Mini explosion

I spent yesterday learning the basics of DSLR photography (even though my camera is mirrorless and therefore technically not DSLR) in the middle of an industrial estate – turned arts complex just outside Wimbledon. DSLR Photography Courses have a range of different offerings and a voucher for this one was a Christmas gift from the OH.

I’d been looking forward to the course for ages. I have bought lots of books on Aperture and Shutter Speed (not to mention the ones that my dear friend @fizzandnonsense, who has taught herself to take wonderful photos, sent me,) but sometimes nothing but being taught in person will do. Our tutor for the day, Aga, explained that learning to take photographs is like learning to drive: it’s a sort of muscle memory taught by thousands of different experiences, all of them slightly different. 

We could only scratch the surface of the art in one day, of course and, just as my singing lessons have revealed, sometimes it’s easy to feel demoralised because you come away pondering exactly how much there is to learn and how long it will take, but I hope it will be an interesting journey. That’s what people say these days, isn’t it? 

I’ll have to dust off Lightroom and actually work out how to use it, but I’m hoping that this will be the start of some nice picture taking. Above is picture of Aga playing with water balloons in the car park outside the studio. Yes, I know that the exposure is a bit dark – it was a very dull day – and that the background is sucky but you’re supposed to be focusing on the exploding water droplets. For me just remembering to press the button in time was a feat in itself. 

 

How’s she doing, your mum?

It’s about time that I updated you on my mum’s life in India. 

My most recent trip was a couple of weeks ago, and I was despondent about going, partly because I spent most of MsDD’s Easter holiday away from home, away from her, and partly because when I went to see mum in January, it was clear that she no longer recognised me. She was quite gloomy and uncommunicative. I was very sensible and rational, and told myself that this was because I form no part of mum’s day anymore. The nurses, who were keen to get her repeat her amusing little quips, are now her whole day to day life so of course she won’t treat me, a virtual stranger, as one of her gang.

“LThey’d just had a ridiculous heatwave in Neral as I arrived and some of the floor tiles in the common day room had lifted so this part of the building was too dangerous to be used by the frail old ladies and gentlemen. (They’re looking into replacing the tiles as soon as possible.) It’s really difficult to keep an open-plan building cool in 45 degree heat, so the ladies and gentlemen were taking turns having everyone around to theirs to hang out with the air conditioning and watch TV.

I spent quite a lot of time with my mum watching Marathi TV and railing at the characters in the soaps. We revisited an old joke when two characters shared a hug and I put my hand up to shield us and yelled “Break!” which is what my mum always used to do at any public display of the tiniest bit of intimacy. I think this made her chuckle.

On one occasion mum did recognise me, I think, when she asked why I wasn’t at school but it was fleeting. 

And so it goes. And I’ve booked another trip for June. 

 

 

How I became a Hero

I’m afraid that I have been too busy of late living my life to write about it. I’m going to try and catch up on all the blog post ideas, or the ones that seemed good ideas at the time, over the next couple of weeks.

One of my major achievements since the turn of the new year is to take up running and apply a bit more seriousness and dedication to building up my stamina. An old school friend, who now regularly runs Parkruns ushered me in the direction of the Zeros to Heroes Running Club, which takes complete beginners and, in 10 weeks or so, aims to boost them to take park in their first Saturday Park Run. The OH has run in the Bromley Parkrun for years, occasionally going off to the Dulwich or Crystal palace runs, and now frequents our new local Beckenham Place Parkrun

I’d tried to get back into running since giving up when I moved back from the Seine towpath of Paris to Beckenham’s hills. Sure, I did it for a few years actually but having a fall in the woods knocked my confidence and eventually I found that the hours of psyching myself up before a run and the subsequent slow, slow jog were taking up too much time and I was being rewarded by any increase in fitness. In the interim I’ve joined gyms but I’m no gym bunny and I have dogs to walk every day so that was taking too much time too, and eventually I felt that I was throwing good gym membership cash after bad.

Anyway, I appear to have put on quite a bit of weight in the last year and I re-assessed running as a cheap and efficient way of trying to stay fit and healthy. I’ve never had any stamina, though, and even in the days when I ran more than 25km per week, I always stopped for a break after 15 minutes. A non-stop 5km was the aim, a frightening target.

I turned up at the beginning of the weekly course on January 4th in Bromley’s Norman Park with about 60 others, I think. Zeros to Heroes is a great set up. I think it does receive funding from some source in local or central government but the course itself is free. What they do ask is that you make a donation to their preferred charity and that you buy a club T shirt to do your first and subsequent Park Runs. The point of all of this is to increase participation in fitness activities, particularly for people who have never exercised or are struggling to regain their fitness. Fellow course participants were generally middle aged, although there were a few obviously in their thirties with small children, and several men and women in their seventies. One fabled member took up running in his 80s and is still going with the club.

I’m not going to bore you with all the weekly staging posts but Week One starts with ten sets of 1 minute run and 1 minute walk, and the weeks progress through to  5 minutes run, 3 minutes walk, 5 minutes run, 3 minutes walk, 5 minutes run at Week Five to a full 5km Park run at Week Ten. 

Trained and qualified leaders accompany and cheer you along, and are there for the warm ups and cool down stretches afterwards. Tea and bacon sandwiches are put on for those of us who didn’t have to dash home to walk the dogs and then get ready for a music appreciation course early in the afternoon.

Fundamental to the course is that members also do two corresponding homework runs in the week between the sessions. Leaders from our Zero to Heroes group runs these sessions but I often couldn’t attend because of other commitments. I am proud to say, however, that I completed every session and every homework run, once actually coming home overnight from India, dropping my luggage and going straight out to join the group after changing into my running gear. Sadly I was singing in the Bromley Festival on the date of my group’s graduation run, and struck down by a cold the week after that so I’ve not picked up my Zeros to Heroes graduate medal yet. Perhaps that’s the one that got away. 

The thing about the group is that it’s completely non-competitive and everyone encourages everyone else, in theory, anyway. Once you’ve graduated with your first Parkrun, there are Improvers’ and Advanced groups for you to join to continue the healthy habit. I’d like to join one of these but I’ve not been able to fit it in yet. I’m told I’ll soon be addicted to running but the truth is that I don’t really enjoy running that much and I’m still at the stage where I have to haul my sorry bulk around the 5km, but I can now do it without stopping and I’ve done 2 Parkruns to date, improving my (slow) personal best each time. I’d like to get to a stage when it doesn’t feel like such hard work and I’m determined to keep trying to run three times a week, which is the habit that the course has formed.

The Bromley Parkrun has almost 700 participants every week now, from a wide range of ages and abilities, and most of it is run on tarmac. Beckenham Place, however, is a younger, faster crowd run mostly on grass. Sadly in my second park run last week I could only manage to come in 164th place out of 174. My time is a little below average for all the female park runners of my age group and my aim is to get it up to a 50% average time, which will mean cutting about four minutes off my time, somehow. I’ll persevere for now. At any rate, Parkruns get me up and out of bed with a decent amount of exercise under my belt by 10am each Saturday morning and that can only be a good thing. 

 

Today I sang in the Bromley Festival

I so wanted to join the estimated 100K people on the anti-Brexit march in London this morning. It looks as if it went well, and I hope it sent a message to the Prime Minister that, in fact, 65 million people do NOT agree with her that the UK’s brightest future lies outside the EU. The OH and many of my Twitter friends went on the march and I am proud and envious of them all. 

I also missed my Graduation Park Run with my Zeros to Heroes group this morning. That’s OK. I’ll plod around the 5K next week with 500 other people. Watch this space.

What was I doing that was so important? Well, dear reader, I was performing at the Bromley (Kent) Festival of Music and Speech. You’ll remember, perhaps, (how could you forget?) that I narrowly failed my ATCL singing diploma last year. I am not one for walking away from things so I’d like to do it again and I’ve been working on a new programme since last summer with the aim of entering some time later in the year. I don’t want to be too expansive on that because, hoping for encouragement, I feel I rather overshared on this last year. It’s so interesting to discover the people who absolutely hate that someone is doing something different and pushing themselves, even though it affects them in no way whatsoever.

I entered the festival to try and get used to singing solo in front of an audience with an unfamiliar adjudicator. I don’t much care for singing solo classical repertoire. I am a dance band singer, manquée: I’d have loved to be a latter-day Ella or Billie with a swing band.Genrally I much prefer the shared endeavour of choral singing. Nerves affect my performance quite badly: all the carefully thought-out breath marks and dynamics seem to go out of the window when you’re standing alone in front of an audience. I tend to panic and, thinking that I’ll run out of air, take silly extra breaths in the middle of phrases and upset the flow of the legato, or whatever. When this happens I berate myself internally and my fragile singing ego crumbles. I need to snap out of this. There’s more to singing than one might expect, you see.

Today I was entered in three classes: Lieder, French Song and Recital. All were open classes, which meant that professional singers could sweep up all of the awards so I wasn’t hopeful that I’d make much of a mark. Equally there was no external pressure to perform brilliantly: the only reason to be there was simply as an opportunity to sing in front of an audience. My plan was to ignore the competition and just go out and do my diva thing.

Of course, it didn’t quite go as planned. The Bromley Festival seems to be having a particularly slow year, with a catastrophically low number of entrants, some of whom failed to appear, with the result that I was the only entrant in two of my classes. Those of us who did turn up all seemed to be suffering from some lurgy or other so it was all pretty sub-optimal. So the cup and gold medal I won weren’t necessarily because of the merit of my L’invitation au voyage and Die junge Nonne

Adjudications pointed out errors in breath support and the bane of my life, the sharp note, were mentioned. I need to think more about my mid-range notes now, and make sure that my onsets are spot on rather than a millisecond late. It’s really difficult when you don’t have access to a regular accompanist because you’re relying on the official accompanist to adapt to your singing and, despite what they say, they don’t always do this. My accompanist went off like a speeding train for the introduction to my Walton song, and by the time I’d recovered, I’d tripped over a lot of the words, which was a pity as I love the song and I wanted to sing it really well. Having practised my soft but high entrance in the Arne song Oh Ravishing Delight all week, I went and sang it Fortissimo. All nerves, you see. Your technique and your control over things go out of the stained glass church wndow. 

There were two other participants in the the Recital class and in the end I was awarded joint second (by 1 mark only.) Imagine, though, my complete surprise when I received the Rose Bowl Trophy for best overall performance out of 5 classes. Was this for some gorgeous chanson, or for the fieidishly difficult Wapping Old Stairs? No. I won it for my performance of Seiber’s The Owl and The Pussycat, the only song that I hadn’t worried and fretted abou interminablyt. Ah well.

The Rose Cup has winners’ names on it going back to to 1929 and I think I’ll get it engraved with my name too. My maiden name. I prove points with every public action: we immigrants DO integrate and play a full part in our local community and this needs to be visible so that no-one can dispute it. 

So, yes, could do better but all in all not bad for a first effort at a signing festival. I have a way to go until I can stir people like the Von Trapp Family singers, though. 

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