Performing again

Well, for over two years my poor old cello lay neglected in its case.  When I started playing again two months ago I had decided not to put myself through the stress of playing in public again; I was playing just for myself.

It’s been a difficult two months, as I have still not got back to the basic level I was at before.  But still, there are moments of pleasure when I manage to get a phrase right. And its great having a nice, gentle teacher – even if she is young enough to be my grand-daughter.

Our two concerts with the Orchestre des Cévennes were surprisingly enjoyable this weekend. I had actually been practising for the past ten days, so felt pretty confident with the music It helps knowing the other three cellists can cover up my weaknesses – despite Sophie’s alarming warning that any false note is the one people hear.

Both concerts were packed with the families and friends of the players and the easy to listen to but pleasant music was received with enthusiasm, particularly the more jazzy numbers by trumpet, trombone and drums.  Now of course I can’t get the tune from Verdi’s Chorus of the Slaves out of my head.

Next hurdle: some sort of more domestic end of term event when Jennifer has somehow persuaded me to play the first movement of the Boismortier sonata I have been re-working this term. Oh dear, back to playing solos when I know I should stick with group playing.


Dan’s funeral today

Dan’s funeral is this afternoon. It has suddenly hit me. It is final. I will not be there. I wish I could be.


I’ve received calls or Facetime sessions from Deb, Kate, Jude and Keith, a good friend of Deb’s who has helped with the funeral pereparations.  It is clear that the funeral went really well indeed.  The hall was packed, with people standing at the back.  Luckily Deb had booked a double slot at the crematorium as the service lasted the full length.

Kate and Jude says that Deb’s speech – the main one reflecting on his life – was very good.  They also contributed, reading out my message to Dan, and thanking people for coming.

Then the two or three fellow councillors who had indicated they would speak before the funeral were followed by a number of impromptu offerings from other councillors and Labour Party members. Typically one just stood up and said he could not resist sharing his memories of Dan. There was even a  Conservative councillor who said that he did not normally attend the funerals of fellow councillors, but had such respect for Dan that he made an exception.

As well as the Labour Party friends, there were obviously people from his other interests.  A member of the London Welsh rugy team turned up with a London Welsh shirt, signed by all members of the team, which was draped on the coffin.

Kate and Jude (whose husbands Steve and Ed also attended)

were overwhelmed by the evident respect and affection in which Dan was held.  Like me it has caused them to reflect on this complex member of our family.  How sad that we cannot benefit from this further understanding. in our relations with him.

Apparently pretty well everyone who attended the funeral went on to the pub for the wake – probably over a hundred rather than the 50 we expected!

Special thanks to Deb’s good friends Kay and Alan, and Keith and Niam, who have helped so much over the past two weeks.  Alan has recorded the whole service, which I look forward to hearing.


I have now listened to the recording of the service.  It was an overwhelming experience.  Deb’s speech was eloquent and the councillors who followed spoke with such genuine warmth, respect and affection. It made me proud of my brother and the way he overcame problems to make a real contribution to society.

Playing music again

It is so lovely to be playing music with other people again.

My lessons with Jennifer are a weekly pleasure; she is such a nice young woman (young enough to be my grand-daughter!).  I feel less pressured than when I had the occasional lesson with the more formidable and well established Sophie Hautier, andand try to  take away one useful technical tip each week. Sadly I have not even returned to the pathetic level I was at when I stopped just over two years ago, but I am making some progress.

Next weekend pupils from the Ecole de Musique, including me, are playing a concert jointly with the Orchestre Chambre des Cévennes.  Last weekend and yesterday we had two all-day rehearsals.  Exhausting but very stimulating.  It reminded me of the music weekends we used to have each summer at St Abbs.

As it happens the other half a dozen cello pupils are not ready to play in an orchestra yet, so I am the only pupil – the other three are all professional teachers and performers, led by the redoubtable Sophie.

I should therefore feel less pressure.  But there was a moment yesterday when I played a note out of tune (I knew it – but too late).  Sophie turned round and said: “Your E was too high”.  “I know,” I replied, “but I had hoped it was drowned by your three in-tune Es”.  “Oh no.” she said, “it is the one out of tune note that everyone hears”.  Thank you, Sophie, for that reassurance.

Countries, Religion, Money, Climate Change

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.

John Lennon, 1971

I agree with Lennon that fighting for one’s country or religion can be blamed for an awful lot.  But conflict is much more complicated than that. I would place economic reasons at the centre (yes, Marx) with the free market creating a struggle for resources, and alienation of the have-nots.  This will get worse as the world’s population expands and climate change hits in further.

What a horrible twist conflict has taken with the dreadful actions of the terrorist groups ISIS (Daesh), Boko Haram, Taliban and al-Qaida. Made even more bizarre by countries changing their minds as to whether groups are allies or enemies and many of the enemies now using weapons provided when they were allies.

I fear yet more military intervention in the Middle East; the west is responsible for so much that is wrong there, starting with the carving up of the region after the First World War.

I fear the rise of a xenophobic, anti-islam wave in Europe – particularly in France, where the forthcoming regional elections threaten to give power to two members of the Le Pen family – the niece even more awful than her aunt.

I fear for the prospect of civilised assimilation of the wretched refugees, with closing of frontiers and a culture of fear used to put up the mental barricades.

What a mess.

Sun, sun, sun


This has been the weather for the past week – non-stop.  Night temperatures may drop below 10 degrees, but afternoon temperatures peak in the twenties.  It may rain a little next Wednesday. Even by south of France standards this is exceptional.

This time Eurostar and SNCF in the firing line

I have just spent an irritating morning booking my sister, Deb’s, tickets for Christmas. Both Eurostar and SNCF have failed the test.

First Eurostar.

Superficially their online booking system is really smooth now: you get instant information about the journey options and prices for the day chosen.  Things start to get complicated when the person with the debit card is not travelling.  You would have thought that buying tickets for other members of the familyh or friends was a normal occurrence, but no.  So I had to put in Deb’s name but my email and card information, and I get left with confusion as to whether in Eurostar’s eyes I am Deborah or Frances.

The real problem was how to get the tickets to Deb.  She cannot collect them from St Pancras because she does not have my bank card.  The website was awful about what the other options were and the ‘download and print’ button referred to did not seem to exist.

Eventually I emailed Eurostar. More wasted time as this was a form which kept crashing because I had written more than 250 characters (a limit not mentioned anywhere).  The reply was:

“Hello Deborah
Thank you for your email.
Regrettably we cannot print these tickets at home, I would advise calling our Customer Care Sales team to see if we can get the tickets sent to you.”

At last the Eurostar experienceinvolved a human and looked up.  A very nice woman immediately suggested posting the tickets to Jude’s address (my official UK bank address) waiving the usual charge for this, and explained the problem.  That’s where SNCF comes into the picture.


If Deb had been travelling to any other European country there would not have been a problem, she said.  But the second part of the journey is on an SNCF train and they are the only train service to refuse to cooperate and accept the Eurostar barcode and allow them to arrange for the SNCF tickets to be downloadable.

So it is only Eurostar journeys with ongoing travel in France where you can neither collect the tickets nor print them off if the card holder is not travelling.


Orange (France) is the pits

I know that most people moan about their telephone providers but honestly, I do think Orange in France must win the prize for managing to make it virtually impossible to talk to a human.

I have become involved in trying to help someone who took up an offer for phone, internet and mobile services.  Five months on and the phone and internet are still not working and worse, his contract has been cancelled for alleged non-payment, so his mobile is also not working.

An engineer spent a day trying to fix the line, said he would be back and hasnt been seen since.  The phone bills are not clearly itemised, but I have seen bank evidence that they were all paid.

This person is in ill health (physical and mental) and in no fit state to take on Orange.  He tried ringing from my house but  the automated phone system demanded his phone number.  Since his contract has been cancelled there was no valid number to get him into the system. He wrote a letter (no copy unfortunately) but received no reply, and now is not fit enough to go to the nearest Orange shop in Montpellier, over 50 miles away.

I said I would go to Montpellier for him and was supposed to do this tomorrow – until we realised that 11 November is a public holiday in France.  I wanted to ring the shop to check if it would be open, but the only number on the website was 1014.  Back to square one: no current phone number to enter.  In desperation I entered my number and when asked by the recorded voice said my query was about the opening hours tomorrow.  So – the recorded voice told me to go and look on the website – the same page I had already looked at. Also, great if you don’t have access to the internet, particularly if your phone is cut off or not working!

I find it extraordinary that a company whose business is communications should so wilfully do its best to shield itself from talking to its customers.


The trouble with weekends – and Wednesday – is that you share the magic mornings with the hunters.

As I walked up to the village of Serres this morning, I was suddenly overtaken by three 4x4s and vans – a positive traffic jam by local standards.  I realised that the sanglier (wild boar) must have shifted on the hillside above, and some of the hunters were rushing from one end of the valley to the other.

I was right: as I returned down from Serres I heard some very loud bangs.  And then silence.

Sublime weather

When morning after morning I watch the sun fight its way through thick, rising mists and the sky reveal itself once again as a clear blue carpet, I can’t resist reaching for my camera.

I can’t capture the magic of the mornings but I keep hoping that somehow by clicking, I will one day manage to. The first picture was taken two days ago; the rest were all taken this morning, starting with the sun rising at about 8 and continuing after breakfast as I took Poppy for a walk.

The weather, with morning temperatures of 8 degrees rising to afternoons of up to 25 degrees, and no clouds and no wind, is expected to last at least another week.  Confusing for nature but lovely for us.