Autumn 2019

Autumn has arrived.  Recently, we have had some glorious spells of hot summer and the garden has never looked better…not, I hasten to add, because of my own efforts, but because of the diligent and skillful care of Mary, my gardening friend. Not only does the back and front of the house look splendid, but with the addition of a few feeders, birds have flocked in…dunnocks by the dozen, sparrows, starlings, robins, blackbirds, magpies. I’ve even seen a goldfinch and a collared dove as well as a bevy of blue-tits…and of course the almost resident wood pigeons. What came as a shock was the sudden appearance of a sparrow hawk who dramicatcally attacked and carried off a dunnock.

Take Pride in Ageing Conference

The conference season is upon us. Needless to say, I have little time for the political shenanigans of party conferences; however, this year I will be giving a key note speech at the Take Pride in Ageing Conference in Chester Town Hall. This is the third such conference organised by Body Positive Cheshire and North Wales. The one I attended last year was really good…but lacked one important thing…a positive voice. Perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut, but I couldn’t restrain myself from pointing out this omission…so that’s why I now find myself preparing to give a twenty minute talk as an openly gay man ageing with HIV. It’s a tough challenge: how do you condense 78 years of work, play, adventure and activism into a 20 minute slot? Something that  influenced my approach was Gareth Thomas coming out as a person living with HIV

No one should feel pressured to disclose their status because of fear. Gareth has my total support and understanding…I can remember back in the 80s I too kept my head down and my status secret, at that time to have done otherwise would have been madness given the stigma and hysteria around HIV and AIDS. Thankfully, we have moved on from those dark times of  ignorance, a person living with HIV on current treatment will have their virus under control and be able to live as long as anyone else.

Health professionals and people living with HIV like me, have known for many years that those on effective treatment don’t pass on the disease. However, the PARTNER study provides the scientific evidence to support this fact.  What are the implications of its findings?

The results from the PARTNER studies in addition to evidence from other studies in serodifferent couples indicate that the risk of transmission of HIV through condomless sex in the context of virally suppressive ART is effectively zero for both gay men and heterosexual couples. These results support the U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable) message, as well as promoting the benefits of early testing and treatment. (The Lancet online)


Friday 13 September I turned 78. As usual, the day was pleasant but unremarkable apart from an amusing incident in the Potbank Cafe at Spode Works. I was introduced by a black priest, half my age, that I knew to an older white writer of poetry who was fascinated by my recent visit to Ankor Wat in Cambodia. He was a fan of Alan Ginsberg who had experienced an epiphany moment when he encountered extreme poverty at Ankor Wat. Whilst his story was entertaining …it was what followed next that took my breath away. When asked how we knew each other… without batting an eyelid came the reply …

“We used to be lovers”.

Totally untrue…but what a deliciously audacious, flattering response!

When I returned home, my brother and sister-in-law rang to sing ‘happy birthday’…They get better every year.

On Sunday, Scott came over bringing cards and lots of lovely presents before treating me to a delicious lunch at the Wayfarer Inn. One present, a fabulous potted stargazer lilly plant gave me enormous joy for over a week as the buds gradually burst, filling the house with a heavenly perfume.  Guess I’m a very lucky guy.

Live Age Festival

Tomorrow, Ages & Stages Theatre Company begin intensive rehearsals to create a piece of theatre to be performed on Friday of the Live Age Festival at the New Vic Theatre. We are working with a guest director Bryn Holding who has already sparked our enthusiasm with a fun workshop last Monday. Before Live Age, there is the Take Pride in Ageing Conference at Chester Town Hall mentioned at the start of this blog. We’ll see how it goes before I decided if a separate posting is in order.

Happy Autumn!



Latitude Festival

Marking the procession route Wednesday

Some festival goers hail Latitude as the Queen of festivals…so I felt honoured and privileged to find myself taking part in the opening event – a Procession of Elders and young Earth Spirits accompanied by the ancient earth beast Tundra (a 20 foot high white puppet). Astonished and delighted adults and children flocked to watch and interact with mythical animals and mischievous devils.

Me wearing fantastical crow costume before the Opening Procession on Thursday

Members of Ages & Stages Theatre Company form the New Vic joined up with representatives of Watermill Theatre along with children form Hay on Wye to bring to life the amazingly spectacular costumes created by Ita Drew. The huge mechanical puppet was made by 101 Outdoor Arts Creation and took eight people to operate it.

Tundra the 20 foot high ancient earth beast ready for the hour and a half long trek around the Latitude Festival site

The Elders, a ritualistic large scale piece of mobile theatre, was a creative collaboration between Creative and Artistic Directors Ami Cadillac and Kris Huball.

Of course, this was just the start of Latitude Festival 2019 which had a fantastic programme of music, theatre, comedy, talks et cetera, et cetera.

Northern Ballet on the Waterfront Stage Saturday


Mid Summer 2019

The OLGBT Wellbeing Project, funded by the People’s Health Trust with money raised from the Health Lottery in the West Midlands,  has come to the end of the second series of Bread Making Workshops with inspirational Susan Clarke. We have enjoyed the sessions, having fun and building friendships whilst learning new skills and techniques. These workshops have the additional treat of delicious edibles to take home…such as croissants, breakfast muffins, rye bread, crumpets, Eccles cakes and brioche. Yum!

Stoke Pride

Despite torrential downpours, the OLGBT group’s stall attracted more visitors than at any previous Pride. Maybe it was the new gazebos paid for by the People’s Health Trust award, perhaps it was the captivating displays of photos of the group’s activities, of course it might just have been people wanting to shelter from the rain. No matter, the fact remains that people really engaged with us… wanting to know more about the group and its activities. We also had a record number of people signing up to our mailing list to keep in touch.

 National AIDS Trust

Early in June, I attended the launch of ‘looped in’, a new online HIV resource which permits the selecting, saving and sharing of content from NAT’s vast database of campaigns, fact sheets, research and survey reports. At the same time, I was able to meet up with cherished individuals who had not seen in ages, as well as making contact with informed and enthusiastic activists. Of course, it was also an excuse for a day trip to London.

Trafalgar Square in front of the National Gallery

Later in the month, I was invited to be Quiz Master for the NAT Big Quiz. For round 4 of the quiz, Stephen Fry took over…well not in person…just a recording he’d made earlier. It was an enjoyable, fun evening where all the participants worked for the NHS. An opportunity to engage with staff from our local hospital.  Fabulous!

Commemorative Events

There seems to have been an unusual number of commemorations recently to which I have received invitations. The New Vic Theatre’s  award winning Borderlines celebrated 20 years of  positive impact…Although I have contributed in only a tiny way…I feel proud to have been associated with Sue Moffat’s inspirational, ground-breaking work. In June, Letting in the Light held its 21st Birthday Party in their new home at B-Arts. On Thursday 4th July, it was the turn of ASIST to mark its Jubilee of 25 years of advocacy work. At all of these events I have been reunited with old friends, made new ones and established networking links with some of the community groups to which I belong.

It’s no secret that I get a buzz out of performing. Imagine my delight when I was invited to sing with ladies from Staffordshire Community Choirs yesterday. Whilst I’m not exactly a stranger to Ashley Mellor’s arrangements, his setting of a Beatles Song had me foxed. It turned out that what had been agreed in rehearsals was not what was written in the score. The 25th Anniversary of ASIST was a wonderful event and the musical contribution by the Community Choir, directed from the keyboard by Trudy substituting for Ashley, provided an uplifting finale.

Poster advertising our performance at last year’s Live Age Festival

Next week I will be rehearsing and performing with FRONTLINEdance at the Staffordshire 2019 Dignity in Care Awards at Newcastle College Performing Arts Centre. The following week I will be travelling down to Suffolk with members of the New Vic Ages and Stages Theatre Company to take part in the opening ceremony of the 2019 Latitude Festival.  This will be my first ever open air festival…with the additional challenge of camping. It will be interesting to see how that pans out. Well it’s keeping me out of mischief!

Musings in May

Normally my weekly schedule is pretty full, but this month there have been weeks with completely free days. That leaves me with no excuse for tackling some of my long-term intentions…like writing, archiving photos, embarking on post-graduate higher education.

Easier said than done.

I now realise I have been hiding behind the weak vindication of a heavy work load to avoid the serious business of hard concentrated application to close reading, analytical research and regular intensive writing sessions. Perhaps I am coming round to the truth that I am more of a performer…a doer…than an observer and recorder.

Having said that…I have to confess to the great joy I have experienced in finding I have time to notice small things…like the wildlife in the backyard.

A pair of little dunnocks or hedge sparrows seem to be nesting in the ivy. A couple of blackbirds are regular visitors along with a cheeky robin who stares at me through the kitchen window as if he has every right to my utter, undivided attention. Magpies pay frequent visits, crows occasionally…they scare away the daily wood pigeons who used to reside in a large conifer at the front of the house up until this year. Alas the conifer was demolished at the behest of the Council who had received complaints of vegetation obstructing the foot-way.

The latest visitor is a tiny goldfinch that darts amongst thistles and seeding plants. I’ve bought a small bird feeder…and this morning I saw him using it…along with the dunnocks. Joyous!

This past week has been more like normal with training sessions in Birmingham, networking event in Newcastle, choir rehearsals at church and the monthly meeting of the LGBT Older People’s Group. Saturday was a NSDOS outing to North Wales….delightful drive through the countryside, lovely meal, stimulating company and fabulous organs to hear and play. Wonderful


February 2019

First Sunday in March (musings of an elderly septuagenarian)

I wrote this blog a fortnight ago but life has been so hectic since that it didn’t get finished or posted. Not one to waste material …I am sending it off today at the beginning of March before heading off to Stoke to play for the second service of the day.

Next week is taken up with rehearsals at the New Vic and a performance in Manchester with Ages & Stages Theatre Company along with members of the Bentilee Drama Group. The final LGBT Older People’s Ceramic Workshop is on Wednesday afternoon…which also happens to be Ash Wednesday marking the start of Lent with a sung mass at Holy Trinity Burslem. As if that lot wasn’t enough, I’ve received an email requesting a TV interview on the changes brought by advances in HIV medication since the 1980s. It will be interesting to see how I manage to make it to the end of the week….assuming that I will be fit enough to make any observations at all.

Last month at Angkor Wat Cambodia

Original Post

We are halfway through February…and this is my first post. How shameful! However, in my defence I have to say that since arriving back from my latest adventure, I have not stopped.

Take this week. Monday I put in a couple of hours organ practice at King Street Church before grabbing a quick lunch and heading off to Stoke Station to catch a train to Liverpool. Buying tickets for the return journey turned out to be more challenging than expected…but the three members of the Ages & Stages Theatre Company and me arrived on time at Lyme Street to join up with the rest of the team for our performance at the Everyman Theatre.

Of course, I would have preferred to have been completely off script…but short rehearsal time with script changes being made right up until the last minute ruled this out. Losing my script after the final run through didn’t help. Nonetheless, our piece which preceded the Fantastic for Families Awards 2019, was well received.

Monday 11th February – Members of Ages & Stages at Liverpool Lime Street before performing at the Everyman Theatre

Tuesday was taken over by the Worcester-Bosch engineer who came to repair the boiler. Would you believe it? This is the third breakdown in twelve months. I thought it highly likely the 14 year old system would have to be replaced. It turned out that the problem was a blocked pump, which was replaced with a new one. I have, consequently, decided to hang on until the next breakdown before buying a replacement.

Wednesday, I enjoyed working alongside other members of the LGBT Older People’s Group at our second creative ceramic workshop with Alice Thatcher who is great fun and a truly inspirational teacher. We will have to wait to see if our castings turn out alright…the slip seemed to take a lot longer to dry out than the last time we used the old Spode moulds. By contrast, the sgraffito technique we learned was successfully applied to a range of creations. The workshop is part of the OLGBT Wellbeing Project funded by the People’s Health Trust with money from the Health Lottery.

Wednesday 27 February – Kitted out in People’s Health Trust t-shirts….members of LGBT Older People’s group showing off mugs decorated ourselves and some from the funders

Thursday’s main event was a funeral at Holy Trinity Burslem…the deceased was 64 and was a much loved family man with many friends. More people turned up than expected. Fr Brian and Sharon had to open the screens to the hall to accommodate the large number of mourners. Although there was only one hymn for me to accompany…with such a big attendance, it was necessary to perform a short organ recital to cover the arrival of the cortege. It was gratifying to notice the noisy chattering hush to silence as people were drawn into the music I was playing.

Friday…time to do a bit of blogging before heading up ‘Anley to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery for a dance session with Rachel and the older people’s Moving Stories Dance Company. Hopefully this will help with the healing process of my strained Achilles tendon. (It did)

Saturday I was hoping to see the matinee performance of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake…sold out. So it will give me a chance to do the weekly shop. (But I did get to see the terrific production of Much Ado About Nothing at the New Vic Theatre)

Sunday, 10.30 mass as usual. Fr Brian has kindly sorted out music for the remainder of the month, so I can plan what needs to be practiced. Next week there is a confirmation in the afternoon …there will be a pontifical mass at 3.30. Hopefully, the singers will remember their parts for the anthem. Most were too poorly to attend the last rehearsal. (Pleased to note the performance of L.J. White’s 4-part setting of A Prayer of St Richard of Chichester went well)

Happy memories of Kangaroo Island last month – Great company, fantastic wildlife and majestic scenery


End of Year Reflexion

Busy Year

There can be no question that 2018 has kept me well occupied. Flying back from the other ..side of the planet business class, meant that I suffered less jet-lag and was in a better position to hit the ground running. Within a week I was back in harness playing the organ and rehearsing singers at Holy Trinity Burslem for Candlemas… I attended an Ages & Stages Theatre Company workshop and meeting… and was getting to grips with the new field of creating pottery at the first Ceramics Workshop with the LGBT Older People’s Group under the inspirational guidance of Jo Ayres and Alice Thatcher.

Pressure of commitments prevented me from attending all but one of the NLTSG residential weekends for Long Term HIV Survivors. Staffordshire Buddies had lost all of its statutory funding because of the Government cutbacks…so additional time and effort were needed all round.

Thankfully, many of the commitments were enjoyable and well worthwhile. Roland Chesters’ book launch in London springs to mind…similarly the LGBT Prejudice to Pride Conference in Chester Town Hall…not to mention the Prides I attended… with Stoke’s Pride in Hanley Park topping the list.

Book launch of Roland Chesters’ Ripples From the Edge of Life to which I contributed a section. May 2018

Meet Me At Live Age – a two year programme arising from the Live Age Festivals in Stoke and North Staffordshire – linked professional artists with local community groups. As a Live Age ‘ambassador’ I was fortunate to work alongside Rachel (dance), Jo and Alice (ceramics, Mika (Brazilian dance and drumming). I thoroughly enjoyed assisting the artists and encouraging workshop participants. Engaging with people living with dementia at the Grocott Centre in Fenton…was a truly enlightening and inspiring experience. Meeting up and working alongside people I knew from my time as organist at St John’s Trent Vale was a real joy.

Live Age Festival 2018. LGBT Older People’s Group Display at Potteries Museum Art Gallery


Regular organ and piano practice has led to an overall improvement in the standard of my performance and ability to respond to out of the ordinary requests, like a specific pieces by Bach or Mendelsohn at a funeral or an improvised organ arrangement of The Marriage of Figaro Overture by Mozart.  Hours of academic study with online university courses resulted in Certificates of Achievement in




Both courses had stimulating content, but just as important was the interaction with fellow course participants which was always enlightening, seldom annoying and often very amusing.

Unexpected Incidents

In January, when I agreed to move to another hotel in Hanoi Vietnam so that my double room could be used by a family…never did I imagine it would be on the back of a motorbike. Fortunately, I had gotten to know the young driver who was a hotel employee…and had every confidence in his ability to navigate the treacherous Hanoi traffic to get me to the other hotel safely. My trust was not misplaced.

At the other end of the year on the fourth Sunday in Advent, Fr Brian asked all the congregation to meet in the Parish Hall after mass. To my astonishment, the PCC had arranged a presentation in my honour…a specially baked cake with a picture of the organ case on top and a very generous gift to say thank you. I have been resident organist for 24 years…next year will mark a quarter of a century and time for me to retire?

Next Adventure

My bags are packed, I’ve checked in online and have boarding cards for connecting flights to Dubai and Phnom Penh… my first trip to Cambodia. Adelaide in Australia is next…then Auckland New Zealand…and finally Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam. This morning I thought I wouldn’t be able to go…I couldn’t find my passport to check in online. Having searched everywhere…including the rubbish bin…I discovered it filed away inside the folder where I had put it for safety. What a relief!




September saw my seventy seventh birthday come and go. The day itself was just a normal working day ending with an executive committee meeting of Staffordshire Buddies when everyone sang happy birthday. There were a very few real cards…but more digital greetings via social media than I have ever received. Lovely presents from Scott and a surprise delivery of beautiful flowers from Steven made the day special as did a fine lunch at the Seven Stars Brocton on the following Sunday.

Do I feel any older?
Has my sense of identity altered?
I can’t honestly say that it has.

By contrast, over the year, I have had to acknowledge that other people see me in different ways. Perhaps the most surprising was the perception of me as a Gay Icon. It was brought to my attention that I was featured on page 27 in the September issue of Midland Zone as a gay hero. Unbelievable!

Midlands Zone piece

Entry in September Edition of Midland Zone – alongside Alan Turing

Some people identify me as a church organist and a playing member of the North Staffs and District Organ Society. That fits comfortably with my own self image as a musician…without doubt, music is and always has been an essential part of who I am.  Piano and organ playing are fundamental activities in my daily routine…and have proved more than inanimate objects…I view them rather as solid, dependable companions when times have been difficult or distressing.


My latest piano – a fine Bluthner baby grand