We Are On The Facebooks!

It feels quite egocentric to say “I’ve made a Facebook page”.

The way most people follow this blog is through my personal Facebook account. I have on there a mix of people- some I know well and some not so. But I’d like to get to a point where I can reach more people with a more public Facebook presence.

I’m lucky enough to have had visitors from all over the world despite my Facebook isolation- some follow me on Twitter, some subscribe by email and some just stumbled into me on WordPress. Some even do all three! But because I get the most interaction from readers on Facebook, I thought I’d give having a public blog page a go. 

So if you like what you read here- come ‘like’ us!  I also wanted to say a big thank you to all my readers for making me feel a bit sparkly with every like, view and comment. I raise my tea mug to you all!

The Upside Down Chronicles

Mélodie’s best PLEASE face

I Am Exhaled: A Poem

I started letting things inhale me;
Books, films, documentaries and albums.
They restrained me from thinking for myself.
Entrenched me in the lives of others.
Whether they were humble,
Bewitched
Or powerful.
I was inhaled.

During this time it felt like my own respiration was at a stop.
I no longer took breath as myself.
I hid beneath duvets and learned the ins and outs of fictional character’s lives.
Until I knew them more than I knew myself.
Day turning to night, it kept me safe.

I was deprived.
I needed air.
My lungs like crumpled paper bags trying to inflate.
My feet pounding the fields and my heart ricochetting in its cage,
In an effort to self-resuscitate.
And then I could feel it,
Pounding in my ears and burning through my veins.

I’m running.
It’s behind.
I’m sprinting.
To the boundaries undefined.
I fall.
My lap is un-timed.

There it sits,
Over my senses like a mask.
Forcing the air into me.
Whether I want it or not.

The colours are bright and the smell embraces,
The petals kiss my hands and the herbs rub against my fingers like affectionate kittens.
I flop back on the grass and admire the nothing above me.
And how beautiful simple nothing can be.
And how lucky I am to have found it.

I can move.
I spin and walk and make my fingers dance on the surface of the pond.
I carefully stroke the baby apple tree and I can feel it respire between my index finger and thumb.

And then I had broken free.
And I was exhaled.

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“Don’t Count The Days, Make The Days Count”

Don't count the days, Make the days count.

It’s the holidays! With my exams done for this year it means I can enjoy the time off and relax properly. On the night I arrived home, after the regional delicacy of chip spice on chips and half a bad animated movie, my other half and I went out into the cul-de-sac. One pair of rollerblades and one pair of detachable shoe wheels later we were reminiscing our childhoods of bruised knees. We skated around the cul-de-sac (me clinging on very tightly) before deciding a cloud burst was imminent and heading back inside. It’s nice to have days to do things like this in, and I fully intend on continuing to do the same throughout this week. I will read for pleasure, play instruments because I want to and sing and dance to my favourite songs… Because why not?

In the UK it is a bank holiday today- so I very much hope you use it to do the same! Do what you love and have a great Monday!

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The Smell of Coffee in The Silent Cacophony- What Makes a Good Music Teacher?

I have been learning the mandolin since christmas 2012. For those of you who don’t know what the mandolin is, its an instrument which is strummed like a guitar, about the size of a ukulele, tuned the same as a violin and with two strings per note. It is the first instrument I have ever actively enjoyed playing and I have now reached the point where I feel semi-competent in making bearable sounds from it (I can change chords and strum at the same time… just).

This success is largely thanks to my brilliant mandolin teachers of the past and present- both of whom happen to be called *Trevor and both predominantly use the nickname *Trev. The similarities don’t stop there as both have hefty facial hair of some kind, the ability to play the ukulele and spend vast amounts of time in rooms filled with musical instruments. All of which they are able to play- of course. Trev number one, a folk musician who lives near the sea, appears to have converted his front room into a musical man cave. Guitars hang from the walls like trophies and the occasional bell or kazoo is perched on one of the many music stands cast around the edges of the room. On top of his piano lives an impressive collection of trilby hats which seem to all possess different personas which he chooses carefully from before heading out to a gig. I only had a few sessions with Trev One, but he did a lot of work with me on how to sing and play simultaneously which I am very grateful for.

Trev number two teaches in a music school above a shop which sells cheap-but-cheerful brightly coloured guitars. In his room he has narrowed his collection down to just a few instruments of choice, some preserved in expensive looking cases like coffins whilst others sit perched on stands welcoming students in. Before moving away to college, and away from Trev number one, I’d had no idea how hard mandolin teachers are to come by. In fact it took nearly a term to find Trev number two. However since our first session, we have met up nearly every wednesday to learn chords and songs.

It has not always been the case that I have had brilliant music teachers- in fact previously I presumed that hating children was a necessary attribute of being in the school’s music service. I met my first ever music teacher when I was around seven years old: she was an ageing woman who wore a lot of hand knitted jumpers. Every thursday morning she attempted to teach myself and a small group of other girls the violin within the confines of the echoey school hall. I had signed up for violin lessons having never held the instrument before, and mistaking its sound for that of the cello. I soon discovered that the shrieking wooden devil was not for me. Plus our teacher appeared to be on a personal mission to find us the most embarrassing and childish songs to perform in front of school assemblies. After much pleading to my parents I was finally allowed to give my violin and makeshift sponge and rubber-band shoulder rest back to the council.

My next teacher was a lady called Mrs H, who was a plumpish woman with angry red cheeks. This could have possibly been caused by her spending all her working day either playing the clarinet or shouting at her students. I had gone to her with the intention of learning the flute, but after being told that I had a ‘clarinet mouth’ I was lumbered with the instrument until I finally left primary school. I hated the noise that it made and the way the texture of the reed on my lips made me shudder. Telling her I wanted to quit has to be one of the bravest moments of my school career, and though at first she appeared angry she didn’t start a vendetta against me as I had feared she might. In fact, she disappeared completely and I didn’t see her again.

It is these experiences of instrument learning which make me so grateful for the two Trevs. My current Trev is the inspiration for this blog. Last week I went to the music school for my usual wednesday afternoon lesson, mandolin in hand. When I entered his teaching room, which smells strongly of coffee and wooden instruments in their silent cacophony, I suddenly had something very different on my mind.

“Trev… would you possibly mind showing me a guitar?” I asked. I have only held acoustic guitars a few times before, their size has always been slightly intimidating compared to my mandolin and I distinctly remember breaking one’s strings in secondary school. Trev however was more than obliging, and we went on to spend the whole half an hour session looking at all the different types of guitar. He let me hold and explore each one- classical, acoustic, electroacoustic and just electric and did his best to explain the differences between them. I asked a lot of questions, all of which started with “It’s a silly question but…”, however that was ok because all of his detailed answers began with: “There is no such thing as a silly question but…”. He taught me a few basic chords and has agreed to do some lessons with me on the guitar, because I would love to be able to play a bit and apparently it is a lot less fiddly than the mandolin.

The experience reminded me that the best teachers are the ones who don’t just teach you the notes, vocabulary and rhythms. The best teachers are the ones that install in you the passion that they have for music. Even if it is not the instrument you are supposed to be learning, a different piece to the one you have been working on for weeks or just you wanting to chat about music in general- enthusiasm is the most valuable thing a student can gain from their teacher. Once you have that passion for music or a paticular instrument the notes and chords tend to fall into place because you have the motivation to practice until you get it right. That passion is the thing that makes you want to play your instrument to gain calm after a hard day, or makes you listen more carefully to songs to find ‘that chord’. It is the passing on of this enthusiasm which I think makes a really exceptional teacher.

 

Me holding the mandolin

 

 

(*Trev is a pseudonym for both mandolin teachers, however they do both share the same name.)

Arty with Your Hands

I’ve never been an overly arty person. I enjoy art, but I’m not talented and I don’t do anything arty on a regular basis. Whether this defines ‘arty’ I’m not sure, but I did do GCSE art at one stage. I didn’t like it much even though I had an amazingly inclusive teacher who allowed me to explore the tactile element of art and encouraged my ‘unique perspective’ on the world. Though this was brilliant I found myself frustrated. I may not be arty but I am ambitious academically and there was something about my consistent C/D (which was stubbornly attached to my work no matter how long each piece had painstakingly taken me) that tainted the experience. It seemed no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t move up a grade to a stable pass. Once when sitting in Maths with my Teaching Assistant, waiting for the teacher to arrive, we had the discussion: “How can you grade art?”. I don’t think it is as clear cut as the stickler specifications and effort evaluations that it is made out to be in schools. How can art be evaluated fully without standing in the pupil’s brain as a tiny neurone and assessing the emotion, understanding and perspective they have on the said task? Like I said before, my teacher was amazing, but I can’t help but think that the gods of all things ‘exam’ didn’t quite have the capacity to mark my different perspective on the world. To cut a long story short, I got sick for a month or so and had to give up some subjects at school and fish drawing in art was quick to go.

I like tactile things. I can see some forms of visual art- big, bold and basic are the best bet for my peepers- but I just prefer the tactile or haptic medium. Touching art gives you a physical connection to it instead of the distance needed to admire a picture with your eyes. You can feel what the artist is aiming for and you can analyse things that you would miss if you were simply gazing. “What is the purpose of this very straight line?” or “Does this curve express deep rooted emotion?”, it gives art a whole new lease of life. I like the tactile world so much that I have a ‘bag of tricks’ filled with feely things and fiddle toys. I find that having something to fiddle with or feel has a calming affect which really helps me.

But it is only in the past few days that I have started exploring how I can make tactile art myself. I’m not a huge fan of glue and it’s sticky and slimy texture, so I was sceptical in how far I’d get. I started with the basics and did some clay work.

Picture of two pieces of brown clay. The first is rectangular with the imprint of the back of a leaf on it. Underneath in indented braille it says 'Peace'. The other piece of clay is flatter and wider with an indent of a flower and some flower buds on their stem.

This was pretty straight forward to do and I was very pleased with the results. I used flowers and leaves from the garden to roll into the clay and once I was satisfied it had been sufficiently compressed I peeled the plant away. It leaves a very clear outline on the surface of the clay and is easy to find and to trace with your fingers. I also brailled ‘Peace’ into the bottom of one of them with a skewer from the kitchen… because why not?

Today I decided that after yesterday’s success I wanted to try and get another sense involved in my arty awakening. I decided smells would be interesting to throw into the mix so I commandeered the herb rack. The kitchen being raided appears to be a common theme in my work. My first experiment was with a large pot of Paprika. I can’t ever remember tasting paprika, and being aware of it anyway, but the smell is fairly distinctive so it was a good choice.

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This was a lot of fun to do and I basically went mad on the paper. I didn’t use any tools or paintbrushes because I figured it would be better to use my hands to make something designed for ring fingers not retinas. I splodged some old water colours I had kicking about in my room to make some raised dots and added Paprika to Gesso to make an interesting beige. I thought about the smell and what colour I would link it to in my mind so I threw in some blue watercolours too. In an interesting mix of paprika and water I also seemed to create the outline of a person. I think the person is jumping a hurdle or obstacle, which gives it a nice link to my current state of post-GCSE-ness. Totally unintentional- but I’m proud of it all the same.

Picture of a page with different shades of yellow. Herbs are scattered in clumps like clouds around a raised butterfly.

I repeated this with yellow and a pot of ‘mixed herbs’. I’m not sure of the deep meaning of the yellow sky, herb clouds and watercolour butterfly yet but I’m sure I will think of something. These pictures are really tactile, still smell of herbs no matter how ambitious you are with the paint and they look pretty cool too.

When presented with tactile art people tend to be cagey with their hands, they either eye up the piece and make an instant verdict or just give a tentative swipe of their finger on the surface. There’s no need to be cautious though, because you wouldn’t control your eyes in this way if it was a poster you were being presented with. It’s fine to separate your senses for a while and just focus on each tool of your understanding one at a time. Because that is what senses are in a way, together they are a toolkit that you can use to understand anything and everything, but it is up to the individual themselves which tool in the box they prefer to use most.

Flying, Trees and Unfiltered Beauty

Dalby forest has always been one of my favourite places to be. For exactly that reason, it is a place to simply be. For a person who spends the majority of their time on the internet in one form or another I am surprisingly against the way technology has crept into every corner of our lives. I think it is harder to develop ideas due to this: as soon as one thought comes into your head you tweet it, and with a zap of wifi it is gone from your head and given to others instead. No one pays much attention to where they are anymore- they will find a spot of beauty to put on instagram but in the bright lights of their phone screens they will not notice the beauty of the tree bark, or the stars, or the clouds ambling above. What isn’t being realised is that social media is acting as a filter for our senses and our minds, we are remembering through facebook status’ and not the way things felt, looked or tasted. It isn’t enough for your mind to store things for you anymore, it has to be burnt into cyberspace and shared with others as if their minds are sociological hard-drives for backing up your personal memories. Stop. Just stop. This advert from 2011 makes my point.

I’m not trying to sell you a holiday here, but you get the idea. One of the things I like about Dalby Forest is that it is a signal black spot, not a jot of signal to be found in the entire forest. This is probably partly to do with it being situated in the North Yorkshire Moors (a location not renowned for its connectedness to the outside world) and partly because it is just acre after acre of very tall and beautiful trees. So even if you do take pictures on screened devices while you are there you at least get time to take in your surroundings, and the reason you felt taking a picture to be necessary, before sending it into social cyberspace. There are a lot of things to take in too, you don’t need to look very hard to see the unavoidable abundance of nature and greenery. However in the words of William Blake:

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”

Even if you aren’t quite as enthusiastic about trees as myself you will at least note the height and expansiveness of these particular ‘green things’. They are everywhere. And yesterday it was in these trees that I climbed.

Go Ape is an adventure outward-bounds type assault course suspended in the tree tops of the forest. There are several places around the country that you can try similar, but be warned it is not for the faint hearted. I took on the challenge of Go Ape with a friend and despite me being the one in the team who is not scared of heights it was still slightly hair raising at times. I am not a monkey, nor a bird, and being 120ft in the air is not the ideal place for a humble human. After signing some documents in case of fatal injuries we were given a rigorous half hour training session, which involved mostly learning how to attach yourself on and off each platform and the importance of being attached to something at all times. Once actually on Go Ape we were confronted with many challenges: from your average balance beam to tarzan swings into cargo nets. Just in case you were to forget whilst on the huge wooden structure that your life was in your caribbeanas’ metallic gates, there were giant yellow signs on each activity with a picture of a falling man on. The poor man who was careless with his caribbeanas…

We managed to survive the adventure just fine, and definitely kudos goes to N for getting someone with low vision around the course in one piece. The highlight was certainly the zip wires which flew me through the air and between the trees in line with the birds. It is a strange feeling to be doing nothing, literally just sitting, but to be travelling so fast and doing something that humans were never really meant to do. I could feel the space around me; in my toes I could feel the ground they are accustomed to walking on so very far below and in my hair I could feel the oxygen that the trees had pumped fresh from their leaves for mankind to hold in their techno-addicted lungs. That’s when, at 120ft and approaching the ground, that I decided that beauty is found in different ways, in different things, by different people. Like William Blake says, what I don’t notice is someone else’s Mona Lisa. Then I hit the soil.

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