Sunday, 3 June 2018

The Third Lille Trip Cats on the Roofs and Dogs under the Blanket

In the end I said to Viviane, if we don’t do it now . . . . . .

Sparrows and leaders May-June 2016.

And thus it was that I found myself contemplating the board at Leeds Station announcing that the trains to Kings Cross were all cancelled. This is not a good start. Quick as a flash I am on the slow train to Sheffield and then an overcrowded one to St Pancras.

cat posing on roof

Here I am frantically emailing Vivianne to advise her of my impending lateness. Then enter Sue the WonderGuard into my life. She phones Eurostar and gets their support as I attempt the impossible, getting past customs and passport control in the twenty minutes between arrival and departure. Then, as my phone won’t connect to France, she lets me text Viviane from her own mobile!

She is probably the one who engineered the early arrival of the train into St Pancras, because after that I made the 3.04 and même mieux, Vivianne is here to meet me at Lille-Europe. Huge memories of when we met in January 2016, and later the same year when I came over again, this time with Bex, Wanda, Yi Bai, Millie and Chloe for some heavy duty steelpanning at the Mome Arts Festival.!

The Youth Hostel from the earlier trip

The school where we played our last concert in 2016

We scoot to Wasquehal, stop at the supermarché and then Vivianne takes her community choir. Home to Roubaix, to see Jurgen, Marthe again, and to meet Pina (the new dog), have a beer and scrumptious cheese salad.
Viviane's community choir

The cats live on the roofs and come into the bathroom for food and shelter.
In the night rain is pitter-patter music on the roofs. We are awake at seven, Pina is demonstrating her love of blankets and posing.

me Valerie Sophie

I spend the morning down Memory Lane with Claire at Lakanal in Fives (pronounced Feev). She teaches her class Michael Jackson- Black and White, Go Down Moses and One other. Then they play me a song that they learnt with Idris, Sacré Charlemagne. What a lovely atmosphere, what a lovely sound.

me Idris Vivianne
me Marie-Pierre Matilde

Claire then delivers me to Charlotte, and we take lunch in a cafe in Grand Sud. Charlotte then does v dramatic story telling to start, and I am with her on the beach picking up shells. Then she gets me to teach He’s Got the Whole World to her lovely class in the Grand Sud school (which I do as long as she does the singing), thus incurring a tambourine injury (despite placing them an arm’s length from each other), and some tears.

Charlotte then delivers me to Viviane at the Conservatory. Here Viviane and her colleague are frantically packing some strange percussion instruments into a flight case. By now Charlotte has stopped at à Carrefour for me to buy a packet of proper tea, so am heavily involved in making up lost tea time.
Now we collect one of Viviane’s colleague, then daughter Marthe from the metro station, and over to Grand Sud for a Onomatopick. À jazz singing concert for primary schools. Not specially looking forward. . . . .

Mind-Blowing! Dénis, Anna and Mathieu together and separately with their classes, classes with their soloists, the teachers forming a group themselves. Never once did the leaders take their eyes off their charges, never once did the action stop. Viviane introduced the event by singing a phrase then enter Les entrants singing back to her. (Denis’s idea. Why I am not surprised!). the four teachers also form a quartet. Also awesome.

Friday is with the music and dance teachers at a proper old-fashioned village hall in Roubaix, quite close to where we are.

This is the culmination of several weeks work in the schools: three schools come together for a day-long dress rehearsal

Here are some adjectives: Astonishing. Beautiful. Well-paced. Inclusive. Appropriate. Thought-provoking.

Watching and discussing the Rite of Spring

packing away the whatsits

The teachers always looked calm and happy and pleased to see each other. The school teachers all took part, the wheelchair user took to the floor and rolled and took positions with the rest. He was included and attended to but not fussed over anymore than any other kid. Sometimes he pushed himself, sometimes he allowed himself to be pushed.

Sophie accompanied the dancers with a solo cello, then she sang little phrases, ever-increasing in pitch to the students. She had the voice of a bell, like crystal. In itself it was beautiful to listen to. There were a few backing tracks. One school’s theme was animals, including using Saint-Saens’ Elephant as a track. One little girl, in plaits, imagining with her huge wide eyes that she was in the countryside had me totally believing her. Pupils played bird whistle, rainsticks and chime bars as they danced.

There were two other activities. One dance teacher showed the classes different versions of the Rite of Spring on a video, and discussed them with the children, and how that ballet is the most important for both dance and music. Plus there was some dancing in a very small room, using the smallness and the walls. Veronique led the day with dance teachers, Matilda and x, Sophie played cello and sang, Marie-Pierre led the percussion, and Valerie took photos.

Marie-Pierre drove me back to the Conservatoire. A coupla cuppas, then walking in the rain back to the Hotel du Paix. Unfortunately since I stayed there in January 2016, they have renamed the Rue de Paris, and the hotel’s sign was quite obliterated by the signs around it. I walked straight past it, spend another half an hour chugging round, till I found some signs for Gare Lille Flandres, and then retraced my two year old steps from there. Lol. Sight-seeing in the rain. What’s not to like?

Lie on hotel bed, watching Monfils at Roland-Garros on the tele. Then meet Viviane for one last beer, and Idris (for no beers as he is fasting). So happy he made the effort to come for the flowers and colours (!).

Marthe Viviane Valerie

Bed late, up early, home safe, no aventures this time.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

The Otway Barcelona Trip

 When the newsletter email arrived listing gigs including the Silver Anniversary in Barcelona, I didn’t do the usual ”I’ve always wanted to . . . “.  I booked the flights.

So here I am having the first surreal moment in the first airport.

At Stansted the gate queue was massive and boarding slightly delayed. I went to the Ladies. When I came out the queue (a proper big planeful )had disappeared, and with it Gate 45! I was in a parallel universe which I will call the Other Side of the Toilets, and in which they only used even numbers. I escaped and rejoined my fellow passengers who seemed unaware of the dangers.

I had the same experience a decade ago when I parked on the M6 south, went to the cafe etc in the middle of the bridge, ended up crying in the car park of M6 north contemplating Work’s lost van and thousands of pounds worth of lost steelpans. Then remembered the southern parallel universe and recrossed the bridge.

Barcelona was wet.

I left the map readers to it.

I bumped into The Band at Barca Airport, and we passed a reasonably miserable 2 hours waiting for our baggage to find their own way to the conveyor belt. They helped me find my way to the Aerobus and then to the Mont Blanc Hotel.

I eventually recognised Richard who was quite shorn from when Swanyway supported him, and thankfully he had no memory of our lamentable set in which Dave got stage fright at the Duchess. Well we all got that but he was the pianist comic turn with his quirky take on bits of classical music etc. Or, on this occasion, not!

Catalunya Square at night

I was so irritated by the baggage wait and exhausted from a day’s traveling that I forwent the Brewery Trip and passed the evening with Moses practising my Spanish for Can I have another beer please.

Next day, Saturday, I was ready!

Three tour guide guide-off

Kiki met us at the hotel and was our guide for the morning. Called at Roy’s vegan real ale bar.

Decided against a lunchtime beer! Did lots of history and culture. Ace. Disgusted once again though about treatment of Jews whose cemetery was raided to build the church. This known by discovery with pieces of rock in the fabric of the building with Hebrew writing on them.

I was  blown away by ancient city discovered under would be site for a market.

What beach! I see the ships on the horizon
We ate at a cafe on the prom. There were three of us vegetarian/vegans. I spent a while contemplating piles of mussels and apologising to them.

Next Otway did his promised dip in the sea.  Me, Amy and a couple of others paddled. Sarah dived in! Splash!

Back to the hotel, quick turnaround and back out to eat at Catbar. Mushroom burger. Mmmmm. Then a pub crawl till we get to the venue. In the second bar they decide to call the responses to The House of the Rising Sun in Spanish.


Everyone  was delighted to find that this threw the man with two hits, who seemed to lose his place in the song. The set was just perfect. The venue was just perfect.

I had already had quite a lot to drink, and nervous of collapsing, falling asleep or getting lost, I walked back to Mont Blanc with Paul and Fiona back early (well midnight) to the hotel, then we developed a second wind, sat in the hotel bar and demolished a bottle of red [have to say I probably had most of it. Soz].

I left the map readers to it

Sunday and it’s Montserrat. Me, Paul, Fiona and Sarah leave the hotel and astonishingly are on board the 10.36 train from Place de Espagna to Montserrat, then on the funnicular up to the spectacular rock formation that is home to a monastery. All very spiritual and uplifting, but let down by a naff cafe.

Bizarrely the third language on all the signs are in Russian.

Did the art gallery/museum, snapped my shadow in this stunning sunshine, checked out the church.

Worrying about not getting a place of the cacle car, I went on ahead, managing to read maps and buy tickets on my own! Don't think the others were sure I would manage! I was starving but resigned to not eating till Barca.

First I took the cable car hoping that swaying off the side of a cliff might help cure by motorway panic attacks. We didn’t sway anywhere. It had been way more exciting on the funicular

Reader, imagine my delight to discover the cafe just off the platform is a home-made sign, showing all the signs of home made food! I partake. Never has a crusty cheese sandwich tasted so good. And strangely, a hand-written sign advertising some bread, also in Russian. 

(According to Kiki, lots of Russian oligarchs are buying up Catalonia/Catalunya; I did think maybe some Russian Orthodoxy knocking about. Who knows? Answers to this blog please.)

Chez Mont Blanc I felt the need for a lie down and to watch a nature film about Dutch wetlands, thought it would either help my Spanish or help me sleep. Zzzzzz

Venturing down at 7.20 I found the Marie Celeste, decided I must have missed that particular boat (nice pun n’est ce pas?) and so ventured down to Catbar for the spinach burger. Here I found the rest of the group and we swept along these atmospheric streets for a tapas, then shots and then back to Catbar for more drinks.

Now Donna tells me that I look exactly like the lady who leads the Silver Sparrows. Much merriment as we realise that 1. I am and 2. that there are a few of us who have northern and even Leeds connections.

Monday I arrange to meet Paul and Fiona at breakfast to “do” the Segrada Famila, miss them by two minutes, decide to join them later, and later, and later, get talking to John, Stewart and others. Oh well, I’ll just look at it from outside.

 I manage the metro all by myself, even get to enjoy the puzzles as they unfold. On the L1 line I pay the busking clarinetist, more as an apology for not paying the singer from the day before

Segrada Familia - I see some of its spires with attendant cranes, poking over the roofs well before I see the whole. A fine piece of anticipation. At first it seems just awesome, then it looks like a house made of sugar, then I just can’t decide. Yes it is overwhelming and yes it is messy. I am sure there is a debate. Sure beats the brutal neutral crass straight lines of today’s UK PFI public buildings, all built for someone else to live and work in.

Next it’s over to Catbar for that spinach burger and a last chat with Roy about how we can make the world vegan. Meet John and Catherine at Mont Blanc, aerobus back to airport, meet a second parallel universe in which the lift back from the Toilets Floor has melted away until I find it lurking in an alcove with the gents. Whereas the ladies toilets were, as ever in the same alcove as the disabled toilet and baby change. And when is that message ever gonna change!

Ah well, time to hide behind pillars and then get on the plane.

And it's goodbye from me, John and Catherine, landing safely at Liverpool.