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Cuba 2020

Having explored New Zealand, Australia and Far Eastern countries…I thought it was about time I took a look at some Latin American countries. My first choice was Ecuador so that I could visit the Galapagos Islands…but violent unrest in the capital city Quito in October 2019 put me off. Cuba came a close second…so I put mind to deal with the necessary requirements of visas, medical insurance, financial arrangements and initial accommodation.

Armed with my tarjeta touristica for 30 days, a stash of £20 notes and a visa debit card authorised for use in Cuba I arrived in Havana and was delighted to find my name clearly printed on a card held by the taxi driver who would take me to the Hostal Peregrino in the old part of the city. I had booked and paid for 3 nights…the rest of the adventure would be arranged as I went along.  Of course, I wanted to travel the length and breadth of the island…but that proved to be more difficult than I had imagined. Although Cuba has an extensive rail network covering the entire country…the ancient trains and rolling stock cannot be relied upon. Sometimes a train will run, more often, it won’t. Internal air travel needs to be booked well in advance because of demand.

Map of Cuba showing provinces and main cities

From the above map you can see that Havana is at the opposite end of the country to Santiago de Cuba where I would liked to have reached. However, there were many other places I wanted to see…and having visited only a few gives me good reason for a return visit or two.

Havana is a buzz of human activity with a pace of life goverend by the speed of horse powered transport…not to mention the heat and humidity. People saunter liesurely along the magnifcent central Paseo Marti…brisk walking would be uncomfortable and jogging is for fitness fanatics only. I was surprised that in most places I visited, there were more horse drawn vehicles than cars.

 

Parque Central looking towards the Gran Teatro de Habana

I was fortunate to obtain a ticket for the Ballet National de Cuba’s production of The Nutcracker. This was a lavish full length version of the ballet co-produced with the Fenice Theatre, Venice and the Carlo Felice Theatre in Genoa. Absolutely fabulous…worth coming just to see this.

The owners of the hostal (think guest house) arranged a guided tour of Havana with someone who had lived through the period of the Revolution and the Cuban Missile crises. He had an excellent understanding of Cuban culture, history and politics…consequently, was able to answer my mulitude of questions with authority and understanding. We drove in a 1959 Opel Saloon that had belonged to his father. After the American blockade, it was impossible to obtain spare parts for the car…but it dealt easily with the steep narrow tracks up to the Castle of the Moors now equipped with a Russian Lada engine. From there the views across the habour to old Havana were spectacular.

 

View across the harbour from the Fortaleza del Morro

 

The 18th Century barroque Catedral de La Habana was once the resting place of Christopher Columbus until his remains were sent back to Seville at the end of Spanish colonial rule. It is situated on easternside of the Plaza Vieja which is a hub of urban life in Havana.

 

Catedral de San Cristobal Habana

 

Cienfuegos

Late Monday afternoon, I joined up with other tourists in a taxi collectivo to Cienfuegos. I was the only person to be dropped off here, the rest were continuing to Trinidad. One of the advantages of taxis compared to buses is you get taken from door to door. You also get to meet some fascinating people…like the couple from north Germany who I met up with again in Trinidad.

It was the striking images of French Colonial architecture that drew me to Cienfuegos. These two photos alone give a hint of the treasures to be found less than a couple of hours from Havana. The old town around Jose Marti Parque is a UNESCO World Heritage site…you can easily understand why. It is also know as the Pearl of the South, and is also a port and surprisingly, one of Cuba’s main industrial towns.

Palacio Ferrer – Museo de las Artes

View from inside the Ferrer Palace

My hosts invited me to treat their home as my own…naturally, I was much more respectful than that. But their open, warm friendliness was typical of the welcome I received wherever I stayed. Perhaps the most famous building in Cienfuegos is the Tomas Terry Theatre, Inaugurated in 1890 and since then, its stage has received internationally known figures like Enrico Caruso, Ana Pavlova,  and Alicia Alonso. The theatre now e the status of National Monument.

Tomas Terry Theare interior

I am sure I will never forget watching pelicans dive for fish in the bay and enjoying excellent criollo cuisine in restaurants above the town centre busy with local people and tourists. The taxi driver who took me out to the botanical gardens…renowned for its orchard collection and vast arboretum…also drove me to my next destination Trinidad.

 

Trinidad

Not to be confused with the Caribbean island of the same name, is a tourist hot spot. Trinidad in central Cuba, is renowned for its colonial old town and cobblestone streets. Its neo-baroque Plaza Mayor, is surrounded by grand colonial buildings. Museo Romántico, in the restored Palacio Brunet mansion, and Museo de Arquitectura Colonial display relics from the town’s sugar-producing era. The Iglesia de la Santísima is a fine 19th-century church with a vaulted ceiling and carved altars.

 

Corner of the Plaza Mayor with masses of flourishing bougainvillea

 The lady of the house treated me like a long lost son. Like many Cubans she kept song birds as pets…not only do they let the birds hang out in their cages outside on the street, but they also take them out for walks in the park.

One of the rail lines that is actually still functioning, allows tourists to travel from the town to the centre of an old sugar plantation which is now a museum. I went on a tour by private taxi which allowed me to visit the Mirador de Valle de los Ingenios with spectaculor views towards the mountains in one direction and towards the sea in the opposite view. I decided against climbing to the top of the watch tower that allowed owners to keep a careful watch on the slaves in the sugar plantation, but eagerly took up the chance to visit the sugar factory museum. Fortunately, not everyone speaks with a thick Cuban accent that I find difficult to follow. The museum guide spoke so clearly that I could not only understood his explanation of the entire refining process…but also fell into fits of laughter at his jokes.

 

Sugar Factory Museum

Santiago de Cuba (my ultimate destination) lies at the far end of the island and a long bus journey from Trinidad. With help from my hosts I decided my next destination should be Camaguay…a much more manageable distance. Juan and Belky’s house was quite close to the bus station, so it was easy to walk to make a reservation at the Viazul office. Thus began my initiation into the workings of the ‘tourist’ bus system. I placed tourist in quotes because I am now convinced that more Cubans use the service than tourists! However, I couldn’t leave Trinidad without first visiting Playa Ancon …reputed to be one of the finest beaches in the world. What do you think?

Playa Ancon Trinidad

Camaguey

Dona Elsa’s house was the grandest of the private homes I stayed in. My room was palatial in size with a natural timber framed roof and huge shuttered windows. Some of the furniture looked like genuine antiques in contrast to the modern cubicle constructed in a corner which contained a sink and shower with running water – only cold though. The magnicent doors couldn’t be locked from the inside…instead there was a padlock to fasten when you went out. Senora Elsa was the strictest of all my hosts; she wanted to know where I was going and what time I would be back. She was the only host who didn’t let guests have a front door key.

Elegant items of furniture in my room

Despite all of that, I seemed to get on with her alright …she recommended restaraunts which served great food and gave discounts when her name was mentioned. She gave me a map of the town indicating which route I should take to get to her recommendations. One of the focal points was the Plaza de los Trabajadores, a triangular park with the best Interent reception, banks, restaurants and meeting place for tourists and locals. I discovered that there is more than one Cuban accent, and some people in Camaguey speak disparagingly about the way folk talk in Havana – too much influence from their proximity to Florida and the US.

Plaza de los Trabajadores

Camaguey is one of Cuba’s Provinces that decided all restaraunt meals should be priced in the National Currency to keep the costs within the reach of local residents. Before I was aware of this…I got a shock when my bill for lunch seemed astronomically high. When the waitress pointed out the bill was in both CUP (national pesos) as well as CUC (tourist convertible pesos). Of course, I had just looked at the first amount. My stupidity had a wonderfully comic effect …everyone burst out laughing. I should point out this was a tiny, popular eating place that probably didn’t get many tourists. Why would it seemed funny? Easy. It was clear that I thought I was being charged 25 times the actual cost. That is the difference in value between the two currencies 1 CUC = 25 CUP

Book purchased in Calle Republica

A similar incident ocurred when I bought a book. The price pencilled inside the fron cover seemed rather expensive…but I just handed over a 20 CUC bill (about £16). The shop keeper looked at me astonished.

‘Don’t you have anything less?’ He asked, in perfectly understandable Spanish.

I gave him a 5 CUC note instead and received a fistful of notes and coins change. Of course, the price was in CUPs …the national currency. From this I learned that books in Cuba are very inexpensive.

On the way home, armed with a pocketful of CUPs, I braved a purchase at the Coppelia Ice Shop. It had a notice in the window to the effect that only national currency was accepted. Well now I had some…and was surprised at how much ice cream I could buy with the change from my book purchase. I contented myself with a single item. Handed over a CUP note and was given change in coins and a voucher to take to the counter. I watched the person in front and picked up a similar container for my ice cream. Which flavours did I want? I picked two of the three on offer and looked around for something with which to eat it. Again…by just observing others…I found that round the corner from the serving counter there was a box of proper metal spoons. People either brought their own containers to take ice cream home or used the ice cream parlour’s washable spoons and containers. I’d read that Cubans were concerned about the environment and climate change…but here was living proof that ordinary people took these issues seriously.

Ignoring Dona Elsa’s instructions, I took the opposite route to the one she recommended and found myself by the river. I was overwhelmed by the kind curiosity of strangers. People walking their dogs or with children in tow. Some just greeted me with a smile and ‘Buenos tardes’…others wanted to know where I was from, where had I been, what did I think of Cuba….would I come back? So much warmth and kindness…you can see why I want to return.

Back at Elsa’s house, I mulled over my plans with her and decided that Santiago would have to wait for another trip. My best option was to head back towards Havana, calling at Santa Clara so that I could easliy visit one of my chosen destinations…the small village of Los Remedios. With Elsa’s assistance, accommodation was sorted and travel plans made. The early  start of 3.00 am was not something that filled me with joy…but neither was it a misery. Just part of the adventure.

 

Santa Clara

The Battle of Santa Clara in December 1958 was led by Che Guevara and was decisive victory in Revolution. Less than 12 hours later Batista had fled Cuba and Fidel Castro proclaimed overall victory. You cannot escape the influence of Che in the town…and naturally I visited the remains of the captured armoured train that marked the turning point in the war.

Tren blindado – monumental park

But apart from Che Guevara, Santa Clara is a great place to visit with some splendid colonial era buildings around the Parque Vidal…including a magnicent theatre gifted to the town by Marta Abreu de Estevez, a local and beloved philanthropist who contributed to the prosperity of the city.

Teatro de la Caridad – one of the eight remaining grand theatres of the Cuban colonial era.

Although Santa Clara was only supposed to be a stopping off point…I quickly fell in love with the place. Only here can you witness a phenomenal  natural spectacle. Just before sunset, thousands of birds fly into Vidal Park to roost overnight. The first time it happened, I was reminded of Hitchcock’s film ‘The Birds’. Miraculously, no one ever seems to be harmed by this daily avian assault.

It is surprising how forgotten language is recalled when you are in an awkward situation. The cashier at the currency exchange was acting dumb about my requests for an exchange of a £10 note for national currency. I later discovered that this is not allowed. I should have tendered Pesos Convertibles (CUC) in excjange for national currency (CUP) which is legal. Rathered than be swindled by accepting the few coins offered, I called the supervisor and asked for her assistance. She quickly grasped the situation and told the cashier what to do.

I was happy…I had the correct amount of CUPs for my tenner…and I had boosted my confidence in making myself understood in Spanish

The currency exchange was on the ground floor of the modern green building next to this fine colonial palace.

Los Remedios

From the trourist map of the island, Los Remidios looked like it might be a seaside resort: it isn’t. However, it was just the quiet sort of place I needed after the bustle of urban life. It has two churches, the smaller one is closed for renovation, the larger one dedicated to St John the Baptist has 13 decorated gold altars.

 

San Juan Bautista

San Juan – Interior after Sunday mass

I stayed in a typical smallish house with grandma, three of her grandchildren and a number of house geckos. Breakfast was served outside in the patio by her daughter-in-law, and evening meal was at her son’s fine colonial mansion which housed several guests as well as being as an excellent restaraunt. Each day, I was asked in advance what I would like for my main course…fish, seafood, chicken, pork, beef? Every meal was truly delcious. The first night I dined alone…but more guests arrived on subsequent evenings. By day three, there were several tables set up in the courtyard…rather like an exclusive bijou restaraunt.

Home for my stay in Los Remedios

Varadero

After a couple more nights in Santa Clara, I joined a bunch of happy tourists heading for Varadero, which is unquestionably a seaside resort. The town stretches along a narrow peninsuala…so you are never more than a short walk to a beach. The journey was in a vintage Chevrolet saloon that comfortable seated nine people. Every seat was taken with most of the luggage strapped to the roof. Sharing travel stories with Michael and William from a small Irish town near Cork, made the journey pass in no time. Once again, here in Veradero, I found myself warmly welcomed into the bosom of a cosy home right in the middle of the town. Naturally, I also made friends with the family pets…a small Pekinese and a ginger moggy…who seemed most affectionate at breakfast and dinnertime.

Playa Varadero

 

The big tourist hotel complexes, casino and golf course are at the far end of the peninsula. At one time, Cubans were barred from staying at these hotels…but times have changed. Although the newer developments look more comfortable with carefully maintained gardens, more luxurious accommodation and sparkling clean swimming pools…none of them appeal to me. I would much rather be in the thick of it…talking about family joys and woes as well as sharing experiences and aspirations of life in Cuba. Most tourists would whiz past Josone Park …they had no idea what they were missing. I agreed with my hosts that this was a fabulous, magical oasis to be cherished by tourists and locals alike.

Lake – Parque Josone

Whenever I went to Parque Central to access wi-fi, I never ceased to be delighted at the sight of mother hens, many with chicks in tow, wandering unhindered everywhere. It brought a fresh new meaning to the term ‘free range’. Another joy was to wander along the miles of pristine sandy beaches…often without a soul in sight…. or shelter from the sun under a palm tree and read.

Varadero Beach

What bliss!

 

Havana

All too soon, it was time to return to Havana in preparation for the long journey home. Once I had paid for my Viazul bus…I realized, I could afford to spend my last two nights in Cuba at a proper hotel. I should have made the arrangements online…but Internet access in the park wasn’t brilliant. So instead, I booked through Cubatur …one of the state-run travel agencies. This proved to be another educational experience of how Cuba works…not to mention being a challenge to my negotiating skills in Spanish. A comfortable room with a view of the harbour and the Malecon met my requirements…but came with a heafty price tag. However, a premium room in the five-star Paseo del Prado Hotel had everything I could wish for …plus a great many things I didn’t need…and… the views from my room and from the roof-top restaraunt were stunning.

View of old Havana from rooftop Hotel Paseo del Prado

 

On my final day, I paid a visit to the Museo de la Revolcion, which was formerly the Presidential Palace. What a great pleasure to meet my lovely Irish travelling companions in the sumptious surroundings of the hall of mirrors. They told me they had spotted me walking in Varadero from their vantage point on the top deck of the tourist bus.

Museo de la Revolcion – Hall of Mirrors

 

All good things must come to an end …they say. Well I can’t wait to go back (coronavirus permitting)

December 2019

Where did the year go?

In January, I paid my first visit to Kangaroo Island and Cambodia…now attempting to navigate through the layers of bureaucracy that guard Carribean Cuba for my first adventure there. Currently, I have a tarjeta turisitca, the required medical insurance, proof of initial accommodation and a confirmation of flights without an airline booking reference. What could possibly go wrong? We’ll see.

Since my last post I delivered the opening keynote speech at the third Take Pride In Ageing Conference in Chester Town Hall. As well as celebrating my longevity with HIV (35 year), I also took pride in my achievements over the past three decades…as well as grabbing the opportunity to challenge stigma and discrimination. People who are HIV positive and on effective treatment CANNOT pass on the virus.

U=U undectable = untransmittable

Being the only speaker capable of addressing the conference without a microphone, gave me considerable satisfaction…not to say reassurance… of my ability to project my voice and hold an audience.

                             Take Pride in Ageing Conference 2019

 

Annual check up with my GP and the six monthly appointment with my HIV doctor were pretty unremarkable. In both instances the standard tests showed me to be in good shape for my age (78). However, I had to smile at Dr Cadwgan’s comment that he reckoned I would live longer than him.

Live Age Festival

This has become one of the highlights of my year…and 2019 was extra special because Ages & Stages Theatre Company worked on a new piece under guest director Bryn Holding. The production of ‘One Another’ that explored individual and collective responses to ageing was staged at the New Vic Theatre, employing its rich resources. Along with my fellow contributors, I felt priviliged to have presented such a powerful piece of theatre. A grandchild of one of Ages & Stages founder members who had seen everyone of the group’s productions said it was without doubt the best one they had every done.

                                   ‘One Another’ at the Mitchell Arts Centre

Jill Rezzano, the Director of Ages & Stages took on the momentous task of restaging the piece for the ESRC Festival at the Mitchell Arts Centre in November. Transforming a theatre in the round production for a proscenium arch theatre means that the some elements will be lost. We didn’t reckon with also having to cope with the loss of a contributor. The fact that the company dealt with the problem efficiently and without fuss indicates how professional the group has become.

In addition to the live performance, the ESRC Festival featured a film about Ages & Stages Theatre Company by Dr Pawas Bisht along with four short documentary films made by Keele University Students about invidual company members. The last one to be screened was ‘Maurice’ which focused on me and the LGBT Older People’s Group.

                          Screening of short documentary Maurice – photo Dr Pawas Bisht

 

Life continues to be packed full of activities and events…which is great…if at times exhausting. But I will end this post with the good news that the North Midlands LGBT Older People’s Group, of which I have the honour to be Chair, became a registered charity on Monday 9th December 2019. A poignant achievement considering its foundation took place on a wintery Sunday in December 2009.

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)

Birthday

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

Brilliant!

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