Contains nudity

Contains nudity


Photos: Radio Times and the Daily Telegraph and Touchstone Pictures

Similarly devoted #TheArchers fans will not have been able to move for (tasteful) nudey photos of the female cast of the show in Lyndy Snell’s production of Calendar Girls, this year’s Ambridge Christmas show, which will be broadcast on the wireless this weekend.

Last month’s London DumTeeDum tweetup, that featured LovelyDeadNigel a.k.a. Graham Seed, was abuzz with talk of a corresponding tastefully-shot naked calendar featuring some of us Tweetalongers. Even yours truly was asked – I assumed they were joking – but I even considered it for a little while, soon realising that prior commitments, amongst other things, would prevent me from taking part. Not to worry though, because even before that tweetup, @Dumteedum had managed to garner the services and studio shots of about nine willing volunteers. Having seen Ms @Jojosexyheels‘ putative contribution, I know I could never match up.

Reassured that the incipient calendar will not be filthy smut but, rather, done in the best possible taste, I await the ordering details. It will go well in my pantry, though it’s a little chilly in there for long-term baring of flesh.

In case you have just returned from another planet, Calendar Girls was a stage play and film about Women’s Institute women from all walks of life raising money for their local hospital by producing a calendar of tasteful nude shots. Actually I think I was at a stage in my life when I used to fall asleep whenever I entered the warm, dark environment of a cinema so I can’t say I remember much about the film.

Lots of people have a go at this every year, from Pirelli to the French Rugby Team, most of whom seem completely unabashed when displaying their all for the camera, but I think I’d be a bit more modest. It got me to wondering about what I’d use to conceal my assets if I were to pose for this sort of calendar, all in a good cause, of course.

Maybe it would be a tray of the infamous brownies that never go right or, as I might prefer, a music stand holding an opera aria score. Maybe I’d be concealing my chest with a filigree fan. More likely I’d be behind my ironing board, iron to shirt.  If I can do it, perhaps my friends might. There might be, say, a friend holding sundog training dummies; someone with a casually-slung saxophone. Perhaps another friend would use a strategically-placed hairdryer to conceal her embonpoint. Another might have a spreadsheet showing companies that had been rescued from going bust.

Who else is there?

One friend might pose behind a magnum or two of Champagne; another might be carrying a bowl piled high with Tabbouleh. There would be several carrying laptops and at least one friend might be standing behind a baptismal font. Some would be holding little dogs or a cat – very carefully; some might be sitting behind sewing machines or microscopes or wrapped in an academic gown. The picture in my head – always far more vivid than the pictures in front of my eyes – is vivid and true. Each woman is smiling with confidence at the camera, knowing she is doing a good thing.

Have you ever considered doing a nude photoshoot for a charity calendar? If so, what would you use to maintain your gravitas? How would your friends pose? Or perhaps you would just not bother with props and stand there in all your naked glory like some of those French rugby players. What do you think?



Why do they do it?

Why do they do it?

Fellow #thearchers tweetalongers have been exercised for some months now about the revolting, slithery, Machiavellian character of Rob Titchenor, quickly dubbed The Titchyknob. Now that his character has developed in such a sinister way, I can no longer bring myself to refer to him by a comical moniker.

Quite apart from his gradual, yet stunning takeover of Helen‘s personality and independence, which is systematically robbing her of any self-confidence she might once have possessed, Rob Titchenor likes to meddle in other people’s affairs.

He works by charming people to trust him and share their confidences with him, perhaps while under the influence of alcohol or in other unguarded moments – because we can’t all be on our guard al the time, right? He then uses these tiny shards of information against people to pursue goodness knows what personal agenda.

Last night he informed soon-to-be wed LovelyIan about Adam, his intended’s, minor misdemeanour. We Tweetalongers, as well as the 5 million or so other avid The Archers fans, had our ears pinned to the radio tonight, phones on divert, to hear the dénouement of this story. Would Ian call off the wedding at the last minute? Would Rob stand up and declare an impediment? Many of us are beyond ready for evil Rob to get his comeuppance and we want to see his blood-oozing entrails spread out for a sky burial with the crows on Lakey Hill, so despised a character (and so well written and acted) is he.

Alas, we shall have to wait a while longer for our bloody revenge as Ian decided to be the bigger man and forgive Adam’s transgressions. We are all but flesh, I guess.

Rob was denied his messy scene – how choked he was at this realisation – and we shall have to wait a little longer for a resolution of this terrible storyline that has many devout listeners reaching for the off switch as they are finding this domestic abuse storyline so painful. It’s realistic, I’m told. Horribly so.

But I set to wondering exactly why someone feels that they have to meddle in other people’s lives; to extract incriminating disclosures from vulnerable, trusting people and use them only to for harm. What is their motivation? Why do they do it?

Could it be that they seek attention or validation? Is it that passing on heavily-embroidered gossip empowers them? Do they wish people to fear their impact? I don’t know.

I am a simple soul, I know this, and the thought of extracting and using such information to manipulate and humiliate people would never even occur to me. What sort of person would I be if it did? How could it do anything but harm my credibility?

And yet this has happened to me fairly recently in real life – I’m not going into the details again – and I’m left wondering about the motivation of the person who did it. Yes, I was indiscreet and I should not have replied with such candour to a leading question on Social Media, but generally one trusts those who purport to be one’s friends. And this friend was not worthy of my trust.

This person has now lost my trust and friendship and, it would seem, that of someone whom she valued more than me. Other people are still taken in by the charm and the flirtatiousness, but I am grateful to have now seen the other side of this.

Luckily this friendship wasn’t particularly close or longstanding, and I now see how my naive good faith was ruthlessly manipulated and exploited, but I still don’t understand what would prompt someone to meddle in such a harmful and undignified way.

It’s left me feeling bruised and wary. Who is watching? How can I be myself in public? How will any slight indiscretion be exploited and held against me? I also feel defensive: I seem surrounded by people only too keen to remind me and reiterate the “dangers” of exposing one’s soul on Social Media. I wonder how superior it makes them feel when they say those things that reflect their own personal prejudices. This just makes it worse.

It’s a December Monday night and I’m tired and hormonal and so this situation looks bleaker than it otherwise might. I am shaking my head and still finding it astounding that someone would behave like this. I have no doubt that Rob Titchenor will get Karma’s reward in the end – that’s how fiction works. I only wish that real life were quite so neat and tidy.


Nars Soft Touch Shadow Pencil

I thought that, once I’d got my Diploma exam over and done with, I’d be able to relax a bit, but of course it is now less than a fortnight to Christmas and the panic set in immediately after I’d returned from Trinity College last week.

It’s been a busy weekend comprising four concerts (performing and attending) and a birthday as well as all the usual stuff that cones with being part of a busy family.

Alas, most of my Christmas cards remain unwritten and my Christmas preparations are moving with all the urgency of a Galapagos tortoise basking in the noonday heat of the archipelago.

With all this in full and lugubrious swing, I’m afraid my blog posts have been rather dull of late which is rather sad, since I’m now into the final stretch of my year of daily blogging. There’s been so little time to devote to writing an inspired and thoughtful post recently so I apologise profusely. Perhaps next year I’ll just stick to occasional deep and meaningful posts. I don’t know.

So, instead of inspirational thinking of a philosophical nature, tonight I’m going to present a couple of cosmetics reviews. I’m sorry, @Casserly_Rocks but one is, after all, a woman who happens to be interested in such things.

Nars Soft Touch Shadow Pencil

You’ll know that the #lowboredomthreshold struck again recently, precipitated by yet another change in my skin tone. Some might say that this is the creeping pallor of despair and exhaustion but it’s not for me to judge. I will say, however, that I’m now considering having my eyes done as perhaps even a Siamese-cat-dragged-through-a-hedge-look would be preferable to my current eyebags and shadows.

Nars is my new love. I often find that the best cosmetics ranges for my skin tone are those designed by makeup artists such as Bobbi Brown; such as François Nars, who are maybe trying to save themselves the trouble of custom-matching their foundations to each of their clients.

Being a bit of a compleatist, and that paradox right there is constrained only by a lack of funds, this meant that I explored the range a bit further and bought lots more shiny, new stuff. A couple of eyeshadow palettes, the perfect nude brown, that sort of thing.

This is all very well but sometimes a person would like to be a little bit more adventurous than neutral so imagine the thrill when I caught sight of this beautiful colour, named Trash, rather judgmentally, in my view.


It’s a sort of deep and iridescent violet in a soft pencil form, which I was keen to explore as a more portable form of eyeshadow since, alas, it would appear that the pans of power shadow are liable to break up.

It’s a beautiful colour, yes, and really makes my dark brown eyes “pop'” as they say. Sadly, though, it doesn’t last and very quickly creased to shiny rivulets on my eyelids, even though I’d used eyeshadow primer. Deeply disappointing when you’ve come to expect that a shadow will last at least most of the day when stuck on with primer. And it’s a little more expensive than the powder sort too.

So, despite the gorgeous colours available in these stick shadows, I shall not be buying another. Boo.


Post mortem

Post mortem


Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

I have never been one for exam post-mortems. I never wanted to talk to anyone after an exam partly because I have no wish to relive the experience and in doing so register indelibly forever in my mind every false technical term; every wrong entry; every badly-placed breath but also because I hate comparing myself to others and finding myself wanting. There it is.

I have, however, had such good thoughts and wishes and encouragement and support from people on my blog and on Twitter (don’t forget guys, you can’t possibly be real friends…) that I feel I owe you some closure. In doing so I cut myself open and expose my viscera to the world but bear with me: this is probably the final singing diploma-related post you will read, at least for a while. I’m thoroughly bored of them and now hoping to move my life on to something a little less all-consuming.

How did it go?

Well, I thought I did reasonably well in the first three songs. We had an underrrun so we slowed it down and I think I managed to include a reasonable amount of expression, emotion and good diction. Hell, I WAS the Angel Gabriel and Countess Rosina Almaviva. When the examiner looked up from his note-writing during that aria that I’d worked on for two years and still found so challenging, he saw me using my scarf as the Countess’s shawl.

My breath didn’t desert me quite in the way it has done before, although there was no complete absence of illogical snatched breaths to break up my legato, which was a trifle disappointing.

I think the Strauss went OK too, though those songs were probably less emotional and quieter than they should have been. Less of a screech at the high notes and possibly less pushing of the breath. I don’t know. I wasn’t conscious of dropping my jaw at all times, which meant that there might have been a few duff, sharp notes: I couldn’t tell.

I missed my entry to the first Duparc but Dan managed to finesse that for me really well, thank goodness. I lost my concentration a bit at this point so I don’t know how well I rendered these two French songs. I seemed to recover my composure for the Dring but I think there were a few duff notes both from the piano and the voice in these .

There. That’s how I did. The technicalities. Where they really that interesting for anyone apart from me or my teacher? I doubt it.

As I’m discovering, the singer is the last to know, to hear, what s/he’s sung. The notes only hit our ears later, weeks later in some cases. I have no idea whether I’ve passed or failed and, despite what some people are saying, it IS important and it’s not JUST the experience that counts. I so want to have passed, to tell myself that I have reached the standard by which (baby) professional singers are judged. I’m not sure whether I did my best today. It was probably near my best but I still have no way of telling whether it was good enough.

It’s not surprising that no-one: not my teacher; not my accompanist; not anyone else who’s heard me can’t actually tell me because I don’t know myself what the standard is. And there is no point telling me that this is a hobby for me whereas music undergrads devote their whole first year to achieving this standard. There’s no point taking individual circumstances into account because one either makes the grade or one doesn’t. End of.

So let’s proceed with a final dissection. Here are the things that have not helped me these last few weeks:

People who have said things like: “You’re mad to do this.” or “I don’t see why you’re putting yourself under all this extra stress.” Or “Well, it’s your choice and you can always withdraw at the last minute.” What is their problem? Maybe these are throwaway remarks, meant well, but they aren’t encouraging, are they? It makes one wonder whether some people are threatened by other people actually working hard to achieve something, that it makes them feel bad because they are not doing that. I don’t feel morally superior to anyone else because I worked hard for this exam. I’m not signalling any particular virtue here. Singing is just my THING in the same way that reading or flower arranging or adoring Jeremy Corbyn are other people’s THING.

Goodness, how on earth can anyone think that this sort of thing is at all constructive, that I haven’t already eviscerated myself with them a million times?

Even better meant and, sadly, just as unhelpful are people who have said things like “Oh, you’ll be fine.” “I know you’re going to do brilliantly.” I’m sorry. I am completely aware how ungracious this is of me but how do you know that I’ll be fine if you’ve never even heard me sing a note? It’s just one of those things that well-intentioned people say when they can’t think of anything else and reminds me of when I was long-term unemployed (and an over-qualified Asian woman of childbearing age) and people would say “Oh you’ll be fine. Something will come up.” And you know that they mean well so you don’t reply but inside you’re screaming “How do you know? Have you any idea how many letters I’ve written; how many jobs I’ve applied for; how much rejection I’ve faced; how my confidence is at an all-time low even though I have done what I thought was the right thing and gone out and re-qualified and still I can’t get a ruddy job?

As an aside: I really can’t bear this “All right, all right,” thing. My husband says it all the time and, in my experience, things are only all right if someone makes them all right. But I digress.

The helpful things this week were the support of Daniel, my accompanist. I really, really would not have been able to go through the exam without his support. Last Monday I was paralysed with fear, because I had dwelled on everyone’s comments and felt I wasn’t fit to sing a jingle for house clearance services on hospital radio let alone go through a 35 minute diploma recital. I was petrified of letting myself down in front of him and then having to face him at choir each week with that knowledge (He is our choir pianist.) Yet, he was unstintingly encouraging and I shall be eternally grateful for his help. Especially if I pass.

And my family, who are used to my singing and still encouraged me that I sang well and that I would do fine in this exam. Opinions from people who know a bit about the subject are always welcome.

And Nathan, who’s doing our garden at the moment, who twice passed positive comment on my singing and popped his head around the door on leaving yesterday to wish me good luck. And, indeed, the simple good luck wishes from all of you have helped.

Joyce DiDonato’s vlog post about the persistent inner voice also helped. I would recommend that you have a look at that if you haven’t seen it as it offers a lot of encouragement and comfort for those of us who aren’t quite so secure as we might be with the extent of our abilities. I wouldn’t say it silenced my pesky inner voice but she was whispering rather than yelling at me and my nerves weren’t so much of a factor as they have been in the past.

So, what next? I need to catch up on missed sleep. I am exhausted. Then I have been asked to put together a duet recital item (by someone who hasn’t heard me sing) for the next couple of months. I’d like to go to Sarah’s Benslow summer school and learn to sing some opera arias properly. She says I am capable of singing them now. I’ll keep singing in the choir – I woke up to an unsuitable earworm of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio yesterday morning – and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I’ve passed. That’s all I can do now.

Best actor in a supporting role

Such a busy day again. So tonight I’m going to post a link to an article by Melinda Gates in today’s Financial Times, which pretty much sums up what I’ve thought for ages.

I’ve often thought about doing a blogpost which would detail the value of unpaid carers to society. Think about the (very approximate) annual salaries of the professionals who would charge for  their time instead of carrying out these tasks for free:

Live in Nanny:  £25,000 per annum

Chauffeur:        £26,000 per annum

Cook:                £10.00 per hour

Cleaner:            £10.00 per hour

Dog walker:       £10.00 per hour

Babysitter:         £ 7.00 per hour

Tutor:                 £21,000 per annum

Nurse:                £23,000 per annum

PA:                       £25,000 per annum

Lifecoach:           £24,000 per annum


shopper:             £17,000 per annum


OK, so these are rough and ready figures but they soon add up and there are things I’ve been too sleepy to quantify such as laundry person, a personal therapist; a hairdresser; a relationship counsellor or maker of costumes: that sort of thing.

It has become clear to me when sorting out this blog post that all those occupations listed up there, performed for free by a carer at home (whether it’s caring for children or an elderly relative or whomever) is not exhaustive. For example, I was a music teacher to my children when they were young, as well as a sergeant major. You see my point, though.

Perhaps it’s about time we started valuing people who perform these functions out of love or duty or because it’s the right and responsible thing to do. They might have made a lot of sacrifices in their own lives to do all this. They might not be economically productive in a way quantifiable by conventional (dare I say it, patriarchal) economics but the economy could not exist without their support.



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