In the mode

What is it with the word “mode” that makes me shiver and never even look in the direction of the instructions about achieving that mode and what I do when I get there?

I’m no technophobe – I lopve a gadget, me – but when it comes to reading the 100s of pages of  manual helpfully translated into All Greek and Double Dutch from the original Chinese-via Japanese,  I tend to tune out and rely instead on my Innate Knowledge of Things and my university degree in Trial and Error. Mainly Error. Why? Because I haven’t read the manual.

Now, you’ll be aware that I bought a new camera this year and I’m delighted with the shots it takes – on Autofocus. But I’d like to take it a stage further and learn about how to do manual focussing and macros and zooming and all those things with words out of context and frightening that make you want to rip up the magazine and pick up the camera usnstead.

All the gadgets are so clever these days and do different things in different modes, though, and I can never remember systematically which mode I’m in and if I’m in the wrong mode how to get into the right one. I’m not the sort who will sit and patiently pick through things – my friend Fiona sat in BYMT reception the other day and painstakingly untangled my alpaca yarn for me, for instance. I could not do that without throwing the whole knitting project across the room and stamping on it.

So, I’ve been trying to discover how to take black and white pictures. The manual takes for granted that somehow you’ve explored this fairyland of integral menus and manuals and assumes that you’re in Picture Mode. Mode, you see. But could I get into the constantly greyed out and elusive Picture Mode? I could not. I tried and tried for hours and did different things, even running down my battery so I had to charge it. I even woke up in the middle of the night disgruntled at my failure to crack this problem.

In the end I discovered that you can enter Picture Mode if you’re in “M” whatever that is. And so I took a couple of black and white photos. They’re pictures of my trainers as they happened to be around before I went to the gym this morning.

And the reason for this sudden quest for technological knowledge? Well, I took a picture of the heavily ornamented ceiling of St. John’s Smith Square last night and, using one of my several confusing forms of post-production software, I turned it to black and white which, I thought, highlighted the relief and made the picture more spectacular. The trouble was that when I tried to upload that edited picture and a cropped picture of the Symphony orchestra from Photos onto WordPress, it kept reverting to the original. So I figured that it was better to take an orginal photos in the best form so that not too much editing has to be done.

As I say, I puzzled over this for ages before coming to the “M” mode, which suddenly means that this intractable problem was well and truly solved. Hoorah for me and for the wit to remember to turn and press all sorts of buttons on my camera to take a photo in black and white.


In other news, our supporting steels arrived today and I watched 5 able men hook them down from the lorry onto the drive. How exactly they managed to transfer the things to the garden is anyone’s guess. I went to have my nails done.




In the mode

An annual feast of music

How quickly the year has spun around again to our school’s annual concert at St. John’s Smith Square, one of the prettiest concert venues in London.

Our school places music right at the heart of its whole being and consequently attracts many musical children, often children of top level musicians. This concert annually confirms to me how right we were to choose this school for our own musical offspring: that would provide such fantastic musical opportunities for those who care to take them.

MsDD had a more muted role in the musical ensembles this year, judged as she was at last year’s audition in the middle of a particularly traumatic period of her dizzy spells. It hasn’t been a great year for her as a soloist, all in all, but perhaps she’ll come to the fore again next year.

She stepped back from many of the formal ensembles this year but became subsumed by first the sixth form production of Anything Goes, for which she was in the house band, and now the lower school Oliver Twist production, for which she has written all of the music and coached the singers. I’m glad she has these opportunities, of course, but they have come at a price: most notably the sacrifice of a top grade mark in her Grade 8 clarinet but also the chance to  have the time to put thought and effort into her homework rather than constantly being in a rush to hand her work in on time because of her heavy co-curricular commitments.

MsDD has promised us that next year will be different and she’ll take a step back but she’s been asked to double up. as tenor sax and clarinet in next year’s Jazz Band (the first ensemble above) but next year is her GCSE year and she’s going to have to make some hard choices.

Tonight’s concert comprised two sixth form soloists playing the Elgar Cello concerto and – swoon- Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto. Both soloists were fantastic but I would have sacrificed one or two of the Elgar movements to hear the sublime second movement of the Rach, in my view one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.

The chamber choir sang some Stanford motets incredibly beautifully and the Sax ensemble, one of the things that MsDD has had to decline this year, played some really interesting Venetian Renaissance music, profiting from the galleried structure of St. John’s.I hugely enjoyed the Chamber Orchestra’s rendition of Grieg’s Holberg Suite too.

All in all a fabulously entertaining evening and a triumph for pupils and music staff alike, especially our new young music director who manages to be serious and cool at the same time.

An annual feast of music

Our princess



This is the child, who loves her dog, having a quick rest after a busy week.

This is the child who has spent a term and a half, two school holidays writing original songs and incidental music and coaching younger children in their school play. Her work has been described as “stolen from Victorian music hall.” It is not stolen: she made it. I have politely pointed out all of her sacrifices to the teacher who used this description.

This is the child who rose at 7.15 on a Saturday as usual, went to music school and walked back through Bromley, observing with interest all the political campaigning.

This is the child who went to a party this evening, warned not to make herself vulnerable through drink or drugs. Ever contrary, ever rebellious, she is still sensible but her mamma  frets because one can never rely on the actions of others.

Two and a half hours later she has called home, having been turfed out onto the street due to the actions of unruly boys not from her school. Having assured us she would drink only a couple of beers, and having consumed none, she heats up a bedtime mug of milk.

Neither child nor adult, she is our princess.



Our princess

Confessions of a fence-sitter: not for the easily riled.

So simple, and yet so complex

I’m hesitating as I write this. A vote in a General Election is a private affair made public by all sorts of pronouncements by all and sundry. I’m wondering how many Twitter friends this post will lose me, how much criticism this post will attract, so polarised have we become as a society.

Yet this has preyed on my mind for such a long time that I can no longer hold my cards close to my chest or keep quiet in order to fend off any controversy. This is my blog and I should be able to express my views as long as I am harming no-one else.

There is a body of opinion that feels that voting is of no consequence, that it changes nothing, especially in our system of non-proportional representation. This is so completely the case in my constituency of Beckenham, one of the safest Conservative seats in the land, that it’s almost not worth voting for any party because one’s vote is of no consequence whatsoever. And yet so many have struggled, suffered and died for our right to have our say in who governs our country that, to me at least, it seems like an insult to them to squander the one voice we have.

But how to use one’s vote?

Most of the people I follow on Twitter, including many dear friends are left wingers, generally believers in compassion and doing one’s best to help care for people outside one’s immediate family. Nice people. This is probably why I follow them.

I must point out here that compassion, kindness, gentleness, courtesy are not uniquely the preserve of people who are largely left-leaning. Generally I am still interacting with people who can keep a civil tongue in their heads, no matter what their politics. I’d also like to think that I treat people with courtesy even though I am a floating voter and, as such, don’t stand for anything much. Sadly, at election time, a lot of otherwise perfectly reasonable, decent people resort to name calling for which my stomach is far too delicate.

I don’t like how acrimonious the exchanges have become, though. Personal attacks and general nastiness seem to be the order of the day, justified by people’s violent disagreement with the other side. Sometimes it is simply a matter of lack of imagination, of lack of seeing the other side of the story. There’s no need to be rude, though. It’s deeply off-putting and I find myself disengaging completely with the world of politics. I just can’t be doing with it.

How very odd for someone once so engrossed in politics, raised in such a politically-aware household. Should I not be somewhere helping a party with their campaign, leafletting, canvassing, making my political allegiances known on social media?

The problem is that I can see both sides of the story: I decide where I stand on the basis of policies and not tribalism, which I hate. I’m really annoyed that people are so ready to judge and dismiss people for their name; the school to which their parents sent them; their job; where they live. I don’t understand the deep disconnect between people and other people.

In essence I am socially liberal and believe in community but the sort of community where everyone cares and everyone has to face the consequences of their actions, where people have to take some responsibility, at least, for themselves. This makes me fiscally conservative: as a housewife with no income I know how very easy it is to spend money that someone else has earned. It is a huge conflict and one with which I tussle all the time.

So much of this election seems to be about bashing the people that one side or the other hates, whether it’s demonising people who come here to do the work that people are not sufficiently skilled to do, or do the work for cheaper; or whether it’s vilifying people who have achieved success in life through their skills and capabilities and hard work.

I believe in social responsibility, yes, but also in personal responsibility. For instance, I think it is right that our taxes should pay for good healthcare and education for our children. What I think it less fair is that some people think carefully about how many children they can afford to feed, clothe and educate whereas other seems to think that everyone else should pick up the bill for their unrestrained procreation.

I don’t automatically think that the public sector is good and the private sector is bad.

I believe in equality of opportunity not equality of outcome. It seems that many people support people’s right to do well but become filled with resentment and loathing when they do make a success of their lives.

That sort of thing.

There is so much I could write about this here but I’d be on and on for days because a) there is more than one side to every situation and b) things are always more complex than most people would like to acknowledge. Essentially, I’m a dithering fence-sitter.

I refuse to vote for a party that actively seems to dislike people like me. This, then, rules out the Conservatives, plenty of whom make it blatantly obvious that they’d rather not have people like me around, that they merely tolerate me, and that they don’t want me to live in the same street as them. You’re shocked? You wouldn’t believe some of the encounters I’ve had with past neighbours because neither did I. UKIP, obviously, are the party of the stupids and there are far too many of them about.

And yet Labour, whom I supported until Gordon Brown reignited class warfare (and supported the third runway at London Heathrow airport,) seem now to go out of their way to pour scorn and hatred on people who have managed to achieve success not through inheritance or criminality but through making good choices at school and sheer hard work. Also, let’s be honest, luck. When you’re not a billionaire like poster girl JK Rowling, a 25% tax rise makes a huge amount of difference to your ability to manage your household expenses, especially in London. I am sure those baying for us to pay even more tax wouldn’t like a similar rise in their own tax rate.

I have voted for the Greens in the past but their attitudes have also disappointed me during this election campaign. It’s almost as if they don’t care whether people take them seriously or not. They despise people like us too. A vote for them would be a vote for paying 60% tax which, if you look at it totally dispassionately, would be a deeply illogical thing to do. It’s such a pity because if anything we do need to be taking environmental concern a whole lot more seriously than we do at the moment.

Now let’s get this straight: I don’t look down on or despise poor people. I am not a snob. (I’m almost incredulous that I find myself having to explain that, but such is the current polarisation and hatred that I feel I must.) I too have been long-term unemployed (with two degrees and plenty of skills) and I know what it’s like to write hundreds of letters and be dismissed out of hand at the rare interview for reasons that never become clear. I know what it’s like to walk miles to sign on in order to save the bus fare.

I sympathise hugely with people who are having to live on next to nothing. I see first hand the effect of some of the cuts on youth services and on people with mental health problems. But I don’t see why I have become the enemy because my life is no longer like this. I cannot vote for people who exist to pour scorn on people like me.

Which means that, in the end, my vote will be cast for the least of all the evils, from my point of view. And I’m not sure that’s quite in the spirit of democracy.


Confessions of a fence-sitter: not for the easily riled.

Where I try to help out but end up staying in


We were warned that today would be the most stressful of the build as the builders came and knocked out an aperture between the hall and what was once the garage and is usually our utility room, currently serving as our temporary kitchen. There would be noise and dust everywhere, Patrick said, and so it was best to choose a day when we’d be out for a couple of hours.

So I had an appointment with a research company based at a local hospital. I’d originally been sent a questionnaire by my GP practice asking whether, as someone with asthma, I’d take part in research. It seems that the original project called for people whose asthma is worse than mine and not properly controlled so they didn’t want me for that but I was called in today in relation to a different project.

Well, they weighed me – with my clothes on, honestly! – and measured me, and I have indeed shrunk a centimeter since my peak height of 5’1″ and took readings of my peak flow and my lung capacity. It turns out that my lungs have more capacity than they’d expected for someone of my age and medical history.

I ascribe this to the diaphragm control I’m trying to perfect in my singing and the fact that the Seretide I take every night and morning means that I can exercise without fear of giving myself an asthma attack. I always had problems with exercise when I was younger so I scarcely did any and ended up unfit until my act of desperation to shift the Parisian pounds had me running around 30Km a week up and down the towpath on the Seine. Although Seretide costs about 40 Euros per inhaler, each of which will last me a month, it means that I can keep myself fit and healthy. I haven’t had asthma properly for years.

As it turned out, then, I was far too healthy to assign to a medical trial and came home well before I’d anticipated. This might have been a chance to get on with the ironing, but the upstairs was sheeted and taped off in an attempt to contain the inevitable dust.

The exercise of creating an access door between our front room, to which we are confined at present, and our temporary kitchen was supposed to take only a couple of hours. In fact it took all day as the builders discovered that the wall was doubled up. It’s still not finished and nor are the temporary steps down to the kitchen so there will be more of the same tomorrow. The Boywonder and I were forced to sit in the front room, now dubbed the morning room because it faces east and gets the sun in the mornings, with the fractious, anxious dogs all afternoon.

I had arranged to meet up with my friend Sue later on the afternoon, and get myself out of the house away from the dust again but as it turned out she was grabbing some time between returning from work and collecting her daughter from school so that didn’t last long. Back home I came, to the hole above and fine dust particles still settling.

I am trying to be cool but we are on edge, let’s face it, and the Boywonder and dogs are becoming really quite stressed by it all, despite their two and a half hour walk in the sunshine this morning. I can’t help thinking that we’re gong to continue finding plaster dust in nooks and crannies for years to come but maybe it’s because the end of this build is still a long way over the horizon.

Where I try to help out but end up staying in

A lasting impression

A building site will, at some point, present an expanse of cement or concrete, with a vast unexplored temptation factor: it’s like arriving on your first morning of an Easter skiing break at Obergurgl or, better, Hochgurgl and finding that, not only has it snowed during the night but that, inexplicably, everyone else has come down with a sickness bug or is watching the Grand Prix and you’re there alone, at the top of a gentle slope of virgin powder snow that’s glistening like tiny diamonds in the March sunshine. Off you go, you make the first tracks and for a glorious moment that piste is YOURS and no-one else’s.

This is the situation with a layer of newly-laid cement. Cement and dogs don’t mix. Or, rather, they DO mix. All too often. And there, as they say, is the rub.

My dogs took a short trip into the back garden today as everyone had downed tools for lunch. They left their mark:



There is a place in our garden that will now be forever Raffles and Oscar.

A lasting impression

Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer Oil-free: a review

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving started to use primers only in the past few months, I am completely converted to their use under foundation. Somehow they act as a sort of weightless undercoat to smooth skin and illuminate it through the foundation.

I’ve tried a Smashbox primer and the Chanel one but then came across the Hourglass display in John Lewis, tried this and was hooked. I’m not sure whether it makes me look better, though I think it does. It certainly clings onto my carefully painted face all day and somehow gives me a radiance that is difficult to describe. I was told by counter staff that this product renders one’s make-up water-resistant. I can’t vouch for that but my eyes are certainly watery in the sping and the Veil foundation I use over the top of this did not go anywhere.

So let’s establish that I adore this product and would always want to keep some in both my home make-up drawer and in my gym bag.

There’s a big HOWEVER to this, though. Marketing includes the method of consumption and  in the case of Hourglass this is a pump dispenser. I’ve already had to raise a complaint with Hourglass about a faulty pump dispenser for the Veil foundation – I had my pump replaced by Hourglass and a new foundation sent to me by Net-A-Porter- because the product is often too thick to be handled by the pump, which it clogs too quickly.

In the case of the primer, however, the product seems to separate in the bottle meaning that when you pump it out you get only the waterier part of the primer coming out onto your hand and I’m not sure that this wheyish fluid has the same effect as the whole product. What is left in the tube is much thicker and, if you scoop it out onto your hand, it appears more convincing at doing its job properly.

This product is expensive – £50 for 30ml – so I am dismayed that it seems to melt away to next to nothing in its bottle over time. Look at the picture of the bottle: I’m sure I haven’t used that much but now face having to buy more primer after only about 2 or three months. It’s as if I had carefully whipped up an Italian meringue and a few months later the air had leached out of the product and it had ended up as a tiny bit of sugar in the bottom of a bowl.

I have seen squeezy tubes of this Veil primer at £70 for 60ml, which seems better value, especially if the product does not separate or disappear in the tube. It looks as if I’ll be buying one of these imminently so please do help me confirm or deny the feedback I have assumed. Apparently Hourglass are changing their packaging from August this year and I hope it works out with the new delivery of primer.


Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer Oil-free: a review

My happy place

I was lucky enough to be given an annual membership to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club as a Christmas present and we spent this lunchtime there watching and listening to the Craig Milverton Trio  fronted by Clarinet Maestros Ken Peplowski and Julien Marc Stringle.

How fabulous and wonderful an opportunity it is to listen to this quality of live music! It occurred to me while watching that Ronnie Scott’s is probably one of my very favourite places in the world. As you descend into the club, you’re engulfed by the womblike comforting dinginess. It’s so cosy and you’re so close to the musicians that they can often enter an intimate conversation with you, with with their music and their presence.

The numbers performed today ranged from Bebop to Bossa Nova to swing; from Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington through Bernstein to Jobim. I was alternately grinning and tearing up and concentrating and letting the music wash over me. It’s so hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t love music passionately the effect it has on one’s very soul. Just trust me on this.

I have loved swing music since I was about thirteen years old and managed to conceal that love from my peers. At the very height of punk confessing a love for Glenn Miller would have meant sacrificing even the tiny bit of credibility I possessed.

I was introduced to jazz proper when in China, funnily enough, by my Danish roommate playing Billie Holliday and Ella. I’d never actually listened to such bewitching music before and I was beguiled by it, quickly learning most of the words to Cole Porter and Gershwin songbooks. Of course later on came a love of Getz and Miles and Oscar Peterson (after whom our dog is named) and Sinatra, of course.

I feel truly amazed and delighted that my offspring share a love of this music and are equally enchanted every time they go to, or take part in, jazz gigs. They’ve been lucky enough to be members of jazz and swing ensembles at school and through the BYMT, and will happily combine a playlist of the latest artists with Chopin, Steve Reich and Count Basie. It’s thrilling to go to jazz gigs with them knowing that they share my enjoyment. I’m hoping that MsDD, herself a reeder of note, was inspired. She was actually expected at a rehearsal for her school’s concert next week at St. John’s Smith Square but arguably this family time was just as educational for her.

Whenever I listen to jazz music I’m filled with a heart-rending disappointment in myself that I never learnt how to play jazz piano or even chords like the OH and the Boywonder. It’s so frustrating not to be able to go and join in. In fact it’s long been my secret ambition to be a nightclub jazz singer like, say, Cleo Laine. Maybe one day I shall. In the meantime, jazz will continue to hook my heart, make my feet tap and cause my buttocks to dance on their chair.


My happy place