cannot complain. The duck pond has doubled in size so they are all very happy. On the harp front I am enjoying ancient Christmas carols and gigs dressed as the Snow Queen.
I was sat in a hospital waiting room reading a Christmas present book and really enjoying it when the plot ‘thickened’… It was set in a Convent. Oh dear, I know all about convents from my school days. They all loved Halloween (Sam Hain) however and it didn’t take much to change them from nuns into witches. They all took their black veils off and donned black hats for the day. Massive iron couldrens appeared, cobwebs were hung, turnips sculpted and we had a massive party. There were some great characters whom we all liked but there were some that we all detested. There was one nun who was making a cup of tea in the war when a bomb fell through the refectory roof. It didn’t explode but it was such a great shock that she carried a cup and saucer and teapot around forever. ‘JE’ (Sr Janet Elizabeth) was famous for her ‘jolly hockey stick’ approach to life and famously chased a burglar around the turrets of the castle with one. In a chemistry lesson one day a mouse wandered in. Twenty screaming girls jumped up onto the work tops in and amongst the Bunsen Burners but JE grabbed the mouse’s tail and threw it out of the window. Another nun Sr Olive told us she had had a vision to join the Order. She drove a moped and wore a red helmet with her veil streaming behind her. She once tried shaving her hair off under her wimple but spikey bits grew up through her veil. In the book 200 nuns ripped their veils off to reveal their shaven heads and walked in a zombie-like trance to kill the ‘rogue’ Mother Superior. I collapsed into a fit of giggles.