Getting back to the fun

I’ve been very lax on the fun front of late. I still note the fun, it’s just that these posts are probably the most finickety to compile and take forever – it says something about my respect for my time that it’s taken a back seat recently! But, I feel remiss, and there is fun to be had…

First off, obviously, would be a little bit of London fun. I had my own, real-life transport fun last weekend (more on that anon), but there is also fun of a virtual nature. Namely, maps. Bearing in mind that I’ve haven’t Friday-Funned since way before Christmas, there’s some catching up to do. I assume we’ve now all seen Londonist’s Medieval Tube Map? [No fewer than 10 people sent that gem to me! It’s utterly genius!] What about a tube map from the 1920’s? i.e. a pre-Beck map

1920 Tube Map

Away from the fun of city living, some music based data analysis. (What do you mean, this doesn’t sound fun??) The most popular lyrics/words of the Billboard chart have been visualised so we can explore the way in which lyrics have changed over the decades. My favourite discovery? ‘Christmas’ was a top 5 word in the 40’s and 50’s – to be replaced by ‘U’ in the 90’s and 2000’s, and profanity in the 2010’s… Fascinating stuff!

Billboard Lyrics Visualisation

On a totally different topic, we’re now firmly into awards season. Hurrah for pointless red carpets and meaningless recognition! [Seriously, HOW is The Lego Movie not nominated for Best Animated Picture at the Oscars??] But most of all, hurrah for excellent awards hosts. Next month, Neil Patrick Harris takes on the Oscars, which, if his Tony Award hosting is anything to go by, should be full of hilarity. Last weekend saw Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s final outing as the hosts of the Golden Globes and were fabulous – their opening monologue deserves watching, should you have been living in Outer Mongolia for the last week and unaware of their extremely witty brilliance. 

Finally, for some fun of an utterly ridiculous (yet strangely captivating) nature, how about a compilation of ‘Jessica Fletcher’s many epiphanies from Murder, She Wrote’? Yes, it’s nearly an hour long, but the first 10 minutes (before I realised how long it was) scored at least 6 chuckles. Who doesn’t love Angela Lansbury??

Revisiting the past and anticipating the future

People often say that you can never go back to the things you’ve left behind. Usually they’re right. We can’t turn back time and dwelling on the past isn’t usually a helpful idea. But once in a blue moon you can and it’s every bit as good as the imprint on your memory. Last Saturday was one of those days…

Half a life time ago, as a nervous 16 year old, I joined an organisation I was in awe of – the MAYC Orchestra & Singers (O&S), a national youth choir and orchestra that was part of the Methodist Church. 16 years later, I can safely say that summoning up the courage to send in a tape to audition was one of the best decisions of my life. It brought me ten happy years of singing; improved my sight-reading exponentially; gave me solos in exotic locations like Blackpool’s Winter Gardens; and, most importantly, an amazing group of friends

LWE 1998Obligatory dodgy photo of me, and friends, in the RAH dressing rooms at London Weekend 1998. After some discussion, we’ve decided ‘moody’ was in… [Thanks so much Rachel for putting it on Facebook!]

‘MAYC’ was the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs and when I was an impressionable youngster, we lived across the road from its HQ in Muswell Hill – I longed for the day when I’d reach 13 and be allowed to go to its events! Its annual highlight was London Weekend, an event that saw thousands of young people flood London clad in green & yellow (don’t ask!) and filled the Royal Albert Hall twice over for a show. [If you want to get a better idea of this, there are two Songs of Praises now on YouTube, one from 1991 & one from the 50th anniversary in 1995.] The O&S was founded to provide the backing music to this event, first with an orchestra in 1974 and later a choir too. This year marks its 40th anniversary and fortunately for us, the trustees of what has now become OneSound, realised the significance of the date in time to plan a reunion.

It’s really difficult to explain what O&S means to people who haven’t been part of it. On the surface, it sounds like a noble activity – a church based musical activity for youngsters. A group that meets together two or three times a year for three days at a time, drawing people together from all over the country. How could it possibly have that much of an impact upon its members’ lives?

Yes, I performed in some of the best venues in the UK – including the Royal Albert Hall, the NEC & NIA and several cathedrals. We recorded three albums and taped two Songs of Praises. But I took it for granted in that blasé way teenagers have. But I also found a place where I could explore and be sustained in my faith. A place that was a constant in the midst of A-levels, university, first jobs, unemployment and parents leaving the country. A group that provided some of the best friends a girl could have – which in no small way has probably made my sister and I closer together than we might have been. Countless people have met their spouses through it, including six friends of mine (and another couple currently dating).

O&S at an O&S weddingFormer O&S/OneSound members at a wedding that wouldn’t have happened without the O&S.

This past weekend, over 150 of us across its 40 year history joined together to revisit old friends and music. In all honesty, I was a little apprehensive. Would it be as good as I remembered? Would people really get into the spirit of things? Would I know many people outside the group of friends I see regularly? Would it be worth losing a weekend that could be spent on the final essay & presentation of my ordination training??

I needn’t have worried. At 8.30 on Saturday morning we launched straight into a run-through of an iconic O&S piece (an unlikely bringing together of Amy Grant’s That’s What Love is For and MC Hammer’s Do Not Pass Me By) and the moment the the first chords were played, the hairs stood up on my neck. The orchestra sounded amazing. The soloist sounded just the same as she had done 17 years ago. We were singing notes most of us never thought we’d get to sing again. I think there were probably tears… In that moment, I think we all knew the event was going to be a success. In fact, it wouldn’t have mattered if no one had come to the concert that Saturday night because we just wanted to play and sing. (Well, and chat. There wasn’t enough time for chatting!)

Children's choirThe Children’s Choir in action. (I’m the proud Godmother of the boy on the far right in the purple t-shirt. His brother is making a face next to the girl in the pink & blue frock.) [Credit: Matthew Tipple]

Time has moved on and nowhere was that more evident than in the presence of second generation O&S’ers – the children of ex members. Someone had the idea of forming them into a children’s choir and, although I know it was stressful at times [brilliant work Gill, Catherine, Joe, Jenna et al!], their participation made the event. My godson and his brother had a whale of a time, the younger of the two discovered what microphones do and made sure he was right in front of one at all times, singing loudly! In the first half of the evening’s concert, they performed admirably, with a particularly enthusiastic version of Let it Go. But it was the finale of Sing (the Gary Barlow Commonwealth anthem for the jubilee) that broke me, and most of the other adults. The children topped and tailed it and it was flipping awesome!

My friend’s Mum filmed this – she was impressed she worked out how to do video, so we’ll let her off the portrait-ness of it. The sound quality’s pretty good though. [Parents, this is posted more for your benefit than anyone else’s! You ought to be able to spot me…]

Life in O&S wasn’t always easy and I think I was worried that this weekend would bring up memories that weren’t quite so great. The time I spent as a member covered a period of massive change in Methodism and included the transitioning of O&S out of the national structure, losing all its funding. In 2005 I had a temporary job at the Methodist Church [the first of 3!], working in the same open-plan office of the then MD when news broke that it was to be cut and her post made redundant. At the time, I was also secretary of the support group – a band of volunteers from the O&S who had various, not hugely important responsibilities (mine seemed to largely revolve around our music library) – who, all of a sudden, were plunged into making plans for the future.

Over the months and years that followed I gave hours and days of my life to ensuring this organisation survived. We had long meetings that inevitably resulted in me catching the very last train home from Watford. We gathered volunteers; came up with structures and grant applications; we filed for company and charitable status; and we oversaw a transition from the now meaningless ‘MAYC Orchestra & Singers’ to ‘OneSound’. Sometimes there were days when it didn’t seem worth it – like when letters of complaint arrived or when members couldn’t understand why things weren’t how they were before. But then an event would come around and every late night, every meeting minuted, and form filled in was more than worth it.

When I began Vicar School three years ago, I made the decision that I could no longer spare the time for board meetings, emails and events, so after five years of being a trustee (ending up with a year as acting chair), I stood down. Until this weekend, I’d had next to nothing to do with OneSound except for chats with friends who are still involved and the odd favour. I’d forgotten what had made all that work worthwhile.

PerformingThe reunion ensemble. (I’m apparently deep in thought…) [Credit: Sarah Winser]

This weekend, I remembered why it was so important that we kept O&S going in 2005. That it matters that other young people have the chance to be part of something that can change their lives. Yes, it’s exceptionally cheesy, but I – and several hundred other people – know that it’s completely true. I’m phenomenally pleased that lots of ex-members have recognised it too. Hopefully lots of them will support what O&S has become in future years, so that when the 5oth anniversary comes around, we can do it all over again!

The past was Orchestra & Singers, but the future is OneSound.


OneSound logo

Celebrating 2014 on a desert island

Sadly not this kind of desert island:

Tongan beachThough strictly speaking, this isn’t a deserted island, but you get the idea… 

Most Brits will be familiar with the concept of ‘desert island discs’ – stranded on a desert island, you miraculously have access to eight of your favourite tracks and the means with which to play them. (Plus the Bible, complete works of Shakespeare, a book of your own choosing and a self-defined ‘luxury’.) It’s a quintessential piece of British radio programming, in fact it’s the longest running programme on Radio 4, about to celebrate its 72nd birthday at the end of this month. [More fascinating facts about the show can be found on its Wikipedia page.]

Thanks to having friends who come up with brilliant ideas, I found myself spending NYE (a night which I have a strong dislike of) embroiled in a ten person desert island discs – possibly my most middle class evening, ever. The rules were simple, but hard. Choose three of your favourite pieces of music and have a story to share about each of them.

Now, it just so happens that I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about what I’d choose. Not because I think appearing on the show is a realistic future opportunity, more that it’s the kind of thing you start contemplating when you listen to the DID podcast on a weekly basis. Getting a list of 8 pieces seems nigh on impossible. Faced with cutting this down further to just 3 seemed to be downright cruel.

However, I came up with a system – they needed to be tracks that I liked and that had good stories attached to them, which helped slightly. After all, there were going to be several people at dinner who I’d never met before, so I needed to look like I had a modicum of sense in my musical taste too. [There was every possibility that my choices would be outdone by the resident 2 year old’s taste in music.] I eventually decided that there would be one classical (this particular piece was always a given), something from a musical and something else. That ‘something else’ was not decided upon until the moment I dutifully gave my choices to our host for the evening’s Spotify playlist.

Obviously, this kind of evening only works with a smaller number of people. 30 tracks is perfectly doable over dinner and isn’t too many stories to hear. The playlist was divided into three rounds, each beginning with the DID theme tune (these people know how to do things in style), and each matching a course of the meal. By round three and dessert, there was a contest to see if people could guess whose choice was whose, based on the idea that we’d now know a little bit more about our fellow guests’ musical tastes. All in all, it was a jolly good way to welcome in a new year – and a dinner party concept that I highly recommend.

And my choices? Well, all-in-all, I think they were good ones and reflective of me and my eclectic taste…

1. Adagio from Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor played by Jacqueline du Pre.
Easiest choice. Elgar’s one of my all-time favourite composers; I rather wish I’d taken up the cello (although it is rather bulky); and listening to this in packed tube carriages is hands down the best way of disappearing into tranquility.

2. Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye, sung by Ella Fitzgerald.
In my list of 8 DID tracks, I’d originally had Etta James’ At Last, but felt that Ella singing Cole Porter was more representative of family car journeys and my long-standing love of Ella’s tones. The fact that my Dad was playing this album when he picked me up from Dublin last week helped secure its choice.

3. La Vie Boheme, the cast of Rent.
There were so many musicals to choose from. If this had been 8 songs and no dinner party, Defying Gravity from Wicked would have been a prime contender. I also dithered with choosing One Day More from Les Mis instead, as both are brilliant examples of ensemble songs mid-way through a musical. In fact, of the two, One Day More is definitely better, but La Vie Boheme holds a special place in my heart. Firstly, it’s a very wordy and oh so slightly inappropriate song – and I know the words to the whole thing, which I consider to be something of an achievement. Secondly, in 2007 while on board a coach somewhere in a Palestinian desert, I had a competition with one of the leaders of our international conference as to who could sing the most of it without forgetting the words. Thirdly, watching Rent (and practising what we liked to call ‘the lesbian love duet’) was a key feature of a previous NYE with an old friend.

Happy new year!

2014 Big Ben

Friday Fun that could transform your commuting experience…

Unless you have been hiding under a rock (or don’t listen to radio stations that play music written this millennium), you will have come across the summer phenomenon that is Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. Catchy doesn’t even begin to describe it – in a good way. Inevitably, the YouTube tributes have begun and this week I came across two of particular quality.

Firstly, through the medium of classy violin playing:

Secondly, what the track may have sounded like in every decade over the last century. (Pay particular attention to the sunglasses…):

If that’s really not your kind of thing, it’s more than possible that you’re more of a Radio 4 listener, in which case, this video, depicting the station in 4 minutes, will be right up your street. In fact, you’ll only find this funny if you’re familiar with the wonderful eccentricity of the station. (As one of the YouTube commenters says, the number of Radio 4 listeners who can operate YouTube is comparatively small. Little harsh, but a little true!)

Continuing that slightly well-educated tack, are you aware of the signs that indicate you’re addicted to books? Perhaps you don’t think it’s likely to be an issue for you? Maybe one or two (or several) of this list will strike a chord? This is just a little of the evidence that I am indeed a book addict. [Despite the fact that my current lifestyle means that I’ve had to kick the habit temporarily.]

Book addict home

Bookseller crushesBeach reading

Book violence

Finally, it’s Friday and I have another TfL gem for you, thanks to Katie E. Ever wondered what London Underground stations look like inside – beyond what we can see with the naked eye when we’re there? Some genius came up with the idea of creating an app that shows the inner workings of Zone 1 stations – not just to look at, but so you can plan the speediest route from A-B. Here’s my local station in all its glory:


With an app like this, no one need ever look like an amateur tube user ever again!

Friday Fun with diversity

Today’s Friday Fun begins with a video that might typically be expected to finish a Friday Fun post. The Evolution of Music has been doing the rounds a bit on social networks (if I’d not been essay writing this time last week, it would no doubt have appeared more novel to my readers), but worth a share in case you’ve not seen it. Admittedly, I wish it had concentrated more on pre-20th century music and had been less American-centric, but it’s still quite a feat:

Continuing with a somewhat educational theme, regular readers will be aware that I’ve long been greatly amused with some of the ridiculous things you can find online about periods. (See previous posts on the subject.) A recent discovery has been a terribly old school Disney film about ‘the story of menstruation’ that managed to get banned. Think Fantasia, sponsored by Kotex…

If you thought that was cringeworthily old fashioned, you *must* watch ‘Growing Girls’ from the BFI archives – one of my personal favourites. Kotex still sponsor informative period videos and have been responsible for some gems in the past (just search YouTube), but I rather liked their recent myth busting campaign. Apparently, it was believed that women would turn spaghetti sauce sour once a month…

Moving on (as I’m sure some of you will be relieved to hear). What do you get when you combine the best of Shakespeare with the best of the internet? Shakespearian insults accompanied by cats, obviously!

Shakespeare cat 1

Shakespeare cat 2

Continuing the theme of uniquely English humour and language, I defy you not to be amused by at least one of these examples of British graffiti. (Warning: some may offend and are NSFW.)

Graffiti 1

Graffiti 2

Graffiti 3

Finally, something I gave to Twitter in lieu of Friday Fun last week (when I was up to my eyeballs in deadlines for this past Monday), courtesy of my fun friend Jenni – how do you fancy playing Lego virtually? No need for a tub of bricks, all you need is Google Chrome, a few spare hours and a vibrant imagination…

Building Lego with Chrome