This is my old dog Bubble, who died almost 3 years ago aged 12. This picture was taken not long after we (me and ex hubby) adopted him when he was 5. His bed was by the back door in our old kitchen, and one of his favourite activities was rearranging his bedding, very noisily, until it was in a desirable position for a thoroughly good snooze.
I particularly love this picture because he looks thoroughly disgusted to have been woken up from his slumbers, and is clearly desperate for us to just leave him alone and let him get back to his highest priority activity, that of hiding beneath the covers.
The day before a music exam or a big performance, this is exactly how I feel.
I’ve spent months working for this. Tears have been shed, blisters have been popped, tendons have been strained and my poor brain has had enough. I am well prepared. I won’t play perfectly, but I won’t fail.
No one will die if I fail this exam. I’m not a brain surgeon, or a rocket scientist, or a pilot or a ship’s captain. It helps to keep things in perspective, but there’s also no harm in acknowledging that it’s a big deal, I’ve invested a lot in this and I want to play well.
I know that tomorrow, as with most performance days, I will feel fine until about 20 minutes before I have to play.
The few days before, however, is a different matter. I am thoroughly unpleasant to be around, I am grumpy, nervous and drop almost everything I touch which adds to the grumpiness. I am at high risk of injuring myself. True to form, I burnt myself this afternoon (nothing major thankfully). I try to stay away from sharp or heavy objects at this time as I am highly likely to either drop things or cut myself.
I hate practising the day before. It’s too late to do any meaningful work fixing things, a bit like cramming the night before a big science exam. I’m too flustered to take anything in. If I play well, I worry that I’ve run out of ‘good’ stuff for the exam. If I play badly, I worry it’s an indication of how I’ll play in the exam. I try to stick to calmly running through from beginning to end of my pieces, doing a little work on the tricky bits.
I hate the guilt that I feel, thinking I should be practising constantly but knowing it’s pretty much pointless. Fresh air is good, but I hate going out for distraction therapy, that makes me guilty too, and I worry I’ll forget everything I need to play well.
Generally I cope well with performance anxiety on the day of a performance, provided everything is under my control (although this isn’t always possible). I have lists for everything I need to take with me so I know I won’t forget anything. I know to leave plenty of time to get anywhere. But I hate the last turn of the key in the door, I check everything constantly and find it hard to actually get gone and on my way.
I know to avoid eating too much (or not enough), and I avoid drinking too much caffeine even if I am tired.
A few years ago, having read one of Bradley Wiggins’ books, I was introduced to the concept of Exercising the Chimp. I’ve since read more about this in Dr Steve Peters’ book The Chimp Paradox, and it’s really helped me this year. Exercising the Chimp means confronting all your niggly little fears in a controlled, rational way in order to convince yourself that you have all bases covered and you are as prepared as can be.
Mine goes something like this.
Chimp: Why are you even bothering with this, You know your fingers will shake, you’ll miss all your harmonics and you’ll probably forget all the notes
Me: My fingers will shake, yes, but it’s not the end of the world, they will expect me to be a bit nervous. I won’t miss all my harmonics, I might miss a couple but once I settle they should come better and the more I relax the more likely they are to come. I won’t forget all the notes, if I forget some I’ll just go back to a bit i can remember.
Chimp: Why are you even trying to do this, you’re an accountant you’re not a musician.
Me: Everyone is allowed to change their mind. I passed the audition to get here, I’ve had good results so far this year so I must be doing something right. I’ve been a musician a lot longer than I was an accountant, I have every right to be here.
Chimp: You’re not going to be the best here, I’d give up now if I were you.
Me: Shut up chimp, it’s not about being the best here today, it’s just about getting through this 20 minute exam and doing my best.
Chimp: I bet you make a really huge mistake in that horrible bit where you always go wrong. Actually, I bet you make mistakes in the good bits too.
Me: Shut up chimp, I know if I make mistakes, as long as I don’t lose my rhythm or flow, I can cover it. It won’t be perfect but I can keep going. If I fall off big time, I will cope and it will take a lot to really shake me. I’ve worked really hard, I’m well prepared and I can do this, I don’t need you banging on at me.
You get the picture. In the moments preceding the exam, the Chimp will be going overtime shouting horrible things. The idea is that you Exercise it regularly on your own terms, and it gets tired and gets back in its box. So you tell it to go away and you’ll talk to it later, when you can listen to it and give it your full attention. After the exam I’ll have all the Chimpy moments – could have done this better, made a real arse of that, what on earth did I do that for. It’s OK after the exam, I can learn from this and make it better next time.
Various people refer to this in various terms. It’s a common technique but I love the analogy of the Chimp banging away in his box, making a big noise so you feel you have to let him out, then letting him out until he’s tired and putting him back in again.
I’ve not found the way to deal with the shaky hands and slightly sweaty palms yet, but in truth if I didn’t feel remotely nervous, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable with that either.
Tomorrow, at 1.30 it will all be over and I’ll be getting in the car to head south. Over the weekend I’m seeing my family for the first time in ages, and I’m off to meet my friends’ new baby. I have two weddings to play at, and a lot of driving to do, but otherwise I am free to enjoy myself.
Next week I have promised myself a week of doing as I please. I have lots of things I want to do, and a big stack of new music to learn. I had banned myself from even looking at the first page of any new pieces until the exam is done. After next week the big job hunt starts.
Until then, all I will be thinking about is 20 minutes of music tomorrow at 1pm.
I had some bad news today. It was nothing I didn’t already suspect, but somehow seeing it confirmed in black and white made it all the more real. It’s big news and has a big impact on my the immediate future. However I am determined not to let it put me off course.
So I am thinking about good things. Counting my blessings if you will.
I’m currently watching Frontline to Finish Line – the Race2Recovery team’s incredible journey to compete in and complete the Dakar Rally. Simply amazing – the hardest race in the world, completed by injured servicemen.
I have a sleek black greyhound snoozing away either side of me on the sofa. These beautiful gentle creatures (well maybe not if you are a cat or a hedghog) are happy, healthy rescued retired racers who faced an uncertain future before they came to live with me.
I have a good education, plenty to eat, good medical care and access to clean water.
Every day I get to do something amazing when I pull my harp onto my right shoulder and play wonderful music with my friends. I have big plans on this front.
I’ve had some great feedback on my blog recently, including visits from some very important people and a comment (followed up with an email) from someone especially important. I write it mostly for myself, but I’m enjoying blogging so it has been a real boost to know that it is being well received.
Earlier this week I met a new harp buddy for coffee and we had a great mixture of harp and bike racing chat.
Every day I open my curtains and see the Campsie Fells behind my house.
Tonight I’m going to give my much loved jaffa orange KitchenAid a work out and bake some cakes.
I have a hugely supportive family who I love to bits. I don’t see them often enough but we are in touch regularly.
Some of my oldest friends have a new baby girl and I can’t wait to meet her.
Oh and I might just have reversed my run of seemingly endless rubbish luck on the man front…. And he’s a chef
The photo at the top of this post was taken outside the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh last Saturday - at first I thought it was rather glum, but I thought about it on my way across to perform in the Cathedral and felt differently.
Miracles rarely happen. I truly believe we make our own luck by working hard and putting ourself in the right places where ‘lucky’ things may happen. I thank Jennifer Crook for these words of wisdom some years ago.
Today demonstrates that bad times come, but I hope that by thinking of Good Things, I can keep myself on track and not get dragged down.
Across the road from the sign above, there was this sign
I couldn’t get my own picture as I was too far away (this one is from the BBC News website).
Today, thinking back to it, I am reminded of John Lennon’s words as posted on my blog a few weeks ago.
I’ve kept finances away from my blog for the simple reason that here is where I come to dream, contemplate and get away from the amount of debt I have. I am working hard on managing this and getting it down, but I had an unexpected vet emergency last night and it sent my head spinning.
A fellow blogger pointed me towards a challenge… so here goes. My 30 ways to save £1. None of these are rocket science, but they are all things I’ve done that have saved me some cash. I’ve tried not to read anyone else’s so as not to copy, but am off to have a good hunt around now I’ve written my own list.
First tip – have a really, really good think about everything going on in your life and where your money goes. Work out a proper budget, what your priorities are, what you can’t exist without and what you don’t mind giving up. You might be surprised, you will need to experiment, but it can change your life. Some of my closest friends have been people I’ve made through my lean times.
E.g. I don’t mind about new shoes, new clothes or makeup (and I used to spend a FORTUNE on these) but I do mind what state my hair is in, I need to spend time with my friends and family and I need to eat well otherwise I get ill and miserable.
2. If someone offers to buy you lunch or coffee, accept. I used to be too proud to do this, but I’ve had to bite my tongue and realise that I am skint. I have bought enough lunches over the years for skint friends, and I am lucky that people are returning the favour. If they are skint too though, make sure you swap next time, for goodness’ sake don’t abuse it.
3. If your family offer you money when you visit, or towards food when they visit you, accept. Again, my gran knows I was too proud to take it before but she knows the score now and gives me a bit towards my fuel costs when I visit. If they ask if they can bring you something, say thank you graciously, give them some suggestions and accept!
4. Before replacing lost or broken leads, cables, chargers or headphones, ask around your friends first to see if they have spares. These are the kind of things that people replace often when they change phone or computer. A kind friend donated a pair of old iPod headphones when I left mine in the library and they weren’t handed in. Another friend offered to buy me a pair. Saving = approx £20 to replace.
5. Keep your eyes out for cheap theatre/concert tickets. You can often get fantastic seats for just a few pounds if you are a student or are on a mailing list or voucher site. Recent saving – £30 on a top RSNO ticket on a Saturday night which cost me a fiver.
6. ALWAYS Ask if there is a student/club member etc discount in shops. Swallow your pride and do it. Even 10% can be a couple of quid you would have spent otherwise. That’s a pint or a coffee with a friend. Discounts aren’t always displayed so it’s worth being cheeky.
7. Make use of Orange Wednesday – easy peasy but some people still haven’t heard of it. It’s loads quieter in the day, worth taking advantage of if you work odd shifts. Saving £7+ for a cinema ticket, £8+ for pizza
8. Reinvestigate cheaper brands if you don’t already use them. I used to hate H&M as it was such poor quality but they are my new saviour. Basic tshirts etc are cheaper than M&S and I think the quality and fit is better. Saving £3+ per top. I also love their running kit, saving £10+ per top. I find the supermarket sizes too bizarre for me but they suit others really well.
9. Clear out your wardrobe regularly, especially when the weather is changing, so you use everything you have and don’t buy duplicates because you couldn’t see you already had them.
10. Drop a supermarket brand. I hate the one i’m using now but I can’t deny it is saving me a fortune, at least £10+ per month. I eat for £70 per month. Occasionally I buy lunch but only if it’s a really long day at college.
11. Cook in batches. A vat of chilli or Bolognese sauce doesn’t take long at all, is dead easy and really versatile. Hang on to takeaway containers or other little plastic pots and stash them your freezer, then grab one out in the morning before you leave the house and it will be defrosted when you’re home. Add pasta/rice, easy.
12. Plan your meals for the week. It doesn’t mean you have to eat things on specific days but it helps you budget and avoid food wastage. Check out yellow stickered (reduced) items, these can be great for a quick ready meal to shove in the freezer for a dire emergency, or for meat which can also go straight in the freezer for a batch cooking session another day.
13. Keep something to nibble (!) in your bag if you get the munchies. My danger time is always the bus journey home – if I’m hungry I get travel sick. The trouble is, there’s a Sainsbury’s Local by the bus station, and popping in when I’m hungry tends to result in a pizza and bottle of wine to go with a little chocolate bar that I bought just to keep me going.
14. Work out your car mpg and use this to calculate fuel costs so you know how much your journeys cost you. This seems a bit geeky but it can help you know whether it is worth using public transport. Don’t forget parking costs if relevant. This also helps you to realise how much your gran etc is helping you and why you should accept gratefully, and also to know how much to price in for travel if you are self-employed.
15. Always always consider if it really is going to save you money on fuel by going to a cheaper fuel station that is further away. It’s often not worth it for a couple of pence per litre if you live rurally.
16. Combine journeys to visit friends and family. If you are making a long journey to visit friends or family, and have a lot of people living close together, make the most of the fuel and journey time. It can make for a longer day but it saves you money and helps you keep in touch with everyone.
17. Ask around, find a garage you trust and feel comfortable with, and stay loyal. Recommend them to others, if people say who has sent them they will remember your name. My last garage helped me numerous times by popping me at the front of the queue in a gig emergency and finding cheaper parts when they could.
18. Look after tradesmen when they come to your house. It costs a few mugs of tea and maybe a packet of biscuits, but my plumber and plasterer have helped me out at short notice on countless occasions because I am nice to them and recommend them to others.
19. If you are self-employed, establish a presence on social media networks such as Twitter. This is really valuable if you do something quirky. If I’ve had great service I always tweet about it, and this has been reciprocated. I’ve found an osteopath through Twitter, received a highly secret recipe, plus a donation of my favourite teabags!
20. If your pet is unfortunate enough to need treatment at the vets, ask questions about the cost of the medication. Sometimes the vet prescribes the palatable (easy to swallow/more tasty) version of a tablet, but if your pets are good pill takers, sometimes this isn’t needed. My dogs are very good and happily eat tablets if they are in with their food. Last week I saved £25 on a course of antibiotics because I asked if the non-palatable variety was cheaper and suitable for the type of injury they had – it was, massively. £4.50 vs £30
21. Investigate working dog (often dry) foods – these are VAT free. My dogs are retired greyhounds and their food is £13 for a 15kg sack, they have 2 bags a month. Saving £5 per month. Not suitable for all dogs, especially older dogs, but it’s worth checking out.
22. Buy from your local pet shop. A 1kg bag of mixed shape biscuits costs me £2, compared to £1.75 for a 500g box in the supermarket. Saving £1.50, twice a month.
23. Keep a small stash of first aid supplies for your pets as well as yourself – often cuts and abrasions can be treated at home on a wait and see basis before calling the vets, so having a few dressings and antiseptic wipes is so useful as a first port of call in an emergency. Gradually experience tells you when to treat at home and when to go straight to the vets. NB – Do NOT shut your greyhounds’s tail in the front door as this causes upset for both owner and pet, and results in expensive trips to the out of hours vet and surgery the next day!
24. If you are looking for a new furry friend, consider a rescue dog or cat. Costs vary from free to a donation of approx. £100, and you will be helping save an animal from possible destruction. Normally they come already neutered and microchipped, and if you get a retired greyhound, you get a lead and a bowl with your new dog
25. Otherwise, local councils often offer free or reduced microchipping and neutering at some points in the year. Strays cost them a fortune and create a lot of distress for owners so if you haven’t already had your pet chipped and snipped, get it done!
26. If you have a fringe, cut your own. Sometimes hairdressers do these for free, but more often it can cost a couple of pounds each time. I bought a pair of scissors from a hairdressing/beauty supplies store in an indoor market for £3. It’s scary the first time, but cut when your hair is dry, start in the middle where you can gauge against your eyebrows, go steadily and you will have the knack in no time. Saving £5 per month in trims.
27. If you colour your hair, investigate doing it yourself at home. This is probably not an option if you have a lot of grey or really thick or long hair, but otherwise it’s easy enough and less messy than you might think. Especially if you last coloured your hair in 1992.
28. Drop a beauty brand. Do your research, ask around. I’ve gone from REN to Boots Botanics, saving £20 per month. If you are craving some colour in your life, go for new nail varnish – my favourites are Barry M (from £3) and NYC (Superdrug) from £1.79 for dry-in-a-new-york-minute nails. Both last really well – with 3 coats, I’ve had 5 days out of both brands.
29. Medication – go generic. Look for own-branded packets or Galpharm. Check the drug names for the products you use. This is great if you have hayfever – e.g. Zirtek branded, 7 tablets for £4+. Unbranded/Galpharm Cetirizine 14 tablets for £2, and often these go on BOGOF in Superdrug or Savers once the season starts. If you are unsure, check with the pharmacist. Supermarket own Paracetamol/Ibuprofen start from 16p for 16 tablets and are the same as the brands.
30. If you are splashing out on new perfume or branded cosmetics, head to a counter for the personal touch. Last time I bought perfume, I wanted to try something new so got chatting to a really helpful assistant. I left with a bottle of perfume, a gorgeous travel bottle of something else I already used and a couple of others to try. In the past, I’ve also been offered a cheaper one with a squashed box, and a leftover giftbox from Christmas with an extra body lotion AND shower gel.
Loyalty Cards – USE THEM!
31. Boots is great for saving your points for a free nail varnish every now and then. If I am caught out on lunches I always get a meal deal from here, £3.25 for a huge sandwich, snack and drink. And the points soon add up, especially if you look out for extra ones.
Coffee – My college does a great buy 9 get the 10th free, which is a joyous feeling firstly as it’s good coffee, and because the 10th always falls on a crappy day and cheers me up! Saving – not huge but so worth it. Sometimes they even count the 10th free coffee as a stamp on a new card.
Tesco’s – check out the Clubcard voucher exchange schemes. Last year I swapped my clubcard vouchers for double their face value in Figleaves vouchers, which scored me a much-needed free sports bra, saving me £30
So there we go. That’s 31! What a bargain
I was really upset and of course absolutely horrified to see the news about what happened yesterday in Boston.
People are reacting, struggling to make sense, searching for answers, plus of course those involved are dealing with serious injuries, supporting those who have lost family or friends, trying to come to terms with what they have seen and experienced.
The aggression shown by attacking such a major event was in complete contrast to the unity that was demonstrated by the football world yesterday, who came together to mark the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. I was particularly struck by the picture posted by Manchester United on their website – two clubs with such ferocious rivalries and historical bad blood but yet demonstrating such respect.
Sport has traditionally been held up as something that unites people in times of trouble. This can seem at odds with the ways it can also divide, either in terms of politics, religion, or even gender (Boston was where Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to enter the all male field, at a time when it was believed women were physically incapable of distance running).
To attack an event where people are doing nothing more (or less!) than challenging themselves mentally, physically and emotionally by attempting one of the oldest sporting events in the world. To attack those who are not just competing but supporting. It is hard to see how a city marathon can be a political target.
After all the hatred that poured out last week over the death of Margaret Thatcher, it’s easy to feel as though our world is an unpleasant and hostile place to be. I find it so hard to understand where such feelings come from – and I’m not sure whether this is good or bad, whether this makes me apathetic or just a compassionate human being.
I was struck by a quote posted by the New York Philharmonic last night, from Leonard Bernstein. Previously I only knew of his wonderful music for West Side Story, and was aware that he was a composer and conductor. When listening to recordings to help me with a harp cadenza I was working on, I discovered a video of him performing and conducting (!) the Ravel Piano Concerto. I heard of some books and transcriptions of talks he had presented about music. I am slightly embarrassed by my lack of knowledge of such an important figure, but this is why I am doing what I am doing.
I thought about it for a while. Is music really THAT important, THAT influential in such difficult times? When people are injured, killed, suffering, is it flippant to be thinking of such trivial things as music? This then led me to question whether I am really confident that what I am doing is sufficiently important to be worth the sacrifices I have made.
I can only conclude that the answer is, YES it is that important. NO it is not flippant. NO I am not really confident enough in myself just yet but YES it is worth it.
People look to music for comfort, for when they cannot express what they want to say, or when the only way they can express what they want to say is not to use words.
We use music to mark occasions, making great effort to choose just the right song or piece for a funeral, a wedding, a concert, or background music for a film or presentation.
When I can’t make sense of what I am thinking or feeling, good or bad, I have a couple of albums and songs I always turn to.
I am completely at a loss to understand why one of them is Woodface by Crowded House – it’s a great album, sure enough, but I can never put my finger on what it is that is so enduring. I hear something new every time I listen to it, and I always listen to it in its entirety. I bought it at a difficult time in my life, and it’s immensely comforting. Yet other music that I associate with this time is almost unbearable to listen to now. I’m not sure why this should be.
The others are Ageispolis by Aphex Twin and An Ending (Ascent) by Brian Eno. These are perhaps a little more obviously deep and meaningful.
I’m all out of words now.
***NB This is a very cheerful post despite the subject matter***
The undeniable fact is that I have an unworn £1700 Alexander McQueen dress boxed up in my wardrobe. (NB Thanks to the Outnet.com, I didn’t pay £1700 for it). I bought it for my wedding 2 and a half years ago, and this ended up not happening.
I have no idea what to do with it but I will not be parting with it any time soon. I’ve been in my new place 6 months now, and no amount of wardrobe decluttering is going to solve this one in a hurry.
The dress is Dairy Milk purple satin, a full length Grecian style draped column dress, and even now I would have to starve for a week or two to fit in it, but this is doable.
I would have to chop about a foot off said dress in order not to do myself an injury in it, and that assumes I am wearing the equally fabulous 5 inch stiletto heels I bought to go with it.
I’d hoped to do a stunning outdoor harp shoot wearing it, but another harpist has a similarly coloured frock on her website and much as I admire her, I feel no need whatsoever to be stealing anyone else’s ideas, however wonderful they are!
As it’s such a gothy dress, I wondered about something beachy a la Madonna’s Frozen video. I am a former teenage goth (well, loved the black, wasn’t so keen on the music) and I have two beautiful big black hounds who would look the part. Even my harp is black. It’s one of my favourite songs, I love all the imagery in the video, but it doesn’t feel quite right any more. I think I need something a bit more triumphant than that. I’m surrounded by dramatic scenery where I live, so surely it shouldn’t be that hard to come up with something?
It is a FABULOUS dress. Despite the circumstances I am glad I have it.
I’m also extremely glad I didn’t spend £1700 on the minuscule Lanvin White Collection dress I had my eye on…
No one ever really tells you what to do in the case of a cancelled wedding. You often see second hand dresses advertised for sale, but this isn’t a white one, and besides, I really love it and I don’t hold any bitterness or angst towards it at all.
I just want to do it justice rather than having it sitting in a box.