Spring is Starting to Win… at Baddesley Clinton

A few photos from Baddesley Clinton, one of my favourite National Trust properties, a short drive from my home in Warwick.

The Battle Between Spring and Winter in England March 2018

In England we do love talking about the weather and so  during the last few weeks we have had several heavensent opportunities to express a wide range of thoughts and feelings about it.

But beauty is everywhere, and there are few things more poignant and touching than signs of fresh new life juxtaposed with a blanket of virgin snow.

In the last few weeks we have enjoyed bright sunshine and beautiful fresh blossom, interspersed with treacherous ice and white-outs!

So here I share some images of these contrasts in the natural world.

 

An Inspirational Circular Garden Design with an Equestrian Theme by Pershore College

Here is the design that my son Jamie’s team at Pershore College have put forward for The Young Gardeners of the Year competition at the Ascot Spring Show  13-15 April 2018 in Windsor Great Park.

Personally I love a circular garden design. My ideal is winding paths, leading off behind shrub and trees so that the eye is led forward and the imagination stirred; what lies round that next bend?

Of course we’re all influenced by great gardens that we’ve visited. The genius of the garden designer is to find a pleasing design and planting scheme that will suit the individal size, shape, soil, orientation and circumstances of a particular plot.

No wonder Paradise is imagined as a garden in different world mythologies and religions. My dream garden is one with sweeping velvet lawns, and wide paths disappearing behind massive banks of rhododendrums and azaleas in full bloom (perpetually!)

Perhaps I’ve been influenced by the gardens of great stately homes, tended by teams of highly-trained, devoted and hardworking gardeners. And why not? The ultimate joy of a great garden is, in Paradise and Eden mythology, a place of perfection and supreme reward  for those who have the luxury of wandering and resting in it and being nourished by it: and for us, here on earth, a place to dream in.

Other posts by SC Skillman about paradise gardens:

Try this one about lovely gardens in Kenilworth, or this one about Dunham Massey, or perhaps this one about Hidcote Manor Gardens.

My Son Jamie in the Young Gardener of the Year Competition at the Ascot Spring Show 2018

I’m delighted to say that Jamie, my son, will be representing Pershore College along with his fellow horticultural students, to compete with five other top horticultural colleges in the Young Gardener of the Year competition at the Ascot Spring Show  in Windsor Great Park 13-15 April 2018.David Domoney launches the Young Gardener of the Year 2018 competition at Ascot

The competition was launched by TV gardener David Domoney on 16th January 2018 at Ascot Racecourse.

In the photo above, Jamie is standing just above David Domoney (in the blue jacket).

The horticultural colleges will compete to design and build a garden incorporating an equestrian theme.

Jamie’s interest in gardening began during a vocational year in secondary school studying horticulture. The picture below shows him at Charlecote Park National Trust during his work experience placement, five years ago in 2013.

Jamie in front of the children's play house at Charlecote Park NT 2013
Jamie in front of the children’s play house at Charlecote Park NT 2013

The teams will be building their gardens during the two weeks prior to the show. Buy your tickets now to see the student gardens, to find out who won the Gold, the Best-in-Show – and to vote for your favourite garden in the People’s Choice!

I’ll be blogging about the Spring show during the run-up and reporting on how the work is going for the Pershore College team… without giving away any secrets of course. And finally I’ll blog about the show and the gardens when they are revealed!

Springtime Beauty at Dunham Massey, National Trust

A few images from Dunham Massey, a National Trust property in Cheshire. These were taken on 19th February – just at that time of the year for us in England where the spring flowers are arriving, heralds of joy and new hope. Daffodils at Dunham Massey, National Trust 19 Feb 2018Lake at Dunham Massey, National Trust 19 Feb 2018Pale blue Irises at Dunham Massey, National Trust 19 Feb 2018Snowdrops among birch trees at Dunham Massey, National Trust 19 Feb 2018Snowdrops at Dunham Massey, National Trust 19 Feb 2018Purple irises at Dunham Massey, National Trust 19 Feb 2018

An Amazing Speaker on Issues of Domestic Abuse, Human Trafficking and Forced Marriage in the UK: Raj Holness

Yesterday ( Monday 12th February 2018) at St Paul’s Church, Leamington Spa, I heard an amazing speaker Raj Holness who runs an organisation called Break the Silence Uk (BTSUK) which seeks to protect and support women who have suffered domestic abuse, human trafficking and forced marriages, and also to  provide a refuge for them alongside educating the community about the issues involved.The Only Arranged Marriage by Raj Holness pub Open Scroll Publications 2006

Raj was born into a Sikh family in Birmingham and suffered severe domestic abuse for twenty years. She eventually found the courage to break away from her abusers, took on the Christian faith, and founded the BTSUK.  She named the book I Dared To Call Him Father as one of the books which had  a powerful influence on her, and helped her to make a radical transformation in her life. She herself has subsequently published a book called The Only Arranged Marriage under her maiden name Raj Jarrett. I bought the book after Raj’s talk and it’s next on my reading list – I’ll publish my review here on my blog.

Rah is now an assured public speaker and is married with a young daughter. Her story of emotional, physical and sexual abuse is truly horrifying and she is in herself an astonishing example of a woman who has come through the worst of circumstances into a new life where she has embraced a whole new vision of herself and of her place in the world.

I’ve begun to read “The Only Arranged Marriage” and I do recommend it to you if you haven’t come across it before.  If you have read it, please let me know what you think!

The Beatles, A Cry From the Heart, and a Curious Collection of Letters From Beatles Fans Full of Youthful Passion

Did you know my very first published work under the name of SC Skillman was a cry from the heart, in the form of a poem which appeared in print courtesy of The Beatles?

No?

A selection of Beatles Monthly Magazines from the 1960's
A selection of Beatles Monthly Magazines from the 1960’s

Here it is, a cry from the heart of a frustrated fan, as it first appeared in Beatles Monthly edition no. 64, testifying to my obsession with Paul McCartney and my shameless dedication to turning up at Paul’s House in St John’s Wood, London, in the hope of catching a glimpse of him. The poem is addressed to Johnny Dean, who was the editor of the Beatles Book.

How not to meet Paul, a poem by SC Skillman printed in the Beatles Monthly Magazine No. 64
How not to meet Paul, a poem by SC Skillman printed in the Beatles Monthly Magazine No. 64

Here is the transcript of the poem:

Dear Johnny,

This poem sums up what I feel at the moment!

HOW NOT TO MEET PAUL (BY, HOWEVER, AN OPTIMIST)

If I go to Paul’s house

He’ll either come back from Greece two hours after I’ve gone,

Or he’ll have just gone off to India.

Whenever Paul goes

To Regents Park or Hyde Park

He makes sure I’m not there.

Whenever Paul takes

Martha for a walk,

Before he does so, he

Makes sure Sheila Skillman isn’t outside.

And doesn’t get a chance of seeing him.

When Paul records at the EMI studios

He makes sure I’m not hanging around;

When I phone up the EMI studios,

It’s one of the secretary’s uncooperative days,

Or she doesn’t know, or

She’s got no idea, luv.

When Paul’s at the Apple offices,

he makes sure I’m not going to be in the vicinity,

And then decides it’s safe to turn up.

When the Beatles, ages ago went to Sevenoaks,

They made sure that

When they were driving up Court Road through Orpington,

S. Skillman wasn’t taking her dog for a walk

At the same time

(Because she lives just off there.)

In short, S. Skillman Has Ways Of Not Meeting Paul.

But don’t worry, she’ll do it one day.

Hope you like it

Yours,

Sheila Skillman.

There were, of course, usually many fans congregating outside Paul’s house, and I will admit I have had some fascinating conversations with people there. It’s also known that in the early days of his ownership of the house, Paul might often pop outside the front gate and get the fans to take his dog Martha for a walk, or do other tasks for him.

Nothing like that happened, alas, when I was there. But the poem I wrote about it, within the Beatles Monthly magazine no. 64, remains a part of Beatles folklore, and it forms part of my extensive collection of Beatles memorabilia, along with several other editions of the Beatles Monthly magazine.

I will always remember how I felt when I saw my poem had been printed. I first heard about it from Leslie, a friend of my parents, whose daughter Sarah was also a Beatles fan. Leslie said to me slyly one day, “I see you’ve flown into print, my dear.” I was surprised and didn’t know what he was talking about. He mentioned Sarah, and Beatles Monthly. Shortly afterwards I shot down the road to the newsagent, procured my copy, and began walking up the road. flipping through the magazine. I opened it to the letters page and saw my poem.  The feeling I had then may be compared to that of a first time novelist who gains their first contract of publication with a commercial publishing house. An over-the-top reaction perhaps… but that’s how I felt. I walked up the road to my home in a golden haze.

After this poem was published I received an extensive response from other Beatles fans/ readers of Beatles Monthly, based in the UK and the USA, of which these letters form a small part:

A selection of letters from Beatles fans responding to a poem by SC Skillman printed in Beatles Monthly magazine no. 64
A selection of letters from Beatles fans responding to a poem by SC Skillman printed in Beatles Monthly magazine no. 64

These responses were the equivalent to comments on a tweet or a blog post now.

I also began long pen pal correspondences with two of the writers from the USA and one of them sent me a ticket from the Beatles’ famous concert at Shea Stadium on 15 August 1965, as well as original prints of photos she’d taken of the Beatles; she later visited London and I had the pleasure of meeting up with her. Being American she was much more upfront than me and had met the Beatles and pushed herself forward on occasions when I would have hung back shyly in the background! Chrissy O’Brien, if you read this blog, it would be lovely to hear from you again!

The comments I received in some of these letters are given below:

I saw the letter you wrote… and I said to myself, Hey! There goes a girl with the kind of luck I have! Sort of a kindred spirit you might say (Delana from Detroit, Michigan)

In case you’re wondering how I got your name it was from Beatles Book 64 (how else?). Well at least Paul knows you exist, a privilege shared by few. (Graham, from Swanley, Kent)

I read your letter in Beatles Monthly and I entirely agree with you. When I go to see Paul he is never in. (Sue from Cricklewood, London NW2)

You seem to be enquiring how to meet Paul.. maybe I can help, if you care to write, as I have a telegram from Paul when I met him at London Airport in July 1965. (Brian from Orpington, Kent)

I know this is idiotic but… I just read your poem in Beatles Monthly. It was about Paul Boy. If only I could write  one to George like that!!! Enclosed is a photostat copy of a letter I received from Paul thanking me for my letter…. As you can see it isn’t much but it is Paul. And of course I wish it was George’s instead. Foul of me, I know.  (Sherry from Eugene, Oregon, USA)

I saw your name in Beatles Monthly so I thought I’d write to you… (Anna from California).

I became a member of the Official Beatles Fan Club a couple of years after it started, and included in my memorabilia collection you may find most of the Beatles’ original Christmas records for Fan Club members, all four Beatles’ autographs, an interesting collection of news cuttings covering the major events of the Beatles’ career from the time my interest began, up until George Harrison’s death; and several newsletters and personal letters from Freda Kelly, former secretary to Brian Epstein, and the first Beatles Fan Club Secretary, who did so much to help Beatles fans during her time as the fan club secretary

Open this link to read all about the 2013 film about Freda Kelly Good Ol’ Freda.

Click here to read another of my posts on Paul McCartney, the first in my blog series People of Inspiration.

I’d love to hear your Beatles thoughts and memories. Please do share in the comments!

 

Spiritual and Unifying: the Dramatic and Emotional Appeal of Brahms’ Requiem for All Who Love Choral Singing

King Henry VIII School, Coventry (well known as representing Gordon Shakespeare’s school in the 2009 Christmas film Nativity!) was the scene on Saturday where a large number of local singers and musicians gathered together for a “Scratch” rehearsal and performance of Brahms’ RequiemCHOIR SINGING

As with all scratch performances of course the majority of participants had sung/ played this music before.

From my place in the choir (Spires Philharmonic Chorus augmented by many other singers) I saw several other singers had crisp clean hired copies – but not me! That’s because I’d brought my tattered, much-used score: inside the front page, every previous date on which I’d sung it before, using this score: June 1978 with the London Choral Society; August 1989 with the Brisbane Chorale, Australia; April 1997 and November 2009 with the Warwick & Kenilworth Choral Society.

Despite having last sung it nine years ago, it’s amazing how easily the music came back to me, along with the (sometimes exasperated!) directions given by previous conductors.

Our Chorus Director Jack Lovell is great fun and has a natural and humorous approach.  He’s always full of imaginative images to describe how he’d like us to sing. In one part he said, “Here, I want you to think smoky Viennese ballroom. You need to sound like the viola coming in.” Elsewhere we were to sing like a posh velvet cushian, the type you can push right in and then it comes out again very smoothly and slowly, not like one of those cheap foam cushians. Later he stopped us, saying that sounds like an Ikea cushian.

Brahms’ Requiem has special associations for me.  My father was a choral singer, and this requiem was one of his great favourites. I first heard it performed when I was 12; my father sang in a local choir the Orpington Chorale, and my attendance on that occasion was, I daresay, not voluntary! I remember sitting in the audience listening to it and not being very impressed!

Over the years my father shared his love of music with us, particularly choral music, and that included several of the most celebrated Requiems. A family friend with a great sense of humour, teased him about the choir: Why is everything you sing so miserable? You should be called The Undertaker Singers!  “Book us now for your funeral.”

The emotional and dramatic appeal of these major works is very strong, irrespective of any religious convictions on the part of either performers or audience. As a choir member observed in the comments on this very interesting blog , “this music is a celebration of our inner spirit whether you are religious or not.”

Brahms’ Requiem, as with all great works of art, encompasses a very wide emotional range. His music is set around words from the bible which express touching and powerful yearnings of the human spirit.

From the mysterious and sombre opening in Movement 1, onto the sumptuous, swishing, spine-chilling chords of “all flesh is as grass”, with Movement 2 Brahms sweeps through brighter and more hopeful moods, via passages of triumph, to the most glorious moments of serenity, floating and ecstatic.  All of human life is here; pleading, urgent and driving; desperation, the restoration of confidence. Movement 4, “How lovely art thy dwellings fair”, is blissful and luminous, ending on a rapturous idyll. It’s thought that Brahms wrote it during  time spent among the glaciers and blue lakes of Zurich which inspired him. The requiem returns to a mournful, reflective mood in Movement 6 , and its transitions take us through intense, vigorous and energetic passages, defiance, triumph and rejoicing; and finally in Movement 7 we regain bliss, comfort, peace and reassurance.

As another choral singer has said, “I see it all as metaphor, I sing it lustily and I celebrate and share the uplifting aspirations that inspired the music in the first place. If we can share the ideals, connect through the values expressed in the words, and join in singing them together, what could be more spiritual and unifying?”

Build Something That Will Outlive You in Hamilton the Musical

I recently went to see the musical Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London Victoria Palace Theatre, Victoria St, Londonwhere a magnificent cast through phenomenal singing and dancing told the story of a man who lived and died passionately and made big mistakes which swept him through to a memorable death.

Through powerful singing and dynamic, electrifying, whiplash sharp dancing, we were captivated  by the ideas that first gripped the creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, when he began to read the Abigail with Hamilton programme in auditorium of Victoria Palace Theatrebook Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and felt he identified with the origins of Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States.

A spectacular and compelling musical, certain words in the songs stand out for me: Hamilton sings that he wants to “build something that will outlive me. If you don’t stand for something what will you fall for?”

And at the end, we hear Aaron Barr – a man for whom we feel sympathy in this telling of the story, the man who killed Hamilton in a duel, sing these words to us: “I survived but I paid for it, now I am the villain in your story.”

Jamie in Victoria Palace TheatreI loved the way the dynamics of storytelling held us all in its grip throughout the performance, and especially the way the duels were choreographed. One of the most stunning (literally!) parts of the musical came when the dancers froze the moment in which the bullet was fired which killed Hamilton.  Brilliant choreography and dancing suspended our disbelief as we watched the bullet arrested in mid-flight.

When I originally heard of Hamilton the musical, a year ago when my daughter first bought the tickets,  I thought, What a peculiar subject for a musical.  I thought exactly the same when I first heard about The Book of Mormon – another brilliant London musical which made a big impact on me.

Now I confess I think you can make any subject at all into a musical so long as you have a creator who can inspire total confidence with his passion to believe in and run with a central idea, and as long as you end up with fantastic songs, words, character and story.

 

 

Reflection Upon The Nativity film 2010

Tatiana Masleny as Mary and Andrew Buchan as Joseph in The Nativity film 2010
Tatiana Masleny as Mary and Andrew Buchan as Joseph in The Nativity film 2010

I recently watched again “The Nativity”, the TV mini series first broadcast by the BBC at Christmas 2010 but this time I watched the entire film on DVD.

I remember the series had a strong impression on me when I first viewed it and we could hardly wait for each new episode. Seeing it as a continuous story was a different experience from viewing it in episodes;  I found it much more challenging and harrowing, especially the scenes in which Mary is judged and reviled both by her fellow villagers in Nazareth, and by householders and innkeepers in Bethlehem.

Tatiana Masleny and Andrew Buchan both gave brilliant performances as Mary and Joseph  and I must confess John Lynch came over as a very handsome and rugged Gabriel.

Here’s a Youtube link to a beautiful and moving song by Kate Bush with clips from The Nativity film.

Seeing this very realistic re-imagining of the Nativity story again, I realised afresh how divisive the story is, for all those who engage with it, whatever they believe.  To see Mary portrayed like this when she has been so revered by Catholics over the millennia with titles like Queen of Heaven and Mother of God, is certainly very challenging. And it makes me wonder again about the assertions of Christian theology, most notably the question of how God could have chosen to bring his Son into the world by causing Mary so much suffering … huge issues arise from this, and provide much material for argument and discussion. Once again this brings up the question that many have struggled with, of why Jesus could not be the son of God and also born naturally by Joseph.

I thought this portrayal of the story has the power either to strengthen and enhance the faith of the viewer or make them lose it. It all depends on the stance the viewer takes before they come to the story.

Certainly I remember the leader of our group at an Alpha course a few years ago beginning the discussion by saying he did not believe in the virgin birth.

But in this film version, we see Joseph as key. His ability to wholeheartedly believe what Mary was telling him, saved her from the judgementalism and hatred and rejection of all those around her – which, without the protection of Joseph, may even have resulted in her death before Jesus was even born.

This gives us much to reflect upon.