Spring Starts to bloom

The Random Notebook has been a bit quiet recently…but that doesn’t mean that I’ve been quiet. For a while, it seemed like spring was very slow to arrive this year. The days were gradually getting longer, but it was still full coat, hat and gloves weather most of the time. I’ve been busy with my teaching and writing work, and I’ve been making sure that the blog for my work in hospitals with dementia patients has been updated: Dales Tales website.

After the Spring Equinox, we headed to Whitby to spend almost a whole week walking and exploring at the end of March. Actually, we’d visited most of the places before, but it was lovely to return and relax. As it was later in the spring than our usual trips to Whitby, it was a lot busier, especially on the Sunday, and we decided that we like the streets of Whitby better when they are quiet and atmospheric.

However, it was lovely to see the town in bright sunshine, with people and dogs enjoying the beach.

Whitby piers and some seagulls!

Whitby piers and some seagulls!

We had a great time looking around the abbey and taking photos from strange angles, and I bought a lovely hand-knitted beret for a bargain price from the church. I was glad of something to keep the hair away from my face, as our next stop was the East pier – quite dramatic with the tide rolling in. The piers in Whitby are part of the harbour for the fishing port, made out of rugged stone, with weathered lighthouses withstanding the winds.

On the Monday, we walked from Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay. It really felt like spring and I photographed some stunning views over the cliffs. I was grateful for the “1,000-mile socks” that I’d bought the day before. Apparently, I get my money back if I get blisters while wearing the socks, and by the time I arrived in the picturesque fishing village, I was aching but my feet felt alright!

Tuesday was spend wandering around Whitby, having a lovely walk along the beach, discovering a strange alfresco sculpture garden, pottering around shops and enjoying chips and mushy peas from Robertsons (all the other chippies in Whitby seem to cook in beef fat rather than vegetable oil, which isn’t good for veggies!) We were under the watchful eye of some herring gulls standing on top of nearby parked cars, but they were more interested in a couple who had a battered fish. In the quaint bookshop on Church Street I spent my book token on the excellent Herring Girl by Debbie Taylor – a novel that brings to life the long gone world of the fishing village.

In the evening, we hit a few local pubs: the Duke of York, which overlooks the harbour, and on the other side of the river, the Little Angel, which serves great ale, and the Granby, where I unexpectedly won the pub bingo!

Wednesday was our only chance to explore the Mulgrave Estate near Sandsend, just a couple of miles further north than Whitby. The estate is only open at weekends and Wednesdays. In the middle of this wooded private estate, lie the ruins of a medieval castle. This time, we thought we would also check out the waterfalls marked on the map, and the remains of an older Norman motte and bailey . We found everything we were looking for, but the paths marked on the OS map didn’t seem to coincide with reality, and we got ourselves a bit lost and muddy into the bargain! We did find the atmospheric ruins of an old water mill though.

We managed a quick trip to Whitby museum in the afternoon, savouring the gruesome “hand of glory”, a desiccated human hand used by burglars, and learning about the First World War torpedo raid on Whitby and Scarborough in a great new exhibit.

When we woke on Thursday morning, the sunny weather had disappeared, to be replaced by heavy rain showers and leaden skies. There was just time for a final walk around Whitby before heading back to Sheffield.

The Easter holidays officially started with several days of grey, gloomy weather, which was very wet, filling the streams and reservoirs. Maundy Thursday was bright and sunny – the Queen even visited Sheffield, but I kept out of it and went for a lovely walk up to Ringinglow on the edge of the Peak District instead.

Good Friday was terrible again, but the weather started to pick up on Easter Saturday, when we walked around Damflask reservoir and laboured up to Higher Bradfield to look around the medieval church that was bustling with people creating floral displays and Easter decorations.

Easter Monday was a beautiful day – more like summer, and I joined friends at the Endcliffe Park duck race, an annual event to raise money to restore Forge Dam, a pond further up the river that has become badly silted up. The event has quickly become a Sheffield institution, with thousands of people buying ducks and watching the race. We walked to Forge dam later on in the afternoon, and I had one of their legendary chip butties!

I’ve been catching up with some freelance editing work this week, and it’s been great to be able to work outside again on my laptop – it’s great for concentrating too, as my internet connection is poor to non-existent at the bottom of the garden.

This Saturday was much cooler, but the evening held something exciting in store. Scott Doonican, the singer from one of my favourite festival acts of recent years, The Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican, was playing a sold-out solo gig in the intimate surroundings of the Lantern Theatre in Netheredge, Sheffield. The gig was a triumph, showcasing hilarious songs from their new album as well as old favourites. If you like comedy folk bands and witty covers, they’re the band for you, and the friends I took along with me are now firm converts.

But we had to be up early this morning! One of my new “Dooni-fans” from the night before was taking part in the Sheffield Half-Marathon, re-launched this year with a new route that stretches into the Peak District. The weather was quite sunny, but so windy that I was almost blown off my feet several times, as we waited for the runners at the side of Ringinglow Road. There was a great atmosphere, as athletes jogged past, having just completed the dramatic hill climb out of the city. As spectators giving encouragement to the runners, we weren’t going anywhere as far or as fast – in fact, we just returned to the Forge Dam café for another chip butty. I’ve now mentioned chips a record three times in one blog entry – that’s truly Northern!

It’s been good to change the pace of life and work a little for the start of spring, but for now, the whirl of teaching and writing begins again in earnest. But with warmer weather, lighter nights and great music, festival season is just around the corner!

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Cool as Folk

Some folk music - on the train to Edale!

Some folk music – on the train to Edale!

On Tuesday night, I took the folk train for the first time. I wasn’t sure what to expect. My friend Louise had decided to try it for her 30th birthday, bringing along me, another friend, Fraser and Louise’s mum. We had a pint in the Sheffield Tap, the brilliant real ale pub on Platform One of Sheffield railway station and then bought return tickets for the 7.36pm train to Edale, a tiny village in the Peak District, in the shadow of Kinder Scout, the highest point in Derbyshire. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinder_Scout

We clambered on board the shabby train. One carriage was ram-packed, with people of all ages, ranging from twenty-something hipsters to elderly ladies. A group of people in the middle of the train started playing accordions  There was a lady who was supposed to be playing the fiddle but her strings had snapped en-route to the station, due to the extreme cold. Luckily, a lady getting off the train at Grindleford lent her fiddle for a couple of songs. The train rumbled into the Peak District and we soaked up the atmosphere, noticing that at each village station we passed, the snow still lay deep on the platform.

At Edale, everyone shuffled through the snow into the Rambler Inn, next door to the station, and we drank pints of ale while singing along with old folk songs such as ‘She moved through the fair’ and ‘The Irish Rover’. I thought the inclusion of the comedy song, ‘Why Paddy’s Not at work today’ was particularly funny, as it sounds just like some of the accidents I have to investigate as part of my current job. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iA5RGI3zn20

As a carriage-full of folkies piled onto the train back to Sheffield, we must have been a shock to the surly-looking lad with multiple piercings, who had probably been on the train since it left Manchester Piccadilly. On the seat in front of him, the group of grey-haired, Arran-jumpered folkies got out their accordions and began to sing about barrels of ale, the young man pushed his headphones further into his ears, stared intently at his phone and tried to pretend that the whole thing wasn’t happening. When we reached Hathersage, the painfully cool young man, pushed his way through the corridor to stand by the doors until he could finally escape at Grindleford. We all thought it was hilarious that the lad had got out of the train at Grindleford, which is a picturesque Peak District village. Perhaps this young man has parents who are Morris Dancers and has finally escaped from Grindleford to live a cool urban life, only to find himself terminally embarrassed by the occupants of the folk train.

On New Year’s Eve 2005, I made a New Year’s resolution to do more stuff that I liked, including folk music, even if I had to do it by myself. My twenties had been quite “full-on” and, along with my circle of friends, we’d spent a lot of time at gigs and clubs. I was interested in getting into more folk music, but I’d been worried about it being a bit uncool or that my friends wouldn’t want to go with me. In May 2006, I volunteered as a steward at Wychwood Music Festival at Cheltenham racebourse, which eclectically combined folk, indie and dance music. For various reasons, my friends didn’t want to come. I was a bit nervous, but I went alone, on the train, lugging my tent for miles until some friendly Oxfam Stewards gave me a lift. I set up camp with them, in the middle of the racecourse. I met an amazing bunch of Oxfam stewards, including Louise and Fraser who accompanied me on the folk train. It was such a good weekend that I had completely lost my voice by the time I returned to Sheffield.

I’ve been stewarding for Oxfam at music festivals ever since the summer of 2006.  I’ve signed up to work for them at Download, Glastonbury, WOMAD, Beautiful Days and Shambala this year. It might not always be the most glamorous job in the world but you get a chance to make a real difference to people’s lives – at the festival, as well as the people who benefit from the money that Oxfam receives for providing a top-class stewarding service. Try it – you won’t regret it! http://www.oxfam.org.uk/stewarding

I’ve now got an international network of friends of all ages and from all backgrounds, ranging from hip young students to elderly hippies in woolly jumpers; anarchists to people who work for the military. And that’s only happened because I decided to take a step on my own and do something I wanted to do. From taking that small step, amazing things have happened. I’m about to take a much bigger step, into a whole new career, but now I know the power of following my heart and “doing the stuff that I like”!

The Folk Train. It really is “Cool as Folk”: http://www.folktrain.org.uk/

The dance of life

Dancing at Shefftival, August 2013. I'm on the left!

Dancing at Shefftival, August 2013. I’m on the left!

I’ve been learning to dance for six years. I was encouraged to go to a bellydancing class with a friend. At first, this seemed like an enormous step, even though I considered myself confident in other ways at the time.

Me? Dance? But I can’t dance (unless I’ve had a few drinks)! But I went along to the bellydancing class at a local sports centre. In my first class, I was so nervous and stood right at the back of the room. But I loved it. After a few classes, I was eagerly standing at the front, keenly watching every move of the dance teacher and trying to master every hip-drop and shimmy. I adored the long, flowing skirts and jangling coin-belts and soon realised that there was no going back. I couldn’t just bop around on the dance-floor any more – whatever I was dancing to, I had to try out new moves and fancy foot-work. As I realised that I had the ability to learn dance routines, I discovered that dancing is a wonderful work-out for the brain as well as for the body.

I’m forever thankful to the friend who dragged me along to the class, and also my bellydancing teacher, Cis Heaviside, one of the Boomshanka bellydancers in Sheffield. Full figured and proud to be a goth, Cis explained her own journey in learning to dance, as well as the cultural history of bellydancing and the moves. For example, the Saidi Hop move was originally danced by men, and the women learned it to “take the Mick” out of them! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLmEFBw5ZVQ

The friend who encouraged me to start dancing is the wonderful Angelina Abel, who started the Mulembas D’Africa dance school http://www.myspace.com/mulembasdafrica  in Sheffield and I’m proud to say that I’m one of the most enthusiastic members of her dancing tribe. Thanks to both teachers, I’ve taken part in many dance performances and I’m guaranteed to get up on the dance floor even if sober!

On Wednesday, we had our first dance class for a couple of months. It was brilliant to see fellow dance-class friends, including two people who had returned after becoming mothers. We practised our moves and I realised that Angelina is now blossoming into a wonderful teacher, encouraging, inspiring and providing a safe, friendly environment to dance, learn and most importantly to laugh. We started working on our new routine. As usual, I struggled with some of the moves and felt frustrated with myself and a little ashamed! I’d positioned myself right at the front and at one stage I was thinking: “What possessed me to dance at the front of the class, when I’m clearly the most rubbish dancer in here? I can’t even work our whether it’s my left or right arm I’m supposed to be moving!” But I took a deep breath and focussed on learning the moves at my own pace, without comparing myself with anyone else. It worked, and I was soon enjoying myself again.

At the end of the class, we took it in turns to perform the dance routine in front of the others and I realised that lots of other people were using the wrong arm or leg. After all, we’d been dancing these steps for less  than an hour. It didn’t matter. It’s all about learning. It’s important to make mistakes; to learn; laugh at ourselves; get out of breath; get sweaty and wake the next morning with a serene mind and aching muscles. The most important thing is to have fun and to give new things a go.

A few years ago, I thought that I had two left feet and no dance ability at all. I would have never guessed that by 2013, I’d have danced several times on a stage, in front of a paying audience. And that could apply to anything: if you’re scared of learning a new skills, try it anyway, have fun and see what happens!

Things this blog is about…